“A 20-year chapter has come to a close,” Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak on Friday, as the franchise wrapped exit meetings at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo. “It is hard to close the book on this chapter, but it has come to that point.”
All-Star guard Kobe Bryant finished his career on Wednesday with a remarkable 60-point outburst. Now, the Lakers are charged with replacing one of the greatest basketball players in NBA history.
Returning to form will be a challenge for the Lakers after a franchise-worst 17-win season – four worse than last year’s 21-win debacle.
The good news for the Lakers is that they have tremendous cap flexibility and a number of young prospects who could help the team turn around what has been an unprecedented (for the Lakers) three-straight seasons without a playoff berth.
After managing just 38 wins over two seasons, does head coach Byron Scott deserve a return? To date, the team has not made a decision.
“Byron and the staff are under contract,” Kupchak said. “[We’ll] take a couple of days. That could be three or four days or a week, let things settle down a little bit, and meet.”
Scott has two years left on his deal, but the second is a team option.
Throughout the 2014-15 season, the Lakers suffered through more injuries than any team in the league and only had Bryant for 35 games. This past year, the team was healthy, but lacking in mature talent.
“I think Byron has done an excellent job under the circumstances he has had to deal with the last two years,” Kupchak said, citing Bryant’s inconsistent status in the lineup and the youthful, inexperienced roster.
Kupchak acknowledged that the game has changed over time. Scott has an older-school style. Does that mesh with today’s young player?
“More so this year; I think last year, was more of an adjustment period,” Kupchak said. “He’s much more open to everything that’s available to coaches, including analytics.”
How much of a positive (or negative) impact did Scott have on youthful players like D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson? That remains to be seen.
“We have to wait a couple of years to see; you’re not going to get results in a month or three or four with players who are 19 and 20 and 21,” Kupchak said. “You have to provide the structure, and it’s going to take some time. We’ll know in two or three years how effective Byron was as a parent to the young guys on this team.”
How long can the Lakers be patient with rebuilding? How long can they be patient with Scott?
“I know he’s hoping that he coaches here forever, but a lot of times what we do is we’re really doing is preparing for the next GM or the next coach, and that’s tough sometimes,” Kupchak said.
The Lakers would be better off parting ways with Scott, looking instead at free agent coaches like Scott Brooks or Tom Thibodeau. Brooks, in particular, should be the replacement.
Brooks, according to people close to the 2010 NBA Coach of the Year, has interest in a position with the Lakers should it become available. A number of teams are expected to pursue Kevin Durant’s former coach (and Durant himself), including the Washington Wizards.
The Oklahoma City All-Star will be a free agent this July; teammate Russell Westbrook will be available in 2017. If Brooks gives the Lakers an edge at landing either All-Star, or both, that’s the move to make.
There’s no move the Lakers can make to win the May 17 NBA Draft Lottery, other than hope their 55.8 percent chance comes through. The team would be well served with the top overall pick (19.9 percent odds) or second selection (18.8 percent), whereas the third slot is the consolation prize (17.1 percent).
Duke’s Brandon Ingram or LSU’s Ben Simmons are widely expected to be the top two picks, in some order. The gap at three is sizable, but others like Dragan Bender (whom Kupchak scouted recently in Israel with Maccabi Tel Aviv), California’s Jaylen Brown, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Providence’s Kris Dunn are viable options among others.
The value in the pick is not just the player, but trade opportunities that may arise too.
“If you get a top-three pick … not only does it get you the ability to take a player that is considered top-three in the world, you have the ability to move the pick,” Kupchak said. “I think there are some quality players that can be starters or All-Stars in this league, [and] that goes beyond two players.”
If the Lakers’ selection drops to four or five, their pick will go to the Philadelphia 76ers as a result of the ill-fated Steve Nash trade. Losing the pick could add another $3-5 million in cap space for the team.
Over time, the Lakers have built an interesting young core. Randle was taken seventh in 2014 and acquired Clarkson via trade with the Washington Wizards the same year at 45th. Last June, the Lakers added on Russell (second overall), Larry Nance Jr. (27th) and Anthony Brown (34th).
