The Los Angeles Lakers continue to fluctuate somewhere between a state of the ‘walking wounded’ and the ‘Walking Dead’ as we inch closer the February 20th trade deadline. After a surprising 10-9 start, the injury bug simply hasn’t stopped biting them at every opportunity. The players should absolutely be commended for maintaining to fight in most contests, but the front office has some work to do in the coming months.
#1 – Pau Gasol’s ‘return’ confirms he’s still got plenty left.
Much was made of the Lakers’ reported trade discussions with the Cleveland Cavaliers that would have shipped the two-time champion and future Hall of Famer to the Eastern Conference to play with Kyrie Irving. While there seemed to be a possible deal in the works, ultimately, both teams determined a better deal could be found elsewhere. It shouldn’t come as a a total shock, as even though the Lakers seem to be interested in maximizing on Gasol as an asset, they absolutely shouldn’t just give a player with his offensive arsenal away without comparable returns.
Gasol, currently battling a sore toe, has averaged 20.4 points, 12.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.9 blocks in the month of January. He recently showed off his skill set with in a 20-point, 19-rebound, five-block and three-steal performance against Chicago). If the Lakers do eventually look to move Gasol, contrary to what some may say, there will be a market of teams looking for a player to put them over the hump throughout the playoff push. Clearly, Gasol can still serve as that and more.
#2 – Nick Young’s play warrants a payday.
While end-of-year awards are rarely given to players on potential lottery teams, Nick Young has absolutely played like a Sixth Man of the Year. Recently praised for his “combativeness” by teammate Kobe Bryant, Young has brought the type of nightly effort that should be acknowledged by more than just those that share a locker room with him. At 17.1 points per game, Young is actually leading this year’s Lakers squad in scoring from the bench. In fact, he’s already provided 15 games of 20+ points while playing just 28.7 minutes per contest.
Playing in the comfort of his hometown and for his childhood favorite Lakers has been great for Young, as his game appears to have become more well-rounded over the years. Although he’ll never be considered a “defensive stopper” by any stretch, Young’s all-around effort has been felt at various times this year. When playing for a team with so many players on expiring contracts, it would be very easy and even understandable for there to be a “mercenary” feeling within the ranks, but both Young’s play and engaging personality have aided in limiting any sign of that.
#3 – Even if Steve Nash returns, days could be numbered in L.A.
No one likes this topic. It’s tough, even downright uncomfortable regardless of your stance on how things have gone. The truth is, no one wants to openly say what needs to be said, because not only is Steve Nash a very likable player and fantastic teammate, he’s also at the end of what will undoubtedly be a Hall of Fame career of his own.
For lack of a more appropriately tactful way of saying it, the Lakers would be better off if Nash were to eventually retire at the end of this season. To be clear, judging based on what is being reported by those close to the situation, that isn’t likely to be in Nash’s personal plans. Frankly, from his perspective, why should it be? Where it is completely understandable that all-parties-involved (player/organization/fans) are equally as frustrated with the injury-riddled outcome of his tenure in Los Angeles, it is also understandable that Nash wouldn’t want his career to end on such a note. That said, with all due respect to the two-time MVP and eight-time All Star, it appears more and more likely the organization will look to employ the CBA’s stretch provision on his contract at year’s end if he does not retire on his own. As they should.
»In Related: Los Angeles Lakers salary cap information
#4 – The Lakers’ “cupboard” is bare, they need more assets.
With just their 2014 first-round pick until the 2016 draft (2014 second-round pick and all 2015 picks traded in various deals), the Lakers’ front office definitely has some work to do in terms of acquiring more assets. It’s one thing to bottom out in a good year for perspective draft picks, as it appears they are on the path toward doing, but the Lakers also need to start considering maximizing on some of the roster’s remaining assets in order to start compiling additional draft picks for future talent and dealings. While the latest CBA makes it so that adopting a ‘build-through-the-draft’ mentality (at least in some part) necessary, the Lakers’ front office has always used picks and prospects in deals to acquire top-line talent in the past. Changes aside, we shouldn’t anticipate that practice to cease any time soon.
