We continue with our “Fixing” series this week at Basketball Insiders, and next up is the Los Angeles Lakers.
Arguably the most storied franchise in NBA history, it’s been a bumpy past few years since the Lakers’ last playoff appearance in 2013. Poor trades and questionable free agent signings have led them to where they are now, but there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel.
Since Jan. 1, the Lakers have won 19 out of 31 games. They’ve had three four-game win streaks and one five-game streak. They’ve beaten the Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder twice, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs twice, and the Cleveland Cavaliers during that span. The young guys are performing and they’re looking to close the season on a high note.
Coaching is probably the biggest positive from the Lakers turnaround. It was back in early January when the Lakers were mired in a nine-game losing streak that LaVar Ball was quoted as saying the team had given up on Luke Walton and guys didn’t want to play for him anymore. It was right about then that the Lakers began trending upward.
That would mean that their talented young trio of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma would have to develop even quicker and be ready for high-pressure basketball against the best teams in the league.
They’re in the top ten in the NBA in scoring (9th overall at 108.7 points per game). Defensively they could stand to improve, but they’ve got guys who are giving solid effort on that end. Walton has also revived Isaiah Thomas, who looked out of place in Cleveland. Coming off the bench for the Lakers, he’s looked more like the dynamic scorer he was in Boston and he’s been an integral part of their recent five-game win streak. As the primary scorer for the second unit, he’s getting to his spots and creating for himself and his teammates.
Walton has also reintroduced Brook Lopez to the rotation. A few months ago, Lopez saw his playing time start dwindling amid inconsistent play. Post All-Star break, Lopez has emerged as an offensive force who’s played a key role in the Lakers strong play.
“There’s always challenges with (adding superstars) and it takes time,” Walton said, “but it normally works out once you kind of got that continuity going.”
The Lakers have also received strong play from their young core. Kyle Kuzma will likely make the All-Rookie first team while Brandon Ingram could be a contender for the Most Improved Player award. Lonzo Ball started the season off a bit slow as you would expect from a rookie, but since coming back from a sprained MCL, he’s seen an uptick in production. He is most assuredly the Lakers’ point guard of the future.
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Perhaps the most impressive young player in recent games has been Julius Randle. Since the All-Star break, he’s been arguably the best player on the team. He recently had his best game of the season in the win over Cleveland with 36 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, and two blocks.
Walton has shown that he is indeed the coach of the future and his job is safe. He even has Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who looked like a free agent dud early on, playing some of his best basketball as of late.
The Lakers should change their approach to free agency. Under the new regime of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, it’s safe to say that there will probably be no more free agent signings such as Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng. That’s step one. Step two, which Lakers fans might not want to hear, is to scale back a bit on the pursuit of someone like LeBron James and Paul George. Give this group an opportunity to grow and develop. They’re building something special in LA and their recent play is proof of that.
Besides, both James and George have seemingly made it clear that they want to win championships. Either one of those guys would be a massive acquisition for the Lakers, but with just one of them, the Lakers still wouldn’t be good enough to contend with the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets. They could theoretically sign both, but it would come at the cost of someone like Randle.
This summer will be huge for the franchise as theyll seek to bring in two superstars with the two max contract slots they have available.
The Lakers should also look to use their G-League team, the South Bay Lakers, when searching for talent. They did a good job finding David Nwaba last season, but they cut him over the summer to make room for Caldwell-Pope. Nwaba should still be a Laker. They just signed Travis Wear from South Bay which is a step in the right direction. When looking to fill out their roster this summer with end of the bench guys, they should keep looking at South Bay’s roster.
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The Lakers may not own their own pick in this summer’s draft, but they acquired Cleveland’s pick in the trade that sent Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr to the Cavaliers. Currently, the pick is slated to be in the mid-twenties. Although this looks like a top-heavy draft, unlike last summer’s deep draft, there should still be some quality guys available where the Lakers will select.
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No matter where the selection lands, the number one rule for the draft is to always go with the best player available regardless of position. A couple guys that might be around when the Lakers are on the clock are a pair of local standouts: Aaron Holiday of UCLA, and Chimezie Metu of USC. Holiday is an explosive scorer with good court awareness. Metu is a big man with a nice touch around the rim and a good mid-range game. Either one would make a nice addition to the Lakers’ young core and both have the potential to outperform players that will likely be taken ahead of them.
A few other guys that might be available in that range are Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Shake Milton of SMU, and De’Anthony Melton of USC. Each has the potential to be a solid rotation guy in the NBA, and for a rebuilding team like the Lakers, you can’t have too many of those.
