Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Lakers’

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…

What We’ve Learned about the Lakers After 3 Games

October 26, 2017

Los-Angeles-Lakers-sign-first-round-picks-Lonzo-Ball-Kyle-Kuzma-Josh-Hart

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!

 

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.

Beating the Spurs: Keys for Tonight’s Lakers Game (@spectrumsn @espnnba @lakersnation)

January 12, 2017

lakers-spurs

Tonight the Lakers square off against the championship contending San Antonio Spurs. Last time these teams went at it, D’Angelo Russell was sitting out with knee soreness and the Lakers made the veteran team sweat a little by getting within 5 before Tony Parker’s “vetranism” took over and sealed the game. Poppovich couldn’t help but admire Luke Walton’s coaching ability and the scrappiness of this young Lakers team.

Tonight the Lakers get their rematch. In the backdrop of this game is the nasty taste the Lakers have in their mouths after a hugely disappointing and head-scratching loss to the Portland Trailblazers. This was punctuated by a scuffle between D’Angelo Russell and Damian Lillard and a 3rd quarter that featured uninspired shooting and even more uninspired defense. Also in the backdrop of this game is the fact that, in spite of this hiccup, the Lakers have been playing much better basketball as of late, going .500 in the month of January and winning games by an average of 19 points. Lastly, D’Angelo Russell is healthy and returning to form.

So can the Lakers actually beat the Spurs? Yes! Here’s how.

1. Run them. Even though the Spurs have some young guns of their own, they still pride themselves on slow offense and moving the ball. They still possess an older and slightly slower Tony Parker and Pau Gasol in their starting lineup. D’Angelo Russell has to make Tony Parker work, break down that defense and get open looks for his team. He must attack early and often. The bench must no doubt do the same thing. This team needs to be kept on their heels. It can’t hurt to actually force turnovers and get out in transition as well, thus nullifying their imposing presence in the paint.

2. Compete with their bigs. San Antonio boasts one of the best frontcourts in the game with Gasol, Aldridge and Leonard. This means that Mozgov, Randle and Deng need to seriously step up. The benefit of Mozgov is that he can stand alone in the paint and guard Pau without a need for a double team. Randle may have his hands full with Aldridge, but if he’s up for the task, he can make things hard for him and try denying him the ball. Offensively, Randle needs to attack Aldridge and force him to play some defense and even get him in foul trouble, thus making him a non-factor. Deng definitely has his work cut out for him with Leonard, but perhaps Luke will put Nick Young and even Brandon Ingram on him instead.

3. Buckets! Buckets! Buckets! This is definitely a game where the Lakers need not miss as many wide open looks as they did against the Trailblazers and perhaps that game was a fluke and not a trend. Especially in the 3rd quarter, they need to move the ball and not miss easy layups, open looks and free throws.

4. Magic numbers. Lakers need to hold San Antonio to 105 points maximum. They need 20-25 assists and they must keep their turnovers down to 11 or less, especially in the second half.

5. Bench. Last but not least, the Lakers bench must beat the Spurs bench soundly. This game needs Clarkson, Williams, Ingram, Black and Robinson to have great games and be extremely active and disruptive on the defensive end.

This is one of those games where you have to play a clean, near perfect game for 48 minutes in order to compete with a veteran and well coached team like the Spurs. But if they can follow this list, they will win and pull the “upset”. Once again, the effort given by this “Jekell and Hyde” Lakers team will determine whether or not they are turning a corner.

State of the Lakers After 41 Games: Have the Young Lakers Turned a Corner? (@spectrumsn @lakersnation @lakers @nbaonespn)

January 10, 2017
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Nick Young celebrates after draining a three point shot.

The Los Angeles Lakers are in what basketball experts and analysts term, “rebuilding”. As always, we briefly reminisce on how the Lakers once were not known for patience and rebuilding as opposed to quick retooling and reloading by way of a mega-signing or blockbuster trade. Blame the new CBA rules or the David Stern veto, but the Lakers now are forced to do things the conventional way: put together a young core with a few supporting veterans and… be… PATIENT!

 

So the Lakers brass over the last couple years went that conventional way, picking up Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson in the 2014 draft. Then they picked up D’Angelo Russell and Larry Nance Jr. (Anthony Brown too but waived him during pre-season this year…) in the 2015 draft.They then picked up Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac in the 2016 draft.  They also nabbed young bruisers Thomas Robinson and Tarik Black via training camp invite and signing off waivers. They then nabbed a few free agents that appear to be possible keepers over the last couple years to include gunner Nick Young, former 6th man of the year Lou Williams, serviceable point guard and sharpshooter Jose Calderon, International star point guard Marcelo Huertas, NBA Champion big man Timofey Mozgov and former all-star Loul Deng. Lastly, but not least, former defensive player of the year and NBA Champion Metta World Peace rounds out the Lakers rebuilding roster. Charged with the task of making something from this young group is Luke Walton, assistant Brian Shaw and company.

