EL SEGUNDO, CA – There was a tense moment at the Lakers’ training facility Monday afternoon when center Dwight Howard was a bit miffed by a question concerning his relationship with Brooklyn guard Deron Williams.
When a reporter asked Howard if he had talked with Williams and settled any differences they might have – implying that Williams was upset with him for ending up in LA instead of Brooklyn – Howard said: “Smooth things over. Why? That was my decision, my life. If he’s upset because I made a decision for me, so be it. If he doesn’t want to be friends because I’m on another team, so be it. There’s no need to smooth things over.”
It will be interesting to see if there will be any pre-game niceties between the two on Tuesday night at Staples Center when the Nets face the Lakers. The two reportedly have been close friends and Williams was the Nets’ chief recruiter as the team tried to persuade Howard to move his game to the New York borough.
According to a Yahoo! Sports report last July, Williams and Howard were actually talking about becoming teammates as far back as the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where they helped the USA win a gold medal.
“It was just talk about that point four years ago,” Williams told Yahoo!. “[Brooklyn] is going to be huge. That factored into my decision [to re-sign with the Nets]. This is a place that hasn’t had a [sports] franchise since the ’50s. This is a city that wants basketball.”
But when the Nets had a chance to acquire Howard via trade last season, Williams was supposedly upset that Dwight waived the early-termination clause in his contract, keeping him in Orlando and allowing a four-team deal to be worked out that put Howard in Los Angeles. And even with all the Laker upheaval so far this season, Howard says he doesn’t regret his decision at all.
“I’m here now in L.A. and there’s no need to talk about what might have happened,” Howard said. “I’m happy with the team here in L.A. and the fans have always been great here. And now that I’m on the team, since day one they’ve been unbelievable – to me and to this team. So I’m just happy about that. There’s no need to talk about the past.
“I’m happy being a Laker. This is the best situation for me.”
The Lakers’ reserves ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every category last season. So while Howard and Steve Nash were the focal points of Mitch Kupchak’s offseason maneuvering, he also acquired some good role players who seemed to be a perfect fit for a solid second unit.
Antawn Jamison, a prolific scorer who averaged 19.5 points throughout his 14-year career, was convinced to sign with L.A. despite taking a $13.7 million paycut from his $15 million salary in Cleveland last year. Three-point specialist Jodie Meeks signed as a free agent and Chris Duhon was acquired in the Andrew Bynum/Howard trade. Added to holdovers Steve Blake, Darius Morris and Devin Ebanks, it looked liked the Lakers could be a very deep team that wouldn’t get destroyed when the starters were resting.
Well, like pretty much everything else that took place from training camp until Mike Brown was fired, the bench was just a bad as it was in 2011-12. And Brown didn’t make things any easier for them by benching them after a bad game – or a bad play. Duhon said that made the reserves’ jobs very difficult.
“It’s tough to go through,” said the eight-year veteran from Duke, who has played 68 minutes in the last four games after seeing the floor for only eight minutes total in the five games Brown coached the team. “The Princeton offense is a difficult one to learn, and we were doing as many reps as you can trying to learn it as quickly as possible. But when you get into the battle of the game and you’re over thinking, it takes away from your basketball instincts. That was rough for a couple guys. Really tough.
“Now with a new system, it’s more free, it’s easier and guys are just reacting and not thinking or over-thinking too much.”
It’s exactly what D’Antoni was hoping for from his backups.
“That’s part of the philosophy,” D’Antoni said, “that’s what I believe in. I would always try and instill that (confidence) into a player. Those players are here for a reason – you don’t make the NBA if you can’t play – so there’s something they can do and we just have to find out what it is. Then we let than do it and feel uninhibited in that area.”
Jamison – who probably struggled more than any of the Lakers playing under Brown’s offense – isn’t putting up his career numbers yet, but did admit he’s a lot more relaxed when he’s goes into the game.
“I am, definitely,” he said. “But it’s not just me. I think everybody feels the same way – especially the guys coming off the bench. There’s a different energy since coach got here.”