It’s that time of year again.  You know, that point in which NBA center Andrew Bynum’s name finds its way back into the headlines with a seemingly purposeful mission to smear the person and talents he once possessed.  For example…

Kobe’s grocery store insult.
The clothesline.
Bad knees.
Operator-error car trouble.
Bad hair day(s).
Bowling.
Crappy neighbors.

The list goes on and on, which brings us to the present.  Bynum,  a former All-Star and two-time NBA Champion has been suspended indefinitely by his current team, the Cleveland Cavaliers for conduct detrimental to the team.

Gotta love how Bynum was able to sneak one last scandal in before 2014.  Kudos.  

Anyway, Yahoo Sports is reporting that a big issue with the 26-year-old is the fact that he just isn’t interested in playing basketball anymore.  The game isn’t his cup of tea, a notion those of us in L.A. who watched Bynum with the Lakers have considered for years.

The man who perhaps best understands this situation is Laker-legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  One of the best big men to ever play the game, Abdul-Jabbar coached Bynum from the time he was drafted by the Lakers right out of high school in 2005 until 2009, when the organization reduced the six-time NBA Champion’s role with the team

Abdul-Jabbar took to his Facebook page Sunday, addressing the situation surrounding his former pupil.

"I believe Andrew has always had the potential to help a team when he puts his heart into it. He just doesn’t seem to be consistent with his commitment to the game. That can lead to a lot of frustration for any team that has signed him.

"When I worked with Andrew I found him to be bright & hardworking but I think he got bored with the repetitive nature of working on basketball fundamentals day in and day out… but they are the keys to long term success.

"In my opinion Andrew is the type of person who walks to the beat of "a different drummer". So we won’t know the facts until Andrew decides to tell us what actually is the issue and shares his thoughts. @KAJ33"

This strikes a few chords.  Abdul-Jabbar had the reputation of beating to “a different drummer” for decades and like Bynum, hails from the East Coast.  While playing for the Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar buried himself in books and literature while Bynum spent free time building computers in the home he shared with his mother. Both men were considered unconventional NBA players when it came to off-the-court personality.

A fundamental difference between the two is love for the game of basketball, which became apparent to Abdul-Jabbar while working with Bynum (and doing a damn fine job if I may editorialize).  

After Bynum was shipped to Philadelphia in the Lakers’ trade for Dwight Howard in 2012, Abdul-Jabbar told Lakers beat writer Mark Medina, “Andrew has been up and down on that issue [of commitment and winning]. There are times he wants to play, do a great job and he goes out and does it. Then there are other times where it seems like he’s not focused.”

Any professional athlete will tell you that without the proper incentives (enjoyment of the sport, public notoriety, and big-time paychecks, just to name a few), the strenuous physical and mental dedication to the craft just ain’t worth it.  

It appears that the benefits of being a professional basketball player are no longer worth the time and effort for Bynum.  For the sake of his teammates, fans, and Bynum himself, hopefully the still-young man will set his sights on a new, more enjoyable career that keeps him out of the headlines for all the wrong reasons.  

 

Today I accidentally caught myself using “Dream Team” in reference to the USA men’s basketball team competing in the 2012 London Olympics.  I quickly corrected myself as the words sounded blasphemous the second they left my lips. 

The 1992 “Dream Team” is irreplaceable, not only because of the star-studded roster, but because that team was a historical first that will never be duplicated in Olympic competition as far as the U.S. is concerned.  It is, however, absolutely possible for the dominance and ferocity of the first NBA player-led Olympic team from the USA to be replicated. 

The 2012 men’s team has one thing the 1992 didn’t… an uber-talented, healthy roster from top to bottom.  Remember, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson may have been the most famous names on the Dream Team, but they were both at the end of their careers, serving primarily as figurehead fan-favorites and were no longer the most talented men on the basketball court.  Bird was in such poor health that he didn’t participate in practice and his teammates said he could hardly walk because of severe back pain.

That is not the case as the 2012 roster is deep with skill and talent.  Despite a lack of size without marquee players like Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Chris Bosh and Blake Griffin, Team USA is still chalk full of hoops greatness.

So then what is holding the 2012 squad back from that top-tier where the original Dream Team resides?  Well, the guys have to play the games before we can crown them kings.  Period.

Team USA has looked great in two of three international games played thus far.  Brazil gave the guys a bit of trouble, exploiting USA’s lack of size down low but not enough so to beat the red, white and blue. 

If the Americans will be tested by anyone at all in London, Spain and Argentina will do the honors.  And they’ll have the pleasure sooner rather than later as the U.S. will face two of the world’s best teams for some pre-Olympics friendly fun within the next few days.

