This offseason was something else for Los Angeles, and that’s putting it lightly.
At long last, the Los Angeles Lakers landed the second superstar they wanted to pair with LeBron James – Anthony Davis. To acquire Davis, the Lakers traded Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, the rights to De’Andre Hunter (4th overall pick in 2019 draft), two future first-rounders and one first-round pick swap to the New Orleans Pelicans. The Lakers also traded Isaac Bonga, Moritz Wagner, Jemerrio Jones and a 2022 second-rounder to the Washington Wizards (with Washington sending cash to the Pelicans) in order to create more cap space to pursue Kawhi Leonard and create a devastating Big Three.
Leonard ended up signing with the in-arena rival Clippers, but the Lakers still have two of the top five players in the NBA and then added several other players to fill out the roster. A team featuring LeBron James and Anthony Davis has the foundation to instantly be a contender and arguably makes the Lakers the favorite to make it out of the Western Conference in the postseason. Notably, the Lakers also added Danny Green as a capable 3-and-D wing with championship experience.
Whether the Lakers have placed the right players around Davis, James and Green is the big question. Of the previous young core they’d been building around, Kyle Kuzma is the one the team refused to include in the Davis trade. Los Angeles also signed DeMarcus Cousins to a team-friendly contract to add more punch at the center position. Unfortunately, Cousins tore his ACL recently and will likely miss the upcoming season. In response, the Lakers signed Dwight Howard to a one-year contract, which has Lakers fans feeling conflicted.
But how far can the team go? Is it really championship or bust? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Lakers in this 2019-20 NBA Season Preview.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
LeBron James and Anthony Davis are officially happening. It took a lot to get The Brow to Hollywood, but this superstar pairing may very well go down as being one of the best of all-time. This time around, Rob Pelinka did a solid job of making sure the talent surrounding them will be able to contribute as well. New faces such as Danny Green, Troy Daniels and Avery Bradley will bring the 3-and-D thunder in supplementary roles. Quinn Cook is one of the most overlooked, up-and-coming point guards just waiting for an opportunity to prove himself. Everybody wants to talk about Dwight Howard, but let’s not forget how good JaVale McGee was last season either.
Veteran leader Frank Vogel will be the man in charge at head coach — but he’s also got Jason Kidd as his top assistant. That’s really the only thing we should be unsure about, but the talent and experience on paper could make the situation fit seamlessly. James has gotten the most rest he’s had since the summer of 2004. Brace yourselves, Lakers fans: The six-year playoff drought is coming to an end.
2nd Place – Pacific Division
– Spencer Davies
The Lakers began their offseason horribly with a public breakup between the team and Magic Johnson. But bad times don’t seem to last long in Los Angeles. Pairing Anthony Davis with LeBron James makes them a viable championship contender right away. Signing and then losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL was a blow to their depth chart and overall talent, but they have two of the very best players on the planet and most teams will struggle to match the James-Davis tandem — that is, assuming they can remain healthy.
As a bonus, we’ve heard a lot this summer out of Team USA camp about Kyle Kuzma’s improved shooting and defensive. It would help the Lakers incredibly if he’s really improved in those areas, as he was already a top-100 player without the elite three-point range and some sub-par defense. The additions of Avery Bradley, Danny Green and Jared Dudley were all excellent for the team. Of course, the Lakers will live and die by James and Davis.
2nd Place – Pacific Division
The Lakers pulled off one of the biggest moves of the offseason in trading for Anthony Davis. After missing the playoffs last season, the duo of Davis and LeBron James should be enough to catapult Los Angeles back into the postseason. But health is going to be a factor as they’ve likely lost DeMarcus Cousins for the season. James has been very durable throughout his career, but he missed a significant amount of time last year due to injury. Davis also missed games — and throughout his entire career, really — last season with an injury. One major hit to either of those two players and that could be it for the Lakers’ season, the Western Conference is that tough.
