Today we continue our coverage of each NBA Division as the trade deadline approaches. On Monday, our Cody Taylor thoroughly covered the Southeast Division, which you can read here. Now we take a look at the Northwest Division, which features two teams looking to make a deep postseason run, two teams that may soon offload their veterans to secure young players and other assets, and another team with a young core that is more concerned with the internal player development of its young players and its long-term future than winning games this season.
Listed under each team will be players on expiring deals, potential expiring deals and players that could be shopped.
Portland Trail Blazers:
Expiring deals: LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson, Dorell Wright, Victor Claver (Qualifying Offer), Joel Freeland (Qualifying Offer), Allen Crabbe (Non-Guaranteed) and Will Barton (Qualifying Offer).
Potential expiring deals: Chris Kaman (Non-Guaranteed/ $1 million) and Steve Blake (Player Option).
Could be shopped: Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver, Allen Crabbe and Will Barton.
The Portland Trail Blazers were one of the surprise teams of the NBA last season as they advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Building off of last season’s success, the Trail Blazers have been one of the best all-around teams this season (second best defense and ninth best offense, per Nyloncalculus.com), and are currently ranked third in the Western Conference standings.
One of the issues last season for the Trail Blazers was their lack of depth. General manager Neil Olshey addressed this issue during the offseason by signing veterans Chris Kaman and Steve Blake. Both players have become important parts of the rotation and thus neither is likely to be moved before the deadline (though Portland would likely pounce at the chance to upgrade at backup point guard if an opportunity to do so presented itself).
There have been some key injuries recently that have sidelined starters Robin Lopez and Nicolas Batum. However, both players are close to returning from injury, so there is no long-term concern for either Lopez or Batum. LaMarcus Aldridge also suffered a significant injury recently (tear in left thumb), which he is playing through rather than undergoing surgery. Assuming Lopez and Batum return 100 percent healthy, and Aldridge is able to play through his injury, Portland will have no need to find a player to join the starting unit and will instead target players to bolster their bench.
Despite having a top 10 offense and defense, Olshey recently said in an interview with Sirius XM Radio that the team is “active” in trade discussions. In the interview, Olshey mentioned adding a player who can shoot the ball, is a willing passer, a team player and capable of playing within Portland’s defensive schemes.
Earlier this month, Zach Lowe of Grantland reported that the Trail Blazers were in discussions with the Denver Nuggets for Wilson Chandler, who is the type of player Olshey described. According to Lowe, the Nuggets insisted on Portland including a first-round draft pick, which seems to have been a deal breaker. But with the arms race in the West heating up, this is something that could be revisited down the road. Also consider that Chandler’s teammate Arron Afflalo can also hit free agency next season, so he could be a potential target for Portland as well.
Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver, Joel Freeland, Will Barton and Allen Crabbe are the players most likely to be moved in any deals. Olshey has shown a lot of support and investment in Meyers Leonard and C.J. McCollum, so it is unlikely he will move either of them, unless a great deal presents itself.
Small forward Dorell Wright has played sparingly this season, despite his ability to knock down shots from the perimeter. Wright has recently received more playing time with the injury to Batum, and has played well. Assuming Wright continues to play well and Batum comes back completely healthy before the deadline, Wright could either fill the spot that a trade target like Chandler could fill, or he could be a player on other teams’ radars. A team like the Los Angeles Clippers could certainly use his length and shooting at small forward, however it’s doubtful Portland would send a potential impact player to a Western Conference contender. Similarly, Robinson has played just 12.3 minutes per game this season, and could be an intriguing piece for other teams. Robinson is just 23 years old and a solid rebounder with room for overall improvement.
Again, the Trail Blazers are unlikely to trade any of their major rotation players, so a deal for someone like Chandler or Afflalo is the biggest type of deal Portland will make.
Oklahoma City Thunder:
Expiring deals: Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, Ish Smith and Reggie Jackson (Qualifying Offer).
