Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Two

With rumors abound, Lakers near a franchise crossroads


Though the formalization of the new CBA proceeds at a slow churn, the NBA rumor mill is already in mid-season form. Chris Paul and Dwight Howard — both in the final year of their respective contracts — are suddenly ready to be shipped every which way, and media outlets of every form are examining the possibility of certain teams landing the big fish of next year’s free agent class.

The most popular rumored destinations are, shockingly, a pair of usual suspects: the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers. Clearly the new collective bargaining agreement has rocked basketball sensibilities to their very core.

The Knicks are a particularly odd case because they seem to be included in the discussion without regard for practical considerations. I’m sure Chris Paul would love to play alongside Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony…just as I’m sure he’d love to play alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Desire alone won’t will Paul to New York any more than it’ll get him to Miami, as the Knicks lack the cap space to sign him outright next summer and no longer have the assets to sell the Hornets on a trade. The financial pieces just don’t seem to add up to link Paul to the Knicks, but then again: stranger things have happened.

The Lakers’ position in such rumors is slightly more believable, if only because Los Angeles is inching toward a franchise crossroads, and actually has the pieces necessary to facilitate some kind of deal. The underlying truth that drives the Lakers involvement is the fact that their core is unstable in the long-term; the salary commitments to Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum are only set to get more and more ridiculous as time goes on, eventually reaching a critical point by the third season of the new collective bargaining agreement. It may be too early to panic in anticipation of a development a few years down the line, but realistically, the Lakers should begin planning for their future — both in terms of that particular season and life after Kobe in general — as soon as possible.

As remarkable of a player as Bryant is, things don’t typically bode all that well for 33-year-old wing players staring down the twilight of their careers. His ridiculous work ethic will no doubt keep him productive for a long while, but the days of Bryant anchoring a team with his ridiculous output are numbered, if not already flittering away. Yet Kobe will be paid $25 million this season, $28 million next year, and $31 million in 2012-2013 — just in time to take up nearly half the room under the newly fortified luxury tax line. Oh, and Los Angeles only has to find room for Pau Gasol’s salary of around $19 million for each of the next three seasons, the two years remaining and $31 million remaining on Andrew Bynum’s deal (and a likely extension beyond that point), a new contract or replacement for Lamar Odom, and a roster full of competent role players alongside that enormous financial commitment to Bryant.

If Jerry Buss is willing to cut the check for an unprecedented luxury tax bill, then the Lakers have a shot at preserving their current core. But even then, there is no guarantee that the trio of Bryant, Gasol, and Bynum will be able to score L.A. another championship. This isn’t really the kind of situation that a general manager and owner can just stew on; something’s gotta give, as the Lakers will likely either start to feel their on-court performance become stale over time, or be saddled with three giant contracts that prevent the construction of an adequate supporting cast.

The Lakers may never make a serious run at Howard or Paul, but considering where they stand, they’ll certainly entertain the notion. It’s difficult to say exactly what Los Angeles would be willing to surrender in the process — or the resolve with which they’ll explore those superstar options — but the potential and mechanics of a possible deal are there, as are some very real motivations for the Lakers to rework their roster on the fly.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told NBCSports.com. The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.