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NBA AM: Is Carmelo Committed To New York?

Carmelo Anthony’s wife may have tipped his free agency cards, or she might have been trying to calm the trade rumor storm… The possible 2014 NBA Draft class has issues.

Steve Kyler

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Calming The Storm Or Telling The Truth?:  With the NBA Trade Deadline roughly 23 days away and the situation with the New York Knicks still floating around the disappointing phase, news that Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony “will stay” with the Knicks becomes interesting in the wake of conflicting reports from all sides of the situation with Anthony and the Knicks.

Anthony has two more years remaining on his contract in New York; this one ($21.388 million) and an early termination option next year ($23.333 million). Anthony has kept no secret that he plans to opt-out of his deal in July and hit the free agent market. Anthony says he wants to listen to other scenarios and experience what the open market is like. Along the way Anthony has repeatedly said he wants to remain in New York long-term, but that he wants to understand his options.

»In Related: The NBA Rumor Round-Up – your daily look at the latest NBA rumors.

For the Knicks, that’s a scary proposition, mainly because they risk losing a marquee free agent for nothing in return. There have been reports suggesting that Anthony has already decided to leave and that he’s showcasing for his eventual exit. There are others close to the situation who believes Anthony is sending signals in efforts to force change in New York before agreeing to a new multi-year deal.

So Sunday night when Anthony’s wife La La Anthony said on Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live” that she felt her husband was staying with the Knicks, it immediately launched a ‘is he or isn’t he’ discussion in the media.

“I get blamed for everything. No matter what happens, it’s my fault,” Anthony said – [watch the video here]. “All these talks if he’s staying in New York or not; I’m somehow the mastermind behind if he stays or not.”

When asked directly if she thought her husband was staying where he is, she emphatically said she thought he was.

“I definitely think he will stay,” Anthony said. “I know that he wants to stay, and I support him wherever he wants to go.

“Listen, I used to live in Denver with him. If I can live in Denver, I can live anywhere. I just want him to be happy.”

The timing of the statement is interesting with trade talks surrounding Anthony ramping up on the heels of Lakers guard Kobe Bryant saying “everyone wants to play in LA.”

»In Related: The New York Knicks Team Salary.

The Knicks clearly have some tough decisions to make before the February 20 NBA Trade Deadline. The question becomes how much stock do the Knicks put into an off-the-cuff answer to a question that started with whether or not La La and Carmelo have “relations before a game?”

This could genuinely be how the Anthony clan feels or this could simply be an attempt at good television theater for a show many people probably didn’t know existed.

» ICYMI: Moke Hamilton filed his first Power Rankings for Basketball Insiders, The Thunder top this list, but number 2 isn’t as expected… Alex Kennedy takes a look at the free agents still available for those teams looking for some veteran experience… Nate Duncan caught up with Warriors GM Bob Myers on a wide range of topics. The easiest way to make sure you don’t miss anything is bookmark the NBA Section.

What You Don’t Want To Hear:  Despite what’s best described as a reality check, the 2014 NBA Draft class still looks to be one of the better crops of young talent the NBA has seen in a while. Especially when you consider that of the 30 players drafted in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft, only three are averaging double figures in scoring and only six drafted players are averaging more than 20 minutes per game.

There are five players that could legitimately be the top overall pick in June’s NBA Draft. As the hype needle on each swings with each passing day of the college basketball season, here are a few brutally honest things to know about each player, and why they may not go number one overall despite their hype.

#1 – Joel Embiid (Kansas):  Despite the hype, Joel Embiid is not the next coming of Shaquille O’Neal. He’s not even the next Dwight Howard. Embiid is a very promising draft prospect because he has an interesting array of skills and he has made a huge leap this year at Kansas, but before you go crossing other names off the board keep in mind, he is still very raw. He is still very new to basketball and while he’s the best big man in the NCAA, he is far from ready for full time work in the pivot in the NBA. The team that takes Embiid number one will need to have a development plan for him and need to be patient with what he can’t do on a lot of levels. The best NBA comparison to Embiid is Indiana’s Roy Hibbert. It took Hibbert easily three years to find his game at the NBA level before becoming one of the best bigs in the game. The runway for Embiid looks to be about the same. In every draft there are names that the media fall in love with because of potential, only to have that snatched away on draft night when reality sets on. The reality on Embiid is that he is a promising NBA talent, but he’s got a ways to go before he’s a full time starter in the NBA and that could create a boom or bust scenario for Embiid.

»In Related: The history of every NBA Draft pick, by pick.

