Tag: Darius Morris

Kobe Bryant

ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Los Angeles Lakers


Last season: It was supposed to be yet another year spent contending for a championship for a storied Lakers franchise that already has 16 of them. L.A. loaded up with free agent talent in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, and was on paper the team most believed would stand in the way of a second straight Miami Heat title.

Instead, it was a season full of drama and disaster. The Lakers were decimated by injuries to nearly anyone that mattered, Howard struggled to embrace head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system and playing alongside Kobe Bryant, and the team snuck into the playoffs only to be swept in the first round by the Spurs.

If all of that wasn’t bad enough, Bryant went down with a torn Achilles injury near the end of last season that will have a lingering effect on the team entering this one.

Signature highlight from last season: Bryant’s Achilles injury and subsequent free throws that helped give the Lakers a much-needed late season win to keep their playoff hopes alive was a candidate here, as was Steve Nash, literally the best teammate in the game, losing his temper Dwight Howard. But those were both bummers for Lakers fans, so instead let’s revisit some vintage Bryant heroics during one of the team’s most exciting wins of the year.

Key player changes: The loss of Dwight Howard in free agency immediately dropped the Lakers out of championship contention in the eyes of most pundits. But L.A. did a nice job of adding talented role players at below market value to support the stars still in place on the roster.

  • IN: Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, and Wesley Johnson were all signed to guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season.
  • OUT: Dwight Howard choose to sign in Houston in free agency; Earl Clark did the same with the Cavaliers, as did Antawn Jamison, now with the Clippers. Metta World Peace was waived using the amnesty provision, and was picked up by the Knicks. Other seldom-used players who are no longer Lakers: Chris Duhon, Darius Morris, Devin Ebanks.

Keys to the Lakers season:

1) The health of Kobe Bryant: Recovering from an injury as severe as a torn Achilles is no small task, even for someone with a ruthless work ethic and insanely high pain tolerance as Kobe Bryant. While his rehabilitation appears to be going well and Bryant has said that he’s ahead of schedule, the timing of his return isn’t nearly as important as the quality of his play whenever he does see the court this season for the first time.

Assuming a healthy Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, with the latter playing in a contract year as the featured big man in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, there is still legitimate star power on the Lakers roster beyond whatever Bryant brings. He puts the team over the top, however, in terms of having enough talent to do real damage — but only if he’s back playing close to the level we’ve come to expect, at least for the majority of the season.

2) Pau Gasol returning to All-Star form: Ever since coming to the Lakers via trade during the 2008 season, Gasol has been the one who largely was blamed publicly when things weren’t right with the team. He’s been the constant subject of trade rumors, and due to a variety of factors, many thought it was a long shot that he’d even be back with the Lakers this season.

Gasol appears healthy now, and after being marginalized in favor of Dwight Howard, D’Antoni has spent every opportunity praising Gasol’s abilities, and seems genuinely excited about being able to feature him in the offense. There should be a monster year on the horizon for the Spaniard, and depending on what version of Bryant we see, Gasol’s return to form could help the Lakers overachieve by most people’s standards.

On the flip side, Gasol is in the final year of his contract, and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. If he stumbles at all or the team doesn’t produce wins in spite of his stellar play, the Lakers could look to dump him at the trade deadline in order to make sure they get something in return for a player of his caliber. A lot will hinge on Gasol’s play this season, both in terms of the team’s fortunes, as well as what the future may hold for him personally.

3) One word — Defense: The good news for the Lakers is that Mike D’Antoni has had a full training camp to put in his offense, and the Lakers have added players like Nick Young and Jordan Farmar who should thrive in his system while having no trouble putting up big numbers.

But D’antoni teams have never been known for their lock-down defense, and the personnel in place this year looks to be woefully inadequate on that end of the floor. Nash, Young, and Chris Kaman have a history of struggling defensively, yet all are expected to play big minutes this season. Bryant has proven he can play above average defense over the years, but was dreadful there a season ago, largely by personal choice.

These Lakers don’t have quite enough firepower to outscore teams, and don’t have nearly enough defensively to shut their opponents down for extended stretches .That middle ground is likely going to be troublesome to escape, and along with the uncertainty surrounding Bryant, it’s the primary reason that most have the Lakers finishing out of the playoffs.

Why you should watch: Well, the first reason is you won’t have much of a choice — the Lakers will be on national television 29 times. Beyond that, the intrigue surrounding how Bryant returns, what Nash has left to give in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career, and what ends up happening with Gasol are each reasons on their own, and combined they’ll make the Lakers as interesting as usual.

Prediction: 46-36, one more regular season win than last year’s supposed world-beater squad, and enough to secure one of the final two playoff spots in the West.

