Five teams with a chance to knock off the Los Angeles Lakers


The Lakers enter the coming season on their own tier. The defending champions already had the best duo in the league — two top five players in LeBron James and Anthony Davis — then upgraded the talent around them, especially at the point (Dennis Schroder) and at center (Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell). This is a better Lakers team than the one that just hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Can any team knock the Lakers off the mountain top?

Here are five teams with a chance, but they have questions to answer in each case, and they need some breaks to go their way.


The second most talented roster in the NBA on paper, the problem is they were exactly that last season but never developed the chemistry or grit needed to live up to that potential. In Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers have the one player who has shown in recent years he can reach LeBron levels of postseason play (at least for a stretch). We know he can lead a team to a title if healthy. Paired with Paul George, the Clippers have an elite duo, plus around them there is quality depth with Lou Williams, Marcus Morris, Patrick Beverley, plus Serge Ibaka and Ivica Zubac at center. Now add in the shooting of Luke Kennard.

The questions with the Clippers are health — George missed time with shoulder issues last season, Leonard needs load management during the season — and if this year they can build that chemistry and show that grit they lacked blowing a 3-1 series lead to Denver. New coach Tyronn Lue has to demand more accountability from Leonard and George, then and he’s going to have to get the team’s best players on the court at the same time to build good habits and unity (something Rivers was limited in doing because of injuries). If it all comes together, the biggest threat to the Lakers’ supremacy could come from down the hall in their own building.


The Bucks still have the two-time reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo and a cast of shooters around him, which will likely land them on top of the East in the regular season. The questions come in the second round of the playoffs and beyond when Milwaukee runs into defenses that will take away most of the easy transition points and form a wall in front of the Greek Freak — for two years in a row the Bucks have not had an answer for that.

Will the addition of Jrue Holiday — with his shooting and being a floor general — be a better playoff fit next to Antetokounmpo than Bledsoe? Will the depth the Bucks gave up to get Holiday come back to bite them? Will coach Mike Budenholzer make the adjustments needed to get All-Star Khris Middleton into better positions to lift this team in the postseason? Will Brook Lopez keep knocking down playoff threes? Maybe the biggest adjustment needs to come from Antetokounmpo himself — a reliable 15-foot jumper from his spot on the floor taken over the top of the defensive wall teams form in front of him would change everything.

Finally, can the Bucks handle the incredible pressure to win if Antetokounmpo does not sign the supermax extension in front of him before Dec. 21 and sets himself up for free agency next summer? That question will be a black cloud that follows them all season (unless he signs).


Brooklyn is this high on the list because if it all comes together, this may be the second best team in the league in terms of talent. But there are so many questions, starting with the big one: Just how good is Kevin Durant coming back from his torn Achilles? In the two playoffs before that injury he was the Finals MVP and the best player on the planet, out-dueling LeBron on the NBA’s biggest stage. Is Durant that player again, or 85% of that guy?

If Durant is his old self, if Kyrie Irving can stay healthy and be the No. 2 (or, No. 1A) next to Durant, if first-year coach Steve Nash can layer those stars on top of a strong rotation of role players — Caris LeVert as the No. 3, followed by Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, and more — this team can be a threat to knock off the Bucks, Lakers, and everyone else. However, history suggests it often takes a season or more of the players adjusting to each other (and a couple of roster tweaks for fit) before it all comes together. The Nets are on the clock and want to beat that timeline.


Like Brooklyn above, this is about the potential ceiling, but with reservations about their ability to meet it. Philadelphia has its own elite duo with Joel Embiid as potentially the best center in the game, with Ben Simmons as the shot creator driving the lane. Brett Brown never quite got them to mesh, but also took the fall for questionable roster building decisions by Elton Brand (going big, no shooting).

