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What Does Charlotte Do Without LaMelo Ball?

With LaMelo Ball out for the remainder of the 2020-21 season, Drew Maresca explores what’s next for Charlotte.

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LaMelo Ball was the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year. He still very well may win the award, but his rookie season is likely finished after just 41 games.

Ball fractured his right wrist on Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers. While Ball hasn’t been officially ruled out for the year, he probably won’t return to the court this season, according to ESPN.

It’s hard to see a silver lining when a team’s best player goes down for the season – but they do, in fact, exist.

First of all, celebrate the Charlotte Hornets’ luck and/or decision-making. Ball has been really good, to put it lightly, averaging 15.9 points, 6.1 assists and 5.9 rebounds over 28.6 minutes per game – and he’s been even better as a starter.

Granted, the Hornets had the luxury of selecting third, meaning that in a draft with three noteworthy players, a decision was made for them – and it worked out for the absolute best. Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman both look great, but Ball has been extra-special for two key reasons – his vision has been even better than advertised, and his three-point shot is significantly more advanced than expected (37.5%).

He’s not only the readiest to impact the game now, but Ball also has the highest ceiling.

But it’s a short victory lap for the Hornets, who have their work cut out for them – beginning immediately.

Charlotte is currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and just two games ahead of the tenth place-slated Indiana Pacers. They signed Gordon Hayward this past offseason, indicating they’re ready to try to win some games – so the Hornets need to make some tough decisions.

With or without Ball, the Hornets will benefit from a playoff run. And even if they don’t qualify, the Hornets will get much-needed experience down the stretch of the regular season or via the play-in tournament. Remember, there are young guys on the Hornets who have never been to the postseason (e.g., Miles Bridges, PJ Washington and Devonte’ Graham).

But at least as important as experience is the opportunity to take stock of their roster. There are major decisions that must be made. Without Ball in the lineup, the Hornets can decide who to build around, and who to let walk or trade. So here are three decisions the Hornets should make as soon as possible.

Figure out what you have in Vernon Carey Jr.

Carey Jr. was a relatively high second-round pick (32nd overall) in 2020. And despite the fact that the Hornets are still in a quasi-rebuild, Carey Jr. is receiving just 3.7 minutes per game with the NBA club.

Yes, he’s undersized (6-foot-9, 270 pounds), but the kid has potential. He averaged 17.8 points per game last season at Duke, posting six 25 and 10 games – numbers that include a 26-point and 17-rebound effort against Pitt and 31 and 12 against California.

NCAA performances don’t always translate, but Carey Jr. has also impressed in the G League, averaging 16 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in 14 games. He’s run the floor, displayed good footwork and shown a decent mid-range shot.

There’s really no pressure to do anything with Carey Jr. immediately, but why not learn more about him now? He has to be tested at some point, plus his build and skillset appear to translate nicely. Use the remainder of what looks to be the last throwaway season for a while to find.

Decide what to do with Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham

Rozier or Graham are both quality NBA players. But they’re also both creators, so playing either alongside Ball leaves the Hornets vulnerable to the better backcourts in the NBA. Considering LaMelo Ball is obviously the Hornets’ point guard of the future, they’ll need to devise a plan.

Of course, Charlotte can keep all three (Ball, Rozier and Graham) – although playing all three together is nearly impossible given the height of Rozier and Graham (both 6-foot-1).

Further, keeping both means fewer minutes for Malik Monk. But there’s pretty clearly not a need for three, 6-foot-2 (or smaller) guards on a roster when none of them are your true cornerstone point guard.

Ideally, this decision could be made over the remainder of the season, but Graham’s salary comes off of the Hornets’ books following it – meaning that a trade is only viable through Thursday. Meanwhile, Rozier is signed through the end of 2021-22.

What to do with Malik Monk

Monk was a highly-touted prospect out of Kentucky in 2011, when he was the 11th pick in the NBA Draft. Fast forward to 2021 and the Hornets’ backcourt is over-crowded. More often than not, Monk has been the odd man out.

