Posts Tagged ‘lakers’

Lakers Optimist Facts: JaVale’s Resurgence, Lakers Recent Winning Streak and What the Addition of Tyson Chandler Means (@LakersNation #Lakeshow #NBA #Lakersnation #Lakers)

November 13, 2018

The smoke has all cleared and the new NBA season is well underway. As teams are still figuring out where they stand in this extremely competitive league, teams like the Wizards are struggling, the T-Wolves had to trade a kicking and screaming Jimmy Butler and the Cavaliers are getting used to rock bottom all over again. The Lakers themselves are still finding their way. After a lackluster yet somewhat expected 0-3 start, the Lakers have gone 7-3 and are currently on a 3 game winning streak. Within those wins are a gutsy win over a relentless T-Wolves team, a blowout of the hot starting Kings and an ugly squeaker over a hapless yet scrappy young Hawks team. Let’s take a look at a few Lakers Optimist facts we’ve learned from the young season.

Lebron James is as good as advertised. LBJ is averaging just about 26 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds. Free throw and three-point inconsistencies aside, he is truly doing what we expected him to do. He has done a much better job taking over games of late although it’s asking too much to request a “Mamba Mentality” from King James. That being said, Lebron has done an excellent job of not stunting the growth of the young Lakers. In fact, it seems the young Lakers have benefited greatly. Kuzma having to do less dribbling now finds himself scoring much more in the painted area due to James’ ability to find him. He has also set up Ingram and JaVale McGree, giving them easy points.

JaVale McGee is the surprise of the season. For perspective, JaVale McGee averaged 4.8 points, 0.9 blocks and 2 rebounds in 9.5 minutes a game in Golden State just last season. JaVale was to be a serviceable big man for the Lakers and didn’t garner much excitement from his veterans minimum signing. 13 games in, JaVale McGee is averaging 13.7 points, 3 blocks and 7 rebounds in 25.8 minutes and vying for Defensive Player of the Year. He seamlessly fit right in with the Lakers offense, anchoring the defense, running the floor and finishing the break with resounding dunks.  Grant it, if given the minutes, perhaps he would have put forth the same effort in the Bay Area. Either way, he is more than a pleasant surprise and is a major reason why the Lakers can at times be very formidable on the defensive end.

Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson are doing what we expected. Rajon Rondo has given the Lakers a solid boost off the bench and has done a great job closing games as well, providing a veteran presence on both ends of the floor. He is giving the Lakers 9 points, just under 7 assists and 1 steal per. His ability to survey the floor and find the open man has created a calming affect for the team. Coming off the bench, this assures there is no drop off in ball movement when Zo, Bron or Ingram sit. Lance Stephenson has no doubt brought the Lakeshow to new heights with his celebrations; however, it’s not just for show as he puts up just under 9 points a game. Many of those points come during crunch time. Needless to say, these vets have become excellent supporting cast members and will pay even more dividends should the Lakers make the playoffs.

Josh Hart keeps getting better and KCP keeps falling. At the beginning of the season there was much debate over who should start at shooting guard between Josh Hart and KCP. Well, at the moment they both come of the bench. However, Josh Hart has gone from just under 8 points a game last year to just under 12 points per to go along with 1.7 steals. Conversely, KCP dropped from 13.4 points a game last year to 6.4 points per to go with 0.5 steals. He has quickly become somewhat of a forgotten man. Although he still provides great team defense, he is shooting a miserable 39% and an even more dismal 28% from behind arc. The question is whether or not Lonzo Ball swapped shooting skills with KCP when he wasn’t looking. Needless to say KCP is quite the disappointment. But as a streaky shooter, one can only hope that this is just an aberration and he will hit his stride at just the right time this season. Josh Hart however, is shooting 45% from the field and 40% from the three point line. This story-line may be only beginning but at the moment Josh Hart is being exactly what the Lakers wanted KCP to be.

