Phil Jackson surgery

Just when I get done making season predictions, this news comes in. I’m not sure a timetable for Phil’s return has been suggested even privately. The Lakers made their practice plans for training camp as far back as this summer, so things should proceed smoothly in that respect.

This is not a laughing matter, but it’s a shame that a coach who takes pride in having the worst preseason record in history will miss all these exhibition games.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

The Lakers will open training camp Tuesday without coach Phil Jackson, who will undergo hip replacement surgery instead. Without the surgery, Jackson was doubtful that he could meet the physical demands of the NBA season.

There is no timetable for the 61-year-old Jacksons return, although he will be released from the hospital Wednesday. Assistant coach Kurt Rambis will organize practices and would be the designated head coach in any exhibition games Jackson would miss.

“We dont expect that hell miss any regular-season games, team spokesman John Black said.

Jackson is expected to be around the team at times in the weeks after the surgery, although the extent of his presence will not be determined until later.

Jackson wavered on returning to coaching in part because of his health concerns. His arthritic hips have made moving at times so painful that the Lakers purchased a Segway electronic scooter that was available to Jackson at practices last season.

How many practices Jackson will miss in October is uncertain. The Lakers will hold single practices for four days next week and begin two-a-days on Saturday. They will play their first exhibition game Oct. 10 against Utah in Fresno.

Jackson will meet with reporters on Monday at the teams media day. He had debated having the surgery this summer but suffered a setback last week, according to Black.

“He was hoping that he wouldnt have to have it, Black said. “He was hoping that between rest and therapy that it would get better. Instead of getting better, it got worse.

“About a week ago, he basically couldnt move. He was sitting in the chair and couldnt get out of it. The pain and the lack of mobility have gotten to a point where he realized he had to do it. There was no way he could get through the season.

The Lakers now have two major health concerns going into the season, with Jacksons right hip being replaced and Kobe Bryant having undergone off-season knee surgery.

With a schedule in which they will play 16 of their first 20 games at Staples Center, the Lakers also must come together quickly to avoid giving away games in the seasons first month. They will open the regular season Oct. 31 at home against Phoenix.

Jacksons surgery will be performed at Centinela Hospital Medical Center by Dr. Lawrence Dorr of the Arthritis Institute in Inglewood.

With Jackson needing only an overnight hospital stay, he is likely undergoing a minimally invasive version of the surgery, with less pain and a faster rehabilitation schedule than a traditional hip replacement.

The Lakers have one of the most experienced coaching staffs in the league, with assistants Frank Hamblen, Jim Cleamons and Rambis all having served as head coaches in their careers. Black said Jackson had a long meeting with his assistants Friday.

No Jackson team has failed to make the playoffs in his 15 seasons as an NBA coach. Jackson is entering the second of three seasons on a contract that makes him the highest paid coach in basketball.

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Prediction time

We’re three days away from the start of training camp, which means it’s time to venture a prediction about how the Lakers will finish this season. Feel free to agree or disagree, but you have to get your prediction in by Monday for it to mean anything in April.

I went through the Lakers’ schedule game by game this afternoon. As usual, there are games that seem like potential traps and games that seem more favorable than they should. I’ll offer my prediction for the season at the bottom of this post.

The bad news is that the Lakers have a good chance of losing their first two games. They open at home Oct. 31 against Phoenix in a national television game, then play at Golden State the next night.

The Warriors will be playing their home opener, the first game of the second Don Nelson era, and will have the benefit of fresh legs and a good night sleep.

It might be the worst back-to-back of the season for the Lakers. The good news is that they could just as easily win their next four games – - and possibly their next seven. One game that should tell a lot about the Lakers is Nov. 10 at home against Detroit.

I have the Lakers going 11-3 in November. Other than the first road game at Golden State, the Lakers’ potential trap games could come at Portland on Nov. 8 (the second game of a back-to-back) and at home against Milwaukee on Nov. 28 (the Bucks open a long trip).