Monk is playing 21.3 minutes and scoring 12.3 points per game on 41.8% on three-point attempts. That works out to 20.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3 assists per-36 minutes.

At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Monk is an undersized shooting guard and an average defender. He appears to be best suited as a sixth man who can score off the bench. Charlotte, like any other team, needs a bench. But, as discussed above, there are more than enough undersized guards on the Hornets roster.

So the question must be asked – is Monk part of Charlotte’s future? He’s received inconsistent playing time all season. He didn’t play at all in any of the team’s first 17 games. Since then, his time has varied, playing at little as 13 minutes and as many as 31.

Monk can play a role in Charlotte. The question is: do the Hornets want him to? They’ll have to figure this one out relatively quickly, too, as Monk is due a qualifying offer for 2021-22 ($7.3 million).

It’s unfortunate that Ball will miss the remainder of his rookie season for everyone – himself, the team and the fans. But the Hornets should see it as the opportunity it is – no more pressure, no more expectations. They can get down to brass tacks, prioritizing future pieces, identifying needs and – if they’re shrewd enough — trading away redundant pieces.

Charlotte was already on the come-up, Ball’s injury doesn’t affect that. But there is work to do now, and it should start over the next few days.

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Jazz agree to trade Derrick Favors, first-round pick to Thunder

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First reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Utah Jazz are trading power forward/center Derrick Favors and a first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a future second-round pick. The goal here was to help reduce their tax bill. While the six-foot-eight Georgia native does not have any notable NBA awards or honors on his basketball résumé, in the 2020-21 NBA season, Favors averaged 5.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and a field goal percentage of 63.8 percent. The 11-year NBA veteran also recorded a free throw shooting percentage of 73.8 percent last season.

The 2020-21 Thunder finished 27-50 (.306), ranking 14th overall in the Western Conference. They could use another first-round pick. Plus, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, this trade will put Utah $13 million below the luxury tax. On November 24, 2020, Favors signed a three-year, $29.2 million contract with the Jazz. Favors is set to earn $9,720,900 next season. This is the second time in his career he has left the Jazz.

He played with them from the 2010-11 season to the 2018-19 season, before he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans on July 7, 2019 for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2023 second-round pick. For the 2022-23 season, he has a player option of $10,183,800. The Jazz plan to also re-sign Mike Conley, so this was somewhat of a drastic move to help clear up cap space. On July 6, 2019, Conley was traded by the Memphis Grizzlies to the Jazz, in exchange for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick.

Moreover, scoring-wise, the 33-year-old point guard has not lived up to his performances from his last few seasons on the Grizzlies, but the Jazz need all the help they can get. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik will make it a top priority to re-sign Conley here soon. Conley earned $34,504,132 in the 2020-21 season.

According to Spotrac, Conley has a cap figure of $39,344,900. Center Rudy Gobert and shooting guard Donovan Mitchell have a combined percentage of 47.61 percent of Utah’s total salary cap. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five year, $205 million extension with the team. He will earn $35,344,828 next season.

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Wizards, Lakers agree to Russell Westbrook and Three-Player Trade Deal

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The Los Angeles Lakers have agreed with the Washington Wizards to acquire Russell Westbrook in a three-player trade, sending Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 pick in Thursday’s 2021 NBA Draft to the Wizards. According to ESPN, the Wizards are also giving up their 2024 and 2028 second-round picks as well. During last night’s draft, at pick No. 22, the Lakers sent Wildcats’ center Isaiah Jackson to the Pacers via the Wizards. At pick No. 15, the Wizards drafted Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert. In the second round, at pick No. 31, the Milwaukee Bucks traded NBA G League player Isaiah Todd to the Wizards via the Pacers.

On Thursday, Harrell decided to pursue his $9.7 million player option for next season. Yesterday, rumors surfaced across social media regarding a possible Lakers-Kings trade involving Harrell. Despite the outlandish predictions and mindless speculation from fans over these last couple of days, this trade move could work out great for both teams.

