Posts Tagged ‘Brandon Ingram’

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

January 12, 2018

lakers

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.

 

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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…

The Unfair Expectations of the Young Lakers

May 3, 2017

The Los Angeles Lakers have finished their first official rebuild season with Luke Walton at the helm. They cleaned house and brought in Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka in place of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak. After a marginal improvement of 9 wins from last year and another lottery season, the question now looms whether or not these current Lakers can bring the purple and gold back to the NBA supremacy we’ve grown accustomed to.

Expectations were pretty decent for Julius Randle before he broke his leg in his Laker debut 2 seasons ago. They really skyrocketed for the highly touted number 2 pick D’Angelo Russell. They are definitely up there for their next number 2 pick the following season, Brandon Ingram. Sprinkle that with very wise picks (can’t hate on Mitch too much) Larry Nance Jr, Jordan Clarkson and Ivica Zubac and undrafted big man Tarik Black and you’ve got a young and talented squad.

But not talented enough to win championships. So can the Lakers faithful wait? Are they screaming, “superstar or bust”? 

Well let’s be honest, if the Lakers can manage to keep much of their core and bring in a superstar, we’re all for it. Paul George is obviously in the discussion. Free agents coming up include Gordon Hayward, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Kyle Lowry. Of course, you run the risk of getting a highly paid albatross contract that eats up your young core’s minutes and still can’t get the Lakers to be championship contenders.

So what about this young core? If they are not what they should be, and the perennial superstar doesn’t come waltzing through the door this off-season, then what? We wait. 

I believe this team is worth the wait and that expectations are unfair. Kobe Bryant did not become the Kobe we know and love for a few years. In his first three years he averaged less than 20 points. Furthermore he was surrounded by the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Eddie Jones, Nick Van Excel, Robert Horry– to name a few. He was also on a winning team, even winning 61 games at one point under Del Harris. Therefore, while Kobe was becoming Kobe, he was not counted on to lead the Lakers. Lastly, these Lakers were not rebuilding. This new group lacks any dominant veterans, is rebuilding and the pressure to become great lies squarely on the shoulders of Russell and company. Russell is entering his third year, Randle is technically entering his 3rd year and Ingram his 2nd. Using the Kobe logic, they should be doing some major damage in maybe a year or two. Or not. Either way, now is too early to expect greatness from this team.

Having said that, a healthy injection of veteran talent via a Kyle Lowry or Paul George can be great for a young core. That would propel this young team closer to the squads that Kobe played on as he became the official Black Mamba. As I’ve said before, this team is filling seats so the fans know they have something special. We also know that great players are created in the off-season. Magic said he expects his players to be in top shape coming into training camp. Perhaps they jump the learning curve going into next season. 

This Lakers team needs to see a vast improvement this year and next year as a collective. Individually, Clarkson is the “vet” going into his fourth year and should breakout. Russell and Ingram appear on the cusp of breaking out as well. Randle has addressed what he wants to work on. Bottom line is, the fans need to understand where this team is and be patient. Expectations will need to be tempered as they inch closer and closer back to basketball royalty.

Lakers Optimism? Of Course!

April 16, 2017

Brandon Ingram flushes the dunk on Pau Gasol

At the beginning of this Lakers season, promising a fresh start and a new culture, nobody thought we’d be back here again. Where is here? Pulling out the tanks and cheering the Lakers on openly, while quietly (well not so quietly. Have you SEEN Twitter?) praying for losses in order to keep their draft pick. 

Lakers finished the season 26-56, winning 9 games more than last year. However, as we tend to look at the present, that’s just AWFUL. The Lakers yet again will miss the playoffs for 4 straight years. So we can’t overlook the obvious. The Lakers still stink from a record and competing standpoint. 

So where’s the optimism?

Assuming the Lakers increase by 9 wins each year.

Let’s first look at trends. Am I reaching? Perhaps. The Lakers finished the season under Luke’s first year +9 in wins. If this trend was to continue, logically the Lakers would be official contenders by 2019. Even before then they would start to reach that playoff bubble by 2018 and be much more fun, competitive and tolerable by next season. 

We know that late in the season there were some very pivotal changes that took place which could very well increase that +9 win total.

1. New Regime: Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss were both unceremoniously booted from leadership and replaced with former sports agent Rob Pelinka and Lakers legend and saavy buinessman Magic Johnson. Immediately after Magic took the reins as head of basketball operations, he traded 6th man Lou Williams to Houston for a 1st round pick. They have gotten behind Luke Walton as the coach for many years to come and touted Brandon Ingram as their future superstar. Evidence of that is their refusal to trade him even for Demarcus Cousins.

