Should Lakers run it back, or will that not be enough?


LOS ANGELES — A pivotal Lakers’ offseason starts with these foundational questions and a choice:

Is what they did after the All-Star break and through the playoffs repeatable? Or do there need to be significant changes if they are going to take the next step?

Unquestionably, Los Angeles was impressive in the final months of the season. After the All-Star break — more accurately, after general manager Rob Pelinka shook up the Lakers’ roster by sending out Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Nunn (among others) and bringing in Rui Hachimura, D'Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, and D’Angelo Russell — the Lakers went 16-7.

That was the best record in the West, and the Lakers had the top defense in the NBA over the same stretch. LeBron James and Anthony Davis got healthy and the new-look Lakers hit the playoffs in stride, making a run all the way to the Western Conference Finals. It was something to be proud of, even if it didn’t meet LeBron’s standards.

“I don’t like to say it’s a successful year because I don’t play for anything besides winning championships at this point in my career,” LeBron said. “You know, I don’t get a kick out of making a Conference [Finals] appearance. I’ve done it. A lot. And it’s not fun to me to not be able to be a part of getting to the Finals.”

The Lakers new core made that run without the benefit of a training camp or much practice time together, something coach Darvin Ham talked about after his team was eliminated. To put a finer point on it, they didn’t have the time to develop the continuity that the Denver Nuggets showed while sweeping the Lakers out of the playoffs.

Is what the Lakers showed through the postseason reason enough to run it back?

Or were the shortcomings the Nuggets exposed — and the fact that, by Game 4, it took a Herculean effort by LeBron James to keep the Lakers competitive — a sign the Lakers need more and have to make changes?

LeBron’s unexpected retirement talk clearly put him in the “get me some help” camp. In Game 4 he played all but four seconds of the 48 minutes, scored 40 points, defended Nikola Jokić at times and did everything humanly possible to will the Lakers to victory. It wasn’t enough. LeBron came out of that series realizing that as improved as the Lakers were, they needed more to compete at the highest levels.

His postgame retirement talk sounded like an exhausted, frustrated man demanding the front office get him more help. It sounded like a leverage play.

It sounded like a man who understands he can’t be the No. 1 shot creation option for this team every night anymore. He needs help carrying that load.

The question is where that help comes from? Kyrie Irving was courtside, but the Lakers would have to gut their roster of depth to sign him (and Dallas could still outbid them). The Lakers still have the scars from doing that exact move to bring in Russell Westbrook. Sources have told NBC Sports not to expect the Lakers to make a run at Irving.

On Tuesday Pelinka planted his flag firmly in the run-it-back camp.

“After the trade deadline, we had one of the top records in the league. I think keeping that continuity is going to be very important,” Pelinka said. “We ultimately got knocked out by a team that has great continuity. That’s a high priority for us.

“We feel like we have a group of special players in the locker room. They enjoy playing with each other. Darvin [Ham] enjoys coaching them. We know there’s more growth and improvement in that group, especially if we get a training camp together. So, I would say it’s a high priority to keep our core players together.”

Is that core enough?

At the heart of the Lakers’ core remains LeBron and Davis, both of whom played at an All-NBA level this season — LeBron was voted third team, Davis didn’t play enough games for voters to put him on the team but he was good enough to make it. Both of them are under contract for next season, for a combined $87.5 million. Despite LeBron’s public deliberations, nobody believes he is actually retiring (remember, he hopes to play with his son Bronny in the NBA in a couple of years). It’s highly unlikely he putting on any other jersey at the start of next season.

Also under contract for next season are Mo Bamba ($10.3 million), Jarred Vanderbilt ($4.7 million) and Max Christie ($1.7 million). Malik Beasley has a $16.5 million team option, the Lakers may bring him back more as a tradable contract than a rotation player.

Then the decisions start for the Lakers.

They have two key restricted free agents, Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura — the Lakers have made it clear they plan to match any offer for Reaves and probably Hachimura too, league sources told NBC Sports.

