- The Lakers enter this offseason with cap space, young assets, and the attention of the entire basketball world. The team is expected to compete for the services of soon-to-be free agents such as LeBron James and Paul George. Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated dives into the team’s front office and why the team will be heavily watched this summer.
- Bill Oram of the Orange County Register released his report card for the 2017/18 Lakers squad. Oram grades the team’s rookies and veterans on their performance, contribution to the team’s success, and future with the organization.
The Clippers apparently aren’t the only L.A. team considering pursuing a trade for Kawhi Leonard during the coming offseason. According to Sean Deveney of The Sporting News, front-office sources around the NBA believe that the Lakers will also make Leonard a top target over the summer.
Leonard remains under contract with the Spurs for at least one more season, but a season-long saga has seemingly created friction between the two sides, as Spurs doctors and Leonard’s doctors have disagreed on the status of the forward’s quad injury. While there has still been no indication out of San Antonio that the Spurs will seriously explore trading their best player, teams are keeping a close eye on the situation and will be ready to inquire on Leonard’s availability.
As Deveney writes, the Lakers are viewed as a top candidate to pursue Leonard given their future cap flexibility. The Lakers are expected to have enough room for two maximum-salary free agents this offseason, but could also use that cap flexibility to sign a top free agent in 2019 or to trade for a star.
Additionally, Leonard is a Los Angeles native and at least one executive who spoke to Deveney believes that Leonard is angling to eventually land in his hometown. A separate general manager suggested that the Lakers look like the most logical landing spot if Leonard is moved.
“He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer,” the GM told Deveney. “There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.
“That’s the thing to watch,” the GM continued. “It might be a pipe dream for them to get two max guys this summer, but if they have a player like Leonard who wants to be in L.A.? They’d have to make that happen now.”
It’s hard to imagine Leonard making an explicit trade request that goes public like Paul George did with the Pacers last summer, but it’ll still be interesting to see whether the way the Lakers handled the George situation impacts the way they go after Leonard. The Lakers were viewed as a prime trade suitor for George, but there were questions about whether to give up much for him since he could sign with the team outright as a free agent a year later. Now, he’s a member of the Thunder and he’s no lock to leave Oklahoma City. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka may find themselves in a similar situation with Leonard during the 2018 offseason, weighing just how hard they should push for a trade if the Spurs are really willing to listen.
Of course, the Spurs and Leonard could put trade and free agency speculation to rest entirely if they agree to a contract extension this July. If Leonard doesn’t accept an extension offer right away though – or if the Spurs don’t put that offer on the table at all – the trade rumors surrounding him only figure to grow louder.
Wesley Matthews expects to get full medical clearance when he undergoes an MRI tomorrow, relays Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. Matthews is recovering from a stress fracture in his right fibula that forced him to miss the final 16 games of the season. Except for a torn Achilles in 2014/15, this is the only time Matthews has missed an extended stretch because of injury.
“By the end of the week, I should be good to go,” he said.
Matthews has to decide soon whether to exercise an $18.6MM player option for next season. He offered a clue today when asked about participating in community events over the summer, saying, “Yeah, I mean, I’m going to be here, so I’d love to.”
There’s more today out of Dallas:
- The Mavericks should aggressively target Lakers forward Julius Randle in free agency, writes NBC5’s Newy Scruggs in The Dallas Morning News. Randle, who grew up in Texas, is coming off his best NBA season, averaging 16.1 points and 8.0 rebounds in 82 games. Dallas will have at least $20MM in cap room, and possibly much more depending on what happens with Matthews and several non-guaranteed contracts. Randle is a restricted free agent, but the Lakers will be seeking bigger names, so he could be available if the Mavericks strike quickly.
- Expect Rick Carlisle to remain the coach in Dallas for at least another three to four seasons, Scruggs adds in the same piece. Many Mavericks fans have turned on Carlisle as the losses piled up, Scruggs notes, but GMs still consider him one of the best coaches in the league.
