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Lakers: Fix It Now Or Fix It Later

Uncertainty abound as fans of the L.A. Lakers search for answers. Which direction should the Lakers go in from here?

Jabari Davis

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Even though much of the Los Angeles Lakers’ fanbase appeared to favor a return to the franchise in some form or fashion for Phil Jackson, his ultimate hiring by the New York Knicks had to finally provide a sense of closure. Not that seeing the 13-time champion (11 as a coach, two as a member of the Knicks) casually take his talents back to familiar stomping grounds was the preferred outcome of most, but no longer having Jackson as a viable option at least gives them the ability to finally move on. Whether fans like it or not, the fate of their future still rests in the hands of owner Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak.

The truth is, while certain moves have eventually backfired, as is the case with most front offices if placed under a similar microscope, that duo has been the driving force behind the day-to-day basketball operations for the better part of the past decade. While the late, great Dr. Jerry Buss was obviously around for the final approval on certain larger deals and plans, they are more than capable of putting together the type of competitive roster that might restore some good faith among some of the more invested and dedicated fans the league has. The unprecedented amount of cap space and flexibility the Lakers will have over the next few seasons gives them financial flexibility they haven’t had in quite some time.

For the first time in many years, the Lakers will not only have what could eventually be a top-five lottery pick, but they also have the freedom to essentially press the proverbial “reset” button with 11 of the current players coming up as either free agents or having non-guaranteed contracts for 2014-15. Basically, while there is a certain amount of discomfort with all of the uncertainty and unanswered questions, at least they finally have options.

Before looking to reshape the roster, a choice has to be made regarding the head coaching position and preferred philosophy moving forward. By no means is that intended to be a jab at Mike D’Antoni, who has unfortunately taken the brunt of the anger and outrage from many of the fans. The reality is, while there are definitely some fair questions regarding his flexibility and willingness to adjust at times, this season’s injury-spree had little if anything to do with D’Antoni’s approach.

That said, while no one enjoys speculating about someone’s job, it would be naïve and even irresponsible (as an analyst) not to acknowledge the fact that the “perfect fit” Lakers’ management may have anticipated simply has not come to fruition regardless of the reasons behind it. When you take Kobe Bryant’s eventual return and the fact that rumors of a potential Pau Gasol return at a somewhat discounted rate have begun to surface, the writing may prove to be on the wall for D’Antoni.

Once they’ve made a decision about their preferred basketball identity, June’s NBA Draft is an absolute “can’t miss” situation for this team. Guys like Kansas’ Joel Embiid and Australia’s Dante Exum have made it clear Los Angeles is a place they would consider a good fit, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the right selection for this team’s most immediate needs. If D’Antoni were to stay in place, then perhaps Duke’s Jabari Parker would be the right fit. Already a gifted scorer in several ways, Parker is also the type of versatile and interchangeable player D’Antoni loves playing anywhere from power forward to shooting guard.

Although Embiid has shown great potential in somewhat of a surprise freshman season for Kansas, concerns over his health and durability have already started to circulate. Embiid may eventually go on to have a magnificent NBA career at some point, but teams cannot be faulted for wanting to make absolutely certain about his back before mortgaging so much of their future hopes on him.

After nearly a year of being considered a “guaranteed lock” for the No. 1 pick as a high school senior, Andrew Wiggins not only willingly shared the Kansas spotlight during that early season outbreak from Embiid, but also played better than some might realize. Wiggins was still able to not only lead a strong and balanced Kansas scoring attack (17.1 PPG), but also appears to have the makings of an excellent perimeter defender. His upside remains the highest of any prospect at this point. Teams that pass on him with one of the top picks may rue the day when articles are written about this upcoming draft years from now.

Opinions may differ on the ultimate potential of any of these prospects, but the fact remains the Lakers absolutely need a home run with the pick.

Not only are they in serious need of an influx of young talent with star potential, they are currently without any picks in the 2015 draft barring another catastrophic season. Their first-round selection is only top-five protected as a result of the deal that brought Steve Nash in from the Phoenix Suns, while their 2015 second-round pick is owed to the Orlando Magic as a result of the deal that brought Dwight Howard in for a season.

Speaking of Nash, while many automatically presumed the Lakers would utilize the NBA’s ‘stretch’ provision in order to spread his salary out over the upcoming three seasons, there are a growing number of people who believe they might actually hold on to the 40-year-old point guard and permit him to play out his contract so that it is removed from their payroll all at once. Another potential outcome to consider is that Nash will also be an expiring contract next season, and could eventually be an appealing asset to a team looking for 2015 cap relief. Whether the Lakers allow his contract to expire themselves or look to move him in a scenario of that nature, he actually becomes more valuable in his third and final season than he has been for in L.A. at any point prior.

