Lakers need big changes — which means trading a big man

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It’s obvious the Lakers need changes. Big changes.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are younger, deeper, more athletic and just flat out better. And they are not going anywhere for a few years. That’s not to mention up-and-coming contenders like the Clippers in the West that are passing where the Lakers seem stuck on the side of the road.

If Kobe Bryant wants to compete with those teams in the next few years and get a sixth ring, the Lakers need to revamp their roster. Which is no simple thing because they are way over the salary cap with $80 million committed for next season (Kobe makes $27 million alone), no draft picks of consequence and no trade assets other teams want.

Well, the Lakers do have some trade assets — Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum. The Lakers don’t have a choice — they are going to have to break up their core and trade a big man to rework this roster.

But even that is not simple. For all you Lakers fans out there planning out your Gasol trade, remember this —Bynum’s contract is up after next season and that puts the Lakers in the same spot as the Orlando Magic with Dwight Howard. If Bynum does not commit long term, the Lakers have to consider moving him rather than losing him for nothing.

On top of it all, remember Lakers fans that the new CBA’s punitive tax scale kick in soon so the Lakers need to reduce their payroll.

It’s a mess. You can get younger and cheaper through the draft but the Lakers don’t have draft picks to speak of (the Cavaliers have L.A.’s first-round pick this year). The Lakers are over the luxury tax which means can basically only offer one a mini mid-level exemption worth $3 million and then veteran minimum contracts to bring in new players. Los Angeles can re-sign free agents like Matt Barnes, Jordan Hill and youngsters like Andrew Goudelock and Devin Ebanks, but that’s not changing anything really.

Which means the Lakers are going to shop Gasol this summer — he was the odd man out in Mike Brown’s offense. Literally. Bynum got the low left block and Gasol had to operate from the elbow (or farther out, because the Lakers had no other shooters as threats) and rarely got touches in his comfort zone. Kobe threw him under the bus in the playoffs and their relationship seems strained. At best.

Gasol is set to make $19 million next year and the Lakers could get a couple of pieces back if they shop him around — not players as good as him but maybe fits in the system. They will get depth. What they will not be able to do is replicate the Chris Paul trade and get a superstar (and save money in the process), however.

But if you trade Gasol, do you keep Bynum as the future centerpiece for this season and the five years beyond that? The Lakers will pick up Bynum’s $16.5 million option for next season but has he shown the temperament and maturity to build your franchise around in a post-Kobe era? Do you believe he can stay healthy for multiple years? Is this guy your rock at the heart of the franchise?

Bynum would be an interesting trade piece (the Lakers likely would still move him for Dwight Howard fi they could). If you trade the young All-Star you would likely get a great return, is it better to do that and keep Gasol? (I know some Lakers fans told me on twitter the teams should trade both, those fans are fools, big talented guys don’t grown on trees.)

Personally, I would see what the market offers for both and then make my move.

The Lakers have other offseason questions — do you bring back Ramon Sessions? Is coach Mike Brown really the answer? — but the big man question weighs heaviest. Long-time owner Jerry Buss always believed in making trades earlier rather than later, you can bet son Jim will follow that path. The Lakers will be aggressive.

The question is can he do it with the deftness and skill of his father that has kept the Lakers on top for so long.

He’s in a tough spot. There are no easy answers for the Lakers.

Birthday boy Karl-Anthony Towns giving Timberwolves even more reason to celebrate

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Tom Thibodeau is gone. Jimmy Butler is gone. Karl-Anthony Towns has taken greater ownership with the Timberwolves.

Towns organizes team-building activities like Topgolf and a halloween party. Towns gives the pump-up speech before each game. Towns communicates more on the floor.

That’s why, Towns said, he didn’t even realize his birthday was approaching until his parents recently reminded him.

“I get caught up in work,” Towns said.

Whether or not Towns actually needed the reminder, let alone for such a flattering reason, his birthday – which is today – got him reflecting. He felt old.

So, Towns mentioned to Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders that his birthday was around the corner. Saunders had the opposite realization: Towns is turning 24 today. Just 24!

“He’s still young,” Saunders said. “As a coach, that gets me excited.”

Towns is one of the NBA’s special talents – a proven star with room to improve. Picking up the momentum he built last season, Towns appears to be really coming into his own this year.

The center is posting his usual impressive numbers (25.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game), but his new attitude has stolen the show. He fought Joel Embiid and went face-to-face with Rudy Gay.

Don’t let the antics completely overshadow an impressive basketball story, though. Towns has led Minnesota to a surprising 7-4 start by revamping his game. Most of his shots are coming from beyond the arc, and his 4.2 assists per game are a career high.

By creating spacing and keeping the ball moving, Towns is contributing to a style that lifts all the Timberwolves. Perhaps, nobody has benefited more than Andrew Wiggins, who’s fitting right into this modern look.

