Alex Caruso

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Report: Lakers to make LeBron James starting point guard

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The Lakers pitched LeBron James on playing more off the ball.

That plan predictably flopped.

His supporting cast was lacking. Though he indicated a desire to spend more time off the ball, when push came to shove, LeBron took over. Just like always.

This year, there won’t be any pretenses.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

The new-look Los Angeles Lakers are heading into the 2019-20 season with the intention of starting LeBron James at point guard, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Lakers’ other options at starting point guard:

So, LeBron will now fill a position of need while opening a starting forward spot that can be filled by someone better than those other point guards. The Lakers could start Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Kyle Kuzma in the frontcourt. But who besides Danny Green will defend opposing guards?

The Lakers could also start Green and either Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Avery Bradley in a three-guard lineup with LeBron running the point but defending a forward. At that point, there wouldn’t be a massive difference in LeBron’s role relative to what he has always done.

No matter what, the offense will run through LeBron. By naming LeBron point guard, the Lakers just avoid starting another player who operates primarily with the ball. In the micro, this is a good, clarifying move.

In the macro, LeBron is 34 years old. If he’s tasked with bring up the ball and initiating the offense every time, that adds to his load. When playing forward next to a point guard, it’s easier for LeBron to defer at times.

Expect this to make the Lakers better – as long as LeBron’s health holds up.

Report: Lakers bringing back Alex Caruso for another season

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Fan favorite and hustling back up point guard Alex Caruso will be back with the Lakers.

With minutes available at the point, the Lakers went with a name they knew, a player who came up through their G-League program, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Caruso will be fighting with Rajon Rondo and Quinn Cook for minutes.

Most likely Rondo will start at the point for the Lakers because he’s Rondo. There are politics to be played, veterans to be appeased. But the Lakers need to consider giving Caruso a real chance to get rotation minutes, he was +9.1 per 100 when on the court with LeBron last season.

The 6’5″ point guard out of Texas A&M has good size and defends his position well, and he plays well working off the ball, or he can run the show as a lead guard for a stretch. He isn’t a great shooter, but he took two threes a game in the 25 games he was in last season and hit them (48 percent), and with his size he’s a pretty good finisher at the rim. His handles aren’t quite where they need to be, but we’ll see what the hard worker looks like after a summer in the gym.

Outside Los Angles, Caruso gets a shrug from fans, but in LA he’s become a fan favorite and has looked like a rotation-level guard. Which is basically what Rondo and Cook are. We’ll see what kind of minutes Caruso gets, but he deserves a few.

How 2019 NBA Draft impacted what happens in free agency

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The NBA Draft already had a league-changing impact on free agency.

Or, to be more accurate, the NBA Draft Lottery did. When the Lakers moved up to get the No. 4 pick, it sweetened the offer enough to make the Anthony Davis trade happen. That changed the plans of the Lakers and Pelicans — and to a degree the Celtics, Knicks, and anyone else who thought they had a shot at Davis — heading into the draft and free agency.

That said, many of turning point moments coming this July were completely unaffected by what happened in the Draft. Let’s take a look.

WHAT CHANGED

• The Lakers traded for Davis and now it’s about rounding out the roster. Los Angeles might have landed Davis anyway — his agent, Rich Paul, could not have pulled more levers to try to make that happen (as an agent should for his client) — but the Lakers getting the No. 4 pick put the offer over the top. At the draft, the Lakers also picked up second-rounder Talen Horton-Tucker, who has potential but is not ready to contribute much in the coming season. Now for the Lakers it becomes about how to best build out the roster around Davis and LeBron James: Clear the cap space and chase one more star, such as Kemba Walker; or, use that money to land three players (give or take) in the $7 million to $10 million range to go around the three quality rotation players the Lakers already have (meaning chase players such as Trevor Ariza, Danny Green, J.J. Redick, and others in that range).

One thing on draft night made the timing of the Lakers’ moves clear: With the Pelicans trading the No. 4 pick to Atlanta, is Davis trade will be executed on July 6. The floated of pushing the trade itself back to July 30 to create more Lakers’ cap room to sign players will not happen with another trade now hinged on the Laker/Pelican deal going through. That was agreed to before the trade, if the Pelicans moved the No. 4 pick then the Davis deal got done the first chance it was allowed (July 6). That means the Lakers will have between $24 million and $32 million in cap space. One part of the equation is if Davis waives his $4 million trade bonus. For the Lakers to have the full $32 million in cap space, they need to trade Isaac Bonga, Mo Wagner, and Alex Caruso into cap space somewhere and get them off the L.A. books. Expect the Lakers to pull that off in the coming weeks.

• Boston made trades on draft night, but of the slow build, not grand, variety. Kyrie Irving‘s disenfranchisement with Boston — the city, his young teammates, Brad Stevens, clam chowder, pretty much everything — blew up Danny Ainge’s plans. Trading for Davis was off the table, Al Horford isn’t sticking around for this, and the Celtics aren’t quite back to square one there is a reset. Boston made a couple of trades on draft night and ended up with a nice haul of young players — Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters, and the Bucks’ 2020 first-round pick (protected). Danny Ainge will have a new plan, and he has some cap space this summer, but there will be no panic moves.