This young group jumped out to a 10-10 start which surprised everybody. Then injuries and perhaps a lack of focus caused a December that featured only 2 wins out of 15. This included a new enemy that plagued the Lakers— blown leads. Blown HUGE leads. 19 against Miami, 19 against Charlotte and 11 against Dallas. The Lakers begin January in better fashion, however, jumping out to a 3-2 record featuring a 3 game home winning streak and a 2 game winning streak overall. Furthermore they’ve managed to beat their opponents by an average of 19 points. They get a second crack at their next opponent, the Portland Trailblazers, yet another team they could have beaten if not for another blown double digit lead. (Heck, they could be 5-0 if not for blowing another double digit lead to Toronto in January as well). Having said all that, the Lakers sit at 15-26 at the halfway point of the season.

With all that in the backdrop, the question is have the Lakers turned a corner?

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Rookie Brandon Ingram goes above the rim.

 

The team seems to have come to terms that they must defend, rebound and attack for 48 minutes and have seemed to figure that out for 3 or their last 5 games. Young players like D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram are starting to find their groove. Nick Young has developed into a pretty good defender. They’ve seemed to have found something special in the rebounding, paint play and defensive prowess of the “Bruise Brothers” Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson in the absence of Larry Nance Jr. (they are doing this without Larry Nance Jr!). Furthermore, the starters have picked up their play to add to an already dangerous and NBA leading bench. This includes a resurgence of Luol Deng’s offensive output. In each of their wins, the Lakers are dishing out over 20 assists, they are holding opponents to an average of 99 points and they are also forcing turnovers and getting out in transition.

 

We may not be able to confidently say they’ve turned a corner until they can start racking up a few more consistent wins. Sitting just 3 games out of the 8th spot in the loss column, they have something to play for, in addition to Luke’s goal to simply focus on getting better and playing the way the coaching staff wants them to play. The Lakers have in fact developed an identity. Although they have failed to do it enough to close out games, the Lakers are one of the better teams in fast break points and points off turnovers. They are a quick team that relies on turnovers, transition and the 3 point shot. They are successful when they the move the ball and they get above the rim and dunk. The Lakers have earned the reputation of being “fun to watch”.

I’d like to see what they do in the next few games. If we’re looking at a team that can compete for that eight spot, we need to see a convincing win against Portland tonight. After that they will have another tough (but winnable) stretch that includes games against the Spurs, Clippers and Pistons. Following that stretch they have a potential 4 game winning streak against the Nuggets, Pacers, Mavericks and Blazers. If the Lakers can manage a minimum record of 5-3 over these next 8 games, we can talk turning a corner.

There are quite a few standouts over this January stretch and even throughout the latter part of December. This is by no means an exhaustive list. We saw Nick Young get record-setting white hot and then cool off. We saw Julius make his bid for the team leader with his triple double and inspired play on the defensive end. We’ve seen Larry Nance Jr. get the dunk of the year on Brooke Lopez. We’ve seen Clarkson get a little dog in him during his scuffle with Goran Dragic. We’ve seen Lou Williams take over games and shoot lights out. We’ve also seen the improbable quick maturation of Brandon Ingram, who at this pace, may actually overtake all the players for the star of this team.

I’ve said too much. I can be longwinded at times. However, it takes no rocket scientist or NBA expert to see that this Lakers team is far ahead of the schedule. With only 17 wins TOTAL last year. Lakers have 15 early in January. They are 3 games out of the playoff picture. They are good enough to take double digit leads on any team AND good enough to blowout any team (see Golden State and Memphis). Let’s enjoy this young exciting team and see where the month of January takes us.

Next up is payback against Portland!

Expectations for the Young Lakers Changing So Soon? (@lakersreporter @lakeshow @lakersnation)

December 14, 2016

Coach Luke Walton ejected from the last game against the Sacramento Kings

Without beating the proverbial dead horse on what everybody thought the Lakers would do versus what they actually have done to this point, let’s cut to the chase–

The Lakers are 10-17 and have lost seven straight games.

Adversity strikes the young Lakers and the young coach who has garnered much praise which included whispers of coach of the year consideration. Adversity strikes a young core that shocked the NBA with a improbable 7-5 start. The Lakers are losing games and more recently they are not competing in a few of them. During a couple of these games, we actually have seen them kind of, dare I say…give up.

