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Oklahoma City Thunder: Surprise! The Lakers are back

by Berry Tramel Published: August 10, 2012

Remember back in the day, oh, four or five months ago, when some thought that Los Angeles had become a Clipper town? So much for that romantic notion.

The big, bad Lakers are back, just like always. Back enough to unseat the Thunder as the Western Conference champ? Not necessarily. But a lineup of Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Metta World Chaos is a roving Hall of Fame exhibit. Four guys past their wondrous prime, plus Howard, who has gone from Superman to Superpain. There might be enough fuel in the tank for the Lakers to mount another championship run. Heck, the Celtics dang near made the NBA Finals with an Over-the-Hill Gang; no reason the Dwightmares couldn’t do the same.

Nuggets from my notebook from Thursday's 87-86 win against Brooklyn in summer league play. <ul> <li>You knew going in that there would be at least one day like this. Unfortunately, Thursday happened to be the day the Thunder decided to rest its main guys and turn over the playing time to the rest of the players on its summer league roster, none of whom will make the team and few who even figure to be in the league next season. It resulted in an entertaining game but a largely pointless one in terms of Thunder development.</li> <li><strong>Perry Jones</strong> didn't play because he's done for the week with a sprained ankle. <strong>Cole Aldrich</strong> and <strong>Reggie Jackson</strong> didn't play so they could rest. <strong>Lazar Hayward</strong> had flu-like symptoms and didn't even leave the hotel.</li> <li>The starting lineup for the Thunder ended up being Dwight Buycks, Garrett Temple, Morris Almond, Latavious Williams and Gary McGhee.</li> <li>I really wanted to see Jackson go head-to-head with Nets guard Tyshawn Taylor. Shame that didn't happen. Taylor can be a pest on the defensive end, and with Jackson showing rapid improvement this week alone it could have been a great test. Oh well.</li> <li><strong>Hasheem Thabeet</strong> didn't play today, and he will not play in Friday's finale either. The team decided it was better for him to continue working out privately as opposed to being thrust into summer league action late.</li> <li><a href="http://blog.newsok.com/thunderrumblings/2012/07/12/qa-with-hasheem-thabeet/" target="_blank">Here's a Q&amp;A with Thabeet</a>.</li> <li>This from Thabeet in that Q&amp;A: "I really don’t dwell on my past. This is a different situation. I’ve got to come in, establish my position and work hard. That’s the only thing I can control. I can’t control my past. I’ve just got to enjoy what I face right now."</li> <li>Buycks stole the show today. He started in place of Jackson and really impressed the crowd in Orlando. He was under control and showed his ability to create shots for himself and his teammates. Buckys went undrafted out of Marquette in 2011, but he played 28 games with the Tulsa 66ers last season. So basketball junkies in Tulsa probably aren't surprised at what he did today, which was score a team-high 22 points with five assists. He has a knack for finishing at the rim despite his short stature, which is one of his most impressive traits, and he doesn't play too fast or make a ton of poor decisions (although he had six turnovers). He earned himself a lot of money with his performance today. <!--more--></li> <li>Latavious Williams might never make it to Oklahoma City. This week is proving that more and more by the day. In short, Williams either hasn't gotten the proper playing time to prove himself or hasn't proven himself when he has gotten the proper playing time. Both speak volumes. It screams that he's stuck in no-man's land. If he was indeed a part of the Thunder's plans, he'd be a featured guy in Orlando. And if he is a player with great potential, he'd be dominating in a setting like Orlando once given opportunities. But neither has happened. He scored just four points with four rebounds in 22 minutes today, taking a team-low three shots while looking like the odd man out on offense on every trip. Frankly, his days as a Thunder in training appear to be numbered.</li> <li>Then there's this from Thunder coach <strong>Mark Bryant</strong>, who raises the issue of Williams' motor. "Tay has all the talent in the world to make it to this level," Bryant told The Oklahoman. "If he plays with a constant motor, he'll be fine...He just has to keep working on his intensity every single minute he's on the floor."</li> <li>Bryant said he sees Williams as more of a power forward than a small forward in the NBA. I agree after seeing Williams for three games. He just doesn't have the outside game on either end at this point to play consistent minutes at small forward. If he got an outside shot, some moves off the dribble and improved his perimeter defense, he'd be a great 3/4 man. But that's an awful lot and almost unrealistic even though he's still just 22. But, as Bryant said, "It's up to Tay."</li> <li>Williams said he hasn't decided where he'll play next season. It's unlikely that he gets a training camp invitation from the Thunder because OKC is set up front after signing Thabeet, and, more importantly, if Williams comes into camp and gets waived the Thunder loses his draft rights. The Thunder can't, or better yet won't, let that happen. Williams said he would prefer to play overseas, however, which is what I assume he'll do once again. I asked Williams how tough it's been to stay patient while waiting his turn and he said "I’ve been patient this long so I’m just going to keep it rolling and just do what I’ve got to do and see what’s next."</li> <li><strong>Ryan Reid</strong> has a nice shooting touch. In addition to being a rugged low-post defender, he can step out and knock down the 15-footer with consistency if left open. If he improves that area of his game even more, that could be a nice little weapon for him to enhance his value going forward.</li> <li>Bryant on McGhee: "I like Gary because he's a physical big. All he's out there to do is bang, rebound and play defense and I like that. And no and ones for him. He's going to foul you hard. He's going to foul you hard, and I like that. Old school player."</li> <li>Bryant on Buycks: "Buycks is a tough little guard .He really knows how to play the game. He helped us out tremendously throughout this week and he’s getting better and better each game. The kid can score, he can pass the ball, he can do quite a few things."</li> <li>Finally, <strong>Kendrick Perkins</strong> underwent surgery today in Philadelphia to repair the hip injury that plagued him throughout the postseason. He will be on the shelf for three to four weeks. Perkins had originally said the injury that was listed as a right hip strain wouldn't require surgery. But further examination recently revealed that it did.</li> <li>Up next. Thunder vs. Utah in more summer league play on Friday. Tip-off is 7 a.m. Oklahoma time.</li> </ul> -DM-

