NBA Power Rankings: Nets jump up to top spot while Nuggets now second


We have a new No.1 in the NBC Sports NBA power rankings as the red-hot Brooklyn Nets get the top spot — and they are making believers out of us as contenders. Does that mean they will keep Kyrie Irving beyond this season? The Celtics and Bucks slide a little as they look bored with the regular season.

Nets small icon 1. Nets (25-12, Last week No. 2). The hottest team in the NBA, having won 12 straight with an insane 124.2 offensive net rating during that streak (for comparison, the Celtics’ 117 offensive rating is best for the full season — the Nets are +7.2 above that). What’s been impressive — and makes this team look like a legit contender — is the defense has come around during the streak and is top 10 in the league over the last dozen games. They are improving on that end. Interesting question looking ahead: Despite all the drama of the past couple of years, if the Nets make a deep playoff run would they re-sign Kyrie Irving this summer to a two-year contract? Would Irving be open to it?

Nuggets small icon 2. Nuggets (24-13, LW 3). It’s hard to continue to come up with ways to describe how well Nikola Jokic is playing (outside just counting his triple-doubles), but this may be the best: He has to be in the mix for what would be his third straight MVP award. If you’re looking for a topic to blow up NBA social media, putting Jokic in with Larry Bird/Wilt Chamberlain/Bill Russell in the three-straight MVP category (above Jordan/LeBron/Magic) would do it. Michael Porter Jr.‘s back in the rotation provides options for Michael Malone and some improved defense, and the emergence of Bones Hyland (after a rough start to the season) the past couple of weeks is a big boost. Denver plays both Los Angeles teams at home this week, but the more interesting matchup may be against Cleveland.

Celtics small icon 3. Celtics (26-12, LW 1). Jaylen Brown admitted it after an ugly loss Tuesday night, giving up 150 to a Thunder team without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Celtics have not been focused: “We came out the last couple of games and pick and choose when we want to play. We weren’t connected and didn’t have each other’s backs out there.” That’s also why nobody is really worried about Boston long-term, this is still maybe the best team in the NBA, they are just a little bored in the dog days of the season. Boston has started 0-2 on their current four-game road trip and face a good defensive test on Thursday against the red-hot Luka Doncic and the Mavericks.

Grizzlies small icon 4. Grizzlies (23-13, LW 6). Ja Morant is a walking highlight factory, but a key part of what is fueling recent Grizzlies’ wins is the front line of Steven Adams and Jaren Jackson Jr. Adams leads the NBA in offensive rebound percentage (20.3) while on the other end of the floor Jackson looks every bit a Defensive Player of the Year candidate (when he stays out of foul trouble, something he has been better about since Christmas). The Grizzlies are entering a soft patch of the schedule for the next couple of weeks, we’ve seen teams take their foot off the gas in that situation around the league recently, but the Grizzlies can’t afford to do that in a deep West, this is their chance to rack up wins they will want for seeding later.

Sixers small icon 5. 76ers (22-14, LW 5). Tyrese Maxey is back, playing the two 76ers games against the Pelicans (the squads split the matchup) and nearly 27 minutes in the second one. Maxey came off the bench in those games, and considering the success of the starting lineup with De'Anthony Melton starting in Maxey’s place — that lineup has a +11.9 net rating — can Doc Rivers talk Maxey into being a sixth man the rest of the season? Like all the best six men, Maxey could still close games, and he should be able to put up numbers against second-unit defenders. That said, going into an offseason where he and the 76ers will talk contract extension, he may not want to be seen as a sixth man. The 76ers have won 10-of-12 and are hitting a softer part of the schedule coming up over the next couple of weeks.

Pelicans small icon 6. Pelicans (23-14, LW 4). No Zion Williamson for at least the next three weeks with a strained hamstring (and the smart money is on it being more like a month), which quickly changes the question to “when will Brandon Ingram be back? While reportedly doing more in practice, he says he does not feel comfortable yet pushing off and getting some explosion from his sprained big left toe. There is no timeline for his return, yet, even though it appears close (he has been out since Nov. 25). They will need him back, after Wednesday against the Rockets, the Pelicans host the Nets and they head out on the road for 7-of-8 against the East, including Boston and Cleveland. In a tight West, this is a pace New Orleans could lose a little ground.

