It has Cross TraxxionTM technology

I wish I could have worked in Laron Profit’s quote from the summer – - “It’s like a Nerf ball” – - about the NBA’s new basketball. The Lakers coaches and players apparently snapped up all the old leather balls as keepsakes when they had to go to make room for the new balls.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–The baskets are still 10 feet high, the court is still 94 feet long, the quarters still last 12 minutes each and the average salary is still in the neighborhood of $5 million a year.

But the NBA has introduced fundamental change this season – - 277 1-2 square inches worth, to be exact – - by replacing its traditional leather basketball with a new microfiber composite ball billed as the most technologically advanced in the world.

The only problem seems to be convincing the leagues players of that fact. The complaints about the new synthetic ball range from it being too hard to handle once it gets wet to sticking to players hands the way the leather ball never did.

The ball already has been panned by two former league MVPs in Shaquille ONeal and Steve Nash. Even those who take a more diplomatic view, such as Kobe Bryant, say it will take some adjusting.

“Im old-school, so I love the old-school balls that I grew up playing with, Bryant said. “But at the end of the day, a ball is a ball. Just go out there and play with it.

Lakers forward Lamar Odom said he would guarantee that an early-season game would be lost when a player fumbled a sure pass or missed an easy layup because the ball was too slick.

“The ball will probably slip right out of his hands, Odom said.

The last time the NBA changed its ball came in 1970, when the four-panel leather model was replaced by an eight-panel leather model. The new ball, which was designed by Spalding, has been in the making for eight years and will go on sale to the public Oct. 31.

“We brought it to the NBA and said, `Theres a better way to do it, said Dan Touhey, Spaldings vice president of marketing.

The new ball brings a consistency that the leather ball never could, Touhey said. It used to take two months to break in a leather ball and the home point guard – - or star player – - would have his choice of what ball to use in each game.

Bryant said last season he would have guard Smush Parker pass him the game ball before sending it back to the referees. Bryants preference was for lighter balls rather than darker ones that had been broken in to a greater degree.

That will be a thing of the past with the new balls, which are designed to be identical and need no breaking in. They use an interlocking two-panel design that has 12 percent more surface area by eliminating some of the seams on the old model.

Not that the ball doesnt have its detractors. ONeal not only disparaged the ball, he disparaged its creators, telling reporters in Miami, “To change it now, whoever that person is should have their college degree revoked.’

“It feels like one of those cheap balls you buy at the toy store, one of those indoor-outdoor balls, ONeal added. “I look for shooting percentages to be way down and turnovers to be way up.

Nash, the reigning two-time MVP, wasnt complimentary, either. The new ball can be so sticky, Nash said he wouldnt have to lick his fingers on the court any longer.

“Its extremely sticky and we got used to the ball kind of slipping, using the give and the sliding to make plays, Nash said in a conference call. “All the players are having a hard time making the transition and making the plays.

“Hopefully, well find some common ground and some normalcy once we get used to it, but right now its been really difficult.

The NBA is following the lead of nearly all the high school and college teams in the country in adopting a composite ball. The WNBA has used such a ball for years and a version of the new ball was tested last season in the NBA Development League.

It debuted at the All-Star Game, where Bryant said some players were complaining about the grip when wet. Bryant had a chance to tie the game in the last 10 seconds but lost his handle on the ball, which he blamed for being slippery afterward.

Touhey said the new ball has been tested and proven to have a superior grip to the leather model wet or dry. The league sent a ball to each player this summer; several of the Lakers did say it is easier to palm than the leather ball.

Bryant said he has found that the new ball is slow to come out of the net because it is so sticky. That could impact teams that try to push the ball after made baskets.

There is also room for variation even with the new ball. League rules allows for teams to inflate balls to between 7 1-2 and 8 1-2 pounds of pressure; Lakers coach Phil Jackson often claims Mark Cuban inflates the balls to 15 pounds in Dallas.

