Many thought this Lakers team was a mortal lock for the Western Conference Finals, if not the NBA Finals. I had them losing to Oklahoma City in the West Finals, primarily because of the Steve Nash/Russell Westbrook defensive matchup, but why quibble - even projecting them to make the conference finals was a gross over-estimation of their collective ability. They stumbled out of the gate, getting Mike Brown fired in the process, and have yet to show any sign that they'll turn things around.
The Lakers have a host of problems, but many of them can be traced back to Dwight Howard. He's been an awful fit playing alongside Kobe Bryant. He doesn't like being a complementary player on the offensive end - even though he's probably the Lakers' fifth-best scorer. His presence has pushed Pau Gasol out of position. Gasol has been ineffective playing the four, fallen out of the starting five, and like Howard, taken to sulking about his role.
What's Mitch Kupchak to do? He may have an out. Stop me if you've heard this one before, but according to reports, Dwight Howard is unhappy, isn't sure what he wants to do with his next contract, and may be traded at the deadline. It might make an awful lot of sense for Kupchak to cut his losses and see what he can get for Howard, rather than risk losing him for nothing in the offseason. A deal sending Howard to his hometown Atlanta Hawks could bring back Josh Smith, a deal that might make sense for both teams.
Of course, there's a very real possibility that Jim Buss was the real force behind the Howard trade, which could complicate matters significantly. Not to mention Howard's lingering shoulder injury, which caused him to leave Wednesday's game. (He should be back in action on Friday.)
Grizzlies and Cavs make a deal
The first big deal of the deadline season didn't include any big names, but it could be a hint of what's to come.
The Grizzlies sent Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby, and a future first-round pick to Cleveland in exchange for Jon Leuer.
Why would the Grizzlies – a top-four team in the West – shorten their bench with such a deal? Simple – it will save the new ownership group about $6 million in salary and keep Memphis out of the luxury tax this season. And that means there's much less pressure on the team to deal a bigger salary like Rudy Gay's.
Speights (6% owned) seems like a great buy at this point. With Anderson Varejao sidelined for the season, there are plenty of frontcourt minutes available for him in Cleveland.
Picks for the Week
All percent-owned stats are from Yahoo! Your league's mileage may vary.
Raymond Felton (82%) – The Knicks are expecting him back in the lineup this weekend.
Spencer Hawes (48%) – There was a stretch last season - before all of his injuries - when Hawes was one of the more productive big men in fantasy hoops. He's been on a similar tear of late, averaging over 16 points, seven boards, three assists, and a block in his last three games. He may be a short-term play – in theory, Andrew Bynum is returning at some point – so enjoy this while it lasts.
Tiago Splitter (35%) – You may think of Splitter as a fairly limited defense-and-rebounding guy, but this season, he has shown a much more complete game. Case in point: He dropped 25 points on the Hornets on Wednesday night.
Carlos Delfino (28%) – Delfino has been developing into a very productive bench player and deep threat for the Rockets. He has hit at least three shots from long range in each of their last four games.
Tyler Zeller (24%) – Zeller has been the primary replacement for Varejao to this point, and seems to be thriving in the role, though his playing time could take a hit with the arrival of Marreese Speights.
Taj Gibson (9%) – Because you know the Bulls would love to move Carlos Boozer, it's worth putting Gibson on watch lists in case they're so lucky as to find a taker.
Darrell Arthur (3%) – With Speights out of the picture, Arthur becomes the Grizzlies' primary backup at the four and five spots. He scored a team-high 20 points with nine boards in the first game after the trade.
Jared Sullinger (1%) – He's as inconsistent as you'd expect a rookie to be, but over his last five games, he's averaging just under 10 rebounds per game.