Tyson Chandler, the missing piece? The Lakers at 4-6 were noticeably lacking interior defense and rebounding as they would often go small whenever JaVale McGee would take a breather. The other teams would immediately take advantage. The Lakers had one unproven rookie in Wagner and a 3-year veteran who still struggles to find himself in Zubac. John Williams gave his all but the height still was a glaring issue. Enter Tyson Chandler. Chandler’s signing immediately grabbed my attention before he made his first appearance as a Laker. He possesses great defensive instincts, a big body in the paint, excellent rebounding ability and championship experience. Albeit a short sample size, the Lakers are 3-0 with Chandler in the lineup. Chandler promises continuity in defense and rebounding with McGee sitting, a 7-footer always on the floor and a closer in the 4th. Chandler has had a game winning tip/rebound and a game winning block over these three games. The Lakers in the last few games gave up 100 per game after giving up an average of 120 points per in the first 10 games. So is Tyson Chandler the missing piece? Let’s check back in about 10 games, but it looks like the Lakers have addressed a glaring issue early in the season.

The Lakers lack killer instinct. For stretches the Lakers look like a juggernaut of a team that will run up the score and win by like 30 points. However, after getting the lead up to 15 or 20, they begin the cruise. Only against Phoenix and Sacramento did they manage to keep the score a respectable blowout. The Lakers clearly need to work on two things: 1. Taking advantage of teams they know they can beat and not losing interest. 2. Putting teams away when they have them on the ropes. Body language is everything as you can see the Lakers against Dallas and Atlanta just going to through the motions. After getting up by 15 on Atlanta you can see them start to slow it down and get out of their offensive strategy and get lax on defense. The Lakers will need to find that mojo and really start to develop a reputation for NOT giving teams a way back into games. Too early, the Lakers feel they can flip the switch when they have NOTHING to base that on as they only sit at 7-6.

It appears that the Lakers have begun to slowly turn a corner for the last three games. However, there are NO DAYS OFF as Portland comes to town Wednesday and will be seeking revenge. Portland is 10-3, yet the Lakers truly are not their record. They hope to continue to prove that in this coming game.

Stay tuned, Lakersnation!

 

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Humble Beginnings… Explaining the Lakers’ Slow Start and Why There’s No Need to Worry (@LakersNation #Lakers #LakeShow #LakersNation)

October 24, 2018

 

Hype, hype and more hype surrounds the opening tip of the 2018-2019 Lakers season. We have LeBron James. Let it sink in. We have LeBron James. So therefore, look for the Lakers to steam roll through the league into the playoffs to tangle with the beast of the West Golden State. Right?

Wrong!

The Lakers have had three of the most exciting LOSSES ever, featuring alley-oops, fights, blocks, pretty passes and some of the most fluid transition buckets ever witnessed. For stretches they look like they’ve figured it out. Then the buzzer sounds. Lakers lose. Then the buzzer sounds again. Lakers lose again. Finally, the buzzer sounds a third time. In spite of a spirited comeback, a LeBron James buzzer beater clangs the rim…and Lakers lost a third time. Lakers are 0-3.

First question. Lakers Optimist are you worried? Nope. In spite of the fact that teams like the Toronto Raptors have seamlessly incorporated their new stars en route to early success, the Lakers still have that learning curve to figure out with the new guys. The Lakers know exactly who they are and exactly what they want to do. Furthermore they know that in the open court nobody can stop them. This is why they have, in spite of shooting atrociously from three, become a top 3 in the league in points in the paint and still manage to put up 119, 115 and 142 in each of their 3 games. I expect the Lakers to figure it out and begin to be the Western Conference juggernaut everyone expects them be.

Second question. Figure WHAT out? There have been several different discussions on exactly what is keeping the Lakers from wins in these opening games. Aside from two fourth quarter meltdowns and a late minute choke against the Spurs, the Lakers have been in these games and downright dominant at times. However, by the numbers, the Lakers have given up 128, 124 and 143. You can say all you want about the rest of the league, but the Lakers need to be concerned about their defense. The biggest problem area is the team’s three point defense. The Lakers allowed Portland to make 13 three pointers at a 35% clip. That’s 39 points. With the Lakers losing by 9, take away half of those shots and the Lakers win. The Rockets shot 38%, nailing 16 three pointers. 48 points. Again, they lost by 9. Take away half of those shots, Lakers may win by 5. The Spurs shot a blistering 53% from behind the arc, hitting 15 threes! The Lakers lost by 1 point. A couple of those threes were given up in that improbable last minute Spur comeback. The Lakers have been supremely suspect in their three point defense, daring the team to beat them from behind the arc and teams are doing it. Conversely, teams are daring the Lakers to beat them from the behind the arc and the Lakers are failing to capitalize. Don’t get it twisted though, the blame does not fall on the Lakers three point shooting. It falls of their three point defense.

