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NBA Trade Watch: The Pacific Division

David Yapkowitz breaks down possible trade deadline moves in the Pacific Division.

David Yapkowitz

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As we reach the end of the week, we also reach the end of our latest series here at Basketball Insiders. With the NBA’s trade deadline on the horizon, chatter has been heating up around the league. With our final installment of this series, we take a look at the Pacific Division.

Golden State Warriors (34-9)

What more needs to be said about the Warriors? They have the best record in the NBA and clearly appear to be head and shoulders above the rest of the league. They’ve got the best starting lineup in the NBA and one of the best benches; there really isn’t anything that this team needs.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Kevin Durant – $25,000,000(player option)
Nick Young – $5,192,000
Zaza Pachulia – $3,477,600
Kevon Looney – $1,471,382
Pat McCaw – $1,312,611(qualifying offer)

Names Worth Talking About:

Despite the Warriors’ overall dominance, there are a couple of players that could see their names come up in trade rumors. One is backup big man JaVale McGee. McGee played a key role off the bench on last season’s championship team. He came into this season looking to reprise that role. He’s seen his playing time dwindle, however, and veteran David West appears to be the backup center for now.

McGee’s name has already appeared in early trade reports. If he is moved, he’s not going to net the Warriors anything of real value in return. It will most likely be a salary dump to accommodate McGee by having him go to a team with regular minutes available for him.

The other player who might come up in trade chatter is Kevon Looney. Looney’s battled injuries since coming into the NBA, and he’s never been able to really crack the rotation. He has received rotation minutes here and there this season and he’s produced when called upon. It’s unlikely that he has a major role on this team going forward and being young enough, he could draw interest from other teams. Like McGee, a Looney trade likely doesn’t yield anything major for the Warriors.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Honestly, there isn’t anything the Warriors really need at the deadline. Provided the front office can keep this group together, they are set up to contend for championships for the next several years. If the right deal comes along that would make the Warriors even stronger, they should definitely consider it. Otherwise, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Los Angeles Clippers (20-21)

A couple months ago, the Clippers were at a bit of a crossroads. They suffered some major injuries to key starters such as Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverly, Danilo Gallinari, and Milos Teodosic. They were mired in a seven-game losing streak. There was talk abound on whether they should mail it in, trade away their veterans, and hit the reset button. They’ve started to get healthy now, however, and have played their way right back into the playoff picture.

Notable Ending Contracts:

DeAndre Jordan – $24,119,025(player option)
Austin Rivers – $12,650,000(player option)
Lou Williams – $7,000,000
Milos Teodosic – $6,300,000
Patrick Beverly – $5,027,028(non-guaranteed)

Names Worth Talking About:

When the Clippers looked as if the wheels were coming off, DeAndre Jordan’s name was being mentioned as a possible trade candidate. Our own Michael Scotto just reported that the Clippers approached the Minnesota Timberwolves about a trade centered around Griffin and Karl-Anthony Towns. Lou Williams is another name that has surfaced recently. Williams is having a career-year and could certainly help a few contenders.

This was a team that, when healthy, started out strong with Griffin playing like an MVP candidate. A lot of the big name trade chatter started gaining momentum when the team was floundering amidst all their injuries and looking like they might fall too far out of the playoff race.

Their front office has an interesting choice to make here. If they keep up their current play, do they stay the course and see how this team fares in the playoffs before making any changes? Or do they get some value for their guys now and start all over? As it stands, they’re only 1.5 games out of fifth place in the Western Conference.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Again, the Clippers could go one of two ways here. If they’re able to overtake a few of the teams ahead of them in the standings, they’ll probably stand pat. If that’s the case, a veteran point guard is probably their most pressing need. Patrick Beverly is out for the year, and Milos Teodosic has been in and out of the lineup due to injury. Rookie Jawun Evans has filled in admirably as a starter, but they’ll need a more seasoned player if they want to compete in the playoffs.

Then there’s the other possible direction. Maybe the Clippers don’t make a move in the standings. Maybe they drop more games and a playoff appearance starts to look bleak. If that happens, trade chatter involving Griffin, Jordan, and Williams will likely reappear. If they’re unable to make something happen record-wise in the next month or so, their biggest area of need likely becomes young players and draft picks.

Phoenix Suns (16-27)

The Suns are where many probably expected them to be. Some of their young talent is finally starting to shine through, but they aren’t really close to becoming a playoff team. They completed their big move of the year when they dealt Eric Bledsoe to the Milwaukee Bucks to accommodate his trade request and to open up playing time for the young guys.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Greg Monroe – $17,844,176
Alex Len – $4,187,599
Tyler Ulis – $1,312,611(non-guaranteed)

Names Worth Talking About:

There are some players on the Suns whose names will likely surface as the trade deadline gets closer. The one guy whose name is probably going to pop up quite a bit is Greg Monroe. Monroe played a big role off the Bucks bench last season, especially in the playoffs. He’s not in the rotation in Phoenix, but he can certainly still help a contending team.

