Is Magic Johnson that man to turn around the Los Angeles Lakers?
X-Golden State Warriors 65-17 (1)
Last year was a dream season for the Golden State Warriors as they set a new NBA single-season record for wins 73 that should stand for a very long time. The Warriors appeared poised to repeat as NBA Champions as they built a 3-1 series in the NBA Finals, only to falter and lose the final three games to the Cleveland Cavaliers, which included two of those defeats coming at home. The Warriors only lost nine games during the regular season, but they would lose nine contests during the playoffs which includes their last three as they’ve had all summer to sit back and only ponder what could have been if they were able to repeat as NBA Champions. But after a record breaking season for the Warriors, don’t expect them to drop off that much.
What has propelled the Warriors over the past few NBA seasons has been their perimeter shooting. As a team the Warriors shot nearly 42% from beyond the three-point arc while they were led by “The Splash Brothers” of point guard Steph Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson.
Curry is the reigning two-time NBA MVP who is one of the best perimeter shooters that the game of basketball has seen as he is indeed a pure shooter. Last season Curry averaged 30.1 points per game and at times he can make deep shooting almost look like making layups as it doesn’t take that much for him to get into the zone.
Thompson is no slouch either when it comes to scoring as he is a career 42% shooter from downtown, while also seeing his points per game average increase in each of his five NBA seasons.
But one element that hurt the Warriors in their NBA Finals loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers was the fact that Curry nor Thompson have the ability to score close to the basket, while they are not nearly as effective when opposing defenses keep a body on them to prevent them from consistently getting open looks at the basket. And in a very surprising move which could remedy that issue, small forward Kevin Durant decided to join the Warriors on Independence Day.
For nine years Durant was the face of the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder franchise. Only Gary Payton scored more points than Durant’s 17,566 in the history of the franchise, and no one who ever played for the organization made more three-point field goals (1,143) than him. Durant also helped the Thunder reach the NBA Finals in 2012, but allure of playing with the Warriors, while being lukewarm at best to remain in Oklahoma City and playing alongside point guard Russell Westbrook was enough to persuade him to take his talents west and join the Warriors.
What Durant gives the Warriors is a bigger scorer, but is he indeed the missing piece that can get Golden State another NBA Championship?
For Durant’s NBA career, he has averaged 27.4 points per game, but he is never going to be confused with being a defensive stalwart, which is an element that the Warriors are going to need if they are going to once again claim the NBA Title. The other big issue is going to be how will Durant fit in with Curry and Thompson as there is only one basketball to go around. Durant doesn’t appear to be the kind of player that will want to rock the boat as he understands that there is a winning formula in place, while Curry and Thompson must love the thought of having another scoring option that can take some of the burden off of them.
The Warriors do have a defensive presence on their team in the form of power forward Draymond Green and small forward Andre Iguodala. Last year Curry was the NBA’s MVP, but in actuality Green is the Warriors best player. Green can do it all as he is a perimeter scorer, interior, rebounder, defender, facilitator, and the heart and soul of this team. I also doubt that Green would have an issue in taking a backseat to Durant, Curry, and Thompson as far as the scoring goes, while he can still strengthen the team in other areas.
But all is not well with the Warriors as they’ve lost some of their depth that was key to their success over the last few years. In making room for Durant, center Andrew Bogut was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, while center Marreese Speights left to join the Los Angeles Clippers, and shooting guard Leandro Barbosa is now a member of the Phoenix Suns. On top of that small forward Harrison Barnes left in free agency to sign with the Mavericks after the Warriors made it clear that they were zeroing in on Durant.
The Warriors new supporting cast includes the likes of veteran power forward David West and center JaVale McGee to partner with stalwarts off of the Golden State bench such as point guard Shaun Livingston, but will it be enough to get the Warriors back to the NBA Championship?.
In spite of not winning the NBA Championship last June, the Warriors will still have a bulls eye on their backs due to what they did in the last regular season. And Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will have to make sure that his team will be up for the challenge.
Y-Los Angeles Clippers 54-28 (3)
The last three years have seen the Los Angeles Clippers be one of the better teams in the Western Conference, but they’ve been unable to get over the hump in the postseason. The Clippers have never won an NBA Championship and dating back to their stints in Buffalo and San Diego, they’ve never gotten to the conference finals.
Doc Rivers has been the Clippers head coach for the last three years and he has given this organization a high level of respectability. Under Rivers, the Clippers have won 50 games in each of the last three seasons, and once you factor in their 56-win campaign under Vinny Del Negro during the 2012-2013 NBA season, Los Angeles is in the midst of their best run in franchise history. But unfortunately for the Clippers, they have taken a backseat to the Golden State Warriors in the Pacific Division which is something that must change if they are going to achieve their ultimate goal which is to win an NBA Championship.
As point guard Chris Paul is set to begin his sixth season with the Clippers, he is the leader of this team, but who is the their go-to-guy? Aside from Paul, the other recognizable faces of the Clippers are power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan. Paul is one of the better floor generals in the NBA as he has averaged 9.9 assists for his 11-year NBA career, while Jordan is currently one of the top rebounders in the league. Injuries limited Griffin to just 35 games last season, and he needs to find a way to remain healthy for this campaign. But you have to wonder if the title window is closing for this trio?
