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Should The Lakers Pursue Russell Westbrook?

Even amid rumors that Russell Westbrook may be moved, Jabari Davis still believes the Lakers should stand pat.

Jabari Davis



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With the Los Angeles Lakers finally appearing to have turned the corner in terms of fully embracing idea of developing their young core, there are a growing number of fans with understandable concerns over the proposed deadline owner and head of basketball operations Jim Buss famously placed on himself back in January of 2014. Per the Los Angeles Times, Buss made certain guarantees about helping to return the team to the level of contending in a tough Western Conference within a relatively short period to his family and business partners.

The concern from within the fan base isn’t over whether Buss will remain in his current capacity within the front office – he’d remain an owner and person of relative influence, regardless – rather it is whether a man with a proverbial ticking time clock over his shoulder will maintain the patience it may take to see the rebuild through to fruition or if he might be tempted to try to expedite the situation?

As a result, the question about whether the Lakers should seriously consider attempting to make a trade for Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook will remain a part of the general discussion until either the Thunder make the decision to move him rather than face the prospect of losing a second superstar to free agency in as many summers or at least until the 2017 trade deadline finally passes next February. We should have an exact date for that deadline when the 2016-17 NBA schedule is released sometime in August, but needless to say that certainly isn’t an ideal seven-month period for the Thunder or their shell-shocked fan base still reeling after the loss of Kevin Durant.

There’s a growing feeling that if Westbrook has, in fact, given them reason to believe another destination is in his cross hairs for next summer, then OKC general manager Sam Presti could favor the idea of essentially “ripping the band-aid off” all at once rather than prolonging the experience and the process of rebuilding if a desirable deal were to present itself. If Westbrook has already privately given that indication – which, to be clear, there have been no reports to suggest that he has – then the challenge will be in not only finding the best possible deal, but managing to do so with Westbrook having some control over the process since he can determine his long-term fate.

Reports of Westbrook being ‘ticked’ off and feeling motivated following Durant’s departure have begun to surface, but that’s about as predictable of a response as they come. Westbrook is one of those players who constantly exudes a passion and ferocity for the game that seems to be more and more rare these days – even for a professional athlete. It should come as no shock that he would see this as a challenge regardless of what uniform he ultimately dons over the next five (or so) years. While his friendship with Durant will likely remain, you can rest assured that Westbrook will see the Golden State scenario as the ultimate challenge over that stretch.

Unless a GM is willing to take a total flyer and empty out his resources with only a rental season guaranteed, the eight-year-veteran point guard would still hypothetically be able to choose his most desired landing spot.

If you’re Westbrook and you hypothetically want to join the Lakers, wouldn’t you just find a way to let them know that rather than watching them trade away many of the assets that would either make them an attractive destination or permit them to place the talent around him that he might prefer? We discussed the pros and cons of approaching a deal for Westbrook last week, and unless the Lakers were to catch wind of another desired destination willing to make the deal for Westbrook, holding off any such negotiations would absolutely be their best option at this stage.

Again, if you’re a fan of the Lakers, you would hope that both sides would be able to find the patience to wait another season before making a move. The sting of pulling off what seemed to be a very favorable deal at the time when acquiring center Dwight Howard during the summer of 2012 only to see him bolt town following a disappointing season that actually resulted in the franchise’s last trip to the playoffs (a first-round sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs) has to still loom large for this front office, especially given the fact that Pau Gasol did the very same thing the following summer.

As they currently stand, the Lakers have 13 players under contract for the upcoming 2016-17 season. Although it is uncertain whether guys like Metta World Peace, Robert Sacre and Robert Kelly will be a part of the mix moving forward, it probably doesn’t bode well for either of the three given the current trend and direction things are heading. World Peace was last seen at a recent, local tournament and dunk contest hosted by Orlando’s Aaron Gordon (in phenomenal shape this summer, by the way) at Venice Beach in Southern California. Much like they probably should have done last season, the Lakers could keep World Peace around the team as a presence for the younger players – or, perhaps in the event they acquire any headstrong superstar talents in the near future – in a player development role rather than taking up an actual roster spot.

All of that aside, if Westbrook were to privately agree to go to another destination with the promise to ultimately re-sign in an effort to immediately start the next phase of his career, then the Lakers could find themselves in the precarious position of having to pursue a deal of their own. For the record, all of this is also operating under the assumption that newly hired head coach Luke Walton would also be on-board with the idea of coaching a typically ball-dominant player like Westbrook as his first major challenge in the position. Westbrook was actually behind Steph Curry in terms of overall usage rate (31.3 percent and 32 percent, respectively), but obviously didn’t shoot as efficiently as the league’s back-to-back MVP.

Westbrook’s style and overall impact on the game is certainly a good-problem-to-have scenario, but it still shouldn’t go unmentioned. On the flip side, we should also remind you of the tremendous strides Westbrook has made as a playmaker over the last few seasons. After some questioned whether he had the natural instincts to be a floor general, he was fourth overall in assists per game in 2014-15 and as high as second in assists to Rajon Rondo last season. Point being, while he may not be the most ideal fit for the new system and basketball philosophy in Los Angeles, Westbrook has shown plenty of progress and growth over the years and a willingness to adjust his approach at times.

The question would really be whether Walton would hypothetically be able to get through to him even more effectively than his previous coaches (Scott Brooks and Billy Donovan) and inspire him to take yet another step as a player in terms of his efficiency rate. With relating to players being one of the strong suits often attributed to Walton, you probably have confidence in his ability to do exactly that if you’re the Lakers. Time will tell whether the Lakers ultimately have to pursue Westbrook via a deal, but L.A. would be in much better shape if they were able stand pat while continuing to develop that core.

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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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

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