End of an era for Lakers, Celtics, Mavs? - NBC Sports

End of an era for Lakers, Celtics, Mavs?
Troubles for ex-powers were expected to dissipate through healing and time. Oops
January 24, 2013, 4:01 am

If nothing else, this would be a day when the Lakers, Celtics and Mavericks would be able to put aside their worries.

And then, lost in the finalizing of the Super Bowl matchup, the results began to trickle in, results with not nearly the finality of what the Falcons and Patriots were experiencing, but troubling results nonetheless.

The Lakers lost in Toronto.

The Celtics lost in Detroit.

And Dallas barely held on in Orlando thanks to a late Darren Collison 3-pointer after the Magic trimmed a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to two.

This is not where most expected the Lakers (losers of four straight), Celtics (ditto) and Mavericks to be as the NBA opens the second half of its schedule. The troubles were expected to dissipate through healing, time, a return to the natural order.

But this is where they stand, as the league enters arguably the most significant month of the season, the four weeks between the schedule's midpoint and the Feb. 21 trading deadline.

It essentially is now or never when it comes to change in 2012-13.

With the Lakers, Mike D'Antoni seemingly is throwing his hands up in the air, "We have too many issues." And it is, to a degree, unfathomable.

With the Celtics, Danny Ainge already was talking about taking a proactive approach, and few should doubt the man who traded Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green at the 2010 deadline, in the middle of a championship chase. And now Doc Rivers is fuming, as well, "I think this team wants everything easy."

As for the Mavericks, owner Mark Cuban recently said the "Bank of Cuban" was open, although when it comes to the NBA's prime currency, tradable commodities, Dallas has precious few.

For their part, the Celtics most likely will make the playoffs, if only for the lack of competition at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Advancing to the postseason is as basic for Boston as staying ahead of Philadelphia. It could be argued that the Celtics' playoff hopes hang in the balance with Andrew Bynum's health.

If this was a year ago, there was the crutch of the lockout-shortened schedule, the NBA's new cap order. Rivers played that card by easing through the regular season. Cuban certainly played the card when it came to his team's roster finances, in the wake of a championship. And even the Lakers could play the transition card a year ago, with the transition away from Phil Jackson.

This is different. This is about fundamental change of who and what these three franchises are, each so unique in composition that subtle change is almost impossible.

For the Mavericks, the only one of the three that appears to be somewhat stabilizing, it comes down to the end game with Dirk Nowitzki. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

For his part, Cuban appears to have an appreciation for the significance of the franchise player. It is why Nowitzki has always been off the table. And it is why Cuban put everything on the table last season in a bid for Deron Williams, no matter what his revisionist history now tries to claim.

The simple answer for Dallas is a Dwight Howard who grows so frustrated in Los Angeles, becomes such an increasing target for his comedic approach and comedic foul shooting, that he is willing to forgo $30 million extra from the Lakers and instead signs elsewhere in free agency. It would provide the franchise center Nowitzki has lacked, allow him to further maximize his aging, finesse-based game at power forward.

To a degree, Cuban went all in on the future last summer with an all-or-nothing approach to upcoming 2013 free agency, just as he did a year earlier with the gambit on Williams. No one can fault Cuban for not thinking big.

That leaves the ultimate end game for the Mavericks in July, not Feb. 21, even with Cuban's vault open. The Mavericks' playoff chances, even with a midseason upgrade, still come down to the likes of the Jazz, Rockets or Trail Blazers stumbling. They have moved close enough for a puncher's chance at a playoff berth, even if it leads to an inevitable first-round knockout.

The Lakers, located one step below the Mavericks in the West, face much greater decisions than Dallas, and much greater consequences. Dwight didn't want to stick around with a low-level playoff contender in Orlando. What are the odds he would risk a lottery future in L.A., even at the cost of the additional money he could get through the collective-bargaining agreement by re-signing?

That puts Feb. 21 into play big time for Mitch Kupchak, with minimal prospects for upgrading, something he thought he took care of last summer with the additions of Howard, Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison.

A week ago in this space we floated the idea of getting Kobe Bryant to a better place for the twilight of his career and, as a result, at least getting the Lakers to a different place, with a fresher outlook with Howard as the more-youthful focus going forward. Failing that, it appears Pau Gasol once again goes to market, as the Lakers' most marketable commodity.

Something has to be done, because there are times when it appears Mike D'Antoni would be more than willing to trade current places with Mike Brown.

Similar frustration can be seen with Doc Rivers in Boston. It couldn't be as simple as losing the locker-room conduit that was Ray Allen, but something is going on. The personalities of Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo seemingly are overwhelming the process, as Ainge's offseason acquisitions, such as Jason Terry and Courtney Lee continue to underwhelm.

Cuban might have the cash to spend, the Lakers might have the biggest names to float, but Ainge has the reputation for being most proactive. Figure the drama quotient to remain on the rise in Boston.

To some, the Heat's title and the Thunder's rise to the Finals last season represented a changing of the guard.

Based on where the Lakers, Celtics and Mavericks stand today, it also might have signaled the end of an era.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.


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