NBA Season Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

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Last season: 57-25, second seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The trip to the postseason was shorter than usual for the then-back-to-back defending champs, as they were unceremoniously swept out of the second round by the eventual champion Mavericks.

Head Coach: Mike Brown takes the helm in his first season with the Lakers after Phil Jackson finished 11 in Los Angeles, going to the finals seven times during that span and winning five NBA titles. Brown of course has the experience of coaching a team led by one of the league’s best players, as he was the man in Cleveland responsible for guiding LeBron James and company to the best regular season record in the league a couple of times, along with a trip to the NBA Finals.

Key Departures: Lamar Odom was traded away to the defending champion Mavericks, after the deal that would have brought Chris Paul to the Lakers was vetoed by the league office. Odom was hurt by this, and immediately requested a trade. And for some reason, the Lakers decided to immediately grant this request. Someone might have wanted to remind the Lakers’ front office that just because a player asks to be traded, you don’t have to give him away for nothing just to appease him. If that were the case, Kobe Bryant would have been gone in the summer of 2007.

Oh, and Shannon Brown signed a one-year deal in Phoenix as a free agent.

Key Additions: Does a Traded Player Exception count? Because that’s what the Lakers received from Dallas in return for the league’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year. If you’re looking for actual bodies that L.A. added, then we have Josh McRoberts and Jason Kapono — both of whom are substantially worse than the departed players whose minutes they’ll likely be taking.

Best case scenario: The Lakers were not a team that was completely broken, despite their shortcomings in the playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks. L.A. was gassed after three straight trips to the Finals, and mentally, believing that somehow once the playoffs began that they would magically solve all of the problems that were evident during the regular season wasn’t a great place to be. The Lakers got what they deserved against Dallas, but talent-wise, they were just fine. That’s no longer the case entering this season.

Trading Odom away for nothing more than a traded player exception — collective bargaining agreement jargon for empty salary cap space to acquire somebody else, so, essentially, thin air — is, by itself, a terrible move from the Lakers’ front office. When you add the fact that they gave Odom to the Mavericks, the very team that beat them four straight times in last year’s playoffs, well, on paper, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Now, if that was step one to clearing some cap space to help the Lakers acquire Dwight Howard, then fine. But as of right now, Howard is off the trading block, and the Magic seem content to start the season with him on their roster. At some point, the Magic will likely look to trade Howard, in order to get something in return instead of the nothing they’d receive if he left at the end of the upcoming season as an unrestricted free agent. But with Howard waffling recently on the intensity of his desire to leave Orlando, it’s not a guarantee that he will be traded at all, much less to the Lakers.

Right now, with the loss of Odom and the less than inspiring roster additions that the Lakers have managed to make thus far, the best case for a successful season in Los Angeles — meaning, at minimum, a trip to the Finals — is acquiring Dwight Howard. Short of that, losing depth while helping the defending champs seems like a step or two in the wrong direction, and teams like the Thunder and Grizzlies are as strong as they were last season, if not stronger. Getting out of the West with less talent than before isn’t likely, so really, the Lakers need to pin their hopes on acquiring Howard, while still keeping either Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum on the roster.

For that to happen: The Magic will have to start slowly, and Howard will need to once again realize that the Magic have failed to provide him with the correct pieces necessary to win not one, not two … well, at least a single NBA championship. With Kobe Bryant waiting in Los Angeles — along with Gasol or Bynum, one of which would have to stay to make it worth the Lakers’ while, at least in the short term — the Lakers should be the preferred option for Howard if and when he should once again tell his current team that he won’t be back next season.

More likely the Lakers will: Begin their descent into mediocrity as Kobe Bryant plays out his final few seasons as angry and disgruntled as ever? Not just yet. But if the current roster is the one the Lakers are forced to go into battle with for the duration of this season, it’s tough to envision them doing much better than a deep trip into the Western Conference playoffs, when successful seasons for this core group of players are measured only by championships.

Prediction: 48-18, third seed in the Western Conference.

Three Things to Know: Joel Embiid is having fun again, which was bad news for Boston

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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) Joel Embiid is having fun again, which was bad news for Boston. This is how special a player Joel Embiid is: After dropping 22 and 10 on Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets on Tuesday night in a Sixers win, Shaq and Charles Barkley (on TNT’s Inside the NBA) ripped Embiid for not being dominant enough.

This is how special a player Joel Embiid was Thursday night: Boston’s Enes Kanter had probably his best game as a Celtics’ big man, and he couldn’t even slow Embiid, who had 38 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists. Embiid was the best player on the floor and was having fun in a 115-109 Philadelphia win on the road.

Shaq and Barkley are right to a degree, and Embiid even admitted as much after the game — he can be more dominant than he has shown this season. “Maybe. I do think they are right. I do need to be more aggressive. Look to impose myself. Look to dominate,” Embiid said, via Noah Levine at NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I think the whole season I haven’t done that and you can see the ways it’s affecting my efficiency and my stats. I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominate. I get what they are saying. I think they are right and I gotta make a change.”

Of course, Shaq won his rings when he didn’t have to be that dominant every night because he had someone else who could step up and take over (Kobe, Dwyane Wade). Nobody is sure who that would be on the Sixers. Tobias Harris stepped up with 23 points in this game, but Ben Simmons just has not been the guy the Sixers need. He finished the night with 7 points on 2-of-6 shooting. Josh Richardson seems to have more pick-and-roll chemistry with Embiid than Simmons. Still, Simmons makes a few plays every game that shows what he can be.

Philly also won this game because their defense was impressive in the second half. Their length bothered Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who shot a combined 8-of-27.

When the Sixers defend like they did in the second half, and when Embiid is dominant like he was, Philadelphia looks like the second-best team in the East and a threat to Milwaukee. We just haven’t seen it consistently this season.

