Despite not being projected as a top western conference team, the Los Angeles Lakers will garner much attention next season. Want proof? The Lakers are set to make a combined 35 national television appearances next season with only four teams having more appearances. The team is coming off a 26-56 season in which they were nearly the worst team in the league. However, with a few key roster changes, next year looks to be a key building year as the franchise continues to develop and position itself for future success.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
Magic Johnson promised to restore the Los Angeles Lakers to their glory days when he was hired as the team’s president of basketball operations.
So far, the Hall of Famer has been slapped with tampering charges from the NBA in reference to the Lakers contact with Paul George, and has drafted a point guard with a father who seems hell-bent on dominating the news headlines.
However, Magic has positioned the Lakers to return to the good ol’ days following another lackluster season. Despite the talent of Lonzo Ball, a 19-year-old point guard will still more than likely struggle to win his team games. What he will do, though, is showcase his talent and playmaking ability for free agents when Los Angeles enters next summer with deep pockets. (Paul George already seems interested, how about you, LeBron?)
With Ball handling the rock, Brandon Ingram entering year two, and new management across the board, brighter days are ahead for the Hollywood franchise. They just need to get past next season’s below-average results.
4th place — Pacific Division
– Dennis Chambers
Amazingly, it seems that the Lakers and their fortunes have changed overnight. Lonzo Ball is entering the league with some heavy expectations, while Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have combined to give the front office an aura of respectability that has been missing for quite some time.
For the Lakers, though, the coming season is likely to be a long one. Aside from Ball, the acquisitions of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brook Lopez should help the team improve upon the 26 wins they clocked last season, but at the end of the day, the playoffs are an at-best and perhaps unrealistic goal.
Still, things appear to be headed in the right direction, so for Lakers fans, this coming season may be the last in the cellar—especially if the team is able to actually secure the services of LeBron James next summer.
I think the Suns are probably a notch below at this point, and the Kings have a respectable cast of characters, as well. The only two teams in the division that I can say are better off are the Clippers and Warriors, so a division-finish as high as third for the Lakers wouldn’t surprise me, especially with Luke Walton at the helm.
3rd Place — Pacific Division
— Moke Hamilton
With rumors already swirling loudly about their potential 2018 summer free agency pursuits, there are a few factors up for debate in Los Angeles this year. Do young guys like Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle remain building blocks for the future, or are they considered as pieces to help move salary and open up space for big names next summer? Does newly-acquired Brook Lopez play a legitimate on-court role, or was he mostly salary fodder to move on from Timo Mozgov’s contract? Just about the only thing we know for sure for this team on the court this season: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are going to get a lot of chances to show their potential and learn on the fly. How many wins the Lakers reach may ultimately depend on the larger direction management takes, but until starrier names sign on the dotted line next summer, these kids are the future. The Lakers should compete with the Suns for the bottom seed in the Pacific.
4th place — Pacific Division
– Ben Dowsett
To say anything less than, “The Los Angeles Lakers will win the 2017 NBA championship” is to draw the ire of Lakers fans worldwide, but here we go anyway: The Los Angeles Lakers will not win the 2017 NBA championship. In fact, they won’t even make the playoffs next spring. Lonzo Ball has been a lot of “fun” so far, but the core of this organization is still incredibly young, all of which is a good reminder that this season is, more than anything, a test run for the imminent arrival of max free agents next summer, as Magic attempts to turn Hollywood into a desirable free agency destination once again. There is plenty to love about this team as constructed, but the kids are still young and it probably will be quite a circus this season. With potentially bigger talent joining this group down the road, however, this circus could just be getting started.
4th Place – Pacific Division
– Joel Brigham
The Los Angeles Lakers had an interesting offseason. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelina traded D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov in exchange for Brook Lopez and the rights to the 27th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft (Kyle Kuzma). Trading Russell was the price of the last front office regime signing Mozgov to a deal that was considered an albatross from the moment it was agreed to. However, Russell was a divisive figure in the Lakers’ locker room and now the team can build around their new talented point guard of the future — Lonzo Ball. Ball has prodigious passing and playmaking talent and will likely make a positive impact early on in the season. This is a developmental season for the Lakers, so making the playoffs should not be the priority. Players like Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. neeed to take another positive step forward in their respective development as the Lakers will be looking to attract the biggest free agents next offseason.