Odom joked about the NBA following its dress code for players with a dress code for its balls. Bryant said he hoped it would be much ado about nothing once the season started.

“Its just a ball, Bryant said. “Growing up, I played with all kinds of balls. I rolled up tape and used tape as a basketball. I played with a sock. I think I can play with this one. Well be fine. I dont even think its that big of a deal.

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Thursday report

Kind of a quiet day around the Lakers. Andrew Bynum did have a spectacular block against Von Wafer in practice that knocked Wafer off his feet and sent him tumbling to the floor. Without a doubt, Bynum has the best shot-blocking instincts on the team.

Tex Winter was in good form, preaching about the principles of the triangle offense, in particular hitting the first open man and not waiting for somebody else.

Sasha Vujacic tossed up a right-handed hook shot from about 50 feet as he walked off the practice court. He hit the shot and said he wanted to read about it in the paper Friday. Unfortunately, Vujacic couldn’t leave well enough alone and badly missed the same shot when he tried it twice more. That gets mentioned, too.

Kobe Bryant said he was still running three days a week on his injured knee. He’ll put in another morning of work Friday. “We don’t want to rush it,” he said. “We’re just taking our time, just getting stronger, letting the scar tissue heal.”

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–About the only thing Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis can say with respect to the four ball-handing guards competing in training camp is that everything will be sorted out by opening night on Oct. 31.

The Lakers have four such guards in Smush Parker, Sasha Vujacic, Shammond Williams and Jordan Farmar, and only 48 minutes to divide each game between them.

Parker started all 82 games last season and established himself in the league after failing to stick with three previous teams. Vujacic, meanwhile, averaged 17.7 minutes off the bench and knocked down 9 of 15 3-pointers in the playoffs.

Williams has the most experience of the four, having played for six NBA teams before spending the last two seasons in Europe. And Farmar is the teams first-round draft pick who impressed during summer-league play.

“Were going to let them (sort) that out for themselves, Rambis said. “If theyre playing well, theyll deserve and earn time. If theyre not, then situations will have to be adjusted, whether thats the D-League or moving players on.

Parker was back on the court Thursday after sitting out practice the day before with a sprained shoulder. He spent the off-season working on his mid-range game and trying to forget about his playoff slump against Phoenix.

“Were going to be a better team this year because of it, said Parker, who missed 22 of 26 3-pointers in the first-round series, “and Im going to be a better player because of my experience last year.

Vujacic worked out in the mountains outside of Belgrade, Serbia, for part of the summer and weighed in for training camp at 205 pounds, up from 193 as a skinny rookie two years ago.

But Vujacic will find competition in Williams. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak approached Williams agent about signing him before last season but the two sides couldnt work out a deal. Williams led FC Barcelona to the Euroleague Final Four.

Williams is a career 36.3 percent 3-point shooter and can defend small guards. He has spent the early days of training camp picking up the triangle offense.

“What Ive been taking pride in is trying to create shots for other people, Williams said. “I feel confident that Im capable of doing that, getting people in position where they can get open shots.

Feeling better: Rambis said he heard from Jeanie Buss that coach Phil Jackson is walking with a cane and doing well after undergoing hip-replacement surgery Tuesday. Jackson also was described as being “more upright by Buss.

“Now hes like 7-foot-5, Rambis said, jokingly.

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Wednesday extras

We got the chance to pick up a little bit with Smush Parker, who was last seen going 7 for 37 in the final four games of the Lakers’ first-round playoff loss to Phoenix.

Maybe Parker was exhausted at the end of his first full NBA season, maybe he was overmatched being in the playoffs for the first time, but he was in as deep a slump as a player could be that series. He missed 22 of 26 3-pointers when everything was said and done.

He was asked Wednesday if he dwelled on how he played into the summer.

“I didnt dwell on it,” Parker said. “It was unfortunate that we didnt advance like we should have. It was a learning experience for me, it was a learning experience for my teammates, it was a learning experience for the Lakers.

