Kurt Helin

51 Q: Will Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov justify their long-term costs to Lakers?

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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season. Today:

Will Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov justify their long-term costs to Lakers?

When we talk about the Lakers heading into this season, we talk about the future. We speak of potential, development, and patience. We talk about their young and promising core of D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., and rookie Brandon Ingram.

But that’s not where the Lakers spent their money this summer.

Free agency was just hours hold when the Lakers agreed to give Timofey Mozgov a four-year, $64 million contract — a move that was almost universally panned.

Within 48 hours of that, the Lakers gave Luol Deng four-years, $72 million.

That’s a lot of money for two guys on the wrong side of 30 who do not match the career arcs of that young core. That’s a lot of money for a team that had talked about hoarding cap space to make a run at an impressive (although shrinking, see Russell Westbrook) crop of free agents next summer.

Will the Lakers get their money’s worth from those two deals?

Or, three years from now, will those contracts be seen as anchors on an up-and-coming team’s path back to contention?

Lakers fans are understandably skittish after the kind of Carlos Boozer/Roy Hibbert moves the front office made in recent years, signings that felt like a team trying to tank without looking like they were trying to tank.

The Mozgov and Deng contracts are better than that. These aren’t the signings of a team seeking to tank.

Whether the Lakers come to regret those contracts will come down to how much production they get from the pair the next two seasons, then if they can move the deals in the final years. These signings were about more than mentors for the young core now, it was about having viable trade pieces to interest teams should a star player — hypothetically, an elite center playing about a six-hour drive to the north — come available.

No doubt, the Lakers overpaid for this crop of veterans — particularly Mozgov. But that’s also where the Lakers are right now. It’s not like they had somewhere else to spend that money — they couldn’t even get a meeting with Kevin Durant or Al Horford. A legendary history and a big brand aren’t enough on their own anymore. If you think the answer is to sit on that money until next summer, the Lakers aren’t going to be in a position to land an elite free agent then, either. The Lakers need to win some games, develop a new culture, and develop that young core to the point that a top free agent wants to come to L.A. because he knows he can win. Think Horford going to Boston. The Celtics won 48 games last season, then they got the big free agent. The Lakers need a couple of seasons to get to that point.

In the short term, the Lakers went looking for veterans who can both help that young core develop and help the team win a few more games. Clearly, Lakers’ management wants to be done with the 17-win seasons like the last one — Kobe Bryant isn’t around to fill Staples Center every night while the youngsters learn on the job. Luke Walton has talked about playing veterans to get wins and bringing guys like Ingram off the bench until they earn their spots.

However, management also has to know this team is in a development process that will take years and can’t be shortcut.

Regarding veteran guidance — guys that can help change a locker room chemistry that was strained at times under the old-school style of former coach Byron Scott — the Lakers couldn’t have spent their money much better. Both Mozgov and Deng are respected and well-liked teammates. They are guys that can show the youngsters how to prepare and act like professionals (an influence they did not get from Nick Young last season).

On the court, it’s easy to see what role Luke Walton is picturing for Mozgov — a poor man’s Andrew Bogut. The question becomes: Will Walton have the healthy Mozgov of a couple of seasons ago who may be able to fill that role, or will he have the injured and slow one of last season that fell out of the Cavaliers’ rotation? Even when healthy Mozgov isn’t going to be described as fleet of foot, and basically playing on one leg last season — he admitted he rushed back from knee surgery too quickly — he was easy to expose if dragged into pick-and-rolls. He was a defensive mess.

Two seasons ago Mozgov shot 59 percent during the regular season, then was critical in the playoffs for Cleveland when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were injured and Mozgov’s gritty style fit what the team needed (he had 28 points in Game 4 of those Finals). He anchored the paint defensively — Cleveland allowed just 96.4 points per 100 possessions when was on the floor those playoffs (it jumped 8.4 per 100 when he sat). Walton can use that Mozgov: Anchor the paint on defense, get rebounds, and set brick wall-like picks for Russell and Clarkson (and sometimes Ingram).

Deng is just a rock solid veteran who can do a little of everything. He defends well, he can score inside, he has a jumper, and he can play the three or a small ball four. Players such as Randle and Ingram aren’t yet ready for big time NBA defensive assignments, Deng can take those. He can be the Lakers’ glue.

This year’s Lakers should take a step forward from dismal outings of the past couple seasons — there should be hope, not just the distraction of Kobe’s final season — but they are not a playoff bound team. Getting into the low 30s in wins would be real progress. The Lakers give up their pick in next year’s draft (now belonging to the Sixers) if it is not in the top three. Barring a lottery miracle, it should not be.

This Laker team should be competitive — not good yet, but putting up a fight most nights. That’s the culture Luke Walton wants to build, it’s part of the reason Mozgov and Deng got paid. They can help create it.

The question is, in three seasons will the Lakers still have these guys on the books, and if so will those large contracts be anchors on the team’s growth? How will the new Collective Bargaining Agreement — to be pounded out before next season starts, one way or another — impact those long-term plans for the Lakers? And where do Deng and Mozgov fit into all of this?

