Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBron James says Lakers offense needs to run through Anthony Davis

4 Comments

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Lakers players got the memo: Don’t talk about a title. Don’t talk about the incredibly deep West or that other team in Staples Center. Instead, talk about process and building chemistry. Talk about one day at a time, do not talk about the end result.

“I think our biggest opponent is in the mirror. We’ve got to look at ourselves as a team,” GM Rob Pelinka said, adding he would define success as a good two practices tomorrow.

“Been very quiet this summer, for a reason. My mother always taught me, ‘Don’t talk about it, be about it.’ That’s where I’m at,” LeBron James said.

It felt well rehearsed, but saying it in a Lakers’ practice facility where 10 Larry O’Brien trophies sit gleaming in a window overlooking the courts, where 12 banners representing 16 championships (the Minneapolis one has five on it) hang overhead, the words fall a little flat.

Everyone knows what the expectations are. The Lakers may have missed the playoffs for six seasons in a row, but with Anthony Davis now, a refreshed LeBron James after the longest summer break he’s had since 2005, and with a lot of veteran role players, the expectations are title or bust. From the fans and from the Lakers themselves.

First that means turning a lot of new faces into a real team.

LeBron said that starts by running the offense through Anthony Davis.

“We do all know how good Anthony Davis is, and if we are not playing through Anthony Davis while he is on the floor, then there’s no sense to have him on the floor,” LeBron said. “He’s that great. It doesn’t mean every time down, we throw it to him, we throw it to him, we throw it to him. But we have the ability of doing it.”

“Aw, he said that?” Davis said later, almost sheepishly. “Very kind of him. We’re going to feed off each other tremendously. I think we’re two guys who are very selfless and just want to win, when we have two guys like that it makes both of our jobs easier.”

Nobody really questions if LeBron and Davis can be elite, and probably form the best pick-and-roll combo in the league.

The question is everyone around them. Can Kyle Kuzma — once he gets healthy from the stress reaction in his leg — become the No. 3 option on this team?  Is Dwight Howard willing to accept a role and play it well as a big who just sets picks, rolls hard, grabs boards and defends the rim? Do they have enough shooting with Danny Green, Quinn Cook, and Jared Dudley, plus a little Davis? Will this team defend well.

Also, can this team coalesce into something greater than the sum of its parts?

“Guys understand the importance of the opportunity and the magnitude of the situation,” Green said, at points referencing a team bonding trip to Las Vegas recently. “It’s a win-now situation. [Last season in Toronto] guys put their pride and egos to the side, and knew it was the team. I see it here already… It’s about the team, and everybody knows that. In order for us to make it, we have to continue that attitude moving forward.”

Guys want to play their roles. Kuzma may be at the heart of what happens, the Lakers need him to take the steps as a smart offensive player he showed in flashes with Team USA before his injury. And he has to play better defense.

Dudley wants to help get him there.

“My guy would be Kyle Kuzma,” Dudley said, adding he wants to do is take him under his wing as he did D'Angelo Russell last season in Brooklyn and Devin Booker in Phoenix before that. “What can I do off the court to help him get to his full potential? He’s really the key for us.”

Optimism abounded at Lakers’ media day, as it should. Guys are mostly healthy, rested, and ready to get after it.

On this first day, the Lakers stuck to the script. They also understand the expectation of those trophies and banners overhead.

“As a team, me myself, need to get the Lakers back to what they’ve been accustomed to every year,” LeBron said.

 

 

Mark Cuban’s plan for a restart, “I don’t think we can go the old tried and true way”

Leave a comment

Wild, fanciful ideas for restarting the NBA that would never fly in a typical year — 1-16 seeding, or maybe a soccer World Cup-style group stage — are getting an airing this season because everything is on the table. As the NBA moves closer to a restart plan, countless ideas are being floated.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has his own plan.

Shocking, I know. But it’s interesting.

“What I proposed is that we extend the playoff format to 10 teams from each conference, and play at least five games prior to going into playoffs,” Cuban said laying out is plan to NBC’s Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live.” And if we do that, every team in the Eastern Conference would have a chance to make the playoffs, and all but two in the Western Conference would do it [Ed. note: Golden State and Minnesota].

“Then, what I would do, once we got 10 and 10, I would reseed them, and 17 would play 20, and 18 would play 19, in a one-game series. The winner then would take on the eighth-place seed in a five-game series, while the No. 1 seed in each conference would get a bye. Then you go ahead normally from there.

“That gives us a chance to have more meaningful games, it gives almost every team a chance when we come back for whatever is left of our regular season. I think we’ve got to change it up some, I don’t think we can go the old tried and true way.”

Cuban later added, speaking to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, that he wants to see all 30 teams come to Orlando for regular season games, building excitement for the NBA’s return in every market. This dream, however, seems a long shot, and Damian Lillard spoke for a lot of players when he said he’s not playing if there is not a path to the playoffs for Portland.

Cuban’s point that this is the year to try something different, not to play it safe, has real validity. This season is already upside down due to the corona

Cuban’s plan is a long shot, but is it any longer a shot than any of the other ones out there?

