Young stars’ struggles reminder to Lakers that rebuilding is long process

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LAS VEGAS — Lakers fans are not exactly renowned for their patience.

Nowhere was that more in evidence than Monday night at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, when after an ugly first quarter — 5 points on 2-of-17 shooting, with seven turnovers — Lakers fans that filled the Thomas & Mack booed their young players.

That may have been the lowlight, but the Lakers’ young stars have had their struggles in Sin City. Through two games Julius Randle is shooting 29.4 percent, and has averaged just 3.5 rebounds a game in 20 minutes a night. D’Angelo Russell is averaging 10 points a night on 33 percent shooting through three games, but the bigger issue he has two turnovers for each assist he has dished out. Jordan Clarkson has looked like a guy who has been through an NBA season and scored 18.3 points a game, but he’s shooting just 40.4 percent overall and 26.7 percent from three. Clarkson and Russell have some work to do on their chemistry.

All these struggles should serve as a reminder to the Lakers organization and their fans:

Rebuilding is a long process. Patience is required.

If that seems hard, just recall how the last quick fix — bringing in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash — went.

Plus, there are things to like from the young Lakers, things they have shown in Vegas. That starts with their attitudes.

“Every game matters to me, and me being competitive I forget that it’s just Summer League,” Russell said. “I’m trying to get better so fast, rather than being patient and letting things come to me.”

“I’ve got to get my teammates going, get myself going,” Randle said, clearly frustrated by the rust in his game. “Everything starts with me; I’ve got to be better. End of story.”

Randle looked better in the second half against the Knicks Monday, but he remains a guy with limited moves. When he gets the ball and faces up he has a great first step and but tries to use that and power to get to the rim, not a variety of moves (he did show one spin that drew a foul). He looks in Vegas like a guy who has been away from the game for a year — which is exactly what he is after he broke his right leg on opening night a year ago and had to have surgery. Rust was to be expected.

For Russell, the game just seems to be moving too fast, and he isn’t letting it slow down yet, which is leading to 6.7 turnovers a game. It will eventually start to slow down for him.

“I’m just trying to force the issue to get big guys involved, and for myself forcing the issue on the offensive end trying to just get something out of nothing when it’s not there,” Russell said. “Realizing it’s Summer League and being patient is my problem right now…

“Summer League is great for the adjustment process. I’m young, I feel like I’m going to get better every game, every practice, once I get under the system and get the hang of it a little more.”

While Lakers Summer League coach Mark Madsen has put in plays, the nature of Summer League — a thrown-together roster that doesn’t get a lot of practice time together and is devoid of veterans — leads to an unstructured game. For much of the time in Vegas the Lakers offense has been “watch Jordan Clarkson create stuff” and that hasn’t helped build cohesion and chemistry.

For the Lakers, hope sells.

The strength of that hope and the Lakers brand has been evident in Vegas — Russell and Randle again packed the house Monday, where fans sat in the upper deck (never before at summer league has the curtains had to be pulled back from the upper deck at the Thomas & Mack). When the Lakers have played there have been attendance records this summer.

But there needs to be patience. This coming season those young players will grow while the fans celebrate Kobe. With roster additions such as Lou Williams, Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert — plus hopefully a dash of health thrown in the pot — the Lakers will be respectable on the court.

From there, and as Clarkson/Russell/Randle show their potential, then the big free agents the next couple years will give the Lakers a longer look.

It’s all just going to take time.

Luka Doncic says he’ll definitely play for Slovenia in Olympic Qualifying Tournament

Luka Doncic
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Slovenia won the last EuroBasket, in 2017.

But in a stacked European region, Slovenia hasn’t even qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Mavericks star Luka Doncic will try to change that.

Donatas Urbonas:

Slovenia got a tough draw, landing in host Lithuania’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Only one team from each OQT will reach the Olympics. Even Poland in the group stage will be no pushover.

But Doncic is obviously a difference-maker. Not only is he one of the world’s best players, he’s also comfortable with international style of play.

Slovenia needs him after Goran Dragic retired from the national team following the 2017 European basketball championship.

Slovenia’s first OQT game is June 24 against Angola. Dallas seems bound for a first-round loss. So, that should work. But if the Mavericks make a surprising run deep in the playoffs, Doncic could always reconsider – though he sounds quite certain now.

