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Scott Howard-Cooper

Lakers owner Jerry Buss might not be done doling out big money for his team.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Buss ready to pay up to keep Lakers in contention

Posted Nov 26 2009 10:53AM

• Lakers owner Jerry Buss is joking around about being on track to spend $112.7 million in player salary alone -- $91.3 million in actual payroll and $21.4 million in luxury tax -- and the 29 other teams don't laugh along as Buss says he is prepared to push higher still in the future. The obvious factor will be how far L.A. goes in the playoffs, but he is willing to sign Kobe Bryant to a three-year extension worth approximately $91 million no matter what, with an additional decision pending as Derek Fisher becomes a free agent in the summer. Plus, Buss has said he would like coach Phil Jackson, making $12 million in the final season of his deal, to return.

The decision by Nate McMillan to scrap the three-guard starting lineup in Portland, despite the 7-2 record with Steve Blake and Andre Miller splitting the work at the point, is especially welcome news for Brandon Roy. An All-Star at shooting guard but the small forward in the early season alignment, he disliked playing off the ball so much, "I find myself standing and waiting for a play to be called, whereas in the past I would have initiated more plays and run more plays." McMillan's adjustment three games ago that returned Miller to a reserve role and moved Martell Webster to starting small forward was designed to put the offense squarely back in Roy's hands.


Not only is Ty Lawson the early steal of the draft as a key contributor to Denver's 10-4 start by averaging 9.4 points and shooting 52.7 percent after going 18th, but he is a better defender than even the Nuggets expected. The speed that turns opponents into pylons allows him to get to loose balls others can't, creating more possessions. While Lawson is not the major reason they have jumped from 104.3 points a game last season to 107.4, the extra opportunities he generates obviously makes a difference.

What else is going right for the Nuggets: the schedule. They just got off of what may be the most comfortable back-to-back in history, Tuesday at home against the 0-13 Nets followed by Wednesday on the road against the 1-13 Timberwolves, winning both with ease. Not only that, the next three Denver opponents are New York, Minnesota and Golden State, making it a run of five games against four opponents that have a combined .153 winning percentage.

Golden State's victory Tuesday in Dallas, with interim coach Keith Smart using six players, and the loss Wednesday in San Antonio count toward Don Nelson's pursuit of Lenny Wilkens for No. 1 on the career coaching win list despite Nelson missing the trip because of pneumonia. He is 19 short of passing Wilkens and suddenly has an inspired team in the five games since disgruntled Stephen Jackson was traded to Charlotte.

The Nets' losing streak -- 15 games -- has reached such proportions that opposing coaches are feeling the need to tell their teams to play to win rather than to play to not lose. It's the sudden pressure of trying to avoid becoming the first victim. No one wants to be the headline when New Jersey finally gets a win.

(Another) great one from John Canzano of the Oregonian, contemplating the plight of Paul Allen and observing how it's the Trail Blazers' turn to carry their owner after so many years of nonstop financial and emotional support. The successful season many see ahead in Portland would be that kind of lift in the wake of the announcement that Allen has cancer, the latest medical crisis around the team. "And I'm thinking today," Canzano writes, "a man saddled with a scary disease and a struggling economy tugging down his portfolio would probably love nothing more than to escape it all with his basketball team for a couple wonderful hours on game nights."

Way too much bad news lately regarding owners. Bill Davidson in Detroit and Larry Miller in Utah, both fixtures on the NBA landscape, died last season and now word of Allen's cancer and the passing of world-class philanthropist Abe Pollin in Washington. The most meaningful reactions to the loss of Pollin are from the people of D.C., because as David Aldridge wrote in a powerful statement of what building the Verizon Center meant to the downtown revitalization, "Abe Pollin helped save my hometown." The Washington Post obituary also noted his international scope, of how Pollin read an op-ed piece about 40,000 children dying from malnutrition daily in Africa, contacted a top U.S. official for UNICEF and later spearheaded relief drives for Africans as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan.

• The mail had turned decidedly pro-Allen Iverson by the time news of his retirement broke Wednesday, with know-nothing teams and the know-nothing media mostly getting blamed for Iverson's continued unemployment. A few letters contend he remains one of the 20 best players, which is great loyalty but not much in the way of reality. If a top-20 talent was a free agent and willing to play for close to the minimum, as A.I. was, teams would be kicking his door in and he never would have retired.

Thanksgiving. Where Gorging Happens.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here.

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