Griffin has never come off of as being “the guy” for the Clippers as he plays off of Paul. Jordan has never developed his offensive game enough to be a consistent scorer, while he is also a liability late in contests due to the fact that he is a career 42% free throw shooter. And as for Paul, he has never shown the ability during his NBA career to be a player that a team can consistently count on to score 25 points per contest.
But aside from this the Clippers still have a team that can do some damage in the regular season as long as they can remain healthy. Shooting guard J.J. Redick is one of the best deep range shooters in the NBA which was evident last season when he connected on nearly 48% of his shots from downtown. Jamal Crawford is set to begin his fifth season with the Clippers, and after averaging 14.2 points off of the bench last year for Los Angeles, he will once again be vital to their success as he is the only three-time winner of the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. At 39-years of age, small forward Paul Pierce is not the player that he was during the prime of his career, but his knowledge of the game should be able to help the Clippers in this his last go round in the NBA. The last few years have seen center Marreese Speights be a valuable role players coming off of the bench for the Warriors, and he should be an upgrade at the offensive end of the floor for the Clippers when Jordan goes to the bench. And at 6’10”, Speights’ size will also help the Clippers at the defensive end of the floor last season as they were seventh in the NBA in points allowed.
In order for the Clippers to have a shot to contend with the power teams in the Western Conference such as the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, they must take care of their business against the also-rans. And if everyone is one the same page, the Clippers should be a tough team to reckon with in spite of the fact that they more than likely won’t win the NBA Title.
Sacramento Kings 36-46
You have to go back to 2006 to find the last time that the Sacramento Kings finished an NBA campaign with a winning record. Over that stretch the Kings have gone through eight different head coaches with a ninth in Dave Joerger set to begin his tenure with the club. The Kings have not won more than 38 games in a season during their latest journey to futility, while they’ve also been an organization that has lacked leadership which means that Joerger will have his work cut out for him.
Joerger spent the last three years as the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies where he compiled a record of 147-99. Joerger also led the Grizzlies to three consecutive playoff appearances which included guiding a Memphis team last season that had a slew of injuries. Joerger is an excellent communicator, while he also focuses on defensive basketball, but he will have his hands full as far as turning things around in Northern California.
Center DeMarcus Cousins has been the Kings best player in each of the last six years, but he has also been the organizations biggest headache. Cousins is coming off of a season where he averaged 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds, while also being a member of the United States Men’s Basketball Team that won the gold medal this past August at the Summer Olympics. However the category that the Kings need Cousins step up in the most is his leadership.
As Cousins is now on his sixth different head coach with the Kings, it is safe to label him as a “coach killer”. But Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac continue to keep Cousins as their centerpiece in spite of the fact that he continuously clashes with head coaches, along with being unable to make the players around him better which will more than likely be on display this season due to the fact that Sacramento has individual talent and not a group of guys that will more than likely be able to function as a cohesive unit.
Along with Cousins, the Kings are set to return four of their top five scorers from last year’s team. Small forward Rudy Gay is set to begin his fourth season with the Kings. During Gay’s time in Sacramento, he has averaged 19.4 points per game, but just like Cousins he has been unable to help the Kings get over the hump and back to the playoffs. Point guard Darren Collison is set to begin his third season in Sacramento, and he could have more of an impact this year due to the fact that he won’t be looking over his shoulder after the Kings allowed point guard Rajon Rondo to leave in free agency. Small forward Omri Casspi gives the Kings a solid perimeter scorer coming off of the bench which will be vital as Sacramento does’t want to get lost in the shuffle once again in the Western Conference.
During the off-season, the Kings also picked up veteran wing players in small forwards Matt Barnes and Arron Afflalo who aside from both playing their college ball at UCLA could provide Sacramento with experience and more importantly a defensive toughness that is going to be necessary for them under Joerger.
Something will have to give for the Kings as no team in the NBA allowed more points per game (109.1) last season than they did, while Joerger typically had one of the better defensive teams in the league during his time in the Memphis. For the Kings to improve at the defensive end of the floor, it is going to take a collective effort, but players such as Cousins, Gay, and Casspi don’t have a solid history of being solid defenders which puts Sacramento in an interesting situation being that Ranadive and Divac have been known to chose Cousins over their head coaches.
Just like last year, the Kings have tremendous individual talent, but they must learn to play together as a team. The Kings are currently one of the most poorly run franchises in the NBA, and the only highlight of their season will be the unveiling of their new home in Northern California which is the Golden 1 Center.
Los Angeles Lakers 33-49
It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of their worst stretch in franchise history. The last three years have seen the Lakers fail to post a winning record, while they’ve also been unable to qualify for the playoffs. This marks the first time in the illustrious history of the Lakers franchise that this has happened as they are now coming to grips with a very unfamiliar word which is “rebuilding”. The upcoming NBA season also marked the end of one era for Lakers basketball, and the beginning of a new one.
The past 20 years have seen shooting guard Kobe Bryant as a fixture on the court for the Lakers. Bryant helped the Lakers win five NBA Championships. But like all good Hollywood productions, Bryant’s time on the court has come to an end. Bryant’s departure means that the focus will be on the youth movement for the Lakers, along with a new voice on the sidelines.