#5 – Entire roster is playing for future, in L.A. or beyond.
As we know, the Lakers have eight players currently on the roster without at least a partially guaranteed contract or player option for the 2014-15 season. Once the front office determines which of the current players they would like to continue rebuilding a winner with, it is likely that we see some of those players’ names either in serious trade discussions as we near the Feb. 20 deadline or ‘officially’ on the move. The knowledge of this isn’t exactly a well-kept secret, so it will be crucial for both the coaching staff and veterans to maintain a camaraderie and focus within the locker room, as it would be natural for players to start looking over their shoulders as the rumors intensify, which, at 10 games below .500, we expect them to.
#6 – Kobe Bryant vows to return, because… of course he does.
While Bryant absolutely, positively should wait until he’s fully healed to return to action, don’t expect that to mean he’s hanging up the Nike ‘Kobe 9’s’ for the spring. No need to rush, given the circumstances, but there are several reasons to return at some point down the line. Not only do the Lakers and Bryant (himself) need to know what his body will permit him to do at this point, but so do all of the potential free agents they plan on pursuing in the offseason. No one expects Bryant to return to the vintage “I can’t believe what I just saw” ‘Fro-be’ days of yesteryear, but all parties need to see just how close he can be to the startlingly lethal and efficient version of Bryant that carved the league up in 2012-13 prior to the Achilles tear.
Given this team’s reality, whether it is a larger deal involving Gasol or smaller deals with some of the skilled ‘complementary’ players this roster is full of, we expect the Lakers to be one of the more active teams in terms of deadline discussions. With the NBA Draft and what is expected to be yet another free agency blitz come July, the front office is undoubtedly going to be involved in some sort of discussions and negotiations aimed at maximizing and acquiring assets now and throughout the summer.
Mavericks are expected to pick up Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option
Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the Dallas Mavericks are planning to pick up center Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option for the 2021-22 NBA season. The deadline is tomorrow. Last season, in 53 games played, the seven-foot big man averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The sixth-year player also shot 63.2 percent from the field last season.
On July 8, 2019, Cauley-Stein signed a two-year, $4.46 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. Then, on January 25, 2020, Cauley-Stein was traded to the Mavericks for a 2020 second-round pick. If everything goes smoothly, the 27-year-old center is set to earn $4.1 million next season. The 2015 sixth overall pick’s contract consumes less than three percent of the team’s total salary cap.
Source says Mavs are leaning toward picking up center Willie Cauley-Stein's $4.1 million option for next season. Deadline is Sunday and Mavs are waiting to see if situation unexpectedly materializes to make that cap space worth parting with a big man they like.
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) July 31, 2021
This news comes right after Dallas received center Moses Brown from the Boston Celtics. Brown is a seven-foot-two, 2019 undrafted player out of UCLA. In 2021, Brown was named to the All-NBA G League First Team and All-Defensive Team. On March 28, 2021, the 21-year-old center signed a four-year, $6.8 million contract with the Thunder.
However, on June 18, 2021, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Brown, Al Horford, and a 2023 second-round pick to the Celtics for Kemba Walker, a 2021 first-round pick, and a 2025 second-round pick. With Boston, Brown was set to earn $1,701,593 next season. Of course, the Mavs’ organization is finalizing a trade to send Josh Richardson to the Celtics as well. In other news, today is Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban’s 63rd birthday.
Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 luxury tax totals, the Mavs’ current luxury tax space is $52,326,531. The 2021 NBA salary cap maximum is $112,414,000. Their current cap space is $27,595,632. Cauley-Stein’s contract is recognized as a club option, not a player option or guaranteed money. Richardson’s deadline is also tomorrow, so because he is getting traded to Boston, the team will not collect his $11,615,328 player option.
Plus, Jalen Brunson’s deadline is also August 1st. His guaranteed value is $1,802,057. Leading into the 2021-22 season, Kristaps Porzingis has the highest cap figure on the team, which is an amount worth $31,650,600, consuming 22.73 percent of the team’s total salary cap. At the moment, Porzingis is a popular name in trade rumor articles. Bettors and NBA analysts are predicting a possible trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings, or Philadelphia 76ers.