Potential expiring deals: None.
Could be shopped: Reggie Jackson and Kendrick Perkins.
The Oklahoma City Thunder got off to a slow start this season with major injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Both players are now healthy, but the Thunder currently have a record of just 23-22, good for 10th place in the Western Conference. Despite their current standing, the Thunder still believe they are a championship contender this season.
Yesterday, our own Alex Kennedy reported that, according to one rival executive, the Thunder consider Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams to be “untouchable,” but everyone else could be moved for the right price.
The Thunder recently traded Lance Thomas and a protected future first-round draft pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Dion Waiters, which has reduced Reggie Jackson’s playing time. Jackson has stated for some time that he believes he should be a starter, so this recent development, in addition to Jackson’s expiring deal makes him a potential trade candidate. However, Kennedy also reported that the Thunder are currently on the fence in regards to trading Jackson considering how difficult it will be to replace his production at backup point guard and their lingering hope that he can develop chemistry with Waiters. However, if it becomes clear that Jackson is not a long-term fit in Oklahoma City or that he will cost too much as a restricted free agent, he could be shipped out with Perkins for a significant player.
»In Related: Kendrick Perkins discusses trade rumors
The Thunder were recently engaged in trade discussions with the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez, however, that deal was never completed. Lopez would add interior scoring to the Thunder’s offensive arsenal, however, he has struggled with injuries for the past few seasons (he is also a poor rebounder for a center his size). Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is looking to unload his high-priced veterans in anticipation of selling the team, so discussions for Lopez will be ongoing leading up to the trade deadline.
With Durant set to be an unrestricted free agent after next season and Westbrook and Ibaka set to be unrestricted free agents the year after, it is imperative that the Thunder front office does everything it can to win a championship as soon as possible. For this reason, and the fact that the other Western Conference powers are bolstering their rosters, expect the Thunder to aggressively pursue opportunities to upgrade their roster.
Expiring deals: Darrell Arthur and Alonzo Gee.
Potential expiring deals: Arron Afflalo (Player Option), Wilson Chandler (Non-Guaranteed/ $2 million), Randy Foye (Non-Guaranteed), Jameer Nelson (Player Option, Cannot be Traded in a package) and Erick Green (Non-Guaranteed).
Could be shopped: Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, J.J. Hickson, Randy Foye, Darrell Arthur and JaVale McGee.
The Denver Nuggets entered this season with hopes of making a deep playoff run. Instead, the team has played inconsistently all season and now there is virtually no hope of qualifying for the playoffs.
With multiple veterans set to be free agents and a young head coach in Brian Shaw, the Nuggets are likely to gut the roster and accumulate assets for a rebuild the way Danny Ainge has done in Boston. The Nuggets already started this process by trading center Timofey Mozgov to the Cleveland Cavaliers for two first-round picks.
The Nuggets have several talented veterans on affordable, expiring deals. Wilson Chandler is set to make $6,757,913 this season, and is only partially guaranteed for next season. Chandler is a long swingman who can stretch the floor, is a solid defender and can play both forward positions. He has struggled with injuries in recent seasons, but he has been healthy for the most part this season. As previously mentioned, the Trail Blazers attempted to make a deal for Chandler recently, but Denver seems intent on acquiring a first-round pick for him.
Similarly, Denver will likely move Arron Afflalo in order to receive assets for him, rather than losing him for nothing next offseason. Despite coming on slowly this season, Afflalo has proven to be one of the best two-way shooting guards in the league over the last few years. Teams looking for a tough defensive wing with the ability to knock down three-pointers will call the Nuggets about Afflalo, but it remains unclear how much it will take to pry him out of Denver.
Chris Mannix of SI.com recently reported that the Nuggets were one of the teams showing the most interest in Brook Lopez and any deal for Lopez would likely require sending JaVale McGee. McGee is expendable at this point considering his recent injury issues, guaranteed salary for next season ($12 million), the recent play of rookie Jusuf Nurkic and McGee’s inability to develop into the dominant interior force the Nuggets had hoped for when they traded for him in 2012.
