Archive for the ‘sports’ Category

Is Luke Walton in Over His Head? (#Lakers #LakersNation #Lakeshow #NBA)

August 7, 2018

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It’s funny how viewpoints can change from one moment to the next. The latest victim of the fickle fans and media is our very own Lakers coach Luke Walton. It was a historic 39-4 start that made him a hot commodity as a head coach. So when the Lakers bid farewell to then coach Byron Scott, it wasn’t long before Luke Walton took over.

So began the honeymoon period. Everybody celebrated the easy-going likeable player who was considered by the Black Mamba himself to be the next great head coach. He was given the opportunity to coach a young rebuilding team that featured D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Julius Randle. Luke endured a very challenging first season, but managed to improve the team’s wins by 9 games.

In the following season, the Lakers made a few moves from management on down and began anew, replacing D’Angelo Russell with Lonzo Ball and adding rookie standouts Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart. Luke Walton took this young team and led the team to yet another plus 9 wins and the Lakers finished at 35-47. The second season featured heavier critiques of Luke Walton, mainly his rotations. The fans seemed to call for his head at times, but by the end of the season it was clear that Luke Walton had done a fine job with the young Lakers. He had brought them within a few games of playoff contention in spite of multiple injuries, lineup rotations, mid-season trades and LaVar Ball.

At this point it was clear that Luke Walton was very skilled at working with young players. Julius Randle became a few steps away from a star player. The young Lakers became the talk of the NBA and the rest of the NBA, including superstars began to take notice. Luke Walton had that locker room. Players loved playing for Luke. He had them running and had them playing defense. The young Lakers were poised for a real playoff run in the 2018-2019 campaign. However, behind the scenes Magic and Rob were setting the stage for another one of the Lakers historic instant upgrades. The ones that brought in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol and others. Magic and Rob, as pleased as they were with the progress of the young guns, were not looking to simply make the playoffs next season. They were looking to do more. So shortly after the Warriors all but walked away with their second championship, Magic and Rob brought in the best basketball player in the world— LeBron James. Shortly after, they signed Rajon Rondo, then Lance Stephenson, then JaVale McGee, then Michael Beasley.

All of a sudden the fickle media and fans looked back at Luke Walton and said, “Is this the right man for the job?” Some even said that this was a set up to get him fired. Talk of Phil Jackson returning and all kinds of obscenely inaccurate rumors started to fly. The bottom line is people started to look at this current Lakers team and ask if Luke Walton could coach this team.

So what changed? One, the Lakers morphed overnight from a possible 7-8 seed easily to a bona-fide championship contender. The goals changed from trying to make the playoffs and continuing to develop the young Lakers, to trying to win it all with the reloaded Lakers led by LeBron James, the young Lakers and a litany of veterans. The makeup of the team now begged questions like, “Can he coach LeBron James? Can he coach Rajon Rondo? Can he coach a championship contender?”

Forgive me for being dismissive, but what evidence do we have to suggest he can’t coach such a roster? Media have once again taken things way out of proportion and creating fires where there is no smoke. Even though fans and media have the ability to blow things out of proportion, they yet still can’t see any value in Luke’s ability to lead a stacked Golden State Warriors team to a 39-4 start. This was a team that featured stars and personalities and was obviously a championship contender. Fine. Let’s leave that one where it is. Can Luke coach LeBron James? Is it because he’s young? Is it because he’s inexperienced? Using that premise alone, one can then begin to exclude a young inexperienced Erik Spoelstra who then should not have coached LeBron James, DeWayne Wade and Chris Bosh, but led them to back-to-back championships. We can then also eliminate inexperience and young head coach Tyronn Lue who also coached LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to a championship. These teams were a mix of stars, youth and veterans. Is Luke Walton less skilled of a coach than the aforementioned coaches? I don’t think so.

So with Luke Walton being able lead a young, inexperienced Lakers team to a 35-47 record and falling a few spots out of playoff contention, one can only expect an even more successful season when you add the greatest player in the world and some very savvy veterans. LeBron James and the recent additions do not now somehow become a detriment to Luke Walton’s coaching career. Quite the contrary, Luke is now on the fast track to legendary coaching status.

Does Luke Walton now have a challenge meshing personalities and deciding whether or not to go with veterans versus the current young core? No! LeBron has already expressed how much this young core excites him. Magic has explained to the new signees about their role and I’m sure they understand that a starting spot is anything but guaranteed. Rob Pelinka has flatly stated that the only guaranteed starter is LeBron James. Luke in times past has shown no qualms with sitting down veterans if they do not produce. The respect of the locker room has developed through his time as a player, his track record Golden State as an assistant and the job he’s done with these young Lakers in the past couple years. Luke Walton has learned from the best how to manage people and I expect him to do a fine job, especially when this whole team has a unifed desire to prove everybody wrong and win a championship.

What I’m saying is, media needs to stop trying to find fault with Luke before he even coaches his first game with a roster already touted to be a top 5 team regardless of what ESPN says. With this current roster, one can only be excited that we have a coach like Luke Walton taking the lead. A student of Phil Jackson and Gregg Poppovich, a 3 time champion and teammate of Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton is more than qualified to get a shot at leading the new-look Lakers back to NBA dominance.

 

 

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Against the Grain: Magic and Rob’s Plan to Beat Golden State

July 11, 2018

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What the heck is Magic and Rob doing?! Calm down, folks. I should be a little upset that a few writers have beaten me to the punch; however, I still find it necessary to throw my 2 cents in. The Lakers became a legitimate threat with one massive move, signing LeBron James. Adding such a player to a team that had made a 9 game jump to 35-47, insures that the Lakers are now a force in the NBA…on paper. Having made such a power move, the Lakers know that when you bring a superstar such as LeBron James, the “championship or failure” mentality rings louder than ever. No disrespect to the rest of the league, but standing in the way of a 9th finals appearance for King James and Showtime 2.0 is the Golden State Warriors.