Philadelphia will space the floor better with Danny Green and Seth Curry. New coach Doc Rivers will bring both accountability — particularly to Embiid and Simmons, they will not be handled with kid gloves — and some of his Lob City sets that helped use Blake Griffin and others as playmakers in L.A. Tobias Harris thrived under Rivers before. If Rivers gets this roster to mesh, if the 76ers reach their potential, they are a real threat to come out of the East and win it all. But if Simmons and Embiid just don’t fit together, this is the season Philadelphia needs to acknowledge it, and Daryl Morey will have to get busy with the trade machine and some tough decisions.


Yes, it is cheating to put three teams on one tier, but these squads are all on about the same level and in the same place — one player away.

Miami made the Finals last year but put me in the camp that thinks the Heat are a good team that was also suited in temperament for the bubble. Can Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and company replicate that success in a more traditional format this season? In Denver, Jamal Murray made a leap and Nikola Jokic is an elite talent, but is Michael Porter Jr. or someone else the No. 3 option they need on the biggest stages? Boston still has Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but Gordon Hayward is gone, Kemba Walker is starting the season recovering from knee surgery, and this team feels like it took half-a-step back in talent on the floor.

Maybe one of those teams will prove that assessment wrong — or an aggressive front office will make a move that better completes the roster. Denver, Miami, and Boston are close, but can they make the leap needed to truly threaten the Lakers this season?

Can anyone?

Dolan says he he has no plan to sell Knicks, retire, but he loves facial recognition

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - October 06, 2022
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Knicks owner James Dolan has been better in recent years about staying out of the way of the front office and staying out of the media spotlight — both of which are good for the Knicks and their fans’ sanity.

However, he stepped back in the spotlight the past couple of days — doing an interview on “Good Day New York” on Fox 5 Thursday then WFAN sports talk radio on Friday — and reminded everyone why it’s best when he stays out of it. Here are the highlights of these interviews.

• Dolan isn’t going anywhere, saying to WFAN he is not selling the team, nor does he plan to retire. Via Fred Katz at The Athletic:

“I have no plans whatsoever to sell at this point. I’m not retiring anytime soon. It’s a family-controlled asset, so someone in the family will eventually own it.”

That was a bit of a pipe dream for Knicks fans, there had been no rumors of a sale. With the value of NBA franchises rising rapidly and Dolan enjoying being the owner of one of the biggest brands in the sport, there has been little chance of a sale.

• Dolan defended Madison Square Garden’s controversial use of facial recognition technology to ban attorneys from firms involved in lawsuits against the Knicks or MSG from entering the property (or other Madison Square Garden properties, such as Radio City Music Hall).

“At Madison Square Garden, if you’re suing us, we’re just asking of you — please don’t come until you’re done with your argument with us. And yes, we’re using facial recognition to enforce that…

“If someone is suing you, that’s confrontational. It’s adversarial. If you’re being sued, you don’t have to welcome that person into your home.”

Except, it isn’t a home, it’s a public building where sports and entertainment events take place for which tickets are sold. Also, there are fans saying they have been banned from the building because of social media posts critical of Dolan.

• This policy has created a considerable backlash, including from the New York Attorney General, who said the policy could violate anti-discrimination laws in the state. Lawmakers in the New York state assembly introduced a bill prohibiting sports venues — such as Madison Square Garden — from refusing entry to attorneys or others involved in lawsuits against the organization.

• Dolan said on FOX 5 that the State Liquor Authority reached out to the Madison Square Garden company saying the use of facial recognition technology in this manner could lead to a suspension of their liquor license.

“This isn’t going to bother me because I’ve been sober 29 years. I don’t need the liquor.”

Dolan even hinted he could do a dry New York Rangers game on Fox, but he backed away from that idea the next day speaking on WFAN.

• Dolan reiterated his support of current Knicks decision-maker Leon Rose.

Dolan also went on to say he expects the Knicks to make the playoffs this season, however, there is no timeline for the team to contend for a ring.

