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What the Lakers, Nets Trade Means for Each Team

Cody Taylor breaks down the Lakers-Nets trade that sends D’Angelo Russell to Brooklyn.

Cody Taylor

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The Los Angeles Lakers are trading D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Brook Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick in this year’s draft, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reports.

It appears as though this reported trade could potentially benefit both parties involved. For the Lakers, they’re are able to free up a significant amount of cap space by trading Mozgov and the remainder of the four-year, $64 million contract he signed last summer. In addition, the Lakers pick up an additional first-round pick in this year’s draft and now have three first-round picks in total: Nos. 2, 27 and 28.

Meanwhile, the Nets were able to trade Lopez and his expiring contract for real value. He’ll enter the 2017-18 season on the final year of his contract, which will pay him $22,642,350. In addition, the Nets pick up a promising young point guard in Russell. The Nets struggled this season at the point guard position due to injuries to Jeremy Lin and adding Russell could give the team a long-term solution at the position.

Lopez is coming off of one of his most productive seasons with the Nets. The eight-year veteran averaged 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 blocks per game. He also shot a career-high 34.6 percent from three-point range. The addition of a talented veteran like Lopez will likely help the Lakers improve from their 26-56 record this season.

Russell, the second-overall pick in 2015, is coming off of a season in which he averaged 15.6 points, 4.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game for the Lakers. The idea of trading the former No. 2 pick may not be all that surprising considering that Magic Johnson has openly questioned Russell’s desire to be great. None of the Lakers’ front office that drafted Russell remains with the team and Johnson likely wanted to start fresh with his own group of players.

By trading Russell, it likely means the Lakers are locked in on drafting Lonzo Ball with the second overall pick on Thursday night. Many have speculated in recent weeks that the Lakers would draft Ball given the fact that Ball grew up in California and played at UCLA. With Ball likely being drafted by the Lakers, questions began to surface on how Ball and Russell could play together on the court. By trading Russell, this is no longer an issue.

By ridding themselves of Mozgov’s contract, the Lakers clear a large amount of guaranteed money, which could significantly help the team’s chances of going after Paul George — either by acquiring him in a trade this summer or signing him next summer in free agency. The team has also been rumored to be a potential destination for LeBron James should he opt to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers after next season.

Adding an additional draft pick in this year’s draft figures to help the Lakers potentially acquire George this summer. The Pacers would likely be seeking younger players and draft picks in any potential deal for George and the Lakers would be able to package the No. 27 and No. 28 picks in Thursday’s draft for him. The Pacers could be motivated to trade George before the draft so they can ensure they draft the players they really want.

Regardless of what happens before now and the draft, it appears as though the Lakers are making a strong play to acquire George.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA Daily: Yuta Watanabe Using Versatility, Defense To Push Forward

Undrafted forward Yuta Watanabe impressed all week at Summer League for the Brooklyn Nets — now he’s ready to do whatever it takes to get an NBA opportunity.

Ben Nadeau

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Heading into Las Vegas Summer League, it finally became difficult to look past the Brooklyn Nets. After three-straight seasons merely existing in the equivalency of basketball purgatory, the Nets brought an exciting, young roster out west — one that included Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and their two recent first-round selections, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs. But when three of the four marquee names ended up watching from the sidelines, Brooklyn needed somebody to save the day — and as it turned out, his name was Yuta Watanabe.

Watanabe, 23, was an undrafted four-year senior out of George Washington this summer, but very quickly, the 6-foot-9 prospect has made a name for himself. Through his five games in Vegas, Watanabe averaged 9.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 41 percent from the floor, while nearly leading the banged-up Nets in minutes along the way. And although they were the only winless team in Vegas, Watanabe was a major bright spot for Brooklyn and said that he felt himself improving early in the process.

“Yeah, I’m starting to get comfortable,” Watanabe said following a recent Summer League defeat. “Our teammates didn’t know each other and we didn’t play well today — but fourth quarter, I thought we played together. I could attack the rim more, so I think I’m getting comfortable right now.”