The Lakers’ schedule is unlike any other because they will play 16 of their first 20 games at Staples Center, including a road game against the Clippers. If you follow the formula of winning two-thirds of your home games and splitting on the road, the Lakers would need to open 13-7 to have a shot at 48 wins.

December is a brutal month, with a home game against San Antonio, a back-to-back at Houston and Dallas, followed by a home game against Houston. The Lakers also have a six-game trip built around the Christmas game at Miami. It’s going to be really hard for them to avoid losing the first four games of that trip, which includes a Chicago-Minnesota back-to-back.

One potential trap game could come Dec. 17 against Washington, which is playing the first game of a long trip. I have the Lakers going 8-8 in December, but they can’t give away games on the back end of the long trip against Orlando or Charlotte.

The Lakers should win as many games as they lose in January. They have a trap game Jan. 5 at home against Denver after playing the night before in Sacramento. The Nuggets will be settling into their hotel in Los Angeles before the game against the Kings starts.

But the Lakers get Miami on Jan. 15 at the end of a six-game trip for the Heat. They play a tough back-to-back at San Antonio and Dallas before continuing to Oklahoma City. The Lakers, however, will have a night off before they play the Hornets, who will be playing the second game of a back-to-back after flying in from San Antonio.

I have the Lakers going 8-7 in January. They will start an eight-game trip – - their longest in nearly two decades – - at the end of the month and spend the first 11 days of February on the road. There are three sets of back-to-backs on the trip; the Lakers probably would be happy going 3-5.

One interesting game will come at the end of the trip, Feb. 11 at Cleveland. The Lakers will be desperate to get home but the Cavaliers will be coming off a home game against Miami. Phil Jackson also will be sure to remind the Lakers of their fourth-quarter collapse at Cleveland last season.

I have the Lakers going 7-5 in February, taking a record of 31-23 into the All-Star break. The Lakers could steal a game at Golden State on Feb. 25; the Warriors will be playing the Clippers the day before in Los Angeles.

There’s a really weird four-game trip in early March, starting in Phoenix, then moving on to Minnesota and Milwaukee for a back-to-back, and ending in Philadelphia. It’s very odd to head to the East Coast for only one game. The Lakers then come home to play Dallas, which will have been off for five days before the game.

The Lakers also have a back-to-back at Memphis and New Orleans. It’s these games that are going to make all the difference for a team fighting for playoff seeding in the Western Conference. There’s a trap game on March 30 against Houston, which will be in Los Angeles all week thanks to a game against the Clippers.

An 8-6 March would be perfectly acceptable. The regular season finishes in April with a schedule that has some favorable games. The Lakers get Denver at home April 3 at the end of a stretch in which the Nuggets will play eight of nine games on the road. The Lakers get Phoenix at home April 8 at the end of a four-game trip for the Suns.

I have the Lakers going 6-4 in April. That gives them a final regular-season record of 48-34. They went 45-37 last season and finished seventh in the West. Memphis was the No. 5 seed last season with a 49-33 record.

I don’t see the Lakers cracking the top four in the West – - the Northwest Division champion will be seeded no worse than fourth – - but fifth would not be a bad place to be. The Lakers could play Denver in the first round of the playoffs and possibly have home-court advantage.

A second-round series could bring Dallas, Phoenix or San Antonio. All of those would be epic series, though the Lakers probably would fall short in six or seven games. The biggest challenge to the Lakers finishing fifth, in my mind, comes from Houston, which could win 50 games with the additions of Shane Battier and Bonzi Wells.

Last year, I picked the Lakers to go 41-41. I didn’t expect Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom to each play 80 games. Bryant is coming off knee surgery and Odom is dealing with personal tragedy. The Lakers can’t afford to get off to a slow start with a schedule that has them playing so many home games early.

So it’s 48-34 for me on Sept. 29. Should be an interesting season.

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Chris Mihm and more

It sounds like Chris Mihm is not going to be healthy at the start of training camp and probably won’t be playing in the Lakers’ early exhibition games. Mihm is still recovering from the July 26 surgery he underwent on his right ankle. The Lakers originally thought Mihm would be ready for camp but his recovery has been slow going.