Boston has now lost back-to-back games to good East teams — Indiana and Philadelphia — and while it’s just December and far too early to panic, it also shows why Boston may want to be active around the trade deadline if they can find a good deal (but stop with the Kevin Love talk, that’s not happening).

2) Former NBA Commissioner David Stern suffers brain hemorrhage, has to undergo emergency surgery. David Stern collapsed at a Manhattan restaurant on Thursday and was raced to a hospital where he underwent emergency surgery for a brain hemorrhage. That means bleeding in or around the brain, and that is as bad and life-threatening as it sounds.

The NBA released this statement.

“NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage earlier today for which he underwent emergency surgery.  Our thoughts and prayers are with David and his family.”

The reaction around the NBA was immediate.

Stern, 77, took over as NBA commissioner back when Finals games were shown on tape delay after midnight on major networks. Stern came along at the right time — first the Magic/Bird era and rivalry, then Michael Jordan — but he understood what an opportunity this was for the league and changed how it marketed itself, it became a league of stars. That remains to this day. He grew the NBA into one of the most dominant sports leagues on the planet.

Our thoughts are with him and his family.

3) Luka Doncic muy impresionante in Mexico City. There were “M-V-P! M-V-P!” chants in the Arena Ciudad de Mexico Thursday night — Mexico City loves Luka Doncic.

Doesn’t everyone right now?

Doncic did everything right Thursday, from addressing the crowd pregame in fluent Spanish (he played for Real Madrid in Spain before coming to the NBA) to dropping a 41-point triple-double on the Pistons to get the Mavericks another win, 122-111. Doncic finished the night with 41 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Seth Curry added 30 as the Pistons found out just how good that Dallas offense is. Kristaps Porzingis scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half and got Andre Drummond’s attention.

Dallas is 17-7 on the season and looks like a team that could have home court for the first round of the playoffs.

Former NBA Commissioner David Stern undergoes emergency surgery following brain hemorrhage

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Let’s hope this is not as serious as it sounds.

David Stern, the man at the helm of the NBA through its explosion of popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, collapsed in a New York restaurant Thursday and had to be rushed to a local hospital, where brain surgery was required.

Here is the NBA’s statement on the matter.

“NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage earlier today for which he underwent emergency surgery.  Our thoughts and prayers are with David and his family.”

The call to NYFD came in around 2 p.m., and he was taken from a restaurant straight to the hospital, according to reports.

Stern, 77, was a strong-willed leader when the NBA needed a direction. When he took over NBA Finals games were shown on tape delay after midnight on major networks. Stern oversaw the growth in the league’s popularity through the Magic/Bird era of the 1980s and into the Michael Jordan era of the 1990s. He grew the game and the league not only within domestic borders but internationally, branding the NBA as the best basketball played on the planet.

Our thoughts are with him and his family, hoping for a speedy recovery.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis pleads no contest to assault outside L.A. nightclub

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former NBA player Ronald Glen Davis avoided jail time after pleading no contest to a charge that he attacked a man outside a Los Angeles-area nightclub last year, prosecutors said Thursday.

Davis, 33, was accused of throwing the victim into a wall during an altercation in West Hollywood on April 8, 2018.

He entered his plea Wednesday to one felony count of battery with serious bodily injury, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said.

As part of a plea agreement, Davis is required to complete 320 hours of community labor over the next year. If he meets that condition and breaks no other laws, the battery count will be reduced to a misdemeanor, prosecutors said.

Davis also paid $104,479 in restitution.

Known by the nickname “Big Baby,” Davis played for the Boston Celtics, the Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Clippers. Since retiring from the NBA he played in the Big3, where his team the Power won the 2018 title.

Another report Knicks president Steve Mills is on hot seat

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We’ve discussed these reports before, and they shouldn’t be a surprise:

Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry are on the hot seat and could be removed after the season. This time the report comes from the well-connected Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

Several members of the organization said this week that they fully expect Mills will be replaced as team president at the end of the season — if not sooner — unless the club somehow turns things around…

A source said last week that Mills and Perry are under significant pressure following the firing of head coach David Fizdale. If Mills is let go the Knicks will likely turn their attention to Toronto exec Masai Ujiri. Sam Presti also has fans within the organization. If Mills was let go in season, the expectation is that Perry would take over for the remainder of the year.

On head coaching front, we can add that Jason Kidd and Mark Jackson have support within the organization.

Let’s leave the head coaching rumors alone for now, because whoever is the guy with the hammer in the front office next summer is the guy who should make that call.

Two things should concern Knicks fans here.

First, the report states Mills likely is replaced “unless the club somehow turns things around.” There is a long and storied list of horrific trades made by POBOs/GMs desperate to save their jobs. The kind of moves that ties the hands of whoever comes in next for years. If owner James Dolan is serious about bringing in someone with a track record of success — and giving them complete and total authority — then Dolan can’t let Mills start making desperation trades at the deadline to try and save his job. If interim coach Mike Miller can start winning with this roster as is, that’s different (and highly unlikely), but don’t let Mills mess up the future to marginally improve the present.

Second is this question: Will Mills be re-assigned to a new position with the Knicks — so Dolan keeps his man in the building — or is he shown the door? That will be the tell about the future of the Knicks. Phil Jackson, the executive with the most power in the past couple of decades for the Knicks, was not allowed to remove Mills (among other times he was handcuffed in making changes). Not having that power is why at least one big-name candidate told NBC Sports he stepped back during the last team president hiring process. There is zero chance Ujiri or Presti or any other candidate with options takes the job if Mills just gets shuffled around again.

It’s the Knicks and James Dolan, predict what will happen at your own risk.