Nelson DeMille’s “Radiant Angel” a timely tale

1On a quiet September afternoon, Colonel Vasily Petrov received a satchel and a pair of sealed envelopes from Moscow that contained a short, coded message: the satchel held three 9mm pistols, two submachine guns, and several spare magazines for each weapon. A year of planning and preparation had ended. It was time to commence “Operation Zero.” Outside the Russian Mission in New York former NYPD homicide detective John Corey is watching and waiting. As a contract agent for the Diplomatic Surveillance Group, his job is to follow the Russian. Corey is at turns disinterested, even cynical — at one point describing a job where “we all…take pictures of each other” — but flashes of his “detective instincts” break through the sardonic humor. His partner in this follow-up to The Panther is Tess Faraday, an aspiring FBI agent who drifts between bubbly and unsure of herself on this mission as they head for a beach house in the Hamptons.

The unmarked Mercedes carrying Petrov and his three comrades eventually reaches the home of a Russian “zillionaire” with Corey and his team close behind; their “non-discreet surveillance” mission means watching an all-day house party and keeping tabs on the noticeably blase Russian Colonel. By the time this mismatched pair leave Georgi Tamorov’s sea-side estate via public beach access path Corey is suspicious and the former Wall Street lawyer at his side doesn’t seem so innocent. After a quick stop at a nearby diner and a short exchange the pair make their way to the Shinnecock Indian reservation for a powwow with an “old Cold Warrior” colleague who delivers a tall tale featuring an offhand reference to Einstein’s Nassau Point Letter and what could be a paranoid analysis of Petrov’s intentions.

The story’s focus shifts to the Russian group as they link up with an unsuspecting partner, and the objective of “Operation Zero” is brought to light. Petrov is the center of attention, but in a way Nelson DeMille may not have intended. The villain of Radiant Angel is not an over-the-top, charismatic schemer worthy of a James Bond flick; if he were that would ruin the story. Petrov is single-minded, almost fanatically intent on completing his mission, but something is missing. As officers with the Russian intelligence service, it’s expected that Petrov and his henchman would go about liquidating the passengers and crew of a 200-foot yacht with a bureaucrat’s indifference. But after The Hana takes on a Russian captain and dissention breaks out among the New York-bound conspirators Petrov’s motives, which involve a step up the SVR flow chart, become increasingly unconvincing.

At a loss to explain how the Russians eluded him, Corey returned to their last known location. Police are on-scene and about to take control of the investigation, which could leave the four DSG agents on the sidelines. Corey takes advantage of the confusion to put himself in charge, then questions Petrov’s driver and the home’s owner. The limits of his authority start catching up with the contract snoop when Corey’s boss starts calling, the police Captain he is working with won’t allow the detective on a speedboat to continue his pursuit, and Ms. Faraday asked why he’s still chasing the Russian when his part in the case is essentially over. It’s unclear why an ex-cop is working so hard chasing a subject he described as a “dip” at one point — the six books in DeMille’s series that preceded this one may have helped — but the Garden City author seemingly drew up this pair as shadowy reflections of each other.

Now that all the pieces are in place, the final chase to New York Harbor takes off and though momentum changes hands, time seems to be on Petrov’s side. The inevitable confrontation is a bit of a mixed bag; there are stretches where it is dramatic without going cinematic, and others where it has a touch of Hollywood pizazz worthy of Die Hard. There was something curious about this thriller’s references to a Russia governed by “Putin and his goons” and the “almost existential” threat it represents. They’re sprinkled throughout DeMille’s novel as though he had a larger point to make, something he confirmed in an interview posted on Blackfive.net. This novel is topical without preaching about the story that is dominating American politics, a fast-paced, engaging, and occasionally prescient work worthy of any Tom Clancy fan’s time.

photo courtesy of il6.picdn.net

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March 27, 2017 · 8:06 pm

Trumpcare revealed, then panned by dueling Critics

gettyimages-6492758981The long-awaited repeal of Obamacare can begin now that a curtain has risen to reveal the Republican replacement, but the audience is not happy. Some of this was to be expected; Democrats were never going to stand by and watch while Paul Ryan and Donald Trump dismantled what the Obama administration worked so hard to build. By Groundhog Day they had a catchy rallying cry and a headstart — Republicans were going to make America sick again — but nothing tangible to point at. It also meant the GOP did not have anything to placate intemperate crowds that filled town halls during a February recess, many convinced health care would be “taken away” from as many as 32 million Americans. Now Republicans are within reach of what, according to the House Speaker, “we’ve all been dreaming about” but the American Health Care Act is taking fire from Capitol Hill and a range of conservative activist groups who accept Rand Paul’s designation of the new bill as “Obamacare-lite.”

