Just how good are the LeBron James led Los Angeles Lakers going to be?
Predictions have ranged from a three seed to out of the playoffs, and Las Vegas set the under/over for wins at 48.5. The only safe bet is that they are going to be in the middle of the playoff fight in a stacked and difficult West where the margin between the three seed and being out as the ninth seed will be very slim.
But I think we’re a team that will be able to decide our own fate by how hard we work and how much we’re willing to sacrifice physically and mentally. I’m not going to put my foot in my mouth and say we’re going to win 25 championships or 75 games, no. But I’m confident that we got a group of guys that wants to play basketball the right way, wants to win and work hard. With that being said, I think we can be exactly where we want to be at the end of the year.
Spoken like a veteran, although “exactly where we want to be” can be interpreted a lot of ways. Management wants to be competitive while maintaing cap space for next summer, the Lakers likely will do exactly that. The players want to be contenders, but that seems an overreach. Does Beasley expect a roster with a lot of new faces to mesh well?
I don’t know for sure because we haven’t gotten together yet, but first thoughts: Running and spacing the floor will be so fun this year. It’s rare you play with three guys who average seven-plus assists, and we have it. For us to average 30 assists per game this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get somewhere around that number.
Assists have two parts: The pass and the made shot. Count me among the skeptics that envision the lack of shooting on this roster catching up with the Lakers and holding them back from being elite. That can be addressed via trade or players stepping up, but that is the most glaring concern on paper, and the lineups Luke Walton puts on the floor will evolve to where he finds guys who can space the floor. There are a lot of shot creators on this roster, a lot of high IQ guys, but if teams can clog the paint there isn’t room for anyone to operate.
Beasley, I expect, will have a solid season. He’s a guy with a role in the NBA now as a bench scorer, and while he told Bleacher Report he’d like more stability, he understands that doesn’t often come with his role. He’s matured. He gets it.
The Lakers are going to be good, a playoff team (barring major injuries), but just how good remains to be seen. Beasley is likely right, the Lakers after the All-Star break likely will have found a groove and be pretty dangerous, they just can’t stumble too much getting there. The West will be unforgiving this season.
During the Thunder’s win over the Trail Blazers, he talked trash to Damian Lillard and exchanged pointed laughs and words with Jusuf Nurkic. Westbrook also scored 29 points, dished 14 assists and grabbed 10 rebounds. After the game, he mocked Evan Turner for stealing his trademark rock-the-baby celebration and called Nurkic a “clown” (to which Nurkic responded online by calling the Oklahoma City star “Westbrick”).
For better or worse – mostly better last night – Westbrook always brings that same energy to everything he does.
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Grizzlies finally ready to hear Marc Gasol, Mike Conley trades, but is there a deal to be had? Last July, there would have been trades to be made, but the Grizzlies wanted no part of it. Rumors circulated during the summer that the Memphis Grizzlies might finally decide it was time to move on from the “grit ’n grind” era and trade their stars, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, while their value was still fairly high. But then owner Robert Pera bought out two minority owners and with full control pushed back against a rebuild, saying he thought this team could win 50 games.
Not so much. The Grizzlies are 19-28, 14th in the West, and have gone 1-12 in their last 13. One of the fears of rebuilding was alienating the fan base of a smaller market, one that loved the grit ‘n grind era and filled the arena to see it. But the fans have already started to move on, the Grizzlies are bottom six in the league now in both attendance and percentage of the arena filled. The market already is unimpressed with the product.
Now the Grizzlies are ready to listen to trade offers for Gasol and Conley. They are ready to rebuild around the promising Jaren Jackson Jr.
However, finding an actual trade in 17 days — before the Feb. 7 deadline — is going to be very difficult. (And despite the fun you can have in the trade machine, it’s not going to be one big three-/four-team trade that moves them both, these will be separate deals.)
There is more urgency for the Grizzlies to trade Gasol, who can opt out of his $25.6 million contract for next season — but that deal also complicates trades for him. How much are teams going to give up for an expensive half-season rental who has shown declining skills this season (father time is starting to win the race, his defense has faded)?
The other challenge: What playoff team needs a center and is willing to trade to take on his $24.1 million salary this season? Not many.
Both Los Angeles teams — the Lakers and Clippers — would see an upgrade at the five with Gasol, and both are pushing to make the playoffs in the crowded West. However, both are more focused on next July and big players in free agency (or, any potential Anthony Davis trades), they can’t risk Gasol looking at the market and picking up his player option for next season, eating up their cap space and spoiling their plans.
Dallas would see Gasol as an upgrade over DeAndre Jordan if they want to make a playoff push, and Jordan is an expiring contract so both sides would not be stuck long term. But if Memphis is taking on Jordan they would want a serious sweetener — a young player or a pick — and why would Dallas give that up? To make a playoff push? With J.J. Barea out and the Mavericks four games out of the playoffs and fading, it’s hard to see a deal getting done.
After that, the options get uglier. Detroit might be willing to swap bigs and move Andre Drummond (thinking Gasol fits better with Blake Griffin), but if you’re Memphis why make that move unless you’re getting young players and picks back? And why would Detroit give those up? Miami, Washington, San Antonio, there are other teams that maybe could throw their hat in the ring, but again why would those teams give up good future assets for at best a mild upgrade now?
If Gasol opts into that $25.6 million next season — and he may — then he could be traded come the summer. At the deadline it’s harder, a deal only gets done if Memphis takes pennies on the dollar back.
Mike Conley will have a lot of interested parties, he is an All-Star level player (he’d make it in the East easy, but in the West probably falls short again), but his contract is bigger than Gasol’s. Conley makes $30.5 million this season and has $67 million the two seasons after that (the second is an early termination option, but Conley isn’t opting out of that money, so consider that $67 million fully guaranteed).
There are a number of teams that would see Conley as an upgrade and believe he is better than what they will find on the free agent market come July. One popular idea is Orlando throwing in the towel on Aaron Gordon and constructing a deal around him — Conley would be the point guard Orlando needs, but they would be going young up front with Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba and even Conley can lift those two only so far right now.
Conley would be a massive upgrade for Detroit at the point as well. Dallas could use him next to Luka Doncic. Conley would be a great fit in Milwaukee at the point (with Eric Bledsoe and maybe George Hill, plus a pick/player, coming back). Phoenix has been involved in every point guard discussion out there. Would Utah take him on and move on from Ricky Rubio? Indiana can be an interesting fit.
All of those Conley trades make more sense than the Gasol ones — and they are all the kinds of trades more likely to happen in July than against the pressure of the trade deadline.
Maybe a deal gets done. It’s more likely, however, that we get a lot of smoke before Feb. 7 but no fire until next summer.
3) Gorgui Dieng and Devin Booker get ejected, try to meet in the hallway to finish “fight.” It was another NBA fight — a lot of posturing and jawing but no actual punches thrown — but it was one of the funniest of the season. Were Gorgui Dieng and Devin Booker really going to fight in the hallway?