The Official Off-Season NBA Thread

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Sep 5, 2010

With the start of training camp and media day today, I figured it be a good idea to start a new thread.
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Gonna be one for the history books for better or worse.... Will probably be for the worse.

Between the COVID drama and the 75 greatest players list it's gonna be far from a peaceful season.
In here. Ready for the pages of debates when the 75 players list comes out. Especially when a player is on there from the 50’s - 70’s.

Does this team in Laker land work? Does Russ sacrifice his shallow triple double chasing to chase a championship?

Superstar shopping: LeBron, Russell Westbrook and the Lakers’ summer of recruiting

Throughout the Lakers’ storied history, there is one formula that almost has never failed when the franchise has encountered hard times: Recruit another superstar.

For a team that already boasted LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the audacious notion of acquiring a third such headliner this offseason —the same plan they’d pursued two summers before in the failed Kawhi Leonard courting — was the clearest path to recovery after their title defense in 2020-21 fell woefully short.

So, ahead of L.A.’s 73rd season, which begins in earnest this week with the opening of training camp, LeBron and the Lakers went recruiting.

In the two months that followed their first-round playoff flop against Phoenix, when Davis’ groin injury left them pulling up lame, the Lakers explored the prospect of trading for such stars as Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, DeMar DeRozan and Russell Westbrook. The process unfolded well beyond the team’s front office’s search, with James setting up a war room of his own at his Brentwood estate for some in-person player meetings while leading remote communications in other conversations.

Those talks and others led the Lakers to the conclusion that the truculent Westbrook was the best solution on the board. A former league MVP, he checked the superstar box, and as a dynamic playmaker he would help ease the burden on James. It wasn’t hard to sell Westbrook on the vision. A former UCLA star who had grown up celebrating Lakers championships at the parades on Figueroa Street, Westbrook was all in.

After weeks of conversation with James, Davis and then-Lakers forward Jared Dudley, who emerged as a sort of consigliere to the Lakers’ superstars in these meetings, Westbrook believed he was on his way to L.A. For years he had angled to get home, and now everything was lining up for it to finally happen.

There was only one problem: The Lakers’ efforts to complete the fairytale had been repeatedly stymied by the Wizards’ refusal to make Westbrook available because, sources said, they still planned on moving forward with the Westbrook-Beal backcourt. Westbrook, for his part, would have played out the remaining two seasons on his deal if a trade hadn’t materialized.

“No one thought that Russ would get out,” said one source close to the discussions.

So by the morning of the NBA Draft on July 29, with seemingly no trade for Westbrook available, Rob Pelinka, the Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager, appeared to have no choice but to move on. The Lakers’ brass had spent considerable time on a backup plan to net Sacramento’s 28-year-old marksman Buddy Hield. He addressed the team’s shooting needs if not exactly their thirst for another star.

That day, a telltale moment occurred: Westbrook received a tip. Not only could the Lakers not break through with the Wizards, but also they were on the cusp of trading Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell — players whose salaries would be required to execute a Westbrook trade — to the Kings for Hield.

“That set Russ off,” one source said. “All he wanted, by any means, was to be a Laker.”

Westbrook had been telling those around him for weeks that he was finally coming home, but now those dreams seemed to be slipping away. So shortly before noon on July 29, he asked his billionaire boss, Ted Leonsis, for a personal favor: Find a way for him to land with the Lakers. That passionate plea set off a chain of events that resulted in the Lakers assembling one of the most star-laden and veteran teams in league history.

“(Westbrook) took control of his situation,” one involved source said.

Keep in mind that two years ago, Westbrook missed out on going to the Clippers when, as sources confirmed, Leonard turned Westbrook’s desire to team up into a chance to partner instead with Paul George, Westbrook’s teammate with the Thunder. Westbook wasn’t about to lose out in this game of LA musical chairs — again.

And before Westbrook resorted to calling Leonsis, he had tried to convince Beal in the weeks leading up to the draft that they should both ask out of Washington, according to sources. Short of Beal showing a desire to also request a trade, Westbrook was hopeful Beal would at least support his efforts to get to L.A. — which, sources said, Beal did.