Look, there are six teams that are essentially guaranteed to make the postseason in the Western Conference, which only leaves two spots up for grabs. There are a lot of “ifs” surrounding this Lakers team, but I’m taking the optimistic approach on Kobe’s health and the overall team talent being enough to finish in seventh or eighth place when the regular season is finished.

ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Philadelphia 76ers

Sam Hinkie, Nerlens Noel

Last season: The 76ers went 34-48, the 11th time in the last 12 seasons they won between 33 and 48 games. They made the playoffs most seasons during that span, but they only one two postseason series. With the emergence of the NBA’s second-youngest All-Star last year, Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia seemed like it had a player who could lead them into another dozen years of bland playoff contention. Oh, Andrew Bynum was on the team, too, but he had no relevancy to the 76ers’ season other providing a massive distraction.

Signature highlight from last season: Fittingly, this sequence began with a 76er missing a long 2.

Key player changes: New 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie was mum on his plan until he made a huge draft-night trade, sending Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans for the No. 6 pick, which Philadelphia used on Nerlens Noel. On a clear rebuilding path, the 76ers also let Andrew Bynum, Dorell Wright and Nick Young leave in free agency. Philadelphia replaced them with younger and cheaper players like Tony Wroten and Darius Morris, who will have opportunities to play on a tanking 76ers team.

Philadelphia also hired a new coach to replace Doug Collins, former Spurs assistant Brett Brown.

Keys to the 76ers’ season:

1) How athletic is Nerlens Noel? Noel, injury aside, was by far the best prospect in the 2013 NBA Draft. His shot-blocking and steals numbers at Kentucky were elite, and great indicators of star-level athleticism. Of course, that didn’t mean Noel would be a guaranteed NBA success, especially in this draft, which was relatively weak at the top. But he was the best bet.

His ACL tear changed all that and was certainly the driving factor for his surprising draft-night tumble. At some point (though it might be 2014-15), the 76ers must assess whether the injury has any lingering effects for Noel. If not, they likely got a steal. If it does, Noel’s athleticism-dependent game might come apart.

2) Can Michael Carter-Williams become a starting point guard on a good team? Carter-Williams will be handed major minutes, because the 76ers are tanking, but he must develop to keep a starting job when Philadelphia actually gets good. That starts with his notoriously shaky jump shot, but transitioning to NBA defense after playing in Syracuse’s zone will also be an issue. Plus, Carter-Williams’ passing really fell off against quality opponents last season.

His size makes him an intriguing prospect, but Carter-Williams is very much a work in progress. Philadelphia will be looking for clues to his long-term outlook.

3) How much trade value do Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes have? Sam Hinkie must want to build this team in his image, and it’s unclear any of those three fit the blueprint. Turner and Hawes are free agents after the season, so if Hinkie doesn’t trade them, he risks losing them for nothing. Young is under contract for two to three more seasons, but he’s also a good player, someone who might help the 76ers win too much. If Young, Turner and/or Hawes play well, that means both they’ll have more trade value and they’ll help Philadelphia win more. Because the 76ers want to avoid wins, there’s a good chance they trade any of these three who play well.

Why you should watch the 76ers: If you’re a fan of Philadelphia’s opponent, it will be fun to watch your favorite team win.

For 76ers fans… um… hmmm… every loss stick it to David Stern. So, there’s that.

Prediction: 19-63. It’s difficult to project a team to finish much worse than this, but the 76ers will try. A better pick in the loaded 2014 draft means more to Philadelphia than a few extra meaningless wins, and newly hired Sam Hinkie has the job security to go that route. The 76ers are inexperienced, and there will be growing pains, but a high pick next summer would heal a lot of wounds.

76ers sign Darius Morris, he is likely to make squad

Darius Morris

Darius Morris couldn’t crack Mike D’Antoni’s tight rotation last season with the Lakers. He played sparingly until injuries in the playoffs forced D’Antoni’s hand and Morris started Game 3 against the Spurs in the first round. Morris put up 24 points (on just 15 shots) and had six assists, but he got torched at the other end of the floor and was a -28 in the Lakers 31-point blowout loss.

Now Morris is going to get a chance on the other coast — he has reached a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers this season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, something confirmed by CSNPhilly.com’s John Finger.

This is a two-year deal but neither season is fully guaranteed — the Sixers can cut him loose. However he is expected to make the roster and get a little run, reports Wojnarowski.

We’ll see how much. Just drafted Michael Carter-Williams will be the starting point in Philly, and behind him Tony Wroten (most recently of the Grizzlies) should get minutes. Morris is going to need to work his way into that rotation.

We’ll see if he can, the guy shot 38.8 percent overall last season — he shot 36 percent from three but struggled to finish in the paint and his midrange was shaky. But he’s also just 22 and that could improve with time, effort and a little more opportunity.

He’s going to get that with Brett Brown in Philly, we’ll see what he does with it.

