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.

Jimmy Butler returns, hits clutch shots to lift Heat past Celtics

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
Nick Grace/Getty Images
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BOSTON (AP) — Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and the Miami Heat completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics 120-116 on Friday night after Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

“Obviously having JB back is big time for us,” Herro said. “He helps us in so many different ways.”

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

“My team welcomed me back and let me do what I do,” Butler said. “It was a big `W’ for the team.”

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

“It felt good coming off my hand,” Brown said. “I know we wanted to get a shot up off the rim as fast as possible, just in case we missed we could get a rebound, a tip out.”

The Celtics had won 10 straight at TD Garden.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.

“That’s the biggest thing about the league; you’re not going to stop anybody from just scoring,” Adebayo said. “I feel like (we’re) making him take tough shots every time we play him and living with the result.”

Butler hit a clutch jumper over Al Horford, making it 110-107 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation before Brown took a pass near midcourt, dribbled to his right and nailed his shot.

In OT, the teams were tied twice before Butler nailed a foul-line jumper over Horford with 1:45 left, but Brown hit two free throws to tie it.

Adebayo nailed two free throws and, after Tatum misfired on a 3, Butler hit a jumper to seal it.

“Jimmy made two tough, tough baskets,” Brown said. “That’s just a credit to his work and his skill and his development. He gets going in games like this; on the road in a hostile environment. … Tonight, two shots that in our defensive scheme we could live with, but Jimmy a big-time player made both of them.”

Unlike Wednesday, when shots were open more and both teams were making them effectively (each shot over 50%), defense was tighter and it resembled more of the postseason matchup last season between the pair that went seven games before Boston captured the Eastern Conference title.

Anthony Davis scores 44, outduels Antetokounmpo (40) leading Lakers past Bucks

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Anthony Davis and LeBron James tore apart the NBA’s top-rated defense and gave Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee.

Davis scored a season-high 44 points and James passed Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list Friday night in the Lakers’ thrilling 133-129 victory over the Bucks.

It marked Ham’s first game in Milwaukee since taking over as Lakers coach after working as an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22.

Ham and Budenholzer shared a big hug before the game.

“It was a beautiful night,” said Ham, who also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

It also was quite a night for Davis, a Green Bay Packers fan who delivered his big performance with Aaron Rodgers in the stands. Davis spoke with the Packers’ four-time MVP quarterback before and after the game.

“I saw him before the game and he said, `I need 30 tonight,”‘ Davis said. “I just saw him and he said, `I only said 30, not 40.’ It’s always good for him to come out and watch the Lakers play.”

James made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left and finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He upped his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place, ahead of Johnson’s 10,133.

“It means a lot, obviously,” James said. “The way Magic approached the game, it was very infectious. His teammates loved playing with him because of the joy he played with and the ability to pass the ball and get other guys involved. He was always excited about seeing his teammates be great. I always admired that in him. What’s even more humbling and super duper cool is the fact that I’m doing it in a Laker uniform and knowing how much Magic means to the Laker franchise.”

The Lakers had the highest point total and field-goal percentage (.536) the Bucks had allowed all season. Milwaukee entered Friday with the NBA’s top defensive rating.

“It was too easy, too easy, too easy,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “They were living in the paint. That’s not who we are.”

Los Angeles withstood a 40-point performance from Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lakers also spoiled the 2022-23 debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

Milwaukee missed two potential tying 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds.

After Davis missed a fadeaway jumper, the Bucks called a timeout with 21.4 seconds left and then found an open Grayson Allen, whose 3-point attempt went off the side of the rim.

The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, but Jrue Holiday couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer with just over five seconds left. Davis made a clinching free throw with 4.5 seconds left.

“Grayson got a good look,” Budenholzer said. “Good execution. Good screening. We’ll live with that shot all the time. And Jrue, similar. We got the kick ahead, playing against a defense that’s not set. Jrue, kind of a good rhythm shot for him. It was contested, but Jrue was 6 of 12 tonight (from 3-point range). He was feeling it.”

Holiday had 28 points for the Bucks, and Bobby Portis added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract

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Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.