“Were going to be a better team this year because of it, and Im going to be a better player because of my experience last year.

Parker said he worked on his mid-range game in the off-season and wants to take on more of a point-guard mentality now that he has established himself in the league.

He sat out practice Wednesday, however, after spraining his right shoulder the day before. Parker collided with Brian Cook as both players hustled after a loose ball. That left Kobe Bryant, Chris Mihm and Parker all on the sidelines. Those three players combined to start 218 games last season.

* * *

Assistant coach Kurt Rambis on the development of rookie center Andrew Bynum:

“You can just look at Andrew and see hes improved his body. He still has a long way to go in terms of the knowledge he has to have in order to have success out there on the floor. But he needs to play, he needs playing time. Thats whats going to help him the best.”

Rambis said Bynum does a good job in learning and trying to do the right things. He also said Bynum no longer has the “puppy-like” look to his body from last season. The Lakers are trying to get Bynum to shorten his movements and be a more explosive player around the basket.

* * *

We worried that Lamar Odom’s head might explode when he was asked which team he would take in a potential Subway Series between the Yankees and the Mets. Odom can shift effortlessly from talking about one team to the other while using the word “we” the entire time.

Odom gave us a history lesson about the teams and how their additions of black and Hispanic players endeared them to different communities over the years. He then declared, “I’m going with grandma.” His grandmother was a longtime Mets fan, he said.

* * *

Odom also said the memory of the Lakers’ playoff loss to Phoenix was still fresh.

“Everyone here in the back of their mind is saying 3-1, 3-1, 3-1, 3-1,” Odom said.

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Wednesday report

The Lakers had what Kurt Rambis called a “tedious” and “dry” practice Wednesday going over the terminology and basics of the triangle offense. Rambis doubted Phil Jackson would either enjoy or be able to stay awake if he watched the tape of practice, as the Lakers said would be available to the coach as he recovers from hip-replacement surgery.

Here’s the story for Wednesday. It’s worth remembering that the Lakers have almost $71 million invested in Lamar Odom and Vladimir Radmanovic being able to play together the next couple of seasons.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–The rule was drilled into his head so many times last season – - “Dont leave Vladimir Radmanovic open, no matter what – - that Lakers forward Lamar Odom had no trouble recalling it in talking about his newest teammate Wednesday.

It also was easier said than done, as Odom learned, especially during a Feb. 24 game in which Radmanovic connected on five 3-pointers and scored 19 points against the Lakers.

The next time the Lakers played the Clippers, coach Phil Jackson abandoned the idea of having Odom cover Radmanovic altogether. Jackson started Luke Walton on Radmanovic and took his chances by matching up Odom against Elton Brand.

If Odom had trouble chasing Radmanovic all over the floor, Jackson reasoned, maybe he at least could make things a little difficult for Brand on the offensive end.

Six months later, the Lakers new problem is how best to integrate Odom and Radmanovic in a lineup. They have one of the leagues most dynamic players in Odom and one of the leagues most unstoppable shooters in Radmanovic.

The Lakers hope the mismatches Odom and Radmanovic create on offense – - with Odom capable of posting triple-doubles and Radmanovic capable of hitting any shot on the floor – - will compensate for the mismatches they will face on defense.

“Wherever he is, thats where Im going to drive the basketball, Odom said. “Hopefully, his man stays. If he doesnt, then Ill average two or three more assists with that guy on my team.

The problem with playing a lineup with Odom and Radmanovic comes on the defensive end, where one of the two would have to match up against a bigger power forward and the other against a faster small forward.

Radmanovic gained a reputation as a one-dimensional shooter at his previous NBA stops. But Radmanovic acquitted himself well on defense during the Lakers first training camp practice Tuesday, according to assistant Kurt Rambis.