The transformation is only the latest chapter for Towns, whose reputation has fluctuated significantly throughout his five-year career. This might explain why he already feels so old:

Minnesota drafted Towns No. 1 in 2015, and he won Rookie of the Year. In the 2016 and 2017 NBA general-manager survey, a plurality of voting executives picked Towns as the player they’d most like to start a team with. In the 2017 survey, Towns also received the most votes for league’s best center (even while getting a couple votes as league’s best power forward).

On paper, Towns delivered. He made his first All-Star and All-NBA teams the following season. He also reached the playoffs for the first time.

But Thibodeau and Butler butted heads with Towns, who never showed the hard edge those former Bulls tried to coax from him. After trading Butler, Minnesota went right back to losing.

In the 2018 and 2019 surveys, no general manager picked Towns to start a team with. Only a few picked him as best center.

Now, the landscape has shifted again. Anthony Davis spends a lot of time at power forward. Joel Embiid doesn’t stay as healthy. Nikola Jokic has fallen way off.

Towns is the early frontrunner for All-NBA first-team center.

“Everybody takes big steps in their growth at different times,” Saunders said, “and I think we’re seeing that from Karl.”

Towns can’t take anything for granted, and neither can the Timberwolves. But he at least has a good chance for vindication after his preseason playoff talk.

The way Towns has implemented more 3-point shooting into his game is particularly impressive. His 9.0 attempts per game lead NBA bigs, and he’s converting more than 40%. But floating on the perimeter was once a sign Towns was being too passive. Now, Towns is finding the right balance between spotting up beyond the arc and playing aggressively.

That’s in part his own mentality changing, in part his teammates’ mentality changing. Gone are the days when Towns could be an afterthought outside the paint.

“The ball is always going to find KAT,” Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie said. “He’s the center of our offense.”

Towns’ defensive intensity still comes and goes. He still must prove himself in the playoffs, and that usually requires trials and tribulations he hasn’t yet experienced.

But at age 24, Towns is finally/already showing something special.

DeAndre’ Bembry gets ejected for taunting Ricky Rubio, continued talking (video)

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The Hawks are rapidly changing. General manager Travis Schlenk took over just two years ago and has already turned over nearly the entire roster. Only DeAndre’ Bembry remains as an inherited player.

It’s not an easy situation for Bembry, who’s headed toward free agency next summer. He’s playing for a team with a lead executive who never chose him. Bembry can’t count on any team investing in him.

That’s the context in which Bembry got ejected from Atlanta’s loss to the Suns last night. He blocked Ricky Rubio‘s shot, taunted the Phoenix guard, got a technical foul, kept talking and got another technical foul.

The ejection seems pretty weak, but Bembry left himself vulnerable to the techs.

Hawks rookie Cameron Reddish also got ejected for multiple flagrant fouls.

Eric Bledsoe apparently bothered Bulls with post-buzzer dunk (video)

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Eric Bledsoe doesn’t care about the rules – written or unwritten.

As the buzzer sounded in the Bucks’ 124-115 win over the Bulls yesterday, Bledsoe dunked then hung on the rim. The basket came after time expired and didn’t count.

Bulls forward Thaddeus Young and coach Jim Boylen confronted Bledsoe on the court:

Young, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“We all know what it is,” Young said. “They had the game won. There are some things you just don’t do at the end of games just out of common courtesy. We’ll move on. It is what it is. It happened. We just have to be ready when we play them in four or five days. We gotta be ready to get a win.”

“That’s with any team that cares about the morals and principles of the game,” Young said. “If we did that and the score was the opposite, they’d say the same thing. It is what it is. We just gotta be ready in four or five days. We gotta get a win. That’s the only way we can follow it back up now.”

Usually, I’d say: If you don’t like it, stop it. But that doesn’t really apply for a post-game dunk. There’s no defense after the buzzer.

Still, I’m not outraged by Bledsoe’s dunk. I bet, aside from Bulls partisans, most people aren’t (though plenty could work themselves into a tizzy if they desire). Some of Chicago’s bitterness probably stemmed from losing and allowing Bledsoe to score 31 points on 12-of-12 shooting inside the arc.

If the Bulls want to use this as motivation, more power to them. They should. Young, whose professionalism appears exemplary, is an ideal messenger.

But Boylen, who wouldn’t comment on this to the media, can’t claim the moral high ground.

Magic reveal orange uniforms

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It’s already difficult enough to flip on an NBA game and quickly determine which team is which. The home team could be wearing any color, so the same is true of road teams. Each team has had so many alternate jerseys in recent years. It’s disorienting.

Now, the Magic – whose primary colors have always been and remain blue, black, white and gray – might be wearing orange?

At least Orlando, because of the fruit (and, I guess, if you want to stretch it, sunshine), has a real connection to orange. That’s why these are the “orange uniforms,” even though they’re mostly gray.

I just beg of the powers that be: Please don’t have the Magic wear these against the Suns. I’ll never figure out which team is which.