3rd Place — Pacific Division
– Jesse Blancarte
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player – Brook Lopez
Three of the top five offensive players from last season (Lou Williams, D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young) no longer hold a spot on this year’s roster. Brook Lopez was brought in via trade when the Lakers unloaded Timofey Mozgov’s contract, which required moving Russell. Lopez has averaged over 20 points a game the last two seasons (20.5 and 20.6) and has been accustomed to being the focal point of the offense for some time with the Nets. Expect Lopez to continue flexing his muscle down low as one the league’s true centers capable of effectively scoring in the post, as well as stretching the floor with his three-point shooting. Doing so will do wonders for a Lakers offense that often lacked proper spacing in recent seasons. Although his time with the Lakers may be brief (Lopez is set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season), expect the Lakers to lean on Lopez for consistent offensive production.
Top Defensive Player – Brook Lopez
The Lakers have a lot of young talent, but they don’t necessarily have a lockdown defender on the roster. Though he isn’t known as a top defensive center, Lopez is capable of providing solid rim protection and making opponents think twice about driving into the lane. With a player of Lopez’s size and intelligence anchoring the defense, look for the Lakers to utilize small ball line-ups around him to funnel drives to Lopez, who blocked 1.6 blocks per game last season (8th in the league). However, it’s worth remembering that the Lakers are coming off a year in which they ranked 30th of 30 teams on defense. With that in mind, don’t expect a huge leap forward on this end of the court this season.
Top Playmaker – Lonzo Ball
Lonzo Ball is one of the most talked about rookie in years. With no shortage of hype, the basketball world will be watching to see if his play on the court can match the hype. Despite this and the pressure of playing for the Lakers, Ball has a chance as the starting point guard to use his pinpoint passing and excellent court vision to quickly become the Lakers’ top playmaker. How well Ball physically holds up to the rigors of his first NBA season will determine how effective he can be in this role this season. True rookies, even with ample playing time, don’t often make great contributions in their inaugural season. Expect Ball to be the exception.
Top Clutch Player – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
The absence of Lou Williams and, to a lesser extent, D’Angelo Russell hurts in this category. With Williams, Russell and Young off the team, look for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to try and fill the shoes here. KCP is on a one-year deal and will want to make the most of his season with the Lakers, so look for him to be aggressive, especially on offense. With a good free throw percentage (83.2), three-point percentage (35.0) and improved ability to move the ball (career high 2.5 assists last season), expect the Lakers to trust KCP in high-pressure late game situations. Brandon Ingram could also step into this role potentially. However, Ingram’s shooting and ability to generate separation from his defenders consistently will need to improve for this to happen.
The Unheralded Player – Julius Randle
Entering his fourth year, forward Julius Randle continues to improve and has the opportunity to make huge strides this season. Randle is in great shape and wanted the league to take notice of his offseason workouts. Randle has already demonstrated that he is capable of doing serious damage offensively near the rim and in transition. He also shown that he has the strength to be physical with bigger, more experience players on both ends of the court. Also, as mentioned above, the improved spacing provided by Lopez and the emphasis on passing, through the addition of Ball and Coach Luke Walton’s offense, should benefit Randle greatly. Randle stands to improve as a shooter, which would open up his game even more. Time will tell how far Randle has developed in that department. Expect Randle to turn the corner this season and show that he is worth investing in as a long-term piece for this Lakers team.
Best New Addition – Lonzo Ball
While Lopez will likely make the biggest impact immediately, Ball is the key addition to the franchise. With him, the team has a foundational piece to build around and grow alongside the team’s other young players. In addition, Ball’s ability, willingness and desire to make those around him better through his passing and playmaking abilities will endear him to teammates and fans alike.