• The Knicks are on the Plan C. Or D. Or E. Maybe all the way to R at this point. The Knicks dream summer? Win the lottery and get Zion Williamson and pair him with Durant and Irving (or maybe Kemba Walker). Now? They will still chase Durant and remain the reported frontrunners, but there are more teams seriously in the mix, and Durant will not play next season as he rehabs anyway. The Knicks want a meeting with Kawhi Leonard, but they are a longshot to land him. Next season in New York may be about seeing how just drafted R.J. Barrett fits with Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. It’s not the summer Knicks fans dreamed about.

• What are the Pacers planning? No doubt center Goga Bitadze was the top player on the Pacers’ draft board when they took him No. 18, but it raises a question: What is the plan in Indiana? There have been rumors of them wanting to go with either Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis at center, not the platoon we saw last season, and Bitadze gives them some cover for it. The Pacers want to sign or trade for one more good playmaker to go next to Victor Olaidpo, and with Mike Conley now in Utah one target is off the board. Ricky Rubio at the point is a top target, but they have the room to be bolder. They are a team to watch.

WHAT DID NOT CHANGE

• Kawhi Leonard will tip the balance of power. No one decision this summer will change the landscape of the NBA like Leonard’s — whatever team he chooses instantly becomes a title contender. While the Lakers and Knicks want to get meetings (and may, nobody knows what Leonard’s process will be, exactly) I have heard from sources for almost a year now that those two teams were not mix in a meaningful way, and numerous others have reported that as well. This is a two-team race: Stay with the Raptors and be the favorites in the East, come back to Los Angeles and be a Clipper, turning a 48-win team into a contender. While speculation is rampant, nobody knows which way Leonard himself is leaning, and he has not tipped his (giant) hand. Whatever he chooses, it tips the balance of power between the conferences.

Kevin Durant has to decide where he wants to do his rehab, and eventually play. Durant is a kingmaker just like Leonard, but not in quite the same way because he will miss most or all of next season recovering from his torn Achilles. The Warriors are in the mix, but the Nets (theoretically with Kyrie Irving), Knicks (they also would like to play the Irving card), Clippers, Lakers, and others would like meetings and a chance to make their case. What does Durant want? Not to be recruited. After that, nobody knows because nobody knows how the injury changed his mindset.

• Kyrie Irving has to decide if he wants to go to Brooklyn, the Nets have to decide if they want Irving without Durant. Irving is not the same level of franchise player that Durant and Leonard are — his leadership reputation took a serious hit this past season — but he is still an All-NBA level guard who makes a team much better. The Celtics wanted him for his play and to help win Anthony Davis over after the trade but that plan blew up. The Nets remain the frontrunners to land him, but some in the organization wonder if they want him without Durant. They probably sign him either way — Irving is an elite player, not just bait — but the Nets aren’t the same with just him replacing D'Angelo Russell.

Maurice Harkless hits game-winning 3-pointer to beat Lakers (VIDEO)

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The Los Angeles Lakers didn’t have LeBron James. They didn’t have Magic Johnson. But somehow they still had a chance against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

The Blazers, always a team to play down to their opponents, played a motley crew of Los Angeles starters down to the wire at Staples Center in the hours after Johnson announced his abrupt resignation of his post atop the front office.

For his part, Maurice Harkless was one of the most valuable Blazers. On a night where he seemingly battled back and forth with L.A.’s Alex Caruso, Harkless notched a stat line of 26 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks.

But no play was bigger for the Blazers then when Harkless hit the game-winning shot from the corner immediately following a Seth Curry steal.

Via Twitter:

Thanks to a Houston Rockets loss at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, the Blazers now control their own destiny for the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs. If they beat the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday at Moda Center in Portland, they will be able to take the third playoff ranking for the second year in a row.

More importantly, Portland needs Harkless to play at his peak for them to have a shot in the playoffs without Jusuf Nurkic, and it appears that he is slowly rounding into form. There is an idea that Harkless is a player who waits for the playoffs to really find motivation, and perhaps this late-season spark will push the Blazers past the agony of last year.

Report: Pistons’ Henry Ellenson to play for USA Basketball in World Cup qualifying

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Most of the NBA’s biggest names are candidates for Team USA in the 2019 World Cup.

But the Americans first must qualify.

FIBA, in its infinite wisdom, scheduled qualifying windows that largely overlap with the NBA season or come close to it. So, USA Basketball has sent teams of mostly minor-leaguers for qualifiers in November, February and June/July. David Stockton played earlier this summer while still under contract with the Jazz, but it was always fait accompli they’d waive him and his unguaranteed deal. Alex Caruso also played earlier this summer while on a two-way with the Lakers.

It has gone well enough. The U.S. is 5-1, though it got upset by Mexico.

But the Americans – who host Uruguay Sept. 14 in Las Vegas then play Panama on Sept. 17 – will bolster their roster for the next qualifying window. They’re adding a bona fide NBA player with a guaranteed salary… Pistons big Henry Ellenson.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Despite his superior contract status, Ellenson isn’t really a gamechanger. Some of the minor-leaguers who’ve already played for Jeff Van Gundy in these qualifiers are probably better than the 21-year-old Ellenson.

Besides, the U.S. should beat Uruguay and Panama, anyway (though I would have said the same about Mexico).

But I am curious whether this indicates USA Basketball will add other NBA players to the roster for next month. There are a few days between the Panama game and NBA training camps opening.

Or maybe Ellenson is just the rare exact right level of NBA player – barely in the league, in major need of development – to make sense for this event.