Men in Black: The Show?

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Ron Turenne/NBAE/Getty Images Dwight Howard, Steve Nash

Simmons vs. Lowe: The Lakers

Our NBA experts try to figure out how a team full of All-Stars can end up being so terrible

Editor’s note: With the 2013 Lakers’ season imploding within the implosion of the already-imploded season, Grantland’s Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons finally caved and started exchanging e-mails about it. To their credit, they resisted the urge to do this for 10 solid weeks. Here’s what transpired.

Lowe: So, the Lakers are 17-24.

Simmons: What??? Is that true? Why has ESPN been ignoring this story? What the hell?

Lowe: They’re 12-19 since Mike D’Antoni got behind the bench. Their defense is allowing 105.3 points per 100 possessions, which would rank D’Antoni’s Lakers about 27th overall (for the season, they rank 19th overall). Dwight Howard has been bad, both by his standards and by those of most good big-man defenders, but the Lakers overall have been much better defensively — about league-average — when he’s on the floor.

Simmons: How sad is it that you’re complimenting the Lakers for being “much better defensively” when Howard plays, even though they’re only league-average? Remember when we were calling him the best defensive center of his generation? Just four years ago, we watched a half-decent Magic team surround him with 3-point shooters and ride his defense and athleticism to the 2009 Finals. Now he’s part of the phrase “league-average”? I know this dumbfounding Lakers season is juggling about 39 different inexplicable subplots, but for me, Howard’s decline from “third-best player in basketball” to “borderline All-Star” (which is what you called him in Tuesday’s All-Star ballot column, and by the way, I totally agree) has been the single most staggering subplot. We’re now 13 weeks into the 2012-13 season and Howard doesn’t look any more or less mobile/spry/athletic/bouncy than he did on Halloween. He doesn’t have the same hops. He’s laboring. I watched him in person on Thursday night — he moves just as stiffly as Emeka Okafor does. He plays like a guy with a bad back. It hasn’t gotten better. The fact that he’s putting up solid numbers is kind of amazing.

Lowe: I think you’re a little harsh on Dwight, considering it might take better than league-average individual defense to drag this roster to league-average defense, if that makes sense.

Simmons: You’re right. Still, remember last summer when we were assuming Howard would fix whatever problems they had? Everyone thought he’d revert to being 2009-2010-2011 Howard … eventually. And that just hasn’t happened. There is no evidence that 2009-2010-2011 Howard is coming back. None.

Lowe: I’ve already written that on some nights, he looks more like Carlos Boozer (sorry, Booz!) than Howard’s old self — he’s slower on his feet, not as good at positioning himself to cut off pocket passes, and often swiping with his arms instead of sliding his feet to get into proper position. Shoot, Marco Belinelli turned the corner on him in crunch time Monday night in Chicago. His back-line help defense has been slower than usual, and he and Pau Gasol just haven’t nailed down any defensive chemistry. He’s also been a part of L.A.’s god-awful transition defense — as has Kobe (always gambling for steals in that split second of offense-to-defense chaos after a turnover) and everyone else. He’s just slow, basically.

Simmons: Hold on, we have to wait for the Orlando Magic fans to stop high-fiving.

Lowe: By the way: I (fake) voted Howard MVP in 2011 and thought he was the second-best player in the league after that season. Kevin Durant would have passed him by now regardless, but Howard was that good.

Simmons: Yessir. After the 2011 season ended, you could safely say three players guaranteed you 46-plus wins if you gave them 11 average teammates — LeBron, Howard and Durant. Now? It’s a two-man list. And I don’t think people realize how young Howard is … he just turned 27 years old. He’s two months older than Rajon Rondo! For everyone saying, “Well, he just has to play himself back into shape,” um … how do we know for sure? Maybe he’s never going to be the same. I remember when Larry Johnson was battling a herniated disk in the mid-’90s, he had the surgery and everyone said, “He’ll be fine, he’ll be the old LJ soon.” Never happened. He lost his explosiveness, stopped being the same rebounder, and reinvented himself as an outside shooter. Check this out …

Larry Johnson, age 24: 40.5 MPG, 22.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 4.3 APG, 53% FG, 18.9 PER
Larry Johnson, age 29: 34.4 MPG, 12.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.3 APG, 51% FG, 15.8 PER
Larry Johnson, age 30: 33.4 MPG, 12.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 46% FG, 14.6 PER

So for anyone saying, “Howard just needs to play himself back into shape,” what evidence do we have that it will happen?