Nuggets from my notebook from Thursday's 87-86 win against Brooklyn in summer league play. <ul> <li>You knew going in that there would be at least one day like this. Unfortunately, Thursday happened to be the day the Thunder decided to rest its main guys and turn over the playing time to the rest of the players on its summer league roster, none of whom will make the team and few who even figure to be in the league next season. It resulted in an entertaining game but a largely pointless one in terms of Thunder development.</li> <li><strong>Perry Jones</strong> didn't play because he's done for the week with a sprained ankle. <strong>Cole Aldrich</strong> and <strong>Reggie Jackson</strong> didn't play so they could rest. <strong>Lazar Hayward</strong> had flu-like symptoms and didn't even leave the hotel.</li> <li>The starting lineup for the Thunder ended up being Dwight Buycks, Garrett Temple, Morris Almond, Latavious Williams and Gary McGhee.</li> <li>I really wanted to see Jackson go head-to-head with Nets guard Tyshawn Taylor. Shame that didn't happen. Taylor can be a pest on the defensive end, and with Jackson showing rapid improvement this week alone it could have been a great test. Oh well.</li> <li><strong>Hasheem Thabeet</strong> didn't play today, and he will not play in Friday's finale either. The team decided it was better for him to continue working out privately as opposed to being thrust into summer league action late.</li> <li><a href="http://blog.newsok.com/thunderrumblings/2012/07/12/qa-with-hasheem-thabeet/" target="_blank">Here's a Q&amp;A with Thabeet</a>.</li> <li>This from Thabeet in that Q&amp;A: "I really don’t dwell on my past. This is a different situation. I’ve got to come in, establish my position and work hard. That’s the only thing I can control. I can’t control my past. I’ve just got to enjoy what I face right now."</li> <li>Buycks stole the show today. He started in place of Jackson and really impressed the crowd in Orlando. He was under control and showed his ability to create shots for himself and his teammates. Buckys went undrafted out of Marquette in 2011, but he played 28 games with the Tulsa 66ers last season. So basketball junkies in Tulsa probably aren't surprised at what he did today, which was score a team-high 22 points with five assists. He has a knack for finishing at the rim despite his short stature, which is one of his most impressive traits, and he doesn't play too fast or make a ton of poor decisions (although he had six turnovers). He earned himself a lot of money with his performance today. <!--more--></li> <li>Latavious Williams might never make it to Oklahoma City. This week is proving that more and more by the day. In short, Williams either hasn't gotten the proper playing time to prove himself or hasn't proven himself when he has gotten the proper playing time. Both speak volumes. It screams that he's stuck in no-man's land. If he was indeed a part of the Thunder's plans, he'd be a featured guy in Orlando. And if he is a player with great potential, he'd be dominating in a setting like Orlando once given opportunities. But neither has happened. He scored just four points with four rebounds in 22 minutes today, taking a team-low three shots while looking like the odd man out on offense on every trip. Frankly, his days as a Thunder in training appear to be numbered.</li> <li>Then there's this from Thunder coach <strong>Mark Bryant</strong>, who raises the issue of Williams' motor. "Tay has all the talent in the world to make it to this level," Bryant told The Oklahoman. "If he plays with a constant motor, he'll be fine...He just has to keep working on his intensity every single minute he's on the floor."</li> <li>Bryant said he sees Williams as more of a power forward than a small forward in the NBA. I agree after seeing Williams for three games. He just doesn't have the outside game on either end at this point to play consistent minutes at small forward. If he got an outside shot, some moves off the dribble and improved his perimeter defense, he'd be a great 3/4 man. But that's an awful lot and almost unrealistic even though he's still just 22. But, as Bryant said, "It's up to Tay."</li> <li>Williams said he hasn't decided where he'll play next season. It's unlikely that he gets a training camp invitation from the Thunder because OKC is set up front after signing Thabeet, and, more importantly, if Williams comes into camp and gets waived the Thunder loses his draft rights. The Thunder can't, or better yet won't, let that happen. Williams said he would prefer to play overseas, however, which is what I assume he'll do once again. I asked Williams how tough it's been to stay patient while waiting his turn and he said "I’ve been patient this long so I’m just going to keep it rolling and just do what I’ve got to do and see what’s next."</li> <li><strong>Ryan Reid</strong> has a nice shooting touch. In addition to being a rugged low-post defender, he can step out and knock down the 15-footer with consistency if left open. If he improves that area of his game even more, that could be a nice little weapon for him to enhance his value going forward.</li> <li>Bryant on McGhee: "I like Gary because he's a physical big. All he's out there to do is bang, rebound and play defense and I like that. And no and ones for him. He's going to foul you hard. He's going to foul you hard, and I like that. Old school player."</li> <li>Bryant on Buycks: "Buycks is a tough little guard .He really knows how to play the game. He helped us out tremendously throughout this week and he’s getting better and better each game. The kid can score, he can pass the ball, he can do quite a few things."</li> <li>Finally, <strong>Kendrick Perkins</strong> underwent surgery today in Philadelphia to repair the hip injury that plagued him throughout the postseason. He will be on the shelf for three to four weeks. Perkins had originally said the injury that was listed as a right hip strain wouldn't require surgery. But further examination recently revealed that it did.</li> <li>Up next. Thunder vs. Utah in more summer league play on Friday. Tip-off is 7 a.m. Oklahoma time.</li> </ul> -DM-