Kwame Brown figures to be the starting center and Mihm will have to find a role for himself once he is healed. This is a contract season for Mihm, so it’s a shame to hear it will start out on the wrong note.

In other news, the Lakers are going to round out their training camp roster by signing forward Marcus Douthit, their second-round pick in the 2004 draft. The Lakers retained Douthit’s rights even as he played overseas and in the NBA Development League. He averaged 10.9 points and 7.3 rebounds with the D-League’s Albuquerque Thunderbirds last season.

Douthit has played in summer league for the Lakers the past three years but faces the longest of long odds to make the team. If Mihm is going to be out for an extended period, maybe the Lakers decide to add a big man and take a chance on him. Most likely, Douthit winds up back in the D-League playing for a call-up with another NBA team.

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Lamar Odom update

Here’s an unofficial list of all the interviews Lamar Odom did today about a tragedy most of us can’t comprehend:

He sat for a 10-minute press conference with all the writers and television reporters assembled. Then he did one-on-one interviews with Channels 7 and 2 separately. Then he sat down with Sports Illustrated, followed by a reporter writing for the Lakers magazine. After that, he talked for 20 minutes with the Loose Cannons, then taped an interview for a second show on 570-AM.

I talked to him for five minutes after that. It was two hours after the press conference started. My colleague, Mike Bresnahan from the Times, was up next when I left. There’s a reason why Lamar might be the most gracious player in the NBA, and why so many people were devastated to hear the news about his infant son Jayden’s death in June.

Nobody asked about basketball or building off what he did at the end of last season. There will be plenty of time for that in training camp.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–By his own admission, Lamar Odom has no way of knowing where his emotions will be when he plays the most meaningful game of his life on Dec. 15.

On what would have been his son Jaydens first birthday, Odom will find himself on the basketball court playing for the Lakers against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center.

“I might shoot it from half-court, Odom said, “just to see if hes with me that night.

Three months have passed since 6 1-2 month-old Jayden Joseph Odom died without warning, apparently suffocating in his crib while sleeping. The days since have not gotten any easier for the Lakers forward, who spoke Thursday about the tragedy.

Odom walked into a room full of reporters carrying a Bible and wearing a T-shirt with a face of Jesus Christ that he commissioned an artist to design. Through the worst time of his life, Odom has tried to find strength in religion.

“I feel a little lost sometimes, Odom said, “but God right now is keeping me strong.

Odom, who has an older son and daughter, was at home in New York attending the funeral of an aunt when Jayden died. As fate would have it, his sons death came on the same date – - June 28 – - as that of Odoms grandmother when he was growing up.

Although he is only 26, Odom has experienced the deaths of his mother, grandmother and now infant son.

For a time this summer, Odom questioned whether he would play this season. His sons death all but sapped his will, with Odom saying Thursday he still hasnt taken his own time to mourn.

He withdrew from USA Basketballs training camp to stay close to his family. He came into his own the second half of last season, averaging 16.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists after the All-Star break as the Lakers made the playoffs.

Now Odom will need to get in shape and get back to playing the game during training camp, which opens Tuesday. But he said being surrounded by teammates and coaches would be the best thing for him.

“Its funny because I think its going to make me a better basketball player, as far as the mental approach to the game, Odom said. “I take my time right now, more than ever, at everything I do.

Odom said he also had a talk with Kobe Bryant that helped his state of mind. Bryant shared his experiences playing through the ordeal of a sexual-assault allegation, when sometimes he didnt want to eat, let alone play basketball.

“He had to persevere and channel that onto the court, Odom said. “Right now, thats kind of where Im at.

Odom poured his energy this summer into brokering a record deal for a cousin and designing a clothing line around the image of Christ he wore Thursday.

The depiction of Christ came from Revelation 1:14 – - hair like white wool, eyes like a flaming fire – - and Odom said he was going to put it on polo shirts and jeans as well. He joked about never wanting to see another “Scarface shirt in the NBA again.

