Kobe Bryant blames age instead of Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez's contract isn't so bad and another path on Royce White

USA TODAY Sports

Kobe Bryant gets to the core of the problem for the Lakers: they're old. Only that's not the biggest problem. Plus, Brook Lopez is a top-3 center and there's another solution for Royce White.

The Lakers lost to the Sixers on Wednesday to fall back under .500 at 15-16. Philadelphia never trailed in the second half, and L.A. is now just 10-7 at home. For a change, the defense didn't do in L.A.: it was a crummy offense that led to the loss. The Lakers scored 99 points in 98 possessions, shooting just 39 percent from the floor, and getting basically no help from behind the arc (3-22).

After the game, Kobe blamed age on the loss and the losing.

"'Cause we're old as s---," said the 34-year-old Bryant when asked why a lack of energy has been a problem for L.A. all season. "What do you want? We just got to figure out how to play when we don't have that energy. We got to change things up a little bit defensively. We got to figure out what we want to do offensively, figure out what we want to do on nights when we don't have those legs or have that energy."

Kobe is old, sure. But he had 36 points on 34 shooting possessions. Steve Nash is quite old, but he had 12 points on 6-11 shooting, plus 10 assists to only two turnovers. He did allow his match-up Jrue Holiday to pop off (26 points on 10-19, 10 assists, one turnover). Pau Gasol is old and wasn't too good.

But Dwight Howard, he's not old. And he went 1-7 from the floor for seven points. Against Lavoy Allen, Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown. Dwight was one of the most efficient 20-point scorers in the league over the last few years in Orlando. He's hit 20 points in only 10 of 31 games this season; Tuesday was the fourth time he's scored fewer than 10 points.

Howard was supposed to be a defensive anchor for L.A. That's been inconsistent. (He was good in that category on Tuesday.) He was also supposed to be a draw at worst compared to Andrew Bynum on offense. Bynum last season averaged 19 points per 36 minutes with a True Shooting percentage of .594. Howard this season: 17 points per 36 minutes on .570 True Shooting. Downgrades, though not huge ones. But games like the one Dwight played Tuesday sure aren't what L.A. signed up for.

Pau was an equal problem on Tuesday, and we've explored Gasol's offensive woes already. The Lakers just cannot survive games like this from Howard. L.A. is 1-3 when Dwight scores fewer than 10 points, 8-9 when he scores 10-19 points and 6-4 when he scores 20 or more. There's a pretty straightforward lesson here: the Lakers must get more from Howard on offense.

If they don't, that age issue will pop up in the playoffs when Kobe, Pau and Nash are asked to do too much on both ends because Howard can't score on Kendrick Perkins or Kosta Koufos or DeAndre Jordan. Getting Dwight going on offense consistently is the key now that he's playing decent defense.

***

Brook Lopez's max deal was quite a good laugh in the summer. As it turns out, it may have been the best decision Brooklyn made in 2012. (Well, second behind introduction of the BrooklyKnight, of course.) Given Andrew Bynum's long injury return and Dwight's slow start, Lopez has been one of the league's three best centers this season in terms of impact, up there with Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah.

Lopez was one of three Class of 2008 draft products to sign a max deal last summer as restricted free agents, along with Eric Gordon and Roy Hibbert. Needless to say, Gordon nor Hibbert have played up to their deals. Lopez pretty much has: he's averaging 18 points, seven rebounds and two blocks per game, and the Nets are much, much better when he's on the floor. Health was going to be a concern due to his 61 missed games last season; Lopez has played in 24 of Brooklyn's 31 games, and in near the 50 percent mark in percentage of possible minutes played. (Starters should be between 50 and 70 percent.)

Lopez is much better on offense than defense, but it's worth noting that the Nets have been three points per 100 possessions better defensively with the center on the court. And for those of you wondering if Deron Williams will bounce back: the Lopez-Deron pairing is +73 in 624 minutes this season, second-best on the Nets (to Joe Johnson-Lopez, +91 in 629 minutes). The starting lineup, so long as Lopez and Williams are healthy, is not really the problem for Brooklyn ... thanks to Lopez.

Now, about Hibbert ...

***

We talked about Royce White on Monday. Ace sports law expert Michael McCann has looked at Houston's options, too, and has one great idea and an interesting note. In a paper published by Vermont Law School, McCann posits that the Rockets could loan White (who suffers from anxiety disorder and has a crushing fear of flying) to another league where air travel isn't required. (The Israeli league is suggested. There are any number of European leagues where this would be possible. Japan and South Korea might also be options, though the quality of play is higher than Western and Southern Europe.) While in the no-fly league, White could develop his game and work on dealing with his anxiety.

Why should White, who is seeking further accommodation from the Rockets and has refused an assignment to the D-League (which is not something I thought a rookie could do under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement), agree to ply his trade in Israel or somewhere for a year or two? Because McCann says any lawsuit against the Rockets citing Americans With Disabilities Act violations is likely to fail because the Rockets have done what is possible under NBA protocol to accommodate White.

If push comes to shove and the Rockets need to waive White, McCann brings up the very interesting possibility of league compensation to Houston. McCann writes that the commissioner's office has legal authority to compensate Houston with a draft pick if White's contract is torn up due to the legal issues. It remains to be seen whether the league would actually take that step: other teams would complain loudly on account of Houston knowing what they were facing when they rolled the dice on White at No. 16 in the 2012 draft. That's precisely why other teams didn't roll the dice.

While the European league solution is brilliant, my reading of the situation tells me near-term stalemate is more likely. White is showing no signs of letting up on his demands, and I'm still not seeing what the Rockets can do to get him on board. One thing's for sure: the Rockets must be regretting the decision to take White over someone like Andrew Nicholson or Draymond Green.

***

The Hook is an NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.

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