Two persistent themes permeated throughout my recent 25-minutes phone interview with NBA TV analyst Greg Anthony.
The Lakers have way too much uncertainty heading into this offseason with questions ranging about whether Dwight Howard will resign, whether Pau Gasol will be kept, how Kobe Bryant will return from a torn left Achilles and how the team’s front office will handle its first offseason without the presence of the Lakers late owner Jerry Buss.
Adding to those complications involves Anthony’s belief that nearly every offseason scenario hinges on whether Howard resigns with the Lakers to five-year deal worth $118 million or to a four-year deal worth $87.6 million. Below is a transcript on Anthony, who touched on all things Lakers.
What’s your outlook on Dwight Howard returning to the Lakers this offseason?
Anthony: That’s priority number one for the Lakers, obviously. With the new collective bargaining agreement, that was set up for situations like this where you have an opportunity to keep your franchise caliber player because you can offer him significantly more dollars and guaranteed years than anybody else. Having said that, you’ll see scenarios where guys will decide to take less money. That’s going to be a big concern. Overall, I still think Dwight had a solid year.
He had a lot of criticism, but the guy had back surgery, came back before everyone thought he would and played with three head coaches with three different philosophies. Now with the new coach in Mike D”Antoni, they didn’t have a training camp and they didn’t have a healthy Steve Nash. Obviously, Kobe went down. Those are all things he has to consider. There are priorities to get him resigned. Then it’s a domino affect from there. That’s where it has to start. Obviously you don’t know how that will play out either via the draft or the impact that may have. It has to start there with the Lakers.
You said Howard had a solid year. How would you evaluate him overall?
Anthony: It was a huge adjustment. Sometimes we don’t appreciate impact different systems, philosophies and focal points have. That was a big part of it. It’s not just something where you can plug and play. You can’t take a guy and think he did ‘X’ here and put him there with “Y” and expect to automatically get ‘Z’. It doesn’t always materialize that way. There was a huge adjustment he had to make in learning how to play with Kobe and obviously with Pau Gasol as well, who’s another talented and skilled big. Developing that chemistry without having Nash and Steve Blake for huge chunks of the season never really allowed that team to get into the rhythm that they were capable of. I didn’t see them being a championship contender going into the season. But I thought they’d be three or the four best teams in the Western Conference. That obviously didn’t materialize.
If the core of this roster stays the same, what do you think of their chances next season to win?
Anthony: That’s going to be interesting because there’s a lot of fluctuations with rosters and coaches in the West. If you think about OKC with Russell Westbrook coming back with knee surgery, what happens with Kevin Martin. You look at the Spurs, they’ll be a year older and will Manu Ginobili come back. Memphis made it to the Conference Finals, but they’re going to have a different coach and have some serious personnel issues since they struggle to score. You look at the Clippers with a new coach and the potential that Chris Paul is not there. There’s still a lot to be determined throughout the landscape of the Western Conference. Golden State is on the way up potentially. But the expectations are going to be higher now. Denver will have a new philosophy and coach coming in.
There’s so much uncertainty that it’s hard to really say. The Lakers could just get better by default if they’re healthy and bring everybody back because of all the changes going on in the Western Conference. You could see them make a move similar to what happened with San Antonio this year. Not that they backed in. They played well and are still playing well. But they didn’t have to deal with some of the teams in the past that gave them problems, specifically Oklahoma City. You just never know. That’s why you don’t want to make too many drastic changes until you know the landscape of the league and know about which team you need to worry the most about. Philosophically, who are the Lakers going to be?
I know who Mike D’Antoni is offensively and wants to play up tempo. But at this stage of his career, Steve Nash is not that kind of player. You’re going to have to make some adjustments. We don’t know how soon Kobe Bryant gets back to get to the level he’s going to be. There’s a lot to be determined. It all starts if you’re the Lakers front office trying to get Dwight Howard resigned. From there, it makes the transition and makes the job in terms of pieces you want to go out and get a lot easier if you’re Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss.
You mention how the Lakers have an advantage financially with Howard because of the length and value of his contract. But from a basketball standpoint, are the Lakers the best choice for him?
Anthony: That’s still yet to be determined. They have a history of having a superstar caliber center. They have a history of winning championships with superstar caliber centers. On the face of that, you’d say yes. But having said that, you have a different philosophy from a management standpoint now as well with Jim Buss and taking over and putting his imprint on how this franchise moves forward. It’s very anagalous to what you saw with the New York Yankees and baseball. They are still spending and you assume the Lakers will still spend. But will the Lakers still be as effective moving forward? The best way to be effective is to start with an anchor like Dwight Howard manning the helm at the center position.
Are there any specific concerns about how ownership will be affected with Jerry Buss’ passing in February?
Anthony: This year will be the first year where we’ll find out if there is uncertainty. Everything that has been done has been done via trade. They made the bold move with Steve Nash, who is a future Hall of Famer. But at 38, they gave him three guaranteed years for sizable money. Will you get that return? Will he able to give you what you need there? With Dwight Howard, they made the big trade to bring him in. Now if he doesn’t re-sign, what does that leave you? They won’t have flexibility cap wise this season whether he resigns or not. That’s why the advantage of the Lakers is to sign him first and foremost.