There also were his agonizing stories of reading Jaydens autopsy report, where the death was described as “unremarkable, and of the open casket funeral he decided to hold. So many people at the funeral, Odom said, were seeing his son for the first time.

The rest of Odoms life will be a tribute to Jayden. He said the first thing he thought after he saw his sons body was that people fail to realize babies are the closest thing to angels in the world.

“I kind of realized maybe there was some sacrifice in that, Odom said, “maybe for me to see things in a different perspective.

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Kwame Brown story

There was some confusion between the Daily News and its sister papers with today’s Kwame Brown story. Here’s the version that should have run, with quotes from general manager Mitch Kupchak. Sorry for the mix-up.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–No matter how low Kwame Brown got last season, Lakers coach Phil Jackson refused to introduce any more negativity into Browns basketball career.

When Brown was struggling with the triangle offense – - struggling sometimes just to catch the ball in the post – - Jackson tried to break down the game to its basics. All he asked of Brown was to run the floor, rebound and play defense.

Now the Lakers are hoping that Brown can put together the pieces and pick up where he left off last season, when he averaged 12.4 points and 8.6 rebounds in the final 18 games with Chris Mihm lost to an ankle injury.

During a long interview Friday, Brown talked about the importance of gaining his teammates trust and believing in himself. The Lakers open training camp next week, with the hope that Brown at last will live up to his potential.

The difference for Brown from his first season with the Lakers to his second could be as simple as having confidence with the ball down low instead of quickly unloading it to Kobe Bryant or Lamar Odom.

“I think now that when I get the ball, Brown said, “Ive earned the trust in them and in myself to go ahead and go to work.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said a change of scenery undoubtedly benefited Brown, who came to the Lakers last summer in a sign-and-trade from Washington. Even now, though, Brown is far from a fully developed player.

“He has to just be in the gym and continue to work on his game, Kupchak said. “He has all the physical gifts that any player would die to have. But its been that way since high school. Everybody knows that.

“He made great strides the last 1 1-2 months last season, but he has to build on that and continue that this season.

Brown walked around all summer with a card in his wallet bearing the numbers 15 and 10. Jackson gave it to him at the teams exit meetings in May, trying to motivate Brown with a goal of points and rebounds he could average this season.

Asked if this could be a breakthrough year for him, Brown did not hesitate in answering yes. He is only 24, younger even than Smush Parker, yet will be entering his sixth NBA season.

“I dont like saying that because every year Ive said that, Ive gotten hurt, Brown said. “After my third year, I had a great finish with the Wizards, then I broke my foot that summer.

“I just want to come in healthy. Thats it. If I come in healthy with a positive attitude, then Im good.

Brown spent the off-season strengthening his legs, to avoid a repeat of the hamstring injury that cost him 10 games last season. He worked on the jump hooks and short jumpers that he hopes will become staples of his game.

When it comes to his free-throw shooting, Brown also might be a changed man. He shot a career-worst 54.5 percent last season, and admitted being wary of going to the line. But Brown was able to laugh Friday at the memory of his unfortunate airballs.

“Its not that I improved as a foul shooter; I improved mentally, Brown said. “Most of the time, I didnt even want to get fouled because I didnt want to go to the line.

“At the end of the year, all they would do is foul me, so Im like, `OK, Ive got to go to the line, so you might as well stand in there and just make it.

There is always an issue, however, for Brown. This season, it might be the NBAs new ball. His hands have long been a question mark, and Brown said he is no fan of the synthetic ball that will be used for the first time.

The ball is easier to grip than the old leather model when dry, Brown said, but is heavier and more slippery when wet. If the new ball hits the rim, he added, it is most likely not going to result in a friendly roll.

Jackson also has to figure out how best to use Brown and Mihm, both of whom are centers. Mihm was starting and having a career season before he was injured; Brown did not sound inclined to play a power forward spot on the wing.

“Anytime youve got a 270-pound guy on the wing, I dont think thats his best advantage, Brown said. “Id definitely like to be down low, challenging guys and putting the pressure on people.

