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Category: Theo Ratliff

Lakers can't let limited payroll inhibit risk-taking

Just like everyone else consumed with NBA basketball, Lakers forward Matt Barnes listens to the trade rumors.

Not all of them. He says he only cares about whether a rumor involves the Lakers. But unlike the average NBA fan, he has -- and is willing to share -- some insider knowledge, particularly when it involves any possibility his former teammates Dwight Howard or Baron Davis could join the Lakers.

"I've talked to both of those guys and they want to be here," Barnes said Friday at the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo. "We'll see what happens."

We sure will. But don't start pre-ordering Howard or Davis Lakers jerseys just yet. The Lakers face an unfortunate reality: A $91-million payroll, increased luxury taxes and increased revenue sharing suddenly make General Manager Mitch Kupchak worried about finances. 

"Based on our financial structure, we would be very limited in what we can do with our team in terms of free agency in the next two weeks," Kupchak said.

Fair enough. Last year, the Lakers could offer free agents a five-year, $32-million contract. This year, they can only offer a mini mid-level exception of three years and $9.4 million, as well as a veteran's minimum of one year and $1 million. Short term, the Lakers may only need to address low-hanging fruit, such as formally cutting ties with Joe Smith and Theo Ratliff, likely letting Shannon Brown go, exercising $788,872 team options on Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter and signing rookies Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock. 

But as the Lakers begin free agency on Dec. 9, they can't let such scenarios inhibit their risk-taking. It's a no-brainer to pursue Howard, but it involves much more creative structuring of deals than when picking up peripheral players. It's a no-brainer to pursue Chris Paul once free agency hits next season, but why wait when he's reportedly demanding a trade to New York?

Kupchak may feel confident that the Lakers can win a title with the current roster, but playing it safe could hurt the team's long-term future once Kobe Bryant's and Pau Gasol's contracts end after the 2013-14 seasons.

Of course, Lakers owner Jerry Buss has thrived on risk-taking. But as an avid poker player, he knows that doesn't always require having the most chips. It also requires doing the most thinking. 

-- Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Mitch Kupchak says Lakers will be 'very limited' in free agency

Mitch Kupchak

The Lakers roster that takes the floor at Staples Center on Christmas could look a lot like the one that shows up when training camp starts a week from Friday.

General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Friday during a media conference at the team's training facility in El Segundo that he would be "very limited" as far as bringing in free agents. Depending on whether shooting guard Shannon Brown decides to re-sign with the team, the Lakers could target a guard and forward in free agency but have limited options to acquire them.

They can use the so-called mini mid-level exception of three years and $9.4 million as well as a veteran's minimum of $1 million, leaving the Lakers hoping that quality players will want to come to Los Angeles for other reasons besides money.

"We're hopeful there's a player out there who's made money in his career and is on the back end and is looking at a championship, or a player who is developing," Kupchak said. "That's harder to do."

Kupchak said he did not anticipate that Theo Ratliff or Joe Smith would be returning to the roster, but he confirmed that he had been in contact with Brown's agent. The Lakers can exercise team options on second-year players Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter and must decide whether to sign second-round draft picks Darrius Morris and Andrew Goudelock.

Kupchak almost sounded resigned to losing Brown, who has been a free agent at the end of each of his seasons with the Lakers and has explored more lucrative offers elsewhere.

"My guess is, you can only continue to do that for such a period of time where it doesn't make any more sense," Kupchak said, "so I would think this year he would look for and probably get a package that's financially much more attractive than we could offer under the present rules."

Morris, Derek Fisher and Matt Barnes were among the Lakers who stopped by the team's training facility for informal workouts Friday. Coach Mike Brown briefly hailed Fisher from across the court before smiling and putting his finger to his lips, a nod to the fact that coaches are not supposed to speak with players before the NBA lockout formally ends.

With only 16 days to hold practices before the Lakers' opener, the coach said he would try not to overwhelm his players. And what would he call Metta World Peace?

"I might just call him Metta or Met," Brown said. "I don't want to call him Peace, because he might think that's grounds for him to leave practice."

We'll have more later at www.latimes.com/sports.

-- Ben Bolch

Photo: "We believe in this group," Mitch Kupchak says of the current Lakers roster. Credit: Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times

Lamenting the Lakers' lost reserves from the 2010 NBA title team points to 20/20 hindsight

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Throughout each exit interview, every Laker dropped a morsel suggesting the missing piece to the championship puzzle.

Coach Phil Jackson lamented the team's lack of  speed. Center Andrew Bynum wished the team practiced with more intensity. And nearly everyone acknowledged in some form that the heavy basketball mileage accumulated through three consecutive NBA Finals appearances finally caught up to them. 