Of course, Watanabe’s eye-opening stretch is not an indictment on every other franchise for not taking a late flier on the Japanese-born shooter either. With front offices looking to lengthen and shape the careers of their draftees at every turn, seniors are often passed up in favor of younger potential. In 2018 alone, only 11 seniors were selected at all — Grayson Allen and Chandler Hutchison were the lone first-rounders — a number down two from the year prior.

In spite of his pre-draft workouts and favorable numbers at George Washington (16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per game), Watanabe was always a long-shot to get drafted. But given the inroads to the NBA via the G-League or a two-way contract, Watanabe is far from finished in chasing his professional dreams.

“I was so excited — right after the draft, my agent called me and he told me: ‘You’re playing with the Nets.’” Watanabe told Basketball Insiders. “I was so excited, also he told me that there was going to be a lot of international players. As an international player, I was like so hyped.”

And it’s true, the Nets — led by general manager Sean Marks, a native New Zealander — have made a concerted effort to search out and acquire talent however possible. Watanabe was joined on the roster by the aforementioned Musa and Kurucs, of Bosnia and Latvia, respectively, Shawn Dawson of Israel, Ding Yanyuhang of China and Juan Pablo Vaulet, an Argentinian stash that’s one of the final holdovers from the last front office regime.

But while Watanabe may not hold a guaranteed contract, his noteworthy run with the Nets in Vegas could put him in pole position to earn one of those elusive two-way deals. Last season, the Nets ended the year with James Webb III and Milton Doyle, the latter of which the franchise tendered a qualifying offer to late last month, as their two-way assets. Still, things can change awfully fast in the NBA and Watanabe definitively fills two needs that Brooklyn has long sought-after since Marks took over in February of 2016: Multi-positional defense and reliable three-point shooting.

During his final season at George Washington, Watanabe hit on 36.4 percent of his long-range attempts and averaged 1.6 blocks per game as well — fully transforming into the flexible prospect he is today. In fact, the Nets have struggled to find consistent three-point shooting in the frontcourt since Brook Lopez was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, so Watanabe could be useful at that tricky stretch four position.

Although it’d be a new adventure for the defensive-minded grinder, Watanabe is up for it all the same.

“I mean, that’s one of my strengths, versatility is one of my strengths. If they want me to play four, I’m fine with that,” Watanabe said. “If I can hit shots — I’m 6-foot-9, long, athletic, so I have no problem playing the four.”

Of the nine Nets players to make one or more three-pointers per game last season, just two of them — Quincy Acy and Dante Cunningham — regularly slotted in at power forward. And beyond that, only Joe Harris, Nik Stauskas, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll and Cunningham finished their 2017-18 campaigns with a higher three-point percentage than Watanabe. As a team, the Nets tossed up 35.7 three-pointers per game — second-most in the NBA — and converted on just 35.6 percent of them, a rate that left them in the league basement.

Meanwhile, out in the Atlantic 10 conference, George Washington made just 5.5 shots from downtown per game, with Watanabe accounting for 1.7 of them on his own. Certainly, nobody expects Watanabe to immediately continue that success at the NBA level — but there’s a precedence and fit here within a franchise that’s been laser-focused on player development as of late.

On top of all that, Watanabe is the reigning winner of the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Award and he proved it out in Vegas. Following his final game against the Indiana Pacers on Friday, the former Colonial finished with a total of blocked eight shots and defended both guards and forwards throughout the tournament — a facet of his game that Watanabe takes pride in.

“Defense is also [one of] my strengths in college too,” Watanabe said. “I can’t remember how many blocks I got today, but I was able to show that I can play defense — even at the four.”

The recent acquisitions of Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur will make Watanabe’s path to a big-league opportunity that much harder — but the Nets have also benefitted from a strong G-League affiliate in recent seasons as well. So even if Watanabe doesn’t receive a two-way contract, he may have landed with a franchise well-suited to bring the very best out of him.