Even in this modern-day era of player empowerment, conversations about possible player movement are typically contained to the front office level. Unless, that is, the player doing the pushing isn’t getting what he so badly wants. And Westbrook, well aware that he was on the verge of missing his window, played his trump card.

The Wizards softened their stance and Washington GM Tommy Sheppard called Pelinka to initiate conversations. Within hours, the Lakers had scrapped their talks for Hield and instead traded Kuzma, Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, along with the No. 22 pick in that night’s draft, to the Wizards for Westbrook. As is the case with any superstar trade, both sides needed to feel strongly about coming to terms, and this deal accomplished goals for both parties. The Wizards were able to move Westbrook’s deal a year after trading away John Wall to bring Westbrook in, and acquired three rotation players who provide short- and long-term flexibility for the franchise.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and Leonsis hopped on the phone to finalize the deal at the highest levels, with both sharing their view of the players in the deal and how it was seen as a win-win for both sides.

The Lakers had their third star and a childhood dream was fulfilled.

It came, however, at the cost of another superstar’s own homecoming dream and his quest to join the Lakers.

LeBron James purchased his nearly 16,000-square-foot home in the ritzy Westside neighborhood of Brentwood for about $21 million in 2017. Since then, the eight-bedroom mansion with a wine cellar and mahogany cigar lounge in the basement has become a casual command center for many of his business ventures. That was the setting as free agency loomed.

It’s easy to envision James, who produces an HBO series dedicated to sitting around and literally talking shop, surrounded by his closest confidantes as they swirled vino and puffed stogies, like they often do on “The Shop,” deliberating what moves could catapult the Lakers back to the top of the league.

One of those potential moves involved DeMar DeRozan, a Compton, Calif., native and former USC star. He took part in two such meetings at James’ home and had separate ongoing phone conversations with James. His conversations with the Lakers co-stars had gone well, with the then-soon-to-be free agent discussing all the ways in which he thought this new star trio might work.

With four All-Star Games and a pair of appearances on All-NBA teams to his name, the longtime Toronto Raptor who had spent the previous three seasons with San Antonio, emerged from his meetings with that locker room brain trust believing he was their priority and he might soon be playing in the purple and gold.

And why not? He had averaged at least 21 points per game in each of the last six seasons and would give the Lakers another go-to scorer.

Yet as the process unfolded, concerns emerged from DeRozan’s side about a perceived disconnect between the Lakers stars and the front office. Were the opinions being shared in the player meetings the same as the front office’s view? Did the left hand know, in essence, what the right hand was doing?

Pelinka has often said he includes James and Davis when it comes to building the roster, asking them the pros and cons of any potential additions and how they feel about the fit. This summer was no different. Whatever conversations James and Davis had when they encountered other players, they did on their own time and interest.

So nearly two years after James had been the driving force in the Davis trade, he was now pairing with AD as a team of power brokers as they evaluated the possible additions. Dudley’s presence was notable, especially considering the reaction his departure from the team would spark soon after. Dudley offered an acute understanding of the business side of the game, although some sources close to the situation downplayed the impact of his involvement. Throughout James’ career, he has gravitated toward veteran players like Dudley and developed close relationships with them as part of his trusted circle of friends.

The group focused first on Lillard and Beal, but with no viable path to trading for either of them, turned their attention to more realistic targets: Westbrook, DeRozan, Hield and Kyle Lowry, who would eventually pursue a deal with the Miami Heat instead.

There was genuine excitement shared in the player meetings about how DeRozan would fit. Even if he wasn’t the Lakers’ first choice, it was easy to envision a scenario where he would be their best available option.

For the Lakers, according to those with knowledge of the situation, it was imperative to keep as many potential avenues open as possible.

Sources said Pelinka and his front-office group strongly considered executing a sign-and-trade for the 32-year-old DeRozan, giving up Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope in the process, but couldn’t come to consensus terms with the Spurs in free agency or a suitable contract number for DeRozan. What’s more, sources say the DeRozan option never advanced to the point that it was presented to Buss.