The Lakers have been getting outglassed routinely, with the exception of the Spurs game. In the first two games they were outrebounded by an average of 12 rebounds. Even more demoralizing is how they’ve surrendered 14 offensive boards to Portland, 13 to Houston and 10 to San Antonio. Even as they are getting stops, they are giving teams second chances.

So why, Lakers Optimist, are you not worried? I feel that both of these are easy fixes. The Lakers possess the athleticism, height and ability to switch 1 to 5 on defense and to rebound by committee. The Lakers have seemed to get somewhat confused or lazy on their rotations which results in the open looks that players like Nik Stauskas and Brynn Forbes were hitting with ease. The Lakers need to buy in to contesting every shot. If the Lakers can keep teams to less than 29% from behind the arc AND secure the rebound they will be in these games. The Lakers without JaVale McGee get killed on the glass. Incorporating a dog on the glass like Johnathan Williams will surely help with that issue when McGee is taking a breather.

Only three games in, I expect the Lakers to quickly move up the learning curve, especially when you consider that they won’t be matching up against top 3 teams all season long. Sometimes it takes a lesser talented team to help a team hit their stride. Look for the Lakers to finally notch their first win against Booker, Ayton and the Suns tonight. As they start to figure out defense, they will begin to round into form.

What Has to Happen for The Lakers to be a Championship Contender? (#Lakeshow #LakersNation #NBA #Lakers)

September 14, 2018

When Lebron James signed on the dotted line, expectations jumped instantaneously for these Lakers who showed massive promise in their 2017-2018 season. When you have the greatest player in the world, anything less than a finals appearance is a failure. Lebron James has historically been able to be that game-changer that transforms a team, and he has been known to drag any team kicking and screaming into the finals as he did with the last Cleveland team. This team featured multiple roster changes and eventually left him with a mashup of unproven kids and veterans that were still finding their way with the team. They made the finals. We all know what Lebron is capable of, but in order for this supporting cast of Lakers to be special, let’s discuss what has to happen.

Lonzo Ball has to hit shots. Lonzo Ball’s shooting issues made headline news last season and brought his awkward shooting form into question. Bad shooting and all, Zo was tops in rebounding, assists, steals and blocks. However, in order for the Lakers to be a threat in the Western Conference, Zo’s new tweaked shooting form has to pay dividends. Furthermore, Lonzo will have to use his height and attack the basket. Long story short, he has to be an actual threat to score. This will keep defenses honest and with Lebron waiting down low or on the perimeter, the Lakers will be dangerous. This will also open up the other shooters. So what we asking for is for Zo to make that same leap that Brandon Ingram a season ago.

Kuzma cannot hit a sophomore slump. Kuzmania took the NBA world by storm last season. The kid can shoot from anywhere, has an array of shots and has no fear. He even dropped 30 on the Thibideau-led defensive minded Timberwolves last season. He’s an automatic scorer and has quickly become the Lakers “next in line” star. Kuzma has to make yet another significant jump in scoring options and defensive ability. There can be no kind of a sophomore slump. The Lakers need him to continue to improve dramatically as he could easily be Lebron’s right hand man and or his favorite target for a drive and kick. This is a huge year for Kuzma who, in my eyes, still has something to prove.

Brandon Ingram must have break out year. I know, I know. Why so tough on B.I? Brandon Ingram made a significant jump from averaging just 9 points game to averaging 16 points a game. At times he looked like the Alpha Male of the team. It’s almost a forgone conclusion that Brandon Ingram starts alongside Lebron James this season. This means that he is charged with being the Durant to Lebron’s Curry. I expect Ingram to jump another 9 points per, averaging 23 points a game. He must take this season by the reins and break out. He needs to have the ability to take over a game, making Lebron James that much more dangerous. Teams need to have to worry about him.