The biggest question mark, however, is Dwight Howard. If he’s motivated, he could end up being one of the biggest steals of the offseason. If not? Then the Lakers already shaky depth suffers a big blow. Even if they all stay healthy, the Lakers’ ceiling is probably a 4 or 5 seed out west.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– David Yapkowitz
There is a lot to say about the Los Angeles Lakers’ offseason — but the main takeaway is that they’ve acquired Anthony Davis just one year after signing LeBron James in free agency. That’s categorically a win, especially for a franchise that has failed to live up to its prestige in recent seasons. Having said that, the Lakers did give up Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, the rights to De’Andre Hunter, two future first-rounders and one first-round pick swap to the New Orleans Pelicans for Davis. While that is a lot to give up in a trade, pairing Davis with LeBron this season is worth it.
Beyond Davis, the Lakers also brought in Avery Bradley, Quinn Cook, DeMarcus Cousins, Troy Daniels, Jared Dudley, Danny Green, Dwight Howard and Talen Horton-Tucker, while re-signing several of their veterans. Green should be a major contributor and will help spread the floor for LeBron and Davis to operate closer to the basket. Unfortunately, Cousins went down with an ACL tear and will likely miss the upcoming season. Overall, the Lakers put together a talented, though imperfect, roster around James and Davis.
The Lakers have the talent to make it to the NBA Finals this year, but that will be determined in large part on how well Frank Vogel can sort out and optimize this team in his first season as its head coach.
2nd Place – Pacific Division
– Jesse Blancarte
There are times in life where you have to go all-in and when you have LeBron James on the roster, you don’t waste those opportunities. Yes, the Lakers paid a hefty price to acquire Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans but, let’s be honest, none of the guys they gave up are future All-Stars, let alone All-Stars while James can still influence a game. The Lakers are better today than they were at the end of the season and, while they will lack assets to add to the team, they have two of the top five or so players in the NBA — that is usually enough to be respectable.
The other part is this: Every time James has been counted out, he’s won the MVP that following season. He may not have another MVP in him, but when you look at how much he changed his body for Space Jam 2 and how motivated all the involved parties are, then the Lakers should be among the top four in the conference and that’s worth the price paid for Anthony Davis by itself. Coaching and three-point shooting is a question, but in the NBA, stars win you games and the Lakers have two of the game’s brightest.
2nd Place – Pacific Division
– Steve Kyler
FROM THE CAP GUY
In addition to their blockbuster acquisition of Anthony Davis, the Lakers managed enough cap room to sign Kawhi Leonard, but the NBA Finals MVP chose to go the Los Angeles Clippers instead. The Lakers pivoted to fleshing out the team with role players like Danny Green, DeMarcus Cousins and Avery Bradley.
Unfortunately, Cousins suffered a season-ending knee injury. The team will likely end up with a $1.8 million Disabled Player Exception for Cousins, but that may not be enough to use for a significant replacement. Instead, the Lakers added Dwight Howard on a non-guaranteed minimum contract as the team’s 15th standard NBA contract (the team has 14 fully guaranteed).
Looking ahead, the Lakers need to pick up the team option on Kyle Kuzma before November. Outside of LeBron James, the rest of the team’s players are on one- or two-year contracts (many with player options). The most notably is Davis, who can leave as a free agent next summer. Obviously, his happiness is the team’s top priority as to make sure he chooses to stay long term.
– Eric Pincus
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis is top-10 — arguably even higher — player in the NBA and, when healthy, he is an MVP-caliber level player. But Davis has been out of the spotlight for some time and has never played with a player of James’ stature either. James and Davis both spend significant time playing at power forward while being the focal point of the team’s offense. With the potential for significant overlap, it will be interesting to see how this dynamic will be managed. Last week, Davis shared his thoughts on the matter:
“I’ve kind of been a focal-point player my whole career, especially in New Orleans. But, first off, to have a guy like LeBron, someone of his caliber, go tell management and ownership and the coaches that he wants me to be the focal point is an honor,” Davis told Yahoo Sports.
Davis and James appear to be on the same page with an emphasis on building up Davis as the team’s workhouse. Going into his 17th season, James has had a super-human ability to stay healthy thus far. That luck seemed to run out a bit last season with a groin injury. While James did recover and return, the Lakers’ season was lost while he was away and James appeared somewhat slowed before being shut down toward the end of the season. Considering the age and mileage James has put on his body over his career, it makes sense for Davis to be the main focal point for this team.