 

Wizards’ Bradley Beal: Thunder considered trading James Harden for me on draft day 2012

Leave a comment

The first three picks of the 2012 NBA Draft, which was held in June:

1. New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans): Anthony Davis

2. Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets): Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

3. Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal

That August, the Thunder reportedly offered to trade James Harden to Washington for Beal. Washington reportedly rejected the offer due to Harden’s desire for a max contract extension (which Wizards owner Ted Leonsis denied). The Rockets were more than willing to pay Harden, and Oklahoma City dealt him to Houston that October.

Apparently, Washington had a chance to land Harden earlier that offseason.

Beal on “All The Smoke:”

We’re sitting in the draft room. Sure enough, my agent is tapping me. He’s like, “It’s possible you might go to OKC.” I said, “Damn, how am I going to go there? I ain’t even worked out for OKC.” I only worked out for three teams – Washington, Cleveland and Charlotte.

So, the deal was to trade James to Washington, right? OKC gets the third pick. It was either the second or third pick. They were going to trade up to 2 or 3, get me, trade James to Washington.

I would have been in OKC with KD and Russ.

That was a last-minute decision. It was almost done.

I can’t tell whether Beal is also revealing a Harden-to-Charlotte offer or just got mixed up on which teams held the Nos. 2 and 3 picks. Obviously, if Beal was the main prize to the Thunder, they would’ve cared only minimally whether they got him with the No. 2 or No. 3 pick. So, there might have been trade talks with Charlotte, too.

But I’m not convinced Oklahoma City valued Beal that way.

The Thunder were a championship contender. They had just lost in the 2012 NBA Finals to the Heat. Oklahoma City couldn’t have depended on a rookie Beal to contribute on that level.

That’s why – in addition to picks/young player acquired from the Rockets for Harden – the Thunder also got Kevin Martin. The veteran Martin was much better than Beal in 2012-13. (Ironically, the open title window was also a strong argument for just keeping Harden, whatever his contract status).

But the 2012-13 season didn’t go as planned for Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook got hurt early in the playoffs, and the Thunder lost to the Grizzlies in the second round. Martin left for a lucrative contract with the Timberwolves the following summer.

Even with the long runway Kevin Durant and Westbrook provided, Oklahoma City never got back to the Finals. Beal could have grown into a third star whose shooting complemented the duo. The Thunder might have won a championship with this trade (or, again, just keeping Harden).

The Wizards almost certainly would have won more. Harden has perennially gotten the Rockets to the playoff. (They’ve gone further in years he has had more help.) Beal hasn’t singlehandedly carried Washington like that.

So, this is an interesting “what if?” – if you take it at face value.

Beal’s agent warning him of a trade possibility means something. But we don’t know which other pieces were involved.

The Thunder didn’t trade Harden until just before the rookie-scale-extension deadline, suggesting they wanted to give themselves time to extend him themselves before taking the drastic step of trading him. Would Beal have been enough of a return to give up in June (or even August) on keeping Harden? Maybe. Harden didn’t fully blossom until reaching Houston. But I’m skeptical. At minimum, Harden had already established himself as young and good. Beal was young, promising and under greater team control. There’s significant value in the certainty of a player being at least a near-star, and Harden – not Beal – had that.

Even in hindsight, we’re still revisiting the situation with only limited information.

Report: NBA games could resume in August, not July

Bucks center Brook Lopez and Raptors center Marc Gasol
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Leave a comment

A week ago, the NBA was looking to resume games in July at Disney World.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

In fact, there’s a possibility the first games played in Orlando could be in August, not July, sources said.

It’s good the NBA is being flexible on a start date. The coronavirus presents so much uncertainty.

The league is approaching its most lucrative time – the playoffs. The NBA should make every effort to play the postseason, whenever that can be done safely.

Everyone can figure out next season later, especially because there’s a willingness to delay the start.

Report: Pistons searching for new general manager

Pistons executive Ed Stefanski
Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Pistons hired Ed Stefanski as a senior advisor to owner Tom Gores in 2018. Among Stefanski’s duties: Assist in the ongoing search for a new head of basketball operations. But it quickly became clear Stefanski would just run the front office himself.

Now, two years later, Detroit is finally getting around to that general-manager search.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Detroit Pistons are opening a search to hire a general manager to work with senior advisor Ed Stefanski, sources tell ESPN.

Stefanski will be working with Pistons and Palace Sports Vice Chairman Arn Tellem on the process to hire a GM, sources said.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

If Stefanski is still running the front office, a new general manager would be the No. 2 – equivalent to assistant general manager on many teams.

After taking over an inflexible roster left by Stan Van Gundy, Stefanski couldn’t do much. Stefanski’s big move was trading Andre Drummond to the Cavaliers just before the trade deadline. That positioned Detroit to have major cap space next offseason, but it’s unclear how much will actually materialize. The salary cap could drop due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pistons must determine whether they’re still building around Blake Griffin, the 31-year-old due $36,810,996 and $38,957,028 the next two years. Last season, he returned to stardom and carried Detroit into the playoffs. This season, he missed most of the year due to injury.

If they’re trying to win now with Griffin, the Pistons are short on quality complementary players. If Detroit is ready to rebuild, its pool of young talent – Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya, Bruce Brown, impending free agent Christian Wood, its own first-round pick – is hardly assured of success.

After years of being stuck on a path charted under the Van Gundy regime, the Pistons can soon pick a new course. This is the time get the front office up to full staffing.