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D’Angelo Russell Taking the Lakers’ Reins?

The Lakers are putting D’Angelo Russell in position to succeed and become Los Angeles’ next franchise player.

Oliver Maroney

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The Los Angeles Lakers had a disappointing 2015-16 campaign. After winning 21 games just two years ago, the team entered last season with the hope of competing at a somewhat higher level in the Western Conference. However, rather than returning to form, the Lakers would win just 17 contests and the season would be remembered as Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour.

While all of the losing has been extremely tough for a franchise and fan base accustomed to contending, one of the bright spots has been the arrival and production of D’Angelo Russell. The Lakers selected Russell with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and are hoping to turn the reins of the franchise over to the talented guard.

The Lakers’ struggles were difficult for Russell to deal with and there’s no question that he made mistakes – on and off the court. However, he’s learned from them and all signs point to a breakout sophomore season for the 20-year-old.

Bryant’s minutes and touches are now up for grabs, the short leash that former head coach Byron Scott had Russell on is gone and the young guard now has a solid year of NBA experience under his belt.

All things considered, it’s not like Russell struggled to produce as a rookie. He developed throughout the year and showed glimpses of brilliance that suggest he can take the torch from Bryant as the Lakers’ next superstar.

Russell averaged 13.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.2 steals in 28.2 minutes per game, which earned him a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team. Perhaps most importantly, he showed drastic improvement from the first half of his rookie campaign to the second half. In the 27 games after the All-Star break, he was even more comfortable and effective – averaging 15.1 points while shooting 38.9 percent from three-point range. Consider the behind-the-scenes dysfunction that was taking place during this time and the stats are even more impressive.

russell_iceNow, Russell is hoping to pick up right where he left off. During Summer League in July, he did just that. In four games in Las Vegas, Russell averaged a very impressive 21.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, four assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. He also hit a game-winning three-pointer to beat the Philadelphia 76ers – providing further proof that he does, indeed, have ice in his veins.

“D’Angelo had a terrific Summer League,” Lakers teammate Larry Nance Jr. told Basketball Insiders. “In my opinion, he belonged on the All-NBA Summer League First Team.”

As if his second-half stats and Summer League dominance weren’t encouraging enough, other signs point to Russell having a breakout year as well. The departure of Scott opened the door for new head coach Luke Walton, whose player-friendly style and up-tempo system should be perfect for Russell. Because Russell has an extremely high basketball IQ, impressive versatility and the ability to score efficiently from anywhere on the court, Coach Walton should have no trouble finding ways to attack opponents with his point guard. Walton will put Russell in situations where he can succeed and should help him maximize his potential as he continues to develop.

“[Coach Walton] hasn’t really put his system in yet, but you can tell as far as the Warriors and his background that it’s about ball movement, team defense and having fun,” Russell told Basketball Insiders. “You look at that and it’s exciting.”

In addition to Walton, the Lakers also brought in a number of other new pieces who should make a difference in Russell’s second year. The team drafted No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram and signed veteran free agents like Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, Jose Calderon and Yi Jianlian to serve as complementary pieces. It seems clear that the Lakers are trying to build around their young core, with Russell at the top of the pyramid.

“This offseason has been great,” Russell said. “I’ve had an opportunity to really get in the gym, meet the new coaching staff and my new teammates. Getting that chemistry built early has been a huge plus. I’m also working on a lot of things to improve my game – mainly with my consistency on jump-shots, floaters and finishing around the rim.

“We got so many young guys, so sprinkling in those veteran guys is what we need. They’ll show us the proper guidance and show us the ropes. A lot of those guys have multiple years [of experience] in the playoffs and they know what it takes. We don’t really know anything – we haven’t really done anything – so having those guys is going to be very good.”

Even though it seems that the Lakers are building around him and preparing him to be the organization’s cornerstone, Russell is staying humble and focused on becoming even more of a team player. When asked if he sees himself as a franchise player, Russell avoided anointing himself as such.

“That’s something that chooses you, you can’t just go after that,” Russell said of being a franchise player. “You can put those accolades on yourself, but in the long-term that’s something that chooses you. I feel like with this team we have, we’ll be successful. Nobody’s saying, ‘You’re going to be the next Kobe…’ My teammates and I just want to be the best team, and that’s all that matters to me.

“I want to be the best point guard for this team and make sure it’s in a winning fashion. For me, it’s always about winning as a team. I just want to grow and improve, game after game.”

As he continues to consistently improve, Russell must find the right balance between setting up his teammates and asserting himself when needed. Every point guard – even the all-time greats – had to learn when to create versus facilitate. Russell’s teammates aren’t concerned about their floor general’s development since they see the hard work he puts in behind the scenes.

“He’s one of my closest friends on the team,” Nance Jr. said of Russell. “He’s already gained my trust and my respect.”

The one-two punch that many fans in Los Angeles are excited to see this season (and for many years going forward) is Russell and Ingram. The duo played together during Summer League and have been working out together in L.A. as they prepare for the upcoming season.

Russell likes what he has seen from the Duke product, but he did caution that the talented rookie will likely have growing pains similar to the ones he experienced last season.

When asked how good he thought Ingram could be, Russell talked about his strong potential, but noted that there will be bumps early on for the young swingman.

“I feel like he’s working his tail off and with the experience he’ll get in his first year, I think we’ll see what he really is next year,” Russell said of Ingram. “The first year is all about getting a feel for the game and knowing what to expect. It’s just like judging a high school kid and saying he’s going to be a good pro; you just can’t know.

“Going through this second Summer League and training camp, I know the sky is the limit. I know what I went through as a rookie and [what it takes to] play point guard at this level. I feel like he’ll go through the same thing this year.”

As Russell noted, his up-and-down rookie season was crucial to his development and maturation process. Now, it sounds he’s like much more comfortable and confident heading into his second NBA season. Because he knows what to expect (including the big L.A. market and lofty expectations that come with being the No. 2 pick), Russell can help Ingram as he gets acclimated to the NBA game and lifestyle.

“That one year of experience did a lot for me,” Russell admitted. “It just gave me a better blueprint of what my game is capable of [being]. It helped me recognize when I could get my shot and how I could get myself going.”

With some of those lessons learned, Russell is excited for the new year. The new-look Lakers may not win significantly more games this season, but there’s no question that they’re building a nice foundation for the future.

Russell has everything he could want in Los Angeles: a respected teacher (Walton), an experienced supporting cast (Deng, Mozgov, Calderon, Lou Williams, etc.) and a young core around him (Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac, etc.).

The organization is giving him the resources to be great, and he’s putting in the necessary work to take full advantage of the opportunity. While he’s still just 20 years old and may need some time before he’s ready to grip the reins of the Lakers, we could be looking at the next superstar to don purple and gold.

Oliver Maroney is an NBA writer for Basketball Insiders. He is based in Portland and covers the league as a whole.

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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