The development for each has gone in fits and starts.
“Overall, in this league, the toughest thing for young players that are drafted high, or drafted in the first round, is getting playing time,” Kupchak said. “A lot of rookies over the years have a hard time getting on the court, and what that does is slows their development and really puts that team in a tough spot.”
Could that be an argument for passing on another first rounder?
The positive of adding on a forward like Ingram or Simmons to the team’s young core is that the Lakers could be bringing in a franchise player. The downside is that it may take a few years for that group to develop.
“We’ve never had this many young players on the team at the same time. There’s a price to pay for that,” said Kupchak, noting the team’s poor record.
Finding a high-impact player remains paramount, and the draft may be the best way for the Lakers to do so.
“The only way to move on after a player [like Bryant] has played 20 years is to hope that you can get some young players to build around. Unless you draft a young player, you cannot get a young player,” Kupchak said. “You can get free agents, but typically they are players that have been drafted in the first round, have gone through four years of a contract and then have probably signed an extension for another four years. Those players are going to be in their mid-to-late twenties, if they’re available.
“As much as we’d like to build through the draft with young players, that could take 10 to 15 years and we don’t feel like we have that kind of timeline in Los Angeles. So our approach has been to build through the draft, be aggressive in free agency and, if you have the assets, then you have the ability to make trades.”
If the Lakers do keep their pick, they should look to make a trade. Yes, Simmons or Ingram may be special, but if the Lakers want to land top free agents this summer, they will need more of a lure than the potential of youth.
Players like Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler and Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins may become available via trade.
The 2016 first-rounder may not be enough to lure either. Other teams would certainly make competing bids. If the Lakers are fully committed to rising quickly back into contention, then they need to get out of the business of developing young players.
The pick plus one of Russell or Randle might be needed to foster a deal. This may seem like a heavy price, but an All-Star in the Lakers’ pocket in June may be a greater draw to a player like Durant in July.
Go Star Shopping
The NBA’s salary cap projects to jump to $92 million for the 2016-17 season, giving the Lakers roughly $60 million (enough space for two maximum-salaried players). Most teams will have room for one, but the Lakers do have that advantage.
“We had cap room last summer, but we’ll have almost triple of what we had,” Kupchak said. “That doesn’t mean we’ll use it all. We’ll have to recruit effectively. We may only use what we feel is prudent, but we feel like we’re in a much better situation.”
The past couple of summers, the Lakers have not been able to lure their top free agent targets like LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.
“We do feel this year, we have more assets on our team than we did last year,” said Kupchak, noting the uncertain status of Bryant and Randle’s broken leg that knocked him out on opening night in 2014. “If you were a max player a year ago, you’re looking at our team and saying, ‘They’ve got the number two pick [Russell], they’ve got Julius Randle who played one game and you’ve got Kobe Bryant who rarely played is going into his last year probably. That’s not an attractive situation.’
“This summer, we can get at least two max players – or you could get a max player and two or three other veteran. So you could get multiple players, whether they talk amongst themselves or whether we figure out who wants to play with who beginning on July 1.”
The Lakers will still have to pitch, but they hope their recent infusion of talent improves their odds.
“We are selling the city, the franchise and our fan base to potential free agents. That’s what we sell,” Kupchak said. “In the last two years, we would try to sell and advertise our best assets that continue to be playing for the franchise, the organization, the city of Los Angeles, our fan base, business opportunities, connections that you might make here that you might not make in another city [and] lifestyle. A summer ago, with the exception of Kobe, that’s all we had to sell.”
Will the Lakers be pitching a top-three pick, presuming they win the lottery, along with Russell, Randle, Nance and Clarkson? Or will they make a bolder move and find a deal for a player like Butler or Cousins?
Regardless, the top targets should be Durant and James. Will either leave their existing teams? Durant has incentive to re-sign with the Thunder for one more season to maximize his earnings in 2017 when the cap will jump another $15 million. James, who is likely to decline his player option, would certainly face a sizable backlash if he left the Cavaliers again. Regardless, the Lakers are undoubtedly rooting for the Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons in their first-round matchups against Oklahoma and Cleveland, respectively.