Pundits and sports “experts” have consistently balked at the idea of signing players such as Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee, highlighting their inability to consistently hit the 3 point shot. Why? Because you’re trying to beat the Golden State Warriors so, obviously you need shooters. LeBron James needs shooters right? All he needs to do is drive, draw and kick. The other guys will hit threes and you’ll outscore arguably the best backcourt in NBA history, KD and Draymond Green right?

Wrong!

Although Golden State is a much better defensive team than the 2004 Phoenix Suns made famous by Steve Nash, Mike D’antoni and company, teams that attempted to outrun that team were completely decimated. The team that was able to take down the run and gun was the San Antonio Spurs, who met them with the complete opposite in strong halfcourt play and physical defense. Wisely enough, the Spurs did not attempt to beat the Suns at their own game. Phil Jackson had actually attempted the same strategy, but didn’t have the personnel and ultimately fell after a 3-1 lead in 2006.

Let’s go back even further and look at the teams that gave the original Showtime Lakers fits. In the Lakers storied battles with the Boston Celtics, the Lakers brought the finesse and flashy basketball style while the Celtics were physical and focused mostly on defense. Although the Lakers got the last laugh in the late 80s, it is well documented that the Celtics did not try to beat the Lakers at their own game. The Lakers next big foe was the “Bad Boys” of Detroit who were also known for their physical play.  This Pistons team pushed the Lakers to the brink in 1988 and swept the Lakers in 1989. The strategy again was not to beat the Lakers at their own game.

Magic knows his basketball history and you have to believe that he has taken a long hard look at what it would take to compete with a team that prides itself on defending, running and shooting. Magic and Rob both know that you cannot beat Golden State and their own game. Magic also knows that physical teams have had some success against a team like Golden State. The problem has been, you still have to make baskets and you still have to have the personnel that could carry out such a task. Does this mean the Lakers now want to beat up Steph Curry and company and draw technical fouls? Of course not. However, a team that is capable of keeping a body on a player, staying in their jersey and making the offense feel you, willing to take a foul rather than give up on open layup and muddy up the game for the opponent creates problems for a team like Golden State. The players they’ve added, including resigning Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are designed to create this level of toughness and defensive prowess. The Lakers already possess developing defenders in Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram.

Is this fool proof? Is this the personnel to carry it out? Only time will tell. However, the Lakers brass know they have the firepower to put a bunch of points on the board. Let’s not forget the Lakers do in fact have scorers. They also possess long athletic guys who can create and get to the basket, as well as playmakers. They didn’t completely jettison the idea of having offensive weapons to be the Memphis Grizzlies by any stretch. The Lakers still intend to defend, rebound and run and have the players that can make this happen. We saw that last season. Being able to make things uncomfortable for the defending champs on the defensive end, in addition to the offensive skillset, can hopefully give them a fighting chance as they try to bring the Larry O’Brien trophy back to Los Angeles (and I don’t mean to the Clippers either).

So get used to all the articles and sports network personalities having a field day and asking if Magic and company screwed up by their recent signings. The Lakers know exactly what their doing — creating a championship contender.

“I’m Magic Johnson” – Lakers Sign LeBron James… Is Showtime Back?

July 4, 2018

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When Magic Johnson took over and Rob Pelinka joined his side, Jeannie Buss had completely transformed the Lakers regime. Fast forward to a few days ago. The Lakers managed to secure a massive amount of cap space and develop an exciting young core and determined to use both to bring in what the Lakers have lacked since Kobe Bryant sang his swan song 2 seasons ago — a superstar. As the media sharks circled around Magic Johnson, they asked him if he felt any pressure to which he replied among other things… “I’m Magic Johnson.”

In a matter of days social media was flooded with the jubilant news that LeBron James, yes THE LeBron James had agreed to a 4-year 154 million dollar contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers did it. Magic and Rob did it. They brought the greatest player in the world to Los Angeles. The organization used to having the best of the best once again had the best of the best. Not finished, the Lakers resigned Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and then added veterans Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo — all 1-year contracts. We would be remiss not to highlight the genius in that point. As we are never to finish an off-season without casualties, the Lakers were not able to keep Julius Randle. He requested to be renounced to unrestricted free agency and was snatched up by the New Orleans Pelicans. With all these roster moves being made and still (at press-time) maintaining the bulk of their young core, what can we expect from this current team?

Before we get deep into this, let’s establish that the Lakers are still in need of a center so they are not finished. Even so, we still have enough to discuss how this roster improved and the way this can be one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.

James, KCP, Rondo, Stephenson and McGee and are all great long individual defenders. The Lakers already possess developing defenders in Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma (working on it), Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart. Although their defense has not yet been proven, the Lakers added more athletic length in Siatoslav Mykhailiuk, Isaac Bonga and Moritz Wagner. They also have additional undrafted players Malik Newman and Jeffrey Carroll. The Lakers now boast a roster full of guys that can play at least 2 – 3 positions on the court. Last season the Lakers became a top 10 defensive team due to their ability to switch on defense. With this many individual defenders and players with a high IQ, the Lakers will rarely have to double team any one player and should have very little trouble with defensive rotations.

The Lakers pride themselves on pace, space, ball movement and paint. The Lakers were atop the league in points in the paint. Although Randle scored a large portion of those points, let’s just say we traded Randle for James. The Lakers now boast great passers in Lonzo Ball, LeBron James and Rajon Rondo. At times, Brandon Ingram is also a great passer. At all times the Lakers will have a general who can get and keep the ball moving. Both LeBron and Rondo have the ability to drive and kick and get to the basket and  break down defenses. Additionally, this team possesses a great many slashers who can break down defenses and either create points in the paint or set up open looks. These players include Ball, James, KCP, Rondo and Ingram. Lance Stephenson can also get to the basket and finish. Within an attack and high-pace offense, opposing teams really can’t relax as the Lakers do not intend to be in the half-court for too long. The way make a player like LeBron or even more deadly is to have guys that can knock down shots. Enter Kyle Kuzma, KCP, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Lance Stephenson and even Mortiz Wagner. These guys can hopefully be counted on to hit shots on passes from Rondo, Lonzo and James.

