What the Lakers should do when the lockout ends

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Welcome to the first installment of a fun lockout series here at PBT… okay, there nothing is fun about the lockout. It blows. But whenever it ends teams are going to have to scramble to fill holes and make moves. What follows is a discussion of what the Los Angeles Lakers need to do to when the lockout ends. Tomorrow we will feature the Dallas Mavericks, and from there we will work our way through all 30 teams. Enjoy.

Last season in Los Angeles: The Lakers came in as the two-time defending champions and won an impressive 57 games, but there was no aura of invincibility around this team. They had losing streaks and as the season wore on the team looked mentally and physically tired. That culminated in the second round of the playoffs, when a Mavericks team hitting their stride swept the Lakers. Los Angeles seemed unwilling and unable to step up their game and make adjustments.

Since we last saw the Lakers: Phil Jackson walked away, all the way from Los Angeles to Montana, where he is sitting on the porch on his ranch and not thinking giving a fleeting thought to hoops. Former Cavs head man Mike Brown was brought in as coach. The players wanted Brian Shaw, but Jim Buss (the guy calling the shots in L.A. now) wanted to sweep all things Jackson out of the organization. The result is a new offensive philosophy and talk of new defensive commitment.

In terms of players, there has been very little change. The core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and dancing Ron Artest (soon to be Metta World Peace) all are still under contract.

When the lockout ends, the Lakers need to… get a new point guard and get behind Mike Brown.

Brown has sounded like a guy who has got the right idea — if the Lakers are going to win another title it will be because they use more Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, allowing Kobe Bryant to pick his spots. He cannot carry a team to a title now. Brown has talked about using parts of the Spurs offense from their twin-towers era of Tim Duncan and David Robinson). It’s a smart move.

But Derek Fisher and Steve Blake — the two point guards on the Lakers roster — are not going to be able to run that show. Not well enough. Which means the Lakers need a new point guard. The free agent market is not loaded with good players (unless you think T.J. Ford is a good player, and if you do we need to talk).

The Lakers may have to trade for a point guard (hard to say right now who becomes available once teams see the new labor deal).

There is not a lot of trade bait on the Lakers roster. Some Lakers fans want Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol moved, but neither of those guys is going anywhere unless a Dwight Howard-level player is coming back. Nor should they be — you win by going big, not point guards. The more likely move is something like Lamar Odom for a reasonable point guard and a backup big. But even that will not be easy to pull off for GM Mitch Kupchak.

Even if the Lakers do not make a move before the season, the bigger issue is buying in and being committed to what Brown wants to install. The Lakers don’t have a year to blow protesting a coach, their championship window is open but not much longer.

Darius, the guy behind the Lakers blog Forum Blue & Gold, told us exactly that in an email.

The Lakers need to get into the gym to work on the X’s and O’s that new coach Mike Brown is implementing in order to be as comfortable as possible with the new schemes when the games start. The Lakers may be a veteran team that is viewed as easily adaptable, but they’re also abandoning a long established system in a (potentially) shortened off-season. That change brings a loss of comfort and any lack of commitment from the players can sink the season before it even starts. They’ll need to learn what the new coach wants, conform to the new approach, and execute at a high level right out of the gate. There will be little time for floundering; not when the reigning champ resides in their conference and teams like the Thunder, Grizzlies, Spurs, and Blazers look to build on their own foundations for success.

Kobe may have wanted Shaw as a coach, but he wants a ring more. And the only way he gets another one is to be fully on board with Brown and bring the team with him. If that happens, and the Lakers get better play at the point, they are title contenders.

Russell Westbrook has beef with Joel Embiid after hard foul (VIDEO)

Associated Press
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Russell Westbrook is always looking for something — real or imagined — to use as motivational fuel.

He found something real Saturday in Joel Embiid.

With 1:46 left in a close game on national television, Westbrook was off to the races in transition with just Embiid back and the result was a hard foul.

Westbrook was pissed after the game thinking this was not just a hard foul (warning, NSFW language):

Embiid essentially shrugged.

The actual foul was hard but a bit of a fluke. Embiid went up to block the layup/dunk but Westbrook lost his dribble for a second, and the result was an airborne Embiid crashing into Westbrook. Hard. Was there a little bit extra in there? Depends on if you’re on Team Westbrook or Team Embiid.

But the NBA could use more feuds, so bring it on.

The Thunder went on to beat the 76ers on a Paul George game-winner.

Celtics’ Marcus Smart goes after Hawks’ Deandre Bembry, gets ejected

Associated Press
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Marcus Smart will be lucky if all he has to do is write a check to the league office. This is the kind of thing that can lead to a suspension.

Midway through the third quarter in Atlanta Saturday, Boston’s Smart picked up his second technical foul jawing with Atlanta’s DeAndre Bembry before a jump ball. That got him ejected. But it was when it charged back after Bembry rather than leaving the floor that the real trouble started.

Predicting the league office on fines/suspensions is like predicting a roulette table, but that looks like it could cost Smart a game. Smart had picked up his earlier technical arguing calls.

Boston came from behind to win Saturday in Atlanta, with Kyrie Irving leading the way scoring 32.

Bucks to retire jersey Marcus Johnson’s number

via NBA.com
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Marcus Johnson is a Milwaukee legend. He averaged 21 points a game in his seven seasons with the Bucks and is sixth on the all-time franchise list in points (10,980), is its all-time leader in offensive rebounds (1,468), is third in total rebounds (3,923), and made 4,546 during his time in Milwaukee. He is now a color commenter for the team.

Now, the team is going to retire his No. 8.

The ceremony will be March 24, a story broken by the Journal-Sentinel.

Johnson will be the ninth Bucks player to have his number retired and the first since the team’s move to its new home Fiserv Forum.

Current Bucks legend Giannis Antetokounmpo told the Journal-Sentinel he was happy. Antetokounmpo turned to Johnson at points for help with footwork, post moves, and more.

“I’m really happy for him, I think he deserves to have his jersey retired,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s amazing. He’s just sitting down there like a normal person, but this guy was one of the best players in the league when he was playing. … He’s a legend.”

Johnson won an NCAA national championship at UCLA under the legendary John Wooden before going on to an NBA career that included five All-Star appearances and three All-NBA teams.

Paul George hits game winner, lifts Thunder past 76ers 117-115

Associated Press
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Paul George converted a four-point play with 5.1 seconds left, sending Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder to a wild 117-115 victory over Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.

George’s clutch shot capped a wild finish that included another memorable exchange with Westbrook and Embiid. Westbrook hit the floor out of bounds under the basket after a foul by Embiid late in the game, and Westbrook fouled out with 14.9 seconds remaining after he got Embiid while shooting a 3-pointer.

Embiid made all three foul shots, tying it at 113, and Jimmy Butler‘s driving layup put Philadelphia in front with 6.9 seconds to go. But George drained a 3 while being fouled by Butler and made the foul shot.

Philadelphia had one last chance, but Butler missed a 3-point attempt in the final seconds. The 76ers have lost 19 in a row to the Thunder.

George finished with 31 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Westbrook had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for Oklahoma City, and reserve Dennis Schroder also scored 21 points.

The Thunder had dropped five of six, including a 138-128 overtime loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.

Embiid, who was a game-time decision because of back tightness, had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists. JJ Redick scored 22 points for Philadelphia, and Ben Simmons finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.

Oklahoma City led by as many as 16 points in the first quarter, but Philadelphia rallied in the second and trailed 59-56 at the break.