With a rebuild (or at least a significant overhaul) likely on the horizon, the Nuggets will likely listen to offers for anyone not named Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried or Jusuf Nurkic. With so many veterans on reasonable (and potentially expiring) deals, expect the Nuggets to be one of the most active teams in the league leading up to the trade deadline.
Expiring deals: Enes Kanter (Qualifying Offer), Jeremy Evans, Ian Clark (Qualifying Offer), Joe Ingles (Qualifying Offer), Elliot Williams and Elijah Millsap (Non-Guaranteed).
Potential expiring deals: Trevor Booker (Non-Guaranteed/ $250,000 Guaranteed).
Could be shopped: Enes Kanter.
Over the last few seasons, the Utah Jazz have put together a nice core of young talent. The Jazz are nowhere near ready to compete for a playoff spot, but there is a clear plan moving forward. With young talent at each position, and armed with several draft picks, the Jazz are more concerned with internal development than executing a big trade. However, the Jazz did not agree to an extension with center Enes Kanter last October, so Utah may consider moving him before the trade deadline.
As Alex Kennedy recently explained, center Rudy Gobert has developed a lot quicker than anticipated. As a result of Gobert’s rapid development, Kanter is now more expendable and thus more likely to be included in trade discussions prior to the trade deadline. Kanter has a good offensive skillset and good size, but he is limited on the defensive side of the ball. Nevertheless, there should be a strong market for a 22 year old center that can score in the paint, shoot from the perimeter and has room to continue improving.
The Jazz do have other movable pieces in Jeremy Evans, Ian Clark and Joe Ingles, but there is little reason to expect Utah to move any of these players at this point. However, Trevor Booker is only guaranteed for $250,000 next season, so he could potentially be had in a deal by a team looking to cut costs or bolster their depth at the four spot.
With Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors locked up to long-term deals, and other young players locked into rookie contracts, the Jazz have their central core in place. Kanter is due for a significant pay raise, but with Gobert’s development, and the need for future flexibility for the other young players, Kanter is the most likely played to be included in a trade before the deadline.
Expiring deals: Mo Williams, Miroslav Raduljica, Robbie Hummel (Qualifying Offer) and Glenn Robinson III (Qualifying Offer).
Potential expiring deals: Thaddeus Young (Early Termination Option) and Chase Budinger (Player Option).
Could be shopped: Thaddeus Young, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Mo Williams and Chase Budinger.
Timberwolves president and head coach Flip Saunders made some major trades last offseason, including the Kevin Love-Andrew Wiggins deal. But Saunders wanted a shot at making the playoffs, so he traded a first-round pick for Thaddeus Young.
More than halfway through the season, the Timberwolves have the worst record in the NBA and could be ready to trade away their veterans and accumulate assets, similar to the Nuggets.
Mo Williams, Young and Chase Budinger could all potentially be free agents next offseason and each could help a contending team, making them prime trade candidates.
Williams exploded for 52 points recently and provides shooting, and some playmaking as a backup point guard. Teams like the Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets could use a point guard like Williams to add depth, but would likely need to give up more than just an expiring contract to land him (perhaps a second-round draft pick or young prospect).
Young is a solid power forward who could help a contender get over the hump, but at a salary of $9,410,869 for this season, it may be difficult for other teams to put together viable trades for him. Also consider that Young holds an early termination option for next season, so a team trading for him would, understandably, want an indication on whether Young would opt into the final year of his deal, or seek a new long-term deal next offseason before trading for him. Similarly, Budinger has a player option for next season for $5 million, which he is likely to pick up, so teams may hesitate at making a trade for him.
