The Los Angeles Lakers held a multi-session workout on Wednesday that featured a very talented group of 2014 NBA Draft prospects. The Lakers have the seventh overall pick, so they had no problem attracting players to L.A. for this workout.
The first session featured Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Zach LaVine (UCLA), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State) and Noah Vonleh (Indiana); while the second session featured Aaron Gordon (Arizona), Doug McDermott (Creighton), James Young (Kentucky), Elfrid Payton (Louisiana Lafayette), Davion Berry (Weber State) and Jerry Evans (Nevada).
Although the roster has a ton of holes to fill, it was clear the front office is looking for backcourt help. While Kobe Bryant is already back on the court and expected to make yet another highly anticipated comeback when teams return to action in late summer, the front office must continue working toward re-establishing the Lakers as a perennial powerhouse. Essentially, they have to actively work on life after Bryant even during what are expected to be the final two seasons of his legendary career.
With uncertainty surrounding the future of both Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, it also wasn’t a surprise that the Lakers wanted to see what Vonleh’s skill set looked like in person. The 6’9 power forward appears to have bulked up since the end of the college season, and seems to have intrigued several teams throughout the pre-draft process. It is uncertain whether the team will lean his direction on draft night, but Vonleh’s blend of length and shooting touch for a big man makes him an appealing project for someone in the lottery.
McDermott was another intriguing participant in the workout, as the 6’8 forward has really improved his draft projections with some of his combine and workout results. After leading the nation in scoring (26.7 PPG) and Creighton into the third round of the NCAA Tournament, there were still plenty that questioned just how his game might translate to the next level.
Recent history has proven that simply being a prolific scorer at the college level doesn’t necessarily guarantee NBA success, but McDermott is far from just a shooter and displayed plenty of athleticism throughout the combine drills. When asked what aspects of his game he felt still needed to be improved upon, McDermott was both honest and reflective in response.
“Ballhandling, mainly, and lateral quickness,” McDermott said. “I feel like my jumper will always be there. I just have to work on the in between stuff. I have a long ways to go in that area, but I feel like I’ll improve every day.”
He also made a point to mention a possible advantage over some of the younger prospects, having benefited from playing four years at the collegiate level. McDermott presented the same calm yet confident demeanor before the media swarm as he did throughout his college career. He certainly doesn’t lack for confidence, especially when addressing some of the players he’s been compared to.
“It’s a tough comparison, but guys like [Kyle] Korver,” McDermott said. “I’m really good at coming off screens, I’m a great shooter. I watch a lot of Ray Allen, guys like that. I feel like I can really find a role in this league and maximize that.”
As expected, the somewhat inevitable but just as relevant “Kobe Bryant” question was addressed by each prospect, and while all were predictably complimentary when it came to the 18-year veteran, Aaron Gordon’s answer was far and away the winner of the day.
“Kobe is psychotic about basketball and I am too,” Gordon told members of the media following the workout. “[Playing with Bryant] would be absolutely incredible… learning from a great. Just the little intricacies of the game, the details. I’d love to see his work ethic. Kobe is the definition of a true pro as well as Steve Nash. Being around those guys would help me tremendously.”
Gordon is a player that – while playing well for Arizona throughout the year – didn’t truly burst onto the national scene until down the stretch of the season and throughout the NCAA tournament. At about 6’8.75, with nearly a 7’0 wingspan, Gordon is a player who has really seemed to impress scouts and draft analysts with his eye-popping athleticism and frame. Although his offensive game and shot (in particular) will take some work before being ready for the next level, Gordon strikes you as precisely the type of player that will do whatever it takes to improve. Unlike other recent players of a similar size and build (such as Derrick Williams or Michael Beasley), Gordon shouldn’t have nearly as much of an issue finding a way to make an impact at the next level. Where others may have found the transition to becoming an NBA-level forward difficult, Gordon’s greatest impact is on the defensive end and through sheer effort in many cases.
With his versatility and athleticism, Gordon is confident that he can defend anyone from point guards to power forwards, which would certainly be a reason teams like the Boston Celtics are also rumored to be interested in Gordon with as early as the sixth pick.
As for the rumors of the Lakers’ willingness to potentially trade down in order to acquire additional picks, GM Mitch Kupchak offered a bit of clarity.
“No, we’d still like to add to our draft selection,” Kupchak said. “Could we move this (No. 7) pick and get multiple picks? Maybe. Could you buy a pick? Or trade a future pick for a present pick? Yeah, that’s possible. I think picks now are more valuable than they were, so I think it’s not as easy as it used to be, but I think that’s still a possibility.”
Kupchak generally plays things about as close-to-the-vest as imaginable, but given the potential 11 roster spots the team may have to fill, it is entirely conceivable the front office could look to acquire additional first-round picks, and possibly even second-round picks as well if the opportunity presented itself.
Given the varied list of guys they chose for their workout and the fact that Kupchak also acknowledged there would be “several more” workouts, this theory could certainly come to fruition by the end of draft night.
PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.
NBA Daily: The Cleveland Cavaliers Need Tyronn Lue
The Cleveland Cavaliers have faced injury adversity and a roster shakeup, and now face uncertainty regarding coach Tyronn Lue’s health.