The most important step Brown took last season might have come in making sure his teammates knew they could count on him. That was a change from Washington, where Brown clashed with Gilbert Arenas and was suspended in the 2005 playoffs.

“I want to be able to come out on the court, Brown said, “and know I can look the other four guys in the eye and say, `You know what to expect. Im going to go hard.’

“If Im having a bad game, Im going to rebound it. If Im having a bad rebounding game, Im going to play defense. Im going to give you something, and Im going to give it all Ive got.’

A year after his arrival, Brown has settled in to life as a Laker. He said he better understands the triangle and its rhythm of cutters. He has learned to slow down and avoid rushing to make a move before he even has the ball.

He has gotten used to playing in front of the Hollywood stars at Staples Center. He wants this season to be about defense, especially in stopping the pick-and-roll. He has thought back too many times to the shot Tim Thomas hit in Game 6 of the playoffs.

Much of the credit for Browns turnaround goes to Jackson, who could have buried the former No. 1 overall pick last season but didnt.

“It would have been easy for him to say, `Weve got this guy, he aint doing (anything), and that would have been it, Brown said. “Thats the true meaning of a coach, when he can lift a player up.

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Lakers sign Devin Green

The Lakers have either finalized their training camp roster or are very close to it. The team announced today that it has signed guard Devin Green, who played in 27 games last season as a rookie. Green is an interesting case as he already has beaten what were long odds of making an NBA roster after going undrafted out of Hampton.

The Lakers obviously liked Green enough to keep him around all last season on a non-guaranteed contract even though he barely played. He has promise as a defender but has to shoot better than 21.4 percent to stay in the league. Just having him around gave Andrew Bynum a rookie to hang out with last season. He’s a nice guy and his hands are so big you can’t help but thinking they’ll someday be transplanted onto Kwame Brown’s arms.

But Green will have to battle to make the team again this October. The Lakers have 14 players with guaranteed contracts for next season and a 15th player in Ronny Turiaf who is a lock to be on the roster. That leaves three players in Green, J.R. Pinnock and Von Wafer on the outside looking in.

There’s not a ton of need for any of the three, with Kobe Bryant playing 40 minutes a game and Maurice Evans picking up minutes wherever he can. The Lakers have seven guards under contract in Bryant, Evans, Aaron McKie, Smush Parker, Sasha Vujacic, Shammond Williams and Jordan Farmar. That’s more than enough.

I had heard earlier this month that the Lakers tried unsuccessfully to convince Green and Pinnock to play overseas for a season, allowing the team to retain their rights until a spot opened up next season. Both turned down that option, which will make training camp interesting indeed.

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Two of the kids

The Lakers have been gathering in advance of training camp, which opens next week. General manager Mitch Kupchak said he was particularly impressed by Ronny Turiaf, who has had a whirlwind schedule here at the end of summer.

Starting with the FIBA world championships, Turiaf has been to Japan, Martinique, Paris, New York and now Los Angeles. The Lakers probably would have preferred that he play for their summer-league team and spend the summer working out at the team’s practice facility. But Turiaf couldn’t turn down the chance to play for his country, and it sounds like he could be an impact player for the Lakers this season.

I hadn’t heard much over the summer about Sasha Vujacic, who will be entering his third season. Kupchak said Vujacic has grown into his body and was rolling the sleeves up on his shirt to show off some muscles on the practice court. Said Kupchak: “He doesn’t look like a kid any more.”

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Kwame Brown interview

The last thing Kwame Brown said when we were wrapping up our interview Friday was “I cant wait for training camp. Those words have to be music to the ears of Lakers fans, given Browns importance in the big picture of this season.

The Lakers have invested $25 million into developing Brown as their big man. He’s only 24 years old yet going into his sixth NBA season. If Brown can pick up where he left off in the spring, when he averaged 12.4 points and 8.6 rebounds in 18 games with Chris Mihm out, the Lakers could be in business this season.

Heres a transcript of the interview. Were going to run a story in Sundays paper. As hard as it is to believe, training camp starts a week from Tuesday.