After all, Westbrook is a 9-time NBA All-Star and three-time assists leader. In his MVP season back in the 2016-17 season, over the course of 81 games, he averaged a career-high 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. On Twitter, Westbrook tweeted, “I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

In the 2020-21 NBA season, Caldwell-Pope averaged 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game in 67 games started for the Lakers. The 28-year-old shooting guard will make $13 million next season. As for Kuzma, in 68 games played last season, he averaged 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Kuzma is set to earn $13 million next season. For Harrell, in 69 games played last season, he averaged 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. The six-foot-seven power forward/center is also a six-year player. Instead of having one or two notable super stars, the Wizards having several contributing players might work out better in their favor.

Last season, in 65 games played in his only season spent on the Wizards, Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists. The 32-year-old point guard finished the 2020-21 season with 38 triple-doubles, ranking first in the league and second highest in his own playing career. Westbrook also surpassed Oscar Robertson last season for the most all-time assists; Robertson accumulated 181 triple-doubles in 14 seasons. Now, the two-time NBA scoring champion has 184 career triple-doubles, the most all-time for any player. Furthermore, this is Westbrook’s fourth team in his NBA career.

He is the fifth former MVP in league history to play on four different teams over the course of four seasons or less, adding to the existent list of Bob McAdoo, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Derrick Rose. Moreover, on December 2, 2020, Westbrook was traded by the Houston Rockets to the Wizards for John Wall and a 2023 first-round draft pick. He is set to earn $44.2 million in the upcoming season. His player option for the 2022-23 season is $47 million. This trade deal will not be official until August 6th.

Per Bovada’s NBA Futures odds, the Lakers now have +300 odds of winning their eighteenth championship in the 2021-22 season. This is a move from 4/1 odds before the trade, leaping the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors, and they now have the second best odds behind the Brooklyn Nets (+250). Westbrook also has the best odds of leading the league in assists next season, with first place odds showing EVEN. He is ahead of James Harden (+150), Trae Young (+450), and Luka Doncic (+600). With +6600 odds, he also ranks 19th in the NBA for next season’s MVP odds, trailing Lakers’ teammates such as James (+1200) and Davis (+2800).

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Russell Westbrook joins L.A. Lakers in One of the biggest trades in NBA History

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(Image courtesy of AP)

In one of the biggest NBA Draft trades ever, Los Angeles Lakers acquired the services of Washington Wizards’ former MVP, Russell Westbrook, last night!

As a result of the trade, the Lakers can now boast a holy trinity of attacking talent in Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and, of course, Lebron James, unlike anything seen in recent memory. Assuming this new contingent clicks into gear, it might just be the most frighteningly talented trio to play together in NBA history, rivaling the Bulls triple horn of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman, or that great Lakers team of the late 80s with Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

In exchange for their star man, the Wizards received three players and what was the No 22 overall pick in last night’s NBA Draft. The former Lakers tasked with replacing Westbrook in Washington will be Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell.

Washington then spent the Lakers No.22 pick on Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson, but immediately traded him on to the Indiana Pacers in a deal that saw the Wizards acquire pick No.31 and point guard Aaron Holiday. Wizards then used pick No.31 to draft Isaiah Todd to bolster their ranks at power forward.

(Image courtesy of AP)

The effervescent Westbrook had another great year in 2020-21, averaging 22.2 points, 11.7 assists, and 11.5 rebounds per game in his first season with the Wizards.

In joining the Lakers star cast, which already boasts the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Westbrook, a 9x NBA All-Star & 2016-17 MVP, will now be hoping to end his NBA championship drought.

Westbrook has since taken to social media to thank the WashingtonWizards franchise for a great year spent in the capital, tweeting:

“Thank you DC! You welcomed my family and I with open arms from day one,” he wrote. “Everyone from the front office, to the training staff, the coaches, my teammates, and the fans. I’m grateful y’all took a chance on me and supported me every step of the way.”

“I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

With a legendary point guard now fixed among the ranks, 2020 NBA Championship winners the Lakers have all the talent required to wrestle back the title from the freshly-crowned Milwaukee Bucks.

So, get yourselves ready for an influx of NBA betting lines on Antetokounmpo, Holiday, and Middleton vs. LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook for next year’s championship games!

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