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LeBron, Anthony Davis and…Kemba? What are Lakers’ next steps to contention?

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We have seen this before, the Lakers add a superstar player — Pau Gasol via trade, Shaquille O’Neal via free agency— and instantly vault up to being a title contender.

Of course, we have seen the Lakers add superstars in the offseason — say Dwight Howard and Steve Nash — and watch the whole thing blow up due to injuries and chemistry issues.

Neither of these scenarios is completely off the table with the LeBron James and Anthony Davis Lakers, which is going to be a reality now after the Lakers have agreed to a trade for Davis that sends Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and three first round picks (including the No. 4 pick in the 2019 Draft) to New Orleans.

The Lakers look like contenders on paper right now, but they have to round out the roster in a smart way.

Two key things will differentiate success and failure with these Lakers.

First is injuries. It’s obvious to state, but Davis has an injury history, and LeBron missed 18 games with a groin injury last season, the most time he has ever missed with an injury, but that’s what comes with age. If either or both miss significant time, this all comes apart.

Second is how the Lakers round out the roster. That is something the core of this Lakers’ front office did very poorly last season, we will see if lessons were learned.

After the trade, the Lakers will have on the roster LeBron, Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga… and that’s it. They need to add 10 players.

Los Angeles going to try and add a third star.

The Lakers will have $27.7 million available in cap space on July 1 — that is not enough to sign Jimmy Butler or Kemba Walker to max deals. Both of them have been linked to the Lakers on various levels.

Sources have told me that after qualifying for a “supermax” contract extension (five years, $221 million), Walker is leaning heavily toward staying in Charlotte, a city he has grown to love (and his family enjoys). He could even give the Hornets a little hometown discount on the back end of that deal and make more than the max the Lakers or any other team could offer him. The question is, does this trade and the chance to chase a ring alter Walker’s thinking?

Butler, also, reportedly is leaning toward re-signing with the Sixers if they offer him a full five-year, $191 million max deal as expected (with Butler’s injury history, that fifth year only Philly can offer will matter to him). The same question about this deal changing his mindset applies to Butler as well.

The Lakers also could go after Kyrie Irving, although a number of people around the league view that as a longshot.

What the Lakers could do to max out Walker/Butler/Irving, as suggested by cap guru and consultant to NBA teams and agents Larry Coon, is to draft whoever the Pelicans want at No. 4, sign that player July 1, then trade him 30 days later (the first chance he is eligible) as part of the Davis deal where the salaries match up. It would delay the actual Davis trade but the  Lakers would have the $32.5 needed for a max slot for a player with 7-9 years experience.

The Lakers also could go after guys who are not stars but are high level role players and may just be a better fit, such as J.J. Redick. The Lakers could use that $27 million to land three or more quality, solid NBA rotation players. That’s an internal discussion Los Angeles need to have.

Beyond that, the Lakers will have the room exception at $4.8 million and no other space.

Just like last year, the Lakers will need to bring in veterans on minimum contracts — and this time they may want to get some shooting in the mix. The challenge there is guys are taking minimum contracts for a reason, if they could secure longer and more lucrative deals they would. There are far fewer vets willing to take a lot less to chase a ring than fans realize.

These are first world problems for the Lakers, they have so enough elite stars its hard to round out the roster. The art is in doing it right because there are other contenders out there who have done just that.

Draymond Green gets ejected, LeBron James tries to hide smirk (video)

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Steve Kerr vented after the Warriors’ loss to the Lakers last night.

Draymond Green did it during the game.

Green got a technical foul midway through the second quarter. Eleven seconds later, he got another tech and automatic ejection.

LeBron Jamessidelined due to a groin injury – sure enjoyed the spectacle from the Lakers’ bench.

Green might have also enjoyed the aftermath, getting an early exit from Golden State’s 30-point loss.

Three Things to Know: Joel Embiid out at least a week, Sixers shift focus to getting healthy

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Joel Embiid will be out at least a week, Philadelphia shifts focus to getting healthy. Clippers coach Doc Rivers was asked about this Monday night, in the wake of his team having a rash of injuries this season while also making sure guys got to rest during the 82. If forced to choose, Rivers wants his team fully healthy entering the playoffs and would give up good seeding to get it.

That’s where the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves now. Coach Brett Brown may not want to have to choose, but ultimately he and his Sixers need to get healthy before the playoffs start. That has to be the priority.

Joel Embiid will be out at least a week with a sprained shoulder, although the MRI reportedly showed no structural damage. As much as Embiid will push to get back on the court, he’s been playing through a few minor injuries and this is the time the Philly staff should make sure he is right before the physicality of the playoffs comes.

Embiid being out is on top of Philly’s other All-Star, Ben Simmons, being out weeks with a pinched nerve in his lower back. The timeline on Simmons’ return is harder to predict because backs and nerves are more unpredictable. He could miss more than a couple of weeks getting this right.

The Sixers responded well on Thursday with a 115-106 win over lowly Knicks, behind Tobias Harris’ 34 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists. The Sixers are now 28-2 at home.

