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Should Lakers Focus on Present or Future?

The Lakers have a head coach opening, a top lottery pick and plenty of cap space. Should L.A. try to win now or focus on the future?

Jabari Davis

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There are two trains of thought regarding the appropriate path of the Los Angeles Lakers for the foreseeable future – they can continue placing themselves in position to strategically pursue the top upcoming free agents over the next few years or act aggressively this summer in an effort to simply remain (what would likely end up being) only slightly more competitive over the last couple seasons of Kobe Bryant’s career.

Competing for championships has always been this franchise’s singular goal.  Longtime members of the organization all seem to embrace it, almost as a mantra of sorts. So make no mistake about it, these Lakers will be looking for some sort of redemption next season regardless of the direction they choose. Bryant’s incessant desire to win, especially in wake of what became a wasted season for him personally in 2013-14, all but guarantees they’ll come out and compete on a nightly basis.

At this stage in his career, no one questions Bryant’s dedication to his craft. But the supporting cast he’ll have to work with could vary significantly depending upon which course of action general manager Mitch Kupchak and VP of basketball operations Jim Buss elect to pursue. From the decision for the next head coach to the direction they go in the draft to how assertive they are in free agency come July, the path would look significantly different for these Lakers moving forward. Here’s a breakdown of what each option would look like:

Build for the future while remaining relatively competitive

The hiring of a college-level coach at this point is understandably troubling to some, especially given the last couple missteps with the process. In perhaps the biggest decision of the summer, management can ill-afford to go in the wrong direction with their head coach yet again. With that said, the right “fit” is every bit as vital to choosing a coach and philosophy as it is to finding the proper mix of talent to place on the court. Names like Kentucky’s John Calipari and North Carolina’s Roy Williams may have cachet, but the recent groundswell of support surrounding Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie actually makes the most sense for these Lakers if they were to tap a college coach for the position.

IN RELATED: Lakers Should Make Ollie Their No.1 Target

Unless a deal for a truly elite-level NBA commodity were to materialize, the Lakers shouldn’t even consider trading their lottery pick. In the event they were able to hire Ollie, both his success at the collegiate level and his connection to so many of today’s players could truly make him the ideal person to develop young talent and bridge the gap with the veterans. With practically a blank slate outside of Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre – the only players with guaranteed contracts – the front office will have the luxury of simply picking the best player available with the understanding that a guy like Ollie would presumably be around for the long-haul to oversee the development.

With only three players currently on the roster for 2014-15, it would still be a busy free agency period even if the Lakers elect not to spend the bulk of their available $28.2 million in cap space this summer. This plan would allow them to fill the roster out in a similar fashion to this season with one- or two-year deals that would give them flexibility for the next few summers. A Pau Gasol return would seem unlikely in this case, as even though he has expressed an interest in remaining alongside Bryant, he could determine another situation might give him the best chance to win as he will be 34 years old by the start of next season.

IN RELATED: Lakers Salary Cap Information

Bryant certainly wouldn’t be satisfied by this route (nor should he be as an ultimate competitor), but isn’t left with a great deal of options other than voicing any dismay having already re-signed.

Continue to embrace the “win now” approach

Some might think the size of Bryant’s contract would point to the increased likelihood of this approach, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Either way, a “win now” regime would look significantly different than one with the future in mind. Much like the plan laid out above, this strategy would also involve the decisions at head coach and in the draft, while significantly altering the method by which they attacked free agency.

Experienced coaches like George Karl, Byron Scott or even Lionel Hollins would seem more likely with this direction. Each would seem to appeal to veterans like Bryant and Nash for various reasons, and could potentially even influence Gasol’s decision. While we won’t know which pick the Lakers will end up with until the draft lottery on May 20, each coach would also help determine which direction the team goes in the draft. Duke’s Jabari Parker or Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins might appeal to Karl, while Scott may be more interested in cultivating a young guard like Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart or Austalian phenom Dante Exum. Hollins, on the contrary, might want to develop a young big man like Kansas’ Joel Embiid or an athletic big like Arizona’s Aaron Gordon.

IN RELATED: A Look at the Lakers’ Best Coaching Options

There’s also the distinct possibility that the Lakers decide to move the draft pick for an established talent under one of these coaches. Especially in the event the pick winds up outside of the top three, the team could look to explore the possibility of pairing Bryant with the oft-rumored Kevin Love. Love could conceivably sign with the Lakers as a free agent following next season, but there is no guarantee. Trading for him brings him to L.A. now and the Minnesota Timberwolves might finally be interested in moving their franchise power forward with the risk of losing him on the horizon. In that case, the Lakers would be forced to at least consider a move if they’ve determined Love is a player that fits with their future plans.