Lakers Need More Than Big Three
The Lakers have their “big three” after trading for Russell Westbrook but is he the right fit in Los Angeles? The former MVP has had an incredible career but he may not be the point guard the Lakers desperately need.
The Los Angeles Lakers have formed their three-headed monster as they pursue the franchise’s 18th championship next season. Just as the NBA Draft was getting started, the Lakers completed a deal with the Washington Wizards that landed them the 2016-17 league MVP, Russell Westbrook.
The deal sent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and the 21st overall pick in this year’s draft to Washington, paving the way for Westbrook to join fellow superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While the Lakers added a dynamic point guard, not everyone is sold on the idea that the Lakers are the team to beat in the loaded Western Conference.
Over the past several weeks, the Lakers were rumored to be seeking perimeter shooting. Some reports had Los Angeles linked to guys like Chris Paul, Buddy Hield and DeMar DeRozan. When the dust settled, it was Washington that made the deal as Westbrook informed the front office that he preferred the Lakers as a destination.
The move is a homecoming of sorts, as Westbrook grew up in the area and spent two seasons playing at UCLA, leading the Bruins to the 2008 Final Four. He had a solid 2020-21 season, averaging 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists per game for the Wizards, who earned the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.
Oddly enough, this is the third straight offseason in which the 9-time All-Star has been traded. After leaving Oklahoma City, Westbrook was not able to find postseason success in Houston or Washington. Will that now change in Los Angeles?
For all of his accomplishments, Westbrook’s legacy has been defined by his play during the regular season. This past season, the point guard passed Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in the history of the game. Out of his 184 triple-doubles, only 12 have come in the playoffs. By comparison, Magic Johnson has the most playoff career triple-doubles with 30, and James is next with 28. Now all three will have played for the Lakers during their careers.
The thing about triple-doubles (and this is especially the case with Westbrook) is that they don’t always translate to wins. They clearly help the team overall but some would argue that a more balanced attack is tougher to stop. History has shown that having a “big three” is almost a requirement to be considered a legitimate championship contender, but this trio in Los Angeles doesn’t exactly fit together like many of those others.
As talented and valuable as Westbrook has been over the course of his career, he needs to have the ball to be effective. His poor perimeter shooting has been the big hiccup in his game, and that is something that this Lakers team desperately needs. The problem isn’t that any of these three won’t share the ball. In fact, they had already discussed checking their egos even before this trade went down.
LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis got together at LeBron’s house two weeks ago and agreed to set aside their egos and focus on winning a championship in LA. Per @BA_Turner pic.twitter.com/CDhidtvHxv
— NBA Retweet (@RTNBA) July 30, 2021
Westbrook has never had a problem sharing the ball. He was able to co-exist with Durant in Oklahoma City, Harden in Houston and Beal in Washington. The difference in this scenario is that he will be occupying the same space as James and Davis. The concern is efficiency. Out of 34 players to average at least 20 points per game over the last four seasons, Westbrook ranked 33rd in true shooting percentage.
When James drives to the rim or when Davis is facing a double-team inside, how confident will they be in passing out to Westbrook for a three-pointer? Better yet, how patient will they be if the shot isn’t falling? We have already seen what happened with Danny Green and Caldwell-Pope.
Now that the Lakers have assembled their trio of stars, many fans are hopeful to witness an NBA Finals matchup where James and the Lakers meet Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. As juicy as that series would be, the Western Conference is a gauntlet. There is no guarantee that the Lakers will make it there.
What helps their path is that the crosstown rival Clippers will likely be without Kawhi Leonard next season. The Denver Nuggets will be without Jamal Murray and the Golden State Warriors might not be the Warriors from four years ago. There is also uncertainty surrounding Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers and some potential roster changeup with the Utah Jazz.
— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) July 30, 2021
Considering all of the top-tier point guard talent available in free agency this summer, the Lakers may have been better off trying to do a sign-and-trade. Such a scenario would have hard-capped them but after this deal, they are just $12.6 million below the hard cap with just five players on the roster. Putting together a deal for Hield is still possible, but the Lakers will have to get creative. Adding a third team to this trade, in particular, is one way to accomplish that. Again, it is possible but it will be complicated.
