JaVale McGee

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Rockets’ Nene plans to retire after season

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Nene and the Rockets couldn’t execute the contract they agreed to last summer, because he was too old.

The deal violated the NBA’s over-38 rule and had to be redone.

That’s a decent sign the 36-year-old might be nearing the end of his career.

ESPN, via Google Translate:

In an interview with the NBA Freestyle program , Nenê, the Houston Rockets pivot , said he intends to retire at the end of the NBA season .

Nene was the first Brazilian player to stick more than one year in the NBA. And he lasted far longer than that. He has been a solid big man for 17 years with the Nuggets, Wizards and Rockets.

Never an All-Star, he played like one in spurts. He probably peaked in the 2014 first round, leading Washington to a 4-1 series upset of the Bulls.

His lasting legacy might be the “Nene test,” a term coined by Danny Leroux and Amin Elhassan to assess whether a player’s contract will hold positive trade value. In 2011, Denver re-signed Nene to a five-year, $67 million deal. Within the first season of that contract, the Nuggets dealt him to the Wizards for JaVale McGee. It seemed Denver never wanted to keep Nene, but wanted to get value for him – and did (or at least thought it did).

Now, Nene holds a $3,825,360 player option for next season. The cost-conscious Rockets probably wouldn’t mind having that off their books.

In the meantime, Nene will still provide occasional size off the bench for a Houston team trying to get past the Warriors.

Rajon Rondo hopes to return to Lakers next season

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Part of the goal this season for the Lakers was to see how their players — from the young core through the veterans on one-year contracts — meshed with LeBron James. Could they play together? That would determine their future with the franchise. Here are the net ratings of other Lakers when paired with LeBron this season:

Josh Hart: +4.8
Lonzo Ball: +3.1
Kyle Kuzma: +2.9
JaVale McGee: +1.6
Brandon Ingram: +0.9
Rajon Rondo: -5.5

Rondo, finishing up a one-year contract with the team for $9 million, is a free agent this summer but wants to return to the Lakers, he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Absolutely,” Rondo told ESPN when asked if he wanted to come back to the Lakers next season. “Absolutely. I mean, the only way we can go from here is up.

“So, I don’t know what the future holds as far as the summer — if I come back, or who else comes back or if I don’t come back. Those things are out of my control. But at the same time, it’s a great organization. I can’t say enough about the staff and the people who work here. They’re really kind and helpful, so I want to continue, if I can, help this organization grow…

“As far as long term, maybe not like a six-year deal, but you know, I’m only 33.”

What happens to Rondo — and McGee, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and everyone else on one-year contracts (and even guys on longer-term deals) — is completely up in the air. The Lakers are going to go big game hunting in free agency (or via trade) this summer, looking to get another star to pair with LeBron, then every other roster decision will come after that move. Plus, the Lakers almost certainly will have a new coach, and they would be smart to get bench and role players that fit with the style-of-play that coach prefers.

Injuries — and a suspension for spitting in the face of Chris Paul — have limited Rondo to 42 games this season with the Lakers, where he averaged 8.7 points and 7.9 assists per game. Luke Walton has praised Rondo’s decision making and leadership on the court, and he’s improved to shoot 35.6 percent from three. That said he struggled with his shot inside the arc and has a troubling true shooting percentage of 47. His defense is an issue, he was once an outstanding defender but those days are gone. Rondo is, at this point, at best a replacement level NBA player.

The Lakers might bring him back anyway. This front office is unpredictable.

LeBron James talks missing playoffs: ‘It’s not what we signed up for’

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For the first time in 13 years, LeBron James will not be in the playoffs.

While a few hearty souls predicted the Lakers would fall short of the postseason — shout out to Tim Bontemps of ESPN — the conventional wisdom was the presence of LeBron was enough to lift the Lakers at least into the playoffs. That was certainly the expectation within the organization (where many thought things were more like home court in the first round good). A combination of a poorly constructed roster, injuries, and a perfect storm of little things all added up to the Lakers missing the playoffs for a sixth straight year.

Here is what LeBron James said after the Lakers’ loss to Brooklyn Saturday that officially knocked Los Angeles out of the playoffs. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It’s not what we signed up for. Throughout the year, things happened. Suspensions, injuries, things of that nature. And just not being able to play sustainable basketball for 48 minutes. But you don’t even try to wrap your head around it, you just keep pushing. Just try to get better tonight, move on to tomorrow, and go from there. Playoffs are never promised. You’ve got to come out and work. For me personally, you just continue to put the work in and see what you can do to help.”

There were a lot of things that kept the Lakers out, but on Christmas Day the Lakers had just beaten (a very disinterested) Warriors team, were 20-14, the four seed in the West, and with a top-10 defense. However, in that game LeBron injured his groin and missed the next 17 Lakers games, and even when he returned was not completely right and his old self (how much of that is the injury and how much of that is father time is a matter of speculation). LeBron couldn’t lift this team up like he had previous teams, and there was not enough talent on this roster to lift him up (and the good young talent there was kept getting injured).

Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka signed he guys they did — Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley — to maintain cap space for this summer. Now the pressure is on them to do something with that money to get both another star and a better supporting cast around LeBron.

Now what for No. 23? LeBron is not shutting it down.

“I’m probably going to have a conversation with the coaching staff and my trainer and go from there,” he said. “But I love to hoop. S—, I’m going to have five months and not play the game. So, you know, hopefully I can be in as many games as possible.”

Failure of LeBron’s Lakers this season piles on pressure to win offseason again

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LOS ANGELES — It was a surreal moment:

LeBron James — sitting in front of his locker with his feet in an ice bucket, more ice wrapped around his knees and lower back — was talking about something unthinkable in his previous 15 seasons: shutting it down early because he needs to think long-term.

“Well, I mean, that’s a conversation that would probably be had between me and Luke [Walton]…” LeBron said. “We didn’t take care of business, so you kind of look at the rest of the games, and the percentages of what’s going on there in the future, and see what makes more sense not only for me but the team itself as well.”

At one point Monday night in a crushing loss to the across-the-hall Clippers, LeBron grabbed his groin (the injury that sidelined him for 17 games) and asked out. That loss leaves the Lakers playoff chances are all but dead, which leads to reflection about what is best now for the 34-year-old LeBron.

Father time seems to be winning the race (as he always does). What we have not seen this season, particularly since his return from injury, is the LeBron who just takes over games. The guy who carried the Cavaliers to the Finals last season. LeBron has put up good numbers — he had 27 points on 18 shots against the Clippers Monday — but he has rarely been able to summon up his otherworldly dominant self that just wins games by force of will.

What the Lakers also lack is a team that can lift LeBron up when he stumbles — and that goes back to decisions made last July that prioritized maintaining cap space for the summer of 2019. From the start the Lakers called this a multi-year process and prioritized having the cap space to bring in another star next to LeBron over everything.

However, missing the playoffs in year one of the LeBron era was not part of the plan. It just piles on the pressure on the Lakers’ brain trust of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to repeat what they did last summer and win the offseason. Again.

If not, the LeBron experiment in Los Angeles likely ends without banners and parades.

•••••••••••••••••••

The Lakers won the last offseason on July 1, the moment LeBron announced he was coming to Los Angeles. LeBron didn’t drag out the process and listen to everyone’s pitches as he had in the past, he made his call early then hopped on a plane with his family to go on vacation.

What followed was a plan that had the NBA shaking its head — surround the Lakers’ new star with playmakers, not shooters as had been the case during LeBron’s eight straight trips to the finals. LeBron reportedly pushed for this, he wanted someone else (or someones else) to be able to create shots, he didn’t want to be the only focal point of the offense. Magic and Pelinka bought in.

Except that the Lakers also needed to preserve max cap space to potentially get LeBron a running mate in the summer of 2019, so they were only handing out one-year contracts. In their minds, that meant letting Julius Randle walk, now he is averaging 20.5 points and 8.7 rebounds a game for the Pelicans, setting himself up for a healthy pay raise next summer. It meant letting Brook Lopez walk, and he has been critical in turning the Bucks into the NBA’s best regular season team.

It meant one-year deals for the free agents who had no choice but to take one-year deals — Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, and Michael Beasley. When you look at who has struggled for the Lakers during this recent critical stretch of losses, it’s those guys, not the young stars like Brandon Ingram or Lonzo Ball. The hand-picked veteran playmakers have let the Lakers down. Well, except for Michael Beasley, because he’s out of the league and playing in China.

•••••••••••••••••••

It’s a fun parlor game among league front offices, and especially among Lakers fans: The blame game with the Lakers for missing the playoffs again.

Luke Walton will be the fall guy and deserves a slice of the blame pie. His lineups have been odd, he’s leaned on veterans even when they have not been good, and when adversity hit he could not get everyone to pull the rope in the same direction.

Injuries certainly have played a big role, although every team battles injuries and the best keep winning (Denver’s starting five has played fewer than 200 minutes together this season, the Thunder have never had Andre Roberson, etc). LeBron himself is taking more heat than he has seen in years. In Cleveland (and to a lesser degree Miami), he got credit when the team won but the losses just rolled off his back and the blame hit teammates or the front office. Not in Los Angeles. Healthy or not, LeBron has not been as dominant.

However, the largest piece of the blame pie for this season has to go to Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka — the president and general manager, the brain trust of Lakers basketball operations. Their roster construction doomed this team.

They prioritized maintaining cap space for next summer to land another star.

Then, at the trade deadline, came the very public process of chasing Anthony Davis. Not only did the Lakers never really get close in negotiations, but every young Laker on the roster also heard their names in trade talks. As it does with virtually every young NBA player, it shook them. The players were questioning if LeBron wanted to play with them. The hustle and spark of the Lakers has not been the same since.

It has all come together to form a tidal wave of uninspired play that has the Lakers about to miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year, a franchise record.

But the Lakers have that cap space.