Lowe: It’s tough to find equivalency between injuries, only because each case is specific to each player’s injury, age, recovery tendencies, genetics, etc. Players have managed back issues before — including Steve Nash for several years in his mid-30s and beyond — and Howard is still pretty young. But I suppose it’s possible he never regains 100 percent of his peak. Hard to know either way.

Simmons: The red flag for me: Howard isn’t a physically overpowering presence like, say, Shaq was. His athleticism was what made him overpowering, no different than LeBron, Russell Westbrook or even Serge Ibaka (on some nights, anyway). Athletically, Dwight was on another planet. He could jump three times before everyone else jumped twice. He lived above the rim — you literally couldn’t keep him away from it. Now you can. So would they consider dealing him? That question ballooned into a legitimate news story last night after reported that Dwight was unhappy: Suddenly, if you’re the Lakers, maybe you should consider keeping Gasol and trading Howard (someone who might be leaving next summer, anyway) over dealing Gasol for 45 cents on the dollar. They’ve botched Gasol’s trade value so badly, it just seems like they’d get more value for Howard, right?

Lowe: I just can’t see them trading Howard unless he demands it (and who knows, maybe we’re headed that way). As you say, there is a degree of uncertainty over his recovery from back surgery, but one end of that uncertainty has him rediscovering his peak form in short order. If he does that, you have to keep him around, especially since the other All-Star center whom you traded for him only makes news for growing his hair out and taking stand-still 3s in practice at this point. But the iffy chemistry going on in L.A. right now at least leaves the Howard free-agency door open. Dallas and Atlanta must be itching to pitch him.

Simmons: It’s going to hinge on the team’s level of desperation. If you’re Dallas, you just blew a title defense AND the tail end of Dirk Nowitzki’s prime. You’re in NBA no-man’s land — fringe lottery, fringe playoffs — without a single under-27 player to build around unless you overpay O.J. Mayo. You’re also owned by someone who despises the word “irrelevant” in anything he’s doing, someone who took a pretty calculated risk allowing Tyson Chandler to leave that totally backfired. (Semi-related: How nice would Chandler be as a trade chip for Howard right now? Whoops.)

Lowe: Chandler is a nice example of injury-related uncertainty, by the way. He’s one of the 15 best players in the league now and couldn’t even start for the Bobcats in the 2010 playoffs.

Simmons: Very true. That’s why the Mavs would roll the dice on Dwight no matter what. Either way, it’s going to be the best episode of Shark Tank ever. I don’t know about Atlanta or Houston. The Lakers could offer Dwight to Atlanta for Al Horford and Kyle Korver right now and I think the Hawks would say no. (Imagine reading that sentence two years ago.) But Howard for Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, Carlos Delfino and expirings? I think Houston says yes … and the Lakers probably say no.

Lowe: The Lakers definitely say no to Houston there. The general Horford-for-Howard thing is interesting, but Horford is a fantastic asset to surrender in exchange for a guy who has been unreliable and immature for the past two years — a guy who could really use Stan Van Gundy right about now. I mean, Howard is making noise about “playing inside-out,” according to our ESPN colleagues, by which he presumably means he needs more post-up attempts. Does he just not understand that centering an offense on pick-and-rolls is playing inside-out, since it is based upon the idea that Howard rolling through the lane is going to draw perimeter defenders, um, inside? Does he not like that inside-out strategy as much as straight post-ups, since the latter by definition amounts to passing him the ball, and a pick-and-roll could be designed to free Kobe for a 3?

Simmons: This is just one of many reasons why I don’t see Dwight going into coaching after he retires. Acting, yes. Infomercials, yes. Professional wrestling, yes. Joining the cast of Sesame Street, yes. Coaching, no.

Lowe: Back to the Hawks — they’ll have cap room this summer, they know Howard’s back is still bothering him, and Horford is a great all-around player. I’d pass, but doing so would make me sweat a bit if I were Danny Ferry.

Simmons: It’s just a shame the Lakers can’t get Nikola Vucevic, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington and Mo Harkless for Dwight. (Sorry, I had to.)

