51 Q: Will Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov justify their long-term costs to Lakers?

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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season. Today:

Will Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov justify their long-term costs to Lakers?

When we talk about the Lakers heading into this season, we talk about the future. We speak of potential, development, and patience. We talk about their young and promising core of D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., and rookie Brandon Ingram.

But that’s not where the Lakers spent their money this summer.

Free agency was just hours hold when the Lakers agreed to give Timofey Mozgov a four-year, $64 million contract — a move that was almost universally panned.

Within 48 hours of that, the Lakers gave Luol Deng four-years, $72 million.

That’s a lot of money for two guys on the wrong side of 30 who do not match the career arcs of that young core. That’s a lot of money for a team that had talked about hoarding cap space to make a run at an impressive (although shrinking, see Russell Westbrook) crop of free agents next summer.

Will the Lakers get their money’s worth from those two deals?

Or, three years from now, will those contracts be seen as anchors on an up-and-coming team’s path back to contention?

Lakers fans are understandably skittish after the kind of Carlos Boozer/Roy Hibbert moves the front office made in recent years, signings that felt like a team trying to tank without looking like they were trying to tank.

The Mozgov and Deng contracts are better than that. These aren’t the signings of a team seeking to tank.

Whether the Lakers come to regret those contracts will come down to how much production they get from the pair the next two seasons, then if they can move the deals in the final years. These signings were about more than mentors for the young core now, it was about having viable trade pieces to interest teams should a star player — hypothetically, an elite center playing about a six-hour drive to the north — come available.

No doubt, the Lakers overpaid for this crop of veterans — particularly Mozgov. But that’s also where the Lakers are right now. It’s not like they had somewhere else to spend that money — they couldn’t even get a meeting with Kevin Durant or Al Horford. A legendary history and a big brand aren’t enough on their own anymore. If you think the answer is to sit on that money until next summer, the Lakers aren’t going to be in a position to land an elite free agent then, either. The Lakers need to win some games, develop a new culture, and develop that young core to the point that a top free agent wants to come to L.A. because he knows he can win. Think Horford going to Boston. The Celtics won 48 games last season, then they got the big free agent. The Lakers need a couple of seasons to get to that point.

In the short term, the Lakers went looking for veterans who can both help that young core develop and help the team win a few more games. Clearly, Lakers’ management wants to be done with the 17-win seasons like the last one — Kobe Bryant isn’t around to fill Staples Center every night while the youngsters learn on the job. Luke Walton has talked about playing veterans to get wins and bringing guys like Ingram off the bench until they earn their spots.

However, management also has to know this team is in a development process that will take years and can’t be shortcut.

Regarding veteran guidance — guys that can help change a locker room chemistry that was strained at times under the old-school style of former coach Byron Scott — the Lakers couldn’t have spent their money much better. Both Mozgov and Deng are respected and well-liked teammates. They are guys that can show the youngsters how to prepare and act like professionals (an influence they did not get from Nick Young last season).

On the court, it’s easy to see what role Luke Walton is picturing for Mozgov — a poor man’s Andrew Bogut. The question becomes: Will Walton have the healthy Mozgov of a couple of seasons ago who may be able to fill that role, or will he have the injured and slow one of last season that fell out of the Cavaliers’ rotation? Even when healthy Mozgov isn’t going to be described as fleet of foot, and basically playing on one leg last season — he admitted he rushed back from knee surgery too quickly — he was easy to expose if dragged into pick-and-rolls. He was a defensive mess.

Two seasons ago Mozgov shot 59 percent during the regular season, then was critical in the playoffs for Cleveland when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were injured and Mozgov’s gritty style fit what the team needed (he had 28 points in Game 4 of those Finals). He anchored the paint defensively — Cleveland allowed just 96.4 points per 100 possessions when was on the floor those playoffs (it jumped 8.4 per 100 when he sat). Walton can use that Mozgov: Anchor the paint on defense, get rebounds, and set brick wall-like picks for Russell and Clarkson (and sometimes Ingram).

Deng is just a rock solid veteran who can do a little of everything. He defends well, he can score inside, he has a jumper, and he can play the three or a small ball four. Players such as Randle and Ingram aren’t yet ready for big time NBA defensive assignments, Deng can take those. He can be the Lakers’ glue.

This year’s Lakers should take a step forward from dismal outings of the past couple seasons — there should be hope, not just the distraction of Kobe’s final season — but they are not a playoff bound team. Getting into the low 30s in wins would be real progress. The Lakers give up their pick in next year’s draft (now belonging to the Sixers) if it is not in the top three. Barring a lottery miracle, it should not be.

This Laker team should be competitive — not good yet, but putting up a fight most nights. That’s the culture Luke Walton wants to build, it’s part of the reason Mozgov and Deng got paid. They can help create it.

The question is, in three seasons will the Lakers still have these guys on the books, and if so will those large contracts be anchors on the team’s growth? How will the new Collective Bargaining Agreement — to be pounded out before next season starts, one way or another — impact those long-term plans for the Lakers? And where do Deng and Mozgov fit into all of this?

In the short term the Lakers should get some value for those signings, but if those players are both Lakers in the last year of those contracts, Los Angeles will regret the deals.

