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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Since the Lakers have returned from the All-Star break, they are 0-2 with both losses double-digit defeats. The team has played poorly on defense while having only fleeting success offensively on the whole. Individual players have had their moments (Russell, Ingram, and Clarkson have all had some very positive stretches), but overall the team’s lack of competitiveness on defense has dug them holes too deep to climb out of.

This really shouldn’t be a surprise. The team’s defense has been bad pretty much all season and just because the team traded Lou Williams, that’s not going to change. The Lakers still have too many defenders who either haven’t shown enough ability, commitment, experience (or all of the above) on that end to form the foundation of a good defense. The hope is that this comes with time, but I think we’d be lying to ourselves if we just assume it will eventually. It may not — but that’s another topic for another day.

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After the Lakers officially waived/bought-out Jose Calderon on Monday, they opened up a roster spot to potentially add another young player to get a closer look at (much like they did by trading Marcelo Huertas for Tyler Ennis). Well, they seem to be wasting no time in making said move by looking down to their D-League club, the D-Fenders:

Nwaba was a name I mentioned when the discussions of Calderon’s potential release were surfacing, so adding him to the roster is not a huge surprise. That said, it’s nice to see the Lakers actually cull their D-League affiliate for looks at young players rather than using them only for send-downs of their own draft picks to get more playing time (a la Zubac this season).

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In their first game after the All-Star break, the Lakers lost by a double digit margin to the Thunder in OKC. While the final score wasn’t pleasant, there were a few things I did like about the game. The team competed until the end and showed some defensive spirit in the 4th quarter. D’Angelo Russell was aggressive all game, posting an 11 point 5 assist 1st half and then pouring in 18 more points in the second half.

Russell’s game was a reminder of how much of a natural scorer he can be, hitting shots from all three levels (even though he shot especially poorly from behind the arc). It was encouraging to see Russell get into the paint and finish, something I’d like to see become a more permanent part of his game rather than the once-every-five-game affair it’s been this year. I’d also like to see him continue to find that balance between scorer and playmaker – after a 1st half with 5 assists, he only had 1 helper in the 2nd half. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather Russell skew aggressive than not and if that means his assist numbers suffer, but he scores well, I’m okay. But this speaks to why I want him in the game and getting reps in every and all types of game situation.

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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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After over a week off, All-Star weekend, a front office shakeup which captivated the league, and two separate trades with the Rockets (Lou Williams for Corey Brewer + a 1st round pick and, later, Marcelo Huertas for Tyler Ennis), the Lakers are back playing actual basketball tonight when they suit up against the Thunder.

 

The Thunder, too, have a different look after trading Cameron Payne, Anthony Morrow, and Joffery Lauvergne to the Bulls for Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson. In the short term, this deal likely helps the Thunder more than the Bulls as Gibson is the best player traded. In the long term, this trade likely comes down to who becomes the better pro — Payne or McBuckets, which is something we just can’t know at this point.

In any event, this is a match up of two teams who will look different than the versions which entered the All-Star break, which means adjustments to new/tweaked roles and incorporation of new guys. Having practiced yesterday helps, but there’s still some things to work out — something which applies more to the Thunder (adding guys who should be in the rotation) than the Lakers.

Beyond accounting for those adjustments and some potential rust due to the long layoff, I am hopeful for a good game which puts the focus back on the court and what the players can do. It’s easy to be caught up and distracted by the events of the last few days, but I think it’s fair to say those moves were (mostly) made to correct course and establish the long term plan which best fits this organization.

That means further empowering the young players and letting them sink or swim. Which is something I will be watching for tonight. Will the young guards get longer stints? Will they close the game? This isn’t to say that you can’t coach them hard or pull them for making mistakes or do whatever else is needed to establish good habits. That said, the focus should shift even more in their direction now and there’s at least one fewer excuse/impediment to them on the roster now.

With that, I hope to see a good game where the team competes hard. They should be refreshed and looking to make their mark in the last 20+ games of the year. Let’s see what they’ve got.

Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.

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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