Timing, Not Personnel or Agendas, To Blame For Dwight’s Departure Reviewed by Momizat on . Regardless of how you feel in the aftermath of Dwight Howard deciding to leave the Lakers and sign with the Houston Rockets, it's important to note that there i Regardless of how you feel in the aftermath of Dwight Howard deciding to leave the Lakers and sign with the Houston Rockets, it's important to note that there i Rating:
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Timing, Not Personnel or Agendas, To Blame For Dwight’s Departure

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Orlando MagicRegardless of how you feel in the aftermath of Dwight Howard deciding to leave the Lakers and sign with the Houston Rockets, it’s important to note that there isn’t a single individual to blame for the position the Lakers find themselves in today.

This isn’t David Stern’s fault because he did the job he was supposed to do as “owner” of the New Orleans franchise and took the trade that would best increase the team’s sale price. This isn’t Jim Buss’ fault for not firing a coach just to appease a player who never wanted to be here in the first place. Nor is this Mitch Kupchak’s fault because he traded away late first-round picks to help facilitate trades instead of keeping them.

The reason why the Lakers are in Waiting For Next Year-mode is mainly due to bad timing. It’s that simple. No team has suffered under the rules of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement more than they have. But it isn’t because the rules themselves were designed to make the Lakers suffer. It’s because a new system was put in place at a time when the Lakers still had too many years and too much money committed to too many players.

The Lakers still have $62 million committed to four players for this upcoming season on contracts that were signed under the old agreement. So while new rules and penalties were implemented with the new CBA, there were no grandfather clauses put in place so that penalties on contracts signed under the old CBA could be adjusted for their duration. Instead, teams were given two years with which to shed those contracts before the more severe penalties went into effect.

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To make matters worse, the new CBA also took away the only chip the Lakers had with which to improve their roster in free agency and replaced it with a much less attractive one. As an example, the old CBA gave the Lakers a mid-level exception that allowed them to add Metta World Peace and Steve Blake to title-defending teams while the new one was only good enough to get them Josh McRoberts.

Bad luck? Yes. Bad timing? Yes. Unfair? Not really. The worst part about it all is that nearly ever team in the league was given a three-year head-start on the Lakers. Three years to sign free agents and draft players while the Lakers got both older and worse. The fact that Kupchak was able to make the moves to acquire Nash and Howard is a testament to his resourcefulness. The league put Mitch in handcuffs and asked him to win a fight. And while he didn’t win the fight, he did everything in his power to try to.

What comes next for the Lakers is anyone’s guess. My guess is they’ll use their amnesty on Metta World Peace any minute now and try to reduce their payroll for next season by even more. If they can get their salary to just $4 million or less above the luxury tax limit (aka “the apron”), they can participate in sign-and-trades as well as use the full mid-level exception. Amnestying World Peace could get them just a small move or two away from there.

As for Dwight Howard, it never really seemed like a fit. It was another instance of bad timing for the Lakers. They had one year to make an impression and it was a disastrous one by Lakers standards. There’s a reason why nobody has ever left the Lakers by choice until now. It’s because they’ve never had a season as tumultuous as the one they just had. If all you’ve experienced is constant negativity, both on and off the court, I can see why you’d want to at least shop around. I have no ill-will towards Dwight. The Lakers were never his preferred destination. He didn’t go to the Lakers by choice, he was traded. He earned the right to be a free agent and determine where he wanted to play for the remainder of his prime and he went with the team he felt gave him the best chance to win immediately. The Rockets offered an up-and-coming team that everyone seems to like and all the Lakers could offer him was hope-based-on-history.

I’m disappointed that he chose to play elsewhere but there’s no use crying about it.  Time to move on just like he did. Committing those years and dollars was always going to be a risk because of Dwight’s back but it was a risk I was hoping would happen. I wrote last month that even if you wanted Dwight gone that bringing him back was a better business decision than losing the only attractive asset left on your roster.

What I do know is that the Lakers aren’t tanking, at least not deliberately. There are rosters in the league that are still worse than theirs is. For the first time since 1996, the Lakers will have salary cap space with which to start the next chapter of their storied franchise. They will have also had three years of hopefully learning from the mistakes that other teams have made under the new collective bargaining agreement. They will also be able to restart the clock on the repeater tax, the scariest part of the new CBA, should they put together a teams that’s of championship caliber.

This team wasn’t going to win a championship as they were constructed. This wasn’t the Cleveland Cavaliers team that had won 127 games and had the league’s best regular season record in back-to-back seasons when LeBron James decided to leave. This was a team that was caught between two CBAs, patiently waiting for contracts to expire and hoping they could get Howard to wait patiently for just one more year. To Dwight, that meant he’d have to wait at least five years between Finals appearances without the certainty of who his teammates would be. Even with all of that, I still thought that he would have re-signed with the Lakers and asked for a trade later than pass up all that money.