Cavaliers small icon 7. Cavaliers (24-14, LW 8). If there was any concern Donovan Mitchell might not get enough fan votes to become an All-Star starter, him dropping 71 this week on the Bulls probably solved that. Mitchell should be the lock in the starting backcourt out of the East. What was impressive about this 71 — compared to some big-number outings in recent years — is Mitchell did it in the flow of the offense. He wasn’t hunting, he had 11 assists, and the Cavaliers needed all his points (and that missed lane violation by the referees) to get the win.

Bucks small icon 8. Bucks (24-13, LW 7). Milwaukee was stumbling due to a combination of players being in and out of the lineup messing with continuity (Khris Middleton has been injured and Jrue Holiday has some non-COVID illness), and them acting like a championship team a little bored with the regular season. That’s when Giannis Antetokounmpo took over with a run of 40+ point games, capping it with a career-high 55 Tuesday. The Bucks needed that spark, they are 15-13 after starting the season 9-0, and they’ve been flat and looked beatable, but talk to scouts around the league and they think Milwaukee has the experience to flip the switch and get back to being a contender. Plus they have Antetokounmpo.

Mavericks small icon 9. Mavericks (22-16, LW 11). Luka Doncic’s run the past couple of weeks has returned him to being the betting favorite for MVP — that 60-21-10 performance will stick in voters’ minds — but the Mavericks have needed all of that to keep on winning and moving up in the West. The run has vaulted Dallas up to the four seed in the West and gives them a little cushion should Doncic not put up historic numbers one night, or when Dallas runs into a tougher stretch of the schedule — which they are about to do. The Mavericks host the Celtics and Pelicans, then head out on the road for five games.

Kings small icon 10. Kings (20-16, LW 12). It looks like Domantas Sabonis will be just fine playing through a right thumb avulsion fracture — he has had four straight double-double games since the announcement, including dropping 30 on the Nuggets. Sabonis has now had 15 straight double-doubles. Sacramento went 3-3 on a recent homestand but hope to do better with 9-of-11 at home, where fans are chanting “light the beam.” The Kings need to rack up the wins at home, in a tight West they have little margin for error.

Warriors small icon 11. Warriors (20-18, LW 16). The home/road splits with the Warriors are getting ridiculous: on the road they have a -9.6 net rating and a 3-16 record; at home they have a +8.7 net rating and a 16-2 record. It’s not a shock that their five-game winning streak — all without Stephen Curry — have all come at home. The most recent win came thanks to a vintage Klay Thompson game — 54 points with 10 made 3-pointers.

Clippers small icon12. Clippers (21-18, LW 9). I’m falling off the Clipper bandwagon. Before the season I picked them to come out of the West, and this season it’s been easy to say “we haven’t seen the full Clippers yet” because Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and others have been constantly in and out of the lineup (and George is going to miss more time with a tweaked hamstring). Yet watching their defensive rotations against the Miami Heat on Monday night, seeing them not execute the game plan Tyronn Lue had laid out, seeing the lack of chemistry, I became convinced there is a ceiling with this team that is short of contending for a title. Maybe they will prove me wrong but there is a lot of work to do to get there. Los Angeles is on the road for a back-to-back against Denver and Minnesota, then is home for five in a row but a tough five, with the Nuggets, Mavericks and 76ers in the mix.

Knicks small icon 13. Knicks (20-18, LW 14). New York has been one of the most unlucky teams in the league (and I’m not just talking about the blown lead against D.allas), they have the net rating of a 22-16 team but the ball has not bounced their way late in a couple of games. Part of what had been working for the Knicks of late was a run of efficient play from RJ Barrett: in the nine games before a finger laceration sidelined him, Barrett averaged 26.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game and he was hitting 46% of his 3-pointers. Spurs, Raptors, then Bucs are on the docket this week for the Knicks.

Suns small icon 14. Suns (20-18, LW 10). You know the wheels are coming off in Phoenix when Deandre Ayton is the voice of reason calling out the team’s focus and effort. The Suns are 2-6 since Devin Booker went out (he tried to play on Christmas but that lasted four minutes) and since then they have been bottom 10 in both offense and defense. While Cameron Johnson also remains out, this is a team that needs a shake up and some energy and the trading of Jae Crowder is the fastest and best way to do that — if they can get Robert Sarver to sign off on bringing in a little more money in the trade. The Suns have slid to eighth in the West and things do not get easier this week with two games against the Cavaliers, plus the Heat and Warriors.

Heat small icon 15. Heat (20-18, LW 17). Watching the Heat in person, what stands out is how central Bam Adebayo is to everything the Heat do on both ends of the court. Defensively he gets credit for it, but he has expanded his offensive game. “I think what he’s doing now, probably better than he ever has in his career, he’s reading the defense and what’s called for on each possession,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And I think our guards, Tyler more than anybody, is getting him the ball. So Bam’s scoring rate and finishing rate on assisted opportunities is exceptional.”