Considering how much young talent the Timberwolves have assembled and their lack of competitiveness, players like Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin could be shopped as well. Both players are guaranteed a lot of money for the next few seasons, so it may be difficult to trade either of them (especially with their recent injuries). However, a team looking for a long-term answer at center, like the New York Knicks, may be interested in trading for Pekovic rather than gambling on landing someone like Marc Gasol or Greg Monroe in free agency.
The Timberwolves will likely listen to offers for anyone not named Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad or Gorgui Dieng. With talented veterans to be had via a trade, expect the Timberwolves to be one of the more active teams as the trade deadline approaches.
We have already seen a significant amount of trades this season and with the ongoing arms race in the West and the trade deadline approaching, more trades are sure to come up soon. Some teams may be more inclined to wait and see which players are bought of their contracts by their respective teams, but the most significant player movement will come through trades between now and the February 19 trade deadline.
Be sure to look out for our continuing trade deadline coverage throughout the week.
Georgetown Prospect Omer Yurtseven is Ready for Center Stage
Omer Yurtseven spoke with Drew Maresca about playing for coach Patrick Ewing, training for the NBA during a pandemic and why he feels he’s the best center in the 2020 draft class.
Omer Yurtseven, the 7-foot tall, Georgetown center, posted an impressive junior season in 2019-20; he averaged 15.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. With legitimate NBA size and skills, it’s no mystery why he’s confident. “I don’t think anyone has my combination of tools and versatility,” Yurtseven recently told Basketball insiders. But he’s also a student of the game –well aware of the game’s history and where it’s headed.
“I wouldn’t put anyone ahead of me. I haven’t seen anyone with the tools that I have. I can shoot the ball, the three-ball, and that’s where the big man is headed,” Yurtseven said.
But he’s not satisfied with what he’s accomplished thus far. He wants more. And he understands that he’ll have to continue working to ensure his spot in the league.
“Some guys might be more athletic [than me], but there are a lot of athletic bigs in the league who don’t stick,” Yurtseven continued. “The skillset is just as important, if not more. So is the [willingness to put in] the work. I think I’m better or as good as any other players, and my rookie year, that’s my goal, to prove that.”
Yurtseven transferred to Georgetown from N.C. State in 2018 after a successful Sophomore season in which he shot over 50 percent on three-point attempts. He sat out the 2018-19 season voluntarily to play for Georgetown and coach Patrick Ewing. The opportunity to work with the Hall of Famer was too good to pass up.
“That’s what I was looking for coming in [working with Ewing]. I needed someone to see the game from my perspective,” Yurtseven said. “I was looking for that feedback and I demanded to be coached. I wanted to learn from him. The thing he stayed on me the most about was the pace of the game and how quick my moves would have to be at the next level.
“The turnaround jumper was one of his major weapons,” Yurtseven continued. “He was ahead of his time, but he wanted to see me do the same thing and give 100 percent effort every time.”
Yurtseven jumper is a major weapon in his arsenal, so a pairing with Ewing was an obvious fit. His numbers remained strong during his junior year season with Georgetown, but with one glaring drop off – three-point percentage. Ewing demanded that Yurtseven operate from the low post, a role that the prospect didn’t love, but accepted. Could a new role be to blame for a down shooting year? Yurtseven would never blame anyone other than himself, especially not Ewing. But it’s clear that he felt like he could have done even more if given the opportunity.
“The biggest thing is, I played how I played because that was the role demanded of me. All I had to do was be the inside presence, the defense collapser, and we had to stick to the strategy that coach thought was best for the team.
“I would love to have caught the ball at the top a little more,” Yurtseven continued. “But I was happy to be the post guy. I knew I had to get into my moves quick, so that’s what I did. I sacrificed what I think is my best skills for the team, and I was fine with it.”
It’s evident that Yurtseven is a team-first guy but his three-point shooting took a significant hit. As mentioned above, Yurtseven shot 50 percent on 1.3 three-point attempts as a sophomore in 2017-18, but only 21.4 percent on only half an attempt from long range per game in 2019-20. However, it’s not in his nature to look back – only ahead.