Trey Burke ready to compete with new teammate point guards right now

Michigan v Louisville

NEW YORK – When Trey Burke committed to Michigan, the Wolverines still had Darius Morris. Though Morris’ NBA success as a Lakers second-round pick has been moderate at best, he was a star at Michigan.

Morris left early for the NBA before Burke arrived in Ann Arbor, but Burke’s preparation for playing with Morris could be helpful now. That’s because, whenever he hears his name called in Thursday’s NBA Draft, Burke will almost certainly join a team with a point guard who’s seen as more NBA-ready and/or possessing of more upside.

When discussing the Kings, Burke even mentioned Isaiah Thomas – “who was the 60th pick and showed that a lot of teams shouldn’t have passed up on him” – before DeMarcus Cousins, or any other Sacramento player for that matter.

But it’s not just the Kings who would present point-guard competition for Burke.

Burke considers his range in tomorrow NBA’s NBA Draft No. 2 to No. 8, and all the teams in that range already have point guards:

  • No. 2 Magic: Jameer Nelson
  • No. 3 Wizards: John Wall
  • No. 4 Bobcats: Kemba Walker
  • No. 5 Suns: Goran Dragic, Kendall Marshall
  • No. 6 Pelicans: Greivis Vasquez, Austin Rivers
  • No. 7 Kings: Isaiah Thomas
  • No. 8 Pistons: Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Jose Calderon (free agent)

Whichever of those teams draft Burke, those point guards better take notice. When preparing to playing with Morris, Burke developed a plan of attack for dealing with a potentially awkward situation.

“Well, it’s the offseason right now,” Burke said. “I wouldn’t say it’s great to compete with a teammate, but I think that’s the right thing to do right now. It will make not only me better, but him as well. Once the seasons starts, there’s no more competing between us.”

Burke said his ambitions were limited when he thought he’d share a roster with Morris – “compete for some minutes,” as Morris put it – but without the returning starter in the way, Burke soared.

Many Michigan fans questioned why Morris would turn pro just to become a second-round pick. By midway through Burke’s freshman season, they questioned whether Morris would have kept his starting job had he stayed.

Burke undoubtedly learned a lot from his experiences at Michigan that will prepare him for the NBA. But it’s the preparation for the experience he never had that could prove especially important.

“I’m in the same predicament right now,” Burke said. “Like I said, I love challenges. I think it makes me stronger, not only as a player, but as a person, mentally. I’m excited.”

Spurs bring Lakers season to its merciful conclusion with Game 4 win, sweep of the series

Lakers Dwight Howard reacts after being fouled by the Spurs during Game 4 in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — Coming into Sunday’s Game 4 against the Spurs and dealing with a mountain of injuries that has finally become insurmountable, the only thing left for the Lakers, who were just a single game from this season being brought to its merciful conclusion, was to see whether or not the team would come out with any fight.

“Let’s get people to talk about us, in the sense of, let’s win here and let’s go,” Mike D’Antoni said before the game, when asked what he told his players. “Let’s try to make a miracle. Why not? So they have that mindset, and I think they’ll give it everything they’ve got.”

The sad thing is, the effort the Lakers gave that resulted in a 103-82 destruction at the hands of the Spurs might have been just that — at least for the players that actually gave anything resembling an effort level appropriate for a playoff game, especially one that was more than likely to be the last of the season.

The cliche of playing with nothing to lose couldn’t have been more applicable to the dilapidated state of these Lakers, who are missing Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Metta World Peace, and of course, Kobe Bryant, all due to injury.

But while Pau Gasol put in a solid effort, and though Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock did what they could under the circumstances, the other two Lakers starters seemed to mail this game in from the very start.

Earl Clark didn’t arrive at Staples Center until about an hour before the game, which is much later than the customary minimum reporting time most teams have in place of 90 minutes before tip-off. He played like he was still warming up during the first quarter, where he had several defensive lapses and looked completely out of sync.

Dwight Howard decided just after halftime that he didn’t want to stick around for what was left of the season, picking up his second technical foul which got him ejected with 9:51 remaining in the third and with the Spurs leading by 21 points.

The only bright spot for the fans in attendance at Staples Center on Sunday afternoon came a few minutes after Howard went to the locker room, when Kobe Bryant came out of the tunnel on crutches to join what was left of his team by taking a seat behind the Lakers bench.

Bryant received a standing ovation and the loudest cheers of the afternoon, even as the game was going on and Tony Parker hit a jumper to push the Spurs lead to 60-39.

The game’s ultimate result was expected by anyone who’s been paying attention, but all the home crowd was looking for was a little fight out of what was left of their injury-ravaged team for one last time.

Instead, at the end of a season full of disappointments, all that was left was to add the Lakers’ Game 4 no-show to that very long list.