The next decision comes in determining which potential free agency class looks more appealing, 2014 or 2015? While Carmelo Anthony and several other large names could potentially opt-out and look for greener pastures elsewhere this summer, there is a growing amount of concern over whether those players ultimately terminate their contracts and whether this front office currently possesses the ability to “sell” them on playing in Los Angeles.

Acknowledging how crazy that last statement would have sounded just a few years ago, the history and glory of yesteryear appear to have less of an impact with at least a percentage of players these days. Not that Los Angeles is no longer a desirable destination for many, but those remaining are too stubborn to realize there are plenty of viable alternative options for players. They need to take the same ‘long look’ in the mirror at themselves as the Lakers’ front office had to once Howard left for Houston last summer.

Again, the Lakers have been able to pull themselves out of dark times in the past, but it simply hasn’t been and will not be quite as easy at this point given the restrictive nature of the CBA and the current lack of a young star. Of course, they could very well end up finding a way to convince a player of Anthony’s caliber to join them, but his signing would likely all but remove them from the eventual Kevin Love sweepstakes entirely.

That fact alone, regardless of how realistic landing Love may actually be, leads us to think the actual plan is to fully re-stock in the summer of 2015 rather than this upcoming July. Love is eligible to be a free agent after 2014-15, and has expressed a strong desire to compete in the playoffs and ultimately for titles as some of his contemporaries have already done. His productivity, marketability as a fun-loving guy and UCLA ties are why he is seen as tailor-made for the purple and gold.

If Love is still in the plans, the Lakers might find themselves in a bidding war with teams like Golden State or Phoenix for his services. Not that it has been reported either of them are officially interested in the 25-year-old son of former-Laker Stan Love, but those are teams where he would also fit well and they have plenty of assets to offer Minnesota in terms of draft picks and young players.

Kyrie Irving and Rajon Rondo are also guys the Lakers could ultimately be interested in as players to build around for the future. Rondo’s name has been attached to rumors involving the Lakers for years, and it appears Boston may be willing to finally part ways with the four-time All-Star as they continue to re-shape their own roster.

Irving would appear to be a long-shot unless he were to decline the extension Cleveland will undoubtedly offer this summer and play on a qualifying offer, a risky proposition. As much as we like to think things have changed with the modern athlete, some of us still need to see that phenomenon actually take place before we can believe it. Conventional wisdom would say a potential $100 million contract is simply too much to turn down, but in the hypothetical event where the 21-year-old eventually did, Cleveland would then have no choice but to explore the potential market for him. In this event, again, the Lakers would likely have plenty of competition. It’s possible that Irving could sign the extension and then demand a trade from Cleveland in the near future, but it remains to be seen what will happen with Irving and the Cavs.

Crazier things have happened with Kupchak and Buss in the past (e.g. Pau Gasol’s 2008 deal), but a 2015 plan seems more likely as time passes and things continue to develop.

If they were to go in that direction, the current players most likely to be retained could very well be determined by both the existing market for each player and the direction the organization wants to pursue. If D’Antoni were to return, the likelihood of players like Gasol, Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman returning would seemingly decrease. Guys like Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly or even the recently acquired Kent Bazemore are the types of players that have traditionally excelled in his preferred style.

If they were to go with an approach that required more balance or even a preference toward post play, then the organization could look to retain one or more of those three big men at the right price. Either way, unless offered deals from other teams that would price them out of the Lakers’ range with 2015 and beyond in mind, expect guys like Meeks, Wesley Johnson, Kendall Marshall and perhaps a couple others to return regardless of whether they spend the bulk of their money on a free agent this year.

Most fans of the Lakers don’t want to hear about patience at a time like this, but the reality is now is the exact time when it is most necessary. They didn’t get to this point in one day, and the front office won’t be able to turn things around overnight. It simply doesn’t work that way, and anyone that has been a fan long enough would know just that.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts

David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.

David Yapkowitz

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Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.

Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.

Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.

With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.

1. Christian Wood

Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.

His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.

2. Jameel Warney

Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.

With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.

3. Melo Trimble

After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.

He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.

4. Joel Bolomboy

Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.

At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.

5. Jeremy Evans

Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.

With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.

Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.

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NBA Daily: Potential Trade Targets to Get the Sixers to the Playoffs

On the cusp of a playoff appearance for the first time in six years, the Philadelphia 76ers could cement their postseason status with a move at the trade deadline.

Dennis Chambers

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At times this season, the Philadelphia 76ers look like they’re capable of going toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best teams. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at their disposal, along with capable three-point shooters, the Sixers have shown flashes of being a force to be reckoned with.