Reaves said he wants to remain with the Lakers, Pelinka said they want him back, the only question is money. The Lakers have Reaves’ Early Bird rights, but under the CBA the max they can offer him is the mid-level exception of around four years, $50.8 million. After these playoffs his market value is higher than that and another team looking for young guards — Orlando, Houston among others — likely will come in with an offer closer to four years, $80-90 million. The Lakers can match, but because Reaves is what is known as an Arenas Rule free agent, if the Lakers match the contract becomes backloaded (in the case of an $80 million offer, more than $27 million a year the final two years).

The Lakers have other questions to answer. Do they bring back D’Angelo Russell, who was very valuable in the regular season and in some playoff matchups, but against the depth of the Nuggets was a liability (and he is going to make around $20 million a season as a free agent)? Dennis Schroder was more valuable against the Nuggets than Russell, do the Lakers bring him back? Lonnie Walker IV also is an unrestricted free agent.

Even if the Lakers do run this core back, they need to find more shot creation and shooting to compete at the highest levels, and to get through the regular season without wearing LeBron James down. That could lead to trades — a report Tuesday said the Lakers had internal discussions about a Trae Young trade — and there will be others available. The challenge for the Lakers is who to chase and what to send out (they still have a 2029 first-round pick to trade). They may want to target good but more affordable free agents such as Gabe Vincent out of Miami (although he also may have played his way out of their price range).

Ultimately, both Pelinka and LeBron may be right, the Lakers need to bring back most of this season’s new core, but they need to add to it. Doing so will take a lot of creativity.

But this was a team four wins away from the NBA Finals and LeBron isn’t getting any younger. They need to make that push now.

Milwaukee Bucks reportedly to hire Adrian Griffin as head coach

Detroit Pistons v Toronto Raptors
Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

Buzz had been growing for a week that Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin was the favorite Bucks coaching candidate of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Nick Nurse had his backers in the organization, but in a superstar-driven league, the wishes of players like the Greek Freak hold a lot of sway (especially with him up for a new contract in a couple of years).

The Milwaukee Bucks are reportedly hiring Griffin as their next head coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This reaction from Fred VanVleet should tell you all you need to know about how the Raptors players felt about Griffin.

This hire is a gamble by the Bucks, turning the keys of a contender over to a rookie coach, but Griffin is more than deserving of a shot. Griffin spent eight years as a role player in the NBA — after going undrafted out of Seton Hall hand having to play in the Philipines — and then got into coaching, starting as an assistant in Milwaukee from 2008-2010. Griffin is seen as a defensive-first coach with a strong player development background (he worked with Jimmy Butler in Chicago). He’s been at or near the top of the “guys who deserve a shot” list for years and was in consideration for the open Raptors job in Toronto.

Instead, he now takes over a contender, although with a roster that is getting older and more expensive fast (free agent center Brook Lopez turns 35 this year, Khris Middleton is 31 and has a $40.4 million player option, Jrue Holiday is 31 and extension eligible come the fall).

Griffin will replace Mike Budenholzer, who was let go despite winning a championship with this team in 2021. Budenholzer is a process guy and was considered too rigid and slow to make adjustments in the playoffs, and this year’s first-round elimination by the No. 8 seed Miami Heat was seen as the culmination of that (even though Antetokounmpo missed two games due to a back injury). Griffin will bring a different voice and some new looks to a Bucks team still in its championship window.

Don’t be surprised if the Bucks hire a former NBA head coach to be Griffin’s lead assistant, to give him a veteran voice as a sounding board.

Nurse had been considered one of the frontrunners for this job, but now looks like someone destined to land in Philadelphia or Phoenix.

Heat guard Gabe Vincent reportedly to play in Game 6


Officially, Heat guard Gabe Vincent is listed as questionable for a critical Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. He missed Game 5 due to a sprained ankle suffered late in Game 4 but was a partial participant in Saturday’s shootaround, according to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.

However, a report from Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports points to what everyone expects: Vincent will play in Game 6.

Miami needs him back if they are going to win Game 6 at home and end this series (the Heat lead the series 3-2).