Josh Hart and Kentavious Caldwell Pope need to be 3 and D monsters. With KCP leading in the starting shooting guard vote at the moment, Josh Hart is clearly jockeying for that position. Either way, the Lakers possess two players that need to become that player you love to hate. They cannot be left alone or they will light it up from three. They also will take on the opposing team’s best player and lock them down on defense. Expect steals and transition layups or threes from these two.

The newly acquired veterans need to be specialists. Rajon Rondo needs to be a pest on defense and throw players like Curry off of their game. He needs to be able to break down defenses to set up open looks for other players. Michael Beasley needs to effectively create his own shot and be a menace in the post. JaVale McGee needs to patrol the paint and keep offenses afraid to come into his house. Lance Stephenson needs to stay in control and attack the basket, as well as be a physical defender.

The Lakers have a very young core and some veterans that can support but not takeover a game. This can easily go either way, depending on the factors that I’ve discussed. In order for this team to flourish, we’re asking for a coming of age for the young core. We’re asking for the veterans to be specialists and good at what they do. We’re asking for chemistry to develop early. The Lakers have gotten their much needed superstar. We need for another star to emerge and for role players to be effective. Do I think this can happen?

Of course! I’m the Lakers Optimist.

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.

 

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 Should We Expect from Each Lakers Player This Season?

August 2, 2017

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The Lakers have made headlines since the middle of the prior season, make some eye-opening moves during the offseason and then proceeded to make Summer League news. With all that in the rearview and training camp on the horizon, Lakers fans are chomping at the bit and looking forward to the new NBA Season. Even before then, fans will be salivating at that first preseason game.

It’s been widely discussed what the expectations of the Lakers as a team are (we’ll leave Charles Barkley’s opinion out of it). The consistent viewpoint is that this team will improve, yet fall short of playoff contention. Vegas odds and CBS Sports have the Lakers finishing with about 36 wins, a 10 game improvement from last season AND two more wins than the temporarily “best in L.A.” Clippers. I just threw that in for the heck of it. Having said all that, what can or should we expect from each Laker on this new-look roster? Let’s take a look at each Laker and discuss what they can and must do to help these Los Angeles Lakers meet and or exceed expectations this season.

 

Brook Lopez

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Brook Lopez averaged about 20 points a game on 47% shooting and shot 34% from beyond the arc last season. He became an official stretch five last season with the Nets. He’s a pretty solid defender and has an array of post moves. The important thing is that the often in times past injury prone Lopez stays healthy. In order to be the first successful big man acquisition since Pau Gasol, he has to be a force offensively. He needs to be a real threat from the three point line and a trustworthy post scorer when called on. He has to be more of a rim protector than Mozgov and Hibbert was. I expect Lopez to be the second or third best distributor on the team by his ability to draw double teams in the post and demanding attention down low. I also expect him to run the floor and be on the receiving end of some great passes by Lonzo Ball. Lopez should easily be the team’s leading shot blocker. Much is riding on Lopez being just as dominant as he was in Brooklyn and not another failed veteran big man experiment.

 

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

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Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a defensive-minded scorer who can create his own shot. He also has great finishing skills at the basket. After not being able to score a max contract with Detroit, he was convinced by Magic and Rob to join the purple and gold for an 18 million dollar 1 year deal. My expectations for Caldwell-Pope is to be the Lakers leading scorer and to possibly make strides towards all-star status. His game will only be elevated by Luke’s system and Ball’s pass-first mentality. I also expect him to be an on ball defender taking on the opposing team’s star point guard to take pressure off of Lonzo Ball. He will no doubt lead the team in steals.