And at other times, well, they look like a discombobulated young team, with serious flaws in the construction of its roster.

Despite the lapses they display, the Sixers are still right in the thick of the playoff race. Currently, at 21-20, they hold a half-game advantage over the Detroit Pistons for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference.

While they await the return of top overall pick Markelle Fultz, who has still yet to hit the court after being shut down earlier this season with a shoulder injury, the Sixers will continue to miss depth on the wing and a particular skill set that holds them back from winning games they seem to have locked up with double-digit leads. For all the greatness that is Embiid, and all of the promise that is Simmons, when the former isn’t on the court, the latter struggles to shoulder the scoring load due to his inability to shoot jump shots.

Initially, that’s what Fultz was drafted for. A player that head coach Brett Brown has said many times before, has the talent to tie everything together with the Sixers’ roster. What he means by that is Fultz represents a scorer from multiple levels of the court who forces the defense to lock in on, potentially leaving the teams’ shooters open on the wing.

Without Fultz, and when Embiid is on the bench, the team lacks a player who can put the ball on the floor, create and knock down jumpers. Although long-term success is still very much the attention for Philadelphia, that doesn’t discount the fact that a team that finished with 10 wins just two seasons ago is on the verge of making a playoff appearance for the first time since 2011-12 with a core of young, promising players.

Because of that possibility, and because of the clear holes in team’s makeup that could prevent this from happening, the Sixers could become an interesting player at the trade deadline — especially considering the names that appear available, according to reports.

It’s no secret that Sixers’ president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo wants to keep financial flexibility heading into this summer, that’s the main reason players like J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson were signed to one-year deals last offseason. Before the team has to start signing their own players to big extensions, the Sixers are in a unique position where they not only have elite homegrown talent, but the money to complement those players the best they can. Because of that, any deal that would return a player with money on the books past this season seems unlikely.

That being said, it just so happens that two players potentially on the trading block right now fulfill the Sixers’ most crucial need, and also aren’t on the hook for money past this year. Marc Stein of The New York Times reported that Rodney Hood could be moved before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, and that multiple teams are expressing interest in his services.

Along with Hood, Stein also reported that Lou Williams, who’s been the center of many trade talks around the league given his career-year and impending free agent status, was involved in specific discussions that would send him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What should intrigue the Sixers about these two players is not only their ability on the court but also their flexibility off of it.

Let’s start with Hood. Before the rise of Donovan Mitchell this season, Hood looked to be in a position to assume the role as the dominant scorer on the Utah Jazz following Gordon Hayward’s departure. At just 25 years old and in the final year of his rookie contract, Hood may not be worth the price tag for Utah this summer considering their find with Mitchell.

Should the Jazz actually move on from Hood, it’s unclear what they would ask for in return at this point. Yes, Hood his an impending free agent, which could diminish his value. But the team trading for him would assume his Bird Rights, therefore giving them a better shot at retaining him this summer should they choose to do so.

The best part about his potential fit in Philadelphia is that he fits the timeline of the rebuild while also addressing a need in the present. Being just 25, Hood fits alongside the core of Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, Dario Saric and Robert Covington as a young player. If the Sixers were to miss out on whoever they were planning to target with their financial flexibility this summer, Hood would still be there to plug in for years with a contract extension.

Shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc this season, and displaying the track record of being able to fill up the score sheet, Hood could become the go-to-scorer for Philadelphia when Embiid isn’t on the court, or late in games when they need to stop an opposing team’s run.

While he appears to at least be on the table as of now, Hood is certainly worth checking in on from the Sixers’ standpoint.

Now, onto Williams. Drafted by Philadelphia all the back in 2005 with the 45th overall pick, Williams is enjoying the best season of his career for the Los Angeles Clippers. At 31, he doesn’t represent the long-term upside that Hood does, but for this season alone, bringing Williams on to this current Sixers’ roster could be that extra jolt to get them cleanly into the postseason.

Averaging 23 points per game and shooting 41 percent from downtown, Williams fits the role as an iso-scorer better than any player on the Sixers’ current roster. Alongside Simmons and Embiid, Williams could assume the role Fultz was supposed to this season.

Another interesting ripple to the potential Williams fit is that he was on the last Sixers’ roster to make the playoffs. Adding him to this roster would bring his career full circle. This summer, Williams is most likely going to test the market and given his age and potential price tag he may not fit so well into the Sixers’ plans moving forward. But with his history with the club and city, getting him on board for another playoff run with an exciting young team could arguably help in the negotiation process this offseason.