Q: How has the off-season gone? What have you focused on in terms of your game?

A: Im just trying to get my legs and hamstrings back in order where I can be consistent. Last year, I think I had a great finish to the season. But I just want to have a great start. Instead of a letdown in the beginning, I want to come out of the gate and try to start out like I (finished) last year.

Q: Are your legs still an issue from when you broke your foot in Washington?

A: Its just trying to get my hips and stuff balanced. The trainers know more than me. Some days everything feels good and then some days everythings not balanced and lined up. I worked on my legs a lot, getting them bigger and stronger, so now Im just working on my conditioning and trying to get my touch back on my shot.

I think thats the main thing for me. I can get to the basket with my jump hook so Ive got to add a little bit to my game where I can get some type of finesse (move) with a little 15-foot jumper or a little touch jump shot around the basket so I dont have to bang every play and get tired.

Q: When you look back at last season, how different would the year have been if you didnt get hurt early?

A: I was just thankful for the opportunity. I look back at it and say, `What if Chris Mihm would have never got hurt? I would have never got the opportunity. I was trying to show the coaches that they can still have confidence in me, that Im going to come back and try to be out of the gate like that now that Im comfortable in the offense and guys know what I can do, and if Im not doing it, they can hold me accountable for it.

Q: How much confidence do you have in your own game after the way you finished last year?

A: I have a lot. I think now my mindset and my teammates mindset should be if I have the ball on the block, let me go to work. As opposed to the beginning of last season (when) I was looking to just pass the ball and get the ball to Lamar and Kobe.

I think now that when I get the ball, Ive earned the trust in them and in myself to go ahead and go to work.

Continue reading

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Philadelphia, Toronto and Washington previews

Sorry the season preview stalled for a couple of days. Here’s a three-for-one to finish with the Eastern Conference teams.

If we’re making predictions on Sept. 20, I’ve got the East playoff seedings thusly: 1. Miami, 2. Chicago, 3. Detroit, 4. New Jersey, 5. Cleveland, 6. Milwaukee, 7. Indiana, 8. Washington. I wish I could pick one team from last season’s top eight to fall out and one team from the bottom seven to move up. But I just don’t see it happening.

The 76ers aren’t going to finish ninth again this season. It’s too hard to see Orlando making up six games on Washington, even if the Wizards slip to eighth. I think the Celtics and Knicks will fight for ninth, followed by Orlando, Philadelphia, Toronto, Charlotte and Atlanta.

The Knicks will be a dozen games better than last season – - and probably save Isiah Thomas’ job – - but not the 17 games they would need to be the No. 8 seed. The Hawks and Bobcats will play a home-and-home on Jan. 18 and 19 with major implications in the Greg Oden derby. Washington has the best chance of being back in the draft lottery in the future.

The playoffs could be very interesting thanks to the NBA’s new seeding system. The Nets could wind up as the No. 4 seed if they finish with a worse record than the Central Division top dogs. There also is no guarantee about New Jersey having home-court advantage for a first-round series.

I can see the Cavaliers beating the Nets, as well as Milwaukee giving Detroit all it can handle. The East champion, however, seems destined to be the Heat again, unless you like betting against Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal.

The list of first-time All-Stars starts and ends with Dwight Howard, although Kirk Hinrich could also get consideration if the Bulls have a strong first half behind Ben Wallace. Joe Johnson probably will put up All-Star numbers, albeit on a bottom-feeding team.