Interestingly enough, some of the Lakers from the 2010 championship team fit that description before parting ways. Jordan Farmar, who accepted a three-year, $12-million offer with the New Jersey Nets, provided plenty of speed as a backup point guard. Sasha Vujacic, whom the Lakers traded to the New Jersey Nets for Joe Smith, earned a reputation for playing with full intensity in practice and in games. DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell provided enough minutes to keep the Lakers' front line fresh, but the Lakers' failure to re-sign them resulted in Mbenga and Powell joining the New Orleans Hornets and Atlanta Hawks, respectively. 

The Lakers could have used all those missing ingredients, but fans shouldn't criticize Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak for replacing that bench with a veteran-laden reserve unit. Kupchak hardly expressed much satisfaction with the team's bench, citing Steve Blake's feeling uncomfortable on the floor, Matt Barnes' lateral meniscus tear limiting him and Theo Ratliff's arthroscopic surgery on his left knee happening only eight games into the season. But no one could've anticipated the worst-case scenario involving the newly signed players to unfold.

Sure, I found it risky for the Lakers to sign a 37-year-old Ratliff because of the uncertainty about how long he would last. Sure, I found it a little odd that little effort was made to give Smith a role to play  after lamenting the team's lack of support in helping Pau Gasol absorb Andrew Bynum's minutes while Bynum recovered from offseason surgery. And sure, the Lakers at some point are going to have to inject youth into the team to make the transition seamless when the contracts of Kobe Bryant (2013-14), Gasol (2013-14), Ron Artest (2013-14), Lamar Odom (2012-13) and Derek Fisher (2012-13) run out. But criticizing Lakers' front-office decisions during the 2010 offseason only points to 20/20 hindsight.

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Caught in the Web: Mike Brown could become the next Lakers coach

61863981-- The L.A. Times' Broderick Turner reports the Lakers have put together a deal to hire former Cleveland Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown as their new coach. Turner also reports that if Brown agrees to the deal, he'll sign a contract for $4 million to $4.5 million per season for three years, including a team option on the fourth year that would give him partial pay if he were not retained.

-- I highlight Jerry Buss' comments made to Playboy Radio's Michael Eaves and Bonnie-Jill Laflin on Sirius XM Radio regarding the coaching search to replace Phil Jackson. Read the entire transcript of the interview

-- The Times' Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton report that the family of a child who died after plunging at least 30 feet from a luxury box at Staples Center earlier this season at a Lakers game filed suit against the owners of the venue, alleging that a poorly designed barrier led to the incident.

-- The Times' Lance Pugmire highlights the NBA Basketball Players Assn. filing an unfair-labor-practices charge against the league with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging "harsh, inflexible and grossly regressive 'takeaway' demands."

-- The Times' Mark Heisler describes the Bulls-Heat game as a "1980s-style superstar shootout."

-- NBA.com's David Aldridge reports that the Lakers have narrowed their coaching search to Brown, Rick Adelman and Brian Shaw.

--Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick talks to a source who indicated Kobe Bryant was "surprised" to hear the Lakers favored Brown and that he was never consulted about it. 

-- The Orange County Register's Janis Carr highlights Theo Ratliff's charitable efforts in Alabama. 

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Lakers Report Cards: Theo Ratliff

56852166This is the 12th edition of Lakers Report Cards, focusing today on reserve center Theo Ratliff.

Grade: F

Every step looked painful. Every movement seemed slow. And every injury update kept prolonging deeper and deeper into the season. 

There's frankly not much to analyze when it comes to Ratliff's season, which consisted mostly of him of sitting on the sideline while rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee. After playing in the first eight games, posting two points on one-of-six shooting, 12 rebounds and five blocks, Ratliff remained sidelined for nearly 4 1/2 months before returning to the court. The next three appearances in the Lakers' 110-82 victory March 31 over Dallas, the Lakers' 102-93 victory April 12 over San Antonio and the Lakers' 109-100 Game 1 first-round loss April 17 to New Orleans served nothing more than garbage time, combining for zero points and one rebound in five minutes. 

There's little use dissecting those performances because the small sample size shows that, at age 37, the 15-year-old veteran has little left in the tank. Once such a defensive stalwart that he averaged more than three blocks a game six times in a seven-year run during the prime of his career and even made an All-Star appearance in 2001, it was painful to see Ratliff hobble up and down the court. Ratliff didn't talk to reporters after his exit interview, but it was clear General Manager Mitch Kupchak had some second thoughts about signing Ratliff last offseason to a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum of $1.35 million.

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Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher display balancing act with co-captain role

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An annoyed look crossed his face. His tone was agitated. And the reasons the Lakers' co-captain felt so unhappy became very clear: "These games mean more to our opponents than they do to us. I think we need to get that straight. We need to play with more focus and put more importance on these games. I don't like it."