We attributed it confidently to injuries and calmly suggested that the Lakers would resume their sharp climb up the learning curve once guys come back. The Lakers are far from 100% with Tarik Black (ankle) and Jose Calderon (hamstring) both just being cleared to practice today. However, both Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell have returned to action as of their game against the Knicks and they lost a close one 118-112. Okay, they were both eased into the lineup on a minute restriction which would be slowly removed as the games progressed. They then were embarrassed by the Sacramento Kings (I hate losing the Sacramento Queens) after a nauseating 3rd quarter. One alarming stat was the 3rd quarter letdown that typified the Lakers last season (uh-oh). The Lakers gave up 39 points in that quarter and eventually lost 116-92.

The Lakers have become very rudimentary in their understanding of defensive execution over the last several games. During the 2 games with their starting backcourt back on the floor they gave up 118 and 119. Previously they gave up 119 and 134. If you watch the games, there are several breakdowns resulting in layup lines. They are failing to rotate out to the shooters giving up open looks and for crying out loud— they can’t give a hard foul to save their lives! This young team knows what good defense looks like because in the wins they’ve had, they made key stops and forced turnovers. They scored enough to make teams pay for missing and then they were no pushover on the defensive. Right now they are awful and giving up career highs to opponents.

So is this team the one that everyone thought they would be before the season began or the team that were said to be able to fight for that 8th spot?

The latter.

We have to remember that this is a young team. Young teams are quite emo and that can be a challenge when certain levels of adversity create a distraction. Without the injuries, all they had to worry about was making adjustments with the same unit and rotations. Once they caught on, they moved quickly up the learning curve. After the myriad of injuries, inconsistent rotations and damaged chemistry things changed. This is a distraction that would shake a young team just a little. Plus we can’t go and say this team is just as bad as predicted when they just showed what they can do when healthy. The sample size of 12 more games with Russell and Young back in the lineup would have to be used. They’ve only played 2. If they do worse than 7-5 after the remaining 10, you might have a legitimate point. 

What should and needs to happen is the Lakers have to get back comfortable with the rotations once again and then defensive rotations and effort will begin to develop. It’s difficult to play hard and play confused at the same time. 

That being said, there should be a dramatic improvement in performance in tonight’s match-up against the Nets where they need to be ON POINT with their rotations against a 3-point happy team. I’m sure Jeremy Lin would love to stick it to his former team too.

So again I say, relax Lakers fans. 10th in the West after a 7 game losing streak is still very hopeful and I expect the Lakers to return to early season form on this road trip.

Enjoy tonight’s game!

 

Off-Season Decisions: Who To Keep?

June 5, 2016

Decisions, decisions! The Lakers brass have to know that they can’t keep everybody on this roster– nor would they WANT to.

The Lakers know for sure that they have a young core that will receive a #2 draft pick to add to it. They intend to dip into that 60 million plus to pick up some quality free agents or a big fish (i.e. Durant, Whiteside). With all that in mind, the Lakers had some players that were bright spots in a dark season. They had some let-downs and some guys that simply felt the sting of an awkward Kobe-farewell riddled season. There are also guys that have overstayed their welcome wearing the purple and gold.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. We know that Anthony Brown is staying. Jordan Clarkson wants to stay. Kobe is gone. Nance, Randle and Russell are here for the long haul.

So we have for sure Brown, Clarkson, Russell, Nance and Randle.

So let’s talk about the remaining 9 Lakers on the fringe. Let’s discuss who the Lakers should try to keep and who they should trade, waive or just not resign.

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Brandon Bass was the most consistent player on this team. He was a bully in the post and cleaned the glass night in and night out. He also did a pretty decent job on defense. He probably had a career year and can be a perfect bench piece for a championship team. The problem with Brandon Bass is the Lakers have that in Tarik Black who just couldn’t find the minutes due to the logjam at that position.

Verdict: I don’t think Bass wants to return anyway. However, it might be better to make room for Tarik Black to fill that role with the rest of the young core. 

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Tarik Black was pretty efficient as an undersized center in Byron’s first year as Lakers head coach. However he somehow managed to get in Scott’s doghouse for much of the following season. He also lost minutes in favor of Brandon Bass and Julius Randle. Black showed much of the same offensive and defensive prowess as Bass. He is a terrific finisher off pick and rolls and has a great motor. The question with Black is can he pickup where he left of the season before last and add some outside shooting to his repertoire. Playing under Luke Walton in a more fast-paced offense can lead to many highlight dunks.