He moved his feet well, used his size and was aggressive. Rambis added that he smiled after telling Radmanovic he gave him more than he expected as a defender. The coach worried Radmanovic might consider it an insult.

“He wants to be good, Rambis said. “You can tell that his mindset is to play offense, but he also understands that hes got a responsibility at the defensive end.

Radmanovic said: “Thats our focus right now. I think we all should concentrate on that. I know our offense is going to come with the triangle offense the coach wants us to run. But defense we have to get better in order to be a better team.

Odom, meanwhile, thrives by creating mismatches on offense. If he has a smaller player on him, Odom can use his size and go to work inside. If he has a bigger player on him, Odom can draw him out to the perimeter.

“Were going to apply a lot of pressure offensively, Odom said. “In this league, what youve seen with the Phoenix Suns, their offense is their defense.

The Lakers envision taking advantage of their versatility by playing lineups big and small, finding the mismatch on offense and switching regularly on defense. Odom talked Wednesday about a lineup with both Radmanovic and Brian Cook on the floor.

That would give the Lakers two shooting forwards that opposing teams would have to cover, leaving them less likely to commit a second defender to stopping Kobe Bryant.

With so many ball-handling guards on the roster, Odom wasnt sure if he would initiate the offense from the backcourt as much as he did last season. He added that his only worry in defending bigger forwards was picking up fouls.

Also: Jackson was released from the hospital Wednesday after having his right hip replaced the day before. . . . .Guard Smush Parker sat out practice after spraining his right shoulder in practice Tuesday.

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Tuesday practice

One of the hardest things to write about is defense, specifically because the margin between being a good and bad defensive team is so small. If you took the average NBA game last season, with each team taking 79 shots, a good defensive team would give up 35 baskets while a bad defensive team would give up 36.3.

You obviously make a bigger commitment to defense than getting one extra stop a game. But that’s the difference we’re talking about. Keep in mind that the Lakers played 34 games last season decided by 6 points or fewer. They went 16-18. Turn that record around and they might have been the No. 6 seed instead of the Clippers.

It’s also worth noting that when they gave up fewer than 100 points, the Lakers were 37-16 last season. They won 8 of 29 games when they gave up 100-plus.

The Lakers know they have to do a better job on the screen-and-roll – - remember the Suns shot 61 percent in Game 7 – - and will make a point this season of trying to force turnovers and generate more offense. They have to get those shots for Vladimir Radmanovic and Shammond Williams somehow.

I’m waiting to see what kind of defensive player Radmanovic will be. There are some serious matchup concerns with Lamar Odom and Radmanovic likely starting at forward. They are each vulnerable to the size of power forwards and speed of small forwards. But they do create problems of their own at the other end.

Here’s the report from today’s practice:

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–For the NBAs 30 teams last season, the difference between finishing in the top third and bottom third defensively was two baskets a game. The 10th best team allowed 95.4 points per game, while the 10th worst gave up 99.8 points.

How about the Lakers? They ranked 15th in the league in scoring defense and 12th in field-goal percentage defense. They were neither a good defensive team, nor a bad one, but “decent in guard Smush Parkers evaluation.

If the first day of training camp was any indication, though, the Lakers intend to be a more aggressive and much improved team defensively. The Lakers devoted nearly 75 percent of their three hours on the practice court Tuesday to defense.

“That’s all we did,” center Kwame Brown said.

The only reminder the Lakers need about the importance of defense comes from their first-round playoff loss to Phoenix. After taking a 3-1 lead in the series, the Lakers gave up 114, 126 and 121 points as the Suns advanced in seven games.

“That has to be our focus if were going to make the playoffs and think about advancing, forward Lamar Odom said, “and trying to beat some of the top teams in the league.

Odom added: “We didnt win enough what I call `ugly games. Sometimes youve got to win ugly.

The Lakers worked Tuesday on everything from individual defense to full-court defense to help defense. One of the central messages was about the need to talk more on defense, especially when it comes to stopping the pick-and-roll.