“I know what comes with that and that’s a lot of heavy lifting. I want to be able to do that. I think I have the capabilities of doing that. And obviously, with the team’s support, it’s going to be a lot easier on me. We have a great team,” Davis said.
Top Defensive Player: Anthony Davis
Earlier in his career, James was a defensive menace and could guard every position consistently and effectively. James has scaled back his effort on defense in the last few seasons, which makes sense considering that aforementioned millage. That means Davis is the most consistent and dynamic defensive player on the Lakers’ roster, bar none.
“I want to be Defensive Player of the Year,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “I think if I’m able to do that, I can help this team win. The offensive end will come around, but defensively, I want to hold myself, teammates, including LeBron, accountable in order for us to take on the challenge of being the best we can defensively.”
It’s interesting that Davis would not only speak about keeping himself and his teammates accountable but that he included James by name.
“[W]e’ll have a good chance of winning every night. I want to make sure me and LeBron are on the All-Defensive Team. And for me personally, I just want to be the Defensive Player of the Year. If we’re able to hold teams under 100, which is probably unrealistic but it should be our goal, I think we’ll have a shot at winning the title.”
Top Playmaker: LeBron James
James has been the lead ball-handler on every team he has played on and that doesn’t figure to change this season. With his size, athleticism, court vision and unselfish approach to the game, James is one of the most devastating playmakers in the game. With Davis running on the fast break, dropping to the basket out of pick-and-rolls and carving out space near the basket, James will have even more opportunities to tally up assists. With all due respect to Chris Bosh and Kevin Love, Davis is on another level as a big man and should draw significant defensive attention each time the Lakers are on offense. With extra space to operate, James may be in for one of his most efficient seasons as a playmaker.
Top Clutch Player: LeBron James
Davis could end up wrestling this title from James at some point — but, for now, James’ multifaceted arsenal and unlimited experience in tight games give him the edge. Davis has had big moments but he doesn’t have the proven track record that James has. Very few in NBA history do, to be fair. There was a time early in his career where many argued James was not clutch and didn’t have the mentality to be a go-to player in clutch situations. James has proven that theory wrong and is still one of the toughest covers in the most important situations.
So, until proven differently, the responsibility for top clutch player falls to James.
The Unheralded Player: JaVale McGee
Despite his reputation for being clumsy, JaVale McGee offered reliable contributions on the offensive and defensive side of the ball last season. Bringing McGee back gives the Lakers another solid option at center, which will allow Davis to play at his preferred position of power forward. So long as Davis is allowed to play many of his minutes at the four, the Lakers will have to competently man the center position — of course, Cousins’ injury complicated this plan.
McGee represents as good a player as the Lakers can reasonably expect and has already proved he can stay focused through the long NBA season without causing the team headaches. Dwight Howard might prove capable — but, between the two, Howard is the long shot and McGee is the safer bet. Go figure.
Best New Addition: Anthony Davis
There isn’t as much to say here except that Davis is a spectacular get for the Lakers. Multiple young players and numerous draft picks were required to wrestle Davis away from the Pelicans. But when you have a player like James and available assets, you make moves to solidify a championship-worthy team. If the Lakers win a championship as the result of this trade while keeping Davis as a long-term asset, this trade is easily worth the risk.
– James Blancarte
WHO WE LIKE
1. Kyle Kuzma
So much rests on the shoulders of Kuzma. He is talented, can score and is young, so we can reasonably expect him to improve this season. As the third option on a team that features two generational talents, the Lakers are optimistic that Kuzma is up to the challenge of being the team’s third option. However, Kuzma’s three-point shooting dropped significantly from his rookie season. While that is not the most positive sign, Kuzma should expect to have less attention paid to him now that the Lakers have James and Davis powering the offense. Kuzma isn’t known as any sort of defensive stalwart but has the tools to be an effective team asset.
2. Frank Vogel
The Lakers moved on from Luke Walton this offseason. A favorite of Jeanie Buss, Walton helped oversee the development of many of the team’s younger players and guide the franchise through their recent multi-season drought. Walton is now in Sacramento and, thusly, now begins the Frank Vogel era.
James has played against Vogel-coached teams for years and had some high-profile playoff matchups against the Indiana Pacers earlier in his career. Should Vogel be able to build a strong enough defensive unit centered around Davis while hiding players like Kuzma, the Lakers will likely be one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.