Both are long-shots, even if both James and Durant are sponsored by Nike. Bryant, who is one of Nike’s biggest stars, is leaving a sizable vacuum in the Los Angeles market. Both Los Angeles Clippers stars, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, are on Jordan Brand – affiliated with Nike, but without their own Nike flagship brands.
While there may be pressure from Durant and James’ primary sponsorship for a move to Lakers, both players will make the best decisions for themselves – not Nike.
The Lakers will start with the best players available, then move on through the list until they succeed or fail with options like DeMar DeRozan, Hassan Whiteside, Nicolas Batum, Al Horford and others. Restricted free agents are a dim possibility, but only if there’s a compelling reason to believe their existing team won’t match an offer sheet. Restricted players this summer include Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal and Andre Drummond.
The difficulty of free agency is that the teams have limited power. The players make the decisions.
Re-sign Jordan Clarkson
Clarkson is a restricted free agent. The Lakers have his early Bird rights, which limits how much other teams can offer to just the average salary (under $6 million a year) for his first two seasons, then roughly $23 million apiece for a third and fourth year.
The Lakers are best off if a team does give Clarkson an offer sheet, so they can lock him in cheaply for the next two years. Whether he’s worth $23 million a year, down the road, is irrelevant. The team can always look to trade him at a later date.
If Clarkson doesn’t get an offer sheet, the Lakers can simply re-sign him. Until he’s inked, he’ll take up $2.7 million of the Lakers’ cap room. The most that the Lakers can pay him is $5.6 million in the first year, unless they dip into their space to do so.
Another option is a sign-and-trade, although Clarkson would have to agree to a deal with another team. Because he’s restricted, the possibility is greater than with an unrestricted player – but by no means is it assumed.
Best Case/Worst Case
The Lakers can, mathematically, trade away most of their youth (the potential pick, Randle, Russell, Clarkson, etc.) and veterans (Lou Williams and Nick Young) to try and bring in two players like Butler and Cousins. Not to say it’s likely, but going all in at exactly the right time – some in June, some in July – could change the Lakers’ fortune.
Done perfectly (which all but never happens), the Lakers could maintain cap room for two max signings in addition to a pair of blockbuster trades.
Math says Durant, James, Butler and Cousins is possible, but common sense says it’s not.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Lakers may not even have a first-rounder to trade. Other teams are going to pursue Durant and James, though both probably stay at home.
Cousins and Butler may not even hit the trade market.
If they fail in free agency, the Lakers may end up going after a player instead like Derrick Rose in trade with the Bulls, an expiring $24.5 million salary (accounting for a 15 percent trade bonus), although he doesn’t address a current position of need. The cost may not be high to the Lakers, as Chicago may be looking to dump salary.
Trade or Stretch Swaggy P
Regardless, the Lakers need to move on from Young. His salary may be needed in a trade, but he is due $5.4 million next season with a player option at $5.7 million for 2017-18. That may or may not be an impediment.
“Nick didn’t fit this year,” Kupchak said.
The Lakers can, and should, stretch Young if they can’t deal him, giving the team a cap hit of $2.2 million a season over five years.
Kupchak said it’s an option (although he didn’t specify Young by name).
“All it does it help you with cap room,” Kupchak said. “If you did look to stretch a player … it depends what you would do with that extra $2 million. It may not make sense to do it.”
Avoid Long-Term Mediocrity
“I think our backcourt is better off than our frontcourt, depending on the lottery and where we end up with our pick,” Kupchak said. “I think we do have to address the frontcourt – and if you could put a wing player in the frontcourt, that would be a good thing to do as well.”
As the Lakers’ core is currently constructed, the team has two guards in Russell and Clarkson as well as two forwards in Randle and Nance.
Free agency, the draft and trades could shift that dramatically. In addition to their potential lottery pick, the Lakers also have the 32nd overall pick.