“That’s been my main focus,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “In April, I was shooting 30 or 40 percent two steps behind the college three. That percentage has added up 5 or 10 percent each month. Doing it isn’t easy, but it pays off and that’s why we do it. Now I’m at 75 or 80 percent (in practice sessions) and I’m really confident in my ability.
“And that’s the most important skill set for big men right now,” Yurtseven said. “You’ve got to be a perimeter shooter, as well as a perimeter defender, because big men are evolving away from the rim.”
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yurtseven – and all of the 2020 class – received longer than normal between the end of the 2019-20 NCAA season and the 2020 NBA Draft. And while mock drafts have slowly whittled down the number of prospects, Yurtseven is working tirelessly to improve his stock in any way possible. impressive game.
“No one knew this offseason would be so long. It’s been 6, 8 months already,” Yurtseven continued. “But the team around me has been a blessing – coordinating workouts and making sure I’m taking steps to improve, from nutrition to training lateral quickness to shooting.
“It’s speed and agility, studying the game and having the knowledge about how to position yourself,” Yurtseven continued. “It’s timing and positioning and footwork. It’s all pieces of the puzzle. But the league is another level than college. That’s why I’ve been preparing, increasing lateral quickness, strengthening my glutes, making sure my quads and hips are firing well and that my lateral push-off is explosive as I want.”
“And seeing it translate on the court in two-on-twos and three-on-threes. Switching on guards and providing I can do it to myself. It’s been really fun and fulfilling.”
Yurtseven could have opted to play professionally in Europe – he had numerous professional offers as an 18-year-old prior to coming to joining N.C. State. But Yurtseven is driven by more than money and fame. He is family-oriented and understands the long game. His parents wanted him to receive a college degree before pursuing basketball – a decision that Yurtseven is happy to have made.
“The education was the main reason [I chose to play in the NCAA]. My family’s dream was that I get a college degree.
“When I was 18, [Turkish teams] offered me a huge contract. I’ve never seen so many zeros in my life,” Yurtseven continued.
“Now it’s time to chase my dream. And my team, my circle, it’s our goal to find a franchise that allows me to grow into a player for 10-plus years – and I’ll never stop working at it.”
Where Yurtseven ultimately plays is anyone’s guess – but he’s already spoken with 17 NBA teams.
Whatever franchise selects the center will add a hard-working and versatile big man that looks well-suited for the modern game – or he may not be selected at all. Yurtseven is currently ranked outside the top 50 according to some mocks – but if he gets an opportunity, he knows how he’d like to play.
“My aim is to get a double-double, year one,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “And, of course, guarding 1 through 5 is another big thing that coaches are looking for. Look at the Bucks, they were ranked first in offense (in 2019-20). Most of their points come from spot-ups. Defenses collapse on Giannis and Middleton – and Brook Lopez stays alone in the corner. I think that’ll be where I get my shots, too.”
Only three rookies in the past 10 years have averaged a double-double in their first season in the league – Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns, Deandre Ayton. That’s an elite club in which Yurtseven is seeking membership. Can he surprise the basketball world? Only time will tell.
There isn’t much data on him against elite big men. But there is one relevant contest worth examining: a Nov. 22 matchup against Duke and Vernon Carey, who is projected to be drafted No. 26 overall by Basketball Insiders.
Carey filled the stat sheet with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but so did Yurtseven (21 points, five rebounds and four blocks). That night, his entire repertoire was on full display – decisive drop steps, smooth turnaround jump shots over both shoulders, baby hooks, midrange jumpers and hard-nosed defense.
“He was the only true big man that I played against,” Yurtseven recalled. “He was quick and Duke did a good job putting the ball in his hands as soon as he stepped in the paint. I had to exert a lot of energy keeping him off his spot, but I adjusted quickly.
