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NBA PM: Lakers Show Optimism About Upcoming Season

Lakers players, both old and new, expressing plenty of optimism about the upcoming season, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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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.

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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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