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Rumor: Lakers interested in trading up in first round to get Zhaire Smith


Zhaire Smith is a pick about potential. The Texas Tech swingman is exactly what NBA teams want in that spot on paper. Smith is one of the better athletes in the draft, is long (6’11” wingspan) and uses that well on defense. On the offensive end he’s a project. A big project. But he could develop into an athletic “3&D” guy who is strong in transition if the right team can develop him.

The Lakers think they are that team.

There have been a lot of rumors floating around the league that the Lakers wanted to move up from their No. 25 slot (which they got from the Cavaliers at this past trade deadline in the Larry Nance Jr./Jordan Clarkson deal; the Lakers own No. 10 pick belongs to the Sixers). Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer added some detail in a recent podcast.

“I’ve heard that the Lakers are either looking to add a pick in the middle of the first round or trade up from the 25th pick into the middle of the first round to draft the player that they’re targeting. Zhaire Smith is the name that I’ve heard that they’re very high on.”

The idea is that Smith would grow into the role Kentavious Caldwell-Pope filled for the Lakers last season.

To move up to the middle of the first round — Smith is expected to go mid-teens — the Lakers would need to find a team that would take the No. 25 pick and Josh Hart for it (Los Angeles doesn’t have a number of good other young pieces to move). Would Denver, Washington, or Phoenix be willing to do that? Depends on: 1) if those teams have someone they really like in that spot; 2) for the Wizards, how many changes do they plan to make to the roster this summer (maybe a lot) and how does Hart fit in with that?

The other part of that, the Lakers are loath to give up players/picks that they may need to dump the Luol Deng salary in the next year.

It’s unlikely the Lakers pull this off, but it’s something to watch.

Report: None of Lakers’ young core ‘untouchable’ for right trade offer

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Another — possibly more accurate — way to phrase the theme of this story: Hey, Gregg Popovich, if you’re trading Kawhi Leonard how many of our guys would you want?

The Lakers liked what they saw from their young core this season. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Julius Randle all lived up to or exceeded expectations (some may have had outsized expectations for Ball, but he grew as the season wore on). The Lakers defended better than expected, played fast, and showed some promise.

However, not so much promise that they wouldn’t trade any of them for one of the game’s true superstars. From Tania Ganguli of the Los Angels Times, on the Lakers’ offseason:

While they like their young core and would prefer to keep those players growing together, they have told teams no player is untouchable in trades, according to multiple sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of trade and free-agent negotiations.

To be clear, the Lakers are not actively shopping any of their players. They are willing to listen to offers and could move one of them — even a member of the talented young cadre of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram or Josh Hart — if an offer blows them away.

That’s just smart management. The Lakers should not be wed to any of those guys. That doesn’t mean actively call and try to trade them, it means don’t hang up when your phone rings.

After watching a lot of Lakers this season (in person and televised), it’s hard not to like their young core. However, what they have are players three through seven or eight on a championship team. Maybe Ingram can grow into a No. 2. They are all quality players, but the Lakers do not have the “alpha” — the top-10 NBA player, the franchise cornerstone — among them.

If one of those kinds of players becomes available — Leonard in San Antonio, Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, another player unexpectedly put on the trade block — the Lakers should offer anyone and everyone on the roster. Those elite players are the hardest to get.

Los Angles is one of the few teams — thanks to the city and the franchise brand — that can draw that level of star as a free agent. However, guys like that so rarely are available, if the Lakers can trade for one they should. Don’t bet on the free agent market in a year, too many things can happen to change a player’s mind (or change is value due to injury).

It should be noted Lakers’ management seems to be downplaying expectations going into this summer. Read into that what you want. There are only a handful of elite free agents — LeBron James, Paul George — and if the Lakers don’t land those, this is not a management team that’s just going to overpay the next Timofey Mozgov to fill up the cap. They will sit on the cash until the deeper summer of 2019 class of free agents. Which is the smart move, but it may not sit well with an impatient fan base.

Jimmy Butler returns, Timberwolves pick up crucial win vs. Lakers 113-96

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jimmy Butler scored 18 points in his return from right knee surgery, Jeff Teague had 25 points and eight assists, and the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Los Angeles Lakers 113-96 on Friday night.

Butler played 22 1/2 minutes and was 7 for 10 from the field in his first game since getting hurt against Houston on Feb. 23. He had surgery two days later for a cartilage injury and missed 17 games.