 

Loul Deng

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Loul Deng is the remaining player with an unpopular inflated contract. The Lakers were successful in unloading Mozgov to the Nets, but they still have Loul Deng. Coming off an extremely disappointing Lakers debut where he averaged a lackluster 7.8 points a game on 38% shooting, he rarely showed up and was really a nonfactor in many of the games. His performance drew criticisms of fans and media alike. His meager contributions made his albatross of a contract even less appealing. Deng has reportedly been working hard in the off-season and most certainly has a lot of prove to himself, the NBA and the fans. With a year under Luke’s system, Luol will be less lost in the system and become more of a contributor. I expect Luol to come off the bench and provide some leadership, offensive punch and defense with that second unit. Although, we can’t deny that he will most certainly be on the trading block for any takers willing to absorb his contract. However, in the meantime, expect a resurgence from the 2x all-star.

 

Jordan Clarkson

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JC is truly in a make or break year. Over the Lakers rough years, Clarkson is the one player consistently contributing on a nightly basis. I expect this year to be no different. Clarkson possesses the ability to run the point, but is a true shooting guard who can create his own shot and get to the basket. He still has yet to figure out consistent defense. However, he will most likely be a 6th man, especially with KCP recently added. Expect Clarkson to average 15-20 points a game, providing a spark off the bench. He will most likely improve on the defensive side of the ball. Expect Clarkson to feast off of Lonzo Ball passes. This is probably his last chance to have a breakout year.

 

Corey Brewer 

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I like Corey Brewer’s defensive tenacity and his ability to finish on the break. I don’t expect him to get too many minutes unless someone gets injured. However, when his number is called, he will give the Lakers some toughness. His benefit will be seen in the locker room.

 

Lonzo Ball 

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What can we say about Lonzo Ball that hasn’t been said? Considered the face of the franchise by Magic Johnson and a transcendent player by Rob Pelinka, loved by Skip Bayless and already selling out Lakers season tickets, expectations are high. Lonzo gave us all a preview in Summer League, leading the Lakers to the championship and having two triple-doubles. His passing became infectious as fans saw the culture immediately transform for this Lakers team. The bold expectation of winning the whole Summer League was translated to each player and came to fruition. Lonzo comes with high expectations already. He is a star before even playing his first preseason game, much less a regular season opener. So with all that in the backdrop, what are realistic expectations for Ball? Expect Lonzo to be the assist leader for this team and making his players better. He could quite possibly average at least 10 assists a game. He is the catalyst to this Lakers team’s success by the way he stimulates ball movement. Expect Lonzo Ball to vie for rookie of the year because of his ability to create his own shot off the dribble and finish at the rim. We have yet to see him truly get hot from the three point line. I expect that to be a work in progress. In the meantime, players around him will be feasting off of open looks and ally-oop dunks. As a rookie with a target on his back from the rest of the NBA, expect some struggles, but rookie of the year is his to win or lose. No pressure. His ability to transform the offensive fluidity of a team in Summer League must translate to the regular season, which I think will happen.

 

Brandon Ingram

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In spite of all the hoopla surrounding the drafting of Lonzo Ball, this is still Brandon Ingram’s team. Magic Johnson all but flatly stated that Brandon Ingram was the one “untouchable” Lakers player, even for DeMarcus Cousins. Ingram did not really wow anyone with last year’s numbers. His rookie season featured a 9.4 point a game average. What was noticeable was his work ethic, his fearlessness, his ability to take instruction and his mechanics. You just knew that once things started to click, he was going to be special. In the latter part of the season, Brandon Ingram started to show why Magic and Rob would build around such a player. Ingram created highlight reels, dunking on the likes of Pau Gasol and Giannis Antetokounmpo. He showed out in a few minutes of play during his Summer League debut alongside Lonzo Ball and quickly scored 26 points before going down with a cramp. So what can we expect from the humble beast? Expect him to take a leadership role and be either the first or second leading scorer on this team averaging 18-25 points a game. Also expect Ingram to be even more of an attacker with one year under his belt. He’s no longer timid and will be not hard-pressed to create his own shot with Lonzo Ball setting him up. As a pretty skilled passer himself, look for him to rack up about 5-7 assists per game himself. Defensively, I look for an improvement as well. The most exciting one-two punch I’m looking forward to is Lonzo to Ingram on a nightly basis. Let’s hope he still does make good on that promise to work with the Black Mamba.