Interestingly enough, the exhibition games are being played at Palau Sant Jordi, the site of the Dream Team’s gold medal game in Barcelona back in 1992. 

The U.S. faces Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola on Sunday, the two NBA stars, leading an Argentine team that won the gold medal in the 2004 Athens Games.  Tuesday, the U.S. is up against a ridiculously stacked Spanish team that ultimately lost to Team USA, taking home silver in the 2008 Beijing Games.  If you recall, that game was no gimme as the U.S. could’ve been beaten by the Spaniards. 

Speaking of Spain, the national team has seven current or former NBA players, plus another two whose draft rights are owned by NBA teams, on the roster.  Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka headline the group that is incredibly talented, despite losing phenom Ricky Rubio to injury during the NBA season.

Back in 1992, Team USA beat opponents by an average of nearly 44 points per game in Olympic play.  But there was no Manu Ginobili playing for Argentina, or Pau Gasol representing Spain.  Instead, those guys were young kids inspired by the NBA stars they were watching in the Olympics on television.

The presence of the Dream Team in 1992 changed the course of history for international basketball, ultimately ensuring that no team could ever dominate at Team USA’s level again, by way of increasing the popularity of the sport worldwide. 

Could another American team come close to earning the “Dream Team” name?  It’s unlikely.  The 2012 team definitely has the star power, but do they have what it takes to dismantle significantly tougher teams than the Americans faced 20 years ago?  We’ll find out soon enough. 


One thing we’ve learned from the Dwight Howard sweepstakes is that no deal is a sure thing until it’s done.  Signed, sealed, delivered. 

First it was the Nets.  Then it was the Rockets.  Then it was the Lakers.  Now it’s the Nets.  Again.

In the last 24 hours, Yahoo! Sports hoops gurus Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc Spears have reported a proposed deal revolving around the Magic center that would involve movement of more than 10 players between four teams. 

While the Lakers are still interested in a trade that would send Andrew Bynum to Orlando in exchange for Howard, Bynum’s hesitation to sign a long-term contract with the Magic has significantly hampered L.A.’s ability to strike a deal, according to a source (as well as several previously published reports).

As a result, Bynum’s reluctance left the door wide open for the Brooklyn Nets, who along with the Magic, would lead the way in this four-team deal, according to Y! Sports.  When doing a deal with so many moving parts, its only natural that there will be a few hiccups in the process. 

One piece of this gigantic puzzle, as reported by Marc Spears of Y! Sports, would send Kris Humphries (sign-and-trade) to the Cavaliers with a one-year contract.  Problem is, the Hump is interested in a four-year deal, which is understandable.  Who doesn’t want some job security?


One guy who has a LOT of power in this situation is agent Dan Fegan, who represents both Howard and Humphries.

Awwwwkwaaaard. 

How do you convince Humphries to go against his own best interest, basically for the sake of another one of your clients?  Humphries (along with several other players said to be on the trading block) would have to agree to a sign-and-trade for the deal to happen. 

As an agent, a multi-year deal for Humphries would certainly be in Fegan’s best interest as more years equals more money (and mo’problems, no doubt).  But it seems like this is quite a predicament for Fegan and his clients, Humphries in particular. 

Plus, if TMZ’s reports of Humphries’ impending fatherhood are accurate (http://tinyurl.com/cevmfze), the financial security of multi-year contract will be of even more importance. 

Moving forward, it will be interesting to watch how this part of the deal plays out.  If Humphries refuses to do a sign-and-trade to the Cavs for a measly one-year contract, can the teams involved get creative and find a way around the Hump?

As if we weren’t already glued to this damn story, the Howard-Humphries connection just adds one more element to this so-called Dwightmare. 


To read the Yahoo! Sports’ story on the proposed mega-deal involving the Magic, Nets, Cavs and Clippers, click this link:  http://sports.yahoo.com/news/nba—nets-emerge-again-as-strong-contender-to-land-dwight-howard.html 

The Los Angeles Lakers are considering an offer from the Orlando Magic that would send Dwight Howard to L.A. in exchange for Andrew Bynum, a source close to the situation tells PepperOnSports.com.

I know, I know.  You’ve heard it all before.  Here’s the fun part:

The source says the Lakers have informed one player that he might be part of the package deal and that he could be traded at any moment. 

The Lakers are “very interested” in acquiring Howard, according to the source. 

Depending on which hour you inquire about a Bynum-for-Howard swap dictates the type of news you’ll get regarding the topic, so your guess is as good as mine.  But as of Thursday afternoon pacific time, the Lakers front office phones were blazing hot with Howard chatter.   