36-year old Luke Walton is set to become the 26th head coach in the illustrious history of the Lakers franchise and there is only one way for him to go which is up. Walton has played for the Lakers as he was a member of their championship teams in 2009 and 2010. Walton has spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors and he hopes to bring the same ball movement offense that has been successful in Oakland to Los Angeles. And although that Walton doesn’t have the same level of talent to work with in Los Angeles as opposed to Oakland with the Warriors, all is not lost for Walton as there is some potential on the Lakers roster.
As the Lakers have combined to lose 181 games over the last three NBA seasons, it has also seen them picking very early in the NBA Draft. In 2014, the Lakers used their first-round pick on power forward Julius Randle. In 2015, the Lakers used the second overall pick of the NBA Draft on point guard D’Angelo Russell. And after winning just 17 games last year, the Lakers once again had the second overall choice; this time they selected small forward Brandon Ingram whom they are hopeful will be another piece to their young core of players.
In the first game of the 2014-2015 NBA season, Randle suffered a broken leg which ended his rookie campaign before it even started. Randle would return last season in what was his de facto rookie campaign as he averaged 11.3 points and 10.2 rebounds as he is showing that he has the potential to be a low-post presence in Los Angeles. Russell had an up and down rookie campaign as he averaged 13.2 points and 3.3. assists while having the locker room turn on him after an incident with shooting guard Nick Young. Russell is only 20-years of age, and there is still a level of immaturity that must be curbed if he is going to grow as a professional basketball player. Aside from Russell, the Lakers are high on another guard in Jordan Clarkson. Last year was Clarkson’s second NBA season and after averaging 15.5 points per game, he received a four-year extension that is worth $50 million. Ingram showed flashes of what he could be during his one year of collegiate basketball for the Duke Blue Devils as he averaged 17.3 and 6.8 rebounds en route to being the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Player of the Year. And Ingram’s development as a wing player and all-around player are going to be vital for the Lakers who are looking to pick themselves up off of the canvas in the Western Conference.
Aside from the Lakers youth movement, they do have veterans on this club such as small forward Luol Deng and shooting guard Lou Williams who’s experience will be important as Walton looks to get his message across to his young team.
It might not seem like it, but the Lakers are in the process of building something special, and although that the 2016-2017 NBA season will more than likely see Los Angeles miss the postseason once again, they are on the verge of building something very special.
Phoenix Suns 30-52
Throughout the 48-year history of the Phoenix Suns franchise, they’ve never won an NBA Championship, but they have had a reputation of being a perennial playoff team. However things have really gone awry for the Suns as they have failed to make the postseason since 2010. Over that stretch the Suns have had four different head coaches which has taken away from their ability to build some cohesion. Earl Watson was the Suns interim head coach for the final 33 games of the 2015-2016 NBA season after Jeff Hornacek was fired. The Suns would go 9-24 under Watson, but team general manager Ryan McDonough decided to stick with him heading into the upcoming NBA season. However it doesn’t matter who will be coaching the Suns as this organization has lost its luster.
When you think of the history of Suns basketball, an uptempo pace that produces plenty of points generally comes to mind. But last season the Suns were 22nd in the NBA in points per game at 100.9 per contest. One issue that the Suns have had is that they’ve concentrated too much on being a guard oriented team. In the past five years the majority of the Suns draft picks have been guards and this has robbed the Suns from gaining cohesion on the basketball court along with an overall identity. The Suns two best players are a pair of point guards that played collegiately for the Kentucky Wildcats in Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, but it is counter productive to have each of them on the court at the same time when they have the same skill set.
However regardless of whether it is Bledsoe or Knight that is running the show for the Suns at point guard, they have a promising player to run with in the Phoenix backcourt in shooting guard Devin Booker. Last year as a rookie, Booker was the Suns third leading scorer at 13.8 points per game behind Bledsoe and Knight and the ceiling is very high for him as his second year in the NBA is set to begin.
The Suns do have a veteran presence in their front court with center Tyson Chandler who is still a solid rebounder, and power forward Mirza Teletovic who is a quality scorer as he averaged 12.2 points per game last year for Phoenix, but it is highly unlikely that it will be good enough to make them a playoff team.
Five of the Suns first eight games this year will be on the road, and a slow start could be the prelude for another long season in Phoenix.
Y-Clinched Playoff Berth
When you step into the Staples Center there is a definite aura that surrounds the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers have 16 NBA Champions which are the second most in league history, while no franchise has made more trips to the NBA Finals (31) than them. The Lakers have had an array of Hall of Famers such as Magic Johnson, Jerry West, and Shaquille O’Neal play for them and when it comes to free agency, the purple and gold have never had to beg the top players in the NBA to suit up for them. However things have changed as the last three years have seen the Lakers go 65-181 which is by far their worst stretch in franchise history. The Lakers were clinging to an aging Kobe Bryant as their franchise player, while other superstars around the NBA were reluctant to play with him as nobody wanted to take a back seat to the Black Mamba. The Lakers have had four different head coaches over the last four years with another one in Luke Walton just beginning his tenure. The Lakers have found themselves picking early in the NBA Draft while they have also missed out in free agency which is unheard of for them. The Lakers had a snowball’s chance in hell of signing small forward Kevin Durant this summer as he ultimately decided to join the Golden State Warriors. But Los Angeles missed out on second and third-tier free agents as well which means that their best option for the immediate future is to concentrate on drafting and developing players which is unheard of for this franchise.