Can Luke mesh all these personalities together and make it work? Luke is actually a perfect fit. Having coached (in spite of people thinking even a cave man could do it) the Golden State Warriors, played with Kobe Bryant and coached a team full of young players and vets this past season, Luke Walton has shown the ability to manage people. He knows what he wants to do with a team and how it needs to be done. He also has the rings to back him up. Lastly, Luke has the respect of the players and a coaching staff that features former NBA Champion Brian Shaw. With a focus on defense, rebounding and pushing the tempo, Luke is chomping at the bit to be able to apply this exciting brand of basketball to such a talented group.

With such a deep and interchangeable roster full of savvy vets, Luke will have the luxury of keeping players minutes and keep players fresh. The young players will be less susceptible to injury, as well as the veterans. This is important as the rule still applies that the healthy team wins the championship. If this team stays healthy, you are easily looking at a top 5 seed in the West. Golden State may have pulled the heist of the century by adding Demarcus Cousins to an already stacked roster, but the Lakers stand reloaded and ready to make a strong case for the returning Kings of the West.

I hope you’ve become as excited as I am about the possible return of Showtime. Stay tuned. It’s only just begun, LakerNation!

Brace Yourselves, @LakersNation — IT’S THE OFFSEASON!

June 21, 2018

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The Lakers managed to recapture their luster of old (okay, like 7 years ago) through a combination of talented and headline-grabbing young players, cap-space saving trades, smart coaching and a whole lot of Magic. And although they did not make the playoffs, they were legitimately competing for that eighth seed for much of the season. With the game viewed as a chess match, Magic and Rob focused on placing themselves in great position for the off-season where many game-changing superstars will be choosing their destinies. The Lakers brass freed up a massive amount of cap space and amassed an intriguing mix of youth and saavy veterans. With the off-season now in full swing, rumors are flying and both fans and media alike are entertaining several scenarios ranging from the Lakers returning to the 2018-19 campaign with a superteam down to the Lakers simply walking away empty-handed and returning with their current team (still a very strong team). Let’s take a look at a few of these possibilities briefly and determine their likelihood.

Perhaps the biggest watercooler discussion is that of LeBron James’ free agency. It doesn’t take much for the media to quickly link Lebron James to Los Angeles. His son is said to be enrolling in a school in the LA area. He has been rumored to see Los Angeles as his best opportunity for other business endeavors. So, is LeBron coming to the Lakers? Do fans want arguably the best player in the world? Regardless of what anyone feels about James (he’s a crybaby, he takes over an organization, he’s not as good as Jordan), one can’t say that he is not an instant upgrade and the Lakers are at least number 4 seed on paper. Many pundits feel that with James in, Ball goes out. That couldn’t be further from the truth. James, like Kobe, does not wish to be ball dominant. Players like James and Bryant actually covet the idea of playing with a pass first point guard, especially one who sets the table like Lonzo Ball does. So with James joining purple and gold, Ball is safe. The Lakers now have a go-to player, a willing defender, and a leader. One would then have to examine what kind of domino effect this will have in terms of pulling in other free agents like a Paul George who has already been considered a lock to don the purple and gold. Brook Lopez has already been reported to be willing to take less to play for the Lakers if they are a contender. Now, do you still try to resign Julius Randle? That depends on how much Julius wants and how saavy Magic and Rob are with their funds. Adding fuel to this fire is the prospect of the Lakers also trading for Kawhi Leonard to create a LeBron-PG-Kawhi superteam. There are several moving pieces surrounding these scenarios and look for the Lakers to leave no stone unturned.

The next big looming scenario is the signing of Paul George. Paul George who hails from Palmdale, CA has been very open about his desire to play for the Lakers. The Oklahoma City Thunder took a chance on a possible 1-year PG rental; however, OKC has not been completely written off. Lakers fans are salivating at the possibility of Paul George inking a deal with the Purple and Gold. I hear from sources that Paul George has all signs pointing to coming to Los Angeles. If Paul George is a lock to be a Laker, the Lakers then have added an offensive juggernaut and a great defender who would love to be on the receiving end of Lonzo Ball passes.  The Lakers are, in my opinion, one player away from being a contender with a budding star in Julius Randle and fast rising stars Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram. Paul George would be a game-changer.  The move would be an obvious one for the Lakers, but would signal a triumphant off-season nonetheless.

The latest wildcard scenario is the potential trading of Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi has now been said to want out of San Antonio. Other sources have indicated that he’d like to be traded to the Lakers. Pump the breaks! Poppovich has never been one to trade with Western Conference rivals and certainly not to make them better! San Antonio has been rumored to be waiting patiently before even considering trading the coveted forward, but are willing to hear offers. Two questions. One, do the Lakers possess an appetizing package to peak San Antonio’s interest? Two, do the Lakers really want to give up the moon and stars to land Kawhi when he is a free agent after next season? Additionally, is Kawhi healthy? What kind of player are we in fact trading for? Who’s on the table? As I mentioned earlier, I find that Ball is off the table; however, Kuzma and Ingram are distinct possibilities because they are both forwards and Kawhi is like having Ingram at full potential now. Plus, this would be probably the strongest package the Lakers can submit without completely killing their core. Do I think it’s worth it? Not so sure yet. If the Lakers can successfully trade for Kawhi without completely breaking up the young core and are willing to deal with the 1-year rental situation; then they will definitely be getting the off-season off on the right foot.