“Our fans have been incredibly understanding and patient,” Kupchak said. “We cannot not show great progress going forward.”
Jim Buss, the team’s vice president of player personnel and a part owner with his siblings, has vowed to step down from his position after next season if the Lakers do not return to contention. It would take major, major movement to jump from a 17-win team to the 50-win mark. Buss’ position in the franchise is anything but secure.
The future for the Lakers could include Phil Jackson, the fiancé of team governor and part owner Jeanie Buss and currently the president of the New York Knicks. He is the odds-on favorite to replace Jim Buss.
But Kupchak was clear that the team won’t make knee-jerk moves this summer to try and force any leap that doesn’t happen organically.
“From where I sit, I’m going to try to encourage the decision-makers to be prudent with the money that we have – not just fill out a roster with players that will give us no flexibility going forward, yet maybe we can win 40 or 42 games for the next five years,” Kupchak said. “That’s never been our goal in this city. I know it’s frustrating for fans, but it’s my goal and I know it’s the organization’s goal to get the team and the organization in the position to do a lot more than that.”
If Buss steps down, Kupchak’s future is unclear, though he may be welcome to stay with Jackson.
Perhaps building through youth is the answer, although given how long it typically takes for young players to win in the NBA, the payoff may come well after Buss is deposed of power.
Outside of serious wins this offseason, fixing the Lakers may be a long-term job that exceeds Buss’ tenure.
Georgetown Prospect Omer Yurtseven is Ready for Center Stage
Omer Yurtseven spoke with Drew Maresca about playing for coach Patrick Ewing, training for the NBA during a pandemic and why he feels he’s the best center in the 2020 draft class.
Omer Yurtseven, the 7-foot tall, Georgetown center, posted an impressive junior season in 2019-20; he averaged 15.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. With legitimate NBA size and skills, it’s no mystery why he’s confident. “I don’t think anyone has my combination of tools and versatility,” Yurtseven recently told Basketball insiders. But he’s also a student of the game –well aware of the game’s history and where it’s headed.
“I wouldn’t put anyone ahead of me. I haven’t seen anyone with the tools that I have. I can shoot the ball, the three-ball, and that’s where the big man is headed,” Yurtseven said.
But he’s not satisfied with what he’s accomplished thus far. He wants more. And he understands that he’ll have to continue working to ensure his spot in the league.
“Some guys might be more athletic [than me], but there are a lot of athletic bigs in the league who don’t stick,” Yurtseven continued. “The skillset is just as important, if not more. So is the [willingness to put in] the work. I think I’m better or as good as any other players, and my rookie year, that’s my goal, to prove that.”
Yurtseven transferred to Georgetown from N.C. State in 2018 after a successful Sophomore season in which he shot over 50 percent on three-point attempts. He sat out the 2018-19 season voluntarily to play for Georgetown and coach Patrick Ewing. The opportunity to work with the Hall of Famer was too good to pass up.
“That’s what I was looking for coming in [working with Ewing]. I needed someone to see the game from my perspective,” Yurtseven said. “I was looking for that feedback and I demanded to be coached. I wanted to learn from him. The thing he stayed on me the most about was the pace of the game and how quick my moves would have to be at the next level.
“The turnaround jumper was one of his major weapons,” Yurtseven continued. “He was ahead of his time, but he wanted to see me do the same thing and give 100 percent effort every time.”
Yurtseven jumper is a major weapon in his arsenal, so a pairing with Ewing was an obvious fit. His numbers remained strong during his junior year season with Georgetown, but with one glaring drop off – three-point percentage. Ewing demanded that Yurtseven operate from the low post, a role that the prospect didn’t love, but accepted. Could a new role be to blame for a down shooting year? Yurtseven would never blame anyone other than himself, especially not Ewing. But it’s clear that he felt like he could have done even more if given the opportunity.
“The biggest thing is, I played how I played because that was the role demanded of me. All I had to do was be the inside presence, the defense collapser, and we had to stick to the strategy that coach thought was best for the team.