2. The Emergence of the Youth: Once the Lakers surrendered to the lack of playoff contention, the youth movement began. The guys got BUSY. Brandon Ingram’s scoring numbers shot up, D’Angelo Russell put up big numbers and career highs. Ivica Zubac put up career high numbers, David Nwaba made a name for himself defensively and the kids just got better. The Lakers ended the season 5-1 in their last six games and featured some of the best highlights you would ever see from a losing team. Kobe Bryant is expected to work with Brandon Ingram this summer, and it would appear that all of Lakers players intend to improve over the summer.

Tank talks now aside, the Lakers have the 3rd worst record in the league and the potential to get a top 3 pick in what has been considered by many experts and scouts to be a loaded draft class. They will either add another strong piece in the draft or at least add a promising young prospect later in the first round if they lose out on the lottery. Remember that their draft pick is top 3 protected and could go to the Sixers if it falls to 4th or lower.

Unknowns remain, such as what kind of free agent, if any, the Lakers can entice. Nick Young has a player option and has expressed that he’d like be on a playoff contender next season. Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng did not meet expectations. Are they still a part of the Lakers future? Can one of the young Lakers have a breakout year next season?

One thing for sure, the summer once again remains very exciting and expect the Lakers to be newsworthy all summer long. These Lakers impressed the league and have put them on notice. That early successful start before the injuries was no fluke. Expectations will only rise. 

The question is will expectations be fulfilled.

Stay tuned.

Why These Tough Lakers Times are Very Different Than the Previous Years (@SpectrumSN @lakersreporter)

January 26, 2017

I know. The Lakers are 17 games under .500 and suffered the worst loss of the season to the worst team in the Western Conference a few days ago. They have one of the worst defenses in the league and can’t seem to string together consistent effort on the court. 

This may lead some of the Lakers faithful and experts to go, “How is this any different than last year? Or the year before that and the one before that? We still stink!”

I’ll give you that. At 16-33, there is good reason to consider this another awful lottery year with no hope in sight. However, there are plenty of reasons to see this much differently and even more reason to believe that this team will only get better AND faster than you think.

Here are the differences between this year and previous years:

 1. Not Trying to Win with Declining Stars: The Lakers in years past were working with a declining post-Achilles injury Kobe, an ailing Steve Nash and a mashup supporting cast that featured other declining stars including Carlos Boozer. They possessed vets that were not game-changing and young players that would warm the bench on other teams. Mike D’antoni faced this issue following Dwight’s dismissal of the Lakers brass along with that injury bug. Byron tried to build with Randle and Clarkson, but there was still the glaring Kobe effect, Boozer was a disappointment and he outright did not know how to coach Jeremy Lin. Kobe’s final year was unanimously considered a full on circus with the farewell hoopla to add insult to injury. Now the Lakers possess a group that is centered around rising stars who will only get better. Players like Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, to name a few, have high ceilings. Growing into contenders is a united focus from top to bottom and nothing else. Therefore losses are expected and almost welcome as they become learning opportunities. Nobody likes losing, but it makes more sense now. 

2. The Coach of the Future: Long before a promising and eye-catching 10-10 start, Coach Luke Walton said that he would not measure this team’s success by wins and losses. It would be more measured by whether or not they buy into and implement what the coaching staff is trying to accomplish on the court. Therefore, even as they deal with losses piling up, this is still the right coach for the job. The team has developed a respect for Luke and staff as evidenced by their effort early in the season and in spurts as of late. It is also reflected in their attitudes towards him. D’Angelo Russell has not complained when benched in the 4th quarter. He’s gotten Nick Young to play defense and has the team together even as they face these losses. The biggest blows to the team were injuries, youth and actually, success. 

3. Chemistry with the Young Core Has Improved and Will Continue to Improve: The team that loses together will win together. The Lakers’ young core have all made substantial improvements in their numbers from last year to this year, and Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac have moved up the learning curve quickly during their rookie years. We know some players can have a softmore jinx or start to plateau too early, but many of the players like Larry Nance Jr. and D’Angelo Russell have high ceilings and as a collective unit, they will become even stronger. You have to consider that the rookie and youthful mistakes will begin to dwindle as time progresses. One would hope this happens sooner than later. Examples of this are the OKC Thunder and Golden State Warriors’ recent core that became dominant over a few years after forgettable playoff-less seasons.

So even as they get pummeled by some teams, get close and then can’t hit shots at the end, and surprise the top contenders and pull upsets, we have to look at this season differently. We also look at it with the same cautious optimism. Certain shots that miss will start to go in. Defensive breakdowns will occur less and less and focus will remain for more than a few quarters.

Get used to it, fans. This is a rebuild and the foundation has been laid quite nicely.