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The Lakers do own a second-round pick, and while the majority of second rounders don’t really amount to much, they could find a gem here. Every year there are players who slip or don’t receive much attention. If available, the Lakers should tab either Rawle Alkins or Allonzo Trier, both of Arizona. They’re first-round talents that are being overlooked.
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There is one player who should be the number one priority for the Lakers in free agency, and no it’s not James or George. That man is Julius Randle. Randle has improved his game every season since he’s been in the league. He’s established himself as a budding young member of the team worthy of their loyalty in the summer.
Other teams surely will come calling, and his hometown Dallas Mavericks have been linked to him for quite some time. He’s proven himself worthy of being a free agent priority and he should be kept. He’s got a nice touch in the post and he has an improving jump shot. He’s also becoming more versatile with a developing playmaking game.
Obviously, if someone like James or George want to play in LA, then, by all means, sign them. But if they’re entertaining offers from better teams, which they surely will, and dragging out the process, the Lakers need to lock up Randle quick before it’s too late. He’s entering restricted free agency so the Lakers can match any offer, but teams with money to burn will dial his number.
The Lakers are also going to have to make some decisions on their unrestricted free agents. Thomas, Lopez, Caldwell-Pope, and Channing Frye are all set to become free agents. Caldwell-Pope is a good candidate to let walk, probably Lopez as well. Frye is a nice locker room veteran that every young team could use. It would be nice to have him stick around unless another team decides to spend big money on him.
Thomas is in an interesting situation. He’s going to have suitors, but the offers won’t be near as much as projected a year ago. His stock has slipped, but he’s shown he’s still a very productive player and a deadly scorer given the right situation. He’s not a bad player to have to mentor the Lakers young guards such as Ball and Josh Hart. The Lakers should look at bringing him back for the right price, but don’t break the bank for him.
The Cleveland Cavaliers might not have played the prettiest game in a 127-113 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, but that didn't stop LeBron James from making one pass that's a thing of beauty.
Video: Cleveland Cavaliers vs Los Angeles Lakers Full Game Highlights / March 11 / 2017-18 NBA Season
They’ll also have some minor moves to take care of, such as the contract guarantees for Tyler Ennis, Ivica Zubac, and Thomas Bryant. Ennis has probably played his last season with the Lakers. Don’t expect him back. But Zubac and Bryant have shown flashes of potential with the South Bay Lakers. If they don’t bring back Lopez, both of those guys should stick for next season at least.
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The Lakers are much closer to the light at the end of the tunnel than they were a year ago. All of their young players have made gigantic strides and Walton has definitely developed as a head coach. There is something special budding in Los Angeles. The management team of Jeanie Buss, Johnson, and Pelinka seem to understand what they’re doing. Playoffs might not be out of the question next season.
The March Madness Tournament gets underway this week, here is another look at the possible 2018 NBA Draft class.
The shuffle cut is difficult to defend when its run for a player like James, who is typically being guarded by a player who is not used to getting through screens, especially when hes playing the 4 with three shooters around him. Watch below how Julius Randle gets hit with the screen from George Hill, forcing the Lakers to switch Lonzo Ball onto James:
The NCAA Tournament in college basketball gets underway this week, and while its easy to get caught up in the hype of the big games, most NBA teams dont value the tournament nearly as much as fans. It is often said success in the tournament likely proves assumptions teams have about a player, however, failures often arent the huge penalties for a player’s draft stock as you might think.
The one thing teams do consider is how bubble guys, those players they are struggling to slot, fare in big game situations. Equally, the head-to-head matchups that emerge (where top-flight talents face-off) is usually the only time a team will see two players they may like go head-to-head, so there is value there.
It is also not at all uncommon for NBA team executives to huddle in conference rooms watching game after game, so there is no question the NBA will be watching.
Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:
The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.
The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections and based on the standings today would convey to Philadelphia.
The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade. The pick is top four protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would convey.
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The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEATs first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.
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The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunders first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunders deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick is top-five protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.
Starting or on the bench, Sindarius Thornwell is ready to contribute for the Clippers, writes James Blancarte.
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The NBA season can be volatile for many teams and players. The most consistent and successful players are constantly visible. A teams season can be made or broken on the success of their best player. With that being said, there is often a less visible process taking place in the periphery. Complimentary role players are often shifted between the bench and starting unit in order to find chemistry, inject new talent or in response to trade or other situations. Injuries can often accelerate this process.
This season, perhaps no team better exemplifies the constant shifting nature and fluidity of this process than the Los Angeles Clippers. The team has recorded 31 different starting lineups since the beginning of the 2017-18 season. With the season closing in on the final stretch, the Clippers continue to engage in this fluid process.