“I would love to have caught the ball at the top a little more,” Yurtseven continued. “But I was happy to be the post guy. I knew I had to get into my moves quick, so that’s what I did. I sacrificed what I think is my best skills for the team, and I was fine with it.”
It’s evident that Yurtseven is a team-first guy but his three-point shooting took a significant hit. As mentioned above, Yurtseven shot 50 percent on 1.3 three-point attempts as a sophomore in 2017-18, but only 21.4 percent on only half an attempt from long range per game in 2019-20. However, it’s not in his nature to look back – only ahead.
“That’s been my main focus,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “In April, I was shooting 30 or 40 percent two steps behind the college three. That percentage has added up 5 or 10 percent each month. Doing it isn’t easy, but it pays off and that’s why we do it. Now I’m at 75 or 80 percent (in practice sessions) and I’m really confident in my ability.
“And that’s the most important skill set for big men right now,” Yurtseven said. “You’ve got to be a perimeter shooter, as well as a perimeter defender, because big men are evolving away from the rim.”
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yurtseven – and all of the 2020 class – received longer than normal between the end of the 2019-20 NCAA season and the 2020 NBA Draft. And while mock drafts have slowly whittled down the number of prospects, Yurtseven is working tirelessly to improve his stock in any way possible. impressive game.
“No one knew this offseason would be so long. It’s been 6, 8 months already,” Yurtseven continued. “But the team around me has been a blessing – coordinating workouts and making sure I’m taking steps to improve, from nutrition to training lateral quickness to shooting.
“It’s speed and agility, studying the game and having the knowledge about how to position yourself,” Yurtseven continued. “It’s timing and positioning and footwork. It’s all pieces of the puzzle. But the league is another level than college. That’s why I’ve been preparing, increasing lateral quickness, strengthening my glutes, making sure my quads and hips are firing well and that my lateral push-off is explosive as I want.”
“And seeing it translate on the court in two-on-twos and three-on-threes. Switching on guards and providing I can do it to myself. It’s been really fun and fulfilling.”
Yurtseven could have opted to play professionally in Europe – he had numerous professional offers as an 18-year-old prior to coming to joining N.C. State. But Yurtseven is driven by more than money and fame. He is family-oriented and understands the long game. His parents wanted him to receive a college degree before pursuing basketball – a decision that Yurtseven is happy to have made.
“The education was the main reason [I chose to play in the NCAA]. My family’s dream was that I get a college degree.
“When I was 18, [Turkish teams] offered me a huge contract. I’ve never seen so many zeros in my life,” Yurtseven continued.
“Now it’s time to chase my dream. And my team, my circle, it’s our goal to find a franchise that allows me to grow into a player for 10-plus years – and I’ll never stop working at it.”
Where Yurtseven ultimately plays is anyone’s guess – but he’s already spoken with 17 NBA teams.
Whatever franchise selects the center will add a hard-working and versatile big man that looks well-suited for the modern game – or he may not be selected at all. Yurtseven is currently ranked outside the top 50 according to some mocks – but if he gets an opportunity, he knows how he’d like to play.
“My aim is to get a double-double, year one,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “And, of course, guarding 1 through 5 is another big thing that coaches are looking for. Look at the Bucks, they were ranked first in offense (in 2019-20). Most of their points come from spot-ups. Defenses collapse on Giannis and Middleton – and Brook Lopez stays alone in the corner. I think that’ll be where I get my shots, too.”
Only three rookies in the past 10 years have averaged a double-double in their first season in the league – Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns, Deandre Ayton. That’s an elite club in which Yurtseven is seeking membership. Can he surprise the basketball world? Only time will tell.
There isn’t much data on him against elite big men. But there is one relevant contest worth examining: a Nov. 22 matchup against Duke and Vernon Carey, who is projected to be drafted No. 26 overall by Basketball Insiders.
Carey filled the stat sheet with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but so did Yurtseven (21 points, five rebounds and four blocks). That night, his entire repertoire was on full display – decisive drop steps, smooth turnaround jump shots over both shoulders, baby hooks, midrange jumpers and hard-nosed defense.