Lowe: Ouch. To your other point: Howard has definitely lost a lot of “leaping at the rim” explosiveness. Go back and watch all the Nash/Howard pick-and-rolls from the Chicago game. They literally lead nowhere. Joakim Noah dropped down to cut off Nash as Kirk Hinrich went over the Howard screen, and Noah was able to basically stop Nash while staying within arm’s length of Dwight. Why? In part because Howard’s rolls to the rim were so slow, and so late, that Nash (looking old, by the way) didn’t really have any chance to pass him the ball.

Simmons: Glad you brought up Nash, whose possible decline has been the ninth-most fascinating Lakers story this season, one spot above Robert Sacre’s otherworldly bench celebrations and one spot below Antawn Jamison’s enthrallingly boring quest to pass 20,000 points. (He’s 493 away, if you care.) The Nash fan in me is hoping, “His leg hasn’t healed yet, he’s playing hurt, that’s why he’s a step slow. He’ll get it back; he’s Steve Nash.” The Laker hater in me is hoping “Steve Nash is washed up, or headed that way … and he has two years left on his deal after this year!” He’s a step and a half slow right now. We’ve been down this road with great NBA players before — they don’t “lose it” as much as their bodies just start to break down. Too early to say if it’s happening with Nash, but we’re not off to a good start.

Lowe: Yeah, I mentioned the state of Nash in Tuesday’s column. It’s probably a combination of factors, at least some of which can change over time — his recovery from a broken leg, his team-first instinct to feed everyone, the feeling-out process he has with a new roster, etc. But some of it is certainly age-related, and that won’t change.

Simmons: I have enjoyed the Nash-Kobe bonding stories, though. Supposedly they’ve been breaking down tape for hours and hours like they’re Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels. How many times do you think Kobe has said, “Steve, seriously, what the f— is wrong with Dwight?”

Lowe: Another reason why Howard hasn’t thrived for the Lakers: The Lakers can’t space the floor around that pick-and-roll play with him and Nash. The guys guarding Earl Clark and World Peace have a step in the lane basically by the time Nash crosses mid-court, and the other defender is not exactly treating Bryant like Ray Allen. As we’ll get to later, this is one reason I’m not sure why the Lakers are in such a rush to bench Pau.

Simmons: I’m glad we finally got to Pau. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you’re a professional basketball coach and your system is telling you, “I should play Earl Clark more than Pau Gasol,” you need a new system.

Lowe: Here’s something interesting: L.A.’s theoretical best five-man lineup — Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Howard — has played just 132 minutes together all season. The same lineup with Earl Clark in Pau’s spot has already played 71 minutes! The Pau five is about plus-2 overall, but they’ve been horrid defensively — like league-worst horrid, giving up about 109 points per 100 possessions. Has D’Antoni sort of short-circuited this lineup too quickly, given all the roster and injury turmoil the Lakers have faced? I mean, we’re talking about Earl Clark!

Simmons: I like how you went Iverson right there. Totally warranted.

Lowe: Earl Clark is a nice athlete, helpful on defense and on the boards, but he’s not going to space the floor for Howard pick-and-rolls — which haven’t been all that effective on their own, anyway.

Simmons: You left out “And someone who shouldn’t be playing as much as Pau Gasol.” There are two types of coaches …

1. A coach who looks at his players and says, “How can I put these guys in the best position for them to succeed?”

2. A coach who looks at his players and says, “How can I use these guys to make my system succeed?”

Now, think about the mind-set driving Coach No. 2: He’s basically saying, I’m here only because of my system. I can’t actually coach. If you give me the wrong players for my system, it doesn’t matter — I will keep using the system anyway, because Plan B would be coming up with a more inventive way to coach these guys. And I can’t do that. I’m not good enough. So if it’s OK with you, I’d like to go down in flames with my system.

That’s what D’Antoni did in New York (cut to Knicks fans nodding vigorously), that’s what he’s doing with the Lakers right now, and that’s what he’ll be doing when he’s coaching the Minnesota Lynx in three years.

Lowe: I’m generally a fan of D’Antoni. I defended the hiring, and I consider him a very smart basketball person whose teams in Phoenix played much better defense — about league-average defense — than commentators who don’t factor in pace would understand.

Simmons: I defended the hiring as well, mainly because I thought for sure he’d learn from his mistakes in New York. Nope. Instead, it’s almost like he blew those mistakes out into a much fancier sequel — a little like how Mike Myers blew out Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, added new characters and beefed up Dr. Evil’s backstory. I always thought D’Antoni grabbed the money in New York. He knew that wasn’t the right roster for him, he knew Chicago was a better fit … but he couldn’t walk away from that fat paycheck. Now it’s happened twice. He’s obviously a coach who can succeed only with a certain type of roster and certain types of players. Stick him on Miami or even Houston and he’d look like a genius again. He just picked the wrong team. Twice.

