Archives For Laker Analysis

There’s not a single player on the Lakers’ roster who receives as much backlash from fans as D’Angelo Russell. Often viewed through a deficit model, there is a vocal group of detractors who like to point out all he does not do and/or all he does do, but not well enough. It’s a fascinating (and often frustrating) thing to observe, especially when most metrics (as well as my eye test) point out that Russell is one of the team’s best players and top contributors.

Thinking what I think and knowing what I know, I have taken to the internet (my site, twitter, etc) to defend Russell’s play; to highlight the things I think he’s doing well and the ways in which he’s helping the team. This is often met with some combination of thank you’s, he’s still a bust tho’s, and a few flat out I don’t care’s. I say all this just so that you know that I know what’s going to happen next. So take this with this preface: I don’t care.

D’Angelo Russell is trending up even if you don’t see it.

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I recently joined Aaron Fischman and Loren Lee Chen on their On the NBA Beat Podcast to talk Lakers. Topics covered include why I was on board not trading Brandon Ingram in a package for DeMarcus Cousins, what I see in D’Angelo Russell as a passer, the team’s defensive struggles, and why I think the player development coaches matter just as much as Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to turning things around.

You can subscribe to the On the NBA Beat pod here and follow the rest of the work they do at their website. Click through to listen to the entire conversation. Thanks to Loren and Aaron for letting me ramble. Haha.

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With Magic and Rob Pelinka taking over the front office, fans are understandably excited about where they can take the Lakers over the next few years. One huge component of this future will be whether the Lakers can (finally) lure first rate talent to join the young core, particularly given Magic’s potential gravitas as a recruiter, and Pelinka’s deep connections throughout the league. The news that Paul George is “hell bent” on coming to the Lakers during the 2018 offseason has only fueled this hope.

As a consequence, the Lakers’ immediate and future cap situation under the new CBA becomes critical. If the Lakers are going to sign George or acquire other leading players they will need to have the cap flexibility to make it happen, even in the face of the Mozgov/Deng disastrous deals and the pricey extensions coming to the young core.

Just how much flexibility will Magic and Pelinka have to work with the next few years? Is George a realistic target in 2018? And what can they do to clear out more room? I attempt to work through those questions below, and highlight potential issues and options for building the team under the new CBA. At the outset, I will set out my high level findings, and then work through them in more detail below.

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The game was entertaining and well played for the most part. The Lakers competed well early and even held a lead late. Their defense forced turnovers early and their offense was capable throughout. In the end, though, the Lakers could not slow Kemba Walker and the team lost to the Hornets 109-104.

All in all, it was likely what most fans want out of a game as this season winds down. Julius Randle was a monster, hitting 10 of his 14 shots on his way to 23 points, 18 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. D’Angelo Russell was also very good, scoring 23 points of his own while dishing out 9 assists to only 3 turnovers. Russell was especially dynamic in the 3rd quarter where, despite only making 1 of his 3 shots, he tallied 6 assists in a fantastic display of passing and decision making when running the team’s offense.

Beyond the good play of those two, Clarkson had a nice showing as the primary ball handler for the 2nd unit, posting 16 points on 7-14 shooting while chipping in 3 assists and 3 rebounds. And while Ingram did not play well offensively, he led the team with 42 minutes played and was his normal steady self providing solid defense and intangibles (ball moving, cuts, etc).

The production from the team’s young core aside, what stood out most to me was how this game was a real signal to a new era for the Lakers. These games, since the All-Star break, represent the first time in these players’ careers that they are undoubtedly the focus of the franchise and are being put into positions most players of their draft status (save for 2nd round pick Clarkson) would expect them to be in from the start of their careers.

Let me explain further…

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UPDATE: Jose Calderon has officially been waived. Terms of the buyout were not released, but the team issued a press release confirming the move. Calderon must clear waivers before he would become a free agent who could sign with any team. It is believe he will sign with the Warriors once that occurs. Read below for my original analysis when this was being reported as possible

Even though the trade deadline has come and gone, the Lakers may not be done changing their roster construct. ESPN’s Marc Stein is reporting that the Lakers and Jose Calderon are discussing the potential of a buyout. From Stein’s report:

Los Angeles Lakers guard Jose Calderon has emerged as a potential candidate to join the NBA’s annual March buyout market, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN that it’s not yet a certainty Calderon will secure his release from the Lakers in the coming days, but the sides are indeed discussing the options as Wednesday’s playoff eligibility deadline nears.

As Stein notes, the deadline for when players need to be released in order to be playoff eligible for a different team is this upcoming Wednesday. Players don’t need to be signed to their new team by that point, but they must be released. For the Lakers and Calderon, it may be mutually beneficial for them to find common ground simply because Calderon is not a rotation player and the Lakers may be better off with an open roster spot to pursue their own additions before the season ends.

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When the Lakers traded Lou Williams for Corey Brewer and a 1st round pick, my thoughts were mostly centered on the quality of the draft pick and the ramifications of no longer having Lou on the roster. Those things, to me at least, were the key parts of the trade since the pick is the main asset and the redistribution of Lou’s usage to younger players offer the most long term meaning to a rebuilding roster.

My analysis on Brewer, then, naturally was lower on the list of things which actually mattered. Here is what I wrote:

I am not too keen on Corey Brewer being part of this deal. I would have preferred the Lakers push for KJ McDaniels, a younger, more rangy athlete who still has some upside. Brewer is a fine veteran who has been on some good teams and can be another voice in the locker room. He can also contribute as a try-hard defender and an open court player who will fill the lane well. But, overall, as someone who is signed through next season at a higher cap number than Williams and someone who has suspect offensive decision making, I would have just preferred the team chase a younger player as the “throw-in” to make the deal work.

I stand by that, but I also think the Brewer aspect of the deal deserves more than a single paragraph. I don’t know what role Brewer will play on the court — and there will be some analysts who say it should be “none” — but I am interested in seeing whether Luke decides to give him some spot/situational minutes to see what he has in Brewer.

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In a day which saw the Lakers elevate Magic Johnson to President of Basketball Operations while removing Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak from their respective front office positions, more change is afoot. The team has reportedly traded Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets.

Per David Aldridge, the pick the Lakers are receiving from the Rockets is not protected in any way, so the team will have at least one draft pick in the upcoming draft with a possibility of still retaining their own selection should it fall in the top 3. The Lakers have reportedly been insisting on getting a 1st rounder in exchange for Williams, and my guess is that the lack of protections probably swayed them towards the Rockets considering there was also interest from the Jazz and Wizards.

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The Lakers 19-39 entering the All-Star festivities and in need of a break. I need a break, so I know they do. The loss to the Suns was as bad a defeat as I’ve witnessed this year, not because of the final margin but because of the lack of attentiveness and care put into managing the game. They were careless with the ball offensively and as hapless defensively — especially in transition — I have seen this season. The Suns were treating fastbreaks like the All-Star game, throwing lobs and trying to dunk every time there was even a sliver of an opening.

So, this time away — at least I hope — will be useful. But beyond the chance to vacation on a beach somewhere and get away from the game for a week or so, the next time the Lakers take the floor will be after the trade deadline. Which, for this specific version of the Lakers, actually means something. This team has a load of young players and some veterans who might have some value who could be on the move. Even more than that, though, is that the team itself is actually looking to make moves.

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