Minnesota moved into sole possession of eighth place in the Western Conference with the win (half a game ahead of Denver, but the teams are tied in the loss column).

Taj Gibson also scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Karl-Anthony Towns had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who were on the second night of a back-to-back. They lost to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday.

Julius Randle scored 20 points and added 10 rebounds for the Lakers, who have lost nine of their last 13. Brook Lopez had 18 points and six rebounds, while Josh Hart tallied 20 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.

The Timberwolves took a 96-76 lead on a jump shot by Jamal Crawford. Los Angeles cut its deficit to 13 with 4:42 remaining in the game, but Minnesota scored six straight points, then opened up a 21-point lead with 2:06 left.

Minnesota started the third quarter with a 16-6 run and took a 67-64 lead on a basket Butler. Teague, Andrew Wiggins and Towns all made 3-pointers to give the Timberwolves an eight-point lead with 3:25 remaining in the period.

Towns capped an 11-2 run with a put-back layup to give Minnesota a 78-68 advantage with 2:12 remaining in the third. Josh Hart made a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer and the Lakers trailed 80-73.

Los Angeles went on a 9-0 run after trailing 36-32 in the second quarter. An 11-0 run four minutes later gave the Lakers a 52-40 lead with 3:08 remaining in the first half.

Gibson’s basket cut Minnesota’s deficit to 56-50. The Timberwolves trailed 58-51 at halftime. Despite shooting only 29 percent from the field, the Lakers outscored the Timberwolves 32-21 in the second quarter.

Lopez scored the first 15 points for the Lakers, outscoring Minnesota by himself over the first six minutes of the game. The rest of the team, however, scored only 11 points the rest of the quarter.


TV feed cuts to commercial right as Lakers attempt final shot vs. Spurs (VIDEO)


The late game on Wednesday night held some intrigue, if only because the San Antonio Spurs continue to be one of the most interesting stories of this NBA season. With no Kawhi Leonard, the team has been up-and-down. Surprisingly, heading into the midweek matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio once again found itself battling for a top position in the Western Conference, just a few games back of the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Spurs lost to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, so as San Antonio took on the Lakers at Staples Center on Wednesday the question would be whether they would really drop two in a row and get swept by the blue and gold on the season.

Fans tuning in watched a tightly-contested matchup on ESPN, with both teams making baskets in the final minute to square the game, 108-108, with under 24 seconds to go. San Antonio took the foul to give with 4.8 seconds left, allowing LA a chance at a final bucket.

Then, this happened:

All of basketball Twitter simultaneously lost their minds about the brief commercial interruption. Meanwhile, LA’s Josh Hart missed his layup attempt at the buzzer, sending the game to overtime.

Los Angeles was able to pull away from the Spurs during the extra period, 122-112.

The Utah Jazz now hold a half-game lead over San Antonio for fourth place in the West.

Lakers’ Brandon Ingram out at least one week with groin strain

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The Lakers have been sneaky good since the first of the year, going 17-8 in their last 25, with a top-10 offense and defense in that time.

One key to that — Brandon Ingram. The second-year player’s shot creation has been big on offense, while on defense he is using his length better to disrupt and get boards. Which is why the fact he’ll be out at least a week with a strained hip flexor is bad news.

The earliest he returns is next Sunday vs. Cleveland.

When drafted a scout told me it would take a little time for Ingram in the NBA — he had a cerebral game he had to figure out how to fit into the league, plus he had to get stronger. This season that has started to come together, Ingram is averaging 16.2 points and 5.4 rebounds, working as a secondary playmaker (or primary, when Lonzo Ball is out). Ingram is fantastic in transition, has been okay but improving as a pick-and-roll ball handler (0.85 points per possession when he is that guy, including passes), and he’s now a dangerous spot-up guy from his spots on the floor. He’s still taking a lot of mid-range jumpers (42 percent of his attempts) and hits just 35 percent on those, but he’s improving and picking his spots better.

These last 20 games for the Lakers this season are about player development, just as the entire season has been (no, the Lakers are not making the playoffs, any Lakers fan asking that needs to go look at the standings again). That’s why the injuries to rookie Josh Hart and now Ingram are setbacks — the more time on the court the better, and these guys are losing some.