Lakers need big changes — which means trading a big man

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It’s obvious the Lakers need changes. Big changes.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are younger, deeper, more athletic and just flat out better. And they are not going anywhere for a few years. That’s not to mention up-and-coming contenders like the Clippers in the West that are passing where the Lakers seem stuck on the side of the road.

If Kobe Bryant wants to compete with those teams in the next few years and get a sixth ring, the Lakers need to revamp their roster. Which is no simple thing because they are way over the salary cap with $80 million committed for next season (Kobe makes $27 million alone), no draft picks of consequence and no trade assets other teams want.

Well, the Lakers do have some trade assets — Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum. The Lakers don’t have a choice — they are going to have to break up their core and trade a big man to rework this roster.

But even that is not simple. For all you Lakers fans out there planning out your Gasol trade, remember this —Bynum’s contract is up after next season and that puts the Lakers in the same spot as the Orlando Magic with Dwight Howard. If Bynum does not commit long term, the Lakers have to consider moving him rather than losing him for nothing.

On top of it all, remember Lakers fans that the new CBA’s punitive tax scale kick in soon so the Lakers need to reduce their payroll.

It’s a mess. You can get younger and cheaper through the draft but the Lakers don’t have draft picks to speak of (the Cavaliers have L.A.’s first-round pick this year). The Lakers are over the luxury tax which means can basically only offer one a mini mid-level exemption worth $3 million and then veteran minimum contracts to bring in new players. Los Angeles can re-sign free agents like Matt Barnes, Jordan Hill and youngsters like Andrew Goudelock and Devin Ebanks, but that’s not changing anything really.

Which means the Lakers are going to shop Gasol this summer — he was the odd man out in Mike Brown’s offense. Literally. Bynum got the low left block and Gasol had to operate from the elbow (or farther out, because the Lakers had no other shooters as threats) and rarely got touches in his comfort zone. Kobe threw him under the bus in the playoffs and their relationship seems strained. At best.

Gasol is set to make $19 million next year and the Lakers could get a couple of pieces back if they shop him around — not players as good as him but maybe fits in the system. They will get depth. What they will not be able to do is replicate the Chris Paul trade and get a superstar (and save money in the process), however.

But if you trade Gasol, do you keep Bynum as the future centerpiece for this season and the five years beyond that? The Lakers will pick up Bynum’s $16.5 million option for next season but has he shown the temperament and maturity to build your franchise around in a post-Kobe era? Do you believe he can stay healthy for multiple years? Is this guy your rock at the heart of the franchise?

Bynum would be an interesting trade piece (the Lakers likely would still move him for Dwight Howard fi they could). If you trade the young All-Star you would likely get a great return, is it better to do that and keep Gasol? (I know some Lakers fans told me on twitter the teams should trade both, those fans are fools, big talented guys don’t grown on trees.)

Personally, I would see what the market offers for both and then make my move.

The Lakers have other offseason questions — do you bring back Ramon Sessions? Is coach Mike Brown really the answer? — but the big man question weighs heaviest. Long-time owner Jerry Buss always believed in making trades earlier rather than later, you can bet son Jim will follow that path. The Lakers will be aggressive.

The question is can he do it with the deftness and skill of his father that has kept the Lakers on top for so long.

He’s in a tough spot. There are no easy answers for the Lakers.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.

After two lopsided losses to OKC, Kevin Durant leads Warriors rout

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Golden State while avenging an embarrassing home loss to his former Oklahoma City team earlier this month and another on the road in November, leading the Warriors past the Thunder 112-80 on Saturday night.

Stephen Curry added 21 points with five 3-pointers, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals as Golden State put on the kind of defensive performance coach Steve Kerr has been seeking from the defending champs.

Russell Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which failed to reach 100 points for the first time in the last five games. The Thunder had scored at least 100 in 14 of their last 16.

Durant’s pretty layup off a perfect pass by Curry with 3:06 left in the third put the Warriors up 75-66. That was part of a 37-11 Golden State run that included 30 points over the final 8:48 of the third – when Zaza Pachulia subbed in to relieve JaVale McGee.

The Warriors held Paul George to five points. George’s 3-pointer at the 7:52 mark of the third with Durant’s hand in his face was his first basket after going 0 for 9 to begin the game. He finished 1 for 14 after going off for 38 points in the last meeting when Oklahoma City left Oracle Arena with a 125-105 rout on Feb. 6.

Golden State also lost at OKC by 17 on Nov. 22.

Draymond Green added 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He picked up his 15th technical of the season with 1:04 left in the first half, moving him within one of an automatic suspension. That came after Durant and Carmelo Anthony pushed, shoved, yelled from close range and had to be separated, receiving double technicals.