It was a distinctly different first day of practice from last October, when the emphasis was on learning the triangle offense with Phil Jackson back as coach.

At media day, Jackson stressed that the Lakers could come up with more steals and force more turnovers to generate more possessions on offense. Jackson underwent hip-replacement surgery Tuesday while assistant Kurt Rambis ran practice in his place.

“If you look at the versatility of our team, we have a lot of guys that can play a lot of different positions, Rambis said. “When you turn that around and look at the defensive end, we have a lot of guys that can help each other, that can do a lot of switching; they can also do a lot of gambling.

So the Lakers will take risks this season, in the hopes of not having to bring up the ball every time on offense. Rambis talked to the guards about overplaying the passing lanes and talked to the big men about rotating faster to draw a charge or block a shot.

“I think when you have a year under your belt, Kobe Bryant said, “you find yourself reacting more instead of thinking and then reacting.

Hipster: Jacksons surgery was deemed a success, with the coach scheduled to be released from the hospital today. A team spokesman said Jackson will be re-evaluated next week.

The kid: Jackson would not guarantee anything Monday when it came to 18-year-old center Andrew Bynum and his role this season. Bynum played in 46 games as a rookie after the Lakers selected him No. 10 overall.

“Theres a wonderful opportunity with Chris (Mihm) being out of the first few exhibition games, Jackson said, “for him to really get an opportunity to see if he can fit in and find a role to play on this team.

New man: Odom ran the floor Tuesday for the first time in months, as he spent time away from the game after the death of his infant son. He said his back was a little tight; Rambis said it was good to see Odom smile.

But Odom also said he would try to make a change this season when it comes to his emotional nature on the court.

“I vowed to myself this year to, when the refs make a call, to stay away from it so I keep myself into the game mentally as well, Odom said.

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Media day notebook

Here’s an online-only notebook from media day:

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–Whether he realized it or not, Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic was rubbing the newfound muscles on his arms as he talked Monday about his off-season.

Vujacic weighed in for his third season at 205 pounds, looking considerably thicker in his arms and upper body, up from his listed weight of 193 pounds as a skinny rookie in October 2004.

He spent part of his summer training with his old coach in the mountains outside of Belgrade, Serbia, and said his goal for this season was to simply “bring more than I did last year, when Vujacic regained his confidence after a lowly rookie season.

Vujacic played in all 82 games last season and averaged 3.9 points while shooting 34.6 percent. The Lakers have until Oct. 31 to exercise the fourth-year option in his rookie contract; Vujacic admitted this is a big season for him even though he is only 22.

“I had two seasons to see how the NBA works, Vujacic said. “I think with putting a little bit extra muscle on me, its going to help me out in the next season.

Vujacics size could give him an edge in matching up against bigger guards on defense. The Lakers have four ball-handling guards competing for minutes in Smush Parker, Shammond Williams, Jordan Farmar and Vujacic.

Still hurting: It has been nearly seven months since Chris Mihm severely sprained his right ankle in the final minute of the Lakers March 12 game. Only recently has Mihm been able to say “its finally starting to feel like an ankle again.

After a summer of setbacks, Mihm underwent surgery to clean up the ankle on July 26. He was told by doctors it would be two months until he was able to run again and three months before he could play full speed.

If Mihm followed that timetable, he wouldnt resume playing until Oct. 26, five days before the season opener against Phoenix.

“I dont want to have this be something thats really killing me already in the preseason, Mihm said, “and then have to limp through it the whole season.

Mihm was having a career season, averaging 10.2 points and 6.3 rebounds, as the Lakers starting center before he was injured. Kwame Brown has since supplanted him, leaving Mihm uncertain where he will play once he is healthy.

One option would be for Mihm to play the power forward spot on the wing. Mihm played the position alongside Zydrunas Ilgauskas in Cleveland and said he thought he had the jumper to make the move work.