The Lakers are coming off of a 17-65 season which was their worst in franchise history. But that didn’t ensure the Lakers of the having the first overall pick in the NBA Draft as that went the way of the Philadelphia 76ers which ended their hopes of drafting small forward Ben Simmons. The Lakers did have the second overall pick in the draft which they used on small forward Brandon Ingram. The Lakers intend to team Ingram with guards D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, along with power forward Julius Randle as this is expected to be the core that will get things turned around for the franchise.
But things have gotten so bad for the Lakers that they found themselves agreeing to a four-year, $64 million deal with center Timofey Mozgov when free agency began last week. In six NBA seasons, Mozgov has only averaged 6.9 points and 5 rebounds as his two greatest claims to fame have been being a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers championship team last month, and getting dunked on by Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin a few years ago as a member of the New York Knicks. Now Mozgov is getting paid big-time money by the Lakers to do nothing more than fill a roster spot.
Walton will be able to add some life to the Lakers as he will look to implement the triangle offense that the organization enjoyed tremendous success in when it was orchestrated by former head coach Phil Jackson. But the triangle and Walton’s winning attitude won’t be enough to make the Lakers a playoff contender right away as he must teach the youngsters how to win in the NBA which is not an easy task as the blow could have been cushioned if Los Angeles were able to lure a quality veteran player there that could teach the youngsters what it takes to succeed.
25 years ago the Lakers saw the dynasty of the 1980’s and early 1990’s begin to fade when Johnson was forced to retire after contracting the HIV virus. The Lakers found themselves missing the playoffs in 1994, but they quickly were able to get back to the postseason in 1995 as they were led by youngsters in shooting guard Eddie Jones and point guard Nick Van Exel. This was the groundwork for what the Lakers were to become as in 1996, they signed O’Neal in free agency, and acquired Bryant via a trade from the Charlotte Hornets. But the maestro at the center of all of that was Jerry West who served as the Lakers general manager for more than two decades. West left the Lakers in 2002 and he currently works in the front office of the Golden State Warriors. And the Lakers have yet to find someone with his wizardry to build a team. But there is the possibility that Ingram, Randle, Russell, and Clarkson could be the foundation for a Lakers turnaround as there is now pressure on the youngsters and Walton to do just that.
1. Philadelphia 76ers-Ben Simmons-Small Forward-LSU
Maybe this is the year that the Philadelphia 76ers finally get it right at the NBA Draft.
2. Los Angeles Lakers-Brandon Ingram-Small Forward-Duke
With selecting Ben Simmons out of the equation, look for the Los Angeles Lakers to select the second best small forward in this year’s draft.
3. Boston Celtics-Dragan Bender-Power Forward-Israel
If the Boston Celtics are right on with this selection, it could be the start of something special in Beantown.
4. Phoenix Suns-Ivica Zubac-Center-Croatia
If you watched the Phoenix Suns that much during this past NBA season, you could see the glaring weakness that they had in their front court.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves-Buddy Hield-Shooting Guard-Oklahoma
If the Minnesota Timberwolves don’t trade this selection, they could find instant offense at the shooting guard position in Buddy Hield.
6. New Orleans Pelicans-Jaylen Brown-Shooting Guard-California
In watching the New Orleans Pelicans play this past NBA season, it became quite apparent that they need more play makers around center Anthony Davis.
7.Denver Nuggets-Jamal Murray-Shooting Guard-Kentucky
The Denver Nuggets appear to have their franchise point guard in Emanuel Mudiay, now they need a running mate for him in the back court.
8.Sacramento Kings-Kris Dunn-Point Guard-Providence
I expect the Sacramento Kings to allow point guard Rajon Rondo to leave in free agency which opens the door for the arrival of Kris Dunn.
9. Toronto Raptors-Jakob Poeltl-Power Forward-Utah
The Toronto Raptors have proven that they can make a run in the NBA Playoffs with their strong back court of point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. But if the Raptors want to be serious as far as winning an NBA Championship, they are going to need more scoring up front.
10. Milwaukee Bucks-Deyonta Davis-Power Forward-Michigan State
At this point of the draft Deyonta Daivs is the best player available, while I also expect the Milwaukee Bucks to do some wheeling and dealing on Thursday night.
11. Orlando Magic-Timothe Luwawu-Shooting Guard-France
With a new head coach in Frank Vogel taking over, expect the Orlando Magic to be a more productive team.
12. Utah Jazz-Denzel Valentine-Shooting Guard-Michigan State
Denzel Valentine heads into this NBA Draft as arguably to most pro ready prospect.
13. Phoenix Suns-Domantas Sabonis-Power Forward-Gonzaga
The upgrade of the front court continues for the Phoenix Suns with the addition of the son of a former NBA big man.
14. Chicago Bulls-Tyler Ulis-Point Guard-Kentucky
The end of the Derrick Rose era with the Chicago Bulls could be coming to an end.