Lowe: It’s fitting that we’re discussing this stuff right after the Lakers lost to a Chicago team giving heavy minutes to Nate Robinson. Do you think Tom Thibodeau, defensive perfectionist and no-nonsense soul, actually likes Nate Robinson’s game? Heck no. But he needs Robinson’s offense, so he’s using him. D’Antoni didn’t like Robinson in New York, so he buried him at the end of the bench, unleashing him now and then out of desperation for the inevitable Nate-Rob explosion. Which is to say: If D’Antoni has flaws as a coach, one of them might be a certain kind of stubbornness that affects his rotation choices and strategy. Connected to that: It just feels like he’s overthinking it with this team, which is why I brought up the fact that his “best five” lineup has barely played.

Simmons: You just came up with the perfect title for Jack McCallum’s next D’Antoni book: A Certain Type of Stubbornness. Isn’t it Mike D’s job to figure out how to play his best players as much as possible? The Lakers have some pretty obvious strengths: They’re bigger than everyone else, they’re blessed with three high-IQ hoop guys (Gasol, Kobe and Nash), and it’s pretty easy for them to score. Their weaknesses are also pretty obvious: They’re a painfully slow team, it can be clumsy having two low-post guys, their transition defense is horrific, and they can’t guard anyone on the perimeter.

Guess what? If those are your weaknesses, you shouldn’t be playing at the second-fastest pace in the league (which is what they’re doing right now). The Lakers should be playing at such a slow pace, we should be having ‘Nam-like flashbacks to Mike Fratello’s excruciating Cavaliers teams. Instead, they swung the other way because I’M MIKE D’ANTONI AND THIS IS HOW I COACH BASKETBALL! It’s seriously one of the dumbest things I’ve ever watched. I hate the Lakers and even I’m offended by this — purely as a basketball fan, it’s insulting to watch good players being criminally misused like this.

Lowe: It’s pretty hard to defend having Earl Clark, a journeyman who can’t shoot, starting over Pau Gasol. And look at how weird the matchups are at times when the Lakers are on defense. Bryant is sometimes guarding opposing point guards because (a) Nash has to hide somewhere, and (b) Bryant’s off-ball defense has been so irresponsibly lazy, D’Antoni has to give him something to do at all times. It’s like putting a (very smart) student in study hall instead of giving him a free period. Metta World Peace is playing power forward, and though he’s tough down there, teams are going to attack him in the post if they can. That leaves Clark to chase around speedy 2-guards, and in the last few days alone, he’s had to defend DeMar DeRozan and Rip Hamilton. Clark is quick for his size, but not so quick that he should be chasing 2-guards around off-ball screens. And then, when Jamison comes in for World Peace, D’Antoni at times has been shifting Clark down to defend big guys, which means Jamison has to defend wings out on the perimeter.

Simmons: Something he couldn’t do five years ago, much less now.

Lowe: Jimmy Butler and Hamilton both burned Jamison on cuts Monday night. I watch the Lakers now and think, Basketball really shouldn’t be this complicated, even with the Gasol/Howard fit issues.

Simmons: Everyone arguing that Gasol is washed-up (or close to washed-up) is taking crazy pills. He’s a conventional center who likes playing down low. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. When they made the 2008 Finals and won the 2009 and 2010 titles, it happened with Gasol playing center, Lamar Odom playing power forward and Bynum either wearing a suit or carrying the second team’s offense. Here, look:

2008 Playoffs: Gasol, 39.7 MPG … Odom, 37.4 MPG … Bynum, 0.0 MPG
2009 Playoffs: Gasol, 40.5 MPG … Odom, 32.0 MPG … Bynum, 17.4 MPG
2010 Playoffs: Gasol, 39.8 MPG … Odom, 29.0 MPG … Bynum, 24.4 MPG

Game 4 of the 2009 Finals swung that series: Lakers 99, Magic 91 (overtime). Gasol played 49 minutes, Odom played 28 minutes, Bynum played 16 minutes.

Game 6 of the 2010 Finals (backs to the wall against Boston): Gasol played 41 minutes (17 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists), Odom played 28 minutes, Bynum played 16 minutes.