While she has long since empowered Pelinka to be the final front office decision maker, the impact of her family’s legacy remains strong. And the Westbrook deal, quite clearly, was seen as the kind of move that would make her late father, legendary Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, smile. If only they could get it over the finish line.

Hield could be had for less: Just the salaries of Kuzma and Harrell were needed to make that deal work. The Lakers could add a career 40 percent 3-point shooter while still retaining the first-round pick as well as Caldwell-Pope, their starting shooting guard and a highly rated defender. The internal debate, it seems, went round and round.

But before Westbrook went to Leonsis, Pelinka had locked in on that deal over pursuing a sign-and-trade for DeRozan, and prompted him to look elsewhere. Plan C, if you will, was unofficially off the table. (DeRozan ultimately landed with the Chicago Bulls on a massive three-year, $85 million deal in a sign-and-trade agreement.)

Once Westbrook persuaded the Wizards to engage with L.A., the Lakers made a choice to back off of the Hield option, too. Even if Hield was a more natural fit for their structure, the Lakers believed Westbrook made them a more dangerous team in the postseason.

It was, in essence, the decision between a player they believed could be the difference-maker in a 16-game title run vs. one whose talents had only been utilized in the regular season.

The decision left Sacramento management steaming, sources said. The Kings had no idea they were even competing with a Westbrook deal, and they weren’t the only ones stunned by the reversal. “I was kind of shocked because I thought I was going to Sac,” Kuzma recently said on the “No Chill with Gilbert Arenas” podcast. “The Sacramento deal, with Buddy Hield, that **** was done.”

Once the Lakers had added the superstar playmaker the franchise had so greatly coveted, Pelinka was tasked with building a roster around three players whose combined salaries of $121 million pushed the Lakers $9 million over the salary cap and just $15 million shy of the luxury tax threshold. With little spending power beyond minimum contracts, the Lakers emerged from the offseason as the league’s oldest team, with an average age of 30.9 years, more than two years older than the Miami Heat (28.8).

Still, the Pelinka-led front office had completely reshaped the Lakers and added star talent and proven championship pieces around the franchise pillars: Davis and James.

It was anything but conventional.

Lakers players all said the right things after their season ended in June when Davis’ efforts to play through the groin injury that kept him out of Game 5 proved futile. Players from James on down insisted that had the 2021 Lakers been healthy they would have been in a position to repeat as champions.

The team was indeed battered by injuries to its superstars and dealt with bouts of COVID-19 and suffered fatigue due to the quick turnaround from the Bubble. But the other reality was that virtually all of Pelinka’s splashy investments in the celebrated 2020 offseason had failed to pay off.

Dennis Schröder, Harrell, Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews all performed well below expectations. Schröder missed two extended stretches due to the league’s health and safety protocols, including seven of the final nine regular-season games, and went scoreless in the pivotal Game 5 loss to the Suns.

Elsewhere on the roster, former All-Star center Andre Drummond’s midseason arrival not only failed to pay off on the court, but also, according to sources, poisoned the well with Gasol, who had joined the Lakers after being promised the starting job, sources said, only to be replaced by Drummond, who was given the same pledge.

It all left the Lakers to wonder if their failure was truly the result of circumstances or if the roster they had assembled was doomed in any scenario.

So while players spoke hopefully about the possibility of running it back for another go with the same group, the truth was that the Lakers could ill-afford to misfire again. With LeBron’s 37th birthday on the horizon, it was a greater risk to try again with the same group than it was to make bold moves to reverse course.

After acquiring Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and DeAndre Jordan, and bringing back Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo, the Lakers assembled a roster with the most combined All-Star appearances on a roster in league history.

All along the way, it’s clear that James — who had everything to do with Davis coming the Lakers’ way back in November 2019 — led the way on the recruiting front yet again. Inevitably, his undeniable influence and direct style have resparked the discussion about the Lakers’ inner workings. Especially after Carmelo’s recent appearance on the “Million Dollaz Worth of Game” podcast.