#2 – Andrew Wiggins (Kansas):  When Wiggins wants to be assertive he is an amazing basketball player. In virtually every game you see him make plays that just are unexplainable in terms of ability. The problem for Wiggins is for every play you have to watch again to see if it really happened, there are three where he disappears in games. That’s a real fear for NBA teams that require effort on every possession. There are some that believe Wiggins is not challenged at Kansas and in the NBA when things matter a little more and the competition is greater that he’ll rise to the occasion, but if you are sitting on the top pick is that a risk you are willing to take? There is no doubting Wiggins might be the most talented player available in the 2014 draft class. The problem is that he does not bring max level intensity every time he plays and that’s a scary prospect. Pairing Wiggins with the right coach might be the key to maximizing his ability, but the problem is the teams that draft at the top of the draft tend to have issues in that department. Pound-for-pound Wiggins is going to be hard to pass on at the top of the draft, if teams cannot get past his intensity issues he’ll take a tumble. The best things Wiggins could do for his draft stock is to absolute crush it in the NCAA Tournament. If he turns in a snoozer on the big stage he could have a long draft process.

#3 – Jabari Parker (Duke):  A lot of NBA teams like Parker for all kinds of reasons. He is a good leader. He is humble. He plays hard. He is a student of basketball. The problem with Parker is there are questions about how much more he can be as a basketball player. The recent shooting struggles have not helped his case, but the truth is that like a lot of Duke players he is viewed as more of a finished product than a kid with loads of potential. Maybe that’s because of how precise the Duke system is run, but the generally vibe on Parker is he might be the most ready to play NBA talent on the board, but his ceiling as a star might be a touch lower than Embiid or Wiggins who have the potential to be huge stars. Factor in that Parker is a practicing Mormon and has talked about doing a two-year missionary assignment before coming to the NBA, there is some risk. Most NBA scouts are not buying that Parker or his family is going to risk his NBA career over his church obligations and that Parkers’ soon-to-be public image may do more for the church than him taking two years away from basketball. Personal issues aside, Parker is a special talent. If NBA teams can get past their concerns about his overall ceiling as player, Parker might be the safest pick at the top of the draft board because he looks to be the most ready to contribute on day one, but if a team is swinging for the fences with the top pick Parker might not have enough untapped potential to get him tabbed number one overall.

»In Related: Check out the NBA Draft Pick Debt Page.

#4 – Julius Randle (Kentucky):  There is an awful lot to like about Randle at the next level. He is arguably the best low post player in college basketball and his game translates perfectly to the NBA four spot. He is a player in the mold of a Zach Randolph, and is just a beast on the low block. The knock on Randle is a very small wingspan and that tends to red flag players, especially in the rebounding department. The best comparison might be Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, who teams doubted, but were ultimately proven wrong. NBA teams are going to take a long look at Randal at the top of the board and if there is a dark horse to jump to the top it might be Randle. It’s hard to image that Randle could leap frog Wiggins, Parker and Embiid, but you have to keep him on the radar simply because of all three players, he has maybe been the only one to meet expectations.

#5 – Dante Exum (Australia) :  There is something to be said about being out of the public eye. As NBA scouts scrutinize and over examine players in the college game, the Australian point guard is training and waiting for the draft process to get underway. Not being exposed can be a blessing and a curse. Utah’s Enes Kanter did OK without playing a minute of college basketball. Cleveland’s Dion Waiters didn’t work out or meet with a single NBA team and got drafted at the top of the draft. Exum will work out for teams and will be part of the showcase process surrounding the draft, but he’s not on the floor every week and that makes him a little bit of a mystery for some. There are something to know about Exum. He is rail thin. Think Shaun Livingston when he came into the NBA. Exum’s frame will support a lot more bulk, so that’s something he’ll work on as he progresses. Exum is an electric scorer. He has his critics that point to a suspect jump shot, but he’s been aggressively working on that and showed a lot of promise in the Under-19 tournament this past summer. Is he is a point guard? That’s a fair question for a kid that’s a legit 6’6, the answer is yes, but not in the Chris Paul sense of the term. He is more of a scoring point guard like a Derrick Rose or a Russell Westbrook. He’ll score more points than hand out assists and that might be a red flag for some teams looking for a true play maker. Of the bunch, Exum may have the most to prove to teams in workouts and if he can define his frame a little between now and eventual workouts, Exum could be the real sleeper at the top of the draft simply because people are not seeing him every day.

There are a few more names that could surface in the top overall pick discussion most notably Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart. He might not possess enough potential to go number one overall but he has shown a lot of promise that he is a legit contender for a pick in the two to five range.