15. Denver Nuggets-Henry Ellenson-Center-Marquette
Henry Ellenson has top-ten talent, but if he falls here to the Denver Nuggets, he could be the steal of the draft.
16. Boston Celtics-Skal Labissierre-Power Forward-Kentucky
Size, size, and more size is the name of the game for the Boston Celtics this year at the NBA Draft.
17. Memphis Grizzlies-Marquese Chriss-Power Forward-Washington
There are several directions in which the Memphis Grizzlies can go with this selection, but they definitely need to get younger and more athletic in the front court.
18. Detroit Pistons-Brice Johnson-Power Forward-North Carolina
Rebounding and defense are vital for any Stan Van Gundy coached team which makes Brice Johnson a no-brainer here for the Detroit Pistons.
19. Denver Nuggets-Ante Zizic-Center-Croatia
The Denver Nuggets could be bulking up for a possible run to the postseason next year in the Western Conference.
20. Indiana Pacers-Malachi Richardson-Shooting Guard-Syracuse
If the Indiana Pacers want “small ball” to work for them, they are going to need more perimeter scorers that can compliment small forward Paul George.
21. Atlanta Hawks-Thon Maker-Center-Australia
The Atlanta Hawks could be rolling dice here, but if it works then they will look like geniuses.
22. Charlotte Hornets-Wade Baldwin IV-Shooting Guard-Vanderbilt
In losing in the first round of the NBA Playoffs this year, the Charlotte Hornets proved that they need more perimeter scoring.
23. Boston Celtics-Taurean Prince-Small Forward-Baylor
When the NBA season rolls around, the Boston Celtics could have one of the most athletic teams in the Eastern Conference.
24. Philadelphia 76ers-Furkan Korkmaz-Shooting Guard-Turkey
The Philadelphia 76ers are still going to be a work in progress, but under president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo, they finally appear to be headed in the right direction.
25. Los Angeles Clippers-DeAndre’ Bembry-Small Forward-Saint Joseph’s
DeAndre’ Bembry is a tough minded player that fits the mode of what Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers wants with his team.
26. Philadelphia 76ers-Demetrius Jackson-Point Guard-Notre Dame
Of all that the things that have held the Philadelphia 76ers back over the past few years, one of the biggest issues is that they’ve lacked a quality floor general which they can get here with Demetrius Jackson.
27. Toronto Raptors-Malik Beasley-Shooting Guard-Florida State
The arrival of Malik Beasley to the Toronto Raptors could allow head coach Dwane Casey to use DeMar DeRozan more at small forward.
28. Phoenix Suns-Paul Zipser-Small Forward-Germany
The front court transformation for the Phoenix Suns continues.
29. San Antonio Spurs-Ben Bentil-Power Forward-Providence
With power forward Tim Duncan hanging on by a thread, the San Antonio Spurs must get younger in the front court if they want to maintain their status as one of the top teams in the NBA.
30. Golden State Warriors-Damian Jones-Power Forward-Vanderbilt
Losing the NBA Finals this week showed that the Golden State Warriors must get better in the front court.
Now that the hoopla surrounding the final NBA season of shooting guard Kobe Bryant is done, it is time for the Los Angeles Lakers to put on the full court press as far as turning things around. This marks the first time in the illustrious 68-year history of the Lakers franchise that they have had three consecutive losing seasons along with the largest postseason drought for the organization. The Lakers front office might not want to admit it, but part of their recent struggles can be attributed to the presence of Bryant as they have struck out in free agency over the past few years as quality players didn’t want to come to Los Angeles in order to play second fiddle to him. But with Bryant now gone, and some young talent on the roster such as power forward Julius Randle, along with point guards Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell, the Lakers could be ready to improve as this is a very important off-season for them as team general manager Mitch Kupchak has to evaluate everything about this franchise; starting with head coach Byron Scott.
Two years ago Kupchak hired his former Lakers teammate in Scott to be the team’s head coach. Scott has a ton of experience coaching in the NBA, but his best run as a head coach in the league came during his stint with the New Jersey Nets when he led the franchise to their only two appearances in the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. Scott was able to get the New Orleans Hornets to the NBA Playoffs in 2008 and 2009, but he never got things turned around for the Cleveland Cavaliers during his three-year stint there, or over the past two seasons with the Lakers. The Lakers hired Scott merely because he was a person that Bryant would respect. But the combination of Scott and Bryant hindered the growth of the youngsters as the head coach was there to solely placate the aging superstar.
This past season, Bryant led the Lakers in points per game (17.6) and field-goal attempts (16.9). I understand that Bryant is one of the greatest players in NBA history, but making sure that he gets his shots each game wasn’t going to make the Lakers a better team going forward. And as for Scott, I am not sure if he can get his message across to today’s younger players which means that the Lakers should think about moving on from him in spite of the fact that he helped the organization win three NBA Titles in the 1980’s as a player.
This spring began with some quality head coaches available that included the likes of current Golden State Warriors assistant head coach Luke Walton, former Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks, and former Warriors head coach Mark Jackson which should make Kupchak think long and hard about retaining Scott. And if Kupchak wants to make a coaching change, he needs to act fast as some of these coaches are signing with other NBA teams.
