Lakers in position for an exciting offseason

Dominating an offseason is not uncharted territory for the Los Angeles Lakers’ franchise.

In July of 1968, the Lakers traded for 76ers superstar Wilt Chamberlain who, in 1972, led Los Angeles to their first NBA championship. He was named the Finals MVP. In June of 1975, Los Angeles acquired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar via a trade with Milwaukee. As a member of the “Showtime Lakers,” Abdul-Jabbar helped win five titles. In the summer of 1996, the Lakers made their most successful free agent signing in history when they brought in Shaquille O’Neal. He went on to win an NBA MVP award and three Finals MVPs.

This summer, the Lakers have an opportunity to add multiple franchise-changing players, in hopes of receiving results similar to past successes. Free agency begins on July 1, with unrestricted free agents being able to officially sign on July 6.

However, before they can make a run at stars like LeBron James and Paul George, they have a chance to trade for a former Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year who is unhappy in his current situation.

Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs had a fallout last season regarding how the organization handled his quad injury. According to ESPN, Leonard would prefer to play in Los Angeles, where he is from.

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Despite Leonard being gone for most of last season, the Spurs still managed to earn a spot in the playoffs. Veteran bigs LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol are locked in for next season, but San Antonio could use guard and wing help. The Spurs will certainly not give Leonard up without substantial compensation, but the Lakers have young pieces that San Antonio may find desirable. Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich has always been against helping Western Conference rivals, but perhaps if Los Angeles provides the best offer for Leonard, it could force his and General Manager R.C. Buford’s hand.

The Lakers could package youngsters Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball to send to San Antonio, along with Luol Deng’s $18 million-dollar contract over the next two seasons and a draft pick for Leonard and perhaps a veteran guard like Patty Mills. The Lakers could also add restricted free agent forward Julius Randle to the mix to sweeten the deal, as long as he agrees to a sign-and-trade and the Spurs want to bring him in.

This way, the Lakers add an elite player (as long as he stays healthy) who came in third-place in the MVP voting in 2017, along with a guard who shoots well from the perimeter with a lot of playoff experience. They could also get rid of the noise that surrounds the Ball family which was a distraction last season, not to mention Deng’s lucrative salary.

Meanwhile, the Spurs get a couple of former second overall picks who could potentially blossom and lead San Antonio for years to come. Plus, it would be an improved roster from last season when Leonard was inactive for all but nine games, so they could theoretically contend for a playoff spot again.

Salary-wise, as long as the Spurs willing to take Deng’s contract, Los Angeles should come out of the trade in a very beneficial financial situation. President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka would be left with enough cap room to add two max contracts without going far into the luxury tax.

 

If this hypothetical exchange goes through, then the Lakers would head into free agency with Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Kuzma coming off of a very productive rookie season, Josh Hart who also looked good as a rookie last year, and Patty Mills to lure in available talent.

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Photo via @kylekuzma

That cast could certainly be a compelling one, especially for someone who came from a team with lackluster support as LeBron James did.

James is referred to by some to be the greatest player the NBA has ever seen, and should be the Lakers’ number one priority come free agency.

James is seemingly comfortable in LA, he even has two houses in Brentwood. Leonard is a great teammate to have help deal with the Warriors since he can defend many different positions at an elite level. Plus, the Lakers can give him his desired salary.

There is the possibility of a sign-and-trade between the Lakers and Cleveland, but that would be a better option if Leonard ends up elsewhere and the Lakers still had Ball, Ingram and Deng to give up. It still could happen even with the Spurs deal, but it isn’t likely that James would want weapons on his future team traded away when he is looking to win a title.

But, Johnson and Pelinka cannot be solely transfixed on getting James. Paul George is also available, and George-to-the-Lakers rumors have gone on for years. The timing is perfect it seems. A player who grew up rooting for the Lakers, and who has admitted that it would be fun to play for them, is a free agent in the same summer that the Lakers are looking to load up.