– James Blancarte
WHO WE LIKE
1. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the perfect kind of signing for the Lakers. He is on a one-year contract, which provides the Lakers with flexibility when they have the chance to potentially sign big name players (e.g., Paul George) next offseason. KCP brings outside shooting, an emerging ability to run the pick and roll and defensive impact and consistency. Don’t be surprised if KCP puts in maximum effort this season and hits a new gear considering he is looking for the long-term contract that eluded him this offseason.
2. Lakers Management
President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka deserve credit. Their front office has managed a team with a promising core and supplemented that with expiring contracts and loads of cap space. The signings of Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng were disastrous, but they happened under the last regime and unloading Mozgov’s salary should pay off somewhat quickly, despite the loss of Russell. After making some savvy moves, the pair is positioned to make some serious acquisitions next offseason, which could catapult the Lakers back into contention for the first time in years. If the team strikes out, look for Lakers management to continue investing in and bolstering the young core of talent while maintaining long term cap flexibility.
3. Brook Lopez
As explained above, Lopez should quickly become an anchor for this team on both ends of the court. He may not be a perfect fit in the small-ball era of the NBA, but Lopez is still a very productive player. His ability to knock down three-pointers is a nice bonus that should pay off in a significant way – especially if Coach Walton can find creative ways to utilize it within the team’s offense.
4. Luke Walton
Remember the remarkable streak of success that Coach Walton experienced when manning the helm for the Golden State Warriors during their record breaking season in 2015-16? It certainly feels like a long time ago. Despite the fact that the Lakers went 26-56 last season, Walton immediately brought a new sense of cohesion to the Lakers. Walton is a player’s coach and quickly worked to establish a bond and sense of trust between himself and his players. The team is young and played inconsistently last season, but the positive change in culture was apparent. Coach Walton also continues to implement a modern offense, which has helped bring the Lakers into the modern era of NBA basketball. If the Lakers win more games than they are projected to this season, Walton’s coaching will likely be a big reason why.
– James Blancarte
SALARY CAP 101
The Lakers have been clear that their primary goal is to open two maximum-salary slots in the summer of 2018. While they’re not quite there yet, moving off the contract of Jordan Clarkson via trade, letting Julius Randle walk as an unrestricted free agent and stretching the final two years of Luol Deng’s contract would put the Lakers at roughly $70 million in space next year (with a $102 million cap projection). Trading Deng could help the Lakers keep one of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brook Lopez, Clarkson or Randle, while still maintaining room for two max players.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are expected to use their $4.3 million Room Exception before the season on forward Shabazz Muhammad. Once completed, Los Angeles will have 15 players under guaranteed contract, which doesn’t bode well for camp invites Vander Blue, Briante Weber, Stephen Zimmerman and V.J. Beachem. The Lakers do not have a first-round pick next June. Per the Stepien Rule, the Lakers cannot trade their 2019 first until after the 2018 NBA Draft.
– Eric Pincus
Youth, financial flexibility and perspective. The Lakers have one of the best cores of young talent in the NBA. Developing these foundational players is what matters most for this team, especially considering how much financial flexibility the team will likely have next offseason. The Lakers understand that they aren’t going to win a championship this season and could even miss the playoffs again. However, if their core players all show great improvement and signs of being future stars, the team could make a serious pitch to big time free agents next summer. Keeping this perspective in mind will help the team overcome the crushing weight of expectations in L.A. and will help to keep their collective eye on what matters most moving forward.
– James Blancarte
Defense. The Lakers ranked dead last in defense last season. Despite adding Lopez, the team will continue to rely on a number of young, developing players, which doesn’t bode well on this end of the court. Expect the team defense to move up a few spots with Lopez manning the middle, but not by much.
– James Blancarte
THE BURNING QUESTION
Should Lakers fans have realistic hope that the team can be competitive enough to make the playoffs?
In short, they should not. Despite all of the positives mentioned above, the Lakers youthful core is too inexperienced to be truly competitive. The western conference is as strong as ever and the Lakers simply don’t have the veteran talent, depth or experience to be a serious playoff contender next season.