“The most important thing for me is that we keep this team building and improve on what we did last year, Mihm said. “If its asked of me that I have to move to the 4, Im going to do whatever it takes to be a big factor for this team.

The kid: Lakers coach Phil Jackson would not guarantee anything when it came to 18-year-old center Andrew Bynum and his role this season. Bynum played in 46 games as a rookie after the Lakers selected him No. 10 overall.

“Theres a wonderful opportunity with Chris being out of the first few exhibition games, Jackson said, “for him to really get an opportunity to see if he can fit in and find a role to play on this team, and do the best job he can to develop that skill that hes learned this summer.

Jackson said Bynum had an encouraging summer-league season and was looking more like a man instead of a boy. The true test, Jackson said, will come for Bynum in making successive moves like grabbing a rebound and putting it back.

Looking west: Jackson was asked how the Western Conference was shaping up. He mentioned Houston and Minnesota as the two teams most likely to move into the top eight playoff spots.

Jackson also mentioned Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix as being a cut above. He answered yes when asked if 45 wins – - the Lakers total last season – - would be enough for a team to get into the playoffs.

“The rest of us are all down here fighting in that pack thats going to be chasing after that group of guys, Jackson said.

Also: The Lakers signed center Mamadou NDiaye and forward Marcus Douthit to non-guaranteed contracts. N’Diaye has played in parts of five seasons for Toronto, Dallas, Atlanta and the Clippers. Douthit was the Lakers’ second-round draft pick in 2004 out of Providence.

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Media day

We’ll have an online notebook later tonight with some tidbits on Chris Mihm, Sasha Vujacic and Andrew Bynum. Here’s the story from media day

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–All the hip replacements, off-season surgeries and personal tragedies facing the Lakers cant change the fact that they will open this season by playing 15 of their first 20 games at home.

To have any hope of building on last seasons 45-37 record, the Lakers must get off to a “resounding start, in coach Phil Jacksons words. Just to stay on pace for a 48-win season, the Lakers would want to win 12 or 13 of those games.

The window of opportunity starts Oct. 31 on opening night against Phoenix and stretches through the first week of December. The Lakers have 22 practices and eight exhibition games to come together amid a host of concerns as training camp opens today:

For starters, Jackson will undergo surgery today to replace his right hip, with the only expectation that he will be back for the season opener.

Kobe Bryant was cleared to resume running only recently and is a week or two away from practicing in full after undergoing right knee surgery July 15.

Lamar Odom has to become reacquainted with the game after a summer in which basketball was the furthest thing from his mind following the death of his infant son.

And Chris Mihm, who started 56 games at center, is slowly recovering from right ankle surgery and might not play until the end of the preseason.

With the schedule weighing on him, Jackson even considered delaying his hip replacement. He did not talk about the need for a fast start with his players Monday but conceded that the schedule offers no margin for error early.

“We really have to get off to a great jump this season, Jackson said, “if we want to have that kind of record that moves us up in the standings.

Unlike last season, when Jackson spelled out a goal of winning 44 or 45 games and returning to the playoffs, the coach left his expectations undefined Monday due to the teams health concerns.

“If it takes a little bit of time, Jackson said, “for us to get all those guys back together – - two weeks, three weeks into November – - thatll change some circumstances.

“But I see this team performing. Theyve got an idea of who they are, how to play and what roles they have on this team. I think thats really important — that they have some kind of role structure right now.

Jackson said his doctor told him he would be “walking with pride on opening night. He hoped to put off having his hip replaced but made the decision to do so after returning from his summer home in Montana.

“Things went backwards rather than forwards, Jackson said, “and I felt in the best interest of the team and for the success of our year, that Id do it sooner than later.

Jackson said he hoped to pay a visit to the team a week or so after undergoing the surgery. Assistant coach Kurt Rambis will run practices and be the designated head coach for the exhibition games Jackson will miss.

This training camp will be far different from last seasons back-to-basics version with him, Jackson added.