Blazers small icon 16. Trail Blazers (19-17, LW 15). Gary Payton II returns and that should help a Trail Blazers defense that has struggled of late against better offenses and teams. Jeremi Grant pouring in 36 and picking up an easy win against Detroit was needed for a team that has dropped 5-of-7 and is now headed out on the road for three games (they have dropped four in a row and 10 of 14 away from home).

Pacers small icon 17. Pacers (21-17, LW 18). The Pacers have won four in a row and 6-of-7, and a lot of that has been fueled by Tyrese Haliburton, who has looked every bit the All-Star of late averaging 24.1 points and 8.5 assists a game while shooting 44% from 3 over his last 10. Could Haliburton be an All-Star starter in the East? Assuming Donovan Mitchell is a lock for one spot, who is the other starting guard? James Harden? Maybe. Kyrie Irving? Jaylen Brown? Haliburton’s numbers and play this season hang with any of that group (although I doubt he gets the fan votes to beat out that high-profile group). Haliburton and Harden face off this Wednesday.

Wizards small icon 18. Wizards (17-22, LW 22). Over their last seven games before Tuesday night’s game (which included a five-game win streak that ended against the Bucks), the Wizards have been locking teams down and have the best defense in the league. It’s a big difference from the first quarter of the season when they were a bottom-10 defensive side. Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington noted that Rui Hachimura averaged 21.4 PPG while shooting 60% from the floor in his first five games since returning from injury.

Jazz small icon 19. Jazz (19-21, LW 13). The Jazz have lost five in a row, but by a total of 15 points — they’ve been in the games, just a little unlucky and unable to close them out. A perfect example is the loss to the Kings on Tuesday, when Lauri Markkanen‘s shot to win the game was just a tenth of a second too late. But a loss is still a loss, Utah has slid to 10th in the West, and how things go the next couple of weeks could determine if they are sellers at the trade deadline. The Jazz are on the road this week in Houston, Chicago and Memphis, then come home to face a quality Cleveland team.

Raptors small icon 20. Raptors (16-21, LW 20). The unanswered question about this team midway through the season: Why are they struggling to shoot like this? While the roster isn’t loaded with snipers, they have guys who can knock it down, yet they are second worst in the NBA shooting 32.9% from 3 and they have the third-worst true shooting percentage at 55.3 (the league median is at 57.7). This looks like a team stuck in the middle, something Masai Ujiri has never tolerated, which is why other teams are eyeing the Raptors heading into the trade deadline. Toronto has its next six at home, it could be a chance to string together some wins and turn the season around.

Lakers small icon 21. Lakers 16-21, LW 25). Los Angeles has won 3-of-4 and one thing that has been working for them — besides LeBron James defying Father Time and averaging 36.6 points per game over his last five — is the lineups with LeBron and Austin Reaves. When those two are on the court together, the Lakers have a +4.5 net rating (as noted by Trevor Lane, it looks better when Reaves is playing the two and not the three). The Lakers are 4-5 without Anthony Davis for this stretch, with tough games coming up this week against the Heat, Kings and Nuggets.

Bulls small icon 22. Bulls (16-21, LW 26). A dramatic overtime loss to the Cavaliers was just the latest blow to a team that has struggled in the clutch this season. The Bulls are 7-13 in games within five points in the final five minutes, that despite a +1.1 net rating. Make that the final three minutes of a game within three points and the Bulls are 5-12 despite a +8.1 net rating. Things are just not breaking their way most nights, but frustration and losses are leading to rumblings about chemistry issues around this team. Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan are not going anywhere at the trade deadline, although a rough slate of games this week — the Nets, 76ers, Celtics — could lead to losses that has the Chicago front office rethinking everything.

Hawks small icon 23. Hawks (17-20, LW 19). The Hawks can argue that when everyone is healthy they are still a dangerous team (their ideal starting lineup has a +10.8 net rating) but reality intrudes on that dream pretty quickly when you watch them play. This is a team that lacks chemistry and grit, the reports of Nate McMillan’s frustration didn’t come out of nowhere (even if he is not retiring mid-season), and while Trae Young is putting up numbers he and Dejounte Murray are playing next to each other rather than with each other. Losers of four in a row and 7-of-10, the Hawks are on the road this week against the Kings, then both Los Angeles teams (then they come home to the Bucks). Things do not get easier.

