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Now what for Lakers after DeMarcus Cousins injury?

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“He was going to be a big part of what we’re going to do.”

Laker forward Kyle Kuzma summed it up well when asked about DeMarcus Cousins tearing his ACL during an off-season workout in Las Vegas this week. The Lakers were counting on a bounce-back season from Cousins — for him to play more like the guy from Game 2 of the NBA Finals against Toronto when he was vital to a Warriors win — because it would take some of the burden off of just-acquired Anthony Davis.

Make no mistake, Davis is the best center the Lakers have — he is arguably the best center in the game  (two seasons ago he was the First Team All-NBA center). However, Davis is not built like Joel Embiid and does not want to bang in the post for 30 minutes a night, he wants to play more at the four, face-up, run and space the floor, and play next to a traditional center (then slide to the five in certain situations/lineups, not unlike how the Warriors use Draymond Green at the five).

Cousins was to be that traditional center, and he already had chemistry with Davis from the time they played together in New Orleans.

Now, considering all his body has been through, it’s almost certain Cousins will miss the entire upcoming NBA season.

“I’m devastated for DeMarcus…” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “Injuries are a part of the game, but you are talking about a player who has now dealt with the two most feared injuries for NBA players — the Achilles and ACL — each knocking you out for an entire season… It’s unheard of.”

For Cousins, it means another year of hard-work rehab. It’s a grind that will understandably wear on him.

For the Lakers… the options are not pretty.

There is nobody readily available who can provide near the level of production they hoped to get from Cousins.

The Lakers are not going to make Davis play the five more — he does not want to, and while it’s a longshot he leaves as a free agent next summer he still has that leverage and the Lakers want and need to keep him happy.

So who are the Lakers best options? Right now they have JaVale McGee as a traditional center and that’s it. Remember, they also only have a minimum contract to offer.

The name that bounced around as speculation at the Lakers practice facility (where Team USA practiced this week) was Joakim Noah. The veteran played solidly last season in Memphis after New York wanted him out, and with the Grizzlies he played respectable defense while scoring 7.1 points a game on 51.6 percent shooting. Noah also is a good passer and smart player. He would fit with their veteran mindset, if LeBron James signed off on bringing Noah in.

Nene also is available as a free agent, but at age 37 he showed considerable decline the past couple of seasons in Houston. Marcin Gortat is another option here, he showed a decline at age 35 last season, but at this point the Lakers can’t be too picky. If the Lakers want a good pick-and-roll big, Salah Mejri has been that for Dallas in recent years.

The best available free agent is the Manimal, Kenneth Faried. He is 29 years old, always plays hard, and averaged 12.9 points per game on 58.7 percent shooting in 25 games for the Rockets last season after joining them mid-January. He picked up the slack until Clint Capela returned from injury, but once that happened Faried fell out of the rotation. The main reason for that, and for his limited playoff role, is that Faried is not much of a defender anymore. But he can get buckets.

Another name — one that sends shivers down the spines of Lakers fans — is Dwight Howard. He was traded to Memphis this summer for C.J. Miles and is expected to be bought out. If/when that happens, he has played solidly in recent years. When healthy. And that’s the bigger concern, Howard played just nine games for the Wizards last season. On a team where both LeBron and Davis are going to get a lot of nights off, the Lakers need role players they can count on to absorb minutes, and Howard is just not that guy.

The Lakers could look to the trade market — guys such as Nerlens Noel could eventually become available, Detroit may listen to offers for Christian Wood — however, Los Angeles does not have a lot to give up in a deal.

Bottom line, the options for the Lakers are not good. While the loss of Cousins does not take them out of contender status, it makes reaching their potential that much harder. The margin for error has shrunk again.

They will need to add someone at center, but at this point it’s a case of holding their nose and taking whatever they see as the best fit.

Report: Chris Paul increasingly expected to start season with Thunder

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Last week, the Thunder had an expensive point guard who’s into his 30s and didn’t fit a team shifting into rebuilding without Paul George.

Same story now.

Oklahoma City traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul to acquire draft picks and shed long-term salary. Getting Paul as a player was of minimal concern. That’s why the Thunder worked with him to flip him. But a team like the Heat wanted draft picks just for taking the three years and $124,076,442 remaining on Paul’s contract.

So, Oklahoma City might hold onto Paul, after all.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The 34-year-old Paul is past his prime. But he’s still good. It’d be interesting to see him once again as his team’s best player after he spent so much time stuck in the corner watching James Harden.

Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams could form the core of a solid team this season. Paul can run an offense, and Adams (pick-and-roll) and Gallinari (pick-and-pop) offer nice complementary skills. If Andre Roberson is healthy or if a young player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo takes the next step, Oklahoma City could make real noise.

The Thunder’s biggest challenge: They play in the loaded Western Conference. That makes it far more difficult to make the playoffs. But in terms of team quality, Oklahoma City could be in the thick of competitiveness.

If Paul and Gallinari stay healthy. That can’t be assumed, though Adams can do some dirty work to keep those two clean.

The Thunder have tremendous draft capital – so much of which is tied to the fates of the Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Nuggets. Oklahoma City could tank and improve its draft position further and sooner. But owning so many picks from other teams allows the Thunder to try to win now while simultaneously rebuilding. They don’t necessarily have to waste seasons in the basement just to build themselves back up.

It will probably be easier to trade Paul on Dec. 15. That’s when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded. Right now, too many teams have untradable players, making it difficult to match Paul’s high salary. Generally, the more of Paul’s contract the Thunder pay out, the easier it’ll be to trade him.

But if Paul declines sharply or gets hurt, his value could diminish even further. There’s risk in waiting, though an injured Paul might allow Oklahoma City to tank anyway.