Should Watanabe ever reach the NBA, he’d be just the second-ever from Japan to do so — following in the footsteps of Yuta Tabuse, a 5-foot-9 point guard that played in four games for the Phoenix Suns back in 2004-05. But for now, Watanabe is all about helping out his new franchise in whatever way he can — whether that’s from behind the arc or below the rim.

“Make some open shots, play defense and just play as hard as possible — so I think that’s my job right now.”

Nobody knows what the future holds for Watanabe quite yet — but as of now, he’s doing exactly that.

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NBA Daily: Harry Giles, Just What the Doctor Ordered

It’s been a long time coming for Harry Giles, but judging by his showing in Las Vegas, he might be worth the wait.

Shane Rhodes

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It’s been a long time coming for Harry Giles. But, if his performance this summer is anything to go by, he will be well worth the wait for the Sacramento Kings.

The Kings knew they were taking a risk with Giles. After he was selected 20th overall in 2017, he missed the entire season due to injury concerns. Originally projected to return in January 2018, the Kings pushed his return back to this summer, giving Giles the opportunity to further rehab his knees, both of which have dealt with serious injuries since his time in high school.

But now, with his chance to finally show what he can do on the court, Giles has shown, in more ways than one, he is just what the doctor ordered for the Kings. He’s shown that he can be a and wants to be a leader as much as a dominant force on the court.

“Me being a little older, being a little more experienced, I’ve just got to go out there and lead by example,” Giles told Basketball Insiders during his stint at the Las Vegas Summer League.

Sacramento has desperately lacked a franchise leader for years. They haven’t topped 35 wins in a decade. They haven’t made the postseason in 12 years, the longest active drought in the NBA. Since shipping out DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento has done well to stockpile good, young players: De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Willy Cauley-Stein, Marvin Bagley III, Giles and others are all building toward the future, but no one has stepped up to fill that void. Every young team needs a leader, especially when they play in the brutal Western Conference.

And Giles has taken that role upon himself personally.

To start, Giles has been a force on the court for the Kings, both in the California Classic and the Las Vegas Summer League. Across seven games he has averaged 10.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals and shot 44.2 percent from the floor while playing hardnosed defense on the other end. The Kings ranked dead last in scoring last season, were 28th in rebounding and 22nd in field goal percentage, so his contributions will definitely be welcomed in all of those areas and more. He has been praised by coaches and fellow players alike as well.

“The coaches trust me to go out there and do what I’m supposed to do and I do a good job of not trying to overdo it, just play my spots and my position.”

“I’m starting to put myself together,” Giles said.

Giles also told Basketball Insiders that he feels like a leader “more and more each game” and that his job is “about making everyone feel comfortable” on the court. That, he noted, starts with talking to one another on the floor.

“I learned from my vets that you have to talk to get yourself comfortable,” Giles said. “You’ve got to let guys know that it’s okay to talk, it’s smart to talk, it helps to talk, it gets you comfortable.”

True to his words, Giles has been one of the more vocal Kings this summer, whether he be on the court or watching from the bench. That, combined with his maturity, cultivated during his time lost to injury, makes him one of the better candidates to become that guy for Sacramento, someone that can lead them back to contention.

Still, Giles reiterated that a leader must lead by example and that that is what he’s tried to do all summer.

“You really can’t be a leader unless you lead by example,” Giles said. “You’ve got to show to prove, and that’s what I try to go out there and do.

The Kings hope Giles can do just that, for this season and for many others. He’ll have to if Sacramento wants to return to the postseason.

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NBA Daily: Jackson and Ayton give Phoenix hope

After years of dwelling in mediocrity, Josh Jackson and Deandre Ayton give the Suns their first glimmer of promise since the Steve Nash era.

Matt John

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Since ending the Steve Nash era back in 2012, the Phoenix Suns have struggled to find a clear direction to go.

