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.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.