Connect with us

NBA

Lakers’ Jim Buss On Free Agency, Luke Walton, More

Eric Pincus chats with Lakers part owner Jim Buss about hiring Luke Walton, free agency and the team’s future.

Eric Pincus

Published

on

The Los Angeles Lakers recently announced an agreement to hire former Golden State Warriors assistant Luke Walton to a multi-year contract as their head coach.

Out of respect for the Warriors, Lakers part owner and executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss was reluctant to talk about Walton at length, but was happy to praise him for his performance as Golden State’s interim coach earlier in the season.

“He was thrust into a situation.  People might say, ‘Anyone could coach Golden State with their roster.’  No you couldn’t have,” said Buss in a phone interview with Basketball Insiders.  “There’s a lot of pressure in that.  There’s a lot of preparation for that.”

Walton posted a 39-4 record while Steve Kerr was sidelined with a back injury.

“It seemed like he had an incredible handle on relationships with players – how to build them, how to build trust and culture,” Buss continued.

Eleven days after the Lakers’ 17-65 season, their worst in franchise history, the team let go of Byron Scott, whose 38 wins over two years with the franchise is one short of the number Walton won on Kerr’s behalf.

“It was a fair amount of time,” said Buss on Scott’s dismissal.  “There was a lot to go through before that decision was made.  I’m not going to have a knee-jerk reaction because everybody says, ‘You won 17 games, he’s got to go.’  I made a promise to sit with him and [general manager] Mitch [Kupchak] and give him a fair shake.”

While the Lakers were deliberating, Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks signed deals to coach the Minnesota Timberwolves and Washington Wizards, respectively. Neither was higher than Walton on the Lakers’ list of candidates.  An excellent interview sealed it, and Walton was hired the following day.

Of course, Walton will be joining the Lakers without All-Stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Instead, the Lakers have developing prospects D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson.  Clarkson will be a restricted free agent in July, but the team expects him to re-sign.

Buss also listed forward Larry Nance Jr. and veteran guard Lou Williams as building blocks for the future.

“There’s five to me – solid, core players we can work with and build on,” said Buss.  “I like Marcelo [Huertas], I think in the right system he might be a good fit.”

Huertas, who just finished his rookie NBA season as a 32-year-old after playing most of his career overseas, can also be a restricted free agent this summer.

Buss was also happy with veteran big man Brandon Bass, who may opt out of $3.1 million owed for the 2016-17 season to explore free agency.

“And Tarik Black, I like him.  He could be a rotational player,” said Buss of the second-year forward, yet another potential restricted free agent.

The next milestone for the Lakers will be on May 17, when the NBA holds its draft lottery.  The team has a 55.8 percent chance at a top-three pick, otherwise their selection will convey to the Philadelphia 76ers to close out the Steve Nash trade.

Walton may get help in the draft, perhaps with a forward like Ben Simmons of LSU or Brandon Ingram of Duke.

“Right now, I think our young guys are the perfect number and we will add solid veterans,” said Buss.

With Kobe Bryant retiring, Roy Hibbert’s contract coming off the team’s books and the NBA’s salary cap jumping this summer from $70 million to a projected $92 million, the Lakers could have in the neighborhood of $60 million in spending power.

The top free agents will be Kevin Durant, who is unrestricted, and LeBron James, who can opt out his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Either would be a boon to the Lakers, but neither should be expected.

Other quality free agents include guards DeMar DeRozan and Mike Conley, big men Hassan Whiteside, Al Horford and Joakim Noah, and forwards Nicolas Batum, Ryan Anderson, Kent Bazemore and Chandler Parsons (who has a player option with the Dallas Mavericks) among others.

Restricted free agents are generally more challenging to acquire, with standouts like center Andre Drummond, forward Harrison Barnes and guard Bradley Beal atop the list.

Buss hopes the Lakers will have greater success in persuading players to sign, compared to the past couple of summers, when the team could only boast unproven rookies and an aging Bryant.

“In the last two years, we had nothing to sell,” said Buss.  “Trust me, it’s a whole different feeling when you walk into one of those pitches and we have a lot [more on the roster and cap room to add additional talent].”

The Lakers could have started the rebuilding effort after Bryant tore his Achilles’ tendon in April of 2013.  Instead, the team awarded their long-time All-Star with a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension.

“We could have expedited the rebuild, but I have no regrets,” said Buss of the Lakers’ decision to pay Bryant.  “We have a tradition here of taking care of our players.”

Meanwhile, the rival Boston Celtics pulled the plug on their championship core earlier, dealing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets in June of 2013. The Celtics are well ahead of the Lakers, winning 48 games this past season before falling in six games in the first round of the playoffs to the Atlanta Hawks.

“Boston did a great job because they also got a young coach that got to grow with their guys,” said Buss of head coach Brad Stevens.  “When you have a coach that can grow with you, that’s pretty nice.”

That’s what the Lakers believe they have in Walton.

Buss also hopes the Lakers will be well past this rebuilding stage soon thanks to their young core and the pieces they add this summer (be it through the draft, free agency or trades).

“That’s bottom,” said Buss off the team’s most recent campaign.  “Seventeen is the low, that’s for sure.”

The Lakers originally drafted Walton as a forward out of Arizona in 2003 with the 32nd overall pick.  He spent over eight seasons with the Lakers, winning two NBA titles.