“I figured he would be very strong, but he ultimately didn’t feel as strong as I expected. My maturity and strength helped me a lot.”
Yurtseven’s skill and build render him tailor-made for the NBA. But for most, sticking at the professional peak is about more than skill and body. IQ, on and off of the floor, play a major role, too.
“A lot of guys [in this draft class] haven’t played many games,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “Having a college degree and that experience is a huge tool.
“Playing overseas as a pro is another layer of experience that I have compared to these guys. My IQ has improved. Those one-and-done guys are gonna be thrown into the fire, but I’ll be more ready.
“I saw a study,” Yurtseven explained. “Guys that come in 21-and-under stay in the league two or three years on average. Guys that come in and are 21-or-older stay seven or eight years on average. That just shows how much time it takes to mature your game.”
Comparatively, only four players were 22 or older as on draft night in 2019 – Yurtsevein is 22.
At the end of the day, it will be about how he performs on the court, and he’s comfortable with that.
“If I get drafted, I’ll be the first guy coming out of Turkey with a college degree,” Yurtseven said proudly.
“I’m ready for the next step. I appreciate everyone wishing me luck and supporting me from afar. I can’t wait to show my game’s evolution and reap the benefits of all of the work I’ve put in.”
NBA Daily: Tyronn Lue is the Right Coach for the Clippers
Is Lue the right coach for the Los Angeles Clippers? David Yapkowitz thinks so.
When Doc Rivers was first hired by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013, the expectation was that he would be the one to guide the franchise into respectability. A laughingstock of the NBA for pretty much their entire existence, marred by bad coaching, bad management and bad ownership, Rivers was supposed to help change all of that.
For the most part, he did.
Rivers arrived from the Boston Celtics with the 2008 championship, and he helped the Celtics regain their standing as one of the NBA’s elite teams. The Clippers were a perennial playoff contender under him and were even in the conversation for being a possible championship contender. The Lob City Clippers led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin certainly were talked about as being a title contender, and this season’s group led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were definitely in the mix as well.
Not only did Rivers steady the team on the court though, but he was also a very steadying presence off the court. He guided the franchise through the Donald Sterling controversy and he was a positive voice for the team as they navigated the bubble and the ongoing charge for social reform in the country.
But when things go wrong with a team, the coach is usually the one who ends up taking the fall. While Rivers did bring the Clippers to a level of respectability the franchise has never known, his record was not without blemishes. Most notably was his team’s inability to close out playoff series’ after holding three games to one on advantages two separate occasions.
In 2015, the Clippers had a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets only to squander that lead and lose Game 7 on the road. In Game 6, their shots stopped falling and neither Paul nor Griffin could do anything to halt the Rockets onslaught.
This season, in an incredibly similar fashion, the Clippers choked away a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets and ended up getting blown out the second half of Game 7. Just like before, the offense stalled multiple games and neither Leonard nor George could make a difference.
There were also questions about Rivers’ rotations and his seeming inability to adjust to his opponents. In the end, something had to change, and whether it’s right or wrong, the coach usually ends up taking the fall.
Enter Tyronn Lue. Lue, like Rivers, is also a former NBA player and has a great deal of respect around the league. He came up under Rivers, getting his first coaching experience as an assistant in Boston, and then following Rivers to the Clippers.
He ended up joining David Blatt’s staff in Cleveland in 2014, and when Blatt was fired in the middle of the 2015-16 season, Lue was promoted to head coach. In the playoffs that year, Lue guided the Cavaliers to victory in their first 10 playoff games. They reached the Finals where they famously came back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors to win the franchise’s first championship.
The Cavaliers reached the Finals each full year of Lue’s tenure as head coach, but he was let go at the start of the 2018-19 season when the team started 0-6 after the departure of LeBron James.
In the 2019 offseason, Lue emerged as the leading candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job, before he ultimately rejected the team’s offer. After rejoining Rivers in LA with the Clippers for a year, he once again emerged as a leading candidate for multiple head coaching positions this offseason before agreeing to terms with the Clippers.
