Luol Deng

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Are swirling trade rumors distracting young Lakers?

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The young Los Angeles Lakers are 3-7 in their last 10 (including a Christmas Day loss to the Timberwolves at home), and in there the team has the 23rd ranked offense in the league, and their usually stout defense has fallen to 19th in that stretch. Part of this is due to the bumps and grinds of the NBA season forcing good players out — both Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram sat on Christmas).

It also may be the trade rumors swirling around the team. With the Lakers looking to clear out two max cap slots headed into next July, the Lakers have tried to trade Luol Deng (but may be giving up on that), and the names of Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle have come up in trade buzz. Basically, anyone but Ball, Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma are available for the right price.

Veteran Andrew Bogut — subject of more than his share of trade rumors over the years — said the other day the rumors could be a distraction for some, speaking to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Everyone knows what is going on with the salary-cap situation next season and all that. That is just distractions that we can’t let affect us. That is part of the league, the business decisions that front offices and coaches make. So if that is distracting guys, that is going to be like that your whole career. That is just the nature of this league.”

Luke Walton echoed that on Christmas, this time as reported by the Orange County Register.

“I think that every team deals with it,” Walton said, “the outside influence. Whether it is one-year deals, or trade rumors in the media, whatever is going on in the outside world that as a player you read or hear about or agents tell you about, is a very real distraction…

“So don’t waste energy thinking about that,” he said, “don’t waste energy and mind and time capacity. Worrying about that type of thing is only going to hurt your own game. So those things are all true and all real for every team out there.”

This is part of being in the league, veteran players have learned to deal with it. However, for young players experiencing the first time their name pops up in trade rumors — which would completely uproot the lives they have established — it is disconcerting and distracting.

It is not just the Lakers, teams such as Philadephia and Minnesota will have to deal with this as well. Handling the rumors is part of being a young team, along with the conditioning wall rookies hit and the countless distractions of the NBA life. It’s the players who can focus through it all who stick and succeed in the league. Like Bogut has.

Report: Lakers have “given up” on trading Deng, won’t include picks, young star

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When Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss signed Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng to oversized deals a couple of summers ago, part of their logic was they could include them in trades to bring an elite player to Los Angeles — these were big contracts but for useful players who could be moved. It was a terrible misreading of those players and the market. For the Lakers to move Mozgov last summer they had to attach former No. 2 pick D'Angelo Russell (a guy the Lakers were ready to move on from after drafting Lonzo Ball, but still this is a high pick they had to throw in to make it work).

The Lakers aren’t adding enough to the mix to move Luol Deng and are likely not going to be able to trade him, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on their Full Court Press show (transcription via Lakers Outsiders).

“You talk to teams around the league, no one is bailing the Lakers out with Deng’s contract. They’re not. Teams have asked for multiple first-round picks. They’ve asked for Brandon Ingram. They’ll ask for Kyle Kuzma. The Lakers have essentially given up on the idea that they can trade Deng.”

The Lakers shouldn’t move their future picks (they can’t deal anything to 2020), they need to keep building their foundation.

However, the Lakers need to move Deng to create the cap space for two max contracts next summer, which is still the goal (even if they are a longshot to land LeBron James). Not being able to trade Deng for an expiring contract means the Lakers will have to waive and stretch him, or as Eric Pincus cleverly suggested extend him a couple years, then waive and stretch him to lower the annual hit (but it will go on longer).

Even if the Lakers do that, they will still need to trade Jordan Clarkson (something Wojnarowski said they are confident they can do) and trade, or just let walk, Julius Randle. The Lakers also could not bring back Brook Lopez orKentavious Caldwell-Pope (both free agents), and they would need to let go of Ivica Zubac, Thomas Bryant and Tyler Ennis. That’s a lot of good depth gone from the roster, essentially leaving the core (Ingram, Ball, Kuzma, Josh Hart, and Larry Nance Jr.) with the two max contract guys (if not LeBron, how about Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins?).

