PBT NBA Roundtable: After ugly 0-4 start, what should be next for LeBron, Lakers?

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Nobody sane entered the season calling the Lakers title contenders, but neither did anyone predict this ugly an offense to start — 22.3% shooting from 3 and an offense scoring less than a point per possession (both last in the league). That is with LeBron James and Anthony Davis playing — and playing well. The Lakers are 0-4, heading into the next three games of the Timberwolves on the road, then the Nuggets and Pelicans. 

To discuss where the Lakers are and what is next, I and the NBA writing team from NBC Sports Edge — the place for fantasy and betting information — had a roundtable discussion, breaking it all down. It’s a rough ride for Lakers fans, but here we go.

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Kurt Helin: So…. Do you have any doubts or questions about the Lakers four games into the season?

Steve Alexander: Are these Lakers the worst shooting team in NBA history? How could anyone be clueless enough not to be able to figure out how to build around LeBron and AD? Do the Lakers have a single shooter on the entire roster? Is Darvin Ham about to be fired? Is Russell Westbrook going to come off the bench or be traded? Is Anthony Davis holding his back and walking to the locker room again?

If these are the primary questions being asked about the Lakers every night you know things aren’t going well. Unless they move quickly to bring in some sharpshooters to spread the floor this 0-4 team is done. And the scary part is they’re seemingly getting worse each time out. Jerry Buss’ teams never started 0-4 in 34 years and the fact it’s happened three times in the last nine years is on Jeanie Buss. And Rob Pelinka, the mastermind behind this incarnation who was recently extended through 2026, should be taking all the heat that’s being put on Westbrook. A complete dumpster fire.

Zak Hanshew: Wow Steve, tell us how you really feel.

But honestly, I think we need to put a hefty part of the blame on LeBron James. Sure the younger Buss and Pelinka deserve blame, but none of Dr. Buss’ teams ever had to contend with LeGM. I love LeBron the player, but LeBron the general manager and puppet master on every team he’s played for has spawned some disastrous results. The Lakers could have landed Buddy Hield, an elite three-point shooter, and Myles Turner, a shot-blocker and floor spacer, but instead they went with James’ guy in Russell Westbrick. The latter has been so bad that any and all criticism is fair game.

This team is out of money and trade assets to acquire anyone who can save it from ruin, and the utter dysfunction will sway potential free agents from signing. There’s no longer an allure of playing with James, and gaudy stat lines notwithstanding, it’s disappointing to see how his career is coming to an end. I’ll be following his chase for Kareem closely, but that’s the only iota of intrigue or positivity in Los Angeles.

Kurt Helin: LeBron has won the most in the one organization that stood up to him and asked him to fit their culture, at least to a point — Miami. The Lakers are a player-friendly organization but there must be limits; when it came to trading for Westbrook those limits were gone (or, the front office bought into the idea that shot creation would make up for a lack of shooting, when the answer is a balance). Now they’re stuck.

My question is now that they are in this position, what is the best path forward?

Zak Hanshew: I still contend that without the Bubble, the Davis trade would go down as one of the worst of all time, Brandon Ingram, Alex Caruso, Lonzo Ball, Julius Randle, Josh Hart are all gone now. What could have been… and at modest salaries compared to the guys on the payroll now.

The path forward in my opinion is tank this year. Get Westbrook off the books. Trade AD, sign players who can space the floor.

Noah Rubin: On the topic of Buddy Hield and Myles Turner [a long-discussed trade for Westbrook], ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on an appearance on “Get Up” on Wednesday morning that the Pacers and Jazz haven’t heard from the Lakers this season. Sure, it’s four games in, but really? Lakers’ Twitter has the virtual pitchforks and are marching for Rob Pelinka. You’d think that he’d have been on the phone with one of them at some point, looking to acquire Malik Beasley, Mike Conley, Hield or Turner at least. Jarred Vanderbilt, who had hit three 3-pointers in his career before this season is shooting better than anyone on the Lakers.

Pelinka needs to show why he received an extension and make some moves. This team is clearly not ready to contend despite having LeBron and AD on their roster. Like Steve said, that’s difficult to do.