Walton is very familiar with the Lakers winning tradition as he played with the organization for the first 10 years of his of his NBA career which included winning a pair of league titles. After helping the Warriors begin this season with a record of 39-4 while serving as the team’s interim head coach, Walton should be hot commodity this spring as teams are looking to find a new head coach.
In six-plus seasons as the head coach of the Thunder, Brooks never had a losing record in a full season which included him guiding Oklahoma City to the NBA Finals in 2012. And with the Lakers expected to court Thunder small forward Kevin Durant this summer in free agency, it would have made sense for Los Angeles to make a push at Brooks. But that is only wishful thinking now as Brooks is expected to become the next head coach of the Washington Wizards.
Jackson coached the Warriors for three years and he was looked at the man who laid the ground work for what Golden State has become. Jackson is itching to get back into coaching as he could have a positive influence on a very young Lakers team along with the fact that his hire would add intrigue to the rivalry between Golden State and Los Angeles as they are both in the Pacific Division.
Aside from the young talent that the Lakers currently have, they have the opportunity to add to that in the NBA Draft this June as long as their first-round pick doesn’t fall out of the top three which would then send it to the Philadelphia 76ers. But if the Lakers are able to hold on to their first-round selection, they will have the chance to bring in a quality player such as Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram who have both shown the play making ability in college that could get the Lakers out of their prolonged funk. And we cannot lose sight on the fact that the Lakers only have $26 million committed to player salaries for next season which means that Kupchak could have a field day this summer in free agency with his main focus being Durant.
Make no mistake about that this will be the most important off-season for the Lakers in franchise history as for better or for worse, Kupchak’s legacy will be cemented.
With roughly a quarter of the 2015-2016 NBA season in the books, the Los Angeles Lakers have unofficially been eliminated from postseason contention. The Lakers record of 3-21 is a harsh reality of the current state of this once proud franchise as they’ve now been reduced to the role of a rebuilding on looker as the Western Conference is very difficult to navigate. The Lakers have yet to win two games in a row this NBA season while they were on the wrong side of the ledger for the only victory by the Philadelphia 76ers this year. The Lakers have an aging superstar in shooting guard Kobe Bryant leading the way for them while they are attempting to develop a pair of youngsters in power forward Julius Randle and point guard D’Angelo Russell. And whereas the folks in Los Angeles want positive results for the Lakers, this team still has a ways to go before they can once again re-join the NBA’s elite.
There has been pressure on Russell since the 2015 NBA Draft. Russell was the second overall pick of the draft by the Lakers which is a position that is typically reserved for players that can come in and immediately be impact players. Through 24 games, Russell is averaging 12.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per contest. Russell is only 19-years of age, and his case hasn’t been helped since players who were drafted after him such as Sixers center Jahlil Okafor and New York Knicks power forward Kristaps Porzingis have shown better production. But even though that Okafor and Porzingis play in big markets with fan bases that want results, the spotlight is still on Russell being that he is the starting point guard for the Lakers.
Russell has been thrown into the fire immediately and that is not something that is very easy. Russell has had to guard the likes of Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, Portland Trailblazers point guard Damian Lillard, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall, and Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry. And whereas each of these players have at least been a member of one NBA All-Star team, Russell has also had to deal with keeping Bryant happy while also gaining the trust of Scott which is not easy. Every story of a superstar in the NBA didn’t start out great as there can be some growing pains, and for the Lakers and their fans, they must display patience with the young Russell.
Randle was the Lakers first round pick in 2014 and he made total sense for them use the seventh overall selection on him due to the fact that he was the best player available. But a broken right tibia in the Lakers season opener last year ended Randle’s season and thus this is now his de facto rookie season. Randle is leading the team in rebounds this season with 9.3 per game and he has 10 double-doubles to his credit as he is showing to be a building block in Los Angeles.
However last week, Scott decided to have Russell and Randle come off of the bench and the youngsters have responded to it. The Lakers lost the past Wednesday to the Minnesota Timberwolves by the score of 123-122, but in the game Randle had 20 points and 12 rebounds while Russell went for 23 points. And what we’ve seen recently from Bryant is a player that in the twilight of his playing career has now embraced taking the young Russell under his wing; to the point that Bryant decided to remain on the bench this past Wednesday late in the game in order to allow the young Lakers to figure in out which they are beginning to.
Mitch Kupchak has been the Lakers general manager since 2003 and he has seen his fair share of high and lows with the organization that has included a pair of NBA Championships. But his best course of action right now is to continue to build the Lakers roster through the NBA Draft which is something that is unheard of with this franchise. The Lakers have not made the playoffs since the passing of their longtime owner Dr. Jerry Buss in 2013. The Lakers have been run by his children (Jeannie and Jim) who haven’t always been on the same page which has had a trickle down effect on the team. The Lakers have employed five different head coaches since 2011 while they’ve missed out on the top talent in free agency which is unheard of for the purple and gold. But Bryant’s eminent retirement could change that due to the fact that the Lakers recent struggles in free agency can be traced back to the fact that most NBA players are not open to the notion of playing alongside him as he is known to be very demanding. And along with the young talent that the Lakers are assembling through the NBA Draft, they appear to once again be building a foundation.