- Don’t bet on the Mavericks trading their first-round pick, Sefko states in a separate story. Dallas goes into next month’s lottery with the third-best odds at the No. 1 choice after winning a tiebreaker with Atlanta. The Mavs seem committed to taking their time in rebuilding, Sefko adds, and are seeking another cornerstone player to go with last year’s top pick, Dennis Smith Jr.
Stein suggested last month that coach Gregg Popovich should have a one-on-one discussion with Leonard after the season to repair the relationship. Now he writes that it may be too late for that to make a difference.
Rumors of strained feelings between Leonard and the Spurs have escalated in the playoffs as he chose to remain with his doctors in New York rather fly to California to support his teammates. Popovich, who has taken veiled shots at Leonard before, raised them to a new level in responding to a question about LaMarcus Aldridge after Monday’s game.
“He plays through everything,” Popovich said of Aldridge. “I can’t imagine being more proud of a player as far as playing through adversity and being there for his teammates night after night after night. He’s been fantastic.”
While Aldridge is deserving of the kind words, the double meaning was clearly aimed at Leonard, who hasn’t been with the Spurs despite receiving medical clearance from team doctors in February. He remains in New York after traveling there last month to consult with his personal physicians about treatment for a lingering quad injury that limited him to nine games this season.
San Antonio will face a major decision in July when Leonard becomes eligible for a Designated Veteran Extension that would pay him more than $200MM. If Leonard doesn’t agree to an extension and the Spurs refuse to trade him, the clock will being ticking toward next summer when he can opt out of a $21.33MM salary and become an unrestricted free agent.
There’s more news today regarding Leonard:
- The Spurs have expected for weeks that Leonard wouldn’t return for the playoffs, relays Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post. Bontemps expresses similar doubts about Leonard’s future in San Antonio, although the relationship with Popovich remains solid. Nearly every team will be interested if Leonard becomes available in trade, but Bontemps expects the Lakers and Clippers to be among the most active, along with the Sixers, who could offer Markelle Fultz and two first-round picks in this year’s draft. He also mentions the Celtics, who are stocked with young talent, and the Cavaliers, who might be willing to part with the unprotected Nets’ pick in an effort to convince LeBron James to stay.
- Popovich denied his comments on Aldridge were directed at Leonard, relays Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. Told that a lot of people were interpreting his words that way, Popovich responded, “Who are these lots of people? Who are they? Did you count them? I think you just made that up.”
- Aldridge serves as a reminder that broken relationships between teams and players can be repaired, notes Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. Aldridge issued a trade request last summer, but Popovich smoothed things over in an offseason meeting that led to Aldridge signing a three-year extension and turning in his best season since coming to San Antonio.
- Don’t forget to vote in our poll on what the Spurs should do about the Leonard situation this summer.
Kobe Bryant added an Oscar to his impressive list of accomplishments this year and the retired Lakers legend is enjoying his post-basketball career. However, should any free agents want to speak with him about possibly joining the Lakers, the Black Mamba is available for advice and input, Sam Amick of USA Today Sports writes.
Bryant spoke highly of Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, who served as Bryant’s agent during his two-decade career. He believes Pelinka and the front office can put forth a formidable team comprised of young talent and season veterans. However, the former NBA Most Valuable Player and five-time NBA champion preached patience.
“You look at the Lakers and the youth and the players that they have, and you’ve just got to be patient and develop these guys,” Bryant said. “I always say it’s about having a patient impatience, where you want to win championships now but you know that’s not going to happen now but you have the determination and the resolve to work and push and learn as if you’re going to be that immediately.”
Check out more notes involving L.A.s basketball teas:
- Frank Urbina of HoopsHype looks at four possible destinations for veteran center Brook Lopez as he enters free agency. The Trail Blazers and Bucks are listed along with possible reunions with the Lakers and Nets, as Urbina looks at how Lopez fits on each team.
