What the Lakers should do when the lockout ends

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Welcome to the first installment of a fun lockout series here at PBT… okay, there nothing is fun about the lockout. It blows. But whenever it ends teams are going to have to scramble to fill holes and make moves. What follows is a discussion of what the Los Angeles Lakers need to do to when the lockout ends. Tomorrow we will feature the Dallas Mavericks, and from there we will work our way through all 30 teams. Enjoy.

Last season in Los Angeles: The Lakers came in as the two-time defending champions and won an impressive 57 games, but there was no aura of invincibility around this team. They had losing streaks and as the season wore on the team looked mentally and physically tired. That culminated in the second round of the playoffs, when a Mavericks team hitting their stride swept the Lakers. Los Angeles seemed unwilling and unable to step up their game and make adjustments.

Since we last saw the Lakers: Phil Jackson walked away, all the way from Los Angeles to Montana, where he is sitting on the porch on his ranch and not thinking giving a fleeting thought to hoops. Former Cavs head man Mike Brown was brought in as coach. The players wanted Brian Shaw, but Jim Buss (the guy calling the shots in L.A. now) wanted to sweep all things Jackson out of the organization. The result is a new offensive philosophy and talk of new defensive commitment.

In terms of players, there has been very little change. The core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and dancing Ron Artest (soon to be Metta World Peace) all are still under contract.

When the lockout ends, the Lakers need to… get a new point guard and get behind Mike Brown.

Brown has sounded like a guy who has got the right idea — if the Lakers are going to win another title it will be because they use more Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, allowing Kobe Bryant to pick his spots. He cannot carry a team to a title now. Brown has talked about using parts of the Spurs offense from their twin-towers era of Tim Duncan and David Robinson). It’s a smart move.

But Derek Fisher and Steve Blake — the two point guards on the Lakers roster — are not going to be able to run that show. Not well enough. Which means the Lakers need a new point guard. The free agent market is not loaded with good players (unless you think T.J. Ford is a good player, and if you do we need to talk).

The Lakers may have to trade for a point guard (hard to say right now who becomes available once teams see the new labor deal).

There is not a lot of trade bait on the Lakers roster. Some Lakers fans want Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol moved, but neither of those guys is going anywhere unless a Dwight Howard-level player is coming back. Nor should they be — you win by going big, not point guards. The more likely move is something like Lamar Odom for a reasonable point guard and a backup big. But even that will not be easy to pull off for GM Mitch Kupchak.

Even if the Lakers do not make a move before the season, the bigger issue is buying in and being committed to what Brown wants to install. The Lakers don’t have a year to blow protesting a coach, their championship window is open but not much longer.

Darius, the guy behind the Lakers blog Forum Blue & Gold, told us exactly that in an email.

The Lakers need to get into the gym to work on the X’s and O’s that new coach Mike Brown is implementing in order to be as comfortable as possible with the new schemes when the games start. The Lakers may be a veteran team that is viewed as easily adaptable, but they’re also abandoning a long established system in a (potentially) shortened off-season. That change brings a loss of comfort and any lack of commitment from the players can sink the season before it even starts. They’ll need to learn what the new coach wants, conform to the new approach, and execute at a high level right out of the gate. There will be little time for floundering; not when the reigning champ resides in their conference and teams like the Thunder, Grizzlies, Spurs, and Blazers look to build on their own foundations for success.

Kobe may have wanted Shaw as a coach, but he wants a ring more. And the only way he gets another one is to be fully on board with Brown and bring the team with him. If that happens, and the Lakers get better play at the point, they are title contenders.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.