After detailing how James and the newly minted Westbrook called him about joining the Lakers even before free agency began — “I said, ‘Yo, free agency don’t even start ’til next week, and you want me to commit now,” Anthony said on the appearance — he discussed the importance of hearing directly from his longtime friend in LeBron.

“You hit me direct,” he remembered telling James. “The GM ain’t hit me. You the GM. … He hit me, (and) he was like, ‘Yo, champ. The time is now.’ And you felt that. I felt that. The time is now. It’s a different vibe, a different aura, a different energy, The time is now.”

Anthony, a future Hall of Famer and the 10th leading scorer in NBA history, chose the Lakers amid overtures from New York, where he’d spent parts of seven of his 18 seasons, and the Philadelphia 76ers, who expressed interest despite the messy way things had ended three years earlier between Anthony and Daryl Morey in Houston.

The roster building continued from there. Veterans such as Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington and Kent Bazemore were all drawn to the Lakers by the promise of title contention.

It’s a robust collection of talent for Vogel to sort out. The third-year head coach’s own contract status was a source of intrigue for much of the summer. After initially signing a three-year deal in 2019, Vogel was not rewarded with a contract extension after helping the franchise win its 17th championship in his first year at the helm. Vogel’s second year may have ended in a first-round flameout, but the Lakers coaching staff still had constructed the league’s top-rated defense, despite playing without Davis for exactly half of the regular season.

Following the Game 6 loss to the Suns, Vogel said, “I hope to be a Laker for life. But, you know, all that stuff will play out and in the right time. And those conversations will remain private.”

There was much speculation in coaching circles over whether Pelinka, who is known to value flexibility and leverage in all dealings, would indeed extend Vogel’s contract. But the broadly held consensus was that no one could coach a LeBron-led team as a lame duck. The chatter wasn’t exactly dampened by the addition to L.A.’s staff of David Fizdale, who had developed a close relationship in Miami with James, nor by the arrival of accomplished veterans, fading superstars and the egos that accompany them.

Could Vogel really be expected to challenge a team with possibly six Hall of Fame players if he didn’t have job security to lend weight to his message?

Finally, late on Aug. 6, the Lakers issued a statement announcing Vogel had signed an extension. More important than what the statement said, however, was what it left out: the terms of the deal.

Multiple sources told The Athletic that Vogel’s extension added only one year to his contract, securing him through 2022-23.

Although that aligns his with James’ and Westbrook’s, which also run through 2023, it was the kind of deal seen in some league circles more as a half measure than an actual investment. By contrast, sources said Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer was given a three-year extension in August, despite being widely seen as a candidate to be fired before the Bucks’ title run.

In his two years coaching in L.A., a tenure that coincided with the arrival of Davis and his immense defensive presence, Vogel transformed the Lakers into a defensive juggernaut. But in the first days of free agency, the Lakers went from a team with an abundance of defensive perimeter speed to one with relatively little.

Not only did the Lakers trade away Caldwell-Pope and Kuzma in the Westbrook deal, but also they had failed to retain Alex Caruso after the Chicago Bulls offered him $37 million over four years, an offer the Lakers chose not to compete with. That cost-saving decision frustrated many within the organization who had seen the Lakers develop Caruso from a G League player into one of the NBA’s top role players and best backcourt defenders.

“Alex was tremendous here,” Pelinka told reporters last week. “He’s a championship player and we’ll be forever grateful for his contributions and his growth … But he had choices and he chose another team. But we pursued him and wanted to keep him.”

In the midst of this flurry of changes, the Lakers also declined to retain another constant: Dudley, who had been a presence in the Lakers recruiting efforts.

He was not offered a contract to be a part of the team and the move had everything to do with the pressure applied to the front office by Buss. Each and every roster spot needed to be filled by players who could help on the floor, especially during another season impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Every personnel choice, it seemed, would be made with the shared goal of surrounding James, Davis and Westbrook with talent that could truly help with the latest title contention. And not only was Dudley 36, but also he had been unable to help when it mattered most last season after tearing his medial collateral ligament in mid-March.

