The interconnectivity of the Lakers’ problems

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If you ask five people what’s wrong with the Lakers, you’re likely to get five different answers. That’s what happens when a team with that caliber of talent opens the season 0-2. There are simply too many things to pick at for there to only be one thing wrong.

That said, the Lakers issues aren’t just these individual problems that exist in a vacuum. They are not compartmentalized where if one thing is fixed they can check it off a list and move on to the next thing.

No, the Lakers problems are interconnected where one thing is done wrong and that leads to another issue popping up and then it just compounds from there. Worse yet, there’s a chicken and the egg nature to these problems in that it’s actually quite difficult to suss out where their issues begin and where they end.

Is it the much maligned offense?

Is it the underperforming defense?

Actually, it’s both and the problems at each end of the floor are fueling each other.

On offense, the implementation of the Princeton has had its hiccups. Steve Nash has looked more like Steve Blake, getting rid of the ball early and often in possessions and spectating off the ball for long stretches. Furthermore, players have looked confused on what their next move should be, too often thinking about where to go rather than reading and reacting to the defense.

The Lakers have also been too slow in how they’re attacking on offense. They’re not pushing the ball and they’re slow to get into their sets. This is leading to too many possessions where they have to execute well in the half court — which they’re not doing well — and that’s leading to long misses, turnovers, and generally uneven play.

These offensive woes are then generating many of their defensive problems.

When the Lakers are forced into taking a long jumper their opponent is grabbing a long rebound and attacking them in the open court to make them defend in transtion. Because the Lakers are older and not very quick to change ends, they’re getting taken advantage of more often than not. When the Lakers turn the ball over, this lack of transition D is amplified and it is almost guaranteed that their opponent is going to get a shot at the rim or the type of rhythm pull up jumper that teams thrive on.

Even when the Lakers aren’t trying to defend in transition, they’re suffering on that end of the floor. Their lack of cohesion on D is seen clearly on missed rotations to the rim, the surrendering of offensive rebounds because they’re not helping the helper, haphazard closeouts on shooters, and poor pick and roll coverage.

And these defensive woes only fuel more of the Lakers problems on offense. When teams score, the Lakers are forced to inbound the ball and it slows down their entire attack. This also allows the defense to get set and, in some cases, set up full court pressure to further keep the team from playing at a good tempo. The result is the Lakers starting possessions halfway through the 24 second clock which limits their ability get comfortable in their offense.

And right back to square one we go. It’s like a downward spiral of poor execution.

There’s no simple fix here either. The team can start by playing better defense, but that will need to be aided by crisper offensive execution, better floor balance to defend against fast breaks, and cutting down on the turnovers that allow teams to score easy baskets. They can start to refine their offense, but to do so they’ll need to start getting stops on defense so they can push the ball up the floor and get into their sets faster. They will also need to figure out how they want to run the Princeton and get more out of Steve Nash in the process.

At this point, though, the Lakers need to start to improve somewhere. Because just like there’s a domino affect in how bad plays begat bad plays, the inverse will also be true. For their sake, it better start soon.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.

Veteran NBA official Monty McCutchen to be head of referee development, training

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After 25 seasons running up and down the NBA hardwood and refereeing more than 1,400 games, NBA official Monty McCutchen got a promotion.

He officiated his last game Thursday night in Minnesota and will move to a desk at the league office where his new title is Vice President, Head of Referee Development and Training.

“Monty has earned the respect of players, coaches and his peers during an exemplary career as an NBA official,” said Senior Vice President, Head of Referee Operations Michelle D. Johnson (who started on the job in October).  “He understands as well as anyone what it takes to be an outstanding referee and how the league can best support its officials.  With his wealth of insight and experience, Monty is uniquely suited for a leadership role in our officiating program.”

“I’m excited for the opportunity to channel my passion for the officiating profession in a new way,” McCutchen said.  “While I’ll miss officiating games, I’m grateful to continue working with our incredibly talented referee staff as part of an organization so dedicated to excellence and innovation.”

Despite what some fans like to blast on Twitter (especially during the playoffs), NBA officials are the best trained and flat-out best basketball referees in the world (if you don’t think so, watch the college/scab referees from the last lockout of the refs, it was painful). Could they improve? Sure. Hopefully, McCutchen can help do that in his new position.