The most glaring reversal in a measure suffering from an apparently fractured identity involves the notorious individual mandate that helped awaken the Tea Party. It will live on, but take a new form: the IRS would be freed from the burden of collecting a penalty from tax refunds. When faced with consumers who go more than two months without coverage insurers will be required to hit the neglectful with a one-time 30% premium spike. Where the money goes is unclear, but the provision could be a way to salvage Obamacare’s mandate that people with pre-existing conditions can buy coverage. In a nod to conservatives, the GOP bill would effectively defund Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion by 2020, then install a “per capita cap” that would provide a fixed amount to each state for Medicaid. A number of unpopular taxes are also on the block, including those imposed on insurance carriers, medical device manufacturers, and higher payroll taxes aimed at high-income families.

Another sign of confusion and discord? The refundable tax credits in this replacement would essentially write a $2,000-$4,000 check to consumers who don’t get coverage through an employer. They’re means-tested, and thus are not available to individuals earning more than $75,000 annually, but since the credits are age-based they could leave low-income millennials paying for middle-class baby-boomer’s insurance. As a party the GOP is not sold on universal coverage, yet their bill includes this provision with a glimmer of intent to provide a different kind than Bernie Sanders would. Senate Democrats won’t be fooled, and their increasingly restive base would not stand for compromise if Paul Ryan included the credit as a hedge against potential Republican defections. It’s another sign the bill’s primary purpose is to fulfill a years-old campaign pledge.

Despite its faults, the Affordable Care Act had a mission: to provide universal insurance coverage by treating it as a public service with a set of “essential health benefits” and subsidies to bring new customers into the pool. All the while Republicans have spoken of insurance as a commodity whose prices can be tamed by introducing market forces like competition, while rightly pointing out the high deductibles associated with marketplace policies. The problem with relying on competition to hold down the cost of insurance and care is one of differing needs; people suffering from the flu or a muscle sprain can skip a trip to the local clinic and avoid a $20 co-pay. The most expensive kind of care — chronic and emergency — is not so easily subjected to a cost-benefit analysis.

As it stands the American Health Care Act looks like a turkey, and there are signs at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue that Republicans know it. On Capitol Hill they hustled the bill through two committees in the middle of the night and intend to bring it before the full House in April after initially hiding it from lawmakers. At the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer launched a pre-emptive strike on the Congressional Budget Office before its analysis, and all the bad news that came with it, went public. The president? Donald Trump is playing his part as a salesman, at one point telling the crowd at a Nashville rally last week that “the House legislation does so much for you,” but stumbled later during an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson when Trump acknowledged his voters would be hurt by the same bill. The self-described “arbitrator” has one advantage over his comrades in Congress; he’s figured out how “complicated” health care is.

photo courtesy of heavyeditorial.files.com

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March 18, 2017 · 9:59 pm

Free Speech besieged, but not by the White House

thisdfjasdlfkjasIn this political environment that prominently features a president who prizes conflict with a so-called crooked media it would be easy to conclude the First Amendment is under siege after outlets like “fake news” CNN and the “failing” New York Times were excluded from an informal briefing at the White House. On its face the notion sounds crazy, at least it did before the Times responded by issuing a nearly Trumpian communique that described their exclusion as “an unmistakable insult to democratic ideals.” Before anyone in New York or Washington lights their hair on fire in protest, it’s important to understand that off-camera briefings are not new phenomenon — previous administrations have also used them. It is also worthy of note that the “gaggle” admitted to Sean Spicer’s office was not stacked with presumed allies like Fox News and Breitbart, but also included major networks, and presumed adversaries, like ABC, NBC, and CBS.