“He was the only true big man that I played against,” Yurtseven recalled. “He was quick and Duke did a good job putting the ball in his hands as soon as he stepped in the paint. I had to exert a lot of energy keeping him off his spot, but I adjusted quickly.
“I figured he would be very strong, but he ultimately didn’t feel as strong as I expected. My maturity and strength helped me a lot.”
Yurtseven’s skill and build render him tailor-made for the NBA. But for most, sticking at the professional peak is about more than skill and body. IQ, on and off of the floor, play a major role, too.
“A lot of guys [in this draft class] haven’t played many games,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “Having a college degree and that experience is a huge tool.
“Playing overseas as a pro is another layer of experience that I have compared to these guys. My IQ has improved. Those one-and-done guys are gonna be thrown into the fire, but I’ll be more ready.
“I saw a study,” Yurtseven explained. “Guys that come in 21-and-under stay in the league two or three years on average. Guys that come in and are 21-or-older stay seven or eight years on average. That just shows how much time it takes to mature your game.”
Comparatively, only four players were 22 or older as on draft night in 2019 – Yurtsevein is 22.
At the end of the day, it will be about how he performs on the court, and he’s comfortable with that.
“If I get drafted, I’ll be the first guy coming out of Turkey with a college degree,” Yurtseven said proudly.
“I’m ready for the next step. I appreciate everyone wishing me luck and supporting me from afar. I can’t wait to show my game’s evolution and reap the benefits of all of the work I’ve put in.”
NBA Daily: Tyronn Lue is the Right Coach for the Clippers
Is Lue the right coach for the Los Angeles Clippers? David Yapkowitz thinks so.
When Doc Rivers was first hired by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013, the expectation was that he would be the one to guide the franchise into respectability. A laughingstock of the NBA for pretty much their entire existence, marred by bad coaching, bad management and bad ownership, Rivers was supposed to help change all of that.
For the most part, he did.
Rivers arrived from the Boston Celtics with the 2008 championship, and he helped the Celtics regain their standing as one of the NBA’s elite teams. The Clippers were a perennial playoff contender under him and were even in the conversation for being a possible championship contender. The Lob City Clippers led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin certainly were talked about as being a title contender, and this season’s group led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were definitely in the mix as well.
Not only did Rivers steady the team on the court though, but he was also a very steadying presence off the court. He guided the franchise through the Donald Sterling controversy and he was a positive voice for the team as they navigated the bubble and the ongoing charge for social reform in the country.
But when things go wrong with a team, the coach is usually the one who ends up taking the fall. While Rivers did bring the Clippers to a level of respectability the franchise has never known, his record was not without blemishes. Most notably was his team’s inability to close out playoff series’ after holding three games to one on advantages two separate occasions.
In 2015, the Clippers had a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets only to squander that lead and lose Game 7 on the road. In Game 6, their shots stopped falling and neither Paul nor Griffin could do anything to halt the Rockets onslaught.
This season, in an incredibly similar fashion, the Clippers choked away a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets and ended up getting blown out the second half of Game 7. Just like before, the offense stalled multiple games and neither Leonard nor George could make a difference.
There were also questions about Rivers’ rotations and his seeming inability to adjust to his opponents. In the end, something had to change, and whether it’s right or wrong, the coach usually ends up taking the fall.
Enter Tyronn Lue. Lue, like Rivers, is also a former NBA player and has a great deal of respect around the league. He came up under Rivers, getting his first coaching experience as an assistant in Boston, and then following Rivers to the Clippers.
He ended up joining David Blatt’s staff in Cleveland in 2014, and when Blatt was fired in the middle of the 2015-16 season, Lue was promoted to head coach. In the playoffs that year, Lue guided the Cavaliers to victory in their first 10 playoff games. They reached the Finals where they famously came back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors to win the franchise’s first championship.
The Cavaliers reached the Finals each full year of Lue’s tenure as head coach, but he was let go at the start of the 2018-19 season when the team started 0-6 after the departure of LeBron James.