Our last scenario is the possibility that the Lakers have a very strong team already. Supposing they do strike out on LeBron and PG, we have to consider what’s in front of them. At the present time, the Lakers have the following major free agents: Julius Randle, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Isaiah Thomas and Brook Lopez. Julius Randle has become a force to be reckoned with offensively and will be a highly coveted free agent. KCP is a deadly shooter when he’s on and has proven to be a lockdown defender, something the Lakers definitely need to keep. Isaiah Thomas averaged about 28 per only a season ago and was only limited by injuries. With a successful surgery complete and being officially pain free, one can’t help but to expect IT to pick up right where he left off. A crafty scorer, deadeye three-point shooter and excellent passer, Isaiah Thomas is the star the Lakers have right under their nose. Remember, he actually wants to be a Laker. Brook Lopez is arguably the strongest big man the Lakers have had since Pau Gasol. As I said in a previous blog, the question is which one of these players if not all do they want to keep. And how long will these players wait as the Lakers first attempt to shoot for the moon with the likes of Paul George and LeBron James?

There are plenty of scenarios that could play out this summer and as always, all eyes are on the Lakers. The Lakers have already begun by trading for an additional draft pick, securing the 25th, 39th and 47th pick in this year’s loaded draft class. Will there be more moves made?

Stay tuned, LakersNation! As Kyle Kuzma tweeted, its gonna be interesting…

 

 

Following the Trade Deadline, the Lakers are Right on Schedule

February 11, 2018
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Isaiah Thomas chomping at the bit to get in and play with his new team. He scored 22 points and dished out 6 assists in his debut.

Since the headline-grabbing Lakers regime change midway through last season, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have not made too many head-scratching decisions if any. It seems that everything they’ve done has inched the Lakers closer to relevance. The Lakers under the coaching staff lead by Luke Walton stayed the course amid media and fan criticisms and now find their team in a position where LOSING is not the norm. Since early January, the Lakers have gone 12-5 which includes three 4-game winning streaks. The team is clearly a better defensive unit and are buying into ball movement, resulting in victories and an increasing confidence in this still young Lakers team.

Not to be outdone, Magic and Rob managed to pull off a blockbuster trade (eat your heart out Jerry West) by sending Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson to Cleveland in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and a 1st round draft pick. With all love to JC and Nance, this was a brilliant move. The Lakers freed up almost 44 million in cap space, which was one of their clear goals this season. They got a draft pick which was something they had all but given for nothing years ago in the Steve Nash trade. They picked up an All-Star point guard who helped lead the Celtics to the top of the East just a season ago. They also added shooters who are both on expiring contracts, leaving them with financial flexibility. Let’s not forget that in all this the Lakers are still competitive, have not surrendered their young core AND might have even gotten BETTER.

Did the Lakers get better? In IT’s debut against the Mavericks, he literally picked up where he left off last season scoring 22 points after barely averaging 15 in Cleveland. Luke’s offense? Possibly. The Lakers as a unit just all but gave that game away through lackluster defense and not giving a young and hungry Dallas team led by an All-Star veteran in Dirk Nowitski the respect they deserve. Loss notwithstanding, they showed flashes of what a knockdown shooter and elite playmaker like IT does for this team. The question is whether the Lakers can adjust to IT’s defensive shortcomings. Will they still continue to switch on defense which has worked so well for them up to this point? Dallas wisely exposed that last night. That is a moderate issue when you again consider the sample size in Boston who finished the season 53-29. Sounds like defense was not an issue.

Let’s be completely honest, Luke Walton and staff will have this team on the same page and they will have this much improved Lakers team competing at an even higher level and preparing for the return of Lonzo Ball. There is no denying that the Lakers got a major upgrade offensively. Lonzo Ball will also even the scales defensively upon his return.

There will obviously be a minor adjustment period for rotations and such, but it appears that Isaiah will eventually have to start alongside Lonzo Ball. Brandon Ingram and Juilus Randle are a lock to start as well as Brook Lopez. Is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope coming off the bench? That sounds like the best move. Look for Alex Caruso and Corey Brewer to scale back on minutes as KCP assumes the Jordan Clarkson role as 1st off the bench. The Lakers will have plenty of flexibility to go big should teams become successful exposing IT on defense. The Lakers brass has put this team in perfect position to fight for that 8th seed while preparing to make some noise in the off-season with their newfound cap space.

It’s a very exciting time in Tinseltown as the Lakers continue to get on the fast-track back to championship glory. Stay tuned, Lakers fans.

Lakers Optimist out!

 

Are the Kids Alright…or Being Shipped out? Trade Talks and the Trade Deadline in Lakertown

January 29, 2018
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Lakers are reportedly shopping Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson as the trade deadline is one week away.

The Lakers are 19-30 after 49 games. And although that seems extremely shabby, the Lakers have gone 8-3 in their last 11 games, to include two 4-game winning streaks. The latter of 4 game winning streaks came with Lonzo Ball out with MCL sprain. The Lakers are somewhat turning a corner. They are learning to play defense and to move the ball. More importantly — they are WINNING GAMES at an efficient rate and winning makes everything better…right?

Even as the Lakers begin to fulfill Kyle Kuzma’s promise to “figure it out”, the trade deadline is a week away. Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. are all on the trading block as the Lakers look to clear up cap space to sign as many max players as possible. Recently, Detroit was rumored to have discussed sending Avery Bradley to Tinseltown in exchange for our very own JC. Amid all this, Julius Randle has flourished in his starting role, returning to the double-double machine he was expected to be and more! He has proven to be a threat on the block and very formidable in the paint on defense. At times, it seems nobody can stop Randle. Jordan Clarkson has become instant offense and has even willed the Lakers to victories during this impressive 11 game stretch. Larry Nance Jr. has been defensively locked in and still has kept his stellar 50-plus shooting percentage while creating whispers of competing in this year’s Slam Dunk contest. These guys have been with the Lakers during the dark times, and even with the Ingram-Kuz-Ball big three, still figure to be a key component of a future championship Lakers team.

