The sand was falling quickly through the hourglass nine months ago. The Dallas Mavericks were running out of time before the trade deadline.
The Lakers acquired Pau Gasol, Phoenix added Shaquille O'Neal, and the Mavericks countered by picking up Jason Kidd in an eight-player trade with New Jersey.
The Mavericks lost in the first round of the playoffs and are off to a 2-4 start this season, though the Lakers aren't calling the Kidd trade a failure. Quite the opposite as they head into tonight's game at Dallas.
"This is a team that's been through a number of campaigns together now," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said of the Mavericks. "Getting off to a quick start may not seem that important to them."
They certainly didn't look sharp Sunday in granting the Clippers their first victory of the season, 103-92.
In fact, the Mavericks are 19-21 since Kidd joined them in February, including their playoff ouster in five games to New Orleans.
Kidd, 35, is averaging 10.5 points, 8.8 assists and 6.5 rebounds this season.
The Lakers had 10 blocked shots to only three for Houston in a 111-82 victory Sunday.
Three were particularly notable: Lamar Odom caught up to Ron Artest on an apparent breakaway in the final seconds of the second quarter; Kobe Bryant leaped high along the baseline to block Tracy McGrady's layup attempt in the third quarter; and Bryant soared to block Yao Ming's dunk attempt from the 7-foot-6 center's blindside in the first quarter.
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol each had three blocked shots.
"We're going to get our hands on a lot of balls because of our length," Odom said. "We're a tall team, a big team. We can block shots without even leaving our feet."
Buss, Take 2
Lakers owner Jerry Buss made one thing clear in his 25-minute interview Sunday -- he and Bryant are in a better place than a year ago.
"I think Kobe and I have always understood one thing about each other, and that is that our desire to win shapes our personality, especially in our dealings with each other," Buss said. "I think there's always been respect independent of the fact that there have been moments of grief. I knew that he was the most competitive of all the basketball players ever and I think he understands that about me as an owner."
Another topic Buss visited a number of times was the shadow the foundering economy might cast over the NBA.
"I think there is an economic cloud on the horizon," Buss said. "The [salary] caps and all these things float with the BRI, so we're going to have to wait and see what [effect] this predicted recession has on us."
The BRI is basketball-related income for all 30 NBA teams, a key figure in determining the salary cap a few months before each new season. The salary cap for teams this season is $58.68 million and has been increased annually by $2.5 million to $3 million the last couple of seasons.
Buss, 75, meets periodically with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, continuing to hand more of the day-to-day workings of the team to his son, Jim, and daughter, Jeanie.
Jim is vice president of player personnel; Jeanie is executive vice president of business operations.
"I'm very comfortable with it," Buss said. "There's always a fear in a family-owned business that the siblings will not run it as correctly as you would like it to be run. But Jeanie's been at it a very long time and I have nothing but absolute pure admiration for what she's done.
"Jimmy, of course, has been taking over with increasing percentages as we've gone along. Everything he's done and said and planned for is 100%, as far as I'm concerned. At this point, I'm just really very, very pleased with their performances."
Buss, who revealed that one of the reasons he bought the Lakers in 1979 was to beat the Boston Celtics, also divulged his favorite moment as owner.
"The biggest thrill of my life was not only when we beat the Celtics, but we finished it off on their own home floor [in the 1985 Finals]," he said. "That was something. I walked out, put a chair in the middle of the floor, lit up a cigar -- and I don't smoke cigars."
Buss seemed to relish the prospects for this season's Lakers.
"I'm having a great time. I really am," he said. "I can't wait to see every game. I probably will see more games on the road this year than I have for a long time. They're going to be fun to watch and I'm very excited."