There has even been talk of the Lakers acquiring a young guard like Kyrie Irving, but that seems unlikely since that would not only require him to effectively turn down his first max contract opportunity later this summer, but it would also take the foresight of selecting a player the Cleveland Cavaliers may have interest in with their draft pick. It’s certainly not impossible, but that turn of events seems much easier when discussed in theory or on your preferred social media platform.

Free agency is perhaps where you might see the most significant difference if the front office decides to go-for-broke this summer. Names like Carmelo Anthony, Luol Deng and Gasol could very well morph from potential options to priorities for this front office. LeBron James could also be an option, but it remains to be seen if he’ll exercise the early termination option in his contract to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Someone like Anthony is a more realistic target. A hypothetical Anthony/Gasol frontcourt would almost certainly appease Bryant, and would actually be competitive with relative health. But that would all-but knock the Lakers out of consideration for upcoming free agents including the likes of Love and James if he chooses to delay his free agency until next offseason.

The trouble with a core of Anthony, Bryant and Gasol is that without some defensive-oriented players around them and a coach like Tom Thibodeau to construct the types of schemes that might at least ‘mask’ having multiple defensive weaknesses in key positions, they’re probably left with an entertaining, high-scoring team that would still struggle to defend on a nightly basis. That’s an issue in a league that’s becoming far more difficult to simply outscore your opponents to win. It was reported the Lakers would have interest in interviewing Thibodeau if the Chicago Bulls would grant them the opportunity, but  it would undoubtedly take a transaction similar to last summer’s deal between the Boston Celtics and L.A. Clippers that resulted in the essential “trade” of Doc Rivers, with two years left on Thibodeau’s current deal.

IN RELATED: Should the Bulls Trade Thibodeau?

As you can see, there is no “easy answer” when it comes to solving the Lakers’ current dilemma. Unless they are able to find a way to hit the proverbial “home run” across the board in terms of head coach, draft and free agency, look for this front office to continue biding their time while steadily positioning the franchise to strike when the opportunity and desired players become available.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft

Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.

Simon Hannig

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The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.

The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy

The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.

The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.

In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.

Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?

The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.

Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.

Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.

Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.

Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly

Despite the Hawks trading Luka Doncic, the Hawk drafted players that can help and contribute right away, plus Quavo from the Migos got his wish of Trae Young being selected.

With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and they took Omari Spellman from Villanova with their third pick in the first round. The Hawks are starting to build themselves like the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with the Golden State Warriors before taking the job with the Hawks.

They have the core for their future and I am really excited to see what Young can do in the NBA.

The Rich Got Richer In Boston

The Celtics once again got a steal in Robert Williams from Texas A&M. They get another athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. I am pretty surprised he fell this far.

He is another rim protector the Celtics can use. He averaged 2.5 blocks per game in college. He will also provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams averaged 3.0 offensive rebounds per game in college. He is just a monster on the defensive end of the floor and on the boards.

He would have been a lottery pick in last years draft, but he decided to stay in school another year, and I am sure the Celtics are happy about that.

Luka Doncic Found A Good Home

The Mavericks have the best young backcourt duo in the NBA now in Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. They also drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ younger brother, in the second round. I love the Mavs’ backcourt a lot.

It is going to be very scary in a couple of years. It will take time and patience to develop them, but it will be worth it. This is going to be a dynamic duo for years to come for the Mavs. The Mavs have set themselves up not only for the future, but also to compete and to try to get into the playoffs. It also depends if they can bring in a max player in free agency, but I love the core the Mavs are building.

The Mavs should be a better defensive team next season, and will be a better offensive team next season with the weapons they have added to the team.

The Mavs are the clear cut winners of the 2018 NBA Draft.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Draft Night Trades

David Yapkowitz breaks down the trades that took place during the 2018 NBA Draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Another NBA Draft has come and gone. With rumors swirling all week about possible pick/player movement, the night remained relatively uneventful. There were a few trades that occurred, however. Here’s a quick breakdown of the movement that happened on draft night.

1. Atlanta Hawks/Dallas Mavericks

The Hawks and Mavericks completed the first trade of the night early on in the draft. Leading up to the draft, there were questions about how high Luka Doncic was going to be drafted. It was widely assumed that he wouldn’t slip past Dallas at No. 5. The Mavericks weren’t going to take that chance as the Hawks drafted Doncic with the intention of trading him to Dallas for Trae Young.

Both teams ultimately get what they need. It’s been reported that the Hawks might move on from Dennis Schroder this summer and they’ll need a point guard to replace him. Young is an explosive scorer who will fit in nicely with Atlanta’s rebuild. He can score from anywhere on the court and he’s a great playmaker as well.

For the Mavericks, they get a guy to add to their own young core with Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes. Doncic has the size to play next to Smith in the backcourt. He’s quite possibly the best playmaker in the draft with a solid offensive game as well.

