Debriefing the draft.

I did not expect to care about the draft last night. I was wrong. As usual, the Association never fails to entertain!

 

Teams I Care About

Warriors – Social Media instant analysis gave them an A+. Lacob’s FO has actually been good in the draft. I don’t actually know about any of the draftees. I never do. I only watch NBA games. But I’m optimistic about the Warriors.

Lakers – Picking Ingram was like hitting a 2-run homer: he was consensus pick, and fills a need at small forward. The other need for LAL is a center, and they took one in the 2nd round. Mitch K also has an excellent draft record, so I’m optimistic about this one as well.

Kings – WTH? They made two really nice trades, then picked a bunch of centers. Boogie tweeted “Lord give me strength.” If they secretly plan to trade Boogie next month, this might work out. If not… wow.

 

Other Teams

Celtics – LOL! Remember when Daryl Morey got stuck with a bag of picks a few years ago? No one would trade, so he had to pick ’em. Rockets didn’t get better. This time it was Ainge on the clock, but with an even bigger bag of picks. It became obvious Danny never intended to pick, because he grabbed random guys and Euro stashes. Meet the new Celtics – same as the old Celtics.

Suns – More centers? It’s like Rob Hennigan can only evaluate one position at a time. Two years ago, he cornered the market for point guards. Now he’s after centers. Oh kay…

Thunder/Magic – Fun trade! Instant pundits declared OKC the winner, but I’m not sure. Could be win-win. Could be Magic win. This one is good bar-talk fodder until the season starts.

 

On trades…

It sucks to be a GM these days. A vast army of internet pundits awaits your every move. You will be judged instantly. And it’s zero-sum: Someone will be declared the winner, someone the loser. There are no ties on the internet.  Pile up 24 months of internet losses, and you get fired.

The result, I fear, is that no one makes a deal unless they are convinced that they will “win” the trade. I’m sure the Magic thought, “We are getting Serge Ibaka, internet darling, for marginal guys. Win!”

Meanwhile, Danny Ainge is trying to make “fair” deals for his draft picks. But no one will bite on a “fair” deal. The only hope he had was to make over-the-top offers. But he didn’t. And had to pick.

 

Summer league quick takes

My quick take on Summer League:

  • Lakers – Larry Nance II is a bust. Sorry about that.
  • Lakers – Russell may grow up and be great. Not next year. Sorry about that.
  • Lakers – Randle has outstanding footwork. One of 5 guys in the league with post moves. But… he can’t jump. If he doesn’t figure out how to create space, he’ll be a star in China 3 years from now.
  • Wolves – Townes will eventually be everything we hoped. Not next year. Sorry about that.
  • Knicks – Porzingis will be the next Dirk. I said it! His feel for the offensive game is uncoachable. But… he is an old-school one-way player in a league that has (maybe?) left that behind. Will be fun to see him develop. Next year, analytics will show he gave up seven million points.

Everyone else… yawn. Summer league is awful basketball. And really, what do you learn? Marco Belinelli and Anthony Randolph looked like can’t miss prospects. Summer League is fool’s gold.

The complex and fascinating Lakers draft pick

Thanks to the Lottery, the Lakers surged to the 2nd overall pick. Who will they take?

I’m not actually making any predictions. I just want to point out how complex and fascinating the pick will be.

The pick will, in part, signal their plans for the future. Do they want to be a 4-out, ball-movement team? Or a 1990s-style inside-out team? Don’t laugh! The Grizzlies win lots of games with their 1990s-style game. The Cavs reverted to superstar isolation in the championship, and scared the Warriors with 2 consecutive wins. Many styles are possible.

Here’s what we know:

  • Jim Buss is on the clock. He promised a turnaround in 3 years. This will be year two. He needs help.
  • Byron Scott is coaching the Lakers. He is not sympathetic to current innovations.
  • Kobe will come back this year, then retire after the season.
  • The Lakers have chased top-shelf free agents for two summers, and come away empty handed.
  • This draft is deep, but may not have any superstars.

Given that, here are some scenarios:

If he only had more time!

Jim Buss is on the clock. He is stuck with Kobe and Byron next year. The obvious choice is Jalil Okafor. If Mitch K can backfill with two or three 3-and-D vets, the Lakers can contend for the 7-8 spot (alongside the Mavs, Pellies, and Suns).

Taking the long view.

The Porzingis kid could grow into the next Dirk Nowitzki. Or not. But imagine having the next next Dirk! The Lakers could switch to a 4-out, or 5-out system. As they say on the Mio commercial, “they could change everything.”

Stall for time.