“This year, were trying to get focused on what we can do better as a team defensively, Jackson said, “and using our offensively flexibility to the best advantage that we have.

Bryant, meanwhile, debuted his No. 24 jersey, which he will wear for the first time after 10 seasons as No. 8. He averaged a league-leading 35.4 points per game last season but will start this training camp on the sidelines until his knee is fully recovered.

“It feels really strong right now, Bryant said, “so we dont want to do anything to set us back.

Bryant scored more than one-third of the Lakers total points last season and took nearly the same proportion of shots. Jackson said he hoped Bryant would take as many as three fewer shots than he did last season, when he averaged 27.2 shots per game.

For his part, Bryant said he thought the Lakers were better versed at how to move the ball and space the floor. The Lakers came together in winning 11 of their final 14 games last season and pushed Phoenix to Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs.

“I think thats part of the reason why everybodys so excited, Bryant said, “because we felt like we were on the verge of doing something pretty special last year and we just want to keep that going.

Mihm said his ankle, which he originally sprained March 12, finally was “starting to feel like an ankle again after a summer of setbacks. Mihm hopes to be cleared to start running this week and might need another month to be able to play again.

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Golden State and Houston previews

Golden State Warriors
Coach: Don Nelson
Starting five: PG Baron Davis, SG Jason Richardson, SF Mike Dunleavy, PF Troy Murphy, C Adonal Foyle
Off the bench: SG Mickael Pietrus, SG Monta Ellis, PF Ike Diogu
Most underpaid: The difference for the Warriors with Jason Richardson on the court versus off the court was striking for a team that went 34-48. Golden State averaged 108.3 points per 100 possessions last season with Richardson playing and 98.7 points/100 possessions when he was not playing. Richardson has increased his scoring each of his five seasons in the league and set a franchise record by making 183 3-pointers last season. Don Nelson might be the only coach, in addition, who can find Richardson more than the 19 shots a game he is used to getting. He was a $13.9 million player making $8.9 million.
Most overpaid: The Warriors won just 10 of 30 games after the All-Star break last season. The fact that Baron Davis sat out the final 19 of those with an ankle injury didnt help. Davis played in only 54 games last season and now has missed a combined 111 games the last four seasons. If Davis is healthy, he is one of the most electrifying guards in the league. If Davis isnt healthy, he can drag his team down. But Davis at least wont have to play for deposed coach Mike Montgomery any more. He was a $6.11 million player making $13.7 million.
Outlook: The Montgomery era wont be remembered fondly in Oakland. Nelson inherits a team with seemingly all the talent to make the playoffs and none of the will to do so. It has been 12 seasons since the Warriors last made the playoffs (with Nelson as coach) and 15 years since they won a postseason series.

Houston Rockets
Coach: Jeff Van Gundy
Starting five: PG Rafer Alston, SG Tracy McGrady, SF Shane Battier, PF Juwan Howard, C Yao Ming
Off the bench: SG Luther Head, SF Bonzi Wells, C Dikembe Mutombo
Most underpaid: Until he broke a bone in his foot in April, Yao Ming might have been the NBAs best center. He averaged 25.7 points and 11.6 rebounds after the All-Star break and regularly posted games of 30 points and 10 rebounds. The only thing that sidetracked Yao were injuries. After missing only two games his first three seasons, Yao missed 25 last season, most as a result of toe surgery. It will be interesting to see how effective Yao will remain in a league that is increasingly following Phoenixs lead in playing small lineups and opening up the floor. He was a $13.61 million player making $5.6 million.
Most overpaid: At one point last season, the Rockets were 0-13 in games that Tracy McGrady was unable to play. That set the tone for a season in which McGrady was available for only 47 games, battling a back injury throughout. In the games he played, McGrady shot just 40.6 percent. If McGrady can play, the Rockets will be one of the Western Conferences playoff teams this season. The additions of Shane Battier and Bonzi Wells should ease his burden as well. McGrady was a $9.36 million player making $15.7 million.
Outlook: The Rockets were 21-10 with Yao and McGrady in the lineup last season. That would translate into a 55-27 record if both players could make it through healthy. Theres no reason to expect Houston to finish worse than sixth after adding the severely undervalued Battier and Wells on a bargain contract.