Following the Clippers series loss to the Nuggets, many players openly talked about the team’s lack of chemistry and how that may have played a factor in the team’s postseason demise. Adding two-star players in Leonard and George was always going to be a challenge from a chemistry standpoint, and the Clippers might have secured the perfect man to step up to that challenge.
During his time in Cleveland, Lue was praised for his ability to manage a locker room that included James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In Game 7 against the Warriors, Lue reportedly challenged James at halftime and ended up lighting a fire that propelled the Cavaliers to the championship.
Lue’s ability to deal with star egos isn’t just limited to his coaching tenure. During his playing days, Lue was a trusted teammate with the Los Angeles Lakers during a time when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant weren’t seeing eye to eye. He also played with Michael Jordan during Jordan’s Washington Wizard days.
Now, he’ll be tasked with breaking through and leading the Clippers to a place where no Clipper team has ever been before. He’ll be expected to finish what Rivers was unable to accomplish and guide the Clippers to an NBA championship.
For one, he’ll have to change the Clippers offensive attack. This past season, the Clippers relied too much on an isolation heavy offense centered around Leonard and George. That style of play failed in the playoffs when after failing to adjust, the Clippers kept taking tough shot after tough shot while the Nuggets continued to run their offense and get good shots.
With the Cavaliers, Lue showed his ability to adjust his offense and work to his player’s strengths. In the 2018 Playoffs, Lue employed a series of off-ball screens involving Love and Kyle Korver with James reading the defense and making the correct read to whoever was in the best position to score.
When playing with James, the offense sometimes tends to stagnate with the other four players standing around and waiting for James to make his move. Lue was able to get the other players to maintain focus and keep them engaged when James had the ball in his hands. Look for him to try and do something similar for when either Leonard or George has the ball in their hands.
He’s already got a player on the roster in Landry Shamet who can play that Korver role as the designated shooter on the floor running through off-ball screens and getting open. Both Leonard and George have become efficient enough playmakers to be able to find open shooters and cutters. That has to be Lue’s first task to tweak the offense to find ways to keep the rest of the team engaged and active when their star players are holding the ball.
The defensive end is going to be something he’ll need to adjust as well. The Clippers have some of the absolute best individual defensive players in the league. Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, George was a finalist for the award in 2019 and Patrick Beverley is a perennial All-Defensive Team selection.
When the team was locked in defensively this season, there wasn’t a team in the league that could score on them. The problem for them was they seemingly couldn’t stay engaged on the defensive end consistently enough. The other issue was Rivers’ inability to adjust his defense to his opponent. Against the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic had a field day whenever Montrez Harrell was guarding him.
Lue’s primary task will be to get this team to maintain their defensive intensity throughout the season, as well as recognize what matchups are and aren’t working. Both Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green were more effective frontcourt defenders in the postseason than Harrell was. Look for Lue to play to his team’s strengths, as he always has, and to trot out a heavy dose of man-to-man defense.
Overall, Lue was the best hire available given the candidates. He’s got a strong rapport among star players. He’s made it to the finals multiple times and won a championship as a head coach. And he already has experience working with Leonard and George.
Given the potential free agent status of both Leonard and George in the near future, the Clippers have a relatively small window of championship contention. Lue was in a similar situation in Cleveland when James’ pending free agency in the summer of 2018 was also a factor. That time around, Lue delivered. He’ll be ready for this new challenge.
NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Third Scorer Is By Committee
The Los Angeles Lakers have a whole unit of third scoring options – and that’s why they’re one win from an NBA Championship.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers once the NBA bubble began was who was going to pick up the mantle of being the third scoring option.
Even before the 2019-20 season began, it was obvious that LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be the primary offensive weapons, but every elite team with championship aspirations needs another player or two they can rely on to contribute on the offensive end consistently.