Cap wise, the Lakers have the space to take on James, George and Leonard, a hellacious amount of talent to add in one summer. But, they do all play the small forward primarily. Many NBA teams in recent years, though, have strayed away from traditional positions. The Golden State Warriors’ “death lineup” includes two guards, two small forwards and an undersized power forward.

With the facilitating skills of James and shooting ability of both George and Leonard, the three could mesh quite effectively. Defensively, all three have shown to be elite, with Leonard winning the Defensive Player of the Year twice and James and George earning multiple All-NBA Defensive honors each. The three can all defend different sized players as well.

Nevertheless, if Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka feel as if that is too many wing players, there are several centers on the market too. Perhaps instead of George, the Lakers could go after DeMarcus Cousins, an elite scorer with a six-foot-eleven frame. The problem with Cousins is his past of attitude issues, also the fact that he will be coming off of Achilles Tendon surgery and has been a defensive liability in the past.

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Clint Capela and DeAndre Jordan are slightly cheaper alternatives at center. They both finish very well around the rim. Capela led the league in field-goal percentage last season and Jordan led the NBA in the category for several seasons before that. They both defend the rim well too, with good size and awareness to block shots. Jordan is a better rebounder, but Capela is five years younger and could be more valuable down the road.

If Johnson and Pelinka do go with the three wings, then they could sign a cheaper big to plug in at center. Perhaps Leonard’s former teammate Aron Baynes, who just had an effective year in Boston and has playoff experience with the Celtics and Spurs, or by bringing back former Laker Ed Davis after three years in Portland. Both can defend the rim well, and should be able to benefit from the passing ability of LeBron James. Baynes can also shoot threes, adding another dimension to the offense. Additionally, in small lineups, Kuzma could plug in as a five for an athletic and strong scoring rotation.

From there, the Lakers would just have to worry about developing their bench beyond Hart, Kuzma and other players still under contract in LA, like Tyler Ennis, Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant. They can fill the bench with veterans who would be willing to sign for the minimum, since some players do so near the end of their careers when looking for a chance at a ring, or by drafting a couple of players since they have picks 25 and 47 (assuming they aren’t traded to San Antonio but likely one would be).

 

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Clippers Offseason Outlook

The Clippers have a tricky summer ahead of them. They traded away their 2019 first-round pick, so they’ll need a roster ready compete for the postseason next year because having a poor record serves no purpose. So, what can they do?

The salary cap in the NBA for 2017-2018 was $99 million with the luxury tax sitting at $119 million. The cap has increased by $24 million since 2015-2016, resulting in teams being able to give more max contracts to top players.

The Clippers were $7 million under the luxury tax limit last season, when they finished 42-40 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Despite missing the postseason, the Clippers had the tenth highest payroll in the league.

A lot of what the Clippers can do this offseason will result from player options. Center DeAndre Jordan and guards Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic all have to decide whether to opt into their deals or to become unrestricted free agents.

Other players who could sign elsewhere are guards Avery Bradley and Tyrone Wallace who are unrestricted free agents. Also, energy big Montrezl Harrell is a restricted free agent with a $1.8 million qualifying offer. Harrell could draw some interest since he is 24-years-old and has improved in each of his three seasons.

So, who is still on the books?

For starters, Sixth Man of the Year finalist Lou Williams signed a three-year contract worth $8 million per year just after the season ended. Forward C.J. Williams agreed on for two more years and will be paid $1.4 million in 2018-2019. Also, Wesley Johnson already opted into his deal worth $6 million for next season.

$56.4 million more is going towards seven players who were already locked in for 2018-2019, $21.6 million of which is going to Danilo Gallinari who played just 21 games last year (he made more than a million dollars per game).

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Photo via @gallinari8888

With all of those deals, and the money Los Angeles owes to past players, the Clippers are in line to spend about $74.7 million for next season at the beginning of June.

