Earlier today, several NBA teams hosted their annual media day, which signals that the upcoming NBA season is right around the corner. One of those teams was the Los Angeles Lakers, who arguably have more to look forward to this upcoming season than they’ve had in several years.
The Lakers are building a path to long-term success, which is based heavily around Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. With a building core of young talent, expiring contracts and strong signings, like the addition of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers have several options in how to move forward. The team can continue to nurture this talent and build organically or it can be aggressive and make the necessary deals to be in position to land top-level stars this season or in free agency next summer.
The biggest name most often mentioned as a potential Laker is Los Angeles native Paul George. The hope for the Lakers is that George, who was acquired by the Thunder earlier this offseason, fails to find the requisite success necessary to convince him to re-sign in Oklahoma City and, as a free agent, decides to sign with the Lakers next summer.
George spoke at Oklahoma City’s media day and stated his approval of the Thunder organization, which pulled off a deal to acquire forward Carmelo Anthony this past weekend.
“It’s Year One and (the Thunder have) proven, and I haven’t even gone through a season yet, and they’ve already proven everything on my checklist I can check off,” George stated per Sam Amick of USA Today. “That’s what feels good. That’s what makes me feel like, ‘Hey, this can be a landing spot for me and somewhere I can call home for years.’”
Lakers fans and those within the organization will surely keep a close watch on George and his situation in Oklahoma City. If the Thunder put together an unexpectedly good season and develop high-level chemistry, that could prevent George from taking his talents to Los Angeles. Another thing to note in this equation is the enormous bill it will cost Oklahoma City to keep Westbrook, Carmelo and George past this season. Oklahoma City isn’t likely to invest the sort of money necessary to keep these three together if the team falls short of expectations this season or if these three talented players experience internal discord. However, if today is any indication, the Thunder may have a better chance of retaining George beyond this year than most predicted when they traded for him.
Beyond George, the Lakers have plenty to be excited about heading into this season. The Lakers bring back a lot of young talent in players like Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Ingram and Jordan Clarkson.
Clarkson was asked questions regarding his thoughts on the Lakers’ upcoming season, his role and his mentality.
“Coming off the bench, I’ve worked hard, a lot this summer, trying to change my mentality,” Clarkson said. “Even taking this whole NBA career life, putting in that work.”
Clarkson went on to address what he worked on the most in the offseason.
“I would say, mostly my left hand. That left side of the court just to being able to get to stuff. I’ve seen my numbers and seen how effective I’m not on that side of the floor, just something I wanted to look at and get better.”
Clarkson had the chance to start last season and play the point guard spot as Coach Luke Walton experimented with different linups at the end of the season. Clarkson was specifically asked if he was more comfortable in the sixth man role.
“Yeah, for sure,” Clarkson said. “It being stated (that I would be coming off the bench) and talking to coach, and stuff like that. Just having that already going in. You know, not knowing your role and stuff like that. Definitely, something that is a little more comfortable.”
At age 25, Clarkson is one of the older players in the Lakers’ young core. His defense has been an issue in the past, which needs to be addressed this season.
One player who should be particularly helpful on defense for the Lakers this upcoming season is Brook Lopez, who was acquired in the deal that sent D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets.
Lopez spoke about growing up as a Lakers fan and whether playing for the team was something he had dreamed of.
“It is (a dream come true) being from North Hollywood, a Cali boy,” Lopez said. “You grew up a Lakers fan, hardcore Lakers fan. So, it’s a trip for me, you know? It’s an honor and I’m thrilled to be here.”
Lopez also spoke about the team’s potential for the upcoming season and the team’s issues on defense.
“(There is) so much potential, you know, looking at the group we have. It’s such an exciting, electric group.” Lopez said. “(I’m) excited to be a veteran and help lead them.
“I’ve been on teams where they talk about it and teams where they back it up. You can kind of tell who the talkers are and who the players are.”
With Lopez anchoring the team’s defense, the Lakers have the means to become a league average defensive team or better. While the Lakers have considerable young talent, they’ll need to show significant improvement on defense in order to find any sort of success this upcoming season. The team knows it and should benefit from having a veteran like Lopez to lean on.
Another player that should help shore up the Lakers’ defense is guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who agreed to a one-year, $18 million contract to join Los Angeles this offseason.
Caldwell-Pope was asked about the circumstances surrounding his signing.
“The Lakers came with an offer. It was an offer that had everyone backed off” Caldwell-Pope said. “It was really the only offer we had on the table. When I had the meeting with them before, I felt like it was an easy decision for me and my family.”
Caldwell-Pope was also asked what role Coach Walton has in mind for him.
“Just come in, play defense, be a leader for this team even though I’m just a 24-year-old. But you know just be a leader,” he said. “Just run the floor, he wants to play fast, I feel like I’m the best fit for that on this team.”
The topic returned to defense and Caldwell-Pope touched on the same themes Lopez had.
“Just going out and doing it. Actions speak louder than words,” Caldwell-Pope said. “So just by going out and playing hard each and every possession. And just showing everyone what to do on defense. You know, I make mistakes but I play hard. Just by doing that, it can be contagious.”
Caldwell-Pope was asked if he thought he was an underrated player.
“Yes, yes I do,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I think I have more to my game than people say.”
Caldwell-Pope will surely be motivated to show those in and around the league what he is capable of after finding a disappointing market in free agency this offseason. However, those circumstances led Caldwell-Pope to the Lakers, where he will be featured in a prominent role. If he exceeds expectations and helps the Lakers take a step forward in their collective development, he should find strong interest in his services next summer.
Whether talking to one of the Lakers’ young new comers or one of the team’s more tenured veterans, there seems to be genuine excitement surrounding this team – something that couldn’t definitively be said in previous seasons. With the addition of Lonzo Ball, the addition of veterans like Lopez and Caldwell-Pope and another year of development before potentially going after some of the league’s biggest stars in free agency, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about the Lakers’ future.
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.