The Thunder must also cut a few million of salary before the final day of the regular season to avoid the luxury tax. That’s a priority.

So, Oklahoma City will make some move – Paul or otherwise.

But it appears likely we’ll see Paul play for the Thunder. It’ll be a return to Oklahoma City after he played home games there with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

This isn’t the reunion Paul or the Thunder appeared to desire when the Westbrook trade was agreed upon. I still think it could be pretty cool.

Report: Marcus Morris, agent Rich Paul part ways

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Marcus Morris caused a stir by backing out of his two-year, $20 million agreement with the Spurs to sign a one-year, $15 million contract with the Knicks.

It’s radical enough whenever a player reneges on a contract agreement. Morris’ situation was complicated by San Antonio already trading Davis Bertans to make room for him, backing out after the moratorium ended and being represented by Rich Paul – the NBA’s most controversial agent.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

New Knick Marcus Morris and his agent Rich Paul have agreed to part ways, sources told the Daily News.

Morris, according to a source, turned down a $41 million offer from the Clippers before pivoting to the Spurs and, eventually, the Knicks.

Bondy initially reported Morris and Nerlens Noel fired Paul. Since, Bondy issued two corrections: Noel remains with Klutch Sports, and Morris and Paul parted ways.

Something clearly went very wrong with Morris’ free agency. Many questions remain about who’s responsible and how.

In some ways, this looks similar to Carlos Boozer’s saga leaving the Cavaliers for the Jazz in 2004. After getting Cleveland to let him hit free agency contingent on re-signing, Boozer instead bolted for Utah. In the aftermath, Rob Pelinka (now Lakers general manager) resigned as Boozer’s agent. Boozer got his better contract. Pelinka moved on in an attempt to save his reputation with teams.

This might not be the same, though. It’s unclear when in this process Paul stopped representing Morris. It’s also unclear just how mutual this parting was.

I’m also curious about details of that $41 million Clippers offer. How many years was that over? Was that the Clippers’ plan before trading for Maurice Harkless and a first-round pick? Was it contingent on Morris waiting in case they didn’t get Kawhi Leonard? We just don’t yet know enough details to evaluate that.

Reports: Thunder signing Nerlens Noel, Mike Muscala, Alec Burks

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Facing another larger repeater-tax bill, the Thunder reportedly want to trim salary.

That’s why Oklahoma City appears to be just picking around the edges of free agency – with Nerlens Noel, Mike Muscala and Alec Burks.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Royce Young of ESPN:

Leave it to the tight-lipped Thunder not to reveal salaries. But given their tax situation, don’t expect large figures.

Noel played very well for Oklahoma City in a limited role last season. It’s possible he parlayed that into a somewhat substantial deal. I would have guessed a larger contract if he signed elsewhere.

Muscala is a decent stretch big. After landing him the Thunder could try to unload Patrick Patterson and his $5,711,200 salary.

Burks hasn’t had a good season in a half decade. The shooting guard looked promising with the Jazz, but injuries have sidetracked his career. Maybe he’ll contribute off the bench if healthy. I’d be surprised if he got more than the minimum.

Lakers open up max cap space through trade with Wizards, Davis waiving trade kicker

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The Los Angeles Lakers will open free agency with more than $32 million in cap room — enough to sign Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, or other players to a max level contract — thanks to a couple of moves made Thursday.

Whether they should chase that max player or spread the money around to get two or three good role players — Danny Green, J.J. Redick, Bojan Bogdanovic, Trevor Ariza, others of that ilk — is another question entirely. What matters is the Lakers will have the money to spend.

It took two moves to get there (and technically it will not get there until July 6 when a series of moves can be made). First, the Lakers are trading the three smaller salaries on their books next season to the Washington Wizards, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Wizards were higher on Wagner than most at the draft, this lands them a guy the organization likes.

The other Laker move, getting Anthony Davis to agree to waive his $4 million trade kicker (something there was push back on when it was first mentioned).

That gives the Lakers the cap room they need to chase a max contract star. Give Laker GM Rob Pelinka credit for pulling this off, he has gotten his team into position.

Kawhi Leonard is on the top of their list, and the Lakers are expected to get a meeting with him at the start of free agency. They have their foot in the door, but I have heard from multiple sources going back to last summer he is not interested in joining a superteam or being part of the circus that can be the Lakers in a very bright spotlight.

Los Angeles has been linked to Kyrie Irving, although most reports now have him locked in on going to Brooklyn, likely with Kevin Durant. LeBron and Irving have patched up their differences, although league sources have told me that’s different from saying Irving wants to play with LeBron again. On the court, he would be the best fit in terms of style with LeBron and Davis.

Los Angeles also has the money to get Kemba Walker (who league buzz says is a lock for Boston unless Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan significantly ups his offer), Jimmy Butler (Philadelphia wants to max him out with five years, $191 million, but Houston is making a hard push for him via a sign-and-trade), or bringing back D'Angelo Russell, who will have a number of suitors and the Nets can match any offer (if they don’t get Irving Brooklyn likely keeps Russell).

If the Lakers land any of those stars, the rest of the roster will be filled out with players on minimum contracts such as J.R. Smith (once Cleveland waives him), Kyle Korver, Nerlens Noel, and others. Those players are taking minimum contracts for a reason, but with the stars that may be enough to make the Lakers a threat.

However, after watching a finals where role players were critical for Toronto to win it all — or thinking back to the Shaq/Kobe Lakers were players such as Robert Horry and Derek Fisher were essential to the team’s success — the Lakers may well be better off landing role players who can just defend and shoot. Los Angeles will need those guys to contend in a West where the Warriors may be slowed but teams such as Houston, Utah, and Denver will make it a tough road out of the conference no matter what.