Los Angeles Lakers Pau Gasol walks off the court after a season-ending loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game 5 of the NBA western conference semi-finals in Oklahoma City

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.

Spurs kick off rust from layoff to beat Clippers 105-97 in Chris Paul’s return

San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard dunks during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 21 points despite foul trouble and the San Antonio Spurs shook off the rust from a nine-day layoff to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 105-97 on Friday night for their third straight win.

Pau Gasol added 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench in his return from a 15-game absence because of a fractured finger. LaMarcus Aldridge had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Dewayne Dedmon grabbed 12 rebounds.

Blake Griffin scored 29 points for the Clippers, who have dropped consecutive games to the league’s two winningest teams since the All-Star break ended. They lost by 10 points at Golden State a night earlier. The Spurs have the league’s second-best record at 44-13.

Chris Paul added 17 points in his return after missing five weeks with a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Wade, Butler lead Bulls over Suns 128-121 in overtime

Chicago Bulls' Dwyane Wade (3) drives on Phoenix Suns' Alan Williams (15) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in Chicago. The Bulls won in overtime 128-121. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Dwyane Wade scored 23 points, Jimmy Butler added 22 and the Chicago Bulls rallied to beat the Phoenix Suns 128-121 in overtime Friday night.

Devin Booker scored 27 points for Phoenix, but missed a chance to win it in regulation after Wade fouled him on a 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left. Booker hit the first two free throws to tie it, then missed the third.

Wade and Butler led the Bulls as they rallied from 11 down in the fourth quarter to beat the Western Conference’s last-place team. Both players scored 14 points after the third quarter to help the Bulls win their third straight.

Nikola Mirotic scored 20 points and hit four 3-pointers. Robin Lopez added 19 points. Denzel Valentine, who figures to get more playing time after Doug McDermott was traded to Oklahoma City along with Taj Gibson on Thursday, had 15 points. The rookie hit 5 of 8 3-pointers.

Eric Bledsoe added 17 points and 10 assists for Phoenix. The Suns lost for the sixth time in eight games.

The Bulls scored 20 points in overtime and were leading 116-110 after a seven-point spurt that Mirotic started with a 3.

Wade put back Butler’s airball and hit two free throws to make it 122-115. And he had the crowd roaring in the closing minute when he drove for a dunk on Alex Lin and gave the raise-the-roof gesture.

The Suns appeared to be in good shape leading 102-91 with 4:32 remaining in regulation after Booker nailed a 3 to finish a 14-2 run, but the Bulls came storming back.

A dunk by Wade and 3 by Mirotic with 1:53 left cut it to 104-103 and drew a huge roar from the crowd.

Butler hit a 3 to tie it at 106-all with 48 seconds remaining, and after a driving Bledsoe lost the ball out of bounds, he nailed a baseline jumper to give Chicago a two-point lead with 9.1 seconds left.

TIP-INS

Suns: The Suns waived F Mike Scott and C/F Jared Sullinger on Friday, a day after acquiring them in trades. … The Suns also signed G Ronnie Price for the rest of the season.

Bulls: Rajon Rondo will remain in the backup point guard role, coach Fred Hoiberg said. … G Cameron Payne (flu), acquired from Oklahoma City, was unavailable.

 

DeMar DeRozan drops career-high 43, Raptors beat Celtics 107-97

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan scored a career-high 43 points and the Toronto Raptors rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Boston Celtics 107-97 on Friday night.

DeRozan shot 15 of 28 from the floor as he surpassed his 42-point effort against the Houston Rockets on March 30, 2015, helping the Raptors overcome the absence of fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry. Lowry sat out with a right wrist injury.

Serge Ibaka, acquired by trade from the Orlando Magic last week, scored 15 points in his debut, while fellow newcomer P.J. Tucker, picked up from the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, had a game-high 10 rebounds and nine points in his first game for his new team.

Isaiah Thomas scored 20 points for Boston, which also got 19 points each from Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart.

Down 91-88 with 4:11 to play, the Raptors went on a 9-1 run to lead by five with 2:01 to play. Though Crowder cut that lead to three with a jump shot with 1:46 remaining, DeRozan drilled a jump shot with a minute remaining to put the Raptors up by five.

Tucker was unable to convert either free throw after being fouled by Al Horford with 47 seconds left, but Thomas missed the next time down the court, and after being fouled by Smart, DeRozan converted both free throws with 33 seconds to play. He then followed up with two more after a three-point play from Smart to take the game away from Boston with 27.5 seconds to go.

The Celtics found their range early, connecting on 55 percent of their shots from the floor and 40 percent from 3-point range in the first quarter. The Raptors could only hit 40 percent and went 0 for 3 from beyond the arc, and while DeRozan topped all scorers with 10 points, they were trailing 29-18 after 12 minutes.

Boston pushed its lead to 17 on a 3-point shot from Jaylen Brown with 1:29 to play in the half, but Toronto closed on a 7-0 run following a flagrant foul by Thomas on DeRozan.

