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Lakers Lonzo Ball era begins… and he looks every bit the rookie

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The Lonzo Ball hype machine in Los Angeles is close to overheating (in no small part thanks to his father). After hearing for years — remember, Ball grew up in L.A. and went to UCLA — unfair comparisons to Jason Kidd and how he is the best passing Laker guard since Magic Johnson, many Lakers fans expect… you know.

Those fans sold out the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas Friday night to see Ball and the Lakers open Summer League against the Clippers. Every time he touched the ball early in the game, there was a roar.

His strengths were on display — he has great court vision and passing instincts, and he showed that on the first play of the game connecting with Brandon Ingram.

As the game wore on… Ball looked like a rookie.

His potential weaknesses were on display as well — his unconventional shot was 1-of-11 from three, and as he tried to set up others the Clipper defense started trying to make Ball a scorer, and he didn’t fill that role. He also got torched defensively at times, unable to stay in front of his man at the top of the key.

It’s one Summer League game, it means about as much as “proof” the Earth is flat.

What this game can do is give us an idea of the journey Ball will need to take as a professional to live up to the hype (or at least come close to it, his hype man/father makes it hard to live up to all of it).

Ball did a number of things well, things he can build upon. My personal favorite is that he didn’t need to bring the ball up himself and control the action, when he could he threw the ball ahead to forwards who ran the court, which allowed guys like Ingram to operate in space, kept the tempo up, and it led to easy baskets. The Lakers ran and moved because he would get them the rock.

Ball finished with five assists, but that undersells the number of shots he created for Lakers teammates with hockey assists and those hit-ahead passes. His passing set the tone, and as a team the Lakers pushed the pace and moved the ball. Those are good signs going forward.

The biggest concern was the shooting — he knocked it down in college, but not every scout was convinced his shot would translate. He struggled with his shot in his first game, took some poor ones, and finished 2-of-15 overall and 1-of-11 from three. He missed all his shots in overtime.

“I liked the looks, I just missed them,” Ball said after the game, sounding like a shooter.

(The Lakers eventually lost to the Clippers in OT. If you care about the final score of a Summer League game it was 96-93, but if you really care you need to re-evaluate parts of your life.)

Ball is going to have to prove to teams he can knock down shots when they go under picks, or things will be far harder for him. The Clippers laid back on him and took away driving/passing lanes playing off him more as the game went on, Ball couldn’t make them pay this night. Part of his development needs to be doing just that.

Other notes from this game:

• One of my favorite barometers in Summer League is: How much did a guy who got regular NBA run last season improve from a year ago? Summer League is about development, this league is a measuring stick.

In that front, Brandon Ingram was fantastic. His ball handling skills were much improved (even from the second half of the season), which opened up his face up game and attacking the rim. He’s gotten stronger, but he’s gotten smarter about how to use his body to create space. The result was he was the best player on the court, finishing with 26 points on 9-of-17 shooting.

Ingram did not take part in overtime after mildly tweaking his knee late in the game — Magic Johnson was courtside and after the play signaled to the Laker bench Ingram was done for the night. After the game the Lakers said it was nothing serious, he wanted to go back in, but the team is understandably being overly cautious.

• Lakers’ second-round pick Bryant showed potential as an energy big off the bench, finishing with 13 points and five rebounds. He had a very good night.

• The Clippers did not run out anyone likely to see a lot of time on the court with the big club next season. Maybe the one exception is Sindarius Thornwell, the rookie who turned heads at South Carolina last season, as he finished with 26 points on 13 shots and had a good night. NBA vet Brice Johnson added 23.

PBT Podcast: All things Sixers with Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia

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The Sixers have started the season 0-3, Joel Embiid is frustrated about his lack of post touches, and Markelle Fultz‘s shot has gone funky…

Relax. The Sixers are going to be fine, and they still very well could be a playoff team in the East this season. It’s just three games (against teams expected to finish above the Sixers in the standings anyway).

Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia joins Kurt Helin on the Podcast today to talk all things Sixers. They discuss the things that have gone wrong, but also the culture Brett Brown has built, why the Sixers still have to be thought of as a playoff team, and why the future is bright. Also, there is a little discussion of the mess with the Phoenix Suns, their lack of a process, and how Eric Bledsoe could tilt things in the East.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Stephen Curry fined $50,000 for throwing mouthpiece

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Stephen Curry knew a fine was coming, the only question was how much? The NBA had established this precedent before: When Curry (or any player) threw his mouthpiece he got fined. That he’s done it before and threw it in the direction of an official this time meant the price could go up.

It did — Curry was slapped with a $50,000 fine for throwing his mouthpiece during the ejection from Saturday night’s Warriors loss to the Grizzlies. Curry felt he was fouled on a drive and didn’t get the call, and he lost his cool.

