The silly season is upon us

Not to start a cross-country spitting match (been there, done that), but our friends at Fox Sports Ohio have posted a thinly reported story on the possibility that the Lakers might have an interest in acquiring Anderson Verejao now that former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown is coaching the purple-and-gold. It’s another example of the silly season, the endless barrage of speculative offseason stories that might or might not pan out. Anyway, I think you’ll agree this particular story needed further digging.

Here’s the story, with my cynical, hard-bitten commentary after each paragraph:

Mike Brown and the Lakers would love to have Cavaliers forward Anderson Varejao on their team. That much we know.

[Me: You know? How? Please tell us.]

What we don’t know is if the Lakers will make a serious play for Varejao during Thursday’s NBA draft.

[Me: Well, duh.]

Brown coached Varejao during all five of Brown’s seasons in Cleveland, and not surprisingly, grew to love Varejao’s defense, energy and attitude. Now that Brown has been hired as Phil Jackson’s replacement with the Lakers, sources say he is trying to convince the Lakers front office to see what it would take to bring Varejao to L.A.

[Me: OK. Tell us more.]

Now, none of this is to say the Lakers will follow through. There is no hard evidence that they have contacted the Cavs about the man known as “Wild Thing,” or that they ever will. But as one Lakers insider said, it almost makes too much sense not to explore.

[Me: My news reporting 101 professor is rolling over in her grave right now.]

What the insider didn’t know was what it would take to get Varejao, or even if the Cavs would be willing to part with him.

[Me: OK, but why not ask the source?]

“I’d say there’s a 10, maybe 20, percent chance the Lakers make a trade,” the source said. “If it is something they decide to do, I don’t think there’s any question (Varejao) would be among the players highly targeted.”

[Me: Sounds pretty unlikely then. Maybe not even worthy of posting a story.]

No one can be sure what the Lakers would offer in return, although All-Star forward Pau Gasol’s name is being tossed around the rumor mill. That’s because Gasol’s postseason play was considered disappointing by many, and a big reason the team suffered a second-round sweep against eventual champion Dallas.

[Me: Gasol's name is being tossed around because the Minnesota Timberwolves' front office leaks like a sieve and has contributed mightily to the rumors.]

The source said the Cavs would “obviously have to surrender more” than just Varejao to land Gasol, mentioning the Cavs’ No. 4 draft pick and point guard Ramon Sessions as possible additional assets.

[Me: Gasol is an All-Star; these guys are just guys.]

Meanwhile, other sources have indicated that while the Lakers might be interested in Varejao, consummating a trade would be difficult. It seems, many say, that neither side would agree to what the other would propose.

[Me: Which is why so few trades are actually completed.]

So is it possible Varejao ends up in L.A.? Sure, anything is possible. But as one source said, “at the end of the day, it’s probably not too likely. The Cavs love Andy, as they should, and they aren’t going to give him away just because the Lakers might want him.”

[Me: Thanks again for contributing to the silly season.]

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Macdonald, Ireland get new gigs

Bill Macdonald will take over for Joel Meyers as the Lakers’ new TV play-by-play announcer, joining longtime analyst Stu Lantz. John Ireland will be the new radio play-by-play announcer, replacing Spero Dedes and joining Mychal Thompson. Macdonald has had a variety of jobs and filled in when Kobe Bryant scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006. Ireland also has had a number of broadcasting gigs, including as sideline reporter on Lakers’ broadcasts on KCAL-Channel 9. Meyers contract ended after the season and he was not asked back. Dedes is a rising star, doing play-by-play work for the NFL Network and college basketball games for CBS.

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Labor talks update

It’s all about the salary cap.

The owners and players met today in New York and made some progress toward a new collective bargaining agreement. But they remain far apart when it comes to re-writing the rules for the league’s salary cap. The owners want a greater share of the league’s revenues and hope to impose a hard cap, like the ones in the NFL and NHL. The players want to continue with a soft cap, with teams able to exceed it.

