SAN FRANCISCO — Little more than a league-wide joke through the season’s first half, the Los Angeles Lakers showed legitimate signs of revival Friday against Utah, with their top five players (including Pau Gasol, coming off the bench) each scoring 14-17 points in victory. Count on an entirely different story line in Sunday’s nationally televised game against Oklahoma City, for the critiques seem to change on a daily basis.
Just a few of the opinions being tossed about in recent days:
-- Trade Dwight Howard. Why? He hates the system, he may never fully recover from back surgery, he’s looking at a tired and aging bunch of teammates, the ownership structure is so amateurish that even the Los Angeles Clippers’ Donald Sterling seems stable in comparison, and there’s a fair chance the disgruntled center will leave as a free agent this summer. The trade option may be a bit far-fetched, but the Lakers haven’t ruled it out.
-- Fire coach Mike D’Antoni. It seems he knows only one system -- the one that worked so well in Phoenix -- and that doesn’t apply to Carmelo Anthony’s New York Knicks (last year) or the Howard-Kobe Bryant Lakers.
-- Make Bryant a defense-oriented player. Kobe and D’Antoni each signed off on this concept last week, but it means endless nights for a 17-year veteran trying to cover the opposition’s best scorer. Plus, he’s not the start-to-finish lockdown defender he was in the past.
-- Make Bryant a pass-first guard. This is the latest brainstorm, unveiled against Utah, and it makes a lot of sense. They may not admit it publicly, but teammates don’t enjoy watching Kobe look for his shot every time down the floor -- or take a ridiculously difficult three-pointer in traffic with the game on the line. But how long will the defiant Bryant be able to think like a point guard? And what does it say about Steve Nash’s deterioration that the subject even arises?
-- Forget starting Howard and Gasol in the frontcourt together; it can’t work. This is D’Antoni’s latest explanation for the Lakers’ malaise, and it’s as pathetic as their season. You’ve got the NBA’s best center and its best post-up big man, and they can’t play together? You like Earl Clark ahead of Gasol? What a joke.
Around the NBA
-- Derrick Rose has become the Andrew Bogut of the Midwest. After plenty of invigorating talk about Rose’s rehabilitation, the Chicago Bulls have fallen silent on the timing of his return. It doesn’t appear that he’s had a setback, but the local media finds the mystery disturbing.
-- After watching the Bulls’ stifling defense and relentless hard work against the Golden State Warriors on Friday, one would have to conclude: significant playoff threat if Rose comes all the way back.
-- A while back, we wondered how Marco Belinelli could play even a minute on that tough-minded Chicago team. Now he’s a go-to guy, with recent game-winning shots against the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons.
-- How a great coach (as opposed to D’Antoni) adjusts to his roster: With the Lakers, Pat Riley turned loose a bunch of wild stallions on blinding-fast forays down the floor. Confronted with a bunch of tough guys in New York, Riley did a 180-degree turn and won ugly.
-- One thing in D’Antoni’s defense: It’s ridiculous to say his methods have their limit. His 2007 Suns would have beaten San Antonio in the Western Conference finals if Commissioner David Stern and his namby-pamby sidekick, Stu Jackson, hadn’t suspended Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for leaving the bench during a fracas at the end of Game 4. That Phoenix team would have gone on to destroy Cleveland in the Finals (just as the Spurs did, in a sweep).
-- One thing about Riley, as well as Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers, among others: A resonant voice never loses the ring of authority. Players are quick to tune out coaches who begin to sound comical (Stan Van Gundy and Avery Johnson come quickly to mind), and that has always been the case with the boisterous P.J. Carlesimo. His Brooklyn honeymoon is bound to crumble.
-- The New Orleans Pelicans? That’s likely to become official, backed by substantial history. The brown pelican is the Louisiana state bird, and New Orleans had a minor-league baseball team named the Pelicans from 1887 to 1959. Still, no name works better than the Jazz. It’s Utah that needs a new handle.