Questions are raised from this current situation:

1. How much is a non-guaranteed max player signing worth? Let’s face it. With all the hoopla about Lebron James having much of his life in Los Angeles (which doesn’t rule out the Clippers), Paul George wanting to be Laker come hell or high water (comments about Westbook changing his mind notwithstanding) and plans to go after Demarcus Cousins (Get well soon, Boogie), nothing is guaranteed. The Lakers have players that have proven to have a key role in this team returning to greatness and providing a strong supporting cast to a developing big 3 in Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. It’s clear that losing Clarkson and or Randle will no doubt diminish this teams’ ability to win games, and they do not have any draft pick to hang their hat on. So, assuming PG stays in OKC, Bron-Bron wants to retire in Cleveland or elsewhere and any other highly coveted star does not come to the Lakers and they strike out, they want to have a quality team to build upon. Is trading Clarkson, Randle or Nance worth the risk of coming away with nothing, and being a worse team?

2. Is this team worth standing pat at the trade deadline and seeing how well they can actually play when Zo returns? The last question assumes that this Lakers team as is can truly become a playoff contender next season with another year under their belt. This team features the aforementioned big 3 and supporting cast. This team as it stands has two weaknesses, 3-point shooters and a dominant center. With that being said, when this team returns to full health, they have proven that they can compete with anyone when they are playing defense and moving the ball. They are a better defensive and rebounding team when Lonzo is on the court. Being that they’ve learned how to dominate without Ball suggests that they (minor adjustment to the rotation time included) will be even better once he returns. Being that the Lakers want to attract free agents, gutting your team for cap space and sputtering into the end of the season won’t attract anyone. So, keeping this team as is and showing improvement to the tune of 30-40 wins can create some curiosity among max free agents. Let’s be honest, the Lakers possess players that at one point or another can take over a game in Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle. Wisely enough, the Lakers had Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on 1 year deals and will potentially have space in the off-season to sign a center that can deliver on defense and athleticism and a true 3 and D guy. So the Lakers brass have to decide if it’s simply better to just (as much as Lakers fans hate this) wait and see…

Pushing my attachment to players aside and in the most unbiased way possible, I really think the Lakers need to wait. Coach Luke Walton has this team playing the right way. Furthermore, there are no players (that a team is willing to offer) that can dramatically upgrade this Lakers team in exchange for 3 loyal Lakers players who are playing very well. With the exception of Nance (who no team will take without an additional player anyway), trading any of these players would suggest waving a white flag on the season, thus gutting the roster and really putting pressure on Magic and Rob to hit the lotto in the off-season. The Lakers have a clear path and formula. They are literally 2 pieces away. In no way am I suggesting that the Lakers are fine the way they are. I am suggesting that they will be in a better position to pick up that max player with JC, Randle and Nance than they would be without.

In the next week we will find out if cap space is worth the risk of the class of 2014 and our future dunk champion (I speak it into existence). Stay tuned Lakers fans!

Lakers Optimist out.

 

It’s Come to This? Trades, Noise and Luke.

January 12, 2018

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Okay, Lakers fans, welcome to another episode in the drama that is the Los Angeles Lakers. As the Lakers breathed a 2 second sigh of relief upon snapping a 9 game losing streak against the hapless Atlanta Hawks and then followed it up with a sound beating of the Sacramento Kings, headlines and rumors are at an all time high. Players are rumored to be on the trading block, fans are panicking and Luke Walton has gone from savior to scapegoat only 40 games into the season.

At 13-27, it’s not unreasonable for the Lakers brass to be looking at what’s working and what isn’t. It’s not unreasonable for Lakers fans to wonder if there is something that could have been done better up to this point. It’s not unreasonable for players to question their job security. It’s not unreasonable for media to dismiss this as another lost season for a young team trying to find its way.  Lastly, it’s not unreasonable for the rumor mill and the “white noise” as Lakers players call it, to ensue.

With all this going on, it’s important to sort through the real, the noise and what remains to be seen. This is what we will take a look at briefly.

The Lakers are currently expected to be big players in the trade market. Why? The biggest reason is because of the desire to maintain as much salary as possible to pick up top-tier free agents. With that being said, anybody who is not a game-changer and is tying up this money is a trade target. Unfortunately, Jordan Clarkson is at the top of the list. Knowing that he alone would not be as appetizing, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. have also been placed on the trading block as well. I am notorious for getting attached to players that started their career with the Lakers and have endured the rough times (I still shed a tear when I think about Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel and Elden Campbell). Having said that, in order to get over the hump, the Lakers may have to make these tough decisions which involve sending some of our favorites off. Clarkson has proven to be a potential spark off the bench. Perhaps given a real opportunity, he could start at the 2 on another team. He would have owned that spot if not for the signing of KCP. Julius Randle has made a strong case for keeping him as a part of the Lakers future plans by his play over the last few games as a starter. By virtue of Brook Lopez’s ability to stretch the floor, big men have to stay out of the paint, leaving Julius a flimsy 4 to try to stop him. Larry Nance Jr. still stays in the glue guy roll and is very talented at rebounding and defense, but offensively still has not given much in the way of consistency outside of finishing ally-oops and putback dunks.

Magic and Rob would love to get better right away; however, cap space takes precedence at this point. With that in mind, I still don’t expect them to tamper with the team too much or even give up any of these guys without getting something beneficial in return. This is all speculation. The Lakers know they need shooting. That is the one thing that would open it up for them. I personally feel they still have a need at center until I see Brook Lopez do what he’s done over the last two games consistently. Brook should be an easy 18-20 points and 2-3 blocks per game or we look elsewhere.

