Sixty-two games into season, Lakers still blindly searching for identity

Lakers Clippers at
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LOS ANGELES — The contrast could not have been more stark.

On one side of the court, decked in black, were the Clippers, a team of role players — not one former All-Star among their active roster, not to mention no All-NBA nods, no MVP trophies or other impressive hardware. What they are is young, hungry, gritty, buying into the team identity and each other.

“I’ve been on, now, a couple of teams, and this is the only team where, from top to bottom, everyone wants everyone to succeed,” said Isaiah Hartenstein, who had a dozen points off the bench for the Clippers Thursday. “I think that’s special with this team.”

On the other side of the court, in their legendary gold, were the Lakers. A roster with four future Hall of Famers and more individual accolades than any team in the league — playing like individuals.

“My role and what I’m doing has changed every single night,” Russell Westbrook said after the latest Laker loss, in what came off as a thinly-veiled shot at coach Frank Vogel. “So I’m just trying to figure that out as I’m playing and to be able to benefit and help my team.”

Westbrook’s best role for these Lakers might be coming off the bench in a “turn him loose with the second unit” style, ala Lou Williams or Jordan Clarkson. The Lakers have discussed it.

“We’ve talked about everything,” Vogel said when asked about bringing Westbrook off the bench. When pressed if we could actually see it, Vogel echoed himself, “We’ve talked about everything.”

Talk is cheap. Sixty-two games into the season, the Lakers are still figuring out their roles (let alone accepting them) and seem to be playing different styles night to night. This is a team trying to find a team identity. The result is ugly basketball — the Lakers have dropped 7-of-8 overall and are 0-3 since the All-Star break, having lost those last three by a total of 53 points. They play like a team whose spirit has been broken.

Talk is cheap, but it’s all the Lakers have right now. They keep saying they will fight through this latest slump even as the evidence piles up on the court to suggest otherwise.

“I’m not a quitter. It’s not in my genes,” Westbrook said. “I don’t quit, regardless of what the hell is going on. I’m going to fight to the end, and if it don’t work, that’s cool, too. I can live with the results. But I’m never going to give up or give in because of a little struggle that’s happening this time of the year.”

“There’s no quit in us. We will continue to persist,” Vogel said. “We’re trying to adjust and shift and find ways to win with Anthony [Davis] out. We haven’t found that yet. But it’s not something that we can’t do. We just haven’t found it yet.”

What are they trying to find? What is that identity?

“With a Frank Vogel team, you obviously start with defending and it starts with the point of attack, so the point guard position,” LeBron said (Westbrook starts at the one, at that point of attack). “And then obviously this league is a huge pick and roll league, so you know [the] bigs being able to help the guards out, protect the guards, the guards getting back in front of the ball and then the bigs getting back to be big-on-big so we can also rebound the ball when the shots go up.

“Obviously, it’s been challenging for us this year defensively and we had a lot of breakdowns, we lost a lot of games because our defense has broken down but also, it’s because of our offense at times too. Your offense can help your defense and when you are taking bad shots or you’re turning the ball over, or you take a good shot but it’s a long rebound and you’re not getting floor balance and you’re not getting back that can affect your defense as well.”

The Lakers have drifted away from that defensive identity that won them a title in the bubble (they are 17th in the league in defense this season). Drifted is the wrong word, they have deliberately steered the roster away from putting younger, role-playing shooters and defenders around LeBron and Davis, and they went for a third star in Westbrook who was never a natural fit. The Lakers haven’t developed Talen Horton-Tucker and got unlucky with Kendrick Nunn‘s injury lasting this long, but the Lakers made a conscious decision to sign a lot of aging veterans to one-year minimum contracts. They got what they paid for. This is not a good defensive team, offensively not a good shooting team, and they only play with force on occasion.

The Lakers are saying all the right things because that’s what veterans do, but watch them play and — even picturing Davis back in the lineup — it’s fair to question if they get out of the play-in tournament. (There is a legitimate chance the Lakers could face these Clippers in a winner-gets-in second round of the play-in.) Even if the Lakers could pull it together and win a couple of play-in games, the reward would be a deep, balanced, talented Suns team on a mission.

A major shakeup is coming to Los Angeles this offseason. Westbrook and the Lakers are both ready to go their separate ways. Nobody around the league expects Frank Vogel to be back at the helm. The Lakers have backed themselves into a financial corner in terms of big moves. Still, changes are coming.

Whether those changes are upgrades depends in large part on something the Lakers have not done this year — buy-in and commit to a team identity.

NBA says Horford foul on Butler correct call, as was added time


While Game 6 will be remembered as the Derrick White game, a series of controversial moments on the previous play set the stage for the winning shot.

There was the Heat’s Jimmy Butler driving left, getting bumped by Al Horford and fumbling the ball, recovering it and starting to dribble again (which appeared close to earning a double-dribble call). Then Butler drew a shooting foul on Horford initially called inside the arc with :02.1 seconds left, but after Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla challenged and it was ruled a 3-point attempt (it clearly was) at the :03 second mark. The referees added 0.9 seconds to the clock, ultimately enabling White to get the game-winning putback with O.1 left.

The referees got all that right, the NBA said in its Last Two Minute Report from Game 6. The report found just two incorrect calls in the final five minutes:

Caleb Martin should have been called for a lane violation on Jaylen Brown‘s missed free throw with 1:01 left in the game.
Gabe Vincent should have been called for a foul on Jayson Tatum‘s stumbling layup attempt with :31 remaining.