24. Timberwolves (17-21, LW 24). Read whatever you want into this (maybe nothing), but D'Angelo Russell is no longer following the official Timberwolves Instagram account. That can often be an omen of trouble to come (Russell is a free agent after this season, but no way he is making $31 million a year again like this season). Minnesota had lost six in a row before it caught Denver on a night the Nuggets didn’t care, but they are still 7-10 since Karl-Anthony Towns went down with a calf strain. Is it time to turn the keys over to Anthony Edwards? Is he ready for it?

Thunder small icon 25. Thunder (16-21, LW 21). Unlucky news that Aleksej Pokusevski will be out for at least six weeks with a knee injury. He was a guy being allowed to play through his mistakes and learn, and this is a setback on that road. OKC is 5-4 at the Paycom Center during a recent home-heavy stretch of the schedule, and after a quick trip to Orlando the Thunder are home for two more against the Wizards and Mavericks. Then comes a road-heavy stretch of games.

Magic small icon 26. Magic 13-24, LW 23). After winning 8-of-9 and fueling some play-in dreams, the Magic came crashing back to earth this week with three tough losses. Orlando now sits three games out of the play-in, and while that isn’t that much ground it’s tough to picture the Magic team we saw the past week leapfrogging a couple of teams to get into that dance. One thing to watch: Reports are growing that Jonathan Isaac is nearing a return after being out a couple of years due to a knee injury and multiple surgeries.

Spurs small icon 27. Spurs (12-25, LW 27). Keldon Johnson has put together a couple of 30-point games in the past week — he hasn’t been an efficient scorer this season (53.5 true shooting percentage, well below the league average), but Gregg Popovich is letting him play through his mistakes and learn. San Antonio has dropped 5-of-7 and has some challenging games this week against the Knicks, Celtics and Grizzlies.

Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (10-30, LW 30). It’s a bumpy road, but Jaden Ivey continues to show flashes. He’s averaging 14.6 points per game over his last 10 (close to his season average of 15) but he’s hitting 39.3% from 3, a positive sign. There are still a lot of other teams lobbing calls into Detroit looking to trade for Bojan Bogdanovic (that’s going to require a first-round pick) or Alec Burks, but Detroit will be patient and wait for the right deal. Or, no deal. There is no rush.

Hornets small icon 29. Hornets (10-28, LW 29). Good to see rookie center Mark Williams get more run recently, he should be out there learning on the job as the Hornets start to think about the future beyond this season. Speaking of the longer term… Charlotte has a legit All-Star in LaMelo Ball (likely not this year, he’s missed too much time) but he would look better paired with one of the stars at the top of this next draft and — cold as this may be to say — the Hornets can’t let Ball’s strong play of late get in the way of that goal.

Rockets small icon 30. Rockets (10-27, LW 28). Anything good that happens in Houston — such as Kevin Porter Jr. averaging 24 points and almost seven assists a game over his last seven — gets offset by a dreadful defense, particularly in transition. Teams can just run the Rockets off the court. Up this week taking their swings at the Rockets’ defense are the Pelicans, Jazz, and Timberwolves.

Jokić conducts a symphony on offense, Nuggets pick up 104-93 Game 1 win over Heat


DENVER — This is what the Denver Nuggets have done to every team that faced them this postseason. And most of the ones in the regular season, too.

There are no good answers to slowing the Jamal Murray/Nikola Jokić pick-and-roll. Their passing and off-ball movement are elite. They have shooters everywhere. They have size across the board. And they play enough defense that it becomes impossible to keep up with their scoring.

Combine that with Heat shooters going cold for long stretches of Game 1 and you end up with a 104-93 Nuggets victory that wasn’t as close as the final score made it seem.

The Nuggets lead the NBA Finals 1-0, with Game 2 Sunday in Denver. It was a raucous, fun night for Nuggets fans who got everything they wanted from the franchise’s first-ever Finals game.

Jokić finished with a triple-double of 27 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds — Miami has to find a way not to let him both score and distribute if they are going to have a chance in this series. Of course, that’s what the Timberwolves, Suns and Lakers all said.

Murray added 26 points and 10 rebounds, and Aaron Gordon scored 16 on 7-of-10 shooting.

Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 26 points and 13 rebounds, shooting 13-of-25. He played well and hard all night, but the Nuggets will be happy if he is the Heat player taking the most shots every game.