What are we going to do with all the noise? LaVar, the media and the impatient Lakers fans are all yelling at fever pitch and this young team has to deal with this on a regular basis. Lonzo comes with all the Ball-isms, his father is very outspoken and the media loves it. The media plays up every single good or bad move that Lonzo makes. The team had a team meeting and that was taken out of proportion. Fans and pundits are going for Luke Walton’s head on a stick as the Lakers struggle to get wins. Fortunately for this Lakers team, they are stable. Jeanie is confident in Magic and Rob. Jeanie, Magic and Rob are confident in Luke. Luke is confident in his management and his team. Therefore his team is confident. The unanimous team message is to ignore all the white noise. For a moment, at least, the Lakers have done that and soundly beat two lowly teams and seem poised to plug along.

Luke Walton is a coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. Many have tried and many have failed to handle the lights, glamour and the pressure of the “win-now” atmosphere of Tinseltown. Here lies the graves of Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni (no love for Mikes, huh?) and Byron Scott who became L.A.’s most hated after trying to Phil some big shoes. Luke Walton is easily one of the most liked Lakers and people you’ve ever met. With the honeymoon period over, Lakers fans have now become extremely picky to a fault. As the Lakers are in the midst of a losing season, everything Luke’s done has come into question. I’ve seen tweets that will nitpick each and every player rotation. I’ve seen “Fire Luke” tweets on several occasions. But are these statements fair?

I’ve always said that a coach can be measured by their ability to get the most out of a team lacking talent and to get a talented team over the hump. We’ve seen Luke take a talented team to 24-0 (and NO that’s not something that ANYBODY could do with a team like Golden State). Does Luke have a talented team? Yes and no. They are talented, but young. Luke is coaching a team that are actually carrying out what he is teaching, but are still learning how to do it for 48 minutes. Many of the issues this team has are very normal for a young team. As Kyle Kuzma has said, Luke isn’t the one missing free throws (which is the largest reason they’ve lost quite a few games this season). Luke isn’t turning the ball over and many of these are just bonehead plays. Luke also isn’t giving up offensive rebounds. So for that, Luke cannot and should not be blamed. This young team will start to fix those issues and start to turn those losses into wins.

Luke’s issue up to now has been the inability to settle on a rotation. Is this a reason to fire Luke? Of course not! If you’re losing games, you can either stick with this unit until they get better or scrap it until you find a group that actually wins games. As of today, Luke has stuck with a rotation that has won 2 straight. I have no doubt that if they win or compete well tonight, he will stick with this rotation. Also, at full strength, it now becomes easier to finalize a rotation. Furthermore, let’s be honest here, Luke is also a 2nd year coach. Many people with credibility from Steve Kerr to Greg Poppovich to Kobe Bryant have stated that he can and will become a great NBA coach. You have to believe that as his young team grows, this young coach will also grow and this team will be dangerous.

So in true Lakers Optimist fashion, I remind LakersNation to look at this season, team and organization a little differently — with patience. This year is very different. Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram will be your next big 3. Luke Walton will be your next great coach and parades and banners are really closer than you think.

Lakers Optimist out.

 

Lakers: What’s Right, What’s Wrong and What’s Questionable.

December 29, 2017

We are now 33 games into the season and the Los Angeles Lakers are 11-22. They have sustained a rough stretch in which they’ve gone 6-17 since their 5-5 start. What’s more, they’ve faced a 6th man that not many teams can beat- injuries. Nance sat out games with an injury before returning, Lopez sustained a severe ankle sprain that has him sidelined for a few weeks. Lonzo has a shoulder sprain that is to be reevaluated next week. Ingram sat out two games with a quad injury and Kuz is a game time decision with a injury. The Lakers are in a pivotal stretch that can either result in yet another flat season or become a moment where Lakers show resiliency and end up vying for the 8th spot. 

Let’s take a moment to examine what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s questionable in Tinsel town.

What’s Right: The kids are getting it. Lonzo Ball started off doing everything but scoring. He has been pulling down about 8 boards a game, dishing out 8 assists and swatting and stealing 1 a piece. His point production and shooting percentage was dismal early. Lately he’s been hitting, especially from three at about a 40% clip. His game has proven necessary as he is the calming force and the driving force that pushes the fast pace that Luke wants. Kyle Kuzma has simply seemed unstoppable, posting 30 point outings twice in the past week and even dropped a career high 38 in a recent game. His ability to create and out right score has caught the attention of media, coaches and the Black Mamba himself. Brandon Ingram is taking, and making, clutch shots and at 16 a game is becoming the player Magic and company believes he could be. His insane ability to get into the paint and draw fouls has CJ McCollum saying he’s gonna be a problem. Led by these guys, the Lakers have a bright future and a definite big 3 in the making. Supporting cast, Clarkson and Randle have made huge bench contributions. Kentavious Caldwell Pope continues to anchor the defense and can help when hot from 3. Nance has consistently proven to be a glue guy, defender, rebounder and highlight reel. 

The Lakers at one point was a top 10 defense and continues to push the pace in transition. They have gone toe to toe with elite teams and recently spanked the Houston Rockets. In spite of their 11-22 record, the coaching staff have enough confidence to change their focus from simply learning how to play right to actually winning games. The mentality is of a team that expects to win and for good reason.

What’s Wrong: The Lakers still have issues that are standard with young teams. They make horrible mistakes down the stretch and have coughed up close games several times this season. Many losses have come in the closing minutes. The team struggles with turnovers, especially in crucial moments. New and even more disturbing is the Lakers inability to hit free throws. It seems that minor fixes can easily make this team a threat over the next several games; however, the young Lakers have also tended to play down to the level of their opponent. They will play Golden State into an overtime battle and then drop a clunker against the lowly Memphis Grizzlies. 