The Lakers are entering a new realm as this franchise has never missed the NBA Playoffs in three consecutive years, but the team’s motto needs to be “patience” which is something that the folks in Los Angeles don’t like. However this is the new reality for the Lakers and they must simply accept it.
Y-Golden State Warriors 57-25 (3)
It took a couple of generations, but the Golden State Warriors are once again sitting on top of the basketball world. This past June, the Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers to claim their fourth NBA Championship in franchise history, but their first since 1975 and they have a team in place that doesn’t want the organization to wait another 40 years to once again be champions.
In Steve Kerr’s first season as the head coach of the Warriors, he was able to push all of the right buttons which resulted in an NBA Championship. Kerr has the benefit of having one of the best back court duos in the NBA play for him. Warriors point guard Steph Curry comes into this NBA season as the reigning MVP as he is the modern version of the “Microwave” due to the fact that it doesn’t take that long for him to heat up and once he gets going, just simply pull up a chair and enjoy the magic. Curry has the ability to average 30 points per game, but he doesn’t have to due to the depth that the Warriors possess around him. However Curry is still a phenomenal passer and like most good jump shooters, he is lights out from the free-throw line. Along with Curry in the Warriors backcourt, there is shooting guard Klay Thompson. Together Curry and Thompson form the “Splash Brothers” and aside from them both being the sons of former NBA players, they each possess tremendous jump shots as they each have the ability to put the Warriors on their respective backs for extended periods of time.
The Warriors also receive tremendous production from their front court. Last season saw small forward Draymond Green emerge as an impact player which saw him rewarded by the Warriors with a five-year contract extension over the summer that is worth $82 million. The Warriors have a ton of depth on their club that includes the likes of small forward Andre Iguodala who is the reigning NBA Finals MVP and he is also a defensive specialist which comes in handy when Golden State faces some of the premier teams in the Western Conference.
Last spring the Warriors swept the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of the NBA Playoffs as these two teams will meet in two of their first three games this season. But being that the Warriors will comes into this season as the defending NBA Champions, they must expect to get every team’s best game on a nightly basis. It also won’t help the Warriors that Kerr will be sidelined to begin the NBA season as he is recovering from back surgery to repair a herniated disc. And in the interim the Warriors will be led by former NBA player Luke Walton as their head coach as it will be interesting to see if he’ll be able to get his message across to this team.
X-Los Angeles Clippers 57-25 (4)
Doc Rivers has been the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers for two years, but he hasn’t been able to get his club past the second round of the NBA Playoffs. Last season the Clippers held a 3-1 series lead over the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals, but they were unable to close them out which left them scratching heads. The Clippers would undergo a few changes this off-season with the biggest one coming in the form of new uniforms.
Center DeAndre Jordan became a free agent over the summer and he flirted with joining the Dallas Mavericks. Jordan”verbally” agreed to join the Mavericks, but he had a change of heart and worked things out in order to re-join the Clippers. What the Clippers get with Jordan is a player that led the NBA in rebounds last year at 15.0 per game along with being one of the better shots blockers in the league. From 2004-2013, Rivers was the head coach of the Boston Celtics and he helped the organization win their 17th NBA Title in 2008. At the center of that was small forward Paul Pierce who was the cornerstone of the Celtics franchise during the 2000’s. After being traded by the Celtics to the Brooklyn Nets in 2013, and spending last season with the Washington Wizards, Pierce has decided to join Rivers in Los Angeles. For his 17-year NBA career, Pierce has averaged 20.7 points per game and he’s also been one of the best clutch players during this era of basketball which is the kind of player that the Clippers have lacked. Pierce is also a native of Inglewood, California and he’ll now have the opportunity to play for one of his hometown NBA teams.
The signings of Jordan and Pierce are good for the Clippers, but the success of this team will come down to the ability of point guard Chris Paul and power forward Blake Griffin. Paul continues to give the Clippers quality seasons as he is one of the better floor generals in the NBA along with being in line with what Rivers expects from his point guards while Griffin must continue to develop into a valuable go-to-guy for the Clippers.
The Clippers are also hopeful that they were able to solidify their role players this off-season when they signed forward Josh Smith and guard Lance Stephenson along with re-signing guard Austin Rivers. Rivers is the son of the Clippers head coach while Smith and Stephenson have a history of being “loose cannons” which could hurt or help the Clippers this season.
The Clippers will have a chance to get off to a fast start in the first four games which includes a pair of meetings with the Sacramento Kings. And you can go ahead and circle November 4 on your calendar when the Clippers travel to face the Golden State Warriors who are the defending NBA Champions as there is no love lost between these two clubs.
Phoenix Suns 38-44
The past five years have seen the Phoenix Suns fail to qualify for the NBA Playoffs which ties their longest stretch without reaching the postseason in franchise history. Jeff Hornacek is set to begin his third season as the head coach of the Suns and in two years in Phoenix, he has made the most of his situation with the Suns, but unfortunately this is a team that lacks a star player that can put this team on his back.