Arizona’s Aaron Gordon is having a solid season. In any other draft he’d likely be higher on the draft board but the depth of this class might push him to the outside of the top five and into the next five pick range.

Indiana’s Noah Vonleh is also getting a lot of love from NBA scouts. He is not likely a top overall pick candidate but he may be firmly planted in the five to ten range along with Michigan State’s Gary Harris.

Given how soft the 2013 NBA Draft has turned out to be in terms of immediate rookie talent, the depth of the 2014 NBA Draft is going to create some interesting possibility, even though the players seated at the top of the draft have their wrinkles.

If you are looking for more on the 2014 NBA Draft Class, check out the Top 100 Prospects powered by DraftExpress.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to insure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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Georgetown Prospect Omer Yurtseven is Ready for Center Stage

Omer Yurtseven spoke with Drew Maresca about playing for coach Patrick Ewing, training for the NBA during a pandemic and why he feels he’s the best center in the 2020 draft class.

Drew Maresca

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Omer Yurtseven, the 7-foot tall, Georgetown center, posted an impressive junior season in 2019-20; he averaged 15.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. With legitimate NBA size and skills, it’s no mystery why he’s confident. “I don’t think anyone has my combination of tools and versatility,” Yurtseven recently told Basketball insiders. But he’s also a student of the game –well aware of the game’s history and where it’s headed.

“I wouldn’t put anyone ahead of me. I haven’t seen anyone with the tools that I have. I can shoot the ball, the three-ball, and that’s where the big man is headed,” Yurtseven said.

But he’s not satisfied with what he’s accomplished thus far. He wants more. And he understands that he’ll have to continue working to ensure his spot in the league.

“Some guys might be more athletic [than me], but there are a lot of athletic bigs in the league who don’t stick,” Yurtseven continued. “The skillset is just as important, if not more. So is the [willingness to put in] the work. I think I’m better or as good as any other players, and my rookie year, that’s my goal, to prove that.”

Yurtseven transferred to Georgetown from N.C. State in 2018 after a successful Sophomore season in which he shot over 50 percent on three-point attempts. He sat out the 2018-19 season voluntarily to play for Georgetown and coach Patrick Ewing. The opportunity to work with the Hall of Famer was too good to pass up.

“That’s what I was looking for coming in [working with Ewing]. I needed someone to see the game from my perspective,” Yurtseven said. “I was looking for that feedback and I demanded to be coached. I wanted to learn from him. The thing he stayed on me the most about was the pace of the game and how quick my moves would have to be at the next level.

“The turnaround jumper was one of his major weapons,” Yurtseven continued. “He was ahead of his time, but he wanted to see me do the same thing and give 100 percent effort every time.”

Yurtseven jumper is a major weapon in his arsenal, so a pairing with Ewing was an obvious fit. His numbers remained strong during his junior year season with Georgetown, but with one glaring drop off – three-point percentage. Ewing demanded that Yurtseven operate from the low post, a role that the prospect didn’t love, but accepted. Could a new role be to blame for a down shooting year? Yurtseven would never blame anyone other than himself, especially not Ewing. But it’s clear that he felt like he could have done even more if given the opportunity.

“The biggest thing is, I played how I played because that was the role demanded of me. All I had to do was be the inside presence, the defense collapser, and we had to stick to the strategy that coach thought was best for the team.

“I would love to have caught the ball at the top a little more,” Yurtseven continued. “But I was happy to be the post guy. I knew I had to get into my moves quick, so that’s what I did. I sacrificed what I think is my best skills for the team, and I was fine with it.”

It’s evident that Yurtseven is a team-first guy but his three-point shooting took a significant hit. As mentioned above, Yurtseven shot 50 percent on 1.3 three-point attempts as a sophomore in 2017-18, but only 21.4 percent on only half an attempt from long range per game in 2019-20. However, it’s not in his nature to look back – only ahead.

“That’s been my main focus,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “In April, I was shooting 30 or 40 percent two steps behind the college three. That percentage has added up 5 or 10 percent each month. Doing it isn’t easy, but it pays off and that’s why we do it. Now I’m at 75 or 80 percent (in practice sessions) and I’m really confident in my ability.

“And that’s the most important skill set for big men right now,” Yurtseven said. “You’ve got to be a perimeter shooter, as well as a perimeter defender, because big men are evolving away from the rim.”