An annoyed look crossed his face. His tone was agitated. And the reasons the Lakers' co-captain felt so unhappy became very clear: "The way we played tonight was irresponsible and it was reckless and it was disrespectful. I can't get any clearer than that. There was an air of complacency, of arrogance, of 'we don't have to play as hard as the other team to win' that I didn't like tonight."

The set-up to the quotes in the first two paragraphs read precisely the same because it appropriately described the setting. The quotes hit on the same theme and carried the same tone. And the one conveying that body language and delivering that message seemed to be the same person.

Except it wasn't.

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant publicly ripped his team following the team's embarrassing 96-80 Christmas Day loss to the Miami Heat with the quote mentioned in the first paragraph, believing the team's lackluster play against elite teams and its general complacency should no longer be tolerated. Lakers guard Derek Fisher publicly ripped the team after its subpar 99-94 victory on Nov. 9 against Minnesota with the quote mentioned in the second paragraph, arguing the Lakers' 8-0 effort shouldn't give them false comfort in believing they can simply mail in performances and always expect a victory. And the examples cited above show how the Lakers' co-captains have shared equal duties entering the team's first-round playoff series beginning Sunday against New Orleans by setting the team's agenda and trying to ensure the team remains on track toward a three-peat.

"We've been around each other for so long," Bryant said regarding Fisher, who has shared a bond with him since entering the NBA in 1996, won all five of their NBA titles together, became the team's co-leaders the last three seasons and share the same agent in Rob Pelinka. "I can gauge Derek, too, we can gauge the personalities of what we need at that moment."

"Regarding specifically Kobe and myself, you figure it out," Fisher said. "Regardless of how ugly it looks and how bad you look, you figure out how to turn it around, flip things and get it in your favor at some point."

The result: a never-ending mixed and nuanced exercise on finding a perfect balance between holding the team accountable and pleading patience. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson didn't completely characterize Fisher and Bryant as the team's leaders, also citing Lamar Odom's popular standing in the locker room and Pau Gasol's polite demeanor as examples that show the Lakers' identity features plenty of veteran players with similar qualities. But Jackson reserved specific praise for Bryant and Fisher being "good spokesmen."

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Breaking down the Lakers roster entering the playoffs

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Forward Ron Artest

When he wasn't celebrating the 2010 NBA championship, Artest spent plenty of time this off-season slimming down to 250 pounds and limiting his alcohol consumption in the hopes he could keep up with speedy players such as Kevin Durant. That effort has proven to be a mixed bag, but the way he defends the opposing team's best player will likely prove to be the X factor in a series.

It's crucial that Artest play the game the right way. When he doesn't have a superstar player to defend, Artest sometimes appears bored on team defense. When he is defending a top scorer, sometimes the matchup distracts him from basic duties, such as help defense. Then there's of course the offense, where running a fast break and any shot attempt immediately prompts Staples Center to let out a collective gasp.

But there have been spurts, particularly since the All-Star break where Artest has played the right way. Aside from his tenacious and aggressive defense, he's become a more reliable option offensively since the All-Star break with his points per game and shooting percentage eclipsing his season average. It all points to Artest becoming more aware and appearing more engaged. Strangely enough, Artest thrives more when he's not over-thinking what he has to do on the court. As everyone knows with Artest, he's a wild card and it'll be hard to gauge what he'll truly bring. There's no point in unraveling the enigma that is Ron Artest, but for better and/or worse, his playoff performances will surely be memorable.

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Andrew Bynum participates in five-on-five scrimmage in Saturday's practice

The latest on Andrew Bynum's rehabilitation efforts for his surgically repaired right knee: He participated in full-court and half-court five-on-five scrimmages during Saturday's practice.

He said earlier this week that he's eyeing a return at some point during the Lakers' nine-day trip beginning Dec. 10, but Coach Phil Jackson didn't provide a definitive timetable, adding that it's hard to make a definitive assessment because he wants to see how Bynum's body responds the day after practice.

"He said he's tired, which is natural," Jackson said. "It's going to happen. He said there was one moment that he had a little twinge, but other than that it was OK."

The Lakers plan to take a day off Sunday, but Jackson said he wants to have Bynum participate in more five-on-five drills Monday to improve his conditioning and timing.

"We're not going to have many practices before this road trip," Jackson said, "so it's important we get these in."

Meanwhile, backup center Theo Ratliff ran on a treadmill and completed an elliptical-machine workout; Jackson reported he experienced swelling around his surgically repaired left knee.

-- Mark Medina
Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Lakers' Pau Gasol expected to play tonight; Theo Ratliff progressing

Imagine that. There's actually some positive injury news involving the Lakers' big men.