It was a testy rematch after the Warriors received five technical fouls in the previous meeting. That prompted general manager Bob Myers to address the importance of keeping poised.

Durant announced his decision to join the Warriors and leave OKC on July 4, 2016, making him an instant villain in his former city.

He scored 33 in the Feb. 6 meeting but got plenty of help this time.

Earlier this month against the Thunder, Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 11 of 27 from the floor and 4 for 15 on 3-pointers as the Warriors lost for the third time in four games. Thompson had 11 points Saturday, shooting just 1 for 11 from deep.

The Warriors on Saturday improved to 8-1 this season in the next game against an opponent after losing the previous meeting.

After Shaun Livingston‘s jumper at the 8:47 mark of the second quarter, Golden State went nearly five minutes without scoring before Curry’s basket at 4:51 started a 7-0 burst.

The Thunder grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the opening quarter to score 10 second-chance points, with Westbrook getting eight boards and George five. But Oklahoma City went 2 for 11 on 3s in the initial 12 minutes – Anthony, George and Westbrook a combined 1 of 8.

 

Steve Kerr “disappointed” in alma mater Arizona; wants to see NCAA follow new model

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Before he was the coach of the Golden State Warriors, before he was a five-time NBA Champion playing next to Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, Steve Kerr was one of the great players the University of Arizona ever produced. The crowd would echo the announcer after ever made three — “Steeeve Keerrr” — where he was an All-American and helped lead a team (with future NBA players Sean Elliott and Tom Tolbert) to the Final Four.

There is a crisis around Arizona basketball right now. Coach Sean Miller was caught on a federal wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for star recruit Deandre Ayton (expected to be a high lottery pick in June, possibly the No. 1 pick). Miller did not coach Saturday and changes are coming to Arizona.

Kerr was asked about it before the Warriors took on the Thunder Saturday.

Kerr said he was “disappointed” in his alma mater over the incident. Which is understandable.

Not to completely excuse it, but what Miller got caught doing is commonplace — money is funneled to families or the players of top recruits on a regular basis. What is more troubling (in my mind) is the money paid under the table to AAU coaches, family members, and others close to elite recruits to funnel them to a specific “financial planner” or agent, or a specific university. People in positions of trust with the player are bought and paid for.

Kerr put out one solution that would certainly be a big step forward: follow the Olympics model and let elite players get sponsorships that don’t end their college eligibility.

This system has its flaws as well, but it gets some of the dirty money out in the open. It would be better than the hypocritical facade of amateurism the NCAA has hit behind for years.

Joel Embiid has 28 points, 14 rebounds leads Sixers to Seventh straight win

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid had 28 points and 14 rebounds, and the Philadelphia 76ers extended their season-high win streak to seven with a 116-105 victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday.

Six 76ers scored in double figures. Ben Simmons had 17 points and seven assists, and 3-point specialist J.J. Redick added 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting – and just one 3-pointer. Marco Belinelli had 15 points, Robert Covington had 12 and Dario Saric scored 11.

Aaron Gordon led Orlando with 20 points, including four 3s, to go with seven rebounds and seven assists. Evan Fournier scored 16 points, and former Sixer Nik Vucevic had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Magic, who have lost five straight.

Philadelphia led 58-40 at halftime and 71-49 in the third when Orlando used an 11-2 burst, capped by Aaron Gordon’s 3-pointer, to close within 13.

But the Sixers put on a show to finish the quarter.

Embiid overpowered a few Magic defenders for a slam, and then gestured to the crowd after being fouled while soaring to the hoop on a dunk attempt. After Embiid and Trevor Booker swatted consecutive shots in the final seconds, T.J. McConnell used a crossover move to finish a drive at the buzzer and give the Sixers an 87-71 lead entering the fourth.

Orlando used a late 15-2 run to get within nine and nearly cut it to six with 1:21 left, but a 3-point attempt by Mario Hezonja spilled out.

Midway through the first quarter, Philadelphia had more turnovers (three) than field goals (two) and trailed 15-6. The Sixers then erupted for a 21-3 run and ended the quarter up 27-18.

E-A-G-L-E-S

Orlando head coach Frank Vogel wore an Eagles Super Bowl champions T-shirt during his pregame media availability. A native of Wildwood, New Jersey, Vogel makes sure to get a taste of home when he returns to the Philadelphia area.

“Cheesesteaks, Tastykakes, Yuengling beer if we beat the Sixers,” Vogel said. “Wawa coffee, but I get Wawa in Orlando now. I did get a cheesesteak today.”

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz rang the ceremonial Liberty Bell before the game.

“I think it’s awesome,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “He can come over and ring as many bells as he chooses.”