Report: Terry Rozier, Josh Richardson potential Lakers’ trade targets

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The Lakers want to get 20 games or so into the season and then re-assess how their season — and the fit of Russell Westbrook in coach Darvin Ham‘s system — is going.

But after Westbrook was benched for the closing seconds of the Lakers’ come-from-ahead loss to the Trail Blazers Sunday, that assessment may come sooner rather than later. The mood in the Lakers locker room after the game was tense, and multiple players, as well as Ham, talked about shot selection. While there were other questionable shots, what they were referencing came with :30 seconds left in the game, :18 seconds on the shot clock and the Lakers up by one — Westbrook inexplicably took and missed a mid-range jumper (he said he was trying to get the team a two-for-one). LeBron James and Anthony Davis‘ reactions say it all (as did the usually homer Laker broadcast, where Bill McDonald said, “no Russ, no”).

The Lakers’ hope in waiting out the trade market is that as teams pivot to tank for Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson, better trade offers than they saw over the summer will emerge. Ones that didn’t require them to surrender both first-round picks they can trade (2027 and 2029). However, the 0-3 start and the glaring Westbrook problem could push them to act more quickly. Shams Charania at The Athletic threw a couple of names in the mix — Terry Rozier and Josh Richardson.

Charlotte’s Terry Rozier emerged as a trade target for the Lakers in the offseason and their interest in him remains high, multiple sources tell The Athletic. The Lakers and Hornets held discussions about a possible three- or four-team trade during the summer, and hold him in high regard among their possible trade possibilities, but the dynamic Hornets guard’s availability will be entirely predicated on the franchise’s direction for the future and its play as the season goes on. Despite LaMelo Ball being sidelined with a Grade 2 ankle sprain and Rozier recently suffering his own sprained ankle, the Hornets and coach Steve Clifford are off to a 2-1 start in the Eastern Conference.

The Lakers have also held preliminary discussions with the Spurs in recent weeks, sources said, showing interest in three-and-D wing Josh Richardson. The 6-foot-5 Richardson has averaged nearly 13 points to start the season, shooting 47.1 percent on 5.67 three-point attempts per game.

A Hornets trade could involve the Lakers also taking on Gordon Hayward, who is a good player when healthy (averaging 19.3 points a game this season) but is owed $31.5 million next season, eating up the Lakers’ available cap space. Rozier has three seasons remaining on his contract after this one at a total of $73 million.

Richardson also is a solid winger making $12.2 million in the final season of his contract. The Spurs also have (and can create more) cap space to help absorb Westbrook’s contract in a deal. The price will be high in draft picks to make that happen.

The much-discussed potential trade with the Pacers for Myles Turner and Buddy Hield makes more sense for the Lakers than Rozier or Richardson, unless the cost in draft picks is so much lower that it tips the scales.

Which leads to the big question for Rob Pelinka and the Lakers’ brain trust: How much does subbing out Westbrook with a solid wing player help the team? Getting Rozier or Richardson would not make the Lakers contenders or maybe even a lock playoff team, and it’s debatable how far they can go with Turner and Hield (but they likely are top six). Are the Lakers better off holding on to their picks and waiting for a bigger move down the line, a trade that could really move the needle? Can the Lakers afford to wait with LeBron turning 38 in December?

The Lakers had hoped the trade buzz and energy around the team would change once real games started, but the 0-3 start has highlighted the team’s roster problems. This will not suddenly become a good shooting team, and there are no easy answers.

NBA owners, players union reportedly agree to push back CBA opt-out date

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NBA owners and players are both making too much money to risk screwing things up with a labor stoppage, right? RIGHT?

Don’t be so sure.

In a sign the two sides have a lot of work to do to reach terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement — primarily because of an internal dispute among the owners — the NBA (representing the owners) and the players union have agreed to push back the opt-out date for the CBA from Dec. 15 (this would end the current CBA on July 1, 2023). Marc Stein reported this earlier in the week (covered here) and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski added details today.

Talks on a new CBA are ongoing, and a formal ratification of an extension — likely into February — is expected to come at a virtual board of governors meeting Wednesday, sources said.

What’s the stumbling block? A group of owners — bothered by the massive spending into the luxury tax of the Warriors, Clippers, and Nets  — is pushing for an “Upper Spending Limit” for teams. Call it whatever they want, that’s a hard cap and there is no chance the players will sign off on any form of a hard cap. 

The NBA has used a punitive and progressively intense luxury tax to rein in the spending of some owners. However, some owners — how many is unclear, but enough that the NBA has put the issue on the table — feel the tax isn’t doing its job in the wake of new, even wealthier owners. 

