Los Angeles Lakers

Kyle Kuzma Surprising Skeptics

  • After being ignored for most of his basketball life, Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma has become one of the most celebrated rookies in the NBA, notes Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. Kuzma wasn’t invited to New York for the draft and he was a little-noticed part of the draft night trade that sent D’Angelo Russell to Brooklyn. “I felt like I had to sell myself everywhere,” Kuzma said of the pre-draft process. “Coming out of college, they kind of pegged me as a second-round to undrafted kind of guy. I didn’t really have that many options. Everybody was telling me to go back to school. Literally, everybody did. But I knew I was a lot better than everyone projected me to be. So going through the draft process I was on a mission, super focused. I had to come in every interview, every workout, and pretty much smash it.”
  • Despite months of rumors and a plan to create enough cap room for two max offers, the Lakers shouldn’t be overly confident that LeBron James and Paul George will join them next summer, writes Mark Heisler of The Orange County Register.

Lonzo Ball Will Remain Lakers' Starting PG

The Lakers have no intention of taking Lonzo Ball out of the starting lineup anytime soon, Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN writes. The rookie guard has struggled mightily with his jump shot over the course of his first month in the league but the franchise remains committed to his development.

He’s our starting point guard,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said. “So there’s no discussion, no talks as of now of moving Lonzo to the bench. Nah. He’s our starting point guard.

The much hyped Lakers point guard – who cut his hair earlier today(!) – has averaged 9.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game so far this season but is just .303 from the field and .230 from beyond the arc.

2018 Salary Cap Outlook: Pacific Division

NBA rosters will undergo some changes over the course of the 2017/18 season, particularly around the trade deadline, and those changes may have an impact on teams’ cap sheets for future seasons. Based on the NBA’s current rosters, however, we can identify which teams are most and least likely to have cap room in the summer of 2018, which will dictate the type of moves those clubs can make in the offseason.

We’re taking a closer look at each of the NBA’s 30 teams by division this week. Today, we’re tackling the Pacific division. With the help of salary information compiled by Basketball Insiders, here’s how the summer of 2018 is shaping up for the five Pacific teams:

Golden State WarriorsKevin Durant vertical
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $102,091,455
Projection: Over the cap

The Warriors’ total guaranteed salary of $102MM for next season looks modest at first glance. But that figure only accounts for seven players, and Kevin Durant isn’t one of them. Even if Durant is willing to sign for several million less than the max again, which is certainly no lock, re-signing him and then filling out the rest of their roster figures to take the Dubs into luxury-tax territory.

Phoenix Suns
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $70,667,235
Projection: Up to approximately $28MM in cap room

While the Suns’ return in the Eric Bledsoe trade was widely viewed as underwhelming, the move did clear $15MM in guaranteed salary from the club’s 2018/19 cap, creating additional flexibility. Retaining Alan Williams – who has a non-guaranteed salary – and re-signing Alex Len would cut into the Suns’ cap space. However, neither of those moves are locks at this point, so Phoenix could get easily get to $25MM+ in cap room, and could potentially open up even more room by trading Jared Dudley and/or Tyson Chandler, who will be on expiring contracts next season.

Sacramento Kings
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $68,252,577
Projection: Up to approximately $33MM in cap room ($16MM if player options exercised)

There have been no reports yet suggesting that Kosta Koufos and Garrett Temple will exercise their player options for 2018/19, which are worth about $8.74MM and $8MM, respectively. The Kings should probably be preparing for that outcome though — neither player has a major role, and the free agent market won’t be as player-friendly as it was in 2016, when Koufos and Temple signed their current deals.

If those options are exercised, the Kings’ guaranteed salaries will increase to about $85MM, limiting their cap flexibility. But they’ll also be able to dedicate that remaining cap room to a single player, if they so choose — assuming Koufos and Temple return, Sacramento would head into the offseason with 14 players under contract, not including draft picks.

Los Angeles Clippers
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $59,880,133
Projection: Up to approximately $31MM in cap room

Only five Clippers players currently have fully guaranteed salaries for 2018/19, but there are several other candidates to return. For one, Patrick Beverley and his $5MM non-guaranteed salary will certainly be back — that’s a tremendous bargain for one of the league’s best defensive players, and our cap projection for the Clippers assumes he’ll be on the books at that price.