The Lakers likely will try to trade for Cousins or George at the deadline, but right now the Pelicans and Thunder are not moving those guys. The Lakers will have to wait to land them this summer.

Los Angeles also could sign just one max contract player this summer, then re-sign Randle or bring back Caldwell-Pope (or another non-max free agent) and count on growth. That likely does not make the Lakers instant contenders, but then again would adding Geroge and Cousins do that?

 

Report: Julius Randle ‘very unlikely to continue with Lakers’

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The Lakers have made no secret of their plan to chase two max free agents next summer.

LeBron James? Paul George? DeMarcus Cousins?

Los Angeles wants to be in the mix.

A wrinkle: Julius Randle will be a restricted free agent with a $12,447,727 cap hold.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

One player whose future is very unlikely to continue with the Lakers is Julius Randle.

Randle is arguably the Lakers’ best player right now, and he’s just 22. He shouldn’t be hastily cast aside.

Still, when the prize could be LeBron and George, renouncing Randle would be a small price to pay. That’s the simplest route to clearing major cap space.

In an ideal world for the Lakers, it wouldn’t come to that. They could trade Randle before February’s deadline for value. Knowing he might no longer fit in Los Angeles will drive down the Lakers’ return, but there’s still value in acquiring his Bird and matching rights. The Lakers could get a future draft pick that wouldn’t count against the cap next summer and might even be useful for unloading Luol Deng and/or Jordan Clarkson or even trade Deng and/or Clarkson with Randle now.

But what if the Lakers strike out on major free agents? They’d regret selling low on Randle now.

So, the Lakers could keep him into the summer as a hedge. If LeBron, George, Cousins, etc. sign elsewhere, the Lakers could re-sign Randle. But there’s always a chance Randle is unwilling to wait around for those stars to decide and presses the issue with an offer sheet. Even in the best-case scenario with keeping Randle past the trade deadline, two stars picking Los Angeles, the Lakers would lose Randle for nothing.

Now, it’s just a matter of the Lakers determining how aggressively they want to pursue outside free agents. They could go all-in and trade Randle before the deadline or hedge by waiting until the offseason to determine how to handle him.

Report: Luol Deng, Lakers working on trade, buyout options. It will happen, eventually

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Luol Deng started on opening night for the Lakers against the Clippers, and he played a little more than 13 minutes that night.

Deng hasn’t seen the court since.

With the Lakers focused on their deep pool of young, athletic fours — Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle, even a little Brandon Ingram — Deng isn’t in the team’s plans. Right now, he’s a veteran mentor for these young players, but he wants to be more than that. Deng wants to play.

Deng and his agent have talked to the Lakers about finding a deal, but it could be a while, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Deng said he and his agent, Jeff Austin from Octagon sports, have been working with the Lakers to find a resolution to the situation — either via trade or buyout — but he understands it may take weeks, months or even years to settle as he has two years and $26 million remaining on his contract after this year…

“You just never know. It could be a month, it could be a week, it could be three months,” Deng said. “I don’t want something to happen and I’m called upon but my shape holds me back. The challenge is to challenge yourself to be in better shape than if I was playing. Then if I fall short I’m still in good shape.”

It’s not going to be years, but a trade could come after the season. The Lakers want to move Deng and that $26 million before free agency opens next July 1, which would put them much closer to having space for two max contracts on the roster. Then they will go big game hunting. However, to get a team to take on Deng (and not send back a contract that goes beyond this season), the Lakers are going to have to attach one of those young assets — the smart money is on Randle — to the deal to make it work for the other side.

The Lakers could buyout Deng, even waive and stretch him, but that doesn’t get Deng completely off the books and would kill the two max contract dream. Meaning don’t expect to see this.

Deng, for his part, says he just wants to play and prove he can still do it at an NBA level. He’s in shape, he just wants the opportunity.

