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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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NBA Daily: Grayson Allen Ready for NBA Challenge

Making it in the NBA alone is quite an impressive feat, which is why Grayson Allen is doing the best he can to prepare for the big stage.

Matt John

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Grayson Allen may not be the most hyped-up prospect to come out of this year’s draft, but he is one of the more experienced rookies coming into the league this season.

Allen spent four years learning under the tutelage of Coach K at Duke University while also playing with the likes of Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, and Marvin Bagley III. He’s been through it all at the collegiate level, but he knows that if he’s going to make it in the pros, he’s going to have to adapt as quickly as possible.

“I have to set the tone for myself where I have to know playing in the NBA as a rookie, guys are going to be physical with you,” Allen said. “They’re going to come at you, they’re going to test you and see what you got. You’re gonna get beat. You’re gonna fail, but you gotta come right back at ‘em the next time.”

Since debuting in the summer league, Allen’s been the perfect storm for the Jazz. His shooting numbers have not been encouraging, but his numbers across the board have shown how impactful a player he can be. These have been his stat lines in both the Salt Lake and Las Vegas summer leagues.

July 2 vs. San Antonio: 11 points on 4/16 shooting including 2/6 from three, eight rebounds, seven assists
July 5 vs. Atlanta: 9 points on 2/13 shooting including 0/2 from three, six rebounds, eight assists
July 7 vs. Portland: 16 points on 6/17 shooting including 2/9 from three, six rebounds, six assists
July 19 vs. Miami: 17 points on 7/17 shooting including ⅕ from three, seven rebounds, three assists

Maybe it’s been the dry climate, or maybe it’s been the high Utah elevation that has caused Allen’s struggles shooting-wise, but the fact that his all-around game has shined despite his shooting woes should excite the Jazz. After his summer league play, Allen says the biggest adjustment he’s had to make offensively is acclimating himself with the pace of the game.

“Offensively, it’s a lot easier when you slow down,” Allen said. “I’m starting to see the space of the floor a lot better and finding the open guys. There’s still a few plays out there where I think I got a little antsy but it’s human nature and I’m trying to fight it right now. As a rookie playing in his first couple of games, I’m trying to fight that and play under control.”

On the other side of the ball, Allen says the biggest adjustment is the increased level of physicality in the pros.

“Defensively, it’s physical,” Allen said. “You gotta fight guys. You gotta get through screens. I mean, the bigs, they really set great screens, so you gotta be able to fight through that… If you’re tired on defense, they’ll find you.”

Allen knows that he needs to commit if he’s going to make it in the NBA, which requires eliminating all bad habits. In order to eliminate any habit that Allen has, which in his case is fatigue at the moment, Allen believes that he needs to be more mindful of himself when he’s physically drained.

“I try to be really self-aware of my habits when I get tired out there,” Allen said. “On defense, I have a habit when I’m tired, I stand up and my feet are flat. On offense, I’m not ready for the shot… I try to be really self-aware of that stuff so that in practice or in August, September, October, leading up to the regular season, I can have good habits when I’m tired because we got a short leash as a rookie. You don’t have many mistakes to make.”

In Utah, Allen will be playing for a team that exceeded all expectation last year and has a much higher bar to reach this season. He believes the summer the league should serve him well as he fights for minutes in the Jazz’ rotation.

“I’m joining a playoff team, so I gotta carve out a role with the guys they already have,” Allen said. “When I’m playing in summer league, I’m trying to play the right way. Don’t take too many tough shots, find the right guy, make the right pass.- Because when you come and play for Quin Snyder, that’s what he’s gonna want. He’s just gonna want you to play the right way.”

When Adam Silver announced that Utah was taking Allen with the 21st overall pick, the general masses laughed due to Utah, a state with a white-bread reputation, took a white player. Given that Allen just played four years of basketball at one of the best college basketball programs in the nation and will be starting his career playing for one of the most well-run organizations in the league, he may be the one laughing when it’s all over.

In other words, Grayson Allen playing in Utah could be quite the trip.

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NBA Daily: Credit Ujiri And Raptors For Taking The Risk

Perhaps emboldened by OKC’s ability to retain Paul George, the Raptors are taking a gamble of their own.