The current CBA expires June 30.

Here’s more from ESPN.com:

The union made the first proposal, asking to retain the current “soft” salary-cap system but with a reduction of several hundred million dollars in player salaries over the life of a five-year proposal. The owners, who are asking for a 10-year agreement, then came back with a counterproposal of their own. Owners offered what they called a “flex cap” system that would earmark at least $2 billion per season toward player salaries.

The owners also moved their position on cap exceptions, saying the Larry Bird Exception and the mid-level exception would remain in a new system, although teams could not exceed an as-yet-determined maximum team salary. The sides agreed to meet again Friday in New York.

“Today was productive and there was movement, but we’re still very far apart and … the hard salary cap system is still something that we’re really having difficulty trying to get past,” players’ association president Derek Fisher of the Lakers told reporters in New York. “Our players just don’t see that as the best way to tackle some of the things at least we’ve been given by owners as to reasons why we need a hard salary cap.”

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Weak draft record

The draft is a week from tonight, and now is as good a time as any to look back at the Lakers’ poor record over the last 10 years. Their five championships in the 2000s have come with a steep price in that their draft picks have been non-contributors for the most part. Only one, center Andrew Bynum in 2005, is a starter for the Lakers. Another, center Marc Gasol in 2007, is starter for the Memphis Grizzlies and was a key part of the deal that brought Pau Gasol from Memphis to the Lakers in a Feb. 1, 2008 trade.

Otherwise, it’s a pretty lackluster group, and it’s not likely to get much better with the Lakers holding four second-round picks next Thursday. They don’t have a first-round pick for the second consecutive year. Their picks are Nos. 41, 46, 56 and 58 overall.

Here’s a look at the Lakers’ draft picks since 2001:

2001: No picks.
2002: Chris Jefferies (first round, Fresno State).
2003: Brian Cook (first round, Illinois), Luke Walton (second round, Arizona).
2004: Sasha Vujacic (first round, Slovenia), Marcus Douthit (second round, Providence).
2005: Andrew Bynum (first round, St. Joseph High School [Metuchen, N.J.]), Ronny Turiaf (second round, Gonzaga), Von Wafer (second round, Florida State).
2006: Jordan Farmar (first round, UCLA), Cheick Samb (second round, Senegal).
2007: Javaris Crittenton (first round, Georgia Tech), Sun Yue (second round, China), Marc Gasol (second round, Spain).
2008: Joe Crawford (second round, Kentucky).
2009: Toney Douglas (first round, Florida State), Patrick Beverley (second round, Arkansas), Chinemelu Elonu (second round, Texas A&M).
2010: Devin Ebanks (second round, West Virginia), Derrick Caracter (second round, UTEP).

The 2005 draft was easily the Lakers’ best, with Bynum and Turiaf playing important roles on the 2007-08 team that advanced to the NBA Finals and Wafer finding some modest success with the Houston Rockets after leaving the Lakers.

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Horry’s daughter dies

Robert Horry’s 17-year-old daughter died today after battling a rare genetic condition. Here’s more from the AP story: “Ashlyn Horry was born in Houston in 1994 and eventually diagnosed with a rare chromosome disease that is characterized by intellectual disability, delayed growth, seizures and respiratory problems. Horry and Ashlyn’s mother, Keva, set up a foundation in 2008 to provide support to families coping with similar illnesses.”

Horry won seven NBA championships with three teams, including three with the Lakers to start the 2000s. His buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference finals against the Sacramento Kings will live in Lakers lore for generations.

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Final grade: Walton

Luke Walton, backup forward:
He sat quietly on the bench, healthy for the first time in several seasons but unable to play because of a logjam ahead of him. After the season, he went to retiring Lakers coach Phil Jackson and expressed his displeasure over his reduced role. He was not an impact player when he did play, however, and Jackson was right to keep him on the bench behind Ron Artest and Matt Barnes. It’s unclear what’s next for Walton, although he will get a chance to prove himself under new coach Mike Brown next season. He has two more seasons on his contract, and the Lakers probably wish they could trade him.