From the opening tip, Denver’s size advantage on paper became a problematic reality for Miami – 18 of Nuggets’ first 24 points were scored in the paint. The Nuggets used their size advantage to pummel the Heat inside on offense, and turn them into jump shooters on the other end.

“You have to credit them with their size and really protecting the paint and bringing a third defender,” Spoelstra said postgame. “Things [we do] have to be done with a lot more intention and a lot more pace, a lot more detail.”

Miami also just missed shots they made in the previous series, shooing 9-of-26 (34.6%) in the first quarter. For the game things got a little better, but the Heat had an unimpressive 102.2 offensive rating on the night.

The shooting trend continued into the second, as the Heat didn’t play terribly on the offensive end for most of the first half, moving the ball and getting clean looks, but they weren’t falling — Max Strus was 0-of-7 in the first half (six from 3) and those were essentially open looks. Miami did make a little push in some non-Jokić minutes in the second and cut the lead down to six with 5:47 left in the half on a Haywood Highsmith dunk.

But the first half’s final minutes were a disaster for the Heat. They didn’t score for 3:30 after Highsmith’s bucket and shot 2-of-10 the rest of the quarter. Denver got rolling at the end of the quarter, went on a 16-5 run, and it was a 17-point Nuggets lead at the break, 59-42.

At the start of both the third and the fourth quarters the Heat made runs — 7-0 to start the third, 11-0 to start the fourth — and cut the lead to 10 both times. In the third,d things returned to first-half form and the Nuggets ran out to a 21-point lead after three.

In the fourth, the Heat kept it close, partly thanks to 18 points from Highsmith off the bench, and the lead got down to single digits for a possession. But Miami was too far back for their comeback magic, especially against a team with Jokić orchestrating a symphony on offense.

Brad Stevens confirms Joe Mazzulla will return as Celtics coach


Despite the sting of losing to the No. 8 seed Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, don’t expect sweeping changes in Boston. Not to the Celtics’ coaching staff and not to the roster.

Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Steven made that clear in his end-of-season press conference. It starts with bringing back Joe Mazzulla, which was expected after he was given a multi-year contract extension during the season. Stevens was asked if Mazzulla was the right person to lead the Celtics after an uneven season (hat tip NBC Sports Boston).

“Yeah, I think he is,” Stevens said. “I thought he did a really good job with this group. Everybody’s going to overreact to the best players and coaches after every game. That’s always the way it is. We know that going in, so we have to be able to judge things on the whole.

“He’s a terrific leader, he’ll only get better at anything that he can learn from this year, because he’s constantly trying to learn. And he’s accountable. Those leadership qualities are hard to find. I know they’re easy to talk about, but when you can show all those through the expectations and the microscope that he was under, that’s hard to do. Our players, our staff, everybody around him believe(s) in him, and we’ve got to do our best to support him going forward.”

The expectation is that veteran coaches — ideally at least one person with NBA head coaching experience — will be added to Mazzulla’s staff to help with the maturation process of the young coach. But he will be back.

Stevens also was asked about Jaylen Brown, who is eligible for a supermax extension of around $295 million over five years (his making All-NBA made him eligible for 35% of the salary cap). Stevens was limited in what he could say due to (archaic) tampering rules.

“I’ve had nothing but great conversations with Jaylen, but we can’t talk about all that stuff,” Stevens said. “I’m not allowed to talk about the contract details, let alone the extension because it’s not of that time yet right now. His window is between July 1 and October or whatever it is.

“But I can say without a doubt that we want Jaylen to be here. He’s a big part of us. We believe in him. I’m thankful for him. I’m really thankful for when those guys (Jayson Tatum and Brown) have success, they come back to work. And when they get beat, they own it and come back to work. I know that’s what they’re about, and that’s hard to find. Kinda like what I talked about with leadership earlier. Those qualities aren’t for everyone. Jaylen had a great year, All-NBA year and he’s a big part of us moving forward in our eyes.”

Despite Brown’s struggles against the Heat, it’s a no-brainer for the Celtics to retain the 26-year-old All-NBA player entering his prime. They should offer him the full supermax, and his public comments made it sound like that’s what he expects. Mess around in negotiations and try to get Brown to take less than the full max and then the threat of Brown leaving becomes more real. Only one player has ever rejected a supermax extension: Kawhi Leonard when he was trying to force a trade. (If Boston puts the full 35% max on the table and Brown rejects it, then the game changes and they have to trade him this summer, but don’t bet on him walking away from more than a quarter of a billion dollars).

There will be changes on the Celtics roster, but expect Brown and Mazzulla to return.