This president is more overtly hostile in word and tweet than his predecessor, but Barack Obama did more than spout off about anonymous sources that don’t “use somebody’s name” and demand that they “say it to my face,” like his successor did during a speech at the CPAC conference. In 2013 the Justice Department branded Fox News’ James Rosen a co-conspirator for his use of leaked information and, through a search warrant, obtained phone records and emails; a representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists later described the Obama administration’s crackdown on whistleblowers as “the most aggressive…since the Nixon administration.” For all his bluster about “fake media,” Donald Trump has shown little interest in anything more than libel laws because that same media is a reliable villain in this reality TV presidency. Every slap and slur Trump and his team delivers is another shake of catnip for a base more interested in boycotting allegedly hostile outlets than shuttering them.

If freedom of speech has a genuine adversary in the US, it is a community that can be found on college campuses and generally promotes tolerance, but makes an exception for dissenters. That’s what Daily Wire editor Ben Shapiro found out when he visited CSU Los Angeles last year. The event was initially postponed by the university’s president so he could arrange a panel discussion — but eventually William Covino allowed the speech to proceed as planned. Chanting protesters crowded the lobby while trying to keep guests from entering the hall, before the night was over somebody pulled a fire alarm, and it didn’t end there. Shapiro was escorted from the campus by police due to safety concerns; days later, students held a sit-in where they called for Covino’s resignation. Some of them tried to block him from leaving campus.

The most commonly reported stories of campus protests and demands for silence, to the extent they are politically motivated, are aimed at conservatives and provocateurs like Shapiro and former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos, but the phenomenon is not one-sided. In September 2016 a student history club at Kansas’ Newman University invited Kansas Supreme Court Justice Carol Beier to speak with students about how to get into law school, what it’s like to be a judge and explain the role people in her position play in the judicial system. The event was cancelled after antiabortion activists launched a social media campaign university provost Kimberly Long described as “unsettling.” There were no threats of violence, but reportedly the activists believed Judge Beier was at the university to talk to the history club about abortion on Constitution Day.

These incidents could be brushed off as annoying, yet isolated, the social equivalent of a fly buzzing around an outdoor barbeque if not for a new development uncovered by FIRE. Over 200 universities across the country have developed what they call “bias response teams,” administrators who handle complaints from students about their professors, or each other. The decision to act on an ill-defined concept like bias has already led to complaints at Appalachian State University over both pro-Trump chalk messages and others that labeled the president a racist. In California they’ve gone beyond counseling offended students and presumably reprimanding offenders; an unnamed UC San Diego official allegedly encouraged the school’s lawyers to find “creative” ways to censor offensive speech — such as a student newspaper article satirizing safe spaces.

The punchline is contained in a Pew survey conducted in 2015 which found 40% of millennials and 24% of baby-boomers would accept some form of censorship if it protects selected groups from hearing offensive language. This twenty-something generation will not enter the halls of power for several years, and it’s possible time will bring change. The unknowable future is not what’s troubling about the mood on some campuses; the willingness of school officials to accommodate students when they demand veto power over clubs like YAF, College Republicans, and Newman University’s history club is. Schools like NYU and DePaul have cancelled events, while noting that some “have been accompanied by physical altercations” as well as “harassment of community members.” The rules have changed to the point that speech is considered a form of violence and people who respond by shaking fists or yelling at perceived enemies are brave.

photo courtesy of rationalstandard.com

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March 8, 2017 · 1:06 am

ESPN surrendered to wild Twitterstorm

454343602When the Supreme Court was confronted with the Jacobellis v. Ohio case in the mid-1950’s they were asked to determine if a French film titled The Lovers was obscene. Potter Stewart’s standard wasn’t exactly clear; in a concurring opinion the associate justice referred to his own sense when he wrote that pornography was hard to define, but that “I know it when I see it.” The decades since have brought plenty of change with them. Public concern over obscenity is not what it was in 1964, or the late 1980’s when Tipper Gore and Jesse Helms were pressing the recording industry to put warning labels on rap records. There are other demons to chase now.

The sporting world found out how easily Twitter can be roused to action when ESPN was besieged by an unknown number of tweets aimed at tennis commentator Doug Adler in response to his call of a January match between Venus Williams and Stefanie Voegele. In one exchange Williams charged the net, which Adler described as putting “the guerrilla effect on.” His comments went viral after an unnamed New York Times correspondent featured them in a tweet, and the Twitterverse went wild; users insisted that the USC graduate be fired, “barred from the tennis world,” and slapped with a “heavy fine.” They saw racism with only the slightest provocation.