If the fans of other teams want to pretend like Dwight was leaving a defending champion, let them. They were the same people who were telling us that Dwight was terrible during the season. While it isn’t the best day to be a Lakers fan, it certainly isn’t the worst day either. May the standard for the franchise always be so high that a 45-win season is considered a “Season From Hell”. We’ve had so much good luck over the last 30 years that when things like injury-riddled season happen, or a free agent decides the grass is greener somewhere else, you can’t get sad or angry about it. You just have to chalk it up to it being your turn to finally suffer a little bad luck and hope it’s not a long ride.

The Lakers have been able to put together championship teams over and over despite having not drafted in the single-digits since 1979. They were able to rebuild from a 34-win team in the aftermath of Shaq’s departure to a back-to-back champion with Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, and Andrew Bynum as the only players on their roster who they acquired through the draft. This isn’t the end for the Lakers so much as it is the start of a new beginning.

Funny that I write this from a hotel  room in Cleveland, the city that set the benchmark for how not to react when one of your players decides to go elsewhere. But it’s like I said, sometimes the best explanation is timing.


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About The Author

Andrew Ungvari is a Los Angeles native and a Lakers season ticket holder since 1989. Follow him on twitter @DrewUnga.

Number of Entries : 48
  • pio2u

    It’s definitely time to move on; we’ve got work to do but that’s what the Lakers always do. We are like death and taxes; it is inevitable that we shall return to a championship caliber team. Today is not lost; it is an opportunity gained in order to reshape our own destiny. Laker Life; the quest continues!

    • Janice S. Roberts

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  • Ian Chin

    ” It’s because a new system was put in place at a time when the Lakers
    still had too many years and too much money committed to too many

    That’s the GM’s fault… It’s not as if GM’s didn’t know change was coming. The Lakers gambled with those long term contracts and got burned. Adding Nash and Howard are moves that on the surface looked good, but in the end did not pay off. Again, that’s on the GM. Bad timing? Bad luck? That’s just excuses.

    • AndrewUngvari

      $50 million of that $62 million for next season is committed to Kobe and Pau. The remaining $12 million belongs to Blake and MWP. While $50 million is a lot of money they were two of the league’s best 10 players at the time they signed their deals and were rewarded for winning championships. That’s why until this season, the Lakers were the only franchise to repeat between 1998 and 2013–and they did it three times. They kept championship cores together while teams like Sacramento were going broke trying to dethrone them and teams like OKC were trading away some of their best players a year earlier than they had to because they they couldn’t afford to re-sign them.

      This wasn’t like the Knicks signing Stoudemire and Melo to $100M contracts in hopes of winning a title. Giving a 29-year-old Pau Gasol a three-year extension after back-to-back Finals appearances and with a year still left on his deal wasn’t that much of a gamble. Giving Kobe Bryant anything less than the maximum dollars and the maximum years was as much of a business decision as it was a basketball one. So which of those two moves was the fault of the GM or one you wouldn’t have made?

      So what were they really gambling on, 4-years and $16 million to Steve Blake while their bench was awful and Derek Fisher was aging rapidly? Five years and $34 million for Artest to replace Trevor Ariza when he probably could have gotten FOUR years and $34 million at the time? In spite of coming off a season in which he was paid $7.4 million and was 2nd-team All-Defense, he made $1.6 million less than that in his first year with the Lakers.

      Trading nothing for Steve Nash was still better than committing long-term to Ramon Sessions or bringing back Derek Fisher. Trading Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard was still a great deal in hindsight, considering that Bynum didn’t play a single game in the final year of his contract and wouldn’t have been extended beyond next season. The injuries were bad luck.

      Everyone knew change was coming but nobody knew what kind of change. We knew that there would be more severe luxury tax penalties but nobody knew that contracts signed under the old CBA would be penalized at 100% of their value and not at, say, 80%.

      Nobody knew that the Lakers would only be able to offer $3 million to a free agent instead of $5 million. Nobody knew that there would be a limit to the amount of money teams could include in a trade during a calendar year. Nobody knew that teams more than $4 million over the luxury tax wouldn’t be able to accept a player in a sign-and-trade deal?

      Three of the Lakers only assets with which to improve their roster until those contracts were either traded or expired were gone in an instant. Even if they knew some of those things were on the table, nobody thought that all of them would be included.

      I’m sorry but that’s much more a case of bad luck than it is of bad foresight.

      • Ian Chin

        Any manager worth his salt is going to figure in the best and worst case scenarios.

        The Lakers could have stepped back and shed salary like the low and middle market teams but they made the decision not to. That wasn’t bad luck, that was a business decision that eventually would come back to hurt them.

        Los Angeles has never been afraid to spend, and it’s always the most free spending teams (who are also the richest) in any sport that have the most trouble when new rules go into effect. maybe the new CBA hurt them the most, but like the New York Yankee’s they have revenue streams that dwarf the competition, and they can often buy their way out of problems.

        Now maybe it was part of the price of winning, the Lakers wouldn’t be
        the first sports franchise to mortgage or risk the future for the
        present, but to say it’s bad luck is simply to ignore the fact that most
        prudent move for any GM would be to either have plans for all possible
        scenarios or understand that those big signings may come around to bite them when changes come.