– James Blancarte
Sources: Gregg Popovich, Kawhi Leonard Held Meeting on Tuesday
San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard met with coach Gregg Popovich on Tuesday in San Diego, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
The meeting between the two faces of the Spurs’ franchise was done professionally and confidentially, league sources said.
Source: Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports
NBA Daily: Lots Of NBA Draft Chatter
With the 2018 NBA Draft less than 50 hours away, Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler digs into the last from around the NBA.
Lots Of NBA Draft Chatter
With the 2018 NBA Draft on Thursday, things in NBA circles are getting interesting, specifically on the trade front.
The final 2018 Consensus Mock Draft will drop tomorrow, just after the media availabilities in New York, from there we’ll be tracking the minute to minute news, trades and rumors in the 2018 NBA Draft Diary.
So, with that in mind, let’s dig into what we know some 50 hours until the draft gets underway.
Kawhi Watch In Full Swing
With the news last week that San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard may no longer want to be a Spur breaking, there is still a sense in NBA circles that the Spurs are not going to listen to trade offers until the hear from Kawhi directly.
If you know anything about the Spurs organization, you know that we won’t hear the details of this situation in a minute by minute way like we do from some organizations, especially considering the Spurs have never had to deal with a scenario quite like this.
The interesting part of this story is how split the “sourcing” is on what’s real. There have been reports from several different reporters suggesting that the situation isn’t as dire as initially reported and that the Spurs and Leonard have had dialogue, but not the face-to-face meeting the Spurs covet.
It’s unclear why there hasn’t been a meeting, and that is what has some in NBA circles believing the Spurs will open up the phones on Wednesday and see what they can extract for Leonard if only to do their due diligence.
One league source commented that it might be tough for the Spurs to get value out of Leonard mainly because of his injury situation and the idea that he’d only re-sign with the Lakers. The same source doubted that Leonard’s camp would fence themselves inmto just the Lakers because that would make getting him traded extremely difficult, especially if the Lakers wouldn’t offer value to San Antonio.
The sense today is the Spurs are standing their ground. The thing to know is that this situation still seems very fluid, and that face-to-face conversation (or lack of one) could swing this thing in either direction. It is clear several teams would have interest if the Spurs decide to listen to offers, even if it just a rental for the upcoming season.
Trades At The Top Still Viable
It a typical NBA draft there is chatter about top tier picks being traded, but usually, it dies off the week for the draft as teams look in on who they ultimately want to draft.
This year, and unlike previous years there is a sense that several of the picks at the top of the board could be had, especially if it returns draft picks later in the draft and solid veterans.
The Sacramento Kings seem to be leaning towards keeping their pick at number two, and it’s looking more and more likely that Marvin Bagley III is their guy. The Kings took a very long look at Michael Porter Jr, and as of this weekend there was a sense they were OK with where Porter Jr is at medically, but he may lose out to the less risky Bagley. League sources continue to doubt the Kings grab Euro sensation Luke Dončić, so we’ll see if that holds true as we get to draft day.
The Atlanta Hawks have had the third overall pick on the market from almost the moment they landed it. The Hawks seem ready to use the pick but are said to still be exploring their options. The prevailing thought this week is it’s down to Bagley, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young for the Hawks, with more and more league sources believing the Hawks will draft Young at three. While the notion of grabbing Young at three may seem high, the Hawks have had eyes on Young from the start of the process, and not much seems to have changed. The Hawks have made it clear they would take on contract money in exchange for additional draft assets, so it seems likely the Hawks will be active, even if it’s not moving the third pick.
Things start to get interesting with Memphis at number four. There have been numerous reports that the Grizzlies have dangled the fourth pick in an attempt to shed the contract of Chandler Parsons. Sources close to the situation say the Grizzlies have had some offers, and most of them involve the Grizz picking up expiring contracts and additional draft assets lower in the draft. It’s unclear if the Grizzlies will pull the trigger, but they seem to have deals if they want one.
The prevailing thought in NBA circles is the Grizzlies are the first real landing spot for Dončić. There is also talk of Wendell Carter Jr., and Mo Bamba landing at four.