At just 36 years old, Walton is younger than a sizable list of active players including Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Manu Ginobili, Jason Terry and both Pierce and Garnett.

Now, he’ll leave the best regular season team in NBA history, boasting a 73-9 record, to join a Lakers franchise coming off a painful 17-win campaign.

It’s a leap of faith for Walton, just as it is for the Lakers, but the team is confident they’ve made the right hire.

Now it’s up to Buss and Kupchak, armed with more cap room in July than any other franchise, to build a roster that Walton can develop into a contender.

Eric Pincus is a Senior Writer for Basketball Insiders, with a focus on the business side of the game.

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NBA DAILY

NBA Daily: Pelicans Might Be Better Off Without DeMarcus Cousins

Without DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis has excelled. It might not be a coincidence.

Moke Hamilton

Published

on

Forget Kawhi Leonard, the most interesting storyline of this NBA summer is going to be DeMarcus Cousins.

By now, if you’ve wondered whether the New Orleans Pelicans would be better off without the talented big man, you’re certainly not alone.

Just ask the Portland Trail Blazers.

On Saturday, the Pelicans pulled off an improbable sweep of the third-seeded Blazers in the first round of their best-of-seven playoff series. And while the immediate question that comes to mind is what to make of the Blazers, a similar question can be (and should be) asked of the Pelicans.

Without question, Cousins is one of the most gifted big men the NBA has sen in quite some time, but it shouldn’t be lost on any of us that Anthony Davis began to put forth superhuman efforts when Cousins was absent.

Ever heard the saying that too many cooks spoil the brew?

That may be pricisely the case here.

Sure, having good players at your disposal is a problem that most head coach in the league would sign up for, but it takes a special type of player to willingly cede touches and shots in the name of the best interests of the team.

We once had a similar conversation about Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, mind you. Those that recognized that Westbrook’s ball dominance and inefficiency took opportunities away from Durant to be the best version of himself once believed that the Oklahoma City Thunder would have been wise to pitch Westbrook to New Orleans back when Chris Paul was still manning their perimeter.

For what it’s worth, with Cousins in the lineup, he averaged 18 shots per game. In the 48 games he played this season, the Pelicans were 27-21. With him in the lineup, Davis shot the ball 17.6 times per game and scored 26.5 points per contest.

In the 34 games the Pelicans played without Cousins, Davis’ shot attempts increased fairly significantly. He got 21.9 attempts per contest and similarly increased his scoring output to 30.2 points per game.

Aside from that, Cousins’ presence in the middle made it a tad more difficult for Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday to have the pace and space they need to be most effective. With both Davis and Cousins, the Pelicans struggled to consistently string together wins. Without Cousins, they improbably became the first team in the Western Conference to advance to the second round.

That Cousins tore his achilles tendon and is just a few months from becoming an unrestricted free agent combine to make him the most interesting man in the NBA.

* * * * * *

With Chris Paul having decided that the grass was probably greener with James Harden and Mike D’Antoni than it was with Doc Rivers and Blake Griffin, the Clippers fulfilled his request to be trade to the Houston Rockets and re-signed Griffin to a five-year max. deal. In doing so, they both gave Griffin a stark reminder of what life in the NBA is like and provided a blueprint for teams to follow when they have a superstar player with whom they believe to have run their course.

The glass half full perspective might be that Davis has simply become a better, healthier, more effective player and that with Cousins, he would have another weapon that could help catapult the Pelicans ever further toward the top of the Western Conference. But the half-empty glass might yield another conclusion.

At the end of the day, although he still hasn’t appeared in a single playoff game, Cousins is regarded as a game-changing talent and is one of the few players available on the free agency market this summer that could justify an annual average salary of $30 million. In all likelihood, the Pelicans will re-sign him for a sum that approaches that, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best move.

In the end, the Clippers traded Griffin for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, a first round pick and a second round pick. All things considered, it was a great haul for the Clippers when you consider that, just a few months prior, they could have lost Griffin as a free agent and gotten nothing in return.

Remarkably, after seeing Griffin dealt to Detroit, in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on a collision course with the Golden State Warriors. Their health a constant concern, the team will have to deal with the pesky perimeter defense of Holiday and Rondo and versatility and two-way effectiveness of Davis.

Nobody gave New Orleans a chance against Portland, and for sure, not many people are going to believe in their ability to score an upset over the defending champions. But believe it or not, New Orleans has become a different team. And they’ve done so without Cousins.

Indeed, believe it or not, the Clippers gave us a blueprint for what a team should do when it has a superstar who might not be the best long-term fit for their program.

And if the Pelicans were wise, they’d be smart to follow it.

Continue Reading

NBA

NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams

This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.

Dennis Chambers

Published

on

This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.

As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.

With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.

Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.

Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.

With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.

However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?

Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.

Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.

In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.

So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.

However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.

Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.

At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.

Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.

For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.

On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.

With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.

Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.

Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.

Continue Reading

NBA

Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success

The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

Published

on

The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.

The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.

Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.

He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.

“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”

It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.

Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.

“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”

The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.

This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.

“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”

Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.

While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.

“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”

Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.

For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.

“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”

These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.

This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.

“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

The Strictly Speaking Podcast

Advertisement

Trending Now