Verdict: Lakers should keep Black and hopefully Luke will find a way to work him into the rotation as a key component of this young core.

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Roy Hibbert was brought in to adress a dire need for a rim protector. Byron’s instructions were to rebound and defend. What he didn’t know was that he would be forced to make up for an awful perimeter defense that allowed consistent dribble penetration. Hibbert was forced to help while receiving no help himself. He was not asked to be a featured scoring option so we can’t blame him for that. Nor can we blame him for being just a few years past his prime as he got schooled consistently by the Whitesides and Deandres on a nightly basis.

Verdict: I’d let him go and either see what you can get on the free agent market or who on your roster can fill that role as center.

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Marcelo Huertas dazzled us with pretty passes and intelligent plays during the pre-season. Then he went into Scott’s doghouse in favor of defense, before returning to pre-season form and finishing the year strong. He has a calming and cerebral approach similar to the great Steve Nash. He definitely has a place in the NBA. Pop is probably waiting for Lakers to drop the ball on this guy. The problem with Marcelino is he can be somewhat of a liability on defense (Like Steve Nash). However, that can be trumped by how he can potentially feast in Luke’s system.

Verdict: Make sure you keep this kid. He can and will be a part of a competitive NBA team.

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Ryan Kelly had his best year under D’antoni as a stretch four. Byron took the reigns and tried the failed experiment of placing him at the five. In Byron’s last year Kelly started the pre-season attacking the basket and looking really good. Defensively challenged, he was forced out of the rotation and never really recovered. At his best he is a stretch four that can finish at the rim. At his worst he is a poor shooter and a so-so defender. The problem with Kelly is do we wish to play the game and see which one shows up?

Verdict: With the Lakers loading up on bigs through the draft and free agency, it’s time to move on from this kid and see if a change of scenery will do him some good (And let’s hope that doesn’t come back to bite us).

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Robert Sacre plays his heart out. He fights on defense, he has a decent jumpshot and uses all six of his fouls on defense. He’s a locker room guy. The problem is has he peaked? Is this all there is? What can Luke do with this kid to make him a solid contributor?

Verdict: I was surprised last year when he was still on the team. It’s time to let him try his luck with another team.

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Lou Williams is a beast.  He lit up OKC for over 40 points and shouldered much of the scoring load consistently throughout the year when healthy. The former 6th man of the year made a bid for future star of LA, post-Kobe. He has a killer jump shot and can create his own shot. He couldn’t truly be the man sharing the spotlight with Kobe. I see no downside with Lou, other than whether or not he wishes to be a part of a rebuild once more.

Verdict: Along with Marcelo Huertas, he can really light it up off the bench. Under Luke Walton and under normal circumstances, Lou can return to bid for 6th man of the year. Try to keep him.

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Metta World Peace was kept as an on the floor coach and locker room mentor. However, when he went in the game the complexion on defense changed. He still has it. Although offensively he’s seen better days. Of course I never could understand why Scott never just stuck him in the post to bully the smaller weaker 3’s on the opposing teams. Metta is defense and can be a locker room mentor for this young team. The problem is do you have space to keep him there?

Verdict: This is tough. Invite him to training camp and see what you have when it’s time to make cuts. He still has a couple good years in him in short bursts off the bench and provides a player with championship experience.

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Nick Young never could find his footing with coach Byron Scott to say the least. Not sure who’s fault that was. Then they were losing. Then D’Angelo Russell happened. Now the Lakers are faced with a few questions. One, is he and Russell going to be able to coexist? Two, can he clear the baggage from his head and return to Swaggy P form? Three, can his fire-at-will game fit Luke’s strategy? At his best, Nick can light it up. But will Luke have Nick and Lou work together off the bench or do they have to pick one or the other (hint: it would be Lou).

Verdict: If you can’t ship him out in a package deal with Kelly and Sacre, let’s see what Luke can conjure up to make him an integral part of this new era.

So there you have it. Most likely heading into training camp I see the following team:

Anthony Brown – SF
Jordan Clarkson – SG/PG
D’Angelo Russell – PG
Julius Randle – SF/PF
Larry Nance Jr. – PF/C
Tarik Black – PF/C
Marcelo Huertas – PG
Lou Williams – SG
*Metta World Peace – SF
*Nick Young – SF/SG

*tentative

The Lakers will not be done seeking deals and adding free agents. This will look much different before training camp begins. Stay tuned.

It’s an exciting off-season as the Los Angeles Lakers try to right the ship and return back to winning ways.