This quest goes beyond any phonetic similarity between “gorilla” and “guerrilla” or some out-of-control virtue signaling. In the tennis world, the term “guerilla tennis” has been used for years: it dates back to a 1995 Nike television ad campaign that featured an impromptu match in a busy San Francisco intersection between Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras that was celebrated in a 2015 Vanity Fair article. It is likely that a large number of Twitter users and tennis fans — even Adler’s former employers — never saw the commercial and knew nothing about the phrase, but ESPN leadership is in a unique position. They were confronted with a bogus charge and gave up because there was, as the former All-American explained, “too much pressure coming from the other side.”

Presumably the Connecticut-based broadcaster folded because they were blindsided by an unprecedented flurry of tweets and were desperate to ward off the mob but had no experience with a similar storm; yet, ESPN has been here before. At the height of “Linsanity” Max Bretos used another well-worn cliché while discussing the former Knicks point guard’s 9 turnovers in a late loss. He turned to Walt Frazier at one point and asked “if there is a chink in the armor” of Lin’s game. A similarly-worded headline was posted on the sports network’s website hours later that was attributed to page editor Anthony Federico. Both men eventually apologized to Lin, who accepted and said he didn’t think there was any racist intent behind their words — Bretos was suspended for 30 days, Federico was fired.

If anyone is still reading, you may be wondering why this was worth writing about, so I’ll try to explain. After all, Max Bretos and Anthony Federico accepted the sanctions, Federico later said his former bosses “did what they had to do.” Doug Adler filed suit against ESPN for wrongful termination; his claim will eventually be settled or go to court. End of story, but not of my interest, because this tale would not end there…the pleas for a conversation on race will not be calmed so easily. The prospect does not bother me, but the possibility it would be taken over by the loudest voices and turned into a similarly terse monologue does. If the ultimate purpose is a reconciliation that is not collective and not conclusive, that would mean swearing off headhunting and reflexive condemnation and keeping the lines open, which could prove surprisingly effective.

photo courtesy of “Sports Illustrated” website

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February 27, 2017 · 6:04 am

Beware of Trump the celebrity President

Nate Beeler / Columbus DispatchIf there was any lingering doubt in the Trump White House that its refugee restrictions rollout was mismanaged just ask Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor described that weekend’s efforts as “terrible” and faulted the president’s staff for failing to forecast potential problems. Optics still matter to somebody like Christie because, despite his closeness to Team Trump, the onetime presidential candidate is still a conventional politician. Donald Trump is not. The former reality TV star was able to casually blame Delta Air Lines for the “big problems” at airports, describe tears shed by Senate Democrat leader Charles Schumer as “fake,” and throw a variation of his trademark slogan into the ‘Delta’ tweet because of he’s not like anything Washington DC has seen before.

Those pundits and lawmakers who would dare stand against the president and his allies on Capitol Hill are reacting the same way they always have, and it’s not working. Trump’s tweet about jailing flag-burners and revoking their citizenship is one example of how lost some of them are: by the time Erwin Chemerinsky completed an editorial explaining the ways such a law would conflict with the Constitution, @realDonaldTrump had moved on to something else. Chemerinsky made the same mistake a lot of his colleagues in politics and media do — he took the post seriously, and was likely confused by the follow-up. Nevertheless, there is a method to what looks like madness that is discernible in the light cast by this president’s thin ideological profile and show business background.

The comments about crowd size at his inauguration during a visit to CIA headquarters was a kind of political theatre, so was the call for a vote fraud investigation based on Trump’s unsubstantiated opinion that 3-5 million illegal votes were cast in November. The press is a reliable punching bag that will continue to be described as dishonest, deceitful, and disgusting until the next opportunity presents itself, like the protests at UC Berkeley. It didn’t matter that the White House could not withhold federal funding from a state university on a whim, CBS News and USA Today still gave Trump’s tweet national attention; the estimated 100-150 people responsible for those broken windows, fires, and overturned barricades served their purpose. They gave the self-styled guardian/president another villain to rail against.

It would be easy to see his provocations on Twitter as a continuation of the campaign and mistake the former real estate developer for a WWE villain. The irony is that by covering every new tweet, and every reaction to them, the so-called crooked media is being taken for a ride by a practiced manipulator from a world where fame and infamy are equally valuable. CNN host Anderson Cooper was one of many who got tricked into defending themselves after Trump told a roomful of military personnel that a “very dishonest press” downplayed, or ignored dozens of terrorist attacks, then cryptically added that “they have their reasons and you understand that.” The reality doesn’t matter, only the image this show projects: the president is serious about terrorism, and will continue delivering alternative facts that fire up his loyal legions.