The other name who might come up is Tyson Chandler. Chandler has been the starting center for the Suns for most of the year, and he’s played well for them. He may not be the player he once was, but he still provides an interior defensive and rebounding presence. He’d definitely help a contending team. He can come in and still start if need be.

Both Monroe and Chandler have fairly large contracts which might make them a bit difficult to move. It’s likely that the Suns wouldn’t be expecting much in return for either of them. If they’re able to get back any young prospects or picks, that would obviously be ideal. But since those contracts are big, they’re going to need to take back some salary as well.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Firmly out of the playoff race and headed to another lottery finish, the Suns just need to maintain course. Find a way to get their young guys as much playing time as possible. Monroe isn’t in the rotation, so if they can’t move him it doesn’t matter much. He’s an expiring contract anyway. If they can find a taker for Chandler that makes sense, they should do it.

More playing time for the younger big men such as Alex Len and Dragan Bender will likely benefit them. They’ve both shown improvement this season and would stand to benefit most if Chandler is moved. Chandler’s been a positive presence for the Suns but going forward, it’s unlikely he’s in their long-term plans. Len and Bender might not be either, but the Suns won’t know unless they try it out.

Los Angeles Lakers (14-27)

The Lakers are another team that’s right where they should be. They were never going to be a good team this year. They were always going to lose a lot of games. But they’re often times exciting while doing so. They’ve got some intriguing young talent on the team, talent that might be worth developing and worth standing by rather than chasing dreams of LeBron James or Paul George in the purple and gold.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Brook Lopez – $22,642,350
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – $17,745,894
Julius Randle – $4,149,242(qualifying offer)
Corey Brewer – $7,579,366

Names Worth Talking About:

There are a couple guys on the Lakers roster whose names have already been talked about in trade rumors. The most prominent one is probably Luol Deng. As the new front office tries to undo the mistakes of the previous regime, Deng has been on the inactive list since the first game of the season. The Lakers would love to get out from under his contract, but finding a taker is going to be incredibly difficult.

Other than that, they do have a few guys that have been mentioned in trade chatter who probably have some value around the league. Both Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson have seen their names in trade rumors since the offseason. Moving either or both has been seen as a precursor to pursuing James and George in the summer. They’ve both been solid for the Lakers, however, especially Randle, who is having a stellar year despite a decrease in playing time.

Randle, in particular, is someone the Lakers will need to make a decision on soon. He is set to become a restricted free agent this summer and is likely in line for a nice payday. The Lakers have to decide if they want to be the ones to pay him or not.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

The Lakers’ biggest need is quite obvious: to ship out Deng. That’s unlikely to happen given his contract situation, so their next biggest area of need is to decide what to do with Randle. If they don’t think he’s part of the team’s future, then it’s best to trade him before the deadline and get something in return, rather than lose him for nothing in the summer when another team will inevitably pay him.

They also have to decide if it’s worth it to go all in for a couple of max contract guys this offseason. If so, they’ll need to look at potential deadline deals that will clear out some salary.

Sacramento Kings (13-28)

The bottom of the Western Conference is probably where you would have expected the Kings to be, and that’s exactly where they are. They did have a solid draft, but it’s going to take some time for that talent to yield on-court results. This is a team that’s been in the lottery forever, it seems, and so far they have nothing to show for it. This upcoming draft is looking very top-heavy so maybe the Kings will get lucky and finally hit the lottery jackpot.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Kosta Koufos – $8,393,000
Vince Carter – $8,000,000
Garrett Temple – $8,000,000

Names Worth Talking About:

The biggest name on the Kings’ roster who will certainly factor into trade rumors is George Hill. It wasn’t too long ago that Hill spoke about his disappointment with how the Kings’ season was going. He was one of the Kings’ prized offseason acquisitions, but he hasn’t panned out as initially hoped.

He’s got quite a hefty contract, so if he’s moved the Kings are going to have to take some salary back in return. He’s still a valuable player who just isn’t fitting that well with the Kings. There are plenty of teams out there, playoff contenders at that, who could use him.

Another name that’s come up is Kosta Koufos. Koufos has a bargain of a contract and is one of the Kings most productive players. He’d definitely help fortify a contending team’s second unit. Should the Kings decide to move him, it would probably be a bit easier than moving Hill. In any potential deal, the Kings should be looking at getting some prospects and/or picks that can help with the rebuild.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Other than finding a taker for Hill, if that’s what they want to do, the Kings should sit this deadline out. They need to use the remainder of the season to evaluate the guys they currently have. It’s been over a decade since the Kings were relevant, but there’s no need to rush.

If they can add any intriguing young players or picks, then, by all means, do it. But that’s all they should be looking to add.

With the trade deadline less than a month away now, look for more and more chatter to pick up. For the teams in the Pacific Division, the teams to look out for are the Clippers and Lakers. The Clippers will need to decide what path they want to take, and the Lakers will need to determine what their offseason goals will be. Those two teams are where most of the talk might come from. Look for the other teams, especially the Warriors, to stay put.

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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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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.

David Yapkowitz

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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.”

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