In the short term the Lakers should get some value for those signings, but if those players are both Lakers in the last year of those contracts, Los Angeles will regret the deals.

Lakers’ Brandon Ingram texted with Andre Iguodala about how to improve defense

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There’s a lot to like about Brandon Ingram‘s game. He is a fluid athlete, can shoot the three, has a good hoops IQ, has good handles (allowing him to be on either end of a pick-and-roll) and at Summer League looked like someone with the potential to be a modern NBA four down the line. Once he gets stronger. Every time a Lakers fan sees Ingram around town they should buy him a protein shake.

Ultimately, Ingram might develop into a better defender than an offensive player. He wants to be good on the defensive end, and he has gotten advice from NBA veterans as part of the USA Select team. He also talked to the Warriors best wing defender, Andre Iguodala, Ingram told Collin Cowherd on Fox Sports Radio (hat tip and transcription by Eye on Basketball).

“Well, the NBA veterans that I’ve been around, they always try to help. Even guys from other teams. When I played with the USA Select Team, all those guys were giving me advice. Even guys playing pickup coming to the Lakers facility. (Including) Andre Iguodala….

“I watch a lot of his play defensively. He’s a great defensive guy. I even text with him sometimes, and he just tells me it’s going to be a process, but I have a chance to be special on the defensive end and offensive end.”

This is fairly common, by the way. NBA players view themselves as being in a fraternity of the world’s elite players, and most veterans are willing to pass along their knowledge to young players who bother to ask and listen. Not enough young players ask, but veterans are willing to help. Regardless of team.

Ingram is athletic and freakishly long, which could help him develop into an excellent defender. He’s got to get stronger, and he needs experience on that end, but the potential is there.

Iguodala is right, everything about Ingram is going to be a process. Watching him at Summer League you could see why the Lakers took him with the No. 2 pick, but you could also see he has a long way to go to reach his potential. That he is working out with and talking to veterans trying to learn is a good sign.

Report: Spurs to bring veteran Joel Anthony to camp

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The Spurs’ roster for next season is basically set. They have 14 guaranteed contracts, one below the maximum they could carry into the season, but they may choose to leave that last spot empty for flexibility.

But they are looking for good veteran depth to bring into training camp, and they may have found it in Joel Anthony. He’s getting a non-guaranteed camp invite according to Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News.

The 34-year-old spent the last two seasons with the Detroit Pistons, who then waived him in July before signing former Spur Boban Marjanovic. Anthony, who is 6-foot-9, adds more veteran front court depth for the Spurs, who will enter camp with LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Dewayne Dedmon, and David Lee as the only other experienced big men on the roster.

Anthony is basically a 6’9″ defensive specialist who doesn’t want or need the ball much on the offensive end. Anthony can get blocks still, but his post defense has slipped.

It’s hard to see how he fits into the Spurs plans, this was a guy who couldn’t get off the bench much in Detroit last season. But he will get some money and a look in Spurs camp.

Report: Boston’s Kelly Olynyk could miss start of season recovering from shoulder surgery

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Kelly Olynyk knew he needed shoulder surgery this summer, a right shoulder arthroscopy following a dislocation late last season. However, he considered putting it off if his presence could have helped his native Canada qualify for the Olympics. He eventually thought better of it and had the surgery in early June.

The surgery has an estimated five-month recovery time, which was already going to have him missing training camp and maybe the start of the season.

That timeline hasn’t changed, Olynyk could miss the start of the season, something that impacted his trade value this summer wrote A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com.

The timetable for his return is sometime next month, but could spill into the start of the regular season. Unsure of how he will perform once he’s back on the floor, that’s likely to cool teams off from inquiring about him too much.

But Olynyk is very much a player to keep an eye on in terms of trade possibilities. He has a tremendous offensive skill set when it comes to shooting or putting the ball on the floor. But throughout his time in Boston, he has been inconsistent with his play. Far too often he will look to get others involved when he has the greatest mismatch for the Celtics to exploit. It’s a tough balancing act, for sure. Better recognition is one of those things Olynyk has to get better at.

Boston landed one star in Al Horford this summer as a free agent, but they are still on the hunt for another alpha, another All-Star level talent that can help propel this team to contender status. That very well may mean a trade, and if one goes down there’s a good chance Olynyk is part of the package.

Boston will not offer an extension of Olynyk’s rookie deal, making him more valuable as a trade asset.

Olynyk has developed into a solid stretch four (or five in a small lineup) who scored 10 points a game and shot better than 40 percent from three for Boston last season. Once healthy, he will get a fair amount of run for the Celtics off the bench.

Willie Mays gave Kevin Durant first pitch advice before Giants game

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If Kevin Durant breaks out an over-the-shoulder catch playing for the Warriors this season, we’ll know who coached him.

Durant — who signed with Golden State this summer — threw out the first pitch when the Cardinals visited the Giants Sunday. He got some pregame advice from one of the greatest to ever play the game, Willie Mays.

Then KD got in a little practice.

The results? A strike.

After that, the Giants promptly went out and were shut out by the Cardinals (two teams in the middle of the wild card chase). So maybe Durant doesn’t get invited back for a while.