Unfortunately, there was some drama surrounding Vogel’s hiring. Vogel was famously the second choice of the Lakers after negotiations with Tyronn Lue broke down. Further complicating Vogel’s hiring is the supposed mandate that any head coach would be required to have previous head coach Jason Kidd as a high-profile assistant coach. If Vogel struggles to meet expectations early in the season, we may hear calls for Kidd to take over the top job.
3. JaVale McGee
Last season, the Lakers took numerous swings on capable veterans with checkered pasts. Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley are long gone. Rajon Rondo has had moments but is inconsistent and last season was often one of the sources of drama that hurt the team. Of this group, count JaVale McGee as the exception.
As a major silver lining, McGee put his head down and did whatever the team needed. McGee offered a lob threat on offense, as well as someone who could defend the rim, rebound and score on put backs. While the Lakers made bigger acquisitions, bringing back McGee at a low cost will be a key roster-building move, especially considering Cousins’ injury and the questions that always surround Howard.
4. Quinn Cook
Quinn Cook doesn’t put up monster numbers and probably shouldn’t be the starting point guard for a contending team. But Cook has developed into a steady hand at point guard, reliable converts and has a championship-level experience from his time with the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers signed Cook to a reasonable contract and should definitely benefit with him on the roster, especially considering Rondo’s injury history and the relative inexperience of Alex Caruso. Additionally, Cook can play effectively off the ball and has logged time playing alongside point forwards like James.
– James Blancarte
The frontcourt. Davis, James and Kuzma could make for a dangerous frontcourt, especially on offense. Danny Green can play in the backcourt but can easily slot into the frontcourt to defend an opposing elite small forward. Even Jared Dudley can offer some additional versatility on both ends of the court at either forward position. McGee and Howard will battle it out for the starting center position but both are poised to contribute regardless. At all times, there should be a capable combination of players manning the frontcourt and carrying this team.
– James Blancarte
Guard play and, obviously, relative heath. On the first note, the Lakers will be relying on some combination of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Quinn Cook, Alex Caruso, Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo. Adding Green to that list doesn’t do enough to address all of the issues this group will likely face. Lakers fans need to brace for the likelihood that Rondo will again be the starting point guard for the team.
When he is focused and playing well, Rondo helps to set up teammates well as a distributor. Unfortunately, Rondo’s mercurial personality can lead to drama for the Lakers. Rondo’s antics could splinter a team that features so much talent and many strong personalities. Additionally, Rondo’s defense leaves a lot to be desired. He’s also on the back end of his career, so there isn’t much reason to believe that will change this upcoming season.
Whether anyone can surpass Rondo at the position is up in the air. Caruso played well at the end of last season, and is a bit of a folk hero for Lakers fans, but will have to show he can play well when it matters most. Regardless, the Lakers could use an infusion of talent in the backcourt.
– James Blancarte
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can this team win it all this upcoming season?
This team has the top-end talent necessary to be a dangerous team in the playoffs. While many have the Lakers as a top-five favorite to win the championship next season, it’s not clear they have what it takes to overcome other top teams like the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers or Milwaukee Bucks. The answer to this question will be heavily based on how quickly this team can build chemistry and identity under their new head coach, Frank Vogel. If they can do this, the Lakers have a respectable chance of competing for the championship this upcoming season.
– James Blancarte
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.”
NBA Daily: Alex Caruso: The Lakers’ Unsung Hero
The Los Angeles Lakers are two wins from an NBA championship and Alex Caruso is just happy to play his role and contribute.
Alex Caruso has technically been an NBA player for three years now, but this season is his first on a regular NBA contract.
After going undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2016, he began his professional career as with the Philadelphia 76ers in summer league. He managed to make it to training camp with the Oklahoma City Thunder but was eventually cut and acquired by their the G League team, the Blue.
In the summer of 2017, he joined the Los Angeles Lakers for summer league, and he’s stuck with the team ever since. A strong performance in Las Vegas earned him the opportunity to sign a two-way contract with the Lakers for the 2017-18 season, meaning he’d spend most of his time with the South Bay Lakers in the G League.
