Lakers’ Jeanie Buss talks Westbrook, why Lakers will never tank

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Jeanie Buss wants to be more transparent.

Much of what happens in the NBA still happens because of relationships and quiet conversations — it’s not the smoke-filled rooms of yesteryear, but it’s not out in the open, either. Buss wants the Lakers to be more open (or at least appear so), which is part of what led to the “Legacy” documentary on Hulu, plus a series of recent interviews she did, such as with Sam Amick at The Athletic, where transparency was part of the discussion. “I feel like we have been an open book,” Buss said.

Another of those conversations was on SiriusXM NBA Radio with Sam Mitchell and Amin Elhassan, and the discussion was tanking.

“It’s hard to win in the NBA, as you guys know… Nobody has the exact formula. But I know you can’t win a championship if you’re not the playoffs. You can provide enough resources to make sure that you have a competitive team year in and year out. Some people may debate the idea of tanking for several years. My dad never did that in 32 years…

“It’s just not the way he would have seen the Lakers brand to be at the bottom of the standing year after year. He always felt that the fans invested their time and their money in your team and you have to perform for them and if you don’t, then they’re going to move on and find something else to spend their time and money on. They deserve to have a quality product. Nobody can promise a championship a year, but again unless you are in playoffs, you’re not going to get a chance to win. So I like to have the team be in a position to compete for championships year in and year out.”

It’s also a different NBA than it was when her father ran the Lakers. The Lakers essentially did tank for years last decade, they just masked with the final seasons of Kobe Bryant’s legendary career (which continued to sell out Staples), but the picks they got from that allowed them to bring in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and others — the players they were able to trade to get Anthony Davis and win the 2020 title.

Lakers fans would understand a quick step backward if they saw smart drafting and player development that led to a genuine turnaround — you can sell hope in Los Angeles, it doesn’t have to be just winning. The problem with that strategy now is the Lakers don’t control any of their picks until 2027 — and they might trade that pick and 2029 away to be good (but not great) now. The “we can’t rebuild in this market” and trading away first-round picks has been the Knicks’ modus operandi for a couple of decades (or had been), and it’s not a path the Lakers want to follow. Los Angeles and the Lakers will always be a draw and can always lure superstars, but their has to be a foundation for them to come to. That foundation is built on smart drafting and player development.

Jeanie Buss is an excellent face for the Lakers organization, but one other thing Buss said in her interview with The Athletic turned heads:

“From my point of view, (Westbrook) was our best player last year.”

It turned the head of Amick, the writer, who then did the right and professional thing — he followed up with Buss later in a text to make sure she meant what she said.

“The word I should have used was ‘consistent,’” she wrote via text message. “He played 78 games last season.”

Westbrook was healthy and played. And he was consistent. He was better than some Lakers fans like to think, averaging 18.4 points a game, 7.4 rebounds, and 7.1 assists. But he wasn’t efficient like the Lakers needed (they should have seen that coming), he wouldn’t fit in with the Lakers’ style of play (they should have seen that coming), he didn’t defend (they really should have seen that coming), and he couldn’t lift the Lakers up when LeBron James or Anthony Davis were out. It was predictable — Westbrook was exactly who he had been the past few seasons, but the Lakers thought he could be something different. Westbrook may have said he could be, but it’s got the Lakers in a bind now.

Something Buss and the Lakers can be an open book about, but it doesn’t make finding a path back to contention any easier.

Presumptive No.1 pick Wembanyama set to make stateside debut

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson have been linked constantly over the last couple years, with just about every prognosticator anointing them as the top two picks in the 2023 NBA draft.

Thing is, they don’t know each other.

That’s about to change. Wembanyama – officially listed at 7-foot-2 but scouts often say more like 7-foot-4 – and the Paris-based club Metropolitans 92 are in Las Vegas to take on Henderson and the G League Ignite in a pair of exhibitions, the first on Tuesday and the second on Thursday.

“We’re playing against an NBA team, with NBA rules, on an NBA court,” Wembanyama said Monday. “This is really going to be a first for me. I’m curious to know how it’s going to go. I know it’s going to go well, but I’m still curious.”