For the second game in a row, the team has started 6-foot-5 rookie Sindarius Thornwell at small forward. Thornwell has started the last two games alongside Lou Williams, who has been having a career-year, and Austin Rivers.
This past Saturday, Thornwell made his first start since December 15. Thornwell lined up against LeBron James and did an admirable job defending the superstar forward. James still had a great statistical game with 25 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 38 minutes. However, Thornwell is credited with putting extra pressure on James and helping slow down the Cavaliers’ attack in a game that the Clippers won handily. Thornwell spoke on his role with the team.
I just go out and do it to the best of my abilities. If thats guarding LeBron [James] or guarding whoever that night, Im going to go out and give it my best shot, try my hardest, Thornwell told Basketball Insiders.
After their victory over the Cavaliers, the Clippers were sluggish in much of their following game against the Orlando Magic. After an impressive defensive performance against James, Thornwell struggled on defense to start the game as he committed three first-quarter fouls against forward Jonathan Simmons but still expressed confidence in his performance in a game the Clippers eventually won.
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Feel good. Feel good. I feel like besides the fouls I played pretty solid,” Thornwell said. “I did, pretty much, did my job. Did what I was supposed to do. Besides the fouls, I feel like I did a solid job tonight.
Thornwell finished the game with six points, one rebound, one assist and one steal while going two 2-2 from the field in 14 minutes. For the record, these are not the first starts of the season for the rookie wing. He started six games in November as the team adjusted to the unexpected loss of anticipated regular season contributors in guards Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic. While the starts offered an opportunity for Thornwell to shine early in his career, those starts also coincided with a 1-5 record for the Clippers.
The lack of team success helped to end this early season experiment and Thornwell returned to the second unit. From December until Saturday, Thornwell had only registered two starts. Except for the month of February where he picked up seven DNPs, Thornwell has been able to contribute as a role player averaging 13.8 minutes per game coming off the bench. With most of his contributions for the season coming from the bench, Thornwell did not hesitate to talk about how hard the second unit works and what their goals are.
Second unit out there, just about going out there and playing hard. And holding, trying to get a bigger lead. Trying to get a run in and create momentum. Thats what we go out and do with our energy and our effort. Creating turnovers, getting steals, getting stops and creating easy opportunities, Thornwell stated.
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When asked if the bench players talk to each other about these things or if they just happen, he clarified succinctly.
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Thornwell did make it clear that part of the success is that the Clippers teammates have built up familiarity with each other and know how to play off each others talents. He also hinted the ball moves a bit more freely in the second unit.
We all spend time with each other. We play with each other, get to know each others game, Thornwell stated. “We kind of know whatever everybody can do. I know what Lous going to do. I like when that second unit together when it becomes an up and down game. Getting steals, getting out in transition. Balls touching everyones hands.
With the Clippers holding the eighth seed in the West and numerous teams fighting over potential playoff seeding, both Thornwell and forward Tobias Harris commented on their thoughts regarding the postseason.
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Just continue to get better offensively. And defensively, really lock in and really be able to execute especially when we get up and really hold onto [the lead], Harris stated.
With a three-game road trip looming against teams with talented wing players, Thornwell talked about the upcoming matchups.
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You cant look past anybody. You know, this is an important road trip coming down the stretch. End of the season, trying to win, end it on a good note. Take it one game at a time and focus on one team at a time, Thornwell stated.
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Fifteen of the Clippers’ remaining 17 games are against playoff contending teams and the team is under great pressure to win each one. Despite this pressure, the Clippers are still testing new lineups. Whether on the bench or in the starting lineup, Sindarius Thornwells attitude is to do whatever it takes to help his team make it to the playoffs.
I just do whatever they ask me to do. I just do whatever they ask that game, Thornwell said.
Spencer Davies examines the rebuilding Brooklyn Nets to see how they can improve moving forward.
Resuming our Fixing series on Basketball Insiders, well take a glance at one of the better run teams in the lottery.
The Brooklyn Nets are not the same team as they once were. For the majority of the season, Kenny Atkinson has had his guys fighting tooth and nail with every team crossing their path. Recently theyve lost 17 out of 20 games, but that included a lengthy eight-game skid where the team was depleted with injuries, which essentially has been the story of the season.
Team leader Jeremy Lin played 25 minutes in the season opener before rupturing the patellar tendon in his right knee, keeping him out for the year.
DAngelo Russell played with a chip on his shoulder until mid-November, when he went down with a significant injury and had surgery to remove loose bodies in his left knee, causing him to miss two months of action.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson got hurt on January 26 and was diagnosed with a strained right groin that kept him out for 11 games with Brooklyn still in the hunt for the postseason.