The obvious temptation presented by Trump’s success is to respond with a counter-stream of hyperbole aimed at warming the hearts of protesters marching through the streets chanting “not my president.” Donna Brazile fed the fire when she branded Judge Neil Gorsuch as an extremist and labeled the Supreme Court seat he’s been nominated to fill stolen. There may be an audience that is “hungrier than ever” for the rhetoric proffered by Democrat leaders like Brazile, one that believed Rep. Judy Chu when she described Trump’s refugee and immigrant restrictions are a literal Muslim ban. These fleeting signs of heated rhetoric and half-truths are aimed at the activist base, but could be a trap if they form the basis of a larger campaign with no real agenda. The risk for Democrats is in fighting the White House so fervently that they start — for example — defending every undocumented immigrant with a criminal record.

What remains is not surrender to this administration, merely a tactical adjustment. This president is a ringmaster of the greatest show on Earth: trading blows with Mister Brexit in that arena is to his advantage because there are no potential rivals with the chutzpah to keep up in a duel of soundbites. If anything, the battle would draw Trump’s dedicated followers closer to him than they already are; virtually nothing will pull them away. Nothing. That will mean avoiding the Twitter feed and ignoring little jabs like this one about Michael Flynn’s sudden resignation at a joint press conference Wednesday to highlight what our celebrity president does as impersonally as possible. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing is.

cartoon courtesy of mercurynews.com

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February 20, 2017 · 12:52 am

In a ragged Race to repeal Obamacare

donald-trump-paul-ryan-after-your-obamacareWhen House Republicans passed a budget resolution in the fall of 2013 they tried to do what the Supreme Court did not a year earlier: block the Affordable Care Act before its unwelcome provisions, like the individual mandate, could be rolled out. That attempt to defund President Obama’s health care overhaul stalled when Senate Democrats called the GOP’s bluff; their insurrection fell apart after 16 days, but it left behind plenty of ugly images and odd anecdotes that have come rushing back now that the drive to dismantle “Obamacare” is ramping up again.

The road this leviathan traveled since its inception has been rocky and at times advocates and opponents have been theatrical in their efforts, like when House Republicans staged dozens of symbolic votes in a long-running attempt to delay, defund, or repeal the measure. Early on the crusade to keep Obamacare from crossing a legal Rubicon made sense given my pre-existing wariness of any big, new entitlement; I still consider any coverage mandate a violation of the Constitution’s Contract Clause that is distinct from a similar requirement to buy car insurance, but the Supreme Court disagreed.

The health care law had faults that went beyond court decisions and a sloppy rollout of the healthcare.gov website. The Affordable Care Act set a baseline of ten “essential health benefits” that range from prescription drugs and rehabilitation to maternity and pediatric services — every policy sold on the exchanges had to meet all ten. The individual mandate was included to drag a legion of new consumers into the insurance market who would pay for these “essential benefits.” That pool of younger, healthier customers did not buy in; the two years since have seen premiums increase, while enrollment has fallen short of expectations, and critics believe a conspiracy is afoot.

The reality confronting this freshly-minted GOP unity government is a bit less dramatic: the Affordable Care Act relied on a precariously balanced system of financial gears worthy of Rube Goldberg. It’s been further hobbled by a poorly designed method of collecting what has been a relatively cheap ‘tax’ and the neglect of a coveted demographic known as “young invincibles.” The problem confronting Republicans now that they are on the verge of vanquishing the Obamacare dragon is what happens on the day after. The Tea Party and talk radio-listening base will be thrilled, but if Donald Trump and Paul Ryan break the existing system the failure will be theirs.

Once the 115th Congress was sworn in and confronted by that reality they turned away from a repeal-and-delay strategy GOP Senator Bob Corker described as problematic and unappealing. The Congessional Budget Office contributed to what is already a tense environment when it issued a report last week which forecast a 20% jump in premiums and 18 million new uninsured Americans by next summer. The CBO analysis is flawed in one important way — it is an incomplete update of a similar review completed in 2015 that cannot account for the unknown combination of regulatory changes, executive orders, and new legislation that will likely replace Obamacare.

