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NBA Season Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

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Last season: 57-25, top seed in the West, which they rode all the way to their second consecutive NBA crown. They came within half-a-quarter of losing to Boston on their home court in Game 7, but no Kendrick Perkins and no balloons in the rafters this time gave room for a dramatic comeback win.

Head Coach: Phil Jackson, who says that this is his last season coaching. Probably. Expect him to play with the media on that topic all season, but behind closed doors he will use it as motivation for the three-peat run. Because he wants to one more ring he won’t give to Jeanie Buss.

Key Departures: Jordan Farmar, who was always a poor fit in the Lakers system and talked of wanting more playing time and a starting job. For those reasons we’re not sure why he went to New Jersey to back up Devin Harris, but still not a big loss for the Lakers.

Aside that, DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell were allowed to walk.

Key Additions: Steve Blake comes in at point guard and is a perfect illustration of what GM Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers do well — get players to fit the system. Blake is a solid NBA point guard, one who struggled the second half of last season when the Clippers decided to get out and run and he had to handle the ball in space. What he does is shoot the three, not make mistakes and play reasonable defense. Which is exactly what the role of the point guard is in the triangle. Blake is an okay fit most places, but he is a guy that is exactly what the Lakers need — and he may get more minutes than the aging Derek Fisher this season.

Matt Barnes will come off the bench to spell Ron Artest and gives the Lakers a little more toughness and wing defense. He’s a guy that fits the Lakers because he is versatile — he can guard twos or threes, and if you want to go really small he can even play some four. Not that the Lakers go small much.

Also in are draftees Derrick Caracter, Devin Ebanks, free agent center Theo Ratliff, and also Shannon Brown and Derek Fisher were re-signed. (Fisher for three years, which is a little surprising considering the decline in his play.)

Best case scenario: They win a third consecutive NBA title to send Jackson off in style, and just before the end of the season the Lakers bring back Mark Madsen so he can dance at the victory parade.

For that to happen:
The Lakers need to play a little more consistently in the regular season then be healthy and stay healthy through the playoffs.

Here’s the bottom line — while everyone was looking at Miami, the two-time defending world champions got better and deeper. Their two biggest weaknesses — point guard play and depth on the wing — were addressed. This is still the team to beat in the NBA and if you think they aren’t still hungry you haven’t met Kobe and Ron Artest.

The Lakers had the best regular season record in the West last season, but they needed six dramatic Kobe game-winners to get that. Sure, that’s why you have Kobe on your team, because he is a walking highlight reel. But live by the game-winning jumper, die by the game-winning jumper. The Lakers need to rest Kobe more during the season (same with all their key players) and that means winning a few more games by 17 and not a last second shot. Which is easier said than done in a deep west when you have a target on your back, but that is the task.

Also, In the regular season last year, the Lakers got lax about ball movement on offense, if they do that this year they pay a bigger price.

Come the playoffs, the Lakers still have the most talented, well-compiled roster in the Association when they are all healthy. The key is the Lakers long and agile front line is unmatched — and it means big things on both ends of the court. On offense teams simply cannot matchup the length and quickness of Bynum and Pau Gasol (with Lamar Odom off the bench). That often leads teams to pack the paint to stop LA (or slow them, really) giving the Lakers good looks from the outside. Something the Lakers did not take great advantage of last season, but the addition of Blake and Barnes may change that. Even when teams know what is coming Gasol and Bynum still get theirs, especially when the Lakers execute the offense.

The bigger advantage is on defense — that long front line protects the rim and covers the problems the Lakers have defending quick point guards. The Lakers have three guys now — Kobe, Artest and Barnes — who they can sick on wing players to slow them, but that can be less effective with little point guards. However, everything is better when Bynum is behind the play using his long arms to erase mistakes.

More likely the Lakers will: Go back to the finals at least. Predicting who comes out of the East now and that matchup is impossible. But unless the Lakers come back to the pack in the West they are the best team by head and shoulders in the conference. There are a lot of interesting teams on the second tier in the West, but they are all on the second tier for a reason.

The finals is where health — particularly the health of Bynum — comes in. The Lakers got a title last season with Bynum dragging his leg through the playoffs, that will not happen this season. They need him to be healthier, because the task will be tougher.

Prediction: 58-24, first in the West and another trip to the finals. Then it will all be about health, because if they are the Heat are going to find the same problems with that long front line everyone else does. Well, the Heat will find problems with that and Kobe.

76ers coach Brett Brown: Joel Embiid’s minute limit likely to remain 28 this season

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 6: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on during the second half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on January 6, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the 76ers 110-106. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Joel Embiid‘s per-36 minute numbers – 28.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.5 blocks – are unprecedented by any rotation regular.

In fact, the only players to come close are Hall of Famers: David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Player Year Team Points Rebounds Blocks
Joel Embiid 20117 PHI 28.0 11.0 3.5
David Robinson 1995 SAS 26.2 10.3 3.1
Patrick Ewing 1990 NYK 26.7 10.2 3.7
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1977 LAL 25.7 13.0 3.1

Robinson, Ewing and Abdul-Jabbar each averaged more than 36 minutes per game. Embiid is at just 25 due to a minute limit.