With salary cap status an obvious focus for the Lakers brass, the notorious names Clarkson and Randle have once again resurfaced as the February trade deadline looms. We can safely say that this roster may not be the same after February. For the kids this is a distraction and cannot be overlooked as another “bad”. 

What’s Questionable: Don’t get it twisted. I’m not jumping on the “fire Luke Walton” bandwagon by any stretch. Anybody watching the games can see a severe inconsistency in the game to game rotations, however. What’s more, we know it’s being partially done intentionally because he’s said so and also has highlighted the search for the right combination on the court. Case in point, Julius Randle can either enter the game early in the 1st quarter, or late in the 2nd. Same with Nance. Some guys don’t even play full games after coming off the bench the game before. Starters have been roughly consistent prior to injury and the emergence of Kuzma. The issue is clear. Maybe I don’t know much, but a rotation should be set no matter what to build chemistry which the Lakers lack. The fact that he openly highlights an enjoyment of tinkering with the rotations is a little disconcerting. We’ve got to assume that eventually they’ll have a set rotation following the trade deadline. They have quite a bit of talent, and the question is can Luke effectively integrate them all. Until then, this is questionable. 

Something else questionable is the erratic shooting of KCP. Kentavious has become the epitome of, “No! No! No! Yes!” as he’s been streaky and has hit timely shots. His defense is invaluable, but when he’s cold and continues to jack up awful shots, this becomes questionable. Also questionable is the management of Randle. It seems that he is in someone’s dog house. His minutes are obscenely low for someone so effective in the paint and with such game-changing ability. So is he not fitting in the Lakers future plans and therefore being phased out? Time will tell, but this is also questionable. 

Overall, the Lakers are in a good place. The core is developing quite nicely and the team is exciting and competing every night. As they start to get their guys back, particularly Lonzo Ball, and the schedule gets a little bit easier (not playing championship contenders back-to-back) I can see them starting to rack up more wins. Losses to Blazers and Grizzlies recently are pull-out-your-hair frustrating, but they’ll learn to win as the season progresses.

Stay tuned, Lakers fans! This is gonna get interesting…

What We’ve Learned about the Lakers After 3 Games

October 26, 2017

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The Lakers have had a very eventful and promising off-season, Summer League and preseason. The New-era Lakers hype train has taken off at full speed and the expectations, albeit tempered, have reached meteoric heights.

For those who may have been under a rock, let me give you a recap. Magic and Rob replaced Kupchak and Jimmy. Lakers drafted highly-touted UCLA star Lonzo Ball. He became the biggest out-of-college celebrity to never play an NBA game. Lakers traded D’Angelo Russell for Brook Lopez and a 27th pick. They signed young defensive stopper Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Lakers young guns took the Summer League Championship. Lonzo won MVP and 27th draft pick Kyle Kuzma won the Summer League Championship game MVP and averaged over 20 points a game. The hype continued to build in spite of a lukewarm preseason and now here we are three games in. People are already talking, and because it’s the Los Angeles Lakers, everything is magnified.

The Lakers laid an egg in the season-opener, got bounced around in the paint by Blake Griffin, Deandre Jordan and the Clippers. Patrick Beverly gave Lonzo Ball an official rookie hazing and trial by fire, holding him to 3 points and basically bullied him up and down the court. Even so, Ball pulled down 9 rebounds and even had a steal and a block. Lopez opened with a 20 point game and Clarkson continued to be steady off the bench with 18 points. Nance had an impressive debut with a double double.

The Lakers were able to turnaround and pull out a win against the Suns. Lonzo made up for his debatable opening night failure with a near triple double. He had 29 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists. This game saw Brandon Ingram breakout to a career high 25 points. Clarkson, Lopez and Nance stayed consistent.

The third game of the season featured the debut of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who did not disappoint with 20 points 2 steals and a block. Kuzma broke out with 20 points and Clarkson was business as usual with 24 points. The Lakers lost this one by 7, but almost pulled off an improbable comeback after trailing by as many as 22. Lonzo Ball had an off shooting night, but the statsheet stuffer still dished out 13 assists and had 8 rebounds.

The Lakers sit at 1-2. Fans and media have weighed in (because I suppose they have to) on everything from whether Lonzo is legit to whether Randle is just trade bait or a great player figuring things out.

So, even though it’s early. What have we learned?

Jordan Clarkson is STILL the man. Hate it or love it, you cannot deny that Jordan Clarkson is still Mr. Consistent. Even with demotion (which I still take issue with), he has been the most consistent Lakers player ever since he came on the scene. He has started off this season no different. It seems he relishes his role off the bench although one can validly argue that he should start somewhere. His mid-range is money. He can get to the basket and create. He is developing that 3 point shot, and low-key he is starting to be more active on defense.

Kyle Kuzma is destined to get more minutes. Luke has a dilemma of sorts. Kyle Kuzma has not been denied since Summer League. He is officially the steal of the draft. He has a motor like Randle and a jumpshot. He has ups similar to Nance and can create his own shot. It won’t be long before he threatens to takeover the starting spot. Luke knows he has to find major minutes for Kuz, even at the expense of other big men.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is as good as advertised. It’s just one game, but once chemistry develops, KCP will no doubt mesh well with Lonzo Ball. His 20 points and 2 steals will be a huge boost to the Lakers defense. I even may expect KCP to guard Wall in tonight’s game against Washington.

Josh Hart will get more minutes than Ennis. Josh Hart seems to be the next energy guy who will make his presence felt in ways that do not show up on the stats. His rebounding, energy and ability to attack the rim and hit the three puts him ahead of players like Tyler Ennis. The shooting guard position off the bench is still relatively up for grabs and he looks to grab those minutes if he bolsters the defense the way he did against N.O.