Victor vs. Scoot. Scoot vs. Victor. They’re not playing 1-on-1, but they are the clear headliners and the reasons why these first-of-their-kind games were put together.

Wembanyama is listed as a center but plays all over the floor with guard skills in a big-man frame; Henderson is a point guard who has been getting tons of attention for years.

“Out of all the prospects I’ve heard about in our class, I think he’s my favorite one,” Wembanyama said. “I think he’s the most reliable that I’ve seen. He’s really a great player. If I was never born, I think he would deserve the first spot.”

Henderson – a five-star recruit from Georgia who signed with the Ignite last year and played in 10 games – sees these two games as an opportunity, downplaying the 1-on-1 storyline.

“People always try to compare and contrast whoever. I don’t look at it like that,” Henderson said. “I look at it as two good ballplayers.”

The Ignite program exists to develop young prospects in preparation for the NBA Draft, mixing them with veteran talent to help guide them along the way. It has featured three eventual top-10 picks – Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga last year, Dyson Daniels this year – in its first two seasons.

Henderson is a huge draw for the Ignite this year. The Ignite also have Shareef O'Neal, the son of Shaquille O’Neal. But much of what the Ignite would ordinarily be doing right now would be barely noticed nationally; hence, the games against Wembanyama were put together.

The Los Angeles Lakers are playing in Las Vegas this week, a pair of preseason matchups against Phoenix and Minnesota. Wembanyama is going to those as a fan; he’ll have a slightly different view of NBA games next season.

“He’s one of those type of players, honestly, where you say like there’ll never be like another Shaq or there’ll never be another that,” Ignite coach Jason Hart said. “He’s that. You’ll never see another one of those. The scouting report on him is tough. … I’m honored that I’m getting to play him at 18, because at 24, he’s going to be something different.”

Wembanyama has been a pro for three seasons already, spending last season with ASVEL in France – a club owned by San Antonio Spurs legend Tony Parker. He made the decision this year to join Metropolitans in part to be coached by Vincent Collet, who also coaches the French national team.

Collet is welcoming the chance.

“I think he’s the best prospect we’ve ever had in our league,” Collet said. “He’s amazing, not only by his size, but incredible skills. Despite that, he still needs to learn the game. He’s very young. … We will try to give him this experience. That’s the deal we have together, him and me. We want to give him the experience before he gets to the league. It’s most important to get him ready for what will follow next year.”

Watch Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard score first buckets in returns

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It’s only preseason. But if you’ve sat out an entire season with an ACL injury,  just getting on the court feels like a milestone.

And getting your first bucket back feels memorable.

That happened for the Nuggets Jamal Murray and the Clippers Kawhi Leonard on Monday night.

For Murray, the bucket came on a corner 3 in transition.

Murray also showed flashes he’s getting his handle and wiggle back, something that made him a great fit with Nikola Jokic.

Leonard wasted no time, scoring the Clippers’ first bucket by lulling his defender to sleep and then shooting the pull-up 3.

I feel we’re going to see a lot more of that this season.

The NBA is just better with these two back on the court.

 

Cavaliers Evan Mobley out 1-2 weeks with sprained ankle

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The Cleveland Cavaliers might have the best frontcourt in the East this season with All-Star Jarrett Allen and the emerging star Evan Mobley, but it may be a few weeks before we see them together.

Mobley is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right ankle, the Cavaliers announced a couple of days before their preseason opener. Mobley stepped on a teammate’s foot and rolled his ankle during practice, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Mobley, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his first campaign, but his more significant impact was on the defensive end. Mobley earned All-Defensive Team consideration as a rookie — an incredibly rare feat — and with Allen formed an impressive backstop for teams trying to drive the paint.

Reports out of Cavaliers training camp rave about the improvements made in Mobley’s offensive game, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see that for ourselves now. Mobley, with a more consistent face-up game and jumper, has the potential to develop into a top 15, maybe even top-10 player in the league. The Cavaliers are banking on the young core of Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and the just acquired Donovan Mitchell to be able to take the team far in the next few years, with Mobley’s improvement key to just how far they can go.

It sounds like Mobley will be good to go for the start of the season.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that, there were not a lot of details other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about whatever illness he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time, and it is his call to talk about.

Towns has been sidelined before by illness, including COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.