Theoretically, if all three players with options opt in, then the Clippers will be spending $112 million for next season before free agency starts.

They all could opt out and renegotiate for more lucrative deals. The most likely to do so being DeAndre Jordan, as he signed his last deal in 2015, before the salary cap rose, and stayed healthy and productive last season.

Rivers’ case for opting out is that he has steadily improved his scoring and three-point shooting in each season that he has been in Los Angeles. But, former GM Doc Rivers was highly criticized for giving his son $12 million dollars to be Chris Paul’s backup in the first place, so Austin Rivers may feel like he won’t get paid as much by another team for next season.

Teodosic should likely opt in. A nagging foot injury held him to 37 games in his debut season last year, but the Clippers were 24-13 in those games. He is a bit of an anomaly, entering the league at age 30 from Europe. Due to his health concerns and age, perhaps opting for the $6 million he’d earn with the Clippers is the smartest move.

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Photo via @MilosTeodosic4

So, the team’s financial situation gives General Manager Lawrence Frank and Consultant Jerry West a couple of options for how to handle the offseason.

One thing they can do is work to retain most of last year’s team and their new draft picks, they have the twelfth.

That means negotiating with Jordan, Rivers and Teodosic if they opt out, as well as matching any offer that Harrell receives.

Bradley was paid just under $9 million per year for the past four years, so he will most likely look to get a pay raise, one that the Clippers will not be able to afford.

Wallace was on a two-way deal last year, like C.J. Williams, meaning he bounced back-and-forth from the G-League. Wallace will most likely play Summer League ball before possibly getting re-signed for a friendly deal, similar to C.J. Williams’ contract. He could be a valuable cheaper player as he played well in his 30 games (19 starts) last year.

Injuries played a big role last season for the Clippers, so perhaps with better luck health-wise and a couple of new young talents, Head Coach Doc Rivers’ club could jump back into the postseason.

However, another way of going about the offseason for Frank and West could start with creating cap room. This requires letting Jordan walk, after a decade of being a Clipper, if he opts out. It also means letting Austin Rivers leave if he opts out, as well as not re-signing Harrell or Wallace.

If those contracts are gone, and perhaps a trade is made to take more money off of the books, then the Clippers could add another max deal by entering the sweepstakes for free agents like Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins.

But, the Clippers refrained from trading Jordan at the deadline, which could mean that they just didn’t find the right deal for him or that re-signing their center is part of their plan. Plus, most of the Clippers’ workouts for players who have entered the draft have been with wings and guards.

Maybe there is a trade brewing to send a few players away while keeping the core with Jordan and Lou Williams intact and pairing them with their youngsters.

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West and Frank could also possibly package their two picks and try to move up in the draft. There are rumors that the Clippers are interested in European prospect Luka Doncic, who is a highly regarded combo guard. He won the MVP of his league in 2017-2018.

A lot can happen this summer for the Clippers’ franchise, especially with Jerry West calling a lot of the shots. He worked wonders as a consultant with Golden State, perhaps he has the right eye to see how to help the Clippers become contenders again.

 

16th Overall Pick: Who Runs the Point in Phoenix?

The Suns secured the #1 overall pick in this year’s draft, and that’s cool. But, if they pick Ayton, they’ve still got a glaring hole at the point guard position that Elfrid Payton (probably) won’t be able to fill. The Suns have the 16th overall pick, which is a great position to draft a solid guard. I ran a Twitter poll with a few options (feel free to follow me), so I’m gonna break down these options. Keep in mind these aren’t the only guys available, but these are the options I see in front of Phoenix.