The Dallas Mavericks at five seem open to taking on contract dollars and could be the landing spot for the fourth pick and Chandler Parsons, but league sources say the Mavericks would not give up the fifth pick unless it returned an All-Star or would-be All-Star.
There are a few other situations to watch as several teams have expressed interest in moving up. The Clippers hold two pretty solid selections and 12 and 13 and seem willing to combine them to move into the top 5. The Denver Nuggets have also expressed some interest in moving to the top five.
The Lakers and Celtics have expressed similar interest at points in the process, but both seem reluctant at this point to part with future assets to pay the price to jump to the top of the draft.
Porter Still A Possibility
The Michael Porter Jr. situation is murky. After two visits from NBA teams, the word on Porter is mixed. NBA teams have seen his MRIs and his medical, and select teams were allowed to bring their doctors and trainers to his most recent “workout.”
The worst case from one team that’s not considering him is that he may require an additional surgery down the line. This same team said their doctors didn’t think anything going on with Porter would jeopardize his career, but they felt like he’d have to be on a program and has a ways to go before they’d deem him a 100 percent.
The upside case, from a team with Porter squarely on their board, is that there wasn’t anything going on they didn’t expect and that their staff felt fairly positive they could not only manage his situation, but they felt they could get him right fairly quickly.
Amusingly, the narrative around Porter is that he could be the next Kevin Durant-type scorer in the NBA (Porter clearly isn’t as long and lanky as Durant) – but he does possess the ability to get his offense against almost anyone.
As one executive whose team wasn’t considering Porter joked, you could get Durant or you could get Greg Oden, hinting at the injury-riddled career of the former top pick back in 2007.
Where Does Luka Go?
There isn’t a more polarizing NBA Draft prospect than Real Madrid’s Luke Dončić. You would be hard-pressed to find an NBA executive who didn’t think Dončić could be special in the NBA. But you might also be hard-pressed to find one willing to bet their job on it.
Throughout this process, more than a couple of executives have expressed they are hopeful Dončić goes high, mainly because it would give them cover in future drafts to do the same thing, which is draft what appears to be the most NBA ready player in the class, despite his flaws.
The problem is if Dončić isn’t special or struggles like some have concerns he might, not only would a team leave a potential franchise cornerstone on the board to in passing on uber-talented collegiate prospects, it might cost the lead executive their jobs.
While that seems somewhat short-sighted, think about the executives drafting in the top six. How many are not under pressure to turn their franchises around? And would a huge draft miss seal their fate?
Atlanta’s Travis Schlenk at three seems pretty secure. Dallas’ Donnie Nelson at five seems pretty secure. Orlando’s Jeff Weltman and John Hammond at six seem fairly secure, but it gets dicey elsewhere in the top 10.
As we’ve seen in previous drafts, NBA executives can and often do outthink themselves, which why every draft has quality impact guys falling later in the process.
There is little doubt Dončić is going in the top 10; it would be pretty surprising if he got past Dallas at five.
Sexton Over Young?
The Orlando Magic seems to be dialing in on what’s there for them at six, assuming they don’t trade up, which they have explored with both Atlanta and Memphis. The prevailing thought among fans is that if Trae Young is there at six, the Magic will pounce.
Early on in the process, though, the Magic seemed to be seriously interested in Collin Sexton, and word is that be might the Magic’s guy at six. The Magic ultimately will catch what falls to them, and if Dončić, Bagley or Jackson are there, things get interesting. However, if the draft goes as scripted, Orlando seems more likely to go, Sexton, Bamba, Carter or Knox than Young – at least at this point.
The draft is a fluid domino effect process, so at six the Magic have to cover a lot of bases, and it seems they have with their individual workouts.
The Magic desperately covet an impact player, so don’t be surprised if the Magic pull the trigger on a move-up deal, especially as we get closer and closer to the moment of truth.
Bamba Could Slide
You won’t find many NBA executives who don’t find Texas big man Mo Bamba intriguing. The problem for Bamba if there are some many super talented bigs in the 2018 NBA draft he is caught in a numbers game.
