Report: ‘Decent chance’ Lakers send out Westbrook as third team in Mitchell trade

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The Lakers’ situation is pretty clear: They would like to trade Russell Westbrook before the season starts (ideally before training camp). However, other teams want sweeteners to take him (and his $47 million contract), and because of their very limited trade assets, the Lakers don’t want to put all their eggs in a basket that doesn’t make them title contenders. Put simply, the Lakers don’t want to trade the last two first-round picks under their control this decade (2027 and 2029) just to be a good playoff team — they will do it for a shot at a ring.

This brings us to this report from Marc Stein in his Sunday newsletter, saying the Lakers could well be the third team in a Donovan Mitchell trade with the Knicks, sending out a pick or picks to unload Westbrook and get back quality role players.

If the Knicks manage to win the trade race for Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, or even if another team unexpectedly beats them to Mitchell, league sources say there’s a decent chance that the Lakers will be involved in the deal. The two future first-round picks that the Lakers possess in 2027 and 2029 are the kind of top-shelf draft picks that Jazz CEO Danny Ainge is believed to covet. Russell Westbrook’s $47 million expiring contract and those picks could be the Lakers’ entree to a potential three-team swap … depending on the players that would land in Los Angeles.

The Lakers, I’m told, continue to hold firm on their position that they will agree to surrender both of their future firsts in the same deal only if the trade makes them a certified contender. Does a three-teamer that routes, say, Utah’s Bojan Bogdanović and New York’s Evan Fournier to the Lakers rise to that level?

The Lakers would almost unquestionably put one of their first-round picks (likely unprotected) in a trade that sent out Westbrook and returned two or three of Bogdanovic, Fournier, Malik Beasley, and Jordan Clarkson. A Laker starting five with Patrick Beverley, Fournier, Bogdanovic, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, with a bench of Lonnie Walker IV, Austin Reaves, Kendrick Nunn and Thomas Bryant is good (maybe Bryant starts and Fournier comes off the bench, there are options). That’s a solid playoff team.

That roster does not contend for a title. To get into the Mitchell trade as the third team, the Lakers might have to send out both picks, possibly with light protections. Is the idea of addition by subtraction with Westbrook worth it to Los Angeles?

It’s the same situation with the currently dead trade talks with Indiana around Buddy Hield and Myles Turner — that deal makes the Lakers a top-six team (most likely) but not a title contender. Is that worth both Lakers’ picks?

Whether or not the Lakers should and will strike a deal ultimately depends on exactly what they need to throw into the mix to get the trade done. The challenge for Rob Pelinka and the front office is they don’t have enough trade assets to get rid of Westbrook to make a lateral move. They get one swing at this, and Pelinka has to nail it.

Donovan Mitchell to the Knicks is very likely going to happen, the only questions are when and what the deal ends up looking like (how many unprotected picks do the Jazz get). The Lakers could be part of that move, but it will cost them. Do they want to pay that price?

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

Pregame of Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat
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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

Orlando Magic v Charlotte Hornets
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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

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If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

San Antonio Spurs v Denver Nuggets
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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.