Lakers' plight could impact East race

BOSTON

   The Los Angeles Lakers may yet impact the NBA championship race.

   Although perhaps not the way Jerry Buss, Jim Buss, Jeanie Buss or busloads of fans in the Southland anticipated.

  With every Lakers loss making it clearer that the mix is not working, it moves the Lakers closer to considering the possibilities.

  The possibilities that Dwight Howard won't be sticking around in free agency.

  The possibilities of discarding Pau Gasol as a scapegoat for Mike D'Antoni's lack of offensive creativity (who would have thought?).

   The possibilities of caring less about potentially bolstering another contender, but rather more about bolstering their own future.

  Make no mistake, the league's contenders prefer the status quo: the Lakers feeble; Dwight, Pau, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash home for the playoffs.

   That will have many championship hopefuls on edge until the Feb. 21 NBA trading deadline, not because of any of their own acquisition desires, but of how a move by the Lakers could bolster teams on the fringe of contention.

   Put Gasol on the Boston Celtics and it's a game changer. Kevin Garnett moves back to power forward, the offense has someone other than Paul Pierce to turn to for late-game scoring.

   Put Howard on the Atlanta Hawks and you create, arguably, the best four-five combination in the conference.

   Add Howard to the Brooklyn Nets or Gasol to the New York Knicks, and the dynamic changes beyond the two boroughs.

   The perfect Heat scenario?

   The Lakers start winning, gain enough confidence amid the recent struggles of the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers that they come to the realization the current mix might work, at least in the short run.

    Because the reality is that there are deals to be made for the Lakers, including deals that would move their current headaches out of the conference, where they won't return to haunt as often.

   Recall, Boston supposedly was on the verge of making a move for Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins earlier in the month with pieces that still left Garnett, Pierce and Rajon Rondo intact. Those pieces are still available, even if it would take added filler to meet Gasol's $19 million salary.

   As for the Nets, Billy King and P.J. Carlesimo might be saying all the right things when it comes to Brook Lopez, but they don't make the ultimate choice in Brooklyn. That decision comes from Mikhail Prokhorov, who always thinks bigger.

   With the Hawks, Howard would get to play at home and Danny Ferry would be able to escape the recurring nightmare that is Josh Smith.

   As for the Knicks, Amare Stoudemire for Dwight would create a comfort zone for D'Antoni, although it also would lessen the impact of Tyson Chandler.

   Heck, at this point you probably could make an argument for a Howard-Andrew Bynum trade with the Philadelphia 76ers (OK, maybe not) or even something with the Indiana Pacers involving Roy Hibbert.

  The point being that beyond the Lakers' Feb. 10 visit to AmericanAirlines Arena, those at 601 Biscayne Boulevard are likely to currently stand as closet Lakers fans. The status quo in Los Angeles could make things a lot easier for the Heat's Big Three when it comes to the Eastern Conference playoffs.

   It's one thing to have a rehabilitating Derrick Rose injected into the mix with the Chicago Bulls, it would be another to have Dwight or Gasol injected into the Eastern Conference playoff race.

   Last summer, it appeared the Lakers were primed to make a dramatic impact on the NBA championship race. Depending on what happens before Feb. 21, they still could.

IN THE LANE

    STOLEN THUNDER: Even as his popularity grew with the Heat, it was long apparent that Dan Majerle would be a Phoenix Sun for life, adored in Arizona for his playing exploits, broadcasting, community efforts. That's what made the ugly coaching transition there so ugly, when not only was long-time NBA assistant Elston Turner bypassed as a replacement for deposed coach Alvin Gentry, but when Majerle was bypassed, as well. "The thing I keep hearing management say on the radio is that hiring me would've been the popular and easy thing to do," Majerle told the Arizona Republic. "I earned it. I deserved a shot if it's not going to be Elston. I coached five and a half year years. I coached the summer leagues. I didn't need a favor." Majerle declined to stay on as an assistant to Lindsey Hunter. "I'll do anything for the Suns. It was a kick to the stomach when I got passed over. I heard that they wanted discipline and accountability, and that's what I've been all about since I was a player."

     BETTING ON BEASE: Then there is Hunter's hope of getting something out of former Heat first-round pick Michael Beasley, whose offseason signing made it all the more difficult for Gentry, the former Heat coach. "I think to get to the root of Michael Beasley you have to kind of look at him off the court first," Hunter said in a radio interview. "You look at how he was raised and the situations he was put into, people of influence that probably did things that weren't productive to his development." Or perhaps Charles Barkley got it right during Thursday's TNT Suns-Los Angeles Clippers broadcast, when he said that, now on his third team, perhaps this ultimately is all Beasley will be, a journeyman reserve.

    STOLEN GLORY: With the Sacramento Kings' expected move to Seattle, it likely will stoke plenty of SuperSonics nostalgia, of Gary Payton, Lenny Wilkens, Gus Williams, "Downtown" Freddy Brown, Jack Sikma. The question is where that will leave those with retired Kings/Royals numbers, with former Broward prep standout Mitch Richmond among that group. "I'm being optimistic and hoping they will stay," Richmond said during a recent radio interview in Sacramento. "We can't hang it up in my room. I want it hanging up in that [Sacramento] arena. There's so much history there. It would be a shame just to see those jerseys come down and move to Seattle."

    FIRST THINGS: About the only thing we know about the Heat's 2013 first-round NBA Draft pick is that it won't be staying home (making the assumption that the Heat make the playoffs). It still could wind up with the Cavaliers, where it was initially sent to complete the 2010 LeBron James sign-and-trade agreement, or it yet could wind up with the Los Angeles Lakers or Phoenix Suns due to subsequent trades. Essentially, the Cavaliers negotiated the rights to swap 2013 picks with the Lakers as part of sending Ramon Sessions last season to Los Angeles, and could use the Heat's choice in that process, albeit with the Lakers holding lottery protection with their own pick. Then there is the 2013 first-round pick the Lakers owe to the Suns in the Steve Nash trade, which could have the Heat pick on the move there. The Heat also owe one additional first-round pick to Cleveland to complete the LeBron sign-and-trade (most likely in 2015, top-10 protected).

 NUMBER

     41. 3-pointers by Wayne Ellington with the Grizzlies this season before being dealt Tuesday to the Cavaliers, with seven coming in a 104-86 Nov. 11 win over the Heat.

    iwinderman@tribune.com. Follow him at twitter.com/iraheatbeat.

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