Whether or not the trade happens, it sure is courteous of the Lakers to give players with trade-potential a heads up in hopes of making a tough transition smoother.  Stay classy, L.A. 

Follow me on twitter @Jackie_Pepper

Friday’s game at Madison Square Garden was not the first time Jeremy Lin and the Lakers had crossed paths.  

As an undrafted rookie out of Harvard, Jeremy Lin’s NBA options were limited, to say the least.  After playing for the Dallas Mavericks’ Summer League team (and playing pretty well) in 2010, Lin’s hometown Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers each made him an offer.  Playing for his home team and knowing he would have more of an opportunity to get playing time with the Warriors, Lin signed a two-year deal with Golden State, forgoing a chance to join the reigning NBA champion Lakers.  

For a team without a reliable point guard, watching Lin dominate several phases of the game had to be a painful reality check for the Lakers.   Lin’s 38-point performance pushed the New York Knicks to a fourth consecutive win, trouncing the Lakers late for a 92-85 victory leaving LA’s coaches, management and fan base asking, “what if?”  

Who knows how long the Linsanity will last in New York, but for now, it’s alive and well, boosting the importance of basketball for die-hard and casual fans alike while making a struggling Knicks team relevant once again.  In his last four games (the latter three games being his only career starts in the NBA) Lin’s stats are straight silly as he has logged at least 20 points and seven assists per contest.  In other words, Lin is EXACTLY the kind of player the Lakers need.

Of course, it’s way too early to proclaim Lin the next Chris Paul or Deron Williams, two of the league’s top point guards who are capable of running the offense while scoring at will, a rare breed indeed.   Maybe it’s just a phase or a lucky streak, but after watching Lin play at Harvard while I was a reporter for Comcast SportsNet New England, I believe he is the real deal.  He was good then, and he’s damn good now.  Lin should help Amare Stoudemire get back on track when he returns to the team (death in the family) but I worry about what Lin’s fate will be once Carmelo Anthony heals from a groin injury and gets back on the court.  Lin is not a selfish player who must score, but since he is capable of it, we’ve seen him put the Knicks on his back and carry them across the finish line; something none of the Knicks’ big names have succeeded in doing consistently this season.

The Lakers on the other hand, are offensively challenged, to say the least.  LA has two seven-footers in the starting lineup, yet can’t find a way to consistently get the ball in the hands of Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol.  

Trading Lamar Odom to the Mavericks and losing Chris Paul when NBA Commissioner David Stern vetoed LA’s trade with the Hornets served as a crushing combination, leaving a talented Lakers team depleted on the wing and at the point.  

Steve Blake’s play early in the season was a pleasant surprise as the nine-year vet was the only Laker aside from Kobe who seemed to understand the new offense implemented by head coach Mike Brown, a hodgepodge of pick & roll and elements of the triangle offense.  Blake was a suitable facilitator and even managed to score some nice baskets, helping the Lakers to a 8-4 record to start the season.  After a rib injury sidelined Blake, the Lakers went 6-7 without their starting point guard before going 1-1 (versus the Celtics and Knicks respectively) after his recent return.  

With an aging Derek Fisher and a half-healthy Steve Blake, the lakers are left with the green Darius Morris and rookie Andrew Goudelock to fill in at point guard.  Shockingly, that isn’t working, thus forcing Kobe to officially do everything at once; score, facilitate, play floor-general, defend the opponent’s best player, cure cancer, end wars, etc. Kobe might be one of the best to ever play the game, but even he can’t win playing 5-on-1 night in and night out in the NBA.  

Rumors have swirled about a possible Gasol-for-Rondo trade which would be perfect for the Lakers, but I don’t see what the Celtics would gain by losing their best player for an older power forward.  Sure, Jermaine O’Neal isn’t cutting it as a starting center and Gasol can play the five quite well, but I don’t see that getting Boston any closer to a championship this season.  

The Lakers could use Rondo or any solid point guard right now to help ease Kobe’s burden.  In theory, the Lakers should never need to take a 3-point shot with Kobe, Gasol and Bynum on the floor.  A good point guard should be able to get the ball to Kobe and allow him to cut to the basket, at worse, missing the shot but drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line.  This theoretical point guard knows where his teammates will be and can dump the ball down low, or find a guy with a passing lane in order to get Bynum and Gasol the touches they deserve.  Sure, LA would most likely lose Gasol in a trade, but a point guard like Williams, Rondo, or even Lin is a dual threat in terms of scoring and assists, so it’s not as if the loss of a big man would kill the Lakers’ scoring ability (which is already lacking).  