Philadelphia 76ers
Coach: Maurice Cheeks
Starting five: PG Kevin Ollie, SG Allen Iverson, SF Andre Iguodala, PF Chris Webber, C Samuel Dalembert
Off the bench: SG Kyle Korver, SF Rodney Carney, C Steven Hunter
Most underpaid: Its hard to imagine how bad the Sixers would be defensively if they didnt have Andre Iguodala. As it was, they gave up 101.3 points with Iguodala playing all 82 games last season and averaging nearly 38 minutes. Iguodala ranked among the league leaders in steals and was one of the few players to hold Kobe Bryant in check for even one game. Iguodala also averaged 12.3 points even though he was getting barely eight shots a game playing alongside Allen Iverson. Iguodala was a $10.3 million player who made $2.1 million on his rookie contract. He can start talking extension with the Sixers after this season.
Most overpaid: Its a shame teams arent allowed to chip in more than $3 million to facilitate trades involving mega-salaried players. Chris Webber is owed $43 million the next two seasons, a contract that makes him all but impossible to move. Yet Webber is still a productive player at age 33 – - he averaged 20.2 points, 9.9 rebounds and played in 75 games last season – - and could be a valued contributor elsewhere. Even so, the Sixers are a better defensive and rebounding team without Webber on the floor. He was a $5.91 million player who made $19.1 million.
Outlook: Allen Iversons contract runs through 2008-09 but this could be his last season in Philadelphia. He has been linked in trade rumors everywhere from Denver to Atlanta to Boston but seems destined to stay until Comcast sells the team. The Sixers went 7-13 to close last season, which projects to a 29-53 season.

Toronto Raptors
Coach: Sam Mitchell
Starting five: PG T.J. Ford, SG Anthony Parker, SF Morris Peterson, PF Chris Bosh, C Rasho Nesterovic
Off the bench: PG Jose Calderon, SG Fred Jones, SF Joey Graham, PF Andrea Bargnani
Most underpaid: The last game Anthony Parker played in the NBA came as a member of the Orlando Magic on March 6, 2000 against Washington. He went on to become a star for Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he played five seasons for the Israeli powerhouse and was twice Euroleague MVP. Now Parker is coming back to the NBA at age 31 with Toronto. He needed no introduction to Raptors fans after scoring 24 points and hitting 10 of 15 shots, the last to win an exhibition game for Maccabi against Toronto last October. He signed a three-year, $12 million contract and could start in his first season back. The success of Parker will be closely watched by general managers around the league.
Most overpaid: The Raptors made a low-risk move in acquiring Rasho Nesterovic from San Antonio for Matt Bonner and Erik Williams. They were able to find a 7-footer to play center alongside Chris Bosh, even though Nesterovics productivity does not match his contract. Nesterovic can block shots and make a team better defensively but he sat more than he played last season with the Spurs. He still owns career averages of 7.0 points and 5.7 rebounds. Nesterovic was a $2.39 million player who made $6.7 million.
Outlook: The Raptors have gone a combined 93-159 since Boshs arrival yet still convinced him to sign a contract extension through 2009-10. The jury is still out on No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, as well as the decision to trade Charlie Villanueva.

Washington Wizards
Coach: Eddie Jordan
Starting five: PG Antonio Daniels, SG Gilbert Arenas, SF Caron Butler, PF Antawn Jamison, C Brendan Haywood
Off the bench: SG DeShawn Stevenson, SF Jarvis Hayes, PF Darius Songaila, C Etan Thomas
Most underpaid: The Wizards probably couldnt help but smiling when Gilbert Arenas voiced his displeasure at being the “16th man at USA Basketball training camp. The story of Arenas career is defined by the slights he perceives. He vowed to punish USA assistant coaches Mike DAntoni and Nate McMillan by lighting up their NBA teams this season. Arenas was the leagues fourth-leading scorer (29.3 points) after Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and LeBron James last season, and played more minutes than anybody in the NBA. He also took nearly seven 3-pointers a game and led the league in turnovers. Arenas was a $16.06 million player who made $10.2 million.
Most overpaid: By late March, Washington coach Eddie Jordan had made the decision to start Etan Thomas over Brendan Haywood, hoping Thomas could bring a physical presence inside. But Thomas suffered a lower back strain, missed the last three games of the regular season and barely played against Cleveland in the playoffs. Thomas averaged 4.7 points and 3.9 rebounds for the season, with a contract that owes him $26 million through 2009-10. He was a $1.2 million player who made $5.4 million.
Outlook: The Wizards made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1987 and 1988. They have now let Larry Hughes and Jared Jeffries leave the past two summers while making only minor moves – - like signing DeShawn Stevenson for the league minimum – - to replace them.