On top of all that, the Nets are constantly plagued by an assortment of knick-knack injuries to key players.
Thanks to tough luck at the wrong time, Brooklyn is 21-46 and sits as the third worst team by record in the Eastern Conference.
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Brooklyn keeps on growing. The number one thing you want to see with a young team other than wins is collective improvement with each game. For the most part, thats been evident with this group of guys.
When healthy, Russell has shown glimpses of potential superstardom when the lights have shined brightest. Both Caris LeVert and Hollis-Jefferson have increased their offensive production from last season while maintaining their bothersome ways defensively with a heavier workload. Spencer Dinwiddies memorable campaign has been a revelation about his determination and leadership as a professional.
Rookie center Jarrett Allen has surprised Atkinson with his confidence and earned a spot in the starting lineup despite being 19 years old. Joe Harris has become a reliable rotational player who can score the ball. Recently, Allen Crabbe has seemed to be more comfortable shooting the rock. DeMarre Carrolls season of reclamation is showing the league that hes not done yet notwithstanding what happened with the Toronto Raptors last year.
As a team, Brooklyn lives out on the perimeter. Their 42.8 percent three-point field goal attempt frequency is second behind the Houston Rockets. Theyre a selfless bunch that passes often and moves the ball to get good shots. Perimeter defense is always an area where they excel, holding opponents to less than 25 threes per game.
While the Nets attempt a lot of triples and limit their opponents three-point rate, they dont make as many shots as they should and their opponents still knock down a good amount of theirs. They are dead last in field goal percentage (43.7) and allow the second-most points per game (110.1) in the league.
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Theyll have to require a better effort in holding off opposing big men from pulling down rebounds. Defensively, Brooklyn has to disrupt things much more for offenses they take on, as they sit at the very bottom of the barrel in turnover percentage, according to Cleaning The Glass.
Truthfully, the main issue Brooklyn has is the sizeable contract of Timofey Mozgov. He hasnt played over 10 minutes in a game since late December. Other than that, theres not much wrong as far as the future of the franchise is concerned.
Thanks to the previous regimes terrible past mistakes, general manager Sean Marks and the Nets hands are tied in the 2018 NBA Draft. Their first-round draft pick, once in the hands of the Boston Celtics, is in the Cleveland Cavaliers control.
Brooklyn did, however, cover for the loss last summer. By taking on the two years and $30 million remaining on Carrolls contract, the Toronto Raptors attached a lottery-protected first-rounder and second-rounder as sweeteners. So they wont be completely on the outside looking in, likely selecting in the late 20s with potentially two second-round picks to use.
The late portion of the draft isnt necessarily a bad place to be in. Theres been plenty of talent, even All-Star talent, to come out in this range. Rather than focusing on positional needs, the Nets should focus on drafting the most talented players available. The college prospect pool at this point will vary, but Kentuckys Wenyen Gabriel makes sense in terms of overall talent and fit with the team.
Hes a guy who came in as a top high school recruit and struggled during his freshman season with the Wildcats. This year, and especially as of late, hes shown major improvements as a shooter and defender at the four. Hell need to put on some weight to match up pound-for-pound with a lot of professional bigs, but the potential is there.
As it stands, the Nets are projected to have up to $15.9 million in cap space. Its not much, but its enough to bring in another player who can grow with their core. The only players with contracts expiring will be Jahlil Okafor, Dante Cunningham, Quincy Acy, and Harris.
Marks will have to decide on June 29 whether or not to extend a qualifying offer to Nik Stauskas. The day after that is when Isaiah Whiteheads $1.2 million salary guarantees for 2018-19, so hed have to be waived before then to nullify it.
Halloween of this year is when Dinwiddies $250 thousand guarantees and is the deadline for Brooklyn to opt-in or opt-out on LeVert. Hollis-Jeffersons extension deadline comes before the first day of the season. Those three decisions should be rather easy for the organization.
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Looking at potential free agent adds, there aren’t too many enticing names out there youd want to bring in to interrupt the good things going on with a young team. Maybe glance at some up-and-coming players that can help your toughness and rebounding problems.
An energetic presence like Richaun Holmes is a thought if the Philadelphia 76ers decline his team option. A budding star such as Montrezl Harrell could be an intriguing thought, though if the Los Angeles Clippers were smart, theyd match any offer, as hes a restricted free agent. Even a reunion with Trevor Booker might not be a bad idea.
Regardless of what they do this offseason, Brooklyn is in a prime position to keep getting better. They no doubt have the correct personnel in place, from roster decisions to basketball decisions. If they stay on the path they are on, the Nets will be back in the hunt for the postseason in no time.
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