Dwight Howard (12) shoots as Oklahoma City Thunder's James Harden (13) defends.

And for those who thought the Lakers would slip quietly into anonymity, leaving the West for the likes of the Thunder and Clippers and Grizzlies, well, you don’t know your NBA history.

The Lakers moved West from Minneapolis in 1960. Rookie Jerry West teamed with star Elgin Baylor, but the Lakers went just 36-43. Still, they reached the West finals against the Hawks and lost in seven games. And a Western dynasty was born.

Over the next seven seasons, LA made the NBA Finals five times. And lost all five times to the Boston Celtics. Those Laker teams always had a serviceable center. Rudy LaRusso, Darrall Imhoff, Mel Counts.

But the Lakers grew tired of losing to Boston. And in July 1968, the Lakers started one of the NBA’s grand traditions. The migration of the NBA’s best center to LakerLand.

The 76ers traded Wilt Chamberlain to LA for Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Imhoff. Chambers was young but a role player and never rose above that status. Clark was young and promising, and indeed he had a good career; Clark averaged 25 points a game for the 1971-72 Baltimore Bullets. Imhoff had four more journeymen years in the NBA.

Wilt was Wilt, of course, though he delivered only one NBA title to the Lakers, in 1972, after injuries had ended Baylor’s days. But the plot was written. Los Angeles believed it had a divine right to the best centers in the NBA.

So after Wilt was gone, and the Lakers languished for two seasons with Elmore Smith as their center, LA struck again. In June 1975, the Lakers traded four solid players — Smith, Brian Winters, Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman — to Milwaukee for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Of all the trades in sports history, never has such an athlete been traded. Not an athlete this good, at the top of his game. Jabbar was 28 years old and the class of the league by a mile. Just like with Wilt, it took awhile for the Lakers to get going; they didn’t win the NBA title until Jabbar’s fifth season, when Magic Johnson joined the troupe, but it was the first of five won in the ’80s by Jabbar and the Lakers.

The Lakers' bench watch the final seconds during Game 5 in the second round of the 2012 NBA playoffs.

The gravitational pull of the NBA’s best centers to LA wasn’t over. In July 1996, the Lakers, having gone eight years since a title and having just one playoff series victory in the previous four years, signed free agent center Shaquille O’Neal. Together with emerging star Kobe Bryant, the Lakers had a 1-2 duo poised to take over the league. It took until Year 4, but then the Lakers won three NBA championships.

And now comes Dwight Howard, apparently traded Friday from Orlando to the Lakers. It cost LA its own gargantuan center, Andrew Bynum, who is an emotional wreck but a heck of a talent. So this isn’t the huge upgrade like in Laker pasts. But still, the NBA’s best center again has landed in Los Angeles.

It’s just the natural order the spot. Commissioners change, the 3-point line appears, franchises move, salary caps come, luxury taxes rise, the game goes international. Nothing stays the same except the game’s best centers migrate to the Lakers.

 

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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