In the 2019 offseason, Lue emerged as the leading candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job, before he ultimately rejected the team’s offer. After rejoining Rivers in LA with the Clippers for a year, he once again emerged as a leading candidate for multiple head coaching positions this offseason before agreeing to terms with the Clippers.
Following the Clippers series loss to the Nuggets, many players openly talked about the team’s lack of chemistry and how that may have played a factor in the team’s postseason demise. Adding two-star players in Leonard and George was always going to be a challenge from a chemistry standpoint, and the Clippers might have secured the perfect man to step up to that challenge.
During his time in Cleveland, Lue was praised for his ability to manage a locker room that included James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In Game 7 against the Warriors, Lue reportedly challenged James at halftime and ended up lighting a fire that propelled the Cavaliers to the championship.
Lue’s ability to deal with star egos isn’t just limited to his coaching tenure. During his playing days, Lue was a trusted teammate with the Los Angeles Lakers during a time when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant weren’t seeing eye to eye. He also played with Michael Jordan during Jordan’s Washington Wizard days.
Now, he’ll be tasked with breaking through and leading the Clippers to a place where no Clipper team has ever been before. He’ll be expected to finish what Rivers was unable to accomplish and guide the Clippers to an NBA championship.
For one, he’ll have to change the Clippers offensive attack. This past season, the Clippers relied too much on an isolation heavy offense centered around Leonard and George. That style of play failed in the playoffs when after failing to adjust, the Clippers kept taking tough shot after tough shot while the Nuggets continued to run their offense and get good shots.
With the Cavaliers, Lue showed his ability to adjust his offense and work to his player’s strengths. In the 2018 Playoffs, Lue employed a series of off-ball screens involving Love and Kyle Korver with James reading the defense and making the correct read to whoever was in the best position to score.
When playing with James, the offense sometimes tends to stagnate with the other four players standing around and waiting for James to make his move. Lue was able to get the other players to maintain focus and keep them engaged when James had the ball in his hands. Look for him to try and do something similar for when either Leonard or George has the ball in their hands.
He’s already got a player on the roster in Landry Shamet who can play that Korver role as the designated shooter on the floor running through off-ball screens and getting open. Both Leonard and George have become efficient enough playmakers to be able to find open shooters and cutters. That has to be Lue’s first task to tweak the offense to find ways to keep the rest of the team engaged and active when their star players are holding the ball.
The defensive end is going to be something he’ll need to adjust as well. The Clippers have some of the absolute best individual defensive players in the league. Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, George was a finalist for the award in 2019 and Patrick Beverley is a perennial All-Defensive Team selection.
When the team was locked in defensively this season, there wasn’t a team in the league that could score on them. The problem for them was they seemingly couldn’t stay engaged on the defensive end consistently enough. The other issue was Rivers’ inability to adjust his defense to his opponent. Against the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic had a field day whenever Montrez Harrell was guarding him.
Lue’s primary task will be to get this team to maintain their defensive intensity throughout the season, as well as recognize what matchups are and aren’t working. Both Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green were more effective frontcourt defenders in the postseason than Harrell was. Look for Lue to play to his team’s strengths, as he always has, and to trot out a heavy dose of man-to-man defense.
Overall, Lue was the best hire available given the candidates. He’s got a strong rapport among star players. He’s made it to the finals multiple times and won a championship as a head coach. And he already has experience working with Leonard and George.
Given the potential free agent status of both Leonard and George in the near future, the Clippers have a relatively small window of championship contention. Lue was in a similar situation in Cleveland when James’ pending free agency in the summer of 2018 was also a factor. That time around, Lue delivered. He’ll be ready for this new challenge.
NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Third Scorer Is By Committee
The Los Angeles Lakers have a whole unit of third scoring options – and that’s why they’re one win from an NBA Championship.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers once the NBA bubble began was who was going to pick up the mantle of being the third scoring option.