Los Angeles Lakers Media Day
26 September 2022, US, Los Angeles: General manager Rob Pelinka speaks at a press conference. The Los Angeles Lakers start their preparation for the upcoming NBA season on Tuesday. Photo: Maximilian Haupt/dpa (Photo by Maximilian Haupt/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Steve Alexander: Perfect time for them to tank with Vic Wembanyama hanging in the balance. Oh wait, they don’t even have a first-round pick next year. [Editors note: The Pelicans have unprotected swap rights for the Lakers’ 2023 pick, the Lakers will have the worse of the two teams’ picks.]

Thanks to the AD trade (ugh) the Pelicans are watching the Lakers on League Pass every night and popping corks at the end of each game. Tanking gets the Lakers nothing unless they can talk a fellow tanker out of a pick for Westbrook. Not happening.

Trade Russ for whatever shooter and bag of Doritos you can find and pray that LeBron and AD are good enough to bounce back from this. But seriously- these two options stink and there is basically no hope in sight.

Kurt Helin: It’s wild that four games into this season we’re suggesting moves focused on next season, especially with LeBron turning 38 in December. But every move they make now needs to have an eye toward 2023-24, doesn’t it? If there were some way to turn this team into a contender this season, they would have done it.

Now, it’s a matter of making this team respectable this season while leaving the cap space there to chase Kyrie Irving or whomever next summer (the one that should worry Lakers fans is Draymond Green — another aging non-shooter). The problem is you can’t get shooting at the veteran minimum anymore. The Lakers need to spend on that, too.

Would you guys in throw both future Lakers picks they can trade (2027 and 2029) for Hield and Turner? If Indiana would even still do that?

Jared Johnson: YES!

Mortgage the future now! You have a GOAT. To keep those picks just to draft someone that you’ll trade away to OKC the proceeding season is not only irresponsible, it’s disrespectful!

Zak Hanshew: Absolutely. And therein lies the double-edged sword of having LeBron on your team. You want to maximize your potential to win now, but it almost always blows up in your face in a year or two.

Jared Johnson: But hey, can we really expect competence from a GM who told weird lying Batman stories about Kobe for no reason?

Zak Hanshew: What will the Lakers be when LeBron leaves? Worse than Cleveland was back in 2010?

Noah Rubin: I don’t understand why the Lakers haven’t made that Pacers trade. Rob Pelinka’s extension keeps him under contract through 2026. If he wants to earn another contract, he needs to make the team a winner again. He might as well go all in and give it his best shot. Trade every pick they have this decade to build a better team around LeBron and AD. The 2027 and 2029 firsts won’t do him any good if he loses his job before he can use them. LeBron, AD, Hield, Turner and someone else (Pat Bev?) is a formidable lineup to at least get back to the playoffs and see what happens with LeBron.

Jared Johnson: They really need to invent a time machine and trade for Buddy instead of Russ. I

Steve Alexander: They already mortgaged the future which is why: A) They stink; and B) They can’t get better through the draft. We all make fun of OKC and Utah for stockpiling first-round picks but everyone is about to feel their collective wrath. I don’t trust Pelinka with the picks or mortgaging the future, unfortunately.

Noah Rubin: The Lakers will be a bottom-feeder for years unless they trade AD when LeBron retires. Try and do everything you can to win for the next few years, then try and get what you can for AD. It’ll be another slow rebuild like they had after Kobe retired, except even longer. If they don’t sell all the assets to build an old contender again, they can have a solid team in the 2030’s.

Jared Johnson: Circling back, they gave up a lot for AD, but they also won a championship because of it. Worst trade in NBA history? Naw. How about when Billy King set up the Celtics for a decade to get washed KG and The Truth? That AD trade was not the problem — AD & Bron is a good start. But how they fill the pieces around then is the issue. Trading for Russ was the issue, that was never going to work and even most casual observers could have seen that.

Steve Alexander: Yeah, Jared but maybe they win three if they stick with their guys…But as a Colts and Pacers fan, you’re right. One title is better than none. Just saying, it will be a tough pill to swallow if the Lakers had a chance for Wemby and missed.