Instead of putting the ball in the paint, the Lakers have been forced to play a perimeter game that just isn’t working out.  The Lakers are alone in dead last place, shooting a league-low 28 percent from 3-point land, averaging almost 17 long-range attempts per game and making good on only 4.7 of them.  That’s ugly.  Really ugly.  Why would a team with Gasol and Bynum down low, Kobe and a physical Metta World Peace (in theory) need to jack up nearly 17 three-pointers a game?  The Lakers offense has not figured out how to get the ball inside, even against poor defensive teams.  The Lakers are tied for 20th in the league in scoring, averaging 92.7 points per game and have only hit the 100-point mark twice in their last 10 games.  

The Lakers lost out on the Chris Paul sweepstakes.  That’s okay.  They may not be able to get Deron Williams or Rajon Rondo either, so how about good ol’ Jeremy Lin?  He’s progressing at a fast pace, figuring out where his teammates will be and getting them the ball, plus, he is scoring at will.  Lin doesn’t have much of an ego and I get the feeling he would be honored to play alongside of Kobe Bryant, thus having no problem giving up the ball.  In his explosive performance Friday night, Lin exposed the Lakers biggest weakness; LA’s lack of Jeremy Lin, or a point guard like him.

 
Before the Celtics’ first victory of the season on Friday night, there was plenty of panic running up and down Causeway Street as Boston began the season with an 0-3 slump.  Meanwhile a familiar foe was going through a similar situation out west as the Lakers lost their first two games of the season causing folks to practically crown the Clippers as the new kings of Los Angeles hoops. 

Both Celtics and Lakers were missing a star player, not to mention a number of other factors contributing to their slow starts, so working with a sample size of less than five games, is it really fair to freak out just yet? 

Yes and no. 

CELTICS

No, because when you are missing a team captain in one case, and a starting center in another, the expectations should be lowered substantially.  Yes, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said there would be no excuses for his team to start slow; losing Jeff Green to heart surgery right before the season, team captain Paul Pierce out with a bruised right heel… neither was an acceptable excuse for failure according to Rivers.  Obviously, a coach can’t tell his or her team, “hey listen, we’re missing some key parts, so if we suck, well, no big deal.  Nobody expects us to win anyway,” but losing to the Knicks, Heat and Hornets all within four days on the road shouldn’t really come as a shock.

The Knicks looked good in the opener, the Heat were forced to fend off a furious Celtics comeback and the Hornets have some great young talent thanks to the Chris Paul trade so I don’t think there is much shame in this particular 0-3 start.

Here’s where Celtics fans have the right to worry.  Jermaine O’Neal is your starting center.  Yikes.  The big man finally got his act together dropping 19 points on the winless Pistons in Boston’s 96-85 victory over Detroit on Friday, but one good game doesn’t give me much confidence.  In his 15th NBA season, O’Neal (who missed much of last season with injuries) only scored eight points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks in the Celtics’ first three games combined.  The guy is 6’11, c’mon!  O’Neal’s backups are Chris Wilcox (who has missed two games with a bruised shoulder) and rookie Greg Stiemsma. 

The good news is that Stiemsma, last year’s D-League Defensive Player Of The Year has a lot of potential.  The 26-year-old was a standout in an otherwise awful game against the Hornets, with 6 blocks in about 20 minutes in his NBA debut.  I heard good ol’ Tommy Heinsohn compliment Stiemsma a few times during the Celtics broadcast of the Pistons game during the rookie’s 16 minutes which comprised of 2 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, one block, one steal and four fouls.  While the stats seem small, Stiemsma’s presence was felt in a big way, which will only  improve with time.

More good news/bad news …. Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett might be on the verge of dinosaur age by NBA standards, they all still have “it.”   They are still fierce competitors with the physical abilities to win on a nightly basis.   The shortened season is a double-edged sword for an older team as they benefit from playing fewer games overall, yet suffer a disadvantage of little rest between games.  As a true master of this team, Rivers knows these cats well enough to pick the right games to rest each guy when they need it.

Then there’s Rajon Rondo getting ready to hit his prime, not to mention that trade rumor chip on his shoulder that will keep him intent on his proving his worth to Danny Ainge and anyone else who dares to doubt him.

Guards Marquis Daniels and Keyon Dooling will be nice role players for Boston as will forwards Brandon Bass and Sasha Pavlovic.  But as with most things in life, it all comes back to the middle, or the center.  Will the trio of O’Neal, Wilcox and Stiemsma be strong enough to fend off the likes of Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, Al Horford, and the entire Miami Heat throughout the whole, albeit shortened regular season?  Can the Celtics rotation of Bigs truly compete with the size, strength, skill and experience of the top teams in the East at the 5 position?  Time will tell, but I won’t get my hopes up. 