The most enduring image of Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue came moments after his team sealed the 2016 NBA Finals with a third consecutive win after trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1. As the team celebrated its historic comeback and readied to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, one camera focused on Lue, who sat on the bench with his face buried in his hands.
— Buddy Grizzard (@BuddyGrizzard) June 20, 2016
The image tells a thousand words about the pressure Lue was under as Cleveland teetered on the brink of elimination for three games. Rather than sharing the euphoria of his players, it seemed that Lue’s emotions centered around the massive weight that had been lifted from his shoulders. Almost two years later, it appears that burden has caught back up with Lue, whose leave of absence for health reasons complicates things for Cleveland with the playoffs just around the corner.
“It’s like losing one of your best players,” said Cavaliers forward LeBron James after Cleveland’s 124-117 win at home over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.
Kevin Love returned from a six-week injury absence to post 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Bucks. James likened Lue’s absence to the burden of trying to replace Love’s output while he was unavailable.
“We’ve got to have guys step up, just like guys trying to step up in Kev’s absence,” said James. “We have to do the same as a collective group as long as Ty needs to get himself back healthy.”
There’s optimism that Lue could return before the playoffs, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty given the seriousness of his symptoms, which reportedly included coughing up blood. Lead assistant Larry Drew, a former head coach with the Bucks and Hawks, will handle head coaching responsibilities until Lue is ready to return.
Kyle Korver played under Drew in Atlanta and said he’s confident in his ability to fill in.
“We’d love to have Ty here and healthy,” said Korver after the Bucks win. “Coach Drew has done this for a long time as well. He coached me for a full year in Atlanta. We know he’s fully capable.”
Korver also doubted Drew would introduce any major stylistic changes.
“I think LD’s been Ty’s top assistant for a reason,” said Korver. “They really think a lot alike. They coach very similarly. We miss Ty, but I think the style of what we do is going to be very similar.”
While style and approach should remain unchanged, what could an extended absence for Lue mean for the Cavaliers? Lue cemented his legacy as a leader by keeping the Cavaliers together as they fought back from a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors, but Drew hasn’t had that kind of success as a head coach.
In 2012, the Hawks had a real opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in Atlanta history. The Hawks faced an aging Boston Celtics squad in the first round. The eighth-seed Philadelphia 76ers awaited in the second round after defeating the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.
After splitting the first two games in Atlanta, the Hawks faced a pivotal Game 3 in Boston with the opportunity to retake home court advantage. Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Michael Cunningham used Synergy Sports to break down every offensive possession for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. His conclusion? For three quarters, Rondo did not score a single basket while guarded by Hawks combo guard Kirk Hinrich.
The Hawks traded a package that included a former and a future first-round pick to obtain Hinrich from the Wizards in 2011. But in Game 3, Hinrich failed to score a point despite his effective defense. Apparently feeling the need for an offensive spark, Drew left Hinrich on the bench in the fourth quarter and turned to career journeyman Jannero Pargo.
With Hinrich out of the game, Rondo’s offense came to life as he slashed to the basket at will. Boston opened the fourth with a 13-7 run before Pargo went to the bench and Atlanta closed on a 15-7 run to force overtime. The NBA did not publish net rating data at the time, but we can now see via historical data that the Hawks were outscored by nearly 52 points per 100 possessions in Pargo’s minutes in Game 3. Rather than entrust Atlanta’s season and his own legacy to a player the Hawks traded two first-round picks to obtain, Drew went with Pargo, a career end-of-bench player.
What does this mean for the Cavaliers? It means the team needs to get Lue back. Drew and Lue are both former NBA players who have received mixed reviews as head coaches. But when his legacy was on the line, Lue pushed the right buttons.
For Drew’s part, in his first postgame press conference since Lue’s absence was announced, he remained publicly deferential.
“Coach Lue is the one who makes that decision,” said Drew when asked about lineup combinations. “That’s not my call. We look at a lot of different combinations — whether guys are starting or whether they are coming off the bench — and we assess everything.”
On the critical question of how lineups will be fine-tuned as the Cavaliers prepare for the playoffs, Drew once again emphasized Lue’s active role even as he steps away from the bench.
“I’ll talk to Ty,” said Drew. “He’s got the final say-so. Whatever he wants, then that’s what we’re going to go with. But if he tells me to make a decision, then I’ll have to make the decision.”
With Lue suffering acute symptoms, there’s no way of knowing when he will be ready to step back into the pressure cooker of a leading role for a team with championship aspirations. But the Cavaliers need him and need his steadying influence and instincts. Cleveland is a team that has battled through injuries and a major roster overhaul at the trade deadline. It also faces the pressure of James’ impending free agency decision this summer.
Now, with the playoffs just around the corner, the Cavaliers must endure uncertainty about Lue’s ability to return and lead the team. James has emphasized that Lue’s health overshadows any basketball concerns, but gave his most terse remark when asked about learning that Lue would step away on the same day Cleveland finally got Love back.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” said James. “That was my reaction.”
A Breakout Season for Joe Harris
Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.
The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.
Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.
During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.
After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”
Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.
In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.
“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”
Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.
“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”
When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.
However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”