What will Rockets do at trade deadline? Send out Gordon? Bring in Collins?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Houston Rockets
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There’s a sense in league circles that this is the final season Houston will be okay with having one of the worst — as of today, the worst — record in the NBA. The Rockets hope to grab one of the big names at the top of the draft board this season, but they already have drafted Jalen Green at No. 2 (2021) and Jabari Smith Jr. at No. 3 (2022), plus made a draft night trade for Alperen Şengün (who is playing well). With cap space to spend and extensions coming up, the tanking days will be over.

How will that impact the Rockets at this trade deadline? Here are a few names to watch.

Kelly Iko at The Athletic reports the Rockets have interest in the Hawks’ John Collins and the sides have talked, but there is no real traction yet.

There has been nothing concrete from the Rockets — merely ideas floated by the Hawks to Houston among other teams — but the interest is real.

The Rockets could also be part of a larger, three-team trade to move Collins.

Eric Gordon remains on the trade block, as he has been for more than a year. Gordon has been frustrated waiting, but the Rockets have held out for what they thought was fair — a first-round pick — to no avail. That price likely comes down, and according to Iko at The Athletic, the front office is “more inclined to trade him now” than in the past, but the proof will be in a deal.

• Teams also are calling about K.J. Martin, according to Iko.

K.J. Martin, there continues to be interest in the 22-year-old combo forward who has been quite productive as a starter — averaging 14 points and seven rebounds on 35 percent shooting from 3 — but nothing concrete at this juncture in terms of offers on the table.

The Rockets like Martin, it’s going to take a serious offer to get them to consider it.

Knicks reportedly offered multiple first-round picks for OG Anunoby, got nowhere

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors
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What are the Toronto Raptors going to do at the trade deadline?

It’s less than two weeks before the trade deadline and the entire NBA is still asking that question, the Raptors are the one team that could turn this trade deadline from a dud to epic if they decide to pivot toward a rebuild. Are they willing to trade players like OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam, or will they look to add a more traditional big man such as the Spurs’ Jakob Poeltl, who has been linked to the Raptors in rumors? Everything seems to be on the table.

Anunoby is a player a lot of teams covet, including New York. The Knicks reached out to the Raptors, reports Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

“And Anunoby with Toronto, I mean, that would cost you a lot. That would cost you significant draft compensation. Maybe the Knicks are there, maybe they’re feeling like they could make the playoffs and make a big push if you added in Anunoby. I know that we reported they contacted Toronto on Anunoby and I was told in that conversation they offered multiple firsts. But this was a while back… Toronto has done a lot since then. But I don’t think the league is crystal clear on what [the Raptors] want to do on Anunoby.”

Anunoby is an elite on-ball wing defender who can be a finisher, averaging 17.3 points and 5.6 rebounds a game at age 25 — the asking price will start at two unprotected first-round picks in this market. The Knicks may have thrown some of their protected picks in the conversation, but Toronto’s asking price is reportedly sky-high because they’re not eager to get rid of him.

Anunoby is making $17.4 million this season and is under contract for $18.2 million next season, a fair price for what he brings to the court (he has a player option at $19.9 million in 2024-25). What the Raptors do with him may signal their direction.

At the deadline, most people around the league expect Toronto to trade Gary Trent Jr., but that’s it. Any other big moves are likely this offseason. If ever.

Reprots: Luka Doncic day-to-day with “mild” ankle sprain

Washington Wizards v Dallas Mavericks
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While there are grades of ankle sprains, ask anyone trying to walk around on one if there is a “mild” version.

Yet that’s what Mavericks sources say about Luka Doncic’s ankle sprain suffered against the Suns on Thursday night. He is “day-to-day” with the injury, a story first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (and since confirmed by others).

Doncic has been playing through ankle soreness in recent weeks and it’s fair to expect the Mavericks to give him a few games off. However, it can’t be too many for a team fighting for a playoff spot, the Mavs are 0-5 in games Doncic has rested this season and have been outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions this season when he sits (although they did beat the Suns largely without him Thursday). Doncic is an All-Star starter averaging 33.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game.

Dallas plays next on Saturday against the Jazz. It would be a surprise to see Doncic suit up for that game.