Not just because Vincent has averaged 17.5 points per game this series, but because of his ball handling and shot creation. In the second half of Game 4 and through Game 5, the Celtics changed their defensive game plan, becoming aggressive at jumping passing lanes, bringing doubles on drivers, and trying to force turnovers. During the regular season the Celtics were a bottom-five team in forcing turnovers by design — they bet that their impressive one-on-one defenders could make shots difficult and so off-ball defenders largely stayed home on guys off the ball and didn’t take risks. That changed and Miami struggled to adjust in Game 5, with Kyle Lowry — starting in place of Vincent — having three costly early turnovers.

Vincent back in the lineup could help counter the Celtics’ defense. Miami also needs great games from Jimmy Butler (who looked tired in Game 5) and Bam Adebayo, who also had an off game in Boston.

The Heat want no part of a Game 7, they need to close this series out Saturday night. They need Vincent to do that.

Coaching carousel update: Nick Nurse has strong, not universal, support in Milwaukee


Five open coaching jobs remain around the NBA: Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons.

Here is the latest on the searches to fill those openings.

• Nick Nurse may be the first domino to fall with him having drawn interest from the Suns, Bucks and 76ers. Nurse has strong support in Milwaukee, but it’s not universal, reports Ian Begley of

So it’s worth noting that, as of earlier this week, Nick Nurse’s candidacy had strong support within the organization. Though not all key stakeholders in Milwaukee were aligned on Nurse, per SNY sources.

• Nurse has interviewed in Phoenix as well. Their top target was current Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, according to multiple reports, but Begley reinforces what has been reported here at NBC Sports and other places: The Clippers are not expected to part ways with Lue. Even if they do, the Clippers will not let their coach walk to a division rival in Phoenix.

• Momentum appears to be building behind Suns’ assistant coach Kevin Young getting a promotion in Phoenix, with Marc Stein reporting he got a key endorsement.

Word is Young, who has also interviewed for the head coaching vacancies in Milwaukee and Toronto, has received a strong endorsement from Suns star Devin Booker.

• It would be risky to put a first-time head coach in charge of a contender in Phoenix. If new owner Mat Ishbia goes that route, look for the Suns to get a former NBA head coach to be his assistant (don’t be surprised to see that in Boston next season as well, where Joe Mazzulla is expected to remain as coach).

• Nurse, former Nets’ head coach and current Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson, and Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin remain the finalists for the Bucks head coaching job. Stein reports Giannis Antetokounmpo is “intrigued” by Griffin.

• Toronto’s coaching search could be influenced by which direction team president Masai Ujiri decides to take the roster, something else up in the air. From ESPN’s Brian Windhorst on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM).

“In talking to folks that have been in touch with the Raptors recently, the Raptors don’t seem to know which direction they’re going to take. Whether or not they are going to focus on re-signing Fred VanVleet, extending Pascal Siakam, potentially making other roster upgrades. Or whether or not they’re going to send Fred VanVleet in a sign-and-trade, maybe investigate moving other players be it OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam.”

• Multiple reports have Bucks’ assistant Charles Lee and former UConn coach Kevin Ollie as the frontrunners to be the next head coach in Detroit. Pistons’ ownership reportedly backed the Brinks truck up to Monty Williams’ house but he was not interested, Stein reported. The buzz has been that GM Troy Weaver is backing Ollie.

• The only coaching vacancy filled so far this offseason is Ime Udoka taking the job as the Rockets’ head coach.

Karl Malone pulls in $5 million with auction of 1992 Dream Team memorabilia

USA Men's Basketball Team vs Croatia, 1992 Summer Olympics
Richard Mackson /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

At one of Karl Malone’s car dealerships in Utah, the Hall of Famer used to display some of his memorabilia from the 1992 Dream Team — game-worn jerseys from Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, among other items.

Wednesday night, Malone auctioned off 24 pieces of that memorabilia, netting him a cool $5 million, something reported by Darren Rovell at the Action Network.

The biggest seller was a game-worn Michael Jordan jersey from the USA’s 127-76 thrashing of Lithuania in the medal round, it went for more than $3 million.

Other items sold include $360,000 for a Larry Bird game-worn jersey and $230,400 for a Charles Barkley uniform.