Our cap projection doesn’t take into account any player options though, and four Clippers players hold those options for 2018/19. DeAndre Jordan, who figures to land a lucrative multiyear deal, will likely turn down his $24MM option, but Austin Rivers ($12.65MM), Milos Teodosic ($6.3MM), and Wesley Johnson ($6.1MM) are candidates to opt in. If all three of those players pick up their options and Beverley is retained, the Clips’ cap room will essentially disappear.

Los Angeles Lakers
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $49,336,471
Projection: Up to approximately $47.5MM in cap room

The Lakers’ desire to open up two maximum-salary slots for the 2018 free agent period has been well publicized, but the team still has some work to do to achieve that goal. Based on a $101MM cap, maximum salaries for, say, LeBron James and Paul George would be worth a combined $65.65MM in 2018/19. L.A. remains about $18MM shy of that figure, even assuming the team renounces Julius Randle, Brook Lopez, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Of course, moving Luol Deng‘s $18MM salary would just about get the Lakers there, but finding a club willing to take on that deal without sending out any salary in return will be challenging, to say the least. Waiving and stretching Deng’s contract next July and dumping Jordan Clarkson‘s $12.5MM salary is probably a more realistic path for the Lakers to get into that range for two max deals.

Previously:

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Lakers Notes: Ball, Kuzma, Free Agency, Deng

The Lakers were hoping Lonzo Ball would be an instant star who would help lure LeBron James and other free agents next summer, but that hasn’t happened yet, writes Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post. That was especially obvious during last night’s game with the Sixers that featured a wealth of young talent on both teams. Ball made just one of nine shots from the field and didn’t play in the final 16 minutes.

“What we know he’s going to become requires a lot of work, and a lot of growth,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton. “He’ll get there, and there’s going to be some ups and downs on that path.”

Ball is only 20 and has enjoyed some success, becoming the youngest player in league history to post a triple-double. But he hasn’t been the finished product the Lakers thought they were getting, averaging 9.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.9 assists in 15 games but shooting just 30.3% from the field. L.A. hopes to have enough cap room to offer two max contracts in July, but there’s no guarantee the current roster will be enough to attract elite talent.

There’s more out of Los Angeles:

  • Fellow rookie Kyle Kuzma appears to be more of an impact player than Ball, according to Josh Plantos of The Washington Post. The swingman out of Utah, who was taken with the 27th pick, is second on the team in scoring at 15.5 points per game and ranks third among all rookies in win shares, with Ball at 21st. He is also far ahead of Ball in Player Efficiency Rating and is versatile enough to play three positions.
  • Kuzma’s performance is one of several reasons for optimism in Los Angeles, writes Lang Greene of Basketball Insiders. The Lakers also have a projected $47MM in cap space for next summer, trade chips such as Julius Randle, Corey Brewer and others, a well-run front office under Magic Johnson, the continued development of Brandon Ingram and Bird rights on Brook Lopez.
  • Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report suggests an unorthodox strategy for opening more cap space next summer: an extension for Luol Deng. The proposal would add three years to Deng’s contract with a minimal amount of guaranteed money. The Lakers could then buy him out and stretch his remaining salary over 11 years rather than five, resulting in an annual payment of about $3.3MM. The plan, if Deng is willing to play along, would give L.A. $57.3MM in cap space for 2018/19, almost enough to offer two max contracts. The timing is tricky as Deng isn’t eligible for the extension until July 7, which is a week into free agency.

Lakers Make Series Of G League Moves

  • The Lakers completed a series of G League moves on Tuesday, assigning Josh Hart and Ivica Zubac to the South Bay Lakers while also recalling Thomas Bryant, per a team release. L.A.’s affiliate plays its next game on Wednesday, so Hart and Zubac should get a chance to play major minutes if they remain on assignment through the day.

Ball's Stroke Won't Be Altered

  • Lakers rookie point guard Lonzo Ball is shooting 31.4% but team president Magic Johnson said during a radio interview the coaching staff won’t alter his shooting stroke. Johnson made the comment during an interview on ESPN’s Mike and Mike show, which was relayed by USAToday’s Andrew Joseph. “Let him shoot the way he’s been shooting and hopefully they’ll go in. And so, we’re not gonna mess with it,” Johnson said. “We’re gonna let him shoot and play his game. If after the season, and he’s not shooting well, then we’ll sit down with him and say, ‘Hey, let’s maybe look at different way or let’s try to improve the way you are shooting.'”