 

  1. Jalen Brunson, Villanova

Jalen Brunson led the National Champion Wildcats with an impressive 18.9 PPG on 52% shooting and 40% from 3-point range. He chalked up 4.6 assists as well over the course of 32 minutes per game. Brunson is a left-handed guard with a little bit of grit, something the Suns need in the backcourt. He’s 6’2’’, a nice height for a guard, but a below average wingspan. This year was his junior year, which means he’s a little bit more developed than some of the younger guards. He can shoot, and he can help run an offense pretty well. Though, his offense was helped along by elite NCAA coach Jay Wright, and his lack of athleticism and first step will definitely hurt him in the draft. Though he’s leaving college basketball with an impressive championship run on his résumé, Brunson is definitely not the best option on the board at 16.

 

  1. Aaron Holiday, UCLA

Aaron Holiday is a good defensive guard. He’s got a quick step to stay in front of guys, and that also helps him score. Playing a staggering 37.7 minutes per game, Holiday scored to the tune of 20 PPG on 46% shooting and 43% from 3-point territory. There’s a lot of efficiency there. Holiday can really shoot from beyond the arc, and his shot on the move is fantastic as well. He averaged a little under 6 assists, as well as 3.7 rebounds. Holiday is definitely someone the Suns could use, and he’s the younger brother of NBA brothers Jrue and Justin Holiday. He received PAC-12 first-time and defensive first-team honors this year, and there’s no better time to draft a player like him. He should still be on the board at 16, and the Suns would make a great decision to pick him.

 

  1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky

Kentucky Freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had an impressive first year in the SEC. All-Conference Second Team, All-Rookie Team, and SEC All-Tournament Team are all on Gilgeous-Alexander’s résumé. He averaged 33.7 minutes per game with 14.4 PPG on 48.5% shooting and 40.4% from the arc, along with 5.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds. SGA is 6’6’’, which gives him a natural advantage on defense. He averaged 1.6 steals on defense, and showed an ability to stay in front of point guards around the NCAA. Watching tape can show a slower release than anyone else on this list, as well as a tendency to over dribble, but if the Suns can work with Josh Jackson, they can work with Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s not the best offensive option on this list, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander could lead the charge on an oversized backcourt in Phoenix. He may not be available at 16, as the Los Angeles Clippers have the two picks at the end of the lottery, and may look to bring in a guard to play behind Patrick Beverley or Milos Teodosic.

 

  1. Trading for a vet

There are plenty of point guards around the NBA that are already established as NBA-caliber talent. This is an edge that all of them have on the guys coming out of the draft. Looking at the guards around the NBA and keeping realism in mind, here are some guys the Suns could try and make moves for:

  • Darren Collison, IND

Collison showed his scoring and passing ability in the first round of the playoffs, and a veteran presence leading the offense is never a bad thing.

  • D’Angelo Russell

Another subpar season in Brooklyn may lead to even more roster turnover. Russell’s contract isn’t bad for the player he is, and he seems to have a decent friendship with Devin Booker, something that might lead him to Phoenix.

  • Kemba Walker

Let’s be real. There’s a low chance of this happening. But, with a new GM in Charlotte, he might want to blow it up and start over again. If that happens, the Suns should be the first one on the phone trying to land Walker without giving up too much of the young core.

Trading for a vet might get established talent, but it may not be the best solution for the timeline the Suns are trying to work with. GM Ryan McDonough said he was open to trading that 16th pick, and if the Suns do draft Ayton, a point guard will definitely be a requirement on the other end.

 

The Suns have plenty of options at 16, and that’s great. There’s not a problem with having a lot of options. It’s weighing the options and choosing the right one that’s the problem. Ryan McDonough has had a good track record when it comes to drafting recently (congrats on All-Rookie Second Team, Josh), and Suns fans shouldn’t mind him picking who he feels is best at 16.

There are also obviously unexplored options, like making a package to trade into the lottery and drafting a guy like Collin Sexton or Trae Young (I HATE Trae Young but that’s just my humble opinion).

Opinion of the people on my Twitter feed shows that trading for a vet or drafting Aaron Holiday are the best options, and I tend to agree. Let’s just hope that Phoenix makes the decisions to right the ship this season.