- After missing the playoffs, the Clippers enter the offseason with several decisions to make with their roster entering the 2018/19 season, Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times writes. The biggest of them all may be whether or not to retain head coach Doc Rivers.
- As we noted earlier, Clippers assistant coach Mike Woodson is scheduled to meet with the Knicks next week about the organization’s head coach position.
The Lakers’ long-awaited 2018 offseason is now underway, but after months of speculation about which top free agents the team will land this summer, president Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka are working to keep expectations in check.
Speaking today to reporters, including Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com, the Lakers’ top execs made it clear that they plan to be flexible when it comes to free agency. In the view of Johnson and Pelinka, the team could just as easily end up making a splash in 2019 as in 2018.
As Youngmisuk details, Johnson said the Lakers won’t “give away money” this offseason just to say they signed someone, which is perhaps a veiled reference to the team’s infamous summer of ’16. Pelinka, meanwhile, stressed that the summer of ’18 “is not a litmus test” for the front office’s ultimate success — if L.A. comes away empty-handed this July but maintains flexibility for 2019, management wouldn’t view that as a disaster.
Here’s much more on the Lakers:
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, an unrestricted free agent this summer, says he’s looking for a long-term deal in order to establish some stability for his family, writes Bill Oram of The Orange County Register. Within the same piece, UFA-to-be Channing Frye says he’d be interested in re-signing with the Lakers. “I want to allow them to make the right decisions with bigger-name guys,” Frye said. “I’m a pretty dang good backup, emergency, break-the-glass type guy.”
- Brook Lopez, yet another UFA, isn’t sure whether he’ll be back with the Lakers, but endorsed the franchise for other free agents, per Rodrigo Azurmendi of Lakers.com. “It’s a great place to be going forward, not just for myself, but for a free agent looking to sign somewhere,” Lopez said.
- As Lonzo Ball prepares for a summer that Johnson and Pelinka told him would be the biggest of his life (link via ESPN.com), insiders around the NBA are marveling at the Lakers’ 2017 draft class, which looks like a potential all-timer, writes Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. In addition to Ball, the Lakers also nabbed Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart – who both look like steals – late in the first round.
- Although there was some speculation during the season about his job security, Luke Walton appears very safe as the Lakers’ head coach. Johnson said today that he and Pelinka “look forward to working with Luke for many years to come” (Twitter link via Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times).
- For his part, Walton would love to keep working with restricted free agent Julius Randle (Twitter link via Oram). “I think it’s obvious that, yes, I would love to have Julius back next year,” Walton said today after raving about the big man’s play. “There’s other factors … but from a coaching standpoint I would love to have Julius back.”
More importantly for fans of most non-playoff teams, the end of the regular season means that the 2018 NBA draft picture is clearer than ever. The 2018 draft order is close to being set and – with a small handful of exceptions – most of this year’s traded draft picks with protections on them have now officially changed hands or officially stayed put.
However, there are still some major question marks surrounding the draft order, since several clubs finished the regular season with identical records, and draft tiebreakers don’t work like playoff tiebreakers do. In order to break these ties, the NBA will conduct random drawings this Friday, as Jonathan Givony of ESPN notes (via Twitter).
[RELATED: 2017/18 NBA Reverse Standings]
For lottery teams, such as the 24-58 Mavericks and Hawks, who finished tied for third in the lottery standings, the implications of those drawings are huge. Whichever team wins that tiebreaker will have ever-so-slightly better odds at the first overall pick (13.8% to 13.7%), and will be in position to claim the higher first-round pick if neither team lands in the top three.
For instance, if the Suns and Grizzlies remain at No. 1 and No. 2 in the lottery and another team leapfrogs the Mavs and Hawks, the winner of the tiebreaker between Dallas and Atlanta would claim the No. 4 overall pick — the loser would get No. 5. For the second round, the loser of the tiebreaker would receive the higher selection.
