51Q: The Lakers will entertain, will they be good?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

The Lakers will be improved, but will they be any good?

Plenty of NBA fans (not to mention people around the league) are in the schadenfreude camp of enjoying the Lakers’ struggles.

But I can give you 19 reasons even those “haters” want the Lakers to be better this season — that’s the number of times they are in a nationally televised game. Seventh most in the league. The same number as the Houston Rockets, and more than Anthony Davis’ Pelicans, the Heat, and the Grizzlies. Even more than the Knicks and Mavericks combined.

You’re going to have to watch them. You want them to be at least entertaining.

And they will be.

The Lakers have assembled some of the best isolation loving, ball dominating, wing gunners the league has to offer — Kobe Bryant, Lou Williams, and Nick Young. Considering his Summer League performance, Jordan Clarkson seems to want to join that group, too. Beyond them, there are some legitimate young players worth watching in D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle (Clarkson wants to be in this group, too).

No doubt the Lakers have some offensive firepower — they are fearlessly going to fire away from whatever old-school sets Byron Scott draws up (this roster is fairly well suited to that style). Kobe is not going to go quietly into that good night. The Lakers are going to put up some points. They will entertain.

But will they be any good?

No.

To be fair, the real answer to that question depends on how you choose to define “good.” If you’re a smart Lakers fan and define that as “better than last season” and “the young players show signs of growth and development” then the answer should be yes.

These Lakers will be better than the 21-win, franchise-worst team that took the court last season. Adding veterans like Williams, Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert will ensure that. Plus we should all hope that Kobe stays healthy, his minutes are kept in check, and he is himself again — we are witnessing the end of the career of one of the best ever to play the game and we should savor that.

However, if you’re going to define “good” as the Lakers making the playoffs — or even being in the hunt — then the answer is no. The Lakers are not going to be that good (even in the East I’d have serious doubts, but in the stacked West no way). The Lakers are not going to improve 25+ games this season, which is what it would take to sniff the postseason. They likely are 10-12 games better.

The problems will come on the defensive end, where the Lakers were 29th in the NBA last season allowing 108 points per 100 possessions. The Lakers are pointing to Hibbert being the difference on defense, providing some rim protection that has been lacking in Los Angeles since the handful of games when Andrew Bynum decided to care about basketball.

No doubt Hibbert will help the Laker defense, but not as much as some think. He is slow of foot, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA he can be exposed as you pull him away from the basket and force him to cover pick-and-rolls or guard guys out on the perimeter. If you remember the Hibbert that was a defensive force in Indiana remember this as well — that team had three high-quality perimeter defenders in Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and George Hill. Those guys played in a smart, well-executed system where they would funnel penetration to where Hibbert was already stationed, basically running ball handlers into a brick wall. The Lakers don’t have that kind of perimeter protection to help Hibbert, especially if they play the youngsters heavy minutes like they should (Kobe, at 37 and with his previous injuries, is not that guy anymore). Hibbert can be an elite rim protector, but him alone on an island in the paint doesn’t solve that many problems.

The Lakers should not be focusing on the playoffs anyway, only one question should guide every Lakers decisions this season:

How do we develop Russell, Randle and Clarkson?

The Lakers are a rebuilding team, and those three should be key parts of the future. Russell is the highest draft pick the Lakers have had since James Worthy, but by his own admission not a guy whose athleticism is going to overwhelm at this level. Russell has to beat guys with his vision, his IQ, with his mind. That’s going to take some time to develop and adjust at this level — he should improve as the season wears on, but there will be rough patches. Russell and Clarkson need to learn how to play together and share playmaking responsibilities. Randle needs to develop a diversity of offensive moves.

The Lakers learned some hard lessons this past summer about what it’s going to take to recruit the next free agent superstar to Los Angeles — they can’t just sell the city, the glamour, endorsement opportunities, and the brand anymore. That will not get it done. They need to sell basketball, too. Guys can live in Los Angeles in the off-season, and in a social media world they can reach out to fans and bring in the endorsements whether they live in Los Angeles or Oklahoma City.

But after striking out with the big names, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak did a solid job of trying to walk the line between winning more now, not being embarrassing, and making sure this team was rebuilding for the future. It’s a tough balance to find, but he did well with that mandate. The Lakers have plenty of flexibility for the future (but they will not keep their first-round pick for next season without some lottery help, it is only top three protected, and now belongs to the Sixers).

The Lakers will be better with this roster. They certainly will be entertaining with all those shooters and just one basketball.

But the Lakers will not be good yet. What matters is they take steps in that direction.

Lawyer sentenced to 5 years for fraud, scamming Charles Barkley among others

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A lawyer convicted of swindling NBA star Charles Barkley and using the name of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to bolster an investment scam was sentenced to five years in prison Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Karon O. Bowdre also ordered Donald Watkins to pay about $14 million in restitution.

Prosecutors had sought a prison sentence of 17+ years for Watkins and 6+ years for his son, Donald Watkins Jr. Both were convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges earlier this year. The two men stole more than $15 million from investors and a bank, prosecutors said.

Bowdre said she took the elder man’s age, 70, into consideration in imposing a lighter sentence, but the term was stiffer than the home confinement requested by Watkins. She then began a sentencing hearing for the son.

During the pair’s trial earlier this year, witnesses including Barkley testified about losing money in an investment scheme run by the elder Watkins.

Barkley, who grew up near Birmingham and now works as a television analyst, described himself as a friend of the elder Watkins, who has split time living in both Alabama and Atlanta.

Barkley lost more than $6 million in investments and loans, prosecutors said, and so did other professional athletes including former NFL players Takeo Spikes and Bryan Thomas and former NBA star Damon Stoudamire.