Game 7 of the 2010 Finals (L.A. beats Boston in final minute): Gasol played 42 minutes (19 points, 18 rebounds), Odom played 35 minutes, Bynum played 19 minutes.

In the 2011 playoffs? Bynum jumped to 32 minutes per game. The following year, he averaged 35.2 minutes in the regular season and 37.6 minutes in the playoffs. Suddenly Gasol wasn’t a traditional low-post center anymore — no wonder his numbers suffered. He’s not Dirk Nowitzki, and he’s not going to thrive playing 20 feet from the basket. I’ve said this 10 times on television already, but I’m saying it again: I went to the 2012 Summer Olympics and watched three of Spain’s games in person, when they revolved everything around a high-low game with the Gasol Hermanos (Marc up top, Pau down low). Nobody could stop them. In the gold-medal game, he was ripping up Team USA’s double-teams and doing whatever he wanted. So you can’t say his skills atrophied, or that he’s washed-up, because there’s absolutely no evidence that he’s not still a franchise low-post center if you use him like a franchise low-post center.

Lowe: You’re on point bringing up Odom. What we’re really seeing here is the long-term trickle-down effect of Odom losing his game and the Lakers eventually dealing him away.

Simmons: I applaud you for having the strength to avoid a Kardashian reference there.

Lowe: I’m proud to barely have any idea who/what the Kardashians are. In 2010-11, Odom’s last season in L.A., Gasol played 867 minutes with Bynum on the floor and 2,170 with Bynum on the bench. In 2009-10, the split was 906 minutes with Bynum/1,497 without him. You can read this a few different ways. On the one hand, the Lakers were successful regardless of which alignment they used. Gasol’s shot selection drifted away from the immediate rim area when he played with Bynum, but nowhere near to the degree it’s happening now. In 2011, about 42 percent of Gasol’s shots came in the restricted area when Bynum sat, with the share dropping to 35.5 percent when Bynum played next to Gasol, per Today? About 41 percent of Gasol’s shots come in the restricted area when he’s the only big on the court, but just 28.8 percent come that close to the rim when Howard’s also out there. More damaging: Gasol has taken more shots from outside 15 feet than from inside the restricted area during those Howard minutes, and he’s shooting about 35 percent on those long shots. Gasol’s shots from outside 15 feet never outnumbered his restricted-area shots like this under Mike Brown or Phil Jackson — not even when Bynum was clogging the lane.

Simmons: Allow me to interject for a second … HE’S THE BEST LOW-POST PLAYER IN THE LEAGUE! This is ridiculous!!!!!!! OK, keep going.

Lowe: I don’t think that’s true anymore, but I’ll get there. The easy way to read those shot-selection numbers is to criticize D’Antoni for misusing Gasol, when Brown and especially Jackson (via the triangle) found ways to make the two-bigs thing work in a plurality of Laker minutes. And there’s something to that. I’ll repeat something I wrote about the Knicks drama last season: There are 90-95 possessions in an NBA game; you should be able to split those up while keeping everyone happy and playing enough to everyone’s strengths.

Simmons: Case in point: Durant and Westbrook. That’s a situation that, historically, doesn’t work (two first-class alpha-dog scorers on the same team), but OKC figured out how to make it work.

Lowe: On the other hand, Gasol’s shot selection became more perimeter-oriented last season under Brown, and he’s shooting well below his standards this season regardless of lineup context. Gasol is still shooting only 49.5 percent when Howard is on the bench, even though he’s taking more shots at the rim — and making those shots at a solid clip, if not a dominant one. He’s struggling badly on short hooks just outside the restricted area. He doesn’t have the same lift, and his defense, never a strong suit, has declined. Maybe he’s just not the same player, after the Olympics, plantar fasciitis, more serious tendinosis, etc.

Simmons: That’s it, I’m e-mailing the great Kirk Goldsberry and asking him to slap together a before-and-after Pau shot chart. Hold on. (Sending e-mail.) OK, I’m back. Not to sound like a Pau apologist, but I do believe many of his issues are mental. Fans and media members have been picking him apart for years, he’s been forced to play out of position, he’s always in trade rumors, he’s taken more than a few public shots from Kobe (and God knows how many behind the scenes) … I mean, what’s fun about being Pau Gasol other than having a smoking-hot Spanish girlfriend and making $19 million a year? He needs a change of scenery. Desperately. That’s why I would trade for him. And look, I’m not saying Pau is perfect or anything. He’s definitely been a little too sensitive at times, and he can’t be defended for no-showing the 2011 Dallas series no matter how many minutes Bynum was playing.