Basketball Hall of Fame delays enshrining Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Spurs forward Tim Duncan
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The Basketball Hall of Fame originally planned to induct Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett in August.

But coronavirus interfered.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of the board of the governors for the Hall, told ESPN Wednesday that enshrinement ceremonies for the Class of 2020, one of the most star-studded lineups ever which includes Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and the late Kobe Bryant, will be moved to spring of 2021.

Colangelo stressed there will be separate ceremonies for the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021, even though both events will now be held in the calendar year 2021. “We won’t be combining them,” he said. “The Class of 2020 is a very special class and deserves its own celebration.”

I’m so glad each class will be honored separately. Bryant, Duncan, Garnett and the rest of this class – Tamika Catchings, Rudy Tomjanovich, Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens, Eddie Sutton and Patrick Baumann – deserve their own night.

So does Paul Pierce and whoever gets selected in the next class.

Life can end at any moment. Bryant’s death was a tragic reminder of that. But there’s no specific urgency here. The Hall of Fame should wait until it’s safe to hold a proper celebration of this class… then the next one.

NBA being sued for missed rent payments amid coronavirus shutdown

NBA Store
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The NBA has been sued by the owners of the building that houses the NBA Store, who say the league owes more than $1.2 million after not paying rent in April or May.

The league responded by saying it doesn’t believe the suit has merit, because it was forced to close the New York store due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBA Media Ventures, LLC is required to pay $625,000 of its $7.5 million annual fee on the first day of each month under teams of its lease with 535-545 FEE LLC, according to the suit filed Tuesday in New York.

The NBA entered into the lease agreement for the property at 545 Fifth Ave. in November 2014.

Counting other fees such as water, the owners of the building are seeking more than $1.25 million.

“Like other retail stores on Fifth Avenue in New York City, the NBA Store was required to close as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Under those circumstances, we don’t believe these claims have any merit,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said. “We have attempted, and will continue to attempt, to work directly with our landlord to resolve this matter in a manner that is fair to all parties.”

The NBA suspended play on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic and faces hundreds of millions of dollars in losses this season, even as it works toward trying to resume play in July.

NBA latest timeline has games starting in late July, early August in Orlando

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Anyone hoping for a rapid return of the NBA is going to be disappointed (and hasn’t been paying attention to how Adam Silver operates).

The NBA continues to carefully move toward a return to games, likely with 16 or more likely 20 teams in Orlando at the Walt Disney World resort complex. Expect players to report in mid-July with games now looking like they start late July to early August, allowing more time for the league to get medical and testing protocols and equipment in place. This according to multiple reports, including Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reiterated that timeline. While Adam Silver and the NBA owners will be on a conference call Friday, no hard-and-fast timeline decisions are expected at that point.

The format for the NBA’s return also is not yet set, but momentum has shifted in the past couple of weeks away from bringing all 30 teams into the Orlando bubble/campus to finish some portion of the regular season. That would be too many people and too much risk for too little reward.

Instead, the restart likely will have either 16 teams — going straight into the playoffs — or 20 teams, with a play-in tournament of some kind (maybe a World Cup soccer-style group phase). And, as Marc Stein of the New York Times notes (and he is not alone), there is a push to have the clumped 9-12 seeds in the West — Portland, New Orleans, San Antonio, and Sacramento — be the four additional teams brought in (along with the 16 playoff teams).

Teams who last in the playoffs past the first round could be in Orlando for months, which is why the NBA will allow family members to come to Orlando for the later rounds, report Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne at ESPN.

Conversations have centered on the timing of family arrivals at the Walt Disney Resort, which are likely to start once an initial wave of teams are eliminated and the number of people within the league’s bubble decreases, sources said.

Family members would be subjected to the same safety and testing protocols as everyone else living in the NBA’s biosphere, sources said.

Considering how long players on contending teams could be in Orlando — from mid-July until mid-to-late September, and maybe longer — allowing family to join them is the right thing to do.

NBA Commissioner Silver is trying to make a return as safe as he can and build as much consensus as he can, although he will not get anything absolute in either case. It’s in his nature to move cautiously, especially through uncharted waters like these. The NBA will have games again this summer, but earlier timelines have proved to be a bit optimistic.

LeBron James, others around NBA speak out after death of George Floyd

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George Floyd died Monday while saying “I can’t breathe” as a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground and put his knee on his neck for an extended time. A video of Floyd’s death prompted a severe backlash, including the firing of four police officers, FBI and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigations, and public protests.

Floyd’s death also sparked frustration and outrage among NBA players and they took to social media to speak out, as they have had to do too often in the past with the deaths of black men at the hands of police. Many followed the lead of LeBron James in posting on Instagram an image of a policeman kneeling on Floyd’s neck juxtaposed with Colin Kaepernick kneeling on the sidelines of an NFL game during the national anthem.

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STILL!!!! 🤬😢😤

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

No one around the NBA was hit harder than former player and current ESPN analyst Stephen Jackson, who knew Floyd and was devastated by the news. He called Floyd by his nickname, Twin.

Other NBA players took to Twitter and Instagram, here is just a sampling.