The Raptors continued their comeback effort in the third quarter, with Ibaka’s 3-pointer with 5:58 to go capping a 27-8 Toronto run to give the Raptors their first lead since the 3:54 mark of the first quarter. Smart’s 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds remaining handed Boston a 77-74 edge entering the final 12 minutes.

TIP-INS

Celtics: G Avery Bradley (right Achilles) sat out and coach Brad Stevens said G Gerald Green (left heel) would miss both Friday and Sunday’s games. Thomas extended his franchise record of consecutive 20-point games to 42.

Raptors: Cory Joseph replaced Lowry in the starting lineup.

UNITED NATIONS

The addition of Ibaka (Republic of Congo) means the Raptors now have seven players on their roster born outside of the United States, tied with Utah for the most in the NBA.

INSTANT IMPACT

Ibaka quickly made himself at home on Friday, blocking Thomas’s shot inside of three minutes, before following that up with his first points as a Raptor on a jump shot seconds later, bringing an enthusiastic Air Canada Centre crowd to its feet.

POWER PLAYER

While Raptors coach Dwane Casey patrolled one sideline, his Toronto Maple Leafs counterpart, Mike Babcock, took in the game from the opposing sideline, sitting courtside alongside Toronto’s chief of police. With the Leafs currently on a three-game homestand, the Stanley Cup-winning coach was able to enjoy an evening off before his team hosts the rival Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.

 

Magic President: Season has been ‘incredibly disappointing’

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 18:  Aaron Gordon #00 of the Orlando Magic competes in the 2017 Verizon Slam Dunk Contest at Smoothie King Center on February 18, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Gerald Herbert - Pool/Getty Images)
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Orlando Magic president Alex Martins entered the season believing this was the franchise’s best chance to break into the playoffs for first time in the post-Dwight Howard era.

With 23 games remaining, Martins realizes that’s a longshot at best.

“The season to date has been incredibly disappointing,” Martins told The Associated Press. “We didn’t expect to be in mix for one of the top seeds by any stretch as we are progressing. Our hope was to get in there and make the playoffs.”

The team brought in two key veteran front-court additions to fuse with a young nucleus and hired an experienced playoff coach in Frank Vogel. The pieces seemed in place to end a five-year playoff drought.

But Orlando has the third-worst record in the NBA at 21-28 and have scrapped their dominant front-court plan, shipping Serge Ibaka to Toronto. Their slim postseason chances are quickly fading.

It’s other setback for 34-year-old general manager Rob Hennigan, who has not delivered on putting Orlando back into the playoffs during his nearly five-year tenure. The roster has been consistently re-made and three different head coaches have been hired during Hennigan’s tenure.

Martins expressed his excitement about the future of a young nucleus of players that includes Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier and now nearly acquired swingman Terrence Ross. He also spoke highly of Vogel, who was hired last May after a successful run with the Indiana Pacers .

But Martins didn’t mention Hennigan, who has one more year remaining on his contract.

When asked about the GM, the president said Hennigan’s future will be evaluated at the end of the season, along with the rest of the basketball operations staff.

“We feel that you have to have the complete book of business for the year to be able to evaluate them and we are going to do that,” Martins said. “Everybody is accountable to all of the results and we will evaluate our basketball operations staff extensively at the end of the year and make any decision that we need to make.”

Hennigan has not shied away from discussing his job security, acknowledging that things have not worked out as he had hoped to this point.

“The seat is always hot,” Hennigan said last week. “That’s something that comes with the territory and it’s just something that comes with the job. It’s a difficult job with a lot of complexities. We feel like we are figuring it out.”

But the results don’t seem to support Hennigan’s assertion that they are any closer to figuring it out than when he came aboard in June 2012. Draft picks haven’t panned out, free agents have been brought in and shipped out as quickly and there has seemed to be a revolving door at the head coaches’ office.

The latest fallout was the Ibaka acquisition that fell apart quickly. The Magic gave up a promising young player in Victor Oladipo and other assets in order to get Ibaka from Oklahoma City.

Ibaka, who entered the season on the final year of his contract, turned out not to be a good fit for the two-big men defensive scheme and wasn’t giving indication he would be willing to re-sign with the Magic this summer.

“We certainly didn’t want to put ourselves in that position if Serge were to make a decision to go elsewhere and not have anything to show for it,” Martins said. “We wanted to protect ourselves against that.”

There were reports Orlando would be active in trade market before Thursday’s deadline, but the only trade they ended up pulling off was the Ibaka-Ross deal. Martins said the team had hoped to add what it considered to be significant pieces as late as Thursday, but that it all fell through.

“As they say it takes two trade partners to make a deal happen but unfortunately nothing came to fruition,” he said.

Now the focus becomes finishing strong, eyeing what is being touted as one of the deepest drafts in years and then free agency. Martins anticipates having as much as $30 million in salary cap space to spend in free agency.

“If we can get lucky for the first time in several years in the lottery and get up into the top 3, obviously you have a difference maker in this draft,” Martins said. “We also expect to be aggressive in free agency this summer. So we will see.”