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Dallas and Denver previews

We’re going to try to jumpstart this season preview. The Lakers will hold their media day Monday, followed by their first training camp practice Tuesday. It’s only a week after that to the first exhibition game Oct. 10 against Utah in Fresno.

Dallas Mavericks
Coach: Avery Johnson
Starting five: PG Devin Harris, SG Jason Terry, SF Josh Howard, PF Dirk Nowitzki, C DeSagana Diop
Off the bench: PG Anthony Johnson, SF Jerry Stackhouse, PF Austin Croshere, C Erick Dampier
Most underpaid: If not for the ankle and hamstring injuries that cost him 23 games, Josh Howard might have had an even more impressive third season. Howard was the Mavericks most undervalued player last season, averaging 15.6 points and 6.3 rebounds, despite being on the court for only 48.6 percent of the teams minutes last season. When Howard scored 20 points or more, the Mavericks were 19-0 last season. Howard also can defend three positions and draws the opposing teams top player most nights. Owner Mark Cuban will spend October negotiating a contract extension with Howard. He was an $8.61 million player making $900,000 on his rookie contract.
Most overpaid: The Mavericks gave up last season on finding the Erick Dampier who averaged 12 points and 12 rebounds with Golden State in 2003-04. Dampier lost his starting job to DeSagana Diop in January and came off the bench the rest of the season. At 6-foot-11, 265 pounds, Dampier can rebound and block shots but was a 40.8 percent shooter on anything other than dunks and tip-ins. He was a $3.11 million player who made $8.6 million last season. Dampier is owed another $50 million on his contract.
Outlook: None of the NBA heavyweights upgraded as much as the Mavericks, who added four quality bench players in Anthony Johnson, Austin Croshere, Devean George and Greg Buckner to a team that went 60-22 last season. If everything goes according to plan, David Stern should be handing Cuban the Larry OBrien Trophy in June. That would ease the sting of losing a series to Miami that the Mavericks could/should have swept. [ep

Denver Nuggets
Coach: George Karl
Starting five: PG Andre Miller, SG J.R. Smith, SF Carmelo Anthony, PF Nene, C Marcus Camby
Off the bench: PG Earl Boykins, PF Joe Smith, PF Kenyon Martin
Most underpaid: Which player in the NBA would you want to take the last shot with a game on the line? The numbers say Carmelo Anthony, who has gone 10 for 15 in his career on shots to win or tie in the last 10 seconds. Anthony made huge strides last season, averaging 26.5 points and shooting 48.1 percent, up from 43.1 percent the season before. He also gets to the foul line like few others. Its hard to believe Anthony, possibly USA Basketballs best player this summer, has yet to be selected to an All-Star Game. That should change this February. He was a $13.04 million player who made $3.7 million on his rookie contract.
Most overpaid: Not only did Kenyon Martin miss 25 games last season due to injury, mostly related to his left knee, but the Nuggets went 19-6 without him. Then Martin was suspended for the rest of the playoffs after a halftime tirade with George Karl. If he wasnt owed another $70 million and his knee wasnt such a question mark, Martin would be playing for another team by now. One anonymous teammate speaking to the Denver Post questioned how Martin could miss games when he was seen out partying the night before. Martin, who had only seven double-doubles last season, was a $3.84 million player making $10.6 million.
Outlook: Even though he missed all last season after suffering a knee injury on opening night, Nene still got a $60 million extension from the Nuggets. The rest of the NBA will be watching to see if that was money well spent. As long as Denver can win the Northwest Division, it will be no worse than the No. 4 playoff seed.

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