Dwight Howard, Steve Nash

Pau Gasol

Lowe: He was also pretty “blah” against New Orleans in that postseason; Carl Landry outplayed him for long stretches, and there were all sorts of rumors about various off-court/mental issues dogging him then.

Simmons: And he didn’t exactly light up the 2012 playoffs, either. I am conceding those points. Still, D’Antoni’s biggest mistake with the Lakers — and he’s made a few doozies, so this is a strong statement — was how ignorantly he handled Pau’s situation from the get-go. You can’t come out of the gate benching Pau in a fourth quarter. As soon as that happened — coupled with all the other Pau-related slights over the years — everyone who follows this team closely knew that (a) Pau wasn’t going to play hurt for him, and (b) Pau was going to check out emotionally. When you have a four-man team, you can’t lose one of those four guys within the first week. Which is what D’Antoni did. So Pau took his sweet time to recover from “knee tendinitis” — which is code for “EFF YOU!” — and it’s just never been the same.

Lowe: It was a little strange how quickly he put his foot down on Pau — and, again, I’m a moderate D’Antoni supporter. Watching these Lakers, I’m also reminded of a section from Seven Seconds or Less, Jack McCallum’s fantastic book about the 2005-06 Suns, in which then-assistant Alvin Gentry declares in a coaches’ meeting during the conference finals that he can no longer track what defense the Suns are supposed to play in various situations. Sound familiar? The Lakers don’t handle side pick-and-rolls with any consistency; sometimes they try to force them toward the baseline, and sometimes they don’t do this at all, letting non-threats like Kirk Hinrich get into the middle. They defended Jose Calderon on Sunday in Toronto as if he were actually a threat to turn the corner, sending poor Gasol to blitz him on high pick-and-rolls. And then they just gave Calderon jumpers on side pick-and-rolls. It was maddening.

And then on one of the very first possessions of the Chicago game on Monday, the Bulls ran a play they use often enough that even a dope like me saw it coming (and wrote about it — see item no. 8 — as it was happening. The Lakers, and Howard especially, reacted so late it was as if the Bulls had sprung the Statue of Liberty on them. I mean, as you say: What’s the plan here?

Simmons: The best part is that the Lakers have something like 19 assistant coaches and they’re still poorly prepared. They’re the only team that needs two rows of seating to fit all of their assistant coaches behind their bench — they look like CNN’s set on election night.

OK, here’s the fun part: Unless Howard pushes his way out of town in the next few weeks, we know they’re definitely dealing Pau even though they’ve murdered 50 percent of his trade value. But we also know they’re vehemently opposed to adding any non-Howard salary beyond the 2013-14 season because their delusional legacy-kid owner, Jimmy Buss, wants to make a run at LeBron James. (And if you didn’t know that, well, I just told you. And it’s true.) That makes Pau extremely tough to trade and rules out some of the usual suspects (Andrea Bargnani, Amar’e Stoudemire, Zach Randolph, Ersan Ilyasova, Carlos Boozer, Ryan Anderson, etc.), and that’s before we get to his price tag ($19 million this year, $19.3 million next year). I’m also ruling out Chris Bosh just because he knows where all the 2010 Decision bodies are buried and there’s no way Miami would ever trade him. And I’m ruling out Boston just because Paul Pierce is retiring as a Celtic (at least I hope so).

We also know they’d have to take back about $15 million in any Pau trade to make the salaries work. Which leaves us with the remaining possible suitors: Indiana: Danny Granger (expires 2014) … Denver: Andre Iguodala (expires 2013) … Dallas: Shawn Marion (expires 2013) and O.J. Mayo (expires 2013) … and …

Wait, we’re done? I guess we’re done. An Iguodala/Timofey Mozgov package from Denver makes the most sense; the Nuggets could easily replace Iguodala’s minutes with Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, and Gasol would fit in pretty nicely with everything Denver is doing. Lawson, Chandler, Gallinari, Faried and Gasol at crunch time? Yikes. For the Lakers, Iguodala solves the “Who’s guarding [fill in the best perimeter player]?” issue, allows them to play smaller, gives them some much-needed speed and sets up a dramatic “Who can make a more absurd underbite face after a big shot?” contest between Kobe and Iggy. Everyone wins. Why can’t that trade happen, Zach Lowe?