 

Julius Randle

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Randle dropped 32 points on the Houston Rockets in the latter stages of the season and seemed unstoppable. This is the love-hate relationship we have with Randle early in his career. He can be unstoppable and other times he just gets lost in the shuffle. So much is riding on this season for Randle as this is a make or break season for him. I expect him to breakout this season. Randle has made a physical transformation that shows he is taking this offseason very serious. Randle is decimating teams in this summer’s Drew League. He, like many of the other Lakers, are looking forward to playing with Lonzo Ball. Julius is a tenacious rebounder, very adept at getting to the basket and can at times be a defensive force. However, there are some that believe that he may always be on the cusp, but not quite there. I expect Randle to make it over the hump and make one more stride toward being an all-star caliber player. Rumor has it he is on the trading block, but if he does breakout, this will work in his favor whether he is traded or not. I expect Randle to up his average to about 18-20 points a game and 12-17 rebounds per. The knock on Julius is his outside shooting which was spotty last year. I look for that to improve. Again, being on the receiving end of Lonzo’s passes will give him quite a few easy buckets. I’m very excited about Randle’s potential this season, but let’s hope it doesn’t just stop at potential.

 

Tyler Ennis

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Tyler made some small strides last year during the Lakers high draft pick threatening 5 game winning streak. He showed some ability to shoot the three and he seems to create a level of calm when he is running the point position.  He has a very clean game, only averaging 1 turnover per game on his career. Although he is the only other true point guard that the Lakers currently have, I can’t say whether or not he will see much floor time. JC, BI and Josh Hart all can potentially play the point guard position as well. I personally can say that the only guaranteed rotation players off the bench are Loul Deng, Larry Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac and Jordan Clarkson. The rest will be fighting for minutes. Expectations are low for Tyler, but he will have to prove himself whenever given the opportunity.

 

Larry Nance Jr.

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(Sorry, Brook) Our very own human highlight reel Larry Nance Jr. is probably the most exciting player on this Lakers team. I am salivating at the opportunity to see that first ally-oop from Ball to Nance. Larry possesses the ability to play the four or the five. Walton tried that experiment late in the season and I hope that he will consider playing him at center in this season as well when they want to go small. Larry has all but solidified that first power forward off the bench spot to relieve Randle. Nance showed flashes of hitting that open jumper and even a few threes as well. This will be the one factor that can make him a very dangerous player considering how well he finishes and how high he flies! His fundamentals and basketball IQ makes him a team leader of sorts on and off the court. He also is moving up the defensive learning curve very quickly. We love his athleticism and effort. This season I expect him to move further past the “energy guy” phase and more of a dependable scorer and elite defender. His numbers last year were very misleading. Look for Larry Nance to up his scoring average to 10-12 points a game and for his rebounds to increase as well. I see him as becoming a integral part of that second unit as well as this young Lakers core. One last expectation we have for Nance is that he will not be snubbed for the Dunk of the Year!

 

Kyle Kuzma

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“Started from the bottom now we here” is Kyle Kuzma’s theme. A product of the Houston trade that sent off Lou Williams, Kyle played his way to Summer League Championship game MVP and a Nike shoe deal! What we got to Kyle was a dead eye three point shooter, tenacious scorer and a very fluid offensive game. He played very well off ball with Lonzo Ball setting him up. Even without Ball in the lineup he was able to create his own shot. He was the leading scorer of all the players in Summer League. He is a position-less big man who can move to the three, four or five if going small. Kuzma enters into a very crowded frontcourt; however, he seems to be the most likely of all the rookies not named Lonzo Ball to actually see floor action. The question becomes how many minutes? I will go out on a limb and say that he will be the one addition off the bench (to include Deng, Zubac, Clarkson and Nance). I expect him to become one of the main three point threats and pure shooters that Ball and the Lakers need in order to get wins this season. Also look for him to compete with Nance for minutes due to his ability to also finish at the rim and create his own shot. Ultimately though, he will be that 8-10 point sparkplug off the bench in his debut season with the Lakers.