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Get your Duane Erwin jersey

For some reason, the NBA Development League expansion draft hasnt gotten much attention. OK, it hasnt gotten any attention. That didnt stop us from listening in to the conference call out of the D-League office as the Los Angeles D-Fenders were born.

Were also sure there are Lakers fans out there who care (at least a little) about what their junior varsity team will look like. The Lakers are the first NBA team to own and operate a minor-league affiliate, with the D-Fenders playing home games at Staples Center this season.

A couple of things to remember:

First of all, the D-Fenders drafted only the rights to these players should they choose to play in the D-League. The top players in the expansion draft could return to the D-League just as easily as they could opt to play overseas or make an NBA roster out of training camp. The top salaries in the D-League are a fraction what they are in Europe.

Second of all, the D-Fenders players are just as likely to be called up to the other 29 NBA teams during the season as they are to be called up to the Lakers. Jerry Buss might be signing the checks but the Clippers or Kings could come calling if they need a guard for a 10-day contract.

The Lakers will be able to sign a maximum of four players from todays expansion draft. The D-League has a Nov. 2 draft – - after NBA rosters are finalized – - for all of its teams to select players who have signed contracts with the league. Training camp opens Nov. 12 and the regular season begins Nov. 24.

There were two priceless moments during the draft. The first came when the league needed to clarify that a D-Fenders pick named Kevin Johnson is better known as Butter Johnson. Thats the type of thing youd just love to hear David Stern have to say.

The second came as Colorado tried to draft Kevin Lyde for a second time in the ninth round. The league office noted that Lyde already had been taken: Selected by your team, I must add.? A career lowpoint has to be getting selected TWICE in the D-League expansion draft.

Its hard to find a ton of info about some of these guys, but here are the D-Fenders picks. They started in the first round with Duane Erwin, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward who played last season for Florida and Fayetteville, averaging 7.7 points and 7.6 rebounds.

They selected three players with NBA experience, although theres no guarantee any of them will decide to play in the D-League. The first of the three was forward Hiram Fuller, who played on a 10-day contract once with the Atlanta Hawks.

Fuller was one of the last players cut by the Washington Wizards in training camp last October. He played with Florida in the D-League before finishing last season with Pau-Orthez of the Euroleague.

The D-Fenders took Brian Chase, a 5-foot-10 guard who played three games with Roanoke but spent most of last season with Gary (Ind.) of the CBA. Chase scored 47 points in one game with the Steelheads.

The previously mentioned Butter Johnson was their fourth-round pick and Josh Gross was their fifth-round pick. Of course, Mitch Kupchak had to select a former North Carolina player, so the D-Fenders took guard Jackie Manuel in the sixth round.

Manuel played on the Tar Heels 2005 national championship team and has a reputation for being an aggressive defender. He played for Fayetteville last season and went to Orlando as part of the Chicago Bulls summer-league team.

In the seventh round, the D-Fenders drafted forward Erik Daniels, who played 21 games with the Sacramento Kings in the 2004-05 season. He averaged 17.6 points and 8.1 rebounds with Fayetteville last season and played for the Orlando Magic summer-league team.

The eighth-round pick was forward Isiah Victor, an all-league selection in 2005 who played for the Lakers summer-league team in 2001. Victor averaged 18.8 points for Roanoke last season but might not be interested in returning to the D-League.

Forward Reed Rawlings, taken in the ninth round, is familiar to former Lakers coach Rudy Tomjanovich. Rawlings went to training camp with the Houston Rockets after he was not drafted out of Samford. He played 10 games with Florida last season.

For their final pick, the D-Fenders took Crenshaw High product Tremaine Fowlkes, who has played in parts of four NBA seasons with three teams. Fowlkes played in the CBA, the IBL and Venezuela before getting his chance with the Clippers in the 2001-02 season.

The complete expansion draft can be found on the D-League Web site.

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