None of that changes the results, the Celtics escape Miami with a 104-103 win to force a Game 7 on Monday night. Even though that is a Game 7, it will be hard for that game to surpass the drama of Game 6.

Nick Nurse reportedly enticed by idea of working with Morey again with 76ers

Coach Nick Nurse in Canada vs Czech Republic - FIBA Men's Olympic Qualifying
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When news came out about the Milwaukee Bucks hiring Adrian Griffin to be their new coach, one part of that was a report that Nick Nurse pulled himself out of consideration for the job. That felt a little chicken and egg — did he pull out because he realized he would not get the job?

Either way, he is interested in the Philadelphia 76ers and particularly working again with Daryl Morey, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inqurier. Morey was the GM of the Rockets when Nurse was the coach of their G-League team, the Rio Grand Valley Vipers.

Sources have said that reuniting with Morey is very much enticing to Nurse…

A source has confirmed that Nurse pulled out of being considered for the Milwaukee Bucks head-coaching job, leading to the team hiring his former Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin on Saturday. Nurse interviewed with the Sixers on Monday before meeting with the Suns on Thursday. The 55-year-old coach is pondering the best destination for him, according to sources. However, a source would not say if the Sixers offered him the gig.

Nurse makes intuitive sense for the 76ers or Suns, an out-of-the-box coach who won a championship four years ago to teams with title aspirations next season and beyond. His connection to Morey has had some around the league thinking that would be his ultimate destination from Day 1.

However, the stars of those teams will have a say, as Giannis Antetokounmpo did in the Bucks hiring Griffin (a former player, something Antetokounmpo reportedly prioritized). How does Joel Embiid feel about Nurse? What about Kevin Durant and Devin Booker? Marc Stein reported that Booker endorsed Suns assistant Kevin Young for that job.

Both teams are reportedly getting close to deciding on their next head coach, but for contending teams that need to get this hire right they do not want to be rushed.

Report: Mavericks have no interest in Irving sign-and-trade with Lakers that brings back Russell

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game
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Kyrie Irving may say he doesn’t want to be in the middle of NBA free agency speculation, but when he sits courtside in Los Angeles at a couple of Lakers’ playoff games he has to know that will spark talk.

LeBron James has sent his not-so-subtle message he wants more help, and the rumors he’s open to a reunion with Irving are nothing new. All of that has driven a lot of speculation in recent weeks of a Lakers’ sign-and-trade to reunite the core of the Cavaliers’ 2016 title team. While Irving is a free agent, the Lakers have made clear they intend to re-sign Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura as restricted free agents, making signing Irving directly off the table (unless he wants to take a massive pay cut and play for the midlevel exception, which his actions indicate he does not). If Irving comes to the Lakers, it’s on a sign-and-trade.

Then who goes back to Dallas in this trade? The speculation centered on free agent D'Angelo Russell signing and trading to play next to Luka Dončić. However, the Mavericks have no interest in that, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

A popular topic all week, in the wake of Denver sweeping the Lakers out of the Western Conference finals, was the notion that L.A. could emerge as a potential sign-and-trade destination for Dallas’ free agent-to-be Kyrie Irving.

While we await a clear indication about the Lakers’ intentions there, with no verifiable signal to date that pursuing Irving is among their offseason priorities, league sources say that the Mavericks would have no interest in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers that features D’Angelo Russell as the primary Dallas-bound player. All indications are that the Mavericks remain intent on re-signing Irving

While the questions of fit between Dončić and Irving remain, when the Mavericks traded for Irving they committed to this path, both financially and on the court. If Irving walks in free agency Dallas has no way to replace him, and they are better off with him than without him. Irving is a much better player than Russell and with Dončić on the roster the Mavericks are a win-now team. Their preference is clear.

As for Irving, he wants to get paid (remember he opted in with the Nets rather than leave to play for less, then pushed for a trade when Brooklyn would not give him the extension he wanted). There is logic for both Dallas and Irving to work out a new contract and, if this marriage doesn’t work out, trade him down the line. The only questions are money, years, and does Irving really want to be in Dallas (he has said he does).

League sources have told NBC Sports that the Lakers’ front office’s primary focus is not on Irving. While the Lakers could clear as much as almost $30 million in cap space, free agency is not the path the Lakers appear to be walking. Re-signing Reaves and Hachimura and putting them next to LeBron and Anthony Davis — both of the Lakers stars make more than $40 million next season — plus rounding out the roster has the Lakers quickly pushing above the cap and into the tax, and the second tax apron is within sight. The Lakers are more likely to make moves like picking up the $16.5 million team option on Malik Beasley and trading him and or other players for the shot creation and shooting they want. A Russell sign-and-trade is certainly in play, or they could bring him back, just not on anything near the max Russell likely wants (more likely a deal starting around $20 million a year). Russell was good for the Lakers in the regular season and had a 31-point playoff game to close out the Grizzlies, plus a 21-point game against the Warriors, he just was in a bad matchup against Denver.

Irving to the Lakers is a long shot. But if LeBron wants it, and Irving wants it, nothing is off the table.

Reactions from NBA players to White’s game-winning putback for Celtics


It was an all-time classic game, one that could be part of a legendary chapter in Celtics’ lore. Boston was on the verge of being sent home for the summer by the Miami Heat when Derrick White‘s putback as time expired won the Celtics Game 6 and forced a Game 7 Monday night.

NBA players were as stunned and excited as fans everywhere. Check out the reactions from players around the league — and a few others — to the Celtics’ dramatic win.