Stoudamire’s wife, Natasha Taylor-Stoudamire, spoke at the sentencing and said she couldn’t comprehend what Watkins had done.

“I can’t even comprehend how Donald Watkins Sr. and Jr. can take money from me or the rest the victims that were trying to have generational wealth for our children’s children,” she said, according to al.com .

Rice, a native of Birmingham, testified that Watkins wrongly used her name in promoting an energy business at the heart of the case. Prosecutors said Watkins included Rice’s name in an email to investors although she had declined to get involved.

Watkins once served as a city council member in Montgomery and helped successfully defend HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard Scrushy in a massive fraud that nearly bankrupted the company, now known as Encompass Health. He also has worked on civil rights cases.

More than 15 years ago, Watkins drew media attention when he attempted to purchase a major league baseball team. More recently he said he was attempting to purchase the NFL’s St. Louis Rams before the team moved to Los Angeles.

Although he portrayed himself as wealthy, prosecutors said Watkins had a net worth of only a few thousand dollars.

Writing in a blog post before the sentencing, Watkins Sr. said he would continue to appeal his conviction and claimed he was innocent.

“Jurors try to do the right thing, more often than not. However, my 46-years of active participation in the American judicial system has shown me (and the world) that well-meaning jurors often convict innocent defendants,” Watkins wrote.

Dion Waiters shows off slimmed down physique on Instagram

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Suddenly the annual “he lost/gained 15 points and is in the best shape of his life” portion of the NBA summer is upon us.

The Miami Heat are known around the league for having one of the best conditioning programs, guys who go there almost universally get in better shape. Dion Waiters last season seemed to be the exception to the rule. Waiters wasn’t 50-year-old-suburban-dad-with-a-beer-gut out of shape, but coming off an injury where he didn’t get to train like he wanted, Waiters didn’t look like a guy in NBA shape either. Critics lit Waiters up on social media.

Waiters posted his response — he’s been hitting the gym.

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Last year when I came off 1 of the most depressing & frustrating times of my life. Coming off injury & not feeling like myself nor looking like myself I was in a dark place mentally & physically , Because the game I love so much was taken away due to season ending surgery. Now a days with this social media ran world they laughed at me made jokes etc not knowing what I was battling or going through everyday. So instead of me joining the circus I told myself you from (Philly) you’ve been through worst shit in your life than this. So I promise myself I would work my ass off & get back to where I was before the injury. I’m not done yet but I kno somebody in the world prolli needed to hear this. Stay positive block out the outside noise & grind. #Philly🧀 #stayTune

A post shared by 🔥🔥🔥🔥 (@waiters3) on

Good for Waiters.

Let the flood of NBA workout videos and shots of guys with their new physiques begin.

Philly fans will be hoping to see one from Joel Embiid.

Russell Westbrook trade to Houston official, Thunder praise him on way out door

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Whatever their long-term intentions, after Paul George was traded the Oklahoma City Thunder changed focus. General Manager Sam Presti sat down with Russell Westbrook and his agent, talked about the future, what the former MVP wanted, then worked on trading him where he wanted to go.

That was Houston.

The Westbrook to the Rockets trade for Chris Paul — with Oklahoma City picking up two first-round picks and two pick swaps — is now official.

In announcing the trade, the Thunder praised the greatest player in their franchise history on his way out the door.

“Russell Westbrook is the most important player in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has left an indelible mark on this team, city and state,” Presti said in a statement. “None of us could have anticipated the player he has become, and we are all deeply proud of what he has contributed to the success of the franchise and to our community. Russell and his wife Nina, their three children, his brother and his parents will always remain part of the Thunder family. We wish them nothing but happiness and success in the future.”

“I have a great deal of respect for Russell and there is no way to adequately describe our appreciation for what he has meant to Oklahomans,” said Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett. “His legacy here is immense, and he will be honored by the team for all he has done. We wish he and Nina and their family all the best. While this era of Thunder basketball now comes to an end, I’m confident our talented team of people will once again position the Thunder for success in the future.”

While Presti and the OKC front office are still working on a CP3 trade, they are entering a rebuilding phase.

The Rockets are banking on Westbrook and James Harden being able to work out any fit issues — and finding a way to defend with both of them on the court — to keep them as title contenders.

Anthony Davis dances around question about re-signing with Lakers

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After the drama around his push to get to Los Angeles, league executives and other sources around the NBA expect Anthony Davis to re-sign with the Lakers on a max contract next summer.

However, Davis has paired up with LeBron James, and rule one of the LeBron contract playbook (and agent Rich Paul’s, too) is to keep the pressure on a franchise. Make the team improve and keep itself in title contention.

So it’s not a surprise that when ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Davis about re-signing with the Lakers, he didn’t answer the question directly.

Nichols: You’re only signed through this season. Do you think you will be a pillar of the Lakers for years and years to come?

Davis: Honestly, Rachel, I’m just focused on this season. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have one year here, so I’m going make the best of this year. And when that time comes around in the summer or, you know, whenever the season’s over — hopefully, around, you know, mid-June, after we just had a parade, and I need a couple days to think — then we can talk about that. But until then, I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team win this year.”

That a well-handled scripted answer hitting all the talking points.

After the NBA summer we have just gone through (and continue to see with Chris Paul), nobody sane will say Davis would never leave the Lakers after one season. Cut to Kevin Garnett screaming “Anything Is Possible.”

However, he came to the Lakers to win rings (now and in the future), to take over as the face of the franchise when LeBron steps away in a few years, to get the kind of recognition and endorsements he felt were not coming his way in New Orleans, and ultimately to have his jersey up in the rafters with Wilt and Kareem and Shaq. That’s the plan. Which means AD will re-sign with the Lakers next summer.

He’s just not going to say that right now.