The closest thing that the Suns have to a star player is point guard Eric Bledsoe. This will mark Bledsoe’s second full season in Phoenix and for him to lead the Suns to the postseason, he is going to put up an MVP caliber season and unfortunately he won’t be able to do it all by himself. The Suns are hopeful that power forward Markieff Morris will be able to take his game to the next level, but he currently isn’t a happy camper in the valley of the sun. Morris’ twin brother Marcus was traded by the Suns this off-season to the Detroit Pistons which has left Markieff disgruntled. Because of this Morris doesn’t want to play in Phoenix anymore, but the Suns are not budging due to the fact that he is under contract with them which has produced a stalemate.
Heart and hustle have made the Suns competitive in Hornacek’s first two years in Phoenix, but the 2015-2016 NBA season will be a completely different beast as they should struggle in the Western Conference.
Sacramento Kings 39-43
The Sacramento Kings have not posted a winning record since 2006 and six of the last seven NBA seasons have seen them lose at least 50 games. The Kings have also become one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the NBA which is evident by the past few months. Last season the Kings went through three different head coaches with George Karl set to led this team for the 2015-2016 NBA season. Karl hasn’t been on the same page with Kings power forward DeMarcus Cousins which led to Karl wanting to trade Cousins prior to the 2015 NBA Draft. But Kings owner Vivek Ranadive decided to step in as he wants Cousins and that almost led to Karl being fired.
Cousins is one of the premier power forwards in the NBA and he would be more of a household name if he played in a bigger market and/or on a better team. But if Karl and Cousins are able to get on the same page, he is a player that has the potential to average 25 points and 15 rebounds.
Along with Cousins, the Kings have a proven scorer in small forward Rudy Gay. In nine seasons in the NBA, Gay has averaged 18.5 points per game as the Kings are the third different franchise that he has played for. But Gay’s versatility on both ends of the floor make him the perfect compliment to Cousins. The Kings used the sixth overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft on center Willie Cauley-Stein who is a shot blocker that will need some time to get adjusted to the NBA game. The Kings also have size behind Cauley-Stein in center Kosta Koufos while they have a young in shooting guard Ben McLemore who is emerging as a scoring threat while they have also proven veteran scorers in small forwards Caron Butler and Marco Belinelli. But the Kings have a huge question mark at the point guard position.
In 45 games with the Kings last season, point guard Darren Collison averaged 16.1 points and 5.6 assists. But the Kings still went out and signed point guard Rajon Rondo who has been known to clash with head coaches; regardless of their credentials in the NBA. And this is something that Karl will have to find out the hard way for himself.
It won’t be an overnight turnaround for the Kings, but as the season progresses, Karl will begin to mold this team in his own image or get fired trying.
Los Angeles Lakers 34-48
The start of a new NBA season means that hope will spring eternal for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers coming off of their worst two-year span in franchise history as they’ve combined to win just 48 games over the last two seasons which typically represents just one down campaign for them. The Lakers must find a way to be more competitive under head coach Byron Scott this season as en route to losing a franchise worst 61 games last season, they lost 9 games be 20 or more points.
Unfortunately for the Lakers they are pinning their hopes on the return of shooting guard Kobe Bryant. Bryant only appeared in 35 games last season due to injury. Bryant is the Lakers all-time leading scorer, but it is hard to expect him to return this season at 37-years of age and be the player that he was several years ago when he was one of the top scorers in the NBA. Scott also intends to limit the amount of minutes that Bryant plays this season, but is there another viable scoring option for the Lakers behind him?
Like Bryant, Lakers small forward Nick Young missed significant time last season due to injuries and he also clashed with Scott. Young is a proven scorer in the NBA as he has averaged 12.3 points per game over his eight-year NBA career, but will he be able to remain within in the realm of what Scott wants from him?
In 2014, the Lakers made power forward Julius Randle the seventh overall pick of the NBA Draft, but he suffered a fractured right tibia in the first game of the season as the book is still out on him. This summer, the Lakers had the second overall pick of the draft and they used it on point guard D’Angelo Russell. Russell is only 19-years of age and it will be a steep learning curve as far as him getting adjusted to the professional game. The Lakers entered the 2015 NBA Draft with a pair of first-round picks as their second choice was used on forward Larry Nance Jr. If the name sounds familiar it is because his father Larry Nance Sr., played in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers and he was the winner of the league’s first slam dunk contest. Like father, like son as Nance Jr. has tremendous athleticism which led him to being named as the Mountain West Conference’s Player of the Year in 2015 during his senior season at the University of Wyoming.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak signed guard Lou Williams in the off-season as he’ll be looked at as far as providing scoring off of the bench while Los Angeles also acquired center Roy Hibbert from the Indiana Pacers. In seven season with the Pacers, Hibbert always had instances where he would flash potential, but he’s never been consistent and the Lakers are hopeful that a change of scenery will do the trick for him. And in a surprise move just before the beginning of training camp, the Lakers signed veteran small forward Metta World Peace aka Ron Artest, but you just have to wonder if the NBA game has passed him by at the age of 35?
Early on in the season, the Lakers will have a five-game road trip which is a good time for this team to bond with so many new parts. Bryant will be eager to reclaim his post as one best players in the NBA, but whereas in the past he has dished out tough love to his teammates, this is a young team that will need that big brother to put his arm around them. And if Bryant doesn’t adjust, his time in Los Angeles this season will be very frustrating for him.