Next up is a stiffer test: Doc Rivers’ Clippers out in Los Angeles, the start of a four-game road trip through the West.

2) Anthony Davis steps up with LeBron James out, the Lakers rout the struggling Warriors. For Golden State, the cavalry — in the form of Stephen Currycould ride over the hill as soon as Sunday to help save the day.

Thursday night, however, the Warriors looked every bit the worst team in the NBA going against one of the best in the Lakers.

Things went frustratingly poorly for Steve Kerr’s squad: Draymond Green got ejected in the second quarter, the Warriors turned the ball over 27 times, the Lakers won the third quarter 40-17, and after that there was a lot of garbage time on the way to a 116-86 Los Angeles rout of Golden State.

For the Lakers, this was the kind of win they need to keep a cushion on the top of the West (they currently have a 5.5 game lead over the second-seeded Nuggets, six games in the loss column). It’s the kind of cushion that lets them rest key players down the stretch before the playoffs — LeBron and company will call it something other than load management, but they shouldn’t worry about the semantics and just make sure guys get fresh before the postseason. That’s going to be a tough grind for everyone.

3) The NBA fines Minnesota $25,000 for resting a healthy D’Angelo Russell. Minnesota shrugs. The NBA knew that when it came to flopping, warning players and then, after three violations, fining them $5,000, was not the kind of financial hit that would get players to stop doing it. The hope was that making it public every time would shame them into doing it less. In the aggregate, it worked.

It’s not going to be the same with fining teams $25,000 for resting healthy players. It’s just going to lead to a semantics dance.

Thursday the league slapped a $25K fine on Minnesota for “violating the league’s player resting policy.” The league is very sensitive to the “load managment” PR issues.

The Timberwolves’ response was essentially a shrug.

The new management team in Minnesota is very focused on modernizing the health and player development programs in the organization. Resting Russell was part of that, and if they felt the need to make sure Russell was good to go for future games they were not going to be dissuaded from sitting him.

Especially if the cost is just $25,000.

Every other NBA team is going to feel the same way. At this point in the season (and much earlier than this, in reality), every NBA player has bumps/bruises/strains/aches that could use a little rest to get healthy. It is not a stretch for teams to say, “Player X is out due to a sore ankle” (or whatever body part they choose) as opposed to listing him out for rest. It’s a loss for transparency, but teams aren’t going to do things differently. Nor should they. Player health — and, in some cases, making sure they are rested and right for the playoffs — should be the priority.

Frustrated Steve Kerr vents a little after Warriors loss to Lakers (VIDEO)

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Nothing that happened should have been a surprise: The Lakers are one of the NBA’s best teams this regular season and even without LeBron James should have had little trouble with the worst team in the league this season, the Warriors. They didn’t. Draymond Green got ejected in the second quarter, the Warriors turned the ball over 27 times, the Lakers won the third quarter 40-17 and from there cruised to a 116-86 rout of Golden State.

After the game, Kerr was frustrated with his team’s effort in its eighth straight loss. Via Logan Murdoch of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“We understand where we are record-wise,” Kerr said. “But we still have a standard that we need to play to and we didn’t do that…

“Tonight was a step backward in the second half,” Kerr admitted. “I was very disappointed with all of the turnovers. We just let things slip away from us…

“For the most part, this year has gone well in terms of our level of competition and energy,” Kerr said. “But that second half was not up to our standards…

“I think you can probably attribute the lack of continuity to that,” Kerr said. “We’re putting some lineups that haven’t been together all year. Having said that, a lot of careless one-handed passing, cross-court, right into the defender’s arms. A lot of plays that just had nothing to do with continuity and everything to do with fundamentals.”

The Warriors have some hope on the horizon in the form of the return of Stephen Curry, which could happen as early as Sunday against the Wizards. That is what Curry wants, Kerr is being a little more cautious, but it should happen soon.

That should bring a few more wins. Not enough to move the Warriors far up in the lottery, but enough to keep Kerr sane.

 

Pacers All-Star Domantas Sabonis has 20 and 11, leads Pacers past Blazers

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INDIANAPOLIS — Domantas Sabonis had 20 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 106-100 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

Malcolm Brogdon had 17 points, eight assists, and six rebounds while T.J. Warren and Victor Oladipo scored 15 points each for the Pacers, who have four of their last five.

CJ McCollum had 28 points and eight assists, Gary Trent Jr. had 20 points, and five rebounds, and Hassan Whiteside had 18 points and 16 rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who have lost five of six.

The Pacers were able to hold off the Blazers’ late push.

After Brogdon made a jumper to give Indiana a 103-93 lead with 1:54 remaining, Portland went on a 7-0 run. McCollum’s floater made it 103-100 with 30 seconds to go.

Myles Turner drilled a 3-pointer with 9 seconds remaining to seal it.

The Trail Blazers went on a 10-1 run late in the first half to push ahead.

McCollum made a 3-pointer to give Portland a 42-40 lead with 3:13 to go in the second quarter. After a free throw by Oladipo, McCollum made another three and then a fadeaway to put the Trail Blazers in front 47-41.

Portland led 49-43 at halftime.