Purdue’s Zach Edey headlines list of players to withdraw from NBA Draft

Fairleigh Dickinson v Purdue
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The winner of the 2023 John R. Wooden Award and the Naismith College Player of the Year Award is headed back for another year in the college ranks. And it’s the right move.

Zach Edey headlines the list of 181 players who withdrew their names from the NBA Draft, and he is headed back to Purdue for another season. He confirmed it on Twitter in his own way.

Edey averaged 22.3 points a game on 60.7% shooting and 12.9 rebounds a game last season for the Boilermakers, and his measurements at the NBA Draft Combine were hard to ignore — 7-3¼ barefoot, with a 7-10½ wingspan. However, his lack of elite athleticism, questions about his ability to defend in space, and an old-school, near-the-basket game are not natural fits with where the NBA is trending. He was expected to get picked in the back half of the second round (meaning no guaranteed contract), if at all.

With that, he made the right decision to return to college. If the Toronto native can arrange a new student visa that allows him to better capitalize on NIL money, a return to Purdue is likely the right financial decision as well.

Here are some of the biggest names among the 181 who withdrew from the NBA Draft (via Jonathan Givony of ESPN), with all projected to go after No. 40 or later:

Trey Alexander (Creighton)
Reece Beekman (Virginia)
Adem Bona (UCLA)
Jalen Bridges (Baylor)
Tristan da Silva (Colorado)
Zach Edey (Purdue)
Coleman Hawkins (Illinois)
DaRon Holmes (Dayton)
Josiah-Jordan James (Tennessee)
Dillon Jones (Weber State)
Judah Mintz (Syracuse)
Dillon Mitchell (Texas)
Terrence Shannon (Illinois)

The NBA Draft takes place on June 22.

Lakers rumored to prefer sign-and-trade options for D’Angelo Russell, eye Fred VanVleet

2023 Play-In Tournament - Chicago Bulls v Toronto Raptors
Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images

D'Angelo Russell helped the Lakers turn their season around after the All-Star break. He provided needed shot creation at the point, averaged 17.4 points per game while shooting 41.4% from 3, and generally fit nicely on the court. However, his limitations — particularly on the defensive end — were exposed in the playoffs, especially by the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.

Russell is an unrestricted free agent and the Lakers are faced with choices: Re-sign him, let him walk, or maybe find a sign-and-trade that can bring back a player who is a better fit for a Lakers roster with championship aspirations next season. The Lakers would ideally like the sign-and-trade option, suggests Jovan Buha of The Athletic.

My read on the situation is that the Lakers would prefer to use D’Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade, but I’m not sure the market is there.

Landing Kyrie Irving for Russell is shaping up to be a pipe dream, especially with Dallas unlikely to help Los Angeles out. Fred VanVleet, a Klutch client, looms as a possibility, but adding him would require Toronto to agree to terms with Russell (or take on the Beasley and Bamba contracts).

Forget about a Kyrie Irving sign-and-trade with the Lakers for Russell, that appears off the table (unless the Lakers add so many sweeteners Dallas can’t say no… and didn’t the Lakers just gut their roster for a guard in Russell Westbrook?)

Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times adds this.

Fred VanVleet’s name has been mentioned since even before he joined Klutch Sports, though the Lakers could again be in a position where they’d be forced to part with one or more draft picks in a deal. Russell’s postseason struggles were probably a little overblown after a disastrous Western Conference finals, but expect the Lakers to look at upgrade options. There’s still a chance Russell returns on a good deal and the Lakers actually get the continuity they’ve spoken about building.

VanVleet has a $22.8 million player option he is widely expected to opt out of seeking more money and years. He averaged 19.3 points and 7.2 assists a game last season, is a respectable defender, and is a former All-Star and NBA champion.

The questions start with, what are Toronto’s plans? They have yet to hire a new head coach after firing Nick Nurse, and there isn’t a sense of whether they will try to re-sign VanVleet, extend Pascal Siakam and run it back, break the entire thing up, or travel a middle ground reworking the roster. Dreams of a sign-and-trade only work if the Raptors play along. And, if the Raptors come around to consider a sign-and-trade for VanVleet, do they want Russell in that deal? Plus, the Lakers likely have to throw in the last first-round pick they can trade to get Toronto even to consider it.

All of which is to say, it’s a long shot VanVleet is a Laker. Not impossible, but not likely.

The smart money is on the Lakers re-signing Russell and considering trade options at next February’s deadline or next summer, if they feel it’s time to move on.