Jordan Clarkson Motivated By Trade Rumors

After seeing close friends like D’Angelo Russell and Lou Williams traded by the Lakers during the offseason, Jordan Clarkson says he has grown accustomed to the business side of the NBA, as Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times details. As for the trade rumors that have swirled around him this year, Clarkson isn’t ignoring them, but he’s also not letting them negatively impact him.

“To me it’s motivation,” the Lakers guard said of those trade rumors. “It’s a business, you’re either going to be here or you ain’t. Wherever I am, I want to be productive.”

Clarkson’s name hasn’t surfaced much recently in trade rumors, but it’s possible that could change as the trade deadline nears. The Lakers remain focused on clearing as much cap space as possible for the summer of 2018, so any non-core players could become expendable.

Lakers, Bulls, Hawks Eyeing Mindaugas Kuzminskas

The Lakers, Bulls, and Hawks are among the teams expected to have interest in Mindaugas Kuzminskas if the former Knick clears waivers, a source tells Marc Berman of The New York Post (Twitter link). Kuzminskas, waived today by New York, will become an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday if no team claims him.

When Kuzminskas first signed with the Knicks in the summer of 2016, Berman reported (via Twitter) that the Lakers and Hawks nearly beat out New York to sign the Lithuanian forward, so it’s not a surprise that they’d be willing to kick the tires again. The Bulls also make sense as a potential suitor, since they aren’t overly concerned with short-term success and can afford to roll the dice on a project.

Before Kuzminskas is free to sign with any team though, he’ll have to clear waivers. Waiver claims in the NBA are pretty rare, particularly for players earning more than the minimum. Still, it’s worth noting that half the league’s teams have the ability to claim Kuzminskas and his $3MM salary off waivers, if they so choose.

Waiver order is currently determined by last year’s record, with the worst teams getting first priority. Here are the clubs eligible to claim Kuzminskas:

  • With cap room: Kings, Nets, Pacers, Sixers, Suns
  • With cap room if various exceptions are renounced: Mavericks
  • With a trade exception: Bucks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Clippers, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Raptors, Trail Blazers
  • With a disabled player exception: Celtics

Luol Deng Unhappy With Lakers But Does Not Regret Contract

Luol Deng‘s four-year, $72MM contract that he signed in 2016 has become one of the NBA’s biggest albatross contracts. The Lakers signed the 32-year-old to essentially become a more expensive version of what Metta World Peace was to last year’s team.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times writes that Deng, who spent parts of his first 10 seasons with the Bulls, no longer wants to play for the Lakers. He has played in just one game this season, recording 2 points and 1 assist in 13 minutes of action. As he awaits a resolution on his future, Deng told Ganguli he does not regret his contract.

The Lakers are heavily invested in a youth movement, highlighted by their first-round picks from the past seasons in Brandon Ingram and Lonzo BallDeng could help the team as a mentor to the upstarts but minutes will be hard to come by unless he is traded.

Julius Randle’s Future ‘Unlikely’ To Involve Lakers

It’s very unlikely that Julius Randle‘s future will come with the Lakers, Adrian Wojnarowki of ESPN says (via RealGM). Los Angeles, of course, is positioning itself to sign multiple max free agents in the summer of 2018, just when Randle will be hitting restricted free agency.

For now, Lakers’ execs Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson will need to determine whether the franchise would be better off shipping Randle out of town prior to the February trade deadline or potentially rolling the dice when he’s a restricted free agent next summer.

Randle’s cap hit will be worth $12.4MM in the offseason, a significant chunk for a team looking to potentially sign the likes of LeBron James and/or Paul George.

Lost in all of the anticipation about 2018, however, is an impressively efficient 23-year-old in the best condition of his NBA career. In less than 20 minutes per game so far this season, Randle has averaged 11.5 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Not surprisingly, the Lakers will likely at least consider moving Randle to a team during the course of the 2017/18 season, with a potential yield of a first-round pick.

It’s not unrealistic to expect another organization around the league, one without major free agency ambitions like L.A., to take a flyer on the 2014 NBA Draft’s seventh-overall pick, a versatile young power forward who’s even spent time at the five so far this season.

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