Heisler: Maybe the Lakers and Clippers aren’t Skid Row material after all

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A funny thing happened on L.A.’s way to oblivion….

Actually, the L.A. teams didn’t go anywhere, even if they wrote them off as the new backwater of the West and whatever other insults and Skid Row photos they threw into their dumb stories.

OK, I was the one who did the backwater story a while back.

OK, it was just two days back—or put another way, just before the Lakers got Steve Nash–becoming even older and slower (their starters will be 38-34-32-32-25) but way better.

In a surprise, locally even more than nationally, things have turned up here since Laker owner’s son Jim Buss announced a blueprint for the 2012-13 season that looked like the one for their 2011-12 season, and Clipper owner Donald T. Sterling let Neil Olshey, the architect of his good fortune, stroll off to Portland, leaving his team GM-less for the draft.

Now what are we supposed to say after Jim and Co. nabbed Nash and the remnants of Donald’s front office dumped Mo Williams’ $8.5 million salary, acquired Lamar Odom, closed in on Jamal Crawford and joined the hunt for Ray Allen?

Uh, way to go, guys, we knew you could do it all along?

Now to the once-more glowing future….

No, the Lakers aren’t going after Dwight Howard.

Maybe they should, if trading Andrew Bynum would get it done–as it would with the Magic finally aware they have to move Dwight and can’t do better.

If you think Dwight stands alone, I guarantee Drew would have scored a lot more than Howard’s 20.6 a game if he had been in Orlando.

On the other hand, Dwight’s a way better defender. Best of all, he doesn’t get hurt (or didn’t before undergoing the back surgery that, coincidentally or not, ended his miserable season.)

Drew just played a full season (or at least 60 of the 66 games) for the first time since becoming a starter.

Back on the first hand, Jim Buss loves Drew and Dwight, who said he didn’t want to be a Laker (Nets only) and hasn’t said anything to the contrary since.

As far as the Lakers are concerned, if Drew stays upright, they’re good.

Hey, if you can’t beat them, think of something else, or so much for getting younger and more athletic, like the West champion Thunder with Kevin Durant, 23, Russell Westbrook, 23, James Harden, 22 and Serge Ibaka, 22, and the Spurs, who finished nine games up on the Lakes with a rotation that included Kawhi Leonard, 21, Danny Green, 24, DeJuan Blair, 23, Tiago Splitter, 27 and Gary Neal, 27.

Happily for the Lakes, the inspired, surprise Nash move did the one thing they had to do, with a thunderclap:

Get the ball out of Kobe Bryant’s hands.

It’s not that Kobe wants to win scoring titles, as he proved, sitting out the last game in Sacramento instead of going for the 38 he needed to pass KD.

However, with the Lakes unable to run an offense—as they weren’t from the moment Mike Brown junked Phil Jackson’s triangle and handed the ball to non-playmaking points Derek Fisher and Steve Blake—the ball always seemed to wind up in Bryant’s hands as the clock wound down.

Being Kobe, he made more than his share of the wooliest array of double-clutch, duck-under, defender-draped shots any NBA player ever took.

(If this sounds like absurd hyperbole, which, let’s face it, creeps into one’s copy, I mean it literally and I make it with serene confidence. No player was ever left on the floor as long to take as many shots as wild as Kobe. Not World B. Free. Not John Drew. No one.)

Kobe actually had a better season than anyone knew, which should have won him the MVP, stifling teammates’ grumbling about Brown, holding them together—the more so after the trade of Fisher who played Good Cop to his Bad Cop—averaging 28-5-5 and looking younger than he had in years after undergoing surgery in Germany.

Nevertheless, his 43% shooting from the floor was his low since becoming a starter in 1999.

For the first time in his career, Bryant will now play with a playmaking wizard and dead-eye shooter who, even at 38, will run devastating pick-and-fades with Pau Gasol, or pick-and-rolls with Bynum, whose great hands and feet make him an ideal roll man, and keep defenses from eyeballing Kobe.

(No, Gary Payton wasn’t great when he became a Laker at 35. After much grumbling about Bryant demanding the ball, I saw Kobe walk up to him in a game and put his hands out for the ball, as if GP was a tot who might get hurt if he got in the grownups’ way… whereupon GP handed it to him and got out of the way.)

The surprise was that the Lakers were willing to take any more changes, looking all but paralyzed by fear of the new punitive luxury tax that will charge habitual taxpayers (as they have been for 15 seasons in a row) in the top bracket (where the Lakers are, as usual) $4.50 per $1.

Determined to get under the threshold in 2014 when all their contracts are up, the Lakers seemed to have put budget concerns above everything, even with their new TV deal adding $150 million annually  to their bottom line.

Prosperous as Jerry Buss is, he’s no billionaire.

When he slashes costs, no one is safe, not Jackson who took a 25% cut his last season—OK, from $12 mill to $9 mill—or anyone in the basketball operation, which was all but laid off, en masse,before the lockout, from assistant GM Ronnie Lester, the man who really discovered Bynum, to faithful equipment manager Rudy Garciduenas.

Lakers Jim Buss

Jim Buss, son of Lakers owner Jerry Buss

Now their scouts include several of Jerry’s kids, like Jim to your left, and their friends like Chaz Osborne, a former bartender.

In good news for local fans of Showtime, it’s still here, it’s just that the Clippers will be the ones playing it.

Blake Griffin just re-upped through 2017, as expected, although the big challenge remains, signing Chris Paul, who just turned down an extension.

Nevertheless, team president Andy Roeser, personnel chief Gary Sachs and Coach Vinny Del Negro have held their own while interviewing GM candidates… assuming the Donald still lets them hire one.

The Clippers were one big men short, or two, if you factor in the offensive end where neither DeAndre Jordan nor Reggie Evans had a lot to contribute aside from dunking lobs or put-backs.

Faint as Odom’s heart may be when things turn down for him, at 6-10 with his skills, he’s ideal for a team that wants to play even faster.

So for local fans, living in fear of the local teams’ brain trusts… surprise!

Mark Heisler is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops, LakersNation and the Old Gray Lady. His power rankings appear every Wednesday during the regular season, and his columns and video reports appear regularly here. Follow him on Twitter.

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  1. I argue Howard makes LA better on offense AND on defense even while admitting that Bynum’s a better offensive player than Dwight. I think it opens the paint way up for Gasol, who is much more effective around the basket (and spent last year on the wing shooting jumpers and setting screens), while Dwight’s quickness and hops make him better at put backs.

    On D there’s no comparison.

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