Stats: 54 games, 1.7 points, 1.2 rebounds and 1.1 assists.

Grade: D.

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Gasol wants to play in Euros

From The Associated Press story:

Pau Gasol says he wants to play for Spain at this summer’s European Championship. Gasol confirmed his availability for the defending champions after missing last year’s world championship in Turkey, where Spain finished sixth. According to the Spanish basketball federation’s website, Gasol says that “if the coach feels he can count on me then I want to help the team win another European” title. Gasol helped Spain to a 2006 world title and a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics. The decision comes after the Dallas Mavericks swept Gasol’s Lakers 4-0 in the Western Conference semifinals of the NBA playoffs.

The Euros will be played in Lithuania from Aug. 31 to Sept. 18.

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Final grades: Ratliff, Smith

Theo Ratliff, backup center/power forward:
There were some eyebrows raised when the Lakers signed the grizzled veteran to a contract last summer. He didn’t have time to prove anyone right or wrong when he injured his knee and had to undergo surgery that limited him to a handful of games.

Stats: 10 games, 0.2 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.3 assists.

Grade: Incomplete.

Joe Smith, backup forward:
The Lakers acquired him from the New Jersey Nets with the idea that he wouldn’t make waves while serving as a practice player and cheerleader from the bench. Sasha Vujacic, who went the other way, was not a happy camper with his diminished role.

Stats (Lakers and Nets): 16 games, 0.5 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.3 assists.

Grade: Incomplete.

Next: Luke Walton.

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Shaq retires after 19 seasons

Shaquille O’Neal called it quits today after winning four NBA championships, including three with the Lakers to start the 2000s, during a Hall of Fame-caliber career. He has stopped playing basketball, but apparently he hasn’t stopped being playful. He said he would have a press conference at his home on Friday to talk about his career.

Lakers owner Jerry Buss said: “Shaq had a long and amazing career, with a huge impact both on and off the court. His contributions were significant to the entire NBA, but we specifically appreciate what he did with and what he meant to the Lakers during his eight years with us. We have three championships that we wouldn’t have won without him, and we will forever be grateful for his significant contributions to those teams.”

NBA commissioner David Stern said: “For 19 seasons, Shaquille O’Neal was literally and figuratively an NBA giant. On behalf of the NBA, its teams and his millions of fans around the world, I want to thank Shaq for everything he has meant to the league and to the sport of basketball, both on and off the court. We wish him and his family all the best.”

Former NBA standout and current TNT commentator Charles Barkley said of O’Neal’s legacy: “You got Wilt (Chamberlain), Bill Russell, Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and then I think you have Shaquille O’Neal after that.”

Former Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning said: “Shaq was a walking comic relief. There was never a dull moment. He was bigger than life for that position (center). He’s got to be in the top five (all-time) … because of the amount of championships he won.”

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Final grade: Odom

Lamar Odom, backup forward:
He earned the only trophy the Lakers hoisted in 2010-11, taking home the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award for his effective and consistent play as the team’s first player off the bench. Conventional wisdom suggested he was distracted by the filming of a reality show featuring him and his wife, Khloe Kardashian. His statistics did not support the theory, however. He was as consistent as any of the Lakers, scoring in double figures 63 times and topping 20 points 14 times. He also had 10 or more rebounds in 30 or more games. It made for his most productive season in the last four. Calls for him to be traded in the offseason are likely to fall on deaf ears within a Lakers organization that values his versatility and consistency. It’s possible new coach Mike Brown could return him to a starting role next season, but it seems he’s found a home as a sixth man.

Stats: 82 games, 14.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists.

Grade: A+.

Next: Theo Ratliff and Joe Smith.

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