Next summer, the Lakers will have windfall cap space. Kobe will be gone. Byron could be gone. For now, they should draft a great wing player, because wings are the future of the NBA. Frankly, off-guard is in critically short supply right now. Kobe will retire, leaving them with nothing. They will not see a pick this good for 20 years.

Trade down.

This never happens in the NBA. Never. I can’t recall the last time a top 10 pick was traded down. The cost/benefit of young guys is just too compelling.

If the Lakers want to stall for time, they could easily swap down to 5-6 and still get a quality wing in this draft. Recall this: in 2012, the Warriors drafted Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, and Draymond Green, all on one night. That’s the kind of draft the Lakers could use.

Split the difference.

The Lakers could grab a wing this year, and backfill with 3-and-D vets, and pretend to chase the playoffs this year. Next year, they will still have cap space to chase a star, and the chance to make a coaching change (Thibs?!).

See you next week!

Can the Lakers keep their pick?

The Lakers owe the Suns a 1st-round pick. It is top-5 protected this year. So the Lakers will have to finish in the bottom 5 of the league to keep it.

To get a handle on this, you have to understand the difference between:

  • Strategic Tanking (ST)
  • Tactical Tanking (TT)
  • Plain-‘ol-Bad (PB)

Strategic Tanking is like first degree murder – it requires malice aforethought. You have to carefully plan to be bad, then ruthlessly execute your plan. Last year, there were an unprecedented six STs. This year, I only see two: Sixers and Celtics.

Tactical Tanking is what happens when teams take advantage of a slow start, and just give up. See the Warriors, 2nd-half of the 2011-12 season. This year, we can expect a few teams to become TTers. At some point, the Wolves, Pacers, and Magic will realize they aren’t contending for anything.

And then there are teams that are just bad. They look okay on paper, and they want to win. But they have mis-matched parts, and they over overmatched by 10 other teams in the own conference. I’m thinking specifically of the Kings, Pelicans, Jazz, Bucks, and Pistons.

So where do we place the Lakers? Before the opener tonight, I would have said PB leading to TT by January.  But after tonight…

I think Mitch Kupchak is an evil genius. The ST is on!

Kupchak was tasked this summer with putting together a roster that would both:

  • sell tickets, and
  • lose regularly

Sell tickets: Kobe, Steve Nash, Carlos Boozer, Linsanity, Ed Davis, Swaggy P.

Lose regularly: Ronnie Price, Xavier Henry, Robert Sacre, Carlos Boozer,.

And so far, so good. The Rockets are a good-not-great team, and they just drubbed the Lakers by near 30. Byron Scott limited Kobe’s minutes, which means it’s entirely possible that he is in on the fix.

Julius Randle had the potential to swing some games, but broke his leg tonight.

Zach Lowe rates the Lakers as 4th worst. Actually, his worst ranking is:

  1. Sixers
  2. Wolves
  3. Kings
  4. Lakers
  5. Pacers

Obviously, I disagree. The Kings are a PB team, and the Wolves will be a TT team starting in January. The Pacers will try really hard, and they are in the East. Meanwhile, the Celtics are ST-ing. And so are the Lakers! My ranking looks like this:

  1. Sixers
  2. Lakers
  3. Celtics
  4. Wolves
  5. Magic

Nobody is worse than the Sixers. But the Lakers are so sneaky bad (and playing in the West) that I see them cruising to number 2. The Celtics will try to win,  but they’ll be sabotaged at regular intervals by their GM. Flip Saunders will eventually embrace tanking, and the Wolves are in the West, so they will lose a lot. The Magic are also going to switch to TT-ing later, but they are in the East, so they’ll finish above the Wolves.

 

Summer pull quotes

A couple of quotes from Andrew Sharp that I want to highlight.

On the Warriors:

If they don’t get Kevin Love, there’s still a chance that they keep Klay Thompson and, long-term, turn into a team that can contend with anybody in the league. But there’s a much better chance that Love will land in Cleveland, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut will break down over the next few years, Golden State will overpay to keep Klay next summer, and Warriors fans will spend years cursing those few weeks before the draft when this team somehow turned Klay Thompson into a franchise cornerstone.

 

On the Lakers:

It’s too bad that Julius Randle and Ed Davis have to be involved in this horrible science experiment of a basketball team, but everything else is worth it just to see what happens.

It’s all building to a riot outside Jim Buss’s house.

It’s all building to a first-round pick that they’ll try to tank for but inevitably lose to Phoenix when they fall juuuuuuust outside the top five.

It’s all building to Kobe losing his mind.

