Lakers on the brink of a breakthrough

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
15 Comments

The Lakers have been fined for tampering two years in a row.

Magic Johnson’s banal tweets while holding a ceremonial front-office position last year barely caused a murmur. The Lakers’ Paul George pursuit, seemingly comprised of commonly accepted tactics, became a major storyline because the Pacers – and, implicitly, their legion of backers – pushed the issue.

The subtext to the differing responses: The Lakers are again striking fear in their opponents.

The Lakers aren’t back, but a savvy summer has positioned them to regain their status as behemoth. After years of being saddled by Kobe Bryant’s extension and Jim Buss’ pledge, the Lakers can see a light at the end of the tunnel. Johnson has them poised to burst out of the darkness in 2018.

For now, the Lakers added two players better (Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) and another more valuable (Lonzo Ball) than anyone they had last season while clearing considerable cap space for next summer. They dumped Timofey Mozgov‘s toxic contract and held firm on not offering multi-year guarantees to anyone besides their three first-round picks.

The retooling came at a cost – chiefly 2015 No. 2 pick D'Angelo Russell, who was sent to the Nets with Mozgov for Lopez and a late first-rounder. But the upside justifies the risk in Los Angeles, where cap space goes further.

Though market matters, nothing recruits like winning, and the Lakers are better positioned to do that, too. Lopez is a good center whose floor spacing will help his new teammates. Caldwell-Pope is far better than anyone the Lakers could have expected to sign this summer while limiting themselves to one-year contracts, but a late entrance into unrestricted free agency and no satisfactory offers left him willing to sign short-term in Los Angeles and hit the market again next year. The Lakers should have their best season in five years, which could open doors.

George? LeBron James? Russell Westbrook? DeMarcus Cousins?

Two of those stars could be on the table next summer.

There’s still plenty of heavy lifting left to do. The Lakers want to dump Luol Deng (three years, $54 million remaining) and maybe Jordan Clarkson (three years, $37.5 million). They also face a decision on Julius Randle, who’ll have a $12,447,727 cap hold as a restricted free agent next summer. Renouncing him to sign a star would obviously be fine, but the Lakers might try to trade him before the deadline and get value for him rather than hedging their bets next summer.

Signing a star is clearly the priority, but even if the Lakers strike out, rebuilding around Ball, Brandon Ingram, Randle and Larry Nance Jr. is fine. The Lakers have multiple paths to a bright future.

They even got the smaller moves right. The early returns on No. 27 pick Kyle Kuzma are promising, though I’d caution against reading too much into hot summer-league shooting. Josh Hart was a sound selection at No. 30. Re-signing Tyler Ennis for two years with the second unguaranteed was excellent value.

Johnson looks like he knows what he’s doing – especially because the Lakers avoided the harshest tampering penalties, like losing draft picks or being prohibited from signing George.

Ultimately, this summer was just a precursor to next. But everything is starting to line up.

Offseason grade: B+

Steven Adams inks two-year, $25.2 million extension with Grizzlies

Getty Photo
0 Comments

Steven Adams signed a two-year, $25.2 million contract extension with Memphis, which will keep him tied to the team through the 2024-25 season. ESPN’s Adrian Wojanrowski broke the news on Saturday.

Adams has been crucial to the Grizzlies’ recent success. He’s coming off his first season with the team, where he averaged career-highs in rebounds (10.0) and assists (3.4). He also helped them lock up the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference and make it to the Conference Semifinals, where they lost to the eventual-champion Warriors 4-2. Despite the improved numbers, a lot of his value is from intangibles that don’t show up in the box score.

Adams spent the first seven years of his career with the Thunder before being traded to New Orleans in the four-team deal that sent Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. Adams was moved again to Memphis in a package for Jonas Valanciunas.

Adams has found a new home with a young Grizzlies team that is looking to win a championship. The team is built around Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, but Jackson Jr. is expected to miss time after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Memphis will rely on Adams more than ever to begin the season.

Watch Curry, Klay in 3-point shooting contest in Japan. Yeah, they’re good at this.

NBA Japan Games Saturday Night
Jun Sato/WireImage
0 Comments

The NBA went to Japan to promote the brand, play a few games in a huge market — Japan specifically but Asia as a whole — and put on a show.

Is there a better show than Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson draining 3s? Here they are in a 3-point contest during a basketball exhibition (there were some pro dunkers) in Tokyo on Saturday.

Stephen Curry, was there any other possible outcome?

It’s preseason and they are the defending champs — they should be having fun, playing with some joy.

Thompson took part in the shooting contest but is not playing in either of the exhibition games in Japan as the Warriors ease him back into play this season. It’s a marathon of a season and the Warriors need the best version of Klay starting in April, not October.

Report: Pelicans, Nance agree to two-year, $21.6 million extension

0 Comments

Larry Nance has been a stabilizing influence in New Orleans since coming over mid-season as part of the trade for CJ McCollum. Nance is a versatile player who can play the four or the five, knocks down his threes, is very strong on the glass, can be a disruptive defender in passing lanes, and fits in — and he has the veteran attitude of work this team needs.

So the Pelicans have reached an extension to keep the 29-year-old around for two years past this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a signing that should make Pelicans fans happy. Importantly, it makes CJ McCollum happy — they are tight and this is something McCollum wanted to see. The money on this deal seems fair, about the league average for a solid rotation player.

Nance is the kind of veteran this team needs considering its young core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram (just turned 25), Herb Jones, and guys like Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and others. Nance compared it to the young Lakers teams he was on, but noted that team lacked the same level of veteran leadership this Pelicans team has.

We may see more Nance at the five lineups — small ball with Zion at the four — to close games this season in New Orleans, that could be their best lineup because Nance can defend but also spaces the floor for Zion on offense. Coach Willie Green has a lot of different players and matchups to experiment with.

And now he has the stability of Nance for a few more years.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

0 Comments

No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.