In a perfect world, the Lakers could have worked with Toronto on a sign-and-trade for Kyle Lowry. Even though Lowry is older than Westbrook, the current window for Los Angeles to win with this group is closing fast. Lowry would be cheaper and a much better fit overall. His durability, toughness, defense and high basketball IQ would pay dividends for the Lakers. Adding in the fact that he is a much better shooter, one has to wonder why the Lakers wouldn’t pursue this route instead.
Westbrook is still going to help this team. He is a tremendous asset for them in the regular season, especially when James is on the bench or unable to play. Having another floor general on the court to generate offense is something they have not had since James arrived. If Los Angeles can land some above-average shooting to the roster, Westbrook could flourish in this role.
With James sliding to the power forward position and Davis playing more at center, the key for Los Angeles will be to surround these guys with shooters. The Lakers ranked 21st in three-point percentage and 25th in makes last season. Expect the organization to be busy when free agency starts next week. Targets will include guys like Duncan Robinson, JJ Redick, Norman Powell, Evan Fournier, Doug McDermott, Bryn Forbes, Patrick Mills, Reggie Bullock, Kendrick Nunn and Alec Burks.
Obviously, the Lakers are counting on their individual talent and figuring out the rest later. It likely means the end for Dennis Schröder. Can Alex Caruso fit in and where does this leave Talen Horton-Tucker? The rest of the roster is in limbo, but the star players and the front office both feel confident that they will land the other pieces that they need to raise another banner next summer.
Jazz offering Mike Conley $75 million over next three years
According to veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein, the Utah Jazz are preparing to offer point guard Mike Conley a three-year, $75 million contract to remain with the team. Of course, the exact amount is a ballpark figure. Stein stated, “Utah has made retaining Mike Conley its top priority, league sources say, and is preparing a three-year offer said to be in the $75 million range.” The 14-year NBA veteran is a significant piece to the Jazz’s championship window, playing alongside superstar teammates, such as center Rudy Gobert and guard Donovan Mitchell. He helped the Jazz finish their regular season with the league’s best record of 52-20 (.722).
Utah went on to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies in five games in the first round of the playoffs. Though, the team lost four games to two in the conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Conley averaged 16.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and six assists per game in 51 games started. Then, in the postseason, he averaged 15.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. The 33-year-old also shot 44.4 percent from the field in the regular season. Last season, the 2007 fourth overall pick earned his first NBA All-Star selection.
The Jazz will be pressing hard to re-sign Mike Conley, league sources say, and are preparing an offer estimated in the three-year, $75 million range.
More coming soon in my This Week In Basketball column you can get directly by signing up here: https://t.co/A6ycVm5PUQ
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) July 30, 2021
On July 6, 2019, the Grizzlies traded Conley to the Jazz for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick. Furthermore, the Jazz can still trade Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles this offseason, if they wanted to improve their current salary cap situation. Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 cap holds, Mike Conley’s cap figure is $39,344,900. Cap holds are for pending free agents. Conley earned $34,504,132 last season.
The team’s current luxury tax space is $11,173,027. In addition to the aforementioned cap figures, Mitchell and Gobert have a combined cap figure worth 51.34 percent of the team’s total salary cap. These two players’ contracts alone are consuming a huge chunk of the team’s cap. Plus, on November 23, 2020, Mitchell signed a contract extension with Utah. He is set to earn $28,103,550 next season. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. He will earn $35,344,828 next season and $38,172,414 in the 2022-23 season.
However, if the team were to still trade Bogdanovic and possibly Ingles as well, this would clear up an additional 25.68 percent of the team’s salary cap. Bogdanovic’s future guaranteed cash amount total is $19,343,000. They are contributing role players who play together well with the team’s big three, but re-signing the most valuable players is the team’s main objective this offseason. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik might contemplate trading role players who are not worth their asking price. Competitive teams in both conferences have to trim the fat at some point.
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