Even before the 2019-20 season began, it was obvious that LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be the primary offensive weapons, but every elite team with championship aspirations needs another player or two they can rely on to contribute on the offensive end consistently.
The obvious choice was Kyle Kuzma. In his third year in the NBA, Kuzma was the lone member of the Lakers’ young core that hadn’t been shipped elsewhere. His name had come up in trade rumors as possibly being included in the package to New Orleans for Davis, but the Lakers were able to hang on to him. He put up 17.4 points per game over his first two seasons and had some questioning whether or not he had All-Star potential.
For the most part this season, he settled into that role for much of this season. With Davis in the fold and coming off the bench, his shot attempts dropped from 15.5 to 11.0, but he still managed to be the team’s third scorer with 12.8 points per game.
But here in the bubble, and especially in the playoffs, the Lakers’ role players have each taken turns in playing the supporting role to James and Davis. Everyone from Kuzma to Alex Caruso, to Dwight Howard, to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to Markieff Morris and even Rajon Rondo have had games where they’ve given the team that additional scoring boost.
Earlier in the bubble, James himself said they need Kuzma to be the team’s third-best player to win, but Kuzma himself believes that it’s always been by committee.
“We don’t have a third scorer, that’s not how our offense is built. Our offense is really AD and Bron, and everyone else plays team basketball,” Kuzma said on a postgame media call after Game 4 of the Finals. “We’ve had a long season, hopefully by now, you’ve seen how we play. Everyone steps up at different times, that’s what a team does.”
On this particular night, when the Miami HEAT got a pregame boost with the return of Bam Adebayo and wealth of confidence from their Game 3 win, it was Caldwell-Pope who stepped up and assumed the mantle of that third scoring option.
He finished Game 4 with 15 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range. He also dished out five assists and grabbed three rebounds. Perhaps his most crucial moments of the game came late in the fourth quarter with the Lakers desperately clinging to a slim lead and the Heat not going away.
He hit a big three-pointer in front of the Miami bench with 2:58 to go in the game, and then followed that up with a drive the rim and finish on the very next possession to give the Lakers some breathing room.
Caldwell-Pope has been one of the most consistent Lakers this postseason and he’s been one of their most consistent three-point threats at 38.5 percent on 5.3 attempts. He was actually struggling a bit with his outside shot before this game, but he always stayed ready.
“My teammates lean on me to pick up the energy on the defensive end and also make shots on the offensive end…I stayed within a rhythm, within myself and just played,” Caldwell-Pope said after the game. “You’re not going to knock down every shot you shoot, but just staying with that flow…Try to stay in the rhythm, that’s what I do. I try not to worry about it if I’m not getting shots. I know they are eventually going to come.”
Also giving the Lakers a big offensive boost in Game 4 was Caruso who had a couple of easy baskets at the rim and knocked down a three-pointer. He’s become one the Lakers best off the ball threats as well, making strong cuts to the rim or drifting to the open spot on the three-point line.
He’s had his share of games this postseason when it’s been his turn to step up as the Lakers additional scoring threat. During Game 4 against the Houston Rockets in the second round, Caruso dropped 16 points off the bench to help prevent the Rockets from tying the series up. In the closeout Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, he had 11 points and finished the game in crunch time.
For him, it’s about staying ready and knowing that the ball is eventually going to come to whoever is open. When that happens, it’s up to the role players to take that pressure off James and Davis.
“Our third star or best player is whoever has the open shot. We know what AD and LeBron are going to bring to the table every night. They’re going to get their attention, they’re going to get their shots,” Caruso said after the game.
“It’s just about being ready to shoot. We have two of the best passers in the game, if not the best, so we know when we are open, we are going to get the ball. We have to be ready to do our job as soon as the ball gets to us.”
And if the Lakers are to close out the series and win the 2020 NBA championship, head coach Frank Vogel knows that it’s going to take a collective effort from the rest of the team, the way they’ve been stepping up all postseason.
“We need everybody to participate and contribute, and we’re a team-first team,” Vogel said after the game. “Obviously we have our two big horses, but everybody’s got to contribute that’s out there.”