Mitch K’s Trade Emporium

I figured out Mitch Kupchak’s plan to rebuild the Lakers.

At first, I thought he had sunk into depression and started just signing guys. If he recognized your name, you got a fat contract.

Then, optimistically, I concluded that he was secretly tanking. He needed to convince Kobe that he was actually trying, so he grabbed recognizable names at higher-than-necessary prices. He collected shiny puzzle pieces, but from different puzzles. There is no way to fit them together. The Lakers 1st round pick is top-5 protected. This Frankenstein roster could easily contend for the 4-5 spot. Remember, the Warriors tanked into the 7th spot 3 years ago, collecting Harrison Barnes. And the Warriors didn’t start tanking until halfway through the season. Imagine what this Lakers roster could do with a full season!

Finally, today, I struck on a third option. Mitch is trolling for assets. The trading desk is open for business!

Jordan Hill? As Bill Simmons said of Celtic forward Kris Humphries last year, every team needs a $9MM expiring contract as trade filler for the big targets, If the Lakers somehow get into the Kevin Love action, know that Hill will be salary ballast.

Steve Nash? He shoots the lights out. If he demonstrates a minimum of health, a contending team might ask for him near the deadline.

Swaggy P? Small market teams like the Bucks and Wolves really need affordable, service-able guys on longer contracts. I mean, given a choice (for equivalent money), Nick Young never goes to those places. So if you are dumping Sanders or Ilyasova, or parting with Kevin Love, those are the kinds of deals you want coming back. But really, anyone would be happy to take that deal. Super trade-able.

Jeremy Lin? Okay, the Lakers did that for the accompanying 1st-round pick.

Ed Davis? Er… When I saw “Lakers sign Davis” on twitter, I thought, “Baron? Cool!” Alas…

Carlos Boozer? Lakers are stuck with him all year. So… Maybe Secret Tanking is the plan after all?

The true Lakers plan is (and always has been): 1) acquire a marquee player; 2) use him as bait to sign one or two more marquee players. The Lakers are profoundly uninterested in competing for anything before step 1 is accomplished. I mean, if it happens, great. But meanwhile, Mitch wants to collect picks (and maybe prospects) until he can either trade for, or sign the marquee guy.

If guys keep peeling off the Laker’s roster this year, you know Mitch’s plan is working,

 

Last one out, get the lights, Lakers!

It was hard to name this post. I might have called it:

  • Meet the new Lakers, same as the old Lakers
  • Lakers – Keep gettin’ dem’ (season-ticket) checks

The Lakers are sitting on some significant franchise advantages:

  • an insane local TV contract, that craps money on them
  • demonstrated willingness to go over the tax
  • really great local weather
  • a large and affluent african-american community
  • a rich tradition
  • Hollywood, the music industry, celebrity culture

So… why won’t anyone play there? Why is it more popular to play for the Sterlings than the Buss’s these days? How many times do you whiff on free agency before you get the message?

Maybe the NBA has changed? When Jerry Buss (and Eddie DeBartolo) roamed the Earth, part of the thrill of owning a pro sports team was hanging out with the athletes. That hasn’t been true for a long time. A decade, at least. If the Lakers were mostly held together based on the ties that bind, and the ties died 2 1/12 years back, where does that leave the Lakers?

To brass tacks:

The Lakers lost Dwight Howard, followed by Melo.

Did they have a plan B? Er… apparently not.

When the Mavs missed on Howard last year, it was clear they had a Plan B: sign a bunch of veterans. The Laker’s Plan B? Conserve cap space for another failing run next summer.

Let’s talk about the Kobe factor. Kobe’s contract only ever made sense in 2 scenarios:

  1. The Lakers hope to contend
  2. The Lakers need to sell tickets

All I ask, as a fan, is that the Lakers be honest with me. And plan 2) is not honest. Plan 2) is selling out lifetime Laker fans to watch the last 2 years of an amazing talent, a lifetime Laker.

You know what a good Plan B would have looked like: Lance Stepenson. A wild gamble, roll-of-the-dice. But if he turns into the next LeBron? Brilliant!

Instead we get Julius Randle, Nick Young, Jeremy Lin, and Jordan Hill, and whatever Steve Nash has left. Wee!

You know who blew it? Kent Bazmore, who could have logged heavy NBA minutes on this lame team.

I was in a forgiving mood last year, Lakers. And, yes, I will stick around to watch the end of Kobe’s career. I won’t be rooting “for you,” so much as “with you.” But if you continue to squander your considerable gifts, I will move on. The NBA is a glorious kingdom. Pity that you are no longer a part of it.