 

Josh Hart

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When I saw the way he played in college via Youtube, I was very excited about this young man’s motor and his “hart”. Entering into a crowded backcourt with Caldwell-Pope and Clarkson eating up most of the minutes, he will most likely learn from the pine this year. There is a slim chance that Walton, in his attempt to run and keep his players fresh, will go deep into his bench which will give Hart a chance. If given a chance, you have a player that can get to the rim with ease and provide pesky on-ball defense. His ability to get to the rim can collapse defenses and set up open looks for other players. I can see Hart competing with Ennis for minutes. Expectations are cloudy, but I can see him giving a good 5-7 points at least 1 steal off the bench if given the opportunity.

 

Ivica Zubac

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Zubac wowed and surprised everyone last year the way he immediately contributed. He started with Summer League where he blocked shots and scored with ease. This translated to the regular season where eventually he took minutes from Mozgov. By the end of the season there was chatter of Mozgov taking over as starting center. So Zubac would dominate in Summer League this year right? Wrong! He seemed rusty and confused at times and seemed winded when trying to get up and down the court with the fast-paced Laker offense. Coming off a season-ending ankle injury, one can only conclude that rust was all it was. Zubac, reportedly working with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, still possesses a skill-set that is invaluable. He has a nice stroke from the perimeter, a developing array of post moves and a great defensive IQ. He still is the first center off the bench following Brook Lopez. I expect Zublocka to make great strides in his 2nd year, shake off the Summer League haters and average 10-12 points a game off of the bench, 1-2 blocks a game and continue to develop into an integral piece in the Laker’s bid to return to championship glory.

 

Thomas Bryant

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The Indiana University power forward/ center Thomas Bryant certainly turned heads during his Summer League debut. He possesses a motor similar to Julius Randle, grabbing rebounds and finishing powerfully at the rim on putbacks. He also can shoot the three which was the reason Magic and Rob really wanted him. The Lakers scored him through a trade down with Utah Jazz for two lower first round draft picks. This was the 28th pick they initially earned from the Nets in the D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov trade. Not bad. Thomas Bryant still enters into that crowded frontcourt and with Kyle Kuzma being most likely to crack the rotation first, he may have to wait his turn. Again, if Walton wants to go deep into his bench, Bryant may see perhaps a couple minutes to show what he can do. My expectations for Bryant is to soak up as much knowledge as he can and can provide a defensive and “energy guy” spark when his number is called.

 

Alex Caruso

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Alex Caruso played his way into the hearts of the Lakers fans and the Lakers brass during Summer League, putting together some solid performances in place of the injured Lonzo Ball. His ability to hit the three and play a relatively clean game positioned as a reliable backup point guard. His height also gives him the ability to see over defenders to make great passes. We won’t go so far as to call him a hidden gem, but he did earn a two-way contract with the Lakers. Having said that, Caruso will most likely be a valuable contributor to the South Bay Lakers with his ear to the phone in case any of the backup point guards ahead of him get injured. Now let’s not rule out the fact that neither Ennis or Hart are guaranteed favorites over Caruso. He is in a similar boat of fighting to crack the rotation, but will probably have less of a chance than the aforementioned guards.

 

Vander Blue

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Being a G-League MVP is a lofty honor but doesn’t guarantee NBA success. However, Vander Blue at times seemed unstoppable in Summer League as he put up big numbers. Blue is a scorer if nothing else. He has the ability to create his own shot, although his finishing ability can improve drastically. Once he does clean that up and plays within the offense with a little more discretion, he can become a “microwave” type player off of the bench. Within this Lakers team, I find it very difficult for him to crack the rotation. Shooting guard is very crowded behind KCP and JC. This will be more of a wait and see situation. Given the minutes, Vander can be an instant offense kind of guy. I’d look for him to make another bid for his second G-League MVP (or first since it was D-League before)

The Lakers’ rotation may look like this for this coming season:

Starters from 1 – 5: Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Brook Lopez

Bench rotation: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Luol Deng, Ivica Zubac, *Kyle Kuzma, *Tyler Ennis, *Thomas Bryant

*depends on how deep they go into their rotation

So there you have it, folks! If these Lakers individually meet or exceed expectations, this team will surprise the league and make strides towards contention heading into a very exciting 2018 offseason. Stay tuned!