NBA PM: Lakers Afraid of Howard’s Back
The Los Angeles Lakers landed Steve Nash over the holiday, a surprise to a certain extent.
Sources indicated that when Nash extended his contract in 2009 with the Phoenix Suns, both sides agreed that when it was time for him to depart (be it via trade before his contract was complete or after), Phoenix would look to send Nash to his desired location.
Nash also consented to try and help the Suns get assets back to Phoenix upon his departure.
The surprise is that Nash chose the Lakers, given aggressive pursuits by the Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks and to a lesser extent, the Dallas Mavericks.
As Nash describes it, the primary motivation is locale. He wants to be close to his children and that’s something Toronto and New York couldn’t offer.
Once again Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has masterminded a trade to keep the franchise in contention. His track record in free agency is spotty. He’s rarely used first-round picks, with Andrew Bynum clearly the outlier, a successful use of the one lottery opportunity afforded to Kupchak.
It’s in trade where Mitch excels.
Now, the Lakers need to look long and hard at the Dwight Howard situation in Orlando.
While sources indicate the Brooklyn Nets remain the prohibitive favorite (still searching for a third team to take the contract of Kris Humphries), the Lakers have been in negotiations with the Magic for a number of weeks.
Orlando has great interest in center Andrew Bynum. Bynum is open to signing a long-term extension with the Magic.
While the Magic would like to dump players like Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Chris Duhon, the Lakers aren’t exactly looking to add on unwanted pieces. Los Angeles has shopped Metta World Peace, Josh McRoberts and Steve Blake this offseason. There may be some combination that appeases both teams.
It wouldn’t be difficult to make a cap-worthy deal that included Howard, Richardson and Duhon if the Magic took Bynum, McRoberts and Blake.
Of course, agreeing to an actual deal is almost always difficult.
Sources close to the Lakers say they are not bothered by Howard’s reluctance to commit long-term to the team. They understand that Howard stands to make significantly more money as a free agent after this season, signing a five-year deal versus adding on just three years to his current contract.
The Lakers are confident that once in Los Angeles, and in possession of his Bird Rights, Howard would ultimately re-sign with the team.
So what’s the hurdle?
The Lakers biggest concern is the status of Howard’s back, which the source indicates they believe has been healing “very slowly.”
The Magic haven’t given a clear timeline as of yet, but the team said they don’t believe it will be “an issue going forward.”
All things being equal, the Lakers would make a strong push to get Howard. The fear is giving up an All-Star center in Bynum for a player who isn’t entirely guaranteed to start the season on time (something Magic general manager Rob Hennigan declined to comment on recently).
Howard’s surgeon Dr. Robert Watkins, out of Los Angeles, is affiliated with the Lakers. Under normal privacy laws, a doctor cannot reveal the status of his patient to an outside party but if the Lakers were doing their due diligence at the permission of the Magic and Howard, perhaps there’s something they saw to scare them off.
For the Nets, who would be giving up pieces like Brook Lopez, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries and picks, they can afford to be patient with Howard’s back.
Bynum finished the season as the best center in the league with Howard sidelined with injury.
Howard may be ready to go without hindrance with another All-Star season in the making, but today that’s an unknown.
The Lakers may still take a leap of faith but presently it seems they’re holding back, which is why the Nets remain the favorite.
Crawford the Bird in Hand
The Los Angeles Clippers came to terms with free agent guard Jamal Crawford on a four-year deal at about $21.4 million (although it may not be fully guaranteed in the final year). They’ve also agreed to bring back Chauncey Billups for one year, reportedly at about $4 million.
When free agency hit, the Clippers aggressively pursued Crawford at the urging of Chris Paul. Their other primary target was Ray Allen.
Allen has an offer to return to the Boston Celtics at a higher dollar than what the Clippers can provide. Additionally, Ray is considering a move to the Miami HEAT, for a smaller paycheck but arguably a better chance to win another title. Allen is also coming off of ankle surgery.
While Crawford didn’t have a great year in Portland, the team was riddled with injuries and never meshed. In Los Angeles, he’ll come in as Mo Williams’ replacement but at 6’5″.
Crawford is a scorer and a big-time shot-maker. He doesn’t always shoot for percentage, but will knock down a game-winning shot given the opportunity. He’s not a renowned defender and doesn’t rebound well but he can run, pass and score.
While he’s not young (32 years old), Crawford doesn’t look like a player starting to break down physically. He’s a positive presence in the locker room and, always important to the Clippers, he badly wants to be with the organization.
The one player who might have been a better fit, or at least a different fit, would be unrestricted free agent Courtney Lee formerly of the Houston Rockets. Lee is a strong defender and capable spot-up shooter, although he doesn’t near Crawford as a scorer/shot-maker.
When the Clippers began aggressively courting Crawford, Lee was a restricted free agent. It’s almost always more difficult to steal away a restricted player, so while the team had interest, Crawford was higher on the list.
Later, the Rockets would withdraw their qualifying offer to Lee, making him unrestricted and more readily attainable.
To put the brakes on Crawford when neither Allen nor Lee was a lock, thus potentially losing out on all three, the Clippers went with the bird in the hand.
Is it a regrettable decision for the team? Hardly. Crawford was a player they targeted for a reason and one they’re happy to have.
Additionally, the Clippers can look to either re-sign guard/forward Nick Young to play backup three behind Caron Butler or look to use him in a sign-and-trade.
L.A. has the ability to pay Young up to $4.4 million in salary in the first year. So far, the market has yet to play out for Nick.
Finally, the Clippers are expected to give their Bi-Annual Exception to Ryan Hollins to join Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Lamar Odom in the front court.
Bass Staying in Boston
The Boston Celtics have agreed to re-sign free agent forward Brandon Bass, according to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald. The terms aren’t clear although Bulpett writes it’s a three-year deal.
Boston has strived to keep the core together for one last push with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and possibly Ray Allen.
The Celtics could have made a push for significant cap room but given the top free agent was Deron Williams, who plays the same position as Rondo, Boston went in the opposite direction.
The team has had mixed feelings about Rondo through the years but his play this past season assured his return.
The addition of Jason Terry, via the team’s Mid-Level Exception, hasn’t taken away from the team’s desire to re-sign Allen.
The Celtics added Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph in the 2012 NBA Draft. Boston is also in negotiation with Jeff Green, who missed last season with a heart issue.
For all the talk that this was Boston’s last go-round, it simply wasn’t. They’ll be a competitive force in the East this season.
HOOPSWORLD is updating their team salary pages for the 2012-13 NBA Season, now with more detail than ever.
So far five teams have been posted, although any deals made during the moratorium (ending July 11th) won’t be put into the math until officially announced by the teams.
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