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.
I feel like we’ve been talking about Dwight Howard leaving Orlando for the last few years, and sheesh, he still has one more year left on that dang contract with the Magic. With the NBA now back in action after a 148-day lockout, the rumor mill is spinning double time as sources say the Magic center might be on the move.
The suitors? My favorite NBA newcomer in recent years, Mikhail Prokhorov and the New Jersey Nets. Sources told ESPN.com that the Nets are willing to trade center Brook Lopez (who is no slouch, might I add) and two future first-round draft picks to Orlando to get Howard, the reigning NBA Defensive Player Of The Year, winner of the award for three seasons straight.
Oh ya, New Jersey is also ready to pony up about $35 million — yes, the Nets are willing to absorb the remaining three years of Orlando forward Hedo Turkoglu’s contract, which is a huge financial incentive for the Magic. Not only would they get an emerging center and two draft picks, but they would also ditch a stinky contract, the kind owners were hoping to protect themselves from in reworking certain systems issues during the CBA negotiations.
Just think, only one full season removed from a 10-win debacle of 2009-2010, the Nets could truly compete with Deron Williams and Dwight Howard in the starting lineup. If Jason Kidd could take Kerry Kittles and Brian Scalabrine to the NBA Finals (sorry Scal, you know you’re my boy!), DWill, Dwight and company can at least make the playoffs.
Not only would this trade make a great rap lyric in the future, but it would be one heck of a shower gift from Prokhorov and Billy King to part-owner Jay-Z and his wifey Beyonce. The combination of Williams and Howard would help make a roster full of young guys and journeyman players better and coupled with the excitement of moving to Brooklyn in 2012, the Nets would be a team worth watching for the first time in a long time.
For more information about the Nets’ interest in Dwight Howard, click here: http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/7297170/sources-new-jersey-nets-prep-big-trade-offer-dwight-howard-orlando-magic