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.

Irving’s 47 lead Celtics past Mavericks to maintain streak

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DALLAS (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 10 of his season-high 47 points in overtime as the Boston Celtics rallied once again from a double-digit deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-102 on Monday night and extend their winning streak to 16 games.

The Mavericks led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but as they have several times during their winning streak, the Celtics stormed back.

The winning streak ties the fourth-longest in Celtics history.

Boston tied the game at 96 when Irving stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and fed Jayson Tatum for an alley-oop lay-up that hung on the rim for a full second before dropping through.

Irving scored his team’s first six points of overtime. Then after Jaylen Brown gave Boston a 104-102 lead with a jumper with 1:39 to play, Irving went to work on Yogi Ferrell, backing him down and drawing contact on a lay-up with 48.5 seconds to play. Though Irving missed the free throw to keep the score 106-102, Dallas never got closer.

Harrison Barnes scored 31 points and Wesley Matthews had 18 for Dallas, which came back from an early double-digit deficit as the Celtics went cold for much of the second and third quarters.

Irving and Barnes had chances in the final 30 seconds but both missed shots that would have given their teams the lead.

The Mavericks fell behind by as many as 15 points in the first half, outscoring the Celtics 55-35 over the second and third quarters.

Dallas took its biggest lead of the game when Yogi Ferrell fed a cutting Dwight Powell for a lay-up to make it 87-74 with 7:47 to play before the Celtics rallied.

Boston shot just 10-for-34 over the two middle quarters after building the early lead.

 

DeMarcus Cousins ejected after elbowing Russell Westbrook in head

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DeMarcus Cousins‘ history of flagrant fouls certainly didn’t help him here, but if anyone elbows a guy in the head, he’s going to get tossed.

And that’s what Cousins did here.

Midway through the third quarter in New Orleans, Cousins blocked a putback attempt by Russell Westbrook, then grabbed the rebound. Westbrook tried to reach in across Cousins’ body for the steal, and Cousins cleared out space with his elbow — right to Westbrook’s head. Cousins walked around saying “no, no, no” afterward, and he likely thinks the officials had it out for him here because he was just getting a guy off him, but we go back to the original point — elbow a guy in the head, get tossed. The league is cracking down on blows above the neck. Westbrook did not leave the game.

The Pelicans went on to come from 19 down to win the game 114-107, behind 36 points and 15 boards from Anthony Davis.

Damn, Paul George with the in-game bounce pass alley-oop to Jerami Grant

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The game has been close (as of midway through the third quarter), but that didn’t stop Oklahoma City from putting on a show in New Orleans.

Paul George had the ball on a 2-on-0 fast break and decided to throw the playground bounce-pass alley-oop, which Jerami Grant got up and finished with authority. This could be one of the dunks of the year.

We’re going to see that highlight for a while.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.