Then there’s the defense.  Losing a defensive mind Tom Thibodeau is a big deal and it showed last season.  The defense is what made this team dangerous over the last few years.  It is one thing to ask older players to produce offensively but it’s another to expect them to play as tenaciously on the other end of the floor.  I think the younger players should do whatever they can defensively to compensate for what the Big 3 might lack at that end. 

If the Celtics can find a way to stay rested and maximize the play of their big men, I think they’ll get back on track and be a legitimate factor in the East. 

LAKERS

As for the Celtics loathed rival, I would start with expressing concern over Kobe Bryant’s health, but after doing so over the last few years of bad knees, jacked up pinkies and whatever else, I have finally learned to accept the fact that injuries rarely hamper Bryant.  He says his surgically repaired right knee is “as close to 100% as it’s going to get” after an offseason procedure in Germany, and despite a torn ligament in his right wrist, Bryant is shooting a career-best 48.1% from the field.  True, the Lakers have only played four games this season, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Barring catastrophic injury, I expect Bryant to kick it up a notch on the heels of what many perceived was a “down year” for him on the court.  Kobe has been less concerned with offense though as he says defense will be the bread and butter for this Lakers team.  Even in L.A.’s losses to the Bulls and Kings, the team played stifling defense in stretches, but not consistently.  That changed in the Lakers last two games against the Jazz and Knicks as the team really picked up its pick and roll defense and held both teams to under 33% shooting.  If the Lakers can play the defense that Mike Brown and his staff have implemented on a consistent basis, their offense will come easily via the fastbreak, turnovers, and defensive rebounds. 

Defensive rebounding shouldn’t be an issue for the Lakers with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol hanging out under the hoop.  If Bynum can keep his head screwed on straight, the Lakers won’t need Dwight Howard this season.  Every year, Bynum is proclaimed as the “key” to the season by coaches, teammates and the media.  While he has showed flashes of brilliance, a combination of injuries and mental/emotional weakness has derailed what should be an all-star career going into his sixth NBA season. 

I ran into Bynum at one of L.A.’s toughest workout spots over the summer and he looked fantastic, perhaps in the best physical shape of his NBA career.  If he can stay disciplined and even-tempered, playing alongside Gasol will give the Lakers a lot to work with.  As for Pau, remember how he got hammered after the Lakers lost to the Celtics in the finals back in 2008? “He’s soft,”  “he sucks,” etc.? How did Gasol rebound from that criticism?  He kicked ass and led the Lakers to back-to-back NBA titles.  Gasol is now facing the same situation, and thus far, has responded accordingly.  He has to prove himself once again and Gasol is already playing with a fire he lacked last season. 

Now to Lamar Odom.  Without bringing in an all-star player, Odom can only be replaced by committee which is what the Lakers are looking to do.  Josh McRoberts and Devin Ebanks have both played surprisingly well thus far at the 3 and 4 and will do so with less pressure once Bynum returns from a four-game suspension today against the Nuggets.  New addition Jason Kapono has made the most of his little playing time behind Kobe, and Steve Blake is not only facilitating but actually hitting his shots this season! Who knew?

The X-factor here is none other than Metta World Peace.  Fitting, right? The artist formally known as Ron looked HORRENDOUS in the Lakers preseason games and regular season opener, in fact, I half-joked that he might get cut before the season started.  He was slow, couldn’t run, certainly couldn’t jump and was unable to make a basket if you stood on the baseline waving cash in front of his face.  

But with a new name (‘Metta,’ a Buddhist term meaning loving kindness) and a new outlook on life also comes a new job on the court.  World Peace is filling Odom’s old shoes as the anchor of the Lakers second unit and is actually scoring points in doing so, 12.4ppg to be exact.  While the 2004 Defensive Player Of The Year is known for what he does without the ball, the Lakers need him to produce offensively as well.  Like Odom in years past, I think putting World Peace in the “bench leader” niche will give him just enough responsibility to feel accountable and important without the pressure and lofty expectations that come with being a starter.

With so many new and inexperienced players on the roster, not to mention a new head coach as well as overhauled systems both offensively and defensively, there will definitely be a learning curve for this Lakers team.  Having said that, this specific group of guys (a few stars and several role players) reminds me of the kind of roster the Lakers had back in the Phil Jackson 3-peat days.  The real concerns for the Lakers are heath (as it is with every team), consistency and just how big the learning curve might be in this truncated season.