Jared Johnson: If you have LeBron, you’re not trying to get whoever is No. 1 in the draft.

Zak Hanshew: If you have LeBron, your focus is on winning now with the unfortunate side effect of doing it recklessly with no regard for future success. Golden State has never had that issue, and while it pains me to say it, the Dubs have shown that you CAN build around superstars AND build for the future without giving up pieces or picks.

Jared Johnson: Playoff Rondo ain’t walking through that door.

Noah Rubin: This is also a completely different team from the bubble champs. They took a championship roster and deconstructed it over two seasons into what they have now.

Will LeBron and AD be the ones to keep Patrick Beverley out of the playoffs for the first time in his career?

Hield and Turner may be the favorites for a Russ trade, but are there any other teams that could be interested? Obviously assuming that there are draft picks attached, could Eric Gordon, Kevin Huerter, Bojan Bogdanovic, Kelly Oubre or Gordon Hayward be targets? Also the Lakers have reportedly had discussions for Josh Richardson and Terry Rozier

Kurt Helin: The problem with these trades — and Hayward in particular — is they eat up the team’s cap space for the summer. If the front office sees what everyone else sees and doubts they can win much this season, then protecting that cap space and the ability to do something bold next summer likely becomes the priority. Hield does hit the cap space next year as well, but he brings a much-needed skill set.

How much of an addition by subtraction is trading Westbrook anyway? The evidence out of Denver is not as much as Lakers’ nation would hope.

Noah Rubin: I don’t think just getting rid of Westbrook helps much at all, but getting shooting back will. The roster is still bad when Westbrook out, though they did lose on the road to a good team. If their “shooters” that they have were hitting shots, it would be different. The Lakers take 28.3 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers per game, which is fifth in the league, despite hitting only a league-worst 20.4% of them (second-worst in the league is Orlando, also winless, at 29.1%). Hield hits 40.1% of his catch-and-shoot triples while shooting 7.4 per game. A match made in heaven.

Jared Johnson: Houston already took the Westbrook ride and they said “no thanks” after one season, I don’t think there’s any desire to renew that partnership, so getting Eric Gordon would likely require another few teams. The problem is finding the team where Russ makes sense, which is basically nowhere.

Noah Rubin: I just assume that if a team trades for Russ, their plan isn’t to actually play him. Whether they buy him out or just let him sit at home, if a team is trading for Russ it’s for the two firsts when the Lakers are winning 20 games in the late 2020s. I don’t think there is a team that really fits for Russ to “be Russ” at this point.

Kurt Helin: That’s the sense around the league, that any team trading for him is going to just buy him out. Regardless of how this season plays out, what team will sign Westbrook and at what price will be one of the most interesting offseason stories.

76ers blow 9-point lead in final :34 seconds, then hang on to beat Lakers in OT

Los Angeles Lakers v Philadelphia 76ers
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images
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It was almost a legendary comeback win for the Lakers — and a legendary blown lead for the 76ers.

Philadelphia had the game in hand, up 18 in the fourth quarter, and while Los Angeles staged a comeback the 76ers were still up by nine inside :45 seconds. And yet…

The 76ers took care of business in overtime — aided by the Lakers settling too much and going 0-of-5 outside the paint but also 1-of-5 in the paint in OT — and picked up the 133-122 win.

In a battle of two teams that have been inconsistent all season, they lived up to that billing – both teams had huge lapses and stretches of impressive play. It led to streaks, including the wild final minutes.

Joel Embiid started out hot scoring 13 of the Sixers’ first 15 points and finishing the night with 38 points on 14-for-19 shooting and 12 rebounds.

James Harden looked better than his first game back and finished with 28 points and 12 assists.

However, Philly’s breakout star of the night was DeAnthony Melton, who grew up a Clippers fan and said he wanted to take it to the Lakers — he scored 33 points with eight made 3-pointers.

Anthony Davis finished with 31 points and 12 rebounds for the night. Austin Reaves came off the bench and hit 4-of-6 from 3 on his way to 25 points, while LeBron James had 23 points on 9-of-22 shooting.

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.