A simple ceremony on inauguration day was the first sign this dam is breaking; the new president went to the White House and signed a one page order aimed at minimizing the health care law’s “unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens.” What happens next is anyone’s guess, but the future will likely hinge on Trump’s ever-changing whims. Republicans in Congress have to be torn: the one-time developer is talking up an “insurance for everybody” scheme, one that would compete against a similar effort headed by House Speaker Paul Ryan that will likely emphasize insurance access, risk pools, and tax credits over coverage. Expect a bruising battle once the GOP settles on its plan and runs into the wall Democrats are building in the Senate.

photo courtesy of cdn.bipartisanreport.com

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January 27, 2017 · 2:08 am

Wandering the woods while seeking a Door

lakers-debuts-brandon-ingram-luke-waltonThis new season looked promising when the Lakers were standing at 10-10 after 20 games. Admittedly the definition is a bit different in Tinseltown after a 17-65 meltdown, but the excitement was nonetheless genuine before December arrived. The injury bug that seemingly left with Byron Scott in May returned after Thanksgiving, took down D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young, then the bus crashed. As a rookie head coach Luke Walton is not used to this kind of thing. His time patrolling the sidelines, whiteboard in hand, was spent overseeing a 24 game winning streak…not back-to-back losses where 19-point leads were surrendered. There remains little reason to doubt Walton’s state of mind, even after he was thrown out of a game in Sacramento for barking at officials when they missed an obvious call. He’s let it be known that the Lakers’ record and their place in the standings is not a particular concern; his first season is the beginning of a long-term rebuilding project and Walton knows there are no shortcuts to playoff redemption. I’m not so confident about the lady with season tickets and a seat in Section 117.

In what is the beginning of a post-Kobe Bryant era it would be easy for Jeanie Buss to stay out of basketball by retreating into familiar areas like business and branding, so she deserves credit for her openness. Jeanie is not like Jim, whose relationship with sports media is a bit like Dracula’s with the sun; the hostility has been replaced by ambivalence, but the end result is the same. What’s troublesome is her determination to enforce Jim’s silly pledge to build a contender in three or four years. Mark Cuban may be right that the Lakers’ executive vice president has “everything you look for in a CEO.” The $48 million contract Bryant signed in 2013 was a smart business decision and worth every penny if it sold enough tickets and jerseys, but it left the purple-and-gold treading water on the court. The issue isn’t history like the Buss’ siblings decision to reward Bryant, but when the clock started ticking on Jim’s pledge: it should be the day Luke Walton was hired as head coach.

The view from that bay window overlooking the Lakers’ practice court is a bit different. It can’t be easy to watch this team struggle, then work the next day at an office that is home to 10 championship trophies and once belonged to Jerry Buss, but it has taken years to get here. This newly-assembled group will need time to get clear of the Laker’s recent past and rebuild its culture. All of Jeanie Buss’ laudable dedication to fans, her father’s legacy, and the trademark franchise he and Jerry West created isn’t likely to change that if the focus remains on Jim. Still, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the disgruntled fans behind a discontinued change.org petition got their way. If they’re looking for quick results that means crossing fingers and trading players, which means packaging some of the draftees gained by losing enough to escape the pull of a 2012 trade for Steve Nash. There could be a winning streak, maybe two, possibly a playoff appearance next season, but then what? The quick rush doesn’t seem worth risking another reset.

The Lakers’ problems right now are on the court: they’ve blown several double-digit leads, cannot close out games, and are quick to go one-on-one when they fall behind. These are common problems for a team with a rookie head coach that’s built around four players who had four seasons of experience on opening day. Byron Scott tried browbeating some of the same players into mediocrity; it didn’t work. There is room for Jeanie to step up and get involved, but a publicly united front that includes Mitch Kupchak and knows what kind of team they’re trying to build is the only bait the Lakers have to offer free agents when negotiations start in June. If the call were my own to make it would be to a guy who can fill the lane, block shots, and grab rebounds. De’Andre Jordan isn’t available, but Serge Ibaka, Greg Monroe, and Udonis Haslem are. Still, it won’t be easy to reach the conference finals in the wild West — if it were the Clippers would have sent their hallway rivals a postcard by now.

photo courtesy of media.nbclosangeles.com

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January 17, 2017 · 6:06 am