Lang Greene

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In any given NBA season, at the most, there are only five legitimate title contenders in play. The rest of the league could be considered as either on the rise, middle of the pack or in the hunt for a lottery pick.

There are far too many teams around the league that are content with solely making the playoffs while not seriously contending for a title. This is why the Toronto Raptors organization along with team president Masai Ujiri should be given credit for taking the ultimate gamble in acquiring a top-five player, even one who could amount to a one-year rental.

The Raptors shipped four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for former NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and veteran wing Danny Green.

The move is the ultimate gamble for an organization that has turned itself into a perennial playoff presence with five consecutive postseason appearances and three straight 50-win campaigns. DeRozan, 28, was locked under contract the next three seasons and the organization could have theoretically decided to ride the DeRozan and fellow All-Star guard Kyle Lowry duo until the proverbial wheels fell off.

But instead, Ujiri unexpectedly shipped their star player, who wanted to be in Toronto long-term, to acquire Leonard who reportedly has his eyes dead set on joining one of the Los Angeles franchises once he hits free agency in 2019.

Think about this for a moment.

While Toronto has served as LeBron James’ playoff punching bag as of late, make no mistake, Raptors basketball is undoubtedly experiencing the peak of its golden era.

Sure, the team’s former stars such as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh will likely go down in history considered better than DeRozan (and Lowry). But none of the aforementioned players led the franchise to a 50-win season while with the organization. None of those guys led the Raptors to a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. DeRozan was a vital cog in breaking new ground while with the team, defiantly re-signing with the Raptors despite overtures from his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in 2016.

Perhaps emboldened by the success the Oklahoma City Thunder recently had in taking a similar risk last summer, the Raptors took the gamble. The Thunder traded for All-Star forward Paul George, who also reportedly also had Los Angeles dreams, last summer, and were able to convince the wing to re-sign earlier this month to a long-term deal.

Toronto has never been a free agency hot spot and the aforementioned stars all forced their way out of town early in their careers. What if Leonard doesn’t buy the soup Ujiri is cooking? There are already some reports stating the forward has no desire to play with the Raptors at all.

Even if this is the case, Ujiri and company still have options. Leonard can still be dealt before next February’s trade deadline. Ujiri could theoretically create a bidding war between the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers for Leonard’s services with an attractive.

At the bare minimum, the Raptors are all-in this season for a championship run in an Eastern Conference no longer facing the talents of LeBron James. If things don’t work out, DeRozan’s $54 million owed after this season is off the books. Lowry will be owed $33 million in 2020 but could potentially be an attractive expiring contract. All of this to say, the Raptors are simultaneously preparing for a title run and bracing for a rebuild of their current roster.

Far too many teams become content with just making the playoffs and not rocking the boat. Ujiri took his shot to boost the Raptors up the league’s hierarchy. The ultimate risk. Much respect for taking it.

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NBA Daily: Quality Free Agents Still Available

Many quality free agents are still available nearly three weeks into free agency, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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With the NBA Summer League over and training camps a few months away, the NBA would normally be quiet this time of year. Apparently the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors didn’t get the memo as they agreed to a trade centered around Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan. Additionally, Carmelo Anthony has finally been traded to relieve the Oklahoma City Thunder from a tremendous tax burden.

As the dust settles from these trades, many free agents continue to wait in the wings. The list includes many talented players who will eventually make their way back onto an NBA team’s roster. Some will return to the team they played for last year, which is especially likely for restricted free agents (e.g., Marcus Smart). Some may, for a variety of reasons, not return to an NBA roster. Last year Rodney Stuckey sat the year out and used the time to improve his health in order to make a comeback this year. Former All-Star center Roy Hibbert just announced his retirement at age 31 after not being active last season.

The list of available restricted free agents has seriously dwindled now nearly three weeks into the free agency period. RFAs such as Marcus Smart (back to the Boston Celtics) and Jabari Parker (to the Chicago Bulls) have recently signed new contracts. These signings, among others, leaves Houston Rockets RFA center Clint Capela and Los Angeles Clippers RFA center Montrezl Harrell as two of the bigger names left on the board.