Here are the draft tiebreakers that will be conducted on Friday:
- Mavericks vs. Hawks for Nos. 3, 4.
- Kings vs. Bulls for Nos. 6, 7.
- Bucks vs. Heat for Nos. 16, 17.
- Spurs vs. Timberwolves for Nos. 18, 19.
- Pacers vs. Pelicans vs. Thunder vs. Jazz for Nos. 20-23.
Several of those tiebreakers will also affect this year’s traded picks. Most notably, the Bucks/Heat drawing has massive implications for Milwaukee and Phoenix — the Bucks’ first-round pick will head to the Suns if it lands at No. 16, but Milwaukee would keep it if it ends up at No. 17. In other words, each team has a 50/50 shot at the pick. If the Bucks keep it, they’d owe their 2019 first-round selection to Phoenix, albeit with somewhat similar protections.
Here’s a breakdown of the traded first-round picks for 2018. A check mark indicates the pick will definitely be sent to the indicated team:
- Nets pick to Cavaliers (✔️): Eighth in lottery standings
- Lakers pick to Sixers (97.1%) or Celtics (2.9%): 10th in lottery standings
- Note: Celtics will receive pick if it lands at No. 2 or No. 3 via the lottery.
- Pistons pick to Clippers (97.5%): 12th in lottery standings
- Note: Pistons will keep pick if it lands in top three via the lottery.
- Heat pick to Suns (✔️): No. 16 or 17 (tie)
- Bucks pick to Suns (50%): No. 16 or 17 (tie)
- Note: Bucks will keep pick if it lands at No. 17 via a random drawing.
- Timberwolves pick to Hawks (✔️): No. 18 or 19 (tie)
- Thunder pick to Timberwolves (✔️): No. 20, 21, 22, or 23 (four-way tie)
- Pelicans pick to Bulls (✔️): No. 20, 21, 22, or 23 (four-way tie)
- Cavaliers pick to Lakers (✔️): No. 25
- Raptors pick to Nets (✔️): No. 29
- Rockets pick to Hawks (✔️): No. 30
Here’s a breakdown of the traded second-round picks that will change hands in 2018:
- Bulls pick to Knicks (✔️): No. 36 or 37 (tie)
- Nets pick to Sixers (✔️): No. 38
- Knicks pick to Sixers (✔️): No. 39
- Lakers pick to Nets (✔️): No. 40
- Hornets pick to Magic (✔️): No. 41
- Clippers pick to Nuggets (✔️): No. 43
- Bucks pick to Nets (✔️): No. 45 or 46 (tie)
- Heat pick to Rockets (✔️): No. 45 or 46 (tie)
- Nuggets pick to Lakers (✔️): No. 47
- Trail Blazers pick to Mavericks (✔️): No. 54
- Cavaliers pick to Hornets (✔️): No. 55
- Celtics pick to Thunder (✔️): No. 57
- Warriors pick to Nuggets (✔️): No. 58
- Raptors pick to Suns (✔️): No. 59
- Rockets pick to Sixers (✔️): No. 60
Rather than bringing in an outside free agent to fill the open spot on their 15-man roster, the Clippers opted to elevate one of their players on two-way contracts. According to Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times (Twitter link), the Clippers engaged with Tyrone Wallace‘s reps about a possible deal, but weren’t able to get close to an agreement, leaving C.J. Williams as the logical choice.
Williams signed a new three-year deal with the franchise on Monday, and the 28-year-old was emotional when he met with his parents to tell them about his new NBA deal, as Turner writes in a piece for The Times.
“When I got there, I couldn’t get the words out,” Williams said. “I was crying. So my parents are like, ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Oh, my God, what’s wrong? What’s going on? What’s going on?’ I’m like, ‘I got the deal done!’ They were like, ‘Boy!’ I scared them at first. They kind of realized what I was trying to do. It was a great moment.”
Per Turner, Williams’ new contract isn’t fully guaranteed for the second and third years, but he’ll receive some partial compensation beyond this season.