Should the Suns trade the First Pick for Karl Anthony-Towns?

A first overall pick who has the ability to pass on the low block, who can stretch the floor, and who can play a good low post game, but who needs some (a lot of) work on defense has recently said he’s unsatisfied with his situation in Minnesota and wants to be somewhere else. This player also happened to go to college with Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis, and his name is Karl-Anthony Towns.

The obvious issue for Towns is that he isn’t being used enough. If you’re KAT, you watched your usage percentage dip this season from 27.4% to 22.9% and watched a few of your more important stats dip with it. Tom Thibodeau has his “guys” come from his Chicago days and you see your playing time eaten up by Taj Gibson and Gorgui Dieng. Thibodeau has been running the legs off guys and seemingly stopping their NBA careers short by overplaying them, so yeah, you’re gonna want out, and you’re gonna openly talk about it.

Now, obviously, Towns isn’t going to be dealt by Minnesota for anything less than the #1 overall pick if you’re Phoenix. The pieces you would prefer to give away (lower picks, Warren, Chriss, Bender) can’t make this trade work, and the pieces you would prefer to keep (Jackson, Booker, #1 pick) are the ones Minnesota would look for. Now, Towns is a former #1 pick and won Rookie of the Year unanimously in 2016. That’s incredibly impressive, and what’s more impressive is that he’s seemingly developed his game and gotten better since his rookie campaign, despite his numbers not reflecting it this year. As previously mentioned, a dip in usage will cause a dip in production.

I, personally, really like KAT. I think Booker likes him too, if Twitter is any indication. I also really like DeAndre Ayton but not as much as KAT, and (as of recently), do not really like Luka Dončić. Let’s flesh out all these opinions.

Why don’t I like Dončić at #1? There’s a few reasons. First of all, he said he wasn’t even set on coming to the NBA, and recently received the Euroleague MVP. If he’s not sold on the team, then don’t even bother coming here. Pass. No thank you. Second of all, he doesn’t have an explosive first step. Strength alone might get you by in the Euroleague, but not having that quickness will KILL a guard like that in the NBA. Third of all, Arizona sports radio personality John “Gambo” Gambadoro has recently brought up a potential “attitude” problem of Dončić’s.

“Yeah. Shooting. Immaturity. Funny how we cut so much slack to Dončić for pouting but want to ship out another 19 year old for the same reason”, of course, referring to Marquese Chriss. I think Dončić is high-risk, high-reward, but not the kind of risk a rebuilding team should take at #1.

Why do I like KAT more than Ayton? I believe that KAT is basically Ayton’s ceiling. Any fan would HOPE that Ayton would be as good as Towns. Every scout says Ayton’s defensive instincts aren’t great, and his quickness on that side of the ball definitely needs some work. Ayton would also be more effective with a pass-first point guard, something the Suns really don’t have right now unless Elfrid Payton and his new haircut come back next season, or if they draft a guard at #16. KAT doesn’t need that past-first guy, as he can create his own opportunities as well as create opportunities for others with his passing and good offensive game sense. He’s a proven NBA guy, and Ayton isn’t (yet). That being said, I certainly wouldn’t mind DeAndre Ayton on my team. I really wouldn’t complain. If the Suns don’t trade the pick, I would not be upset. I like Ayton, just not as much as KAT.

In conclusion, I think the Suns should trade the pick for KAT. Booker wants him, and I like that man being happy. But, if Ayton gets his wish to play in Phoenix, more power to him. I enjoy his game too, and him and Booker would be something else on the offensive end (and ONLY on the offensive end). The lesson to be learned here is: no Dončić. Please. Just a big man at #1. Find a Collin Sexton (if he drops somehow) or an Aaron Holiday at 16 and address that need for a ball-handler, but just stick with a sure thing at #1, whether it be KAT or Ayton. Don’t screw this up. I’m begging you. I need a 30 win season very badly.