How would the 76ers rookie handle a larger load?

According to Philadelphia coach Brett Brown, we probably won’t find out this season.

Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly

This is probably the right approach considering Embiid missed his first two professional seasons due to injury, but it’ll cost the 76ers on the court. They outscore opponents by 2.6 points per 100 possessions when Embiid plays and get outscored by 11.3 points per 100 possessions when he sits.

Embiid will still run away with Rookie of the Year, though I doubt he takes much solace in that. He wants to play.

On the bright side, this will improve Philadelphia’s draft position.

Report: Timberwolves “actively shopping” Ricky Rubio, packaging with with Shabazz Muhammad

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 15: Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves looks on during the game against the Charlotte Hornets on November 15, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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At 14-27, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been one of the bigger disappointments of the NBA season. Maybe we were all a year out in front of what this team will become with all this talent. Especially defensively (Tom Thibodeau can’t work instant miracles, it turns out).

Offensively, they lack shooting. The Timberwolves have two slashers in Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, they have Karl-Anthony Towns in the paint, but you can pack the paint on this team — they get 23.3 percent of their points from three, the third-lowest percentage in the league, and they take the fifth fewest threes per game in the league. Fixing that is going to fall more on Thibodeau the GM — this team needs shooters. Ideally at the point guard spot.

Which means the Timberwolves are shopping Ricky Rubio, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are actively shopping point guard Ricky Rubio in trade proposals, league sources told The Vertical.

The Timberwolves have attached Rubio to multiple offers with Shabazz Muhammad to several teams around the NBA, league sources said. Minnesota has been seeking something of a “bridge” guard in return, a player capable of starting in the short term, but who’ll ultimately settle into a backup role and give way to rookie Kris Dunn to become the long-term starter, league sources said.

The Sacramento Kings have had a strong interest in acquiring Rubio, but there’s no traction on a deal between those two teams, league sources said. So far, the Timberwolves are trying to exhaust the market elsewhere for a better return of assets than the Kings can offer.

This is confirmation of something talked about on this site and whispered around the league for a while — the pieces don’t fit well in Minnesota and Rubio was always likely to get moved. That said, the Timberwolves are not giving him away, there needs to be a quality return of Rubio stays put. And the question is, what team is in a position to bring in a point guard who is a brilliant passer but can’t shoot? That’s a very short list.

The Kings start Darren Collison at the point and bring Ty Lawson off the bench behind him — one of those guys plus some other pieces could come to Minnesota (Omri Casspi?). The Kings desperately want to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade, and they are just half-a-game back of eight-seed Portland, but does Rubio get them there? Rubio is a better passer but not near the shooter (Collison hits 40 percent from three). Collison for Rubio seems a lateral move.

I can see why the Timberwolves are looking for a better offer, and leaking this so teams know they are serious may help bring a few more suitors to the table.

One other thing to watch in Minnesota: Is Dunn the future at the point guard spot? He’s the first pick of the Tom Thibodeau era so they are committed to making it work, but is he a future starter? Or, should the Timberwolves spend money on a quality free agent point guard this summer (Patty Mills, Jeff Teague) and make him the glue that brings all the talent together? That buzz is out there around the league, it’s something to watch.

Report: Carmelo Anthony tells Phil Jackson he wants to stay with Knicks

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 12:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks during a stop in play against the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden on January 12, 2017 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Phil Jackson asked Carmelo Anthony whether the star forward wanted to remain with the Knicks.

Apparently, what Anthony said publicly over and over and over and over and over was true.

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

This further proves Anthony’s loyalty to New York.

A trade could’ve sent him to a better team with a more-desirable boss and netted him a $10 million trade bonus. But Anthony enjoys living and playing in New York, even with the tumult – including Jackson – that follows.

Now, it’s on Jackson to improve the roster around Anthony, repair player-coach relations and create a culture where the starting point guard doesn’t go AWOL.

Report: In ‘far more contentious’ meeting, Phil Jackson asked Carmelo Anthony whether he wanted to stay with Knicks

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Carmelo Anthony finally got his desired meeting with Knicks president Phil Jackson.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

At turn after turn after turn after turn after turn, Anthony has stated his loyalty to the Knicks. What has he done since to indicate he wants to leave New York?

Jackson, not Anthony, has fostered all this recent controversy.

Jackson built a crummy roster that faced a difficult path to the playoffs. Jackson used the code word “posse.”  Jackson publicly critiqued Anthony for being a ball hog. Jackson mouthpiece Charley Rosen wrote “Anthony has outlived his usefulness in New York.”

Anthony just wants to play basketball for a good team in the world’s biggest market – not work under a black cloud. Jackson is making it impossible for Anthony to get all his wishes, though.

So, the question falls to Anthony: Would he rather keep playing for the Knicks – and all that comes with it – or waive his no-trade clause to join another team?

For years, he has unequivocally answered that question publicly with devotion to New York. But the act of Jackson asking might invite a different response.