Neither of these potential trades are slam dunks, and it remains to be seen if either player will even be moved. But for where the Sixers stand currently, coupled with their growing postseason expectations, checking in around the league on trade targets that can fulfill obvious needs should be at the forefront of Colangelo’s agenda for the next few weeks.

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Payton Blocking Out Trade Talk, Believes Magic Will Turn It Around

Spencer Davies sits down with Elfrid Payton to discuss his fourth year, trade rumors and a trying season for Orlando in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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It’s hard for a team to look for positives when it’s living in the basement.

The Orlando Magic have had a rough go of it this year. They’re 13-32 at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they’ve have had a ton of setbacks, and they currently rank 29th in the NBA in defensive rating.

There is a bright spot hidden in there, though, and head coach Frank Vogel sees it growing as the season progresses.

“We’re frustrated with our record, but we’re encouraged with the development we’ve had with our young players,” Vogel said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “Aaron Gordon, Mario [Hezonja], and [Elfrid Payton] have all had strong individual seasons and continue to get better. All those guys are improving individually and at some point, it’s gonna lead to more Ws.”

While Gordon stands out more to some than the others because of his star appeal, Payton is right up there with him as far as making the next step goes.

“Elfrid’s shooting the ball better from the perimeter and at the rim,” Vogel said. “He’s worked on his left hand. He’s worked on his floaters. Shooting 52 percent from the field and that’s pretty darn good for a point guard, and the 39 percent from the three as well.”

Those are your more traditional statistics that don’t address the leap he’s taken in efficiency. Sure, Payton’s scoring the same amount of points per game, but it’s the way he’s been getting that’s been most noticeable.

According to Basketball-Reference and NBA.com, he’s making nearly 70 percent of his tries between 0-3 feet and ranks third among point guards in restricted field goal percentage (min. four attempts).

But Payton doesn’t like to evaluate himself using numbers, so he doesn’t know how to feel about how he’s played for Orlando this year.

“It’s tough to say because I like to measure my success by winning and we haven’t been doing that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “So tough to say.”

He’s not kidding. Since starting out the season 8-4, the Magic have taken a hard fall, only winning five games since November 10. In this stretch, there have been three hefty losing streaks—two 9-game slides and most recently a 7-game skid.

“Not to make excuses—we had a lot of injuries,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of what happened. “Haven’t really been playing with the group of guys that we started the season with, so kinda derailed us a little bit.”

As the losses pile up, so does the chatter. Indicated by multiple recent reports, Orlando has made it clear that many players on the roster are available on the trade block. Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja, and Payton were recently brought up as names who could possibly on the move if the right deal presents itself.

When asked about the rumblings, Vogel claimed he doesn’t have a message for his guys.

“They understand it’s part of the business,” he said. “Just focus on playing the game.”

Like his coach, Payton doesn’t have a reaction to the noise.

“I don’t get caught up into the things like that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Today I’m an Orlando Magic. I play for the Orlando Magic and I’m gonna give them 100 percent of me. I’m somebody that likes to finish what I started, so I definitely would like to see this through and try to turn this organization around.”

So who does he see on this team that can help jump-start the process in flipping the script?

“Everybody,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I like Vuc. I like AG. Evan [Fournier] is somebody who can fill it up. T Ross is somebody who can fill it up when healthy. I think we have a lot of talent on this team. Even the rookies—Wes [Iwundu] plays well for us in stretches. Jon [Isaac] when he was playing he’d do well.

“You could see the potential there. So I think we have a lot of weapons on this team. I’m very confident in the group we have here. I think we have a lot of talent, we just have to do it.”

Saying you’re going to right the ship is one thing. Actually doing it is a whole other challenge. With where the Magic sit in the standings currently, their work is cut out for them. That being said, Payton isn’t giving up.

In fact, he’s still got his eyes on making it to the postseason, and it starts with him.

“Definitely trying to get a run going,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Make a playoff push. It’s definitely not out of sight right now, especially with the way the East is. We win a few games and we right back in the thick of things.

“Do whatever I can to help us to get more wins, man. I think that’s what it all boils down to. I figure if I’m playing well, that means we’re winning for the most part.”

Defense matters the most, and it’s something Payton and his group know they need to get better at if they have a chance to play past mid-April.

“Just be tied in together a little bit more,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I think sometimes we have too many breakdowns on the backside. So just being more in-tune with each other.”

One thing is for sure—Orlando is going through this difficult time as a team, but refuses to fold. Payton says Vogel has constantly stayed in their ears with uplifting advice.

“Keep fighting,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of his words. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. No one’s gonna feel sorry for you, so just keep fighting.”

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