Suns Win the #1 Overall Pick in the NBA Draft

Yup. It’s happening. After an arduous 21-61 season, the Suns get what they wanted all along. The Suns will be the final #1 pick in the “traditional” tanking era, as, starting next year, the bottom 3 teams all have an equal chance to draft at #1.

Anyway, wow. This is the first time in franchise history the Suns will pick #1 overall, and the last time they came close, they missed out on Kareem. Who will they pick? Ayton? Dončić? Those are really the only two options in most people’s opinion, and now there’s no question that they have the opportunity to draft the best player available.

I did an entire write-up on Ayton, who backed up his statements about wanting to play in Phoenix via interview and tweet. Ayton is just a hulk of a center and could be the next (and first, depending on who you ask) great center in Suns history. He’s confident, smooth, strong, and a hometown player from the University of Arizona. But, Luka Dončić.

Dončić, a favorite of new head coach Igor Kokoškov, is a 6’8’’ point guard from Slovenia. Slovenia has had success in the NBA in the form of Goran Dragic, but his athleticism comes into question coming over from Europe. He’s being touted as the best European prospect ever, and he’s certainly the most hyped prospect from across the Atlantic. Drafting Dončić would also add a lot of height-having a 6’8’’ point guard next to a 6’6’’ shooting guard and 6’8’’ small forward would lead to a lot of defensive versatility, if Dončić can gain the agility to stay in front of guys.

Anyway, that’s a month from now. Let’s all celebrate! This is big! Suns fans have earned this after an abysmal season, and hopefully more good news from the Phoenix front comes soon.

A brief history of the NBA Draft Lottery: Do teams with the best odds actually get the first pick?

As I’m sure you’re all aware, the Phoenix Suns have the best odds to get the first overall pick, draft DeAndre Ayton and take over the world. But, are they actually the BEST odds? Here’s a brief summary of the NBA Draft Lottery*:

*This will go from 1990-2017, as the weighted draft lottery started in 1990.

I’ve saved you all the arduous process of doing the research, and made a spreadsheet which can be viewed HERE.

For those of you who don’t wanna read it, I’m going to summarize it: The team with the best odds doesn’t really ever get the best pick. 6 times out of the last 28 years, the team with the best odds got the pick. The players picked with those picks? Derrick Coleman, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Karl Anthony-Towns, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz.

If you’ll notice, the last three of those players were drafted in the last three years. This is another key stat: all three of the last three drafts have given the desired outcome of the first overall team getting the first overall pick. The chances of that happening 4 years in a row are low, which doesn’t bode well for the Suns.

The other 22 drafts, the first overall pick can only drop to fourth. The pick went seond 9 times, third 6 times, and fourth 7 times. So, it looks like the Suns have a good chance to get a top 3 pick. Of course, Ayton, Bagley, and Dončić are the three top picks, but maybe Jaren Jackson Jr. is in there over Bagley, depending on who you ask.

Also depending on who you ask, Ayton might go first, but Dončić could be a high-risk high-reward first pick. If the Suns get the first pick, draft Ayton at all costs. Tall, confident, and wants to play with Devin Booker in Phoenix? Done deal. If he ends up going first to a different team, I’d personally pick Bagley but that’s just because the last European prospect is having trouble adjusting to NBA play (sorry Dragan).

Despite his struggles, Dragan has ended up being a decent fourth pick. Josh Jackson has obviously been amazing as well, so the fourth pick may not be terrible. The Suns have a 35% chance of getting that fourth pick, so don’t be surprised if Jaren Jackson Jr. ends up on the roster next year.

History shows the Suns have to be very lucky to get the desired outcome this offseason. But, if they do, the first overall pick will be the first step in a long overhaul heading into 2018-19. With enough luck, potentially some prayer, and Adam Silver picking the right ping pong ball, the Suns could end up winning the lottery in more ways than one.