Giannis Antetokounmpo on playing with brothers: ‘Milwaukee, L.A., wherever – that’d be awesome’

Giannis Antetokounmpo in Bucks-Lakers
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Giannis Antetokounmpo – on the elite Bucks and nearing his super-max decision – has the NBA by the tail.

Teams are trying to impress the family-oriented superstar. Milwaukee signed his brother, Thanasis Antetokounmpo. The Lakers added another brother, Kostas Antetokounmpo. (The Knicks drafted Thanasis, but Thanasis’ tenure in New York reportedly left a sour taste in Giannis’ mouth.)

Now, Giannis – who once said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles – is singing a slightly different tune

USA Today:

Antetokounmpo:

I think that would be amazing. Obviously, we’d spend more time together, and I’m 100 percent sure my mom would love that. But if we could team up on a team – Milwaukee, L.A., wherever – that’d be awesome.

Maybe Antetokounmpo is just paying lip service to the Lakers, because they added Kostas. But at this point, that’s progress for Los Angeles.

Considering Giannis’ agent just said “everything is open,” it seems Giannis could be planting the seeds for leaving Milwaukee. He could definitely stay. But by at least mentioning other possibilities, he’d soften the blow if he chooses to depart.

Giannis’ views on loyalty have always been more complex than people realized. Tastes change. It sounds as if Giannis isn’t quite as averse to Los Angeles as he once was.

Of course, there’s a huge difference between that and actually joining the Lakers. Giannis hasn’t suddenly transformed into a totally different person.

But this quote will keep the candle of hope burning in Los Angeles.

Report: All-Star fourth quarter featured more than 15 minutes of gameplay

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One overlooked feature of the NBA’s new All-Star game format: It seemed designed to shorten the game.

Sure, the league wanted to add an interesting wrinkle to a game that had grown stale. The exact details were tweaked to honor Kobe Bryant.

But – in the era of load management – shaving a few minutes off the exhibition game should be taken as a feature, not a bug.

This year’s game ended when a team scored 24 more points than the leading team had entering the fourth quarter. The last time a team had scored 24 or fewer in All-Star quarter: 2010, when the East scored just 23 in the fourth quarter.  In the decade since – including the first three quarters Sunday – All-Star teams averaged 24 points every seven minutes.

But Sunday’s fourth quarter took a while longer than the standard 12 minutes for LeBron James‘ team to outscore Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s team, 33-22.

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

Defenses really turned up in the fourth quarter. Here’s how the teams’ shooting percentages changed from the first three quarters to the fourth quarter:

  • 2-pointers: 73% to 46%
  • 3-pointers: 34% to 23%

More shots being contested also led to more fouls. After attempting just 13 free throws in the first three quarters, the teams took 26 free throws in the fourth quarter.

In The Basketball Tournament, which first introduced the Elam Ending, the target score is eight more points than the leading team has at the first whistle inside four minutes. By turning off the game clock later, there’s less room for variance in gameplay length.

I suspect the NBA would have also turned off the clock later if not using the target score to honor Bryant. Because Bryant wore No. 24 last, the league has generally used that – not his other number, No. 8 – in tributes, including the All-Star jerseys.

With All-Star MVP now named for Bryant – a perfectly fitting lasting tribute – the league can alter the ending format next year.

The concept is sound. The exact execution just needs tweaking.

Bulls starting point guard Kris Dunn may be out for season with knee injury

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Bulls starting point guard Kris Dunn missed the last four games before the All-Star break with a sprained knee.

He could miss a lot more — like the rest of the season.

From K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

But sources said there’s a growing belief that Dunn will miss the remainder of the season with the injury, which occurred when Thaddeus Young took a charge and inadvertently crashed into Dunn’s knee on the first possession of a Jan. 31 road game against the Nets. When Dunn suffered a similar injury last season, he missed 23 games…

“Dunn still has some swelling in that knee,” coach Jim Boylen said before the Bulls lost to the Wizards on Feb. 11 in Washington, their final game before the break. “Once his swelling goes down, he will get re-scanned and re-evaluated.  But he had a lot of swelling.”

That’s less than ideal for Dunn as he heads into restricted free agency. He has averaged 7.3 points and  3.6 rebounds per game, however, his most significant contribution has been quality defense for Chicago this season.

This is the latest in a string of injuries for the Bulls. Otto Porter has only played nine games due to a broken foot. Big men Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are currently sidelined due to injuries, although Carter could return after the All-Star break and Markkanen by early next month. Now Dunn.