Pau Gasol will probably play Friday night against Sacramento despite a sore left hamstring and Theo Ratliff was using an elliptical machine after the Lakers' shoot-around Friday morning.

Ratliff has been sidelined since having cartilage removed from his left knee Nov. 16, but he appears to be within two weeks from returning. Despite meager stats before his injury, the Lakers can use him, seeing as how Gasol and Lamar Odom have routinely been logging 40-plus minutes a game without Ratliff and Andrew Bynum in the lineup.

"He's moving along quickly," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "We hope it's not so quick that he beats Andrew back ... not that we hope it's not, but it would be kind of ironic, wouldn't it?"

Ratliff, 37, has also been running on an anti-gravity treadmill that reduces stress on the body.

"It looks like somewhere in the next two weeks, things are going to turn around for him," Jackson said.

Ratliff, in his first season with the Lakers, was averaging 0.3 points and 1.6 rebounds in 8.3 minutes a game while feeling continual pain in his knee.

Gasol began experiencing soreness in his hamstring Tuesday against Memphis and had his worst game of the season the following night, scoring eight points on two-for-eight shooting against Houston.

"He's going forward just like he's going to play and if anything disruptive will happen, he'll pull the plug on it and we'll sit him out [Friday night]," Jackson said. "He anticipates that he'll be able to play."

-- Mike Bresnahan

Caught in the Web: Reactions to Lakers' 118-107 victory over Milwaukee Bucks

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Game stories

--The Times' Mike Bresnahan notes the weird developments that took place during the Lakers' 118-107 victory Tuesday over Milwaukee.

--The Orange County Register's Kevin Ding credits the Lakers' defense against the Bucks.

--The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tom Enlund examines how the Lakers' found holes in the Bucks' defense.

--The Daily Breeze's Elliott Teaford describes the Lakers' win as a "bounce-back game."

Notebooks

--The Register's Ding details Andrew Bynum's timetable.

--The Breeze's Teaford writes that the Lakers acquiring free agent Erick Dampier would probably be too expensive because of the team's salary-cap issues.

Sidebars

--The Times' Bresnahan reports that the Lakers will try to acquire Dampier.

--The Times' Broderick Turner credits Brown's fourth-quarter run.

--The Register's Ding examines Brown's off-season work.

--The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Michael Hunt argues the Lakers pace themselves the right way.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi focuses on Kobe Bryant's leadership.

--AOL Fanhouse's Brett Pollakoff drops the Lakers to No. 4 in his latest league rankings.

--Fox Sports' Billy Witz focuses on the Lakers' poor defense.

--Singer Rihanna expresses her disgust in the video below that some gossip bloggers believed she was once dating Bynum (credit to yardbarker.com)

Blogs

--ESPN Los Angeles' Brian Kamenetzky breaks down the Lakers' victory.

--ESPN Los Angeles' McMenamin lists 10 nuggets to take away from the Lakers' win.

--Lakers.com's Mike Trudell presents a running diary and postgame numbers.

--Silver Screen and Roll's C.A. Clark sizes up the Lakers' defense.

--Silver Screen and Roll's Dexter Fishmore lists different options the Lakers could pursue to fill Theo Ratliff's absence.

--Forum Blue and Gold's Darius Soriano analyzes the Lakers' fourth-quarter effort against Milwaukee.

--Brew Hoop's Alex Boeder details how the Lakers found cracks in Milwaukee's defense.

Piston links

--The Detroit Free Press' Vince Ellis explains why Pistons Coach John Kuester has questioned his team's mental toughness.

--The Ann Arbor News' Chris Iott details the spat between Kuester and Tayshaun Prince.

--Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears looks at Ben Wallace's defense.

Tweet of the Day: "minutes dont matter only winning does ... last yr i didnt play much also at times in the end of games i even messed up alot remember? but in playoffs , all close out games ... i did what i had to do. its all about what the team needs then we win and laker fans are happy doesnt matter what five is out there" -- RONARTESTCOM (Lakers forward Ron Artest)

Reader Comment of the Day: " I am officially impressed with Shannon Brown. You can tell how much work he put into his game this summer - true. But you can also see just exactly how Kobe Bryant's work ethic and approach to the game has influenced this young man. Shannon is a sponge. He's soaking in the knowledge and experience he has at his fingertips and is making the most of it, as evidenced by his complete confidence out there on the court. Most improved? I should say so. His progression as a player is a joy to behold, and his maturity as a young man is also on display" -- justanothermambafan

-- Mark Medina

Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant moves to the basket against Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut, left, and guard John Salmons during the Lakers' 118-107 road victory Tuesday. Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

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