“I’ve always given it everything. Every single team that I’ve played for, every single person would tell you that I’ve given it everything every single day. That’s the toughest part for me because I’m so used to competing and giving it everything. I’m also used to not doing great and turning it around. My whole life, every time I’ve been down, I’ve found a way to turn it around.”

Three Things to Know: Damian Lillard knows what time it is

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Damian Lillard knows what time it is, drains game winner to beat Lakers. Portland was hot all night from three, starting the game 6-of-7 from deep and racing out to an 18-point lead early. The young Lakers fought back to make it a game in the second and third (thanks in part to the fact Portland is terrible on defense), but more and more as the game went on Blazers’ coach Terry Stotts started calling Damian Lillard’s number, both as the pick-and-roll ball handler, and in isolation. The Lakers had no answer.

Lillard finished the night with 32 points on 18 shots, he got to the line 14 times, and when the game was on the line Stotts called for a Lillard isolation. Luke Walton countered with the very long Brandon Ingram on him (why not Kentavious Caldwell-Pope?), but it didn’t matter. It’s Lillard time.

2) Bad news: Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr. breaks hand. Good news: this is team making strides. The news first: Luke Walton is going to have to find a new starting power forward for a while because Larry Nance Jr. fractured the second metacarpal in his left hand against the Blazers and is out indefinitely. Nance left the game in the third quarter after contact with Caleb Swanigan and did not return, the Lakers say he will be evaluated by team doctors Friday and a timeline will be established. Nance has averaged 11.1 points and 7.9 rebounds a game this season. Walton has to now figure out who starts in his place. Julius Randle had the starting job going into training camp and could get it back, but Walton likes Randle as a spark with the second unit so my guess is Kyle Kuzma gets the call (he had 22 points vs. Portland, but he struggles defensively). If Walton wanted to go with a veteran, Corey Brewer or Luol Deng are available.

As for the Lakers, the team is getting a little better each game, but this is what learning hard lessons feels like. The NBA is an unforgiving place. The Lakers battled back from being 18 down early and led by as many as five points in the fourth, and that’s a good sign, but closing out the Trail Blazers in Portland is hard for any team. The Lakers still have a top 10 defense this season (10th now), and they are putting out effort on that end, but their rotations are not sharp and good offenses like Portland’s will pick that apart. The Lakers’ defensive numbers will get worse, but they are improved on that end.

Lonzo Ball was much more passive than normal (0-of-2 shooting, 4 assists), not pushing the tempo in transition and not looking for his shot off picks despite the Portland big man laying off and daring him to shoot. Ball can pass, but he has to become comfortable as a shooter/scorer, that includes being better at attacking off the dribble into that space when teams play back and scoring at the rim. He’s not a threat as a scorer most nights (he scored in single digits six of the eight Lakers game) and the league is adjusting to him. Ball and Brook Lopez also learned some hard lessons about playing pick-and-roll defense, where Jusuf Nurkic tore them up as the roll man and finished with 28 points (the Laker help rotations were slow all night) and in the second half Lillard torched them. It’s a process, but Lakers fans have reason to be optimistic.

3) Spurs come out strong, go up 19 on Warriors… and it doesn’t matter. Golden State is back. San Antonio came out with great energy — they were deflecting passes and knocking the ball out of Warriors’ hands, plus contesting everything. LaMarcus Aldridge had 11 first quarter points, and after a 21-3 run the Spurs had a 19-point lead before the quarter ended.

It didn’t matter. Golden State found its groove, went on a 15-4 run before halftime and a 20-8 run to open the third quarter and that was the ballgame. The Warriors shot 51.8 percent overall, 50 percent from three, and held San Antonio 35.9-percent shooting in the second half. The Warriors we all expected are back, they have cured their championship hangover, and the rest of the league is searching for answers they will not find.

Klay Thompson had 27 points, Kevin Durant 24, and Stephen Curry had 21. Draymond Green pitched in 16 plus was key defensively, as always.