 

Melo

He is returning to the Knicks. Of course.

Look, he is waiting around, hoping to unite with another All-Star. But it’s not happening. He can take the NY money, the LA money, or the (much smaller) Chicago money.

Seriously, as long as Jerry Reinsdorf owns the Bulls, they are:

a) never exceeding the tax
b) out of the free agent market

Sorry, not happening. The Lakers money isn’t far off from the Knicks,  Does Melo want to live in NY or LA? That is the question.

Meanwhile, the Lakers will show up here every year, hoping for the fist “piece.” The first piece is a guy who draws other guys. Melo could be that guy. But so could other (future) guys. If the Lakers miss this year, oh well. They’ll get another one. Later.

 

Waiting for Wade (and Melo)…

It is the end of day three of free agency. The Heat stars have not broken radio silence. Well… mostly. Chris Bosh’s agent surfaced long enough to debunk a rumor that had Bosh settling for $11MM/year. Not happening.

So now, the whole world waits for the King, as it should. If LeBron re-signs with the Heat (probably for max-money), then Bosh can soberly decide to accept a pay cut to keep playing with LeBron. Or not. We’ll see.

But wait! I think the whole thing depends on Dwayne Wade. If Wade takes a huge paycut (say, to $10MM/year), the Heat will gain tax space even as Lebron gets paid. That induces LeBron and then Bosh to re-sign.  If Wade holds out for $16MM+, LeBron may bolt (because the Heat will be taxed-out). And if LeBron leaves, will Bosh accept less than max-money himself? The whole Heat cookie could crumble in the next week.

If LeBron flees, and Melo returns to the Knicks, Bosh can get mad-money from the Lakers! Would he still stick with his BFF Wade in that case? What if the Heat won’t match the Laker bid?

After the Decision II, lots of money becomes available. Maybe Cleveland makes that max offer to Gordon Hayward after all. Lots of teams have cap space. Some of them want to win.

Four summers ago, the Big 3 conspired to take less money and form a super-team. Now, they could blow up that team with rational decision making.  There is an owner vs players angle to this as well.

Meanwhile…

There are several teams who are hoarding money for Melo. I don’t see Chicago winning this race, because they can’t/won’t clear enough cap space. That makes it a three horse race between the Knicks, Rockets, and Lakers. Too close to call.

On a related note… the Bulls will amnesty Boozer when Hell freezes over. Jerry Reinsdorf is not giving away a dollar. Not now. Not ever.

If Melo signs with the Knicks, it unlocks a lot of money with the Rockets. Mavs, and Lakers. I look for the Lakers to pull a Cuban, and load up with high-dollar, short-term contracts.

 

Dwightmare revisited

When the Lakers entered free agent negotiations with Dwight Howard, they drew a line in the sand: no sign-and-trade. If Howard decided to leave the Lakers, they were going to make him forfeit $30MM in guaranteed money. End of story.

It’s hardball. And high stakes. If Dwight calls their bluff, as he did, what then? Sure, Dan Gilbert and his cabal of underfunded owners cheered the Lakers for following through. The Lakers scored points in league politics. But what did it really accomplish for the Lakers?

Like every wounded Lakers fan, I felt good about the no-sign-and-trade decision back in July. It felt like the no-bargaining-with-terrorists rule, or the cops-don’t-give-up-their-gun rule. But that was then. And this is now. Three months later, I’m in a different mood.

What if the Lakers had got out front and said, “Dwight, we love you. But if you want to go somewhere else, help us get a good sign-and-trade deal that benefits everyone.” In that case, they might have given themselves a boost in the inevitable rebuilding project. What would Thomas Robinson look like in a Lakers jersey?

Remember, a sign-and-trade forces Houston to pay that extra $30MM. Worst case scenario – Howard is worth every penny. More likely – he’s not. This would actually stick it to Houston, and make their long term cap situation worse. Advantage? Lakers!

And look, let’s get serious: the Howard situation was unique. 9 out of 10 times, a guy takes a max offer with the Lakers. I mean, it’s LA, Showtime, celebs, sun, Magic. No other city can compete. A take-it-or-leave-it policy makes sense for the Bucks, Cavs, and a dozen other NBA cities. (Remember how fast the Kings rescinded Iguoadala’s offer? The quick flash of cash is a long term strategy for dismal market teams.)  But the Lakers will probably never be in this silly situation again.

Now, as I said, I supported the stick-it-to-Dwight decision in July. But Mitch K and the Hat are paid the big bucks to be smarter and see farther than me. It sure would be nice to be working with something (draft picks?) other than cap space next summer.