        Injuries are bad luck. Every GM in the league knew when the last CBA was set to expire, and the hot topic issues were fairly well known. Not knowing is not bad luck. It’s bad foresight.

        PS: But I did like your article! =)

        • AndrewUngvari

          Thanks, and I appreciate the discussion and respect your opinion. I think they tried to shed salary. That’s why they had no picks. They used them to get teams to take guys like VladRad, Sasha, Derek Fisher, and Luke Walton off their hands.

          We know they tried to trade Odom and Gasol and then moved Odom for just a trade exception. It’s hard to compare the Lakers to the Yankees when the Yankees not only have a legit minor league system with which to replace underperforming players with but they play in a league where you can trade a player away without having to match salaries and/or pay a portion of the salaries you’re trading away. You don’t think the Lakers would have done that if given the chance?

          A player is worth whatever another team is willing to pay him. There is no team that would not have given Kobe or Pau either of those contracts in the midst of three straight Finals appearances. With that much money devoted to two players, the Lakers knew that they were limited in how they could surround them but at least they knew they had options. Then the majority of those options were taken away.

          The funny thing is, under the terms of the new CBA there’s a good chance that both players would have received one fewer year on those extensions and would be free agents right now instead of next year.

          The system is messed up just by virtue of the fact that teams are rewarded for tanking. Imagine what type of league this would be if all 30 teams were given a chance to win the lottery. When you’re not good enough to win the title but not bad enough to win the lottery, that’s the worst place to be. But that’s also why teams are spending 2-4 years acquiring draft picks and young players on rookie contracts from other teams while selling hope to their fans.

          Sure, giving your two best players between $40 and $50 million with a salary cap in the high 50s or low 60s was always going to be a risk. Unless they were willing to trade one of them instead of giving him an extension than you can’t blame it on poor planning. Changing the rules so dramatically on the fly at a time when your team was constructed for the long run was more painful.

          Contrast their timing with the Heat, who were able to build a team the year before new rules went into place. Sure they will have difficult decisions to make a year from now, but at least they will have had four full seasons before those new rules would affect them as dramatically.

          Again, thanks for the debate. This seems like a case of agreeing to disagree. It’s all subjective. Look forward to your thoughts on all the other things I’ll write in the future.


  • ra

    OK, I’ll offer a note of maybe ‘good timing’ (given that things work out a certain way). Kobe’s injury at the end of the season. While this injury was ‘previously’ career ending, so are ‘many’ injuries that in the past have decimated careers of stellar players -e.g., the ‘torn ACL’ injury is now ‘fixable’.

    If Kobe’s injury is healing the way he ‘says it is’, i.e., that the surgery and repairs are actually making the Achilles tendon ‘stronger’, then this may be a perfect opportunity to Kobe to get at least a ‘full’ 6 month rest and recovery from 17 years of hard labor.

    If it’s a ‘bionic’ repair (e.g., like Tommy John surgery – remember him? the pitcher from the Dodgers who had a career-ending tear in his elbow, but surgery not only repaired the injury, it made him ‘better’. He went on to become an even greater pitcher), … if Kobe’s surgery repair is like that, then we may well witness the second birth of Kobe. Then, we ‘could be’ in for several years of greatness, and even a championship or two.

    That, my friends, is good timing, and if indeed Kobe gets a second wind, then to tell the truth, I’d much rather have him as the franchise player than have issues with a center like DH confound that.

    Kobe knows how to win. And Steve Nash can still pass the ball. We need some ‘reliable’ shooters, quick players, and you’ll see — the ‘real’ return of Showtime. It’s coming.

  • Doug Morgan

    I think it’s pretty obvious that the stubborn-ness in hiring and KEEPING D’Antoni is a big, big part of why Howard left. Like…. really, really obvious.

  • Jim213

    We can expect no difference come the 2014 off season… Sure management wants to wait till 2014 but how are they going to attract a superstar to LA without any team depth or skilled players..? As I’ve been saying since last wk, DH wasn’t the right fit for the organization. Just b/c management wants to wait until 2014, it doesn’t mean that they should leave things as is… Once again no superstar, in my opinion… will come and play in LA without at least having some team depth to make a run at a title. Isn’t that why DH left in the first place aside from D’Antoni…

    Bring in some help for Kobe or he”ll likely get injured again (retirement) b/c given his competitive spirit he’ll likely drive more now in the middle than in the past. Waiting for 2014 doesn’t mean stop acquiring depth… now is when they need to get some depth which can also hopefully involve a 3 team trade with Gasol for Rondo… This will help the Lakers to attract a superstar in 2014 while addressing the lack of young players.

    Trading Gasol will also help to free cap space and the tax while assuring that the franchise can attain top talent in 2014. Build now b/c no superstar will want to play for a team that has nothing to bring to the table while requiring 3 to 4 or 5 years to possibly rebuild. Given today’s NBA contract it would be a waste of time to sign a superstar to a five yr deal without the team being able to at least make the playoffs or compete come playoff time it would just be a waste of time for both parties…

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