Andre Iguodala was also fined $15,000 for “verbally abusing a game official” during the same incident.

Some fans wanted a suspension for Curry, mostly because it’s trendy to hate on Curry and the Warriors in some circles. Reality is there is a precedent here, and the league office stuck with that. Now, if the mouthpiece had struck the official, Curry would have gotten a suspension. If you want to argue the intent was the same, call up the league. They make the distinction.

Reports: Knicks, Bucks, Nuggets among teams calling about Eric Bledsoe

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Eric Bledsoe is done with the Suns. His excuse that his “I Dont wanna be here” Tweet was about a hair salon is as believable as myself, Bruce Willis, and Andre Agassi Tweeting about our time in hair salons. The Suns have told him to go home, and they will work to trade him. Most likely, the Suns are going to get crushed in this deal — they have no leverage, Bledsoe is a free agent in less than two years (2019), plus most teams are not looking for another point guard. But he is being shopped, and he’d like to go to a winning team.

Where will Bledsoe get traded?

A few names have come up — the Knicks, Bucks, and Nuggets are the ones out in public now. There are more, but let’s take a look at those three.

The Knicks have one of the two worst backcourts in the NBA (the Bulls are in that mix, too) so they certainly could use Bledsoe short term. However, long term he doesn’t fit on the Kristaps Porzingis timeline so how much would New York give up to get him.

That price is too high, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

The Suns have asked about young Knicks such as Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in trade talks about guard Eric Bledsoe, sources confirm. But New York have been opposed to trading either young player, sources told ESPN. Hernangomez has not been in head coach Jeff Hornacek’s regular rotation in the first two games of the season, which has left the second-year center frustrated. But Hernangomez’s lack of playing time isn’t a sign that the club is looking to move him. Ntilikina has dealt with several injuries early in his career but the point guard remains part of the young core New York wants to build around and management, as of Monday afternoon, did not want to move him in a Bledsoe deal.

Then there is Milwaukee.

On the court, this makes some sense. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the point forward who has the ball in his hands, but Bledsoe is adept off the ball and can hit the three. The move would send Malcolm Brogdon back to the bench, which he may not like but is a good thing for a team looking to bolster its depth.

The trade likely would involve Jabari Parker going West, along with salary filler such as Matthew Dellavedova. Parker is coming off multiple injuries, but he still knows how to score inside and in the right system has value. Whether that system is in Phoenix depends on what kind of system they want to run and roster they want to build.

Then there is Denver.

Denver likes Jamal Murray at the point guard spot and is ready to move on from Emmanuel Mudiay, so there could be a point guard swap but with some more salary coming back to Phoenix (Denver likely would want to dump Kenneth Faried but the Suns will want something that helps them out more than that). This makes some sense as it gives the Suns a young point guard with some skills to try out, while the Nuggets get deeper at a spot of need.

Other deals are lurking (yes LeBron James and Bledsoe are tight, but that deal is a long shot), and the Suns rightfully are going to take the best deal they can find, regardless of whether Bledsoe wants to be there or not. The only questions are how fast do they get it done, and what are teams offering?

J.R. Smith replacing Dwyane Wade as Cavaliers’ starting shooting guard

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The Cavaliers are 2-1, but their starting lineups have been outscored by 19 points in 32 minutes. Dwyane Wade has been so bad as the starting shooting guard, his struggles have overshadowed J.R. Smith‘s miserable play as the backup.

But at least Wade volunteered a solution to this predictable problem.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Dwyane Wade is headed for the Cavaliers’ bench at his own request and J.R. Smith is returning to the starting lineup.

Wade, 35, a 12-time All-Star who struggled in his first three games with Cleveland, asked coach Tyronn Lue to make the change, Lue said. But this wasn’t exactly Wade’s idea, either.

Lue told him when he signed with the Cavs Sept. 27 that the second unit may be the best fit for him.

“I just decided, earlier than later, just to get to the unit where I’d be more comfortable in and can probably better with this team in that lineup,” Wade said. “Why wait? Three games in, why wait? Wanted to get in there with those guys.”

Cleveland’s starting lineup needs more shooting and defense around LeBron James – especially with Derrick Rose starting over an injured Isaiah Thomas (though Rose is out a couple games with his own ankle injury). Smith provides that.

Bench-heavy units need more playmaking. Wade provides that.

This was a tricky situation given Wade’s status as a future Hall of Famer and friendship with LeBron. Whether Wade simply suggested the change or Lue is trying to give Wade public credit after coaxing it behind the scenes, the result is the same.

The Cavs can now use their most logical rotation, and they should be better for it.