The Lakers re-signed him to another two-way contract before the 2018-19 season. Restricted to only 45 days with the Lakers under his two-way contracts, Caruso played in a total of 62 games over those two years.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2019 that the Lakers finally signed him to a standard NBA contract worth $5.5 million over two years. And he’s become a key player off the Lakers bench, especially in the playoffs.
Despite not getting much of an early opportunity, Caruso continued to put in the work in anticipation of when his number would finally be called. He always was confident that it would come.
“It’s been the story of my career, no matter what level I’m at, the more time I have on the court, the better I’ve gotten,” Caruso told reporters after the Lakers eliminated the Denver Nuggets. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity, I was two years on two-ways…finally I played well enough to get a contract, and over the course of the year it’s the same thing, anytime I can get out there on the court, I get better.”
Caruso’s stats may not jump off the page, he put up 5.5 points per game this season on only 41.2 percent shooting from the field, 33.3 percent from three-point range, 1.9 assists and 1.9 rebounds, but his impact has gone far beyond statistics.
His playoff numbers are up slightly at 6.8 points on 43.6 percent shooting to go along with 2.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds, but he’s become an invaluable member of the team’s postseason run. The defensive intensity and energy he brings to the court have been instrumental in playoff wins.
In this postseason alone, he’s seen himself matched up defensively with Damian Lillard, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and one of the bubble’s breakout stars in Jamal Murray. Each time, he hasn’t backed down from the challenge and has even provided solid man to man defense on each of them.
“Looking and diving into the basketball aspect, series by series, just finding different ways that I know I can be effective, watching past games against opponents, just knowing their tendencies,” Caruso said on a recent media call. “The defense and the effort thing is something I’m always going to have. You can see that in the regular season when I might be more excited on a stop or defensive play on somebody than the rest of the team in game 45 or 50 in the season.”
While his main contributions have been his defense and his hustle, he’s found ways to be effective on the offensive end as well. While not shooting particularly well from three-point range percentage-wise in the playoffs at only 26.9 percent, he’s hit some timely ones during Laker runs to either pull closer to their opponent or to blow the game open.
He’s also been able to get the rim off drives and get himself to the free-throw line, and he’s made strong cuts off the ball to free himself up for easy layups. Playing with the second unit, he’s played a lot of off-ball with Rajon Rondo as the main facilitator, or with LeBron James as the only starter on the floor.
“For me, I think it’s about being aggressive. At any time I can put pressure on the paint whether it’s to get to the rim to finish or to draw fouls or make the defense collapse and get open shots for teammates, that’s really an added benefit for us to have multiple guys out on the court,” Caruso said.
“So whenever I’m out there with Rondo or with LeBron, to not have the sole focus be on one of them to create offense for everybody, it makes us a lot more balanced.”
The trust that Lakers head coach Frank Vogel and the rest of the team have in Caruso has been evident this whole postseason. Perhaps no bigger moment came for him than in Game 6 against the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals when Vogel left him on the court to close out the game.
He’s also become one of the team’s vocal leaders on the court during gameplay, on the sidelines in the huddle and the locker room. On a team with a lot of strong personalities, Caruso’s ascendance as a locker room leader is something that just comes naturally for him. It’s something he’s done his entire basketball career.
“Being vocal has always been easy for me. Outside of this team, I’ve usually been one of the leaders on the team, one of the best players on my team growing up at different levels of basketball. Being vocal is pretty natural for me,” Caruso said.
“I got the trust of my teammates, they understand what I’m talking about. I say what I need to say and it doesn’t fall on deaf ears. I’m really competitive and if there’s something I think needs to be said, I’m going to do it. I leave no stone unturned to get the job done.”
Now in the NBA Finals, as the Lakers seek to win their first championship since 2010 and No. 17 overall, Caruso has reprised his role as a defensive irritant and glue guy who makes winning plays. For the team to win this series, they need to continue to get timely contributions from him.
And with each step of the way, he’s just soaking it all up and is thrilled to be able to have this opportunity alongside some of the NBA’s best.
“It’s a journey I’ve been on my whole life just to get to this point. It’s really cool, I don’t know how to state it other than that,” Caruso said. “It’s just super cool for me to be able to have this experience. To play meaningful minutes and play well, and be on the court with LeBron in big-time moments.”