Lowe: It could. You can bet Denver has thought about it, and they clearly need another consistent big man. That’s why I called them my favorite unlikely Josh Smith destination. Gasol for Chandler/Iggy would also save them a bit of money, both this year and next, and that matters to the Nuggets. Denver has had a lot of roster turnover in the last couple of years, and they’d probably prefer to cool off a bit and let these guys develop. But stick another competent big man here, and this team could be really, really dangerous. Dropping Iguodala would really hurt them defensively, though. It’s an interesting proposition, but unless Denver sees something more from Gasol in the next few weeks, they’d be wary. And Iggy doesn’t solve the Lakers’ perimeter shooting issues, though he could take minutes from Clark/Jamison.

Simmons: Wow, you just talked yourself in and out of my fake trade in the course of one paragraph. That was amazing. Wait, how are we approaching 5,000 words and neither of us has brought up Kobe Bryant yet? How much longer can someone in his 17th NBA season score 30 points a game while defending the other team’s best perimeter player? What kind of coffee is this guy drinking? And where can I get some?

Lowe: Germany? Is there such a thing as German-style coffee? Kobe has been fantastic given his age/mileage, but his shooting has fallen off over the last month, and his defense has been bad all season — to the point that one solid game against a 40 percent shooter (Brandon Jennings) drew actual headlines/news stories. But Kobe is still Kobe — a great all-around scorer who doesn’t quite optimize his decision-making on offense, conserves energy on defense, and can hurt teams in a lot of different ways. He’s not as great now as Kobe fanboys would argue, and not nearly as “bad” as Kobe haters would suggest. He’s probably somewhere in the no. 6–no. 10 range in player-by-player rankings, and that’s pretty damn amazing considering his age.

Simmons: He’s also reinvented himself on Twitter and Facebook, given a few compelling interviews and established himself as the premier “I don’t give a shit, I’m old, I’m gonna be gone soon, I’m just saying what I think” athlete in sports. Big year for Kobe. Going forward, it’s going to be fascinating to see what matters to him more — retiring as a lifelong Laker with five rings and somewhere between 35,000 and 38,000 points, or chasing that sixth ring somewhere else (and matching Jordan).

I don’t think he will win another ring with the Lakers, and here’s why: They’re an absolute mess behind the scenes. Jimmy Buss is like James Dolan 2.0 — it’s like the Dolan Experience all over again, only if Dolan had even fewer credentials and couldn’t stop feuding with other members of his family. You know why that Phil Jackson situation was handled so poorly last November? Because Jimmy Buss has an enormous complex about Phil and his sister Jeannie, that’s why. For one thing, Jeannie is well respected around the NBA as a sharp thinker; people always assumed that Dr. Buss would turn the Lakers over to her. But apparently, Buss wanted one of his sons to assume control because of the always-frightening reason of Jeannie already has something for herself, I want one of my sons to have something, too.

That’s how Jimmy Buss ended up in charge of the Lakers. You can’t even find decent information about him on the Internet. Seriously, surf around online and try to figure out what Jimmy Buss has been doing since college, or even if he graduated from college. It’s murky. He’s not nearly as accomplished as his sister … and that’s an understatement. Now he’s running the Lakers instead of Jeanie, to the utter confusion of just about everyone. So what happened when his sister’s boyfriend positioned himself as the savior of this year’s Lakers team, and Lakers fans were clamoring for him to come back? Not only did Jimmy Buss swerve against the grain and pick a different coach, he had GM Mitch Kupchak call his sister’s boyfriend late at night to drop that bomb on him … presumably as his sister was lying in bed next to him! This wasn’t a coaching hire as much as a rejected plot from Parenthood.

Zach, I will leave you with this: If we’ve learned anything from professional sports over the years, it’s that nobody can inflict more damage on a franchise than an incompetent owner. Just look at how the Maloofs destroyed basketball in Sacramento, or what James Dolan did to the Ewing era, or what Donald Sterling did for his first 25 years with the Clippers. There’s a really good chance that Jimmy Buss might be THAT bad. And if that’s the case, I guarantee Kobe is already coming up with an exit plan. We will see.

Filed Under: Bill Simmons, People, Simmons, Zach Lowe

Zach Lowe is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ ZachLowe_NBA