League sources said recently that Bamba is in the mix at two to the Kings, four to Grizzlies, five to Mavericks, six to the Magic and seven to the Bulls. The problem is he doesn’t seem to be the first or second option to any of those teams at this point.
According to league sources there continues to be questions about how his offensive game fits into the modern NBA, and with more versatile guys sitting at the top of the draft, Bamba is looking more like the consolation prize later in the draft. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t think Bamba will be a monster defensively in the NBA, but the question remains which team is drafting defense at the top of the board?
If there is a player outside of the top five that could tumble a little, it might be Bamba, especially if the Mavericks pass at five.
Over the next few days, we’ll be posting all of the draft-related news, notes, rumors and trades in the 2018 NBA Draft Day Diary, so if you want a one-stop shop for all things NBA Draft, bookmark it.
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NBA Daily: Kaiser Gates Determined To Silence His Doubters
He may not be listed on some draft boards or seen as an impact player by certain individuals, but Kaiser Gates knows what he’s made of.
If you’re looking to further your career at the next level but coming out of college as a prospect on the fringe, you’d better be willing to work twice as hard to draw attention from the basketball world.
Attending the Preparation Pro Day in Miami with team representatives and scouts watching, Kaiser Gates wanted to show everybody who was there that the chip on his shoulder would drive him to silence his doubters.
“I feel like I have a lot to prove,” Gates said in Miami. “I feel like a lot of the guys in the draft this year, I’m just as good if not better than (them), so I gotta show that.”
After three years at Xavier University, the 22-year-old decided it was time to move on from the program and passed on his senior year to enter the NBA Draft. The news came as a surprise to many, considering he might’ve gotten the opportunity to earn an even more expanded role next season with the departure of Musketeer favorites Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura.
The numbers across the board weren’t exactly eye-catching. Primarily a wing, Gates knocked down 37.8 percent of his threes as a junior. He averaged 7.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in almost 24 minutes per game.
Looking at conference play in the Big East, those figures took a dip. Gates shot less than 30 percent from deep and really struggled to contribute offensively for Xavier against tougher opponents.
There was an incredible discrepancy in shot selection over his three-year collegiate career. Astoundingly enough, 300 of his 409 career attempts came outside of the arc. The other 109 tries were twos, which he converted at a 54.1 percent rate.
It’s hard to ignore statistical evidence when it comes to evaluating players, but misuse and fit could have been more prominent factors in this case. It’s something that happens quite a bit at school programs with prospects, and Gates believes that he could be added to that list of mishandled talent.
“I don’t think I’m inconsistent at all,” Gates said. “At Xavier, I know my stats showed that I was inconsistent. Playing at that school it was a great experience—great guys, great coaches.
“Just kinda like my situation and the way I was playing at that school didn’t really allow me to showcase my full talents, and with that being said, it’s kinda hard to stay consistent not doing something I’m used to doing.”
Furthering the point, it’s not easy to be judged off that information, which some use as the only indication of what you’ll bring to the pros. Gates plans on using that as motivation whenever he meets with different teams.
“I would come in and people would just assume like, ‘Oh he could shoot a little bit, play defense, a little athletic.’ But I know on the flip side, I know what I can really do and like, my full potential.
“So when I know that and see what teams already think, already have in their head, just now it’s up to me to prove to them what I can do and show them what I can do.”
So what does that exactly entail?
“My first few years or so, I’ll probably be more of a three-and-D guy—stretch the floor, play defense make hustle plays, rebound the ball, things like that,” Gates said. “But as I’mma grow, (I’ll) look to expand on my game. Maybe work out the pick-and-roll a little bit and expand from there.”
Thus far, the 6-foot-8, 228-pounder has reportedly worked out for multiple organizations, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. He is enjoying the draft process and his growth as a player since it started.
He may not be listed on some draft boards or seen as an impact player by certain individuals, but Gates knows what he’s made of. And if he can attract the right set of eyes, he’ll be in good shape.
“You could get 30 workouts and that one team could fall in love with you,” Gates said.
“That’s what [my agent] Aaron Turner’s always talking to me about. He’s always said, ‘It only takes one team.’”