In the last six years, the Suns have been on an unpredictably wild ride to put it delicately. There’s been rebuilding, there’s been overachieving, there’s been re-tooling, there’s been bridge burning, and then there’s been trading that valuable Lakers pick for $70 million of Brandon Knight.

At the height of their wild ride has been their recent draft history.

Following a season in which they were tanking, the Suns whiffed when they took Alex Len with the fifth overall pick in 2013. Two years later, following a season in which they were not tanking, the Suns struck gold when they took Devin Booker with the 13th pick.

Their other picks leading up to 2017 have ranged from solid (TJ Warren) to highly questionable (Marquese Chriss) to long-term project (Dragan Bender). While not bad, it’s fair to say that, up until recently, the Suns’ drafting hasn’t exactly gotten them out of the mess they’ve created since Nash left.

However, their recent lottery picks—Josh Jackson and DeAndre Ayton—have given the team reason to believe that the new glorious new era they’ve been waiting for post-Nash has finally arrived.

This of course started the second Ayton was drafted by the Suns on draft night, but the hype has only grown stronger since the summer league began.

That starts with Jackson. The fourth overall pick from 2017 did not have the best start to his rookie season, but as he got more reps, his numbers vastly improved across the board, indicating that there should be plenty of optimism surrounding what next season holds for the sophomore.

His numbers have not been very pretty so far in the summer league, but Jackson continues to show more and more glimpses of the all-around player that scouts pegged him to be coming into the league, highlighted by his “Welcome to the league” swat of Marvin Bagley during the team’s second game against the Kings.

Even with his struggles, Jackson believes that there has been a notable difference playing in this year’s summer league compared to last year’s for him.

“I’m a lot more comfortable,” Jackson said. “Coming in this year, I feel more like a leader, like I’m more knowledgeable about how things are supposed to go out there so I’ve been trying to be a little bit more vocal with the guys out there, trying to make sure that they are in the right position on offensive and defensive sets.”

Jackson also noted that, since being in the summer league, that his biggest lesson he’s taken is to consistently work hard on the parquet floor.

“The biggest thing I learned is to come out and play with effort,” Jackson said. “Each and every time you step out there, you gotta come with it, or the guy across from you will get the best of you.”

Jackson’s skills have been on display in the summer league, but all eyes have been on this years’ first overall pick in the draft, DeAndre Ayton. Expectations are sky high for the young big as he entered the league. Hence, he wasted no time showing the big leagues what he could do. In only 22 minutes of action against the Dallas Mavericks, Ayton put up an efficient stat line of 10 points and eight rebounds in his first game in the summer league.

Ayton later capitalized on his promising start in his next game against the Kings. The University of Arizona alum made it look too easy out there as he put up a stat line of 21 points and 12 rebounds in just 29 minutes of action. Ayton has continued his electric play since and has looked every bit the player Phoenix believed he could be when they took him.

As far as first impressions go, Deandre Ayton could not have started his career off any better in the Las Vegas Summer League. Though he has met (or arguably even exceeded) expectations so far, Ayton has taken the note of the differences between college ball and NBA ball.

“Transitioning from college to the NBA, everybody is physical,” Ayton said. “Some dudes might not look strong, but they are pretty strong.”

As impressive as he has been, Ayton prefers to remain humble in regards to his performance as he continues to get more experience under his belt as a pro.

“I could do better, but overall I thought I did alright,” Ayton said. “I just think forgetting one or two plays and not really staying vocal with the fatigue, I gotta work on those, but I thought I did alright.”

The Suns have struggled to figure out their identity since they went for the rebuild six years ago. With Jackson and Ayton leading the way among their other youngsters on the roster, the Suns now have a great foundation of youth to work with for the next decade.

For their sake, these young gun Suns will hopefully lead the Suns to more success than the Steve Nash era, but that’s easier said than done.

Much easier.

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