Unquestionably some owners are unbothered by the tax. To use the example I have used before, Steve Ballmer’s Clippers are on track to pay $191.9 million in payroll this season, which will result in a $144.7 million luxury tax bill (leading to a payroll and tax total of $336.6 million). The Warriors and Nets will be in the same ballpark. The Clippers will pay more in tax alone than 11 teams will spend on total payroll. Two-thirds of NBA teams will pay around $150 million in payroll or less, not much more than the Clippers’ tax bill.

Recently, the same NBA owners approved a rule change that would allow a sovereign wealth fund — the financial arms of generally oil-rich countries such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia — to buy up to 20% of an NBA team as a silent partner. That has not happened yet, but the door is open. It’s part of a pattern of wealthier owners — including hedge fund managers and the like — entering the playing field for the NBA.

All that has some of the more established, older owners feeling squeezed by this new group’s willingness to spend. That has the older owners pushing for a hard cap to stop what they see as an increased willingness to spend.

Again, there is no chance the players approve a hard cap. The owners know this, but some seem willing to play brinksmanship with a lucrative, growing business (particularly internationally) to protect their bottom lines.

If you read all that and thought, “this isn’t about the players really, it’s an owner vs. owner issue,” you’re spot on. The league and players are giving the owners more time to work out their internal issues.

Are struggling Mavericks on the clock with Luka Doncic?

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Luka Doncic is in the first year of a five-year, $215.2 million contract. More than that, when asked recently if Mavericks fans should be worried about him wanting out as the team has stumbled at points to start this season, Doncic didn’t sound like a guy looking to bolt:

“I don’t think they’re worried about it right now. I got what, five years left here, so I don’t think they should be worried about it.”

The Mavericks’ front office should be worried about it — teams are always on the clock with a superstar.

The Mavericks let Jalen Brunson get away in the offseason, then brought in Christian Wood (whose defense is an issue and he is coming off the bench). This remains a team a player or two away from contending despite having a potential MVP in Doncic carrying a historic offensive load.

That doesn’t mean Doncic will ask out at the deadline or this summer (he won’t), but if his frustration grows over the next couple of years… who knows. Tim MacMahon of ESPN put it well on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM):

“I think they have a two-year window. This season and next season going into that summer [2024]. I think they have a two-year window where, you know, like Milwaukee did with Giannis [Antetokounmpo], I think in that window they really need to convince Luka that he has a chance to contend year in and year out right here in Dallas. If they can’t get it done in that two-year window, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he’s going to force a trade or ask for a trade. I’m just saying at that point if he’s not happy, he has all the leverage in the world if he would be looking to leave..

“I don’t think Luka will look for reasons to leave. I think he’d be perfectly happy spending his entire career in Dallas. But if he doesn’t have to look for reasons and they’re slamming him in the face, then that’s a problem. He’s also a guy who is a ruthless competitor, which means he loves winning. He’s used to winning. He won championships with Real Madrid. He won a EuroBasket championship with the Slovenian national team. He also detests losing. Like can’t handle it.”

The Mavericks made the Western Conference Finals last season, knocking off the 64-win Suns in the process — this team is not that far away. Not with Doncic handling the ball. But it feels like a team that has taken a step back from those lofty levels this season. There are many more questions than answers, and it’s impossible to guess how Doncic will feel after this season’s playoffs, let alone the ones ending in the summer of 2024.

But the Mavericks stumbles this season have to put the Dallas front office on notice — this team is not good enough. And if we know it, you can be sure Doncic knows it.

Curry thinking retirement? ‘I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon’

2022 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards Presented by Chase
Kimberly White/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated
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Stephen Curry is playing at an MVP level this season: 30 points a game, hitting 43.2% from 3 with a 66.4 true shooting percentage, plus pitching in seven assists and 6.6 rebounds a game. He remains one of the best-conditioned athletes in the sport.

In the face of that, even though he is 34, asking him a retirement question seemed an odd choice, yet a reporter at the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award ceremony — Curry won the award, if you didn’t know — asked Curry about it seems he’s not interested.

Curry should not be thinking of retirement, but there is a sense around these Warriors that this era, this run is coming to an end in the next few years. Curry may be defying father time, but Draymond Green and Klay Thompson (especially post injuries) are not. There is a decline in their games (and this season, the role players have not stepped up around them the same way). With that comes a certain pressure to take advantage of the opportunities, there aren’t going to be as many.

Which is why the Warriors are a team to watch at the trade deadline (and will they sell low on James Wiseman to a team that still sees the potential in him?).

As for Curry, he will still be around and producing for a few more years. Nobody is ready to think about his retirement. Including Curry himself.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins

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To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.