•••••••••••••••••••

The failure to make the playoffs both ramps up the pressure to bring in another star and makes it a little more difficult. Is there really an elite free agent looking at the Lakers situation from the outside right now — the roster construction, the bright lights of media scrutiny for the franchise, the impatient fan base — and thinking it is the most desirable place to be?

That said, the Lakers are still a draw. The chance to capitalize on the marketing opportunities in Los Angeles, and the chance to win with LeBron, will still tempt free agents.

Just maybe not the guys at the top of the free agent board.

Kawhi Leonard has been predictably mum on free agency, but Toronto has a chance to retain him. Plus, I had heard from sources as far back as Summer League that he didn’t like the idea of the brighter spotlight and drama that comes with playing next to LeBron on the Lakers, which is why he was leaning Clippers if he leaves Canada.

Kevin Durant called the media and environment around LeBron “toxic,” which is a clear indication he’s not thinking Lakers if (or more likely when) he bolts the Bay Area. (It should be noted Durant didn’t mean that as a shot at LeBron as much as the social media and noise around LeBron right now.)

Nobody thinks Klay Thompson is leaving the Warriors unless they lowball him, and with Durant eyeing greener pastures, there is no way the Warriors don’t max Thompson out, according to reports. He stays put.

Who is left? Is Jimmy Butler a fit next to LeBron? Kyrie Irving and LeBron have patched up their differences, but that’s very different from joining forces again. Kemba Walker might be the best fit of this tier of players, but does he want to leave Charlotte and come West?

The Lakers also are not out of the Anthony Davis sweepstakes. What happens in the East playoffs, particularly with slumping Boston, could have a big say in that team’s offseason moves and how much they would throw into a trade for Davis. Also, which team wins the draft lottery and the right to draft Zion Williamson can be a player in the trade talks. Most importantly, will the new GM of the Pelicans, whoever that may be, value the young Laker players differently than the former GM Dell Demps, who was unimpressed? Can the Lakers flip a couple of those young players into a player/players the Pelicans do want?

There are a lot of moving parts. This summer is going to be wild and unpredictable, and it’s going to take deft management to sail through those turbulent waters.

Do Magic and Pelinka have that in them?

Lakers fans need to hope they do. If the Lakers don’t dominate the off-season again, the surreal and disappointing moments around the team will only multiply.

LeBron James to teams that may target him on defense: “Come on with it”

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The Lakers’ defense — which bounced between respectable and good the first half of the season — has come apart of late, and it’s the main reason it’s easy to see the Lakers missing the playoffs. They are bottom 10 in the league defensively over their last 10 games. There are multiple reasons and multiple people to blame for this. The roster was not built with players who would provide consistent rim protection (JaVale McGee does it for stretches but can be exposed, and Tyson Chandler is running on fumes). There is not a great defensive identity from coach Luke Walton that the team has bought into. The Lakers miss Lonzo Ball, who is out with a bone bruise in his ankle (Rajon Rondo gets torched at the point of attack a lot). The list goes on.

LeBron James has been part of the problem as well — he has been slow to get back in transition, he has not rotated out to shooters, and at points he seems to stand around off the ball. He is capable, for a stretch, of dialing up great defense, but it’s not something he does for the entire game. Which is exactly what was happening in Cleveland, but it got overlooked because the rest of that roster, in the East, was still good enough to be a threat to make the Finals (which they did). In the West, these Lakers are not even a playoff team.

Which has led to a lot of criticism from fans, media and others about LeBron’s defense. He pushed back on that speaking to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports — LeBron said go ahead and target him.

“I mean, every team has the right if they want to single me out defensively. Come on with it,” James told Yahoo Sports. “Hey, listen, come on with it. Every team has the right to be like, ‘Oh, ’Bron’s over there.’ Hey, just come on with it. … We’ll see what happens.”

As for the noise around the Lakers and the level of criticism he has faced this season.

“I really don’t care. Criticism doesn’t bother me…”

“So if [teams are] switching out on me with a guard and me having to try to get a stop, I mean, guys, they’re going to score. These are NBA players. I just try to make it tough on them. I tried to make it tough on Julius [Randle] all night, and obviously he was a monster [with a game-high 35 points], but I tried to make it tough on Jrue as well. To be able to get that stop for our team and then be able to make that shot for our team, that’s motivating for me. That’s all that matters to me.”

The Lakers problems — which are not solved with a win at home against a stumbling Pelicans team sitting Anthony Davis in the fourth — are multiple.

However, they all go back to roster construction. The Lakers were not going to give out multiple-year contracts to preserve cap space for this summer, so they got veterans willing to settle for one-year deals. Guys without better options. Sure, some players want to suit up with LeBron in Los Angeles, but not more than they want to get paid. Not on a Laker team that clearly was not ready to contend yet. The Lakers got what they paid for.

We all expected LeBron to still be able to lift this team into the playoffs.

Maybe if he’d stayed healthy all 82 games he could have, but he missed time with a groin injury and this roster simply isn’t good enough to lift him up, too. Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and the young guys are doing their part, but the “preserve the cap space” veterans just aren’t that good.

Which means if the Lakers don’t do something impressive with that cap space next summer the real drama will start.