2. Charlotte Hornets/Los Angeles Clippers

The Hornets and Clippers consummated the second move the night by swapping their own draft picks. The Hornets took Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with the 11th pick and then immediately traded him to the Clippers for Miles Bridges, whom Los Angeles selected at No. 12.

For the Hornets, they get a guy who can play both forward positions. Bridges is more of a small forward but in small ball lineups, he can slide over to the four. Offensively he is at his best when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim. He’s a decent shooter too.

The Clippers get a point guard who was rumored to climbing up many draft boards as the night approached. Gilgeous-Alexander is a solid pick for them provided both Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic’ injury history. He can also play off the ball if need be. He’s got the physical tools to be a very good defender at the NBA level. It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine him as the future long-term starting point guard for the Clippers.

The Hornets also got two future second-round picks from the Clippers.

3. Philadelphia 76ers/Phoenix Suns

The Sixers and the Suns had the next move of draft night, also swapping their picks. The Sixers selected hometown hero Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 pick and later traded him to the Suns for the No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith.

Bridges made a lot of sense for the Sixers. Not only is he a local guy, but his mother works for the team as well. He was a talented player who fit their team. He gave a post-draft press conference raving about being a Sixer all the while he had been traded already. But such is life in the NBA. Instead, Phoenix gets a guy that’s ready to contribute in the NBA right away. He’s the prototypical 3&D type guy.

For the Sixers, Zhaire Smith is another guy who was steadily climbing the boards in the days leading up to the draft. He’s a very athletic prospect with good defensive instincts. He probably won’t play much right away, but he does have the potential to end up being one of the better rotation players in this draft.

The Sixers also get a 2021 first-round pick from the Suns via the Miami Heat. It’s highly likely this ends up being a lottery pick and thus giving the Sixers the chance to add a high-end talent to an already potent group.

4. Second-Round moves

There are a few second-round moves that were made as well.

For one, the Hawks selected Devonte Graham with the 34th pick and traded him to the Hornets for two future second-round picks. Graham is another NBA ready guy who can come in and immediately contend for backup point guard minutes behind Kemba Walker.

The Sixers were involved in another deal sending the No. 38 pick Khyri Thomas to the Detroit Pistons for two future second-round picks. Thomas is a player that many projected to go in the first round. For a team that didn’t have a first-round pick coming into the night, the Pistons essentially picked one up. It’s possible he turns out better than Detroit’s most recent first-rounders Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard.

The Sacramento Kings drafted Gary Trent Jr. with the 37th pick only to trade him to the Portland Trail Blazers for two future second-round picks. Trent was one of the better shooters in the draft and that’s what he projects to the be in the NBA. He’s probably a few years away from earning a spot in the rotation but he was also a possible first-round pick. He’s more NBA ready than Anfernee Simons who the Blazers took in the first-round.

The Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets swapped second-round picks with the Magic sending the No. 41 pick Jarred Vanderbilt to the Nuggets for the No. 43 pick Justin Jackson and a future second-round pick. Vanderbilt is a project in every sense of the word. He’s extremely raw and probably needed more time in college. But he’s got long-term potential and could pay off in the future. Jackson, on the other hand, was possibly a first-round talent had he entered the draft last year. He’s going to have to make the roster but could be a 3&D guy.

In the final move of the night, the Hornets traded the No. 45 pick Hamidou Diallo to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Diallo is a guy that had he come out last year, probably would’ve been a first-round guy. In any case, he is also very raw and will need seasoning in the G-League. He’s got all the physical tools and skill to be a good rotation NBA player.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#28 – Jacob Evans – Golden State Warriors

Jesse Blancarte

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With the 28th overall pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Junior Jacob Evans.

Evans represents a solid pick for nearly any NBA team. Evans fits in the mold of a potential 3-and-D role player. Evans improved in his time at Cincinnati, culminating in his junior year, where he scored 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Evans spent three seasons at Cincinnati and rounded himself into a versatile two-way player who can bring a lot of value at the NBA level.

Evans is a very cognitive player, especially on the defensive end. He has a better grasp of his limitations than most players at this stage of their respective careers and is able to maximize his individual defensive ability within a team concept. Evans generally makes the right rotations, double-teams at the right times and funnels his opponents to where his teammates are when he cannot contain the ball-handler on his own. With the right coaching, he could become a valuable defensive wing in an NBA rotation sooner than some anticipate.

Additionally, Evans is more than just a shooter. He led his team in assists last season and has some skill as a playmaker. Evans will be more of a shooter and finisher in the NBA, but the ability to make the right pass, swing the ball when he isn’t open and take the ball off the dribble when necessary make him an intriguing prospect. This is especially true when you consider how valuable a player like Khris Middleton has become over the years, adding layers to his 3-and-D skill set each season.

The Warriors aren’t in need of an influx of talent but are happy to add Evans regardless.

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