Here’s more out of Los Angeles:
- A pair of former No. 2 overall picks, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, may not make it back from injuries for the Lakers‘ final two games, writes Bill Oram of The Orange County Register. Ball, who is listed as questionable for Tuesday’s contest, appears more likely than Ingram to return for at least one of L.A.’s last two games, but it’s no lock.
- In an Insider-only article for ESPN.com, Bobby Marks previews the Lakers‘ upcoming offseason, exploring Julius Randle‘s restricted free agency, the cost of trading Luol Deng, and the team’s need for a Plan B if it can’t land a premier free agent. Marks, who has plenty of experience in an NBA front office, believes the Lakers would need to attach two first-round picks to Deng in order to dump his contract.
- Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times takes a look at the latest developments in a legal battle between Madison Square Garden Co. – the owners of The Forum in Los Angeles – and the city of Inglewood, plus Clippers-controlled company Murphy’s Bowl LLC. The case is related to the Clippers’ interest in constructing a new arena in Inglewood.
3:32pm: The Lakers have officially signed Ingram, the team announced today in a press release.
2:42pm: The Lakers are signing veteran G-Leaguer Andre Ingram to a rest-of-season contract that will cover the last two games of the 2017/18 campaign, reports Bill Oram of The Orange County Register (Twitter link). L.A. currently has an open spot on its 15-man roster, so no corresponding roster move will be required.
Ingram, a 6’3″ guard, has played in the G League for 10 seasons, appearing in 384 games for the Utah Flash (now known as the Delaware Blue Coats) and the South Bay Lakers (formerly the Los Angeles D-Fenders).
In 2017/18, Ingram averaged 9.1 PPG and 2.5 RPG in 47 games (22.8 MPG) for South Bay. He’s a three-point specialist, having converted 47.5% of his long-distance attempts this season, and an NBAGL-record 713 over the course of his career (46.1%).
Despite his extensive G League experience, Ingram has never played in an NBA game. At age 32, he’s unlikely to be part of the Lakers’ long-term plans, and his contract won’t extend until next season, given L.A.’s desire to maximize its 2018 cap room. As such, the move looks like an opportunity to give Ingram a chance to play in the NBA for a couple games, and to get him two or three days’ worth of an NBA salary.
A three-day minimum salary for Ingram would be worth just shy of $14K.
LeBron James remains cagey when asked about his upcoming free agency, having repeatedly reiterated that he’s focused on the shorter-term future – including the Cavaliers’ upcoming playoff matchups – for now. However, as Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com details, James was willing to state in general terms this weekend that his family and the opportunity to keep contending for titles will be the most important factors for him when he makes his decision this summer.
“My family. That’s all that matters,” James said. “I want to continue to win at the highest level, because I know I can still do it as an individual, and then my family. My family is what’s most important to me, more than anything.”
While James referred to his family as “all that matters” and as “what’s more important to me,” he isn’t about to join a team far away from championship contention simply based on where his family wants to live. While his family’s preferred city will be a key consideration for LeBron, it won’t fully dictate his decision, as he explained to Vardon.
“That’s just a small piece of it,” James said. “We make joint decisions all together, all the time. Once we get to it, my agent and my team we will all tackle it the right way, but my family plays a big part in it. And winning.
Any team with James on its roster has automatically been elevated to contender status for most of his career. Still, it’s worth noting that of the teams he’s believed to be considering – including the Cavs, Lakers, Sixers, and Rockets – some could present a more immediate path to a title than others.
James will be eligible for unrestricted free agency this July if he declines his $35,607,968 player option for 2018/19. While an opt-out is considered the most likely outcome, it’s not necessarily a lock. Chris Paul was in a similar situation last summer and used the threat of an opt-out to leverage a trade to the Rockets, picking up his player option in the process. James could take a similar approach if he decides he wants to join an over-the-cap team, such as CP3’s Rockets.