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yurtseven – and all of the 2020 class – received longer than normal between the end of the 2019-20 NCAA season and the 2020 NBA Draft. And while mock drafts have slowly whittled down the number of prospects, Yurtseven is working tirelessly to improve his stock in any way possible. impressive game.

“No one knew this offseason would be so long. It’s been 6, 8 months already,” Yurtseven continued. “But the team around me has been a blessing – coordinating workouts and making sure I’m taking steps to improve, from nutrition to training lateral quickness to shooting.

“It’s speed and agility, studying the game and having the knowledge about how to position yourself,” Yurtseven continued. “It’s timing and positioning and footwork. It’s all pieces of the puzzle. But the league is another level than college. That’s why I’ve been preparing, increasing lateral quickness, strengthening my glutes, making sure my quads and hips are firing well and that my lateral push-off is explosive as I want.”

“And seeing it translate on the court in two-on-twos and three-on-threes. Switching on guards and providing I can do it to myself. It’s been really fun and fulfilling.”

Yurtseven could have opted to play professionally in Europe – he had numerous professional offers as an 18-year-old prior to coming to joining N.C. State. But Yurtseven is driven by more than money and fame. He is family-oriented and understands the long game. His parents wanted him to receive a college degree before pursuing basketball – a decision that Yurtseven is happy to have made.

“The education was the main reason [I chose to play in the NCAA]. My family’s dream was that I get a college degree.

“When I was 18, [Turkish teams] offered me a huge contract. I’ve never seen so many zeros in my life,” Yurtseven continued.

“Now it’s time to chase my dream. And my team, my circle, it’s our goal to find a franchise that allows me to grow into a player for 10-plus years – and I’ll never stop working at it.”

Where Yurtseven ultimately plays is anyone’s guess – but he’s already spoken with 17 NBA teams.

Whatever franchise selects the center will add a hard-working and versatile big man that looks well-suited for the modern game – or he may not be selected at all.  Yurtseven is currently ranked outside the top 50 according to some mocks – but if he gets an opportunity, he knows how he’d like to play.

“My aim is to get a double-double, year one,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “And, of course, guarding 1 through 5 is another big thing that coaches are looking for. Look at the Bucks, they were ranked first in offense (in 2019-20). Most of their points come from spot-ups. Defenses collapse on Giannis and Middleton – and Brook Lopez stays alone in the corner. I think that’ll be where I get my shots, too.”

Only three rookies in the past 10 years have averaged a double-double in their first season in the league – Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns, Deandre Ayton. That’s an elite club in which Yurtseven is seeking membership. Can he surprise the basketball world? Only time will tell.

There isn’t much data on him against elite big men. But there is one relevant contest worth examining: a Nov. 22 matchup against Duke and Vernon Carey, who is projected to be drafted No. 26 overall by Basketball Insiders.

Carey filled the stat sheet with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but so did Yurtseven (21 points, five rebounds and four blocks). That night, his entire repertoire was on full display – decisive drop steps, smooth turnaround jump shots over both shoulders, baby hooks, midrange jumpers and hard-nosed defense.

“He was the only true big man that I played against,” Yurtseven recalled. “He was quick and Duke did a good job putting the ball in his hands as soon as he stepped in the paint. I had to exert a lot of energy keeping him off his spot, but I adjusted quickly.

“I figured he would be very strong, but he ultimately didn’t feel as strong as I expected. My maturity and strength helped me a lot.”

Yurtseven’s skill and build render him tailor-made for the NBA. But for most, sticking at the professional peak is about more than skill and body. IQ, on and off of the floor, play a major role, too.

“A lot of guys [in this draft class] haven’t played many games,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “Having a college degree and that experience is a huge tool.

“Playing overseas as a pro is another layer of experience that I have compared to these guys. My IQ has improved. Those one-and-done guys are gonna be thrown into the fire, but I’ll be more ready.

“I saw a study,” Yurtseven explained. “Guys that come in 21-and-under stay in the league two or three years on average. Guys that come in and are 21-or-older stay seven or eight years on average. That just shows how much time it takes to mature your game.”

Comparatively, only four players were 22 or older as on draft night in 2019 – Yurtsevein is 22.

At the end of the day, it will be about how he performs on the court, and he’s comfortable with that.

“If I get drafted, I’ll be the first guy coming out of Turkey with a college degree,” Yurtseven said proudly.

“I’m ready for the next step. I appreciate everyone wishing me luck and supporting me from afar. I can’t wait to show my game’s evolution and reap the benefits of all of the work I’ve put in.”

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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.

David Yapkowitz

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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.

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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.

David Yapkowitz

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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.”

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