The obvious choice was Kyle Kuzma. In his third year in the NBA, Kuzma was the lone member of the Lakers’ young core that hadn’t been shipped elsewhere. His name had come up in trade rumors as possibly being included in the package to New Orleans for Davis, but the Lakers were able to hang on to him. He put up 17.4 points per game over his first two seasons and had some questioning whether or not he had All-Star potential.
For the most part this season, he settled into that role for much of this season. With Davis in the fold and coming off the bench, his shot attempts dropped from 15.5 to 11.0, but he still managed to be the team’s third scorer with 12.8 points per game.
But here in the bubble, and especially in the playoffs, the Lakers’ role players have each taken turns in playing the supporting role to James and Davis. Everyone from Kuzma to Alex Caruso, to Dwight Howard, to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to Markieff Morris and even Rajon Rondo have had games where they’ve given the team that additional scoring boost.
Earlier in the bubble, James himself said they need Kuzma to be the team’s third-best player to win, but Kuzma himself believes that it’s always been by committee.
“We don’t have a third scorer, that’s not how our offense is built. Our offense is really AD and Bron, and everyone else plays team basketball,” Kuzma said on a postgame media call after Game 4 of the Finals. “We’ve had a long season, hopefully by now, you’ve seen how we play. Everyone steps up at different times, that’s what a team does.”
On this particular night, when the Miami HEAT got a pregame boost with the return of Bam Adebayo and wealth of confidence from their Game 3 win, it was Caldwell-Pope who stepped up and assumed the mantle of that third scoring option.
He finished Game 4 with 15 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range. He also dished out five assists and grabbed three rebounds. Perhaps his most crucial moments of the game came late in the fourth quarter with the Lakers desperately clinging to a slim lead and the Heat not going away.
He hit a big three-pointer in front of the Miami bench with 2:58 to go in the game, and then followed that up with a drive the rim and finish on the very next possession to give the Lakers some breathing room.
Caldwell-Pope has been one of the most consistent Lakers this postseason and he’s been one of their most consistent three-point threats at 38.5 percent on 5.3 attempts. He was actually struggling a bit with his outside shot before this game, but he always stayed ready.
“My teammates lean on me to pick up the energy on the defensive end and also make shots on the offensive end…I stayed within a rhythm, within myself and just played,” Caldwell-Pope said after the game. “You’re not going to knock down every shot you shoot, but just staying with that flow…Try to stay in the rhythm, that’s what I do. I try not to worry about it if I’m not getting shots. I know they are eventually going to come.”
Also giving the Lakers a big offensive boost in Game 4 was Caruso who had a couple of easy baskets at the rim and knocked down a three-pointer. He’s become one the Lakers best off the ball threats as well, making strong cuts to the rim or drifting to the open spot on the three-point line.
He’s had his share of games this postseason when it’s been his turn to step up as the Lakers additional scoring threat. During Game 4 against the Houston Rockets in the second round, Caruso dropped 16 points off the bench to help prevent the Rockets from tying the series up. In the closeout Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, he had 11 points and finished the game in crunch time.
For him, it’s about staying ready and knowing that the ball is eventually going to come to whoever is open. When that happens, it’s up to the role players to take that pressure off James and Davis.
“Our third star or best player is whoever has the open shot. We know what AD and LeBron are going to bring to the table every night. They’re going to get their attention, they’re going to get their shots,” Caruso said after the game.
“It’s just about being ready to shoot. We have two of the best passers in the game, if not the best, so we know when we are open, we are going to get the ball. We have to be ready to do our job as soon as the ball gets to us.”
And if the Lakers are to close out the series and win the 2020 NBA championship, head coach Frank Vogel knows that it’s going to take a collective effort from the rest of the team, the way they’ve been stepping up all postseason.
“We need everybody to participate and contribute, and we’re a team-first team,” Vogel said after the game. “Obviously we have our two big horses, but everybody’s got to contribute that’s out there.”