Available Restricted Free Agents:

Clint Capela

Clint Capela is coming off of his best and most efficient season averaging 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks in 27.5 minutes a game (all career highs) and he is only 24 years old. Capela also spearheaded a defense that, when combined with James Harden’s offensive mastery, pushed the Golden State Warriors to the brink in the Western Conference Finals. Reports are that Capela has turned down an initial offer to re-sign for well below his max. While the clock ticks on the Rockets and Capela, Capela finds himself in what remains a punitive free agent market. The Sacramento Kings is the only other team capable of immediately signing Capela to a competitive contract to lure him away from the Rockets. To make matters worse, the Kings have been committed to stocking their roster with as many big men as possible making them a less-than-ideal suitor for Capela’s services.

Montrezl Harrell

Montrezl Harrell won’t generate as many headlines as the other RFAs that have been in the news lately but don’t sleep on him. In a season that never went according to plan for the Clippers, Harrell was one of the bright spots for the team. Harrell, acquired by the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade, showed tenacity on offense as he served as a strong offensive rebounder, floor runner and helped the Clippers weather a five-game stretch where center DeAndre Jordan was unavailable. Harrell played especially well in place of Jordan. However, working against Harrell is the Clipper’s roster crunch. The team has 18 players on the roster, not counting Harrell. If the Clippers do ultimately decide to bring back Harrell, the Clippers will have to make several moves to clear roster spots.

Rodney Hood

Cleveland Cavaliers RFA wing Rodney Hood also remains available. Utah Jazz fans can relate to the ups and downs of cheering for Hood who has flashes of brilliant play but remains inconsistent. Hood was acquired during last season to help bolster the Cavaliers’ championship run. However, Hood’s scoring, three-point shooting, overall statistics and minutes went down significantly due to his uneven play. While Hood is still a capable player, his time with the Cavaliers did not end well, which has impacted his stock around the league. It didn’t help Hood’s cause when he was benched in the postseason and he subsequently refused to enter the game when instructed to. The Kings, in need of help on the wing, could be a suitor for Hood’s services. However, Cleveland could match any such offer as the franchise continues to build a new team after the loss of LeBron James.

Available Unrestricted Free Agents:

Dwyane Wade

The group of remaining unrestricted free agents is a mixed bag. As mentioned above, there is at least a chance that one of these players may not even make a roster when the dust settles this offseason. Dwyane Wade has bounced around the league the last few years with stints with the Bulls, Cavaliers and a most recent return to the Miami HEAT under his belt. Wade remains capable of spurts of offense and is a fan favorite in Miami. The most obvious result here is a return to Miami. However, Wade himself commented regarding a potential return or possibly retirement.

“When I get back from China, I’ll focus on that [decision],” Wade said while in China. “The basketball will take care of itself. I’ll sit down and figure that out once I get back from this tour at some point.”

Michael Beasley

Michael Beasley remains unsigned despite a strong outing last season for the New York Knicks. Beasley started 30 of 74 games played. His numbers don’t jump off the boxscore: 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists in 22.3 minutes. However, these are some of the best numbers he’s put up in years and the most consistent he has played since 2012-13. The Knicks may likely move on from Beasley but he remains a viable scorer who could come off the bench and start in a pinch for many teams if the price is right.

Jamal Crawford and Nick Young

Jamal Crawford and Nick Young remain unsigned veterans who offer potential teams a scoring punch off the bench. Young has the benefit of showing that he contributed in spurts to the Warrior’s championship season while not becoming a distraction. Both are known for knocking down difficult outside shots but can be inefficient scorers and potential liabilities on defense.

Honorable Mentions

A few notable big men remain available as well. Phoenix Center Alex Len never became the elite big man the Suns had hoped for when they used the fifth pick in the 2013 draft to acquire him. However he remains a serviceable player. For his career, Len averages 7.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes. He is somewhat mobile and could be a strong option for a team looking for a backup center. Centers Al Jefferson and Jahill Okafor can both score the basketball but have to directly combat the notion that they have become antiquated. The modern game calls for mobile centers that shoot reliably from the outside to stretch the floor, are efficient on offense, can guard the rim as well as being at least somewhat capale of covering ball handlers on switches. Okafar and Jefferson don’t fit that profile and will have to convince potential suitors that despite their meager contributions over the last few seasons that they can sufficiently adapt to the modern game and make a positive impact.

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