Lonzo Ball is going to be great. Lonzo’s ability to affect a game even when he’s not scoring is why he’s going to be a star. When he’s not scoring, he is pulling down 9 rebounds, dishing out 13 assists or getting steals and blocks. The fact that it’s only the third game of the season and he’s almost averaging a triple double is evidence enough. He just needs time. I expect him to move up the learning curve quickly. He has no choice with the NBA coming for his head on a nightly basis.

Chemistry still pending. Relax guys. The Lakers had a preseason without Lopez, without Bogut, without Ball. They started the season without KCP. Then they got him back. Luke is still looking for the right mix of guys that can get results. Sunday’s game shed some light on that. Hopefully they can settle on a rotation that lasts for at least 5 games and develop some chemistry.

The jury is still out on Randle. Julius spent the first 2 games somewhat offended that he had to come off the bench. In the 3rd game, he showed what he can do when he’s engaged. Although Nance has seemed to takeover that starting spot, Randle still can find his stride if he picks up where he left off in the 3rd quarter of the last game. He still needs to find his jumpshot too.

If we throw out the Clippers game where nerves were definitely there, the Lakers actually had some pretty good games. They found their defense in the 2nd half of the Pelicans game, allowing 41 points after giving up 68. What we will be looking for tonight against Washington is if they learned that they should play this way for 48 minutes, and especially at the beginning.

Look for Luke and staff to take notes from the last game and start to develop effective rotations. Look for Ball to make up for a poor shooting night. Look for Brook and Nance to also try to have better games. Also look for continued improvement from Brandon Ingram who still hasn’t been himself yet.

Stay tuned, Lakers fans!

 

Magic and Rob Doin Work On the Eve of Draft Day 2017(@DanDuangdao @SpectrumSN)

June 21, 2017

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Okay guys, I have to get this in super fast because by the time you read this, everything might change!

LakerNation is reeling in both a good and bad way after the Lakers traded away young budding superstar (or budding bust, depending on who you are) D’Angelo Russell to the Nets. Now this trade was mostly an attempted to dump the questionable massive contract that Timofey Mozgov had as he was also traded to the Nets. In return the Lakers received talented stretch 5 Brook Lopez and the Nets 27th draft pick in this year’s loaded draft class.

So there are a couple of ways to look at this. If this is the end of the trade action, then we have questions, right? Does this mean that the proverbial keys have been given to whoever they draft at number 2? This is widely expected to be Lonzo Ball. But that has not been guaranteed. It could be De’Aaron Fox although it’s been said that his lack of outside shooting prowess puts him at a disadvantage. Even so, this puts a great amount of pressure on whoever takes the reigns as point guard to do fill the void. If this is the end of the trades one can hope that this trade provides a great opportunity for Jordan Clarkson. Anybody who knows me knows that JC has been my pick for “next up” in Lakerland. His game was stunted by the drafting of Dloading. The media and the Laker’s brass considered him the possible face of the franchise and Clarkson was slighted in every way including coming off the bench last season. Clarkson, a true shooting guard, took over the reigns late in the season under Byron Scott and made a name for himself. His feisty, fearless attack and developing jump shot and on-ball defense makes him a great piece for the Lakers core…or trade bait. With a backcourt potentially being JC and Lonzo Ball, you have a great finisher and shooter and an amazing facilitator working together. Your frontcourt is Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and Brook Lopez. Not bad.

However, various sources indicate that this is not the end of the trades. Lakers are reportedly trying to prepare a package sweet enough to trade for Pacers superstar Paul George. For those who missed it, Paul George reportedly told Indiana he would not return to Indy after next season and consider Lakers a top destination. Additionally, teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers have begun talking to Indiana prompting Magic and Rob to make every attempt to acquire Paul George so that he doesn’t re-up with a championship team. What this means is that nothing is sacred. The Lakers reportedly tried to trade down with the Sacramento Kings to obtain 2 picks and were rejected. In which case this now creates a volatile situation in which every Lakers young core player is up for grabs. By the end of this blog will Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson even be Lakers anymore? Will the Lakers even have their number 2 pick? Sources said that the #2 pick and Brandon Ingram were off limits…but now the #2 pick isn’t necessarily off limits anymore.

Opponents of the initial trade suggest that Dloading was going to be great and was considered one of the bright spots of last years dismal season. He improved greatly over the latter part of the season and put a 40 point game together on Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers. HIs cocky attitude, creative passing and quickly developing jump shot made him a shoe-in for the Lakers next superstar. The view is that Magic and Rob basically let him go for peanuts. This trade may be even more detrimental if they are not able to swing a deal for Paul George.

However, reports (and my girl Fax at the barbershop) say that Magic was not too impressed with D’Angelo Russell and that coach Luke Walton took issue with his work ethic. Perhaps the consensus was that he would not be the one that would take the reigns from Kobe. Further evidence was the fact that Brandon Ingram, not D’Angelo Russell, was considered “untouchable” in trade talks.

So we can’t necessarily “grade” this trade until we know what its finality is. What I can safely say is I thought D’Angelo Russell was going to be a great player. That being said, it was a good move if they intend on bringing in a quality point guard via the draft and also intend on getting Paul George without surrendering too much. At this point it looks like Magic and Rob are hell-bent on bringing in PG. I just hope that they do not completely gut this promising young core, thus leaving the Lakers with few pieces to support a superstar-caliber player.

From a financial standpoint we can applaud the Lakers brass for being able to finally unload Moz and his fat contract. This frees up the Lakers to offer max money to a superstar from the highly stacked 2018 free agent class. Rumors and reports have linked the Lakers to both Paul George and Lebron James as preferred destinations. The question is was Dloading really that expendable.

Of course we die-hard Lakers fans tend to attach ourselves to players whereas businessmen like Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka can detach.

Let’s just hope when the smoke clears, the Los Angeles Lakers are much better for it.

Stay tuned.