Then you can try out a formula that the Heat has tried where you can get guys to play alongside those guys for less money. It all starts there. No matter what anyone says in the front office or the coaching staff, it all boils down and what they’re able to do in making that roster fit. The fit wasn’t great last year. The chemistry wasn’t great. Part of it was the injuries, coaching change and different systems they tried to implement. It wasn’t just going from Mike Brown to Bernie Bickerstaff to Mike D’Antoni. He had to make a couple changes in terms of how he wanted to play from an offensive and defensive standpoint. There’s still a lot to be determined for the Lakers moving forward. But they are still the premier franchise in basketball with the tradition, philosophy and legacy. That’s going to carry a lot of weight. Ultimately, you’re still going to have to accept the fact that last year was basically a seventh seed. They weren’t a team that was considered elite.
With everything starting with Dwight’s decision dictating where the Lakers move forward, how much do you see that influencing the Lakers’ sentiments on Pau Gasol?
Anthony: That’s a great question and another big one. He’s the piece that you could probably dangle in a trade. But what pieces are you trying to get? Will Earl Clark take a step forward? There’s a lot of things that is still left out there. Part of the problem is you didn’t have a training camp and was never able to develop that identity in how you’re going to play. You had to do it on the fly. That puts a lot of pressure on the front office and coaching staff moving forward.
They showed flashes down the stretch when their backs were against the wall. Kobe willed those guys into the postseason. But now where are you going to be as he makes that transition back from his torn Achilles and how limited is he going to be? That might play into Dwight’s decision. There’s a lot riding into this offseason. It will be the most significant of this new Buss era into what direction this franchise heads in. They don’t have any flexibility cap wise. So any changes will have to be done either via trade or depending on the nucleus they already have.
Under what scenarios would the Lakers be better off trading Pau or keeping him?
Anthony: That depends if it includes Dwight or not. It all starts there. Once that’s determined, they you have to go down the line. You have to go through all the scenarios and just have a Plan A. They have to have Plan G, H, I, J and K based on what happens with Dwight. All those things with Pau, what will you receive back? It’s going to be a tremendous challenge. We still have to factor in Kobe with where he’s going to be. Nobody is going to question his work ethic and commitment to getting back to the level he was at last year. But this stage of his career with the significance of that injury, how much time can you guarantee he will be the Kobe Bryant that we’re all accustomed to seeing?
Steve Nash will be the only Laker on the books next season as well as Dwight Howard next season. How much stock do you put into the idea that the Lakers just stay status quo, both to maximize financial flexibility in the 2014 offseason and building stronger continuity with the roster?
Anthony: That has to be on the table. There’s possible validity to that. You want to put yourself in a position where you can have some participation in the free agent market. But the thing about that free agency is even though it’s the Lakers, there’s never a guarantee that you’re going to get who you want to target in the offseason.
Before you get to there, you have to figure out what you’re going to do now. This roster still has some concerns. Getting guys off the books will put them in a position where they can start over, but you have to ask yourself if that’s something you can afford to do and who’s going to be available at that point. Is Kobe coming back? There’s still so much out there that’s undecided. Even without Dwight for this upcoming season, they’ll be at almost an $80 million payroll.
Should the Lakers use the amnesty provision?
Anthony: To me, at this point, I don’t see the benefit of an amnesty. Even with the amnesty, it’s not allowing you to participate in the free agent market. Even if you assume they resign Dwight and you amnesty Metta, you’re not saving that much toward where you can participate in free agency and you’re going to diminish your roster. You’re going to get rid of a guy who’s on your rotation who will be up the following year. You’re better off trying to package a deal with expiring contracts. There’s still a lot to be determined moving forward.
Which players on the free agent market come to mind that you think could provide a specific need for the Lakers at an inexpensive price tag?
Anthony: It’s going to start with what direction they go in with what happens with Dwight. You can make the argument that because of Kobe Bryant’s case, they need some help in the backcourt. You don’t know how long Kobe will be out. There’s some talk he could be ready to go at the beginning of training camp. But I don’t know if you can bet on that. You’re going to have to go through that and look at the guys who are free agents. You also have to get guys who fit the personnel you have.
That’s an inexact science. You don’t know how they’re going to fit. You know you’ll need some perimeter shooting that could play alongside Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to open the floor. But if you don’t have Dwight, you’ll need help on the frontline. They’re not going to be able to address all of these needs via free agency. They’re not going to be allowed to participate to the extent that a lot of teams will in what they can offer and the Lakers can offer.
Do I then take away correctly that would be a bad idea for the Lakers to try to trade up in the Draft, considering that would take place before they know for sure whether Dwight will return or not? Not necessarily. If they target somebody and make a deal with some of the expiring contracts they have, maybe they can make a deal to participate in the first round.
Anthony: Those are things you want to look at, absolutely. But generally speaking, will they be able to get in the draft? You’re not going to typically find somebody who’s going to make a significant impact right away. In the year the draft is not the strongest, you can have the first pick of the draft and not have an impact on your roster. This is not a year where Kyrie Irving is coming out or where LeBron is coming out. Last year’s first pick was Anthony Davis, who’s a solid player. But he’s not a franchise changing player at this stage of his career. Where are you going to participate where you can get somebody that can even break your rotation.
How does D’Antoni and his players find a better way to be able to work together?
Anthony: They have a body of work and they have an opportunity with training camp assuming the roster for the most part comes back intact to see what identity the roster is going to be. I don’t think people appreciated how much of a negative impact it was to lose your training camp and have those coaching changes. Your philosophy has a lot to do with your success. Your system has a lot to do with your success. Your system has to fit your personnel. What you found last year was for four or five months, the system didn’t necessarily fit the personnel. Those were things that having a training camp will be vitally important and significant in trying to establish an identity in determining how they play. They could still have an issue with that based on what happens with Kobe. There’s going to be a ton of uncertainty in Lakers land this offseason. It’s going to be interesting to watch that soap opera for most of the process as we get ready for the 2013-14 season.
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