At the end of the season, sources said, the Lakers did have conversations with Dudley about other potential roles in the organization, including broadcasting, but ultimately he opted for a front-of-the-bench coaching position with Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks.

Dudley’s exit inspired James to share his frustration and surprise with the move weeks later on Twitter.

“(This) one hurt … for many reasons that you wouldn’t understand,” he wrote amid a flurry of face-palm emojis when the news broke that Dudley was joining the Mavs.

The Lakers also said goodbye to Gasol, trading the 36-year-old former Defensive Player of the Year to Memphis in a move that saved them about $10 million in luxury tax. Gasol grew upset with his treatment last season, when he was benched in 10 of the Lakers final 21 games and logged a DNP-Coach’s Decision in the Game 1 playoff loss against the Suns. He proceeded to play in the remaining five games of the series, even starting in Game 6, when it was Drummond who was benched.

However, Gasol’s frustrations with the predicament were well-known throughout the team and he was described by sources close to the team as “disgruntled” with his role and treatment.

“There’s no way Gasol wants to be back nor do (the Lakers) want him back,” one source said after the season ended.

Instead, the Lakers will move forward with Jordan and Howard in the middle, although L.A. is unlikely to start either at center.

Since Davis arrived from New Orleans two years ago, the Lakers’ best lineups have featured him at center. With Westbrook aboard, sources said Davis has emerged as the expected starting center, clearing the way for a likely starting five of him, Westbrook, Ellington, Ariza and James, according to sources. Third-year guard Talen Horton-Tucker, a rising, young talent for the Lakers, is also expected to compete in camp for a possible starting role.

Ellington provides shooting on the perimeter after making 42.2 percent of his 3-pointers in six attempts a game last season. Ariza gives the Lakers an experienced 3-and-D player on the wing, able to guard multiple positions and fit in any lineup.

In a Zoom availability with reporters last week in advance of this week’s training camp, Pelinka said the Lakers had prioritized adding a “primary playmaker” in the offseason, as well as improving shooting and going back to the model of two big centers, which had worked so well in 2020.

“I think if we look at the complexion of the roster,” Pelinka said, “we feel like we addressed each of those three goals.”

The pairing of Westbrook and James raises obvious questions about the on-court fit of the superstars. The Lakers wanted a guard to ease James’ ballhandling responsibilities, something they see as a key to extending the four-time MVP’s career. While Westbrook certainly can do that, James isn’t going to give up playmaking duties all the time, and Westbrook becomes far less of a threat the moment the ball leaves his hands.

In those player-driven meetings that paved the way for Westbrook to join the Lakers, the stars broke down how they could fit together, agreeing that each of them would need to find ways to adjust their games.

“Sacrifice,” one source close to the discussions said about the message in those talks. “Just sacrifice. Sacrificing on both ends. They all have to sacrifice. It don’t matter who you are. They’ve got to sacrifice. They know that.

“They talked about it. I think just out of respect for one another, ‘Hey man, this is the only way this is going to work — if we can do it.’ And so they had that understanding.”

It was that understanding that motivated Davis to be willing to take on a bigger share of the minutes at center. With him there, the Lakers can field a starting lineup with just one below-average 3-point shooter: Westbrook. That doesn’t mean there still won’t be kinks to work out.

The process of working through those potential obstacles began over the weekend at a minicamp organized by James in Las Vegas, which consisted of two-a-day workouts and team dinners and gatherings to build camaraderie. Two years earlier, James had orchestrated a similar team event to help initiate a revamped roster. Players often pointed to that minicamp as the foundation of the chemistry that helped the eventual champions navigate a season of unprecedented turbulence and emerge as champions in the Bubble.

On Sunday, the Lakers reached agreement on a two-year deal with guard Austin Reaves, converting his two-way contract to a standard NBA deal ahead of training camp. The Lakers will have a team option on the second year of Reaves‘ contract, sources said. Reaves, a 6-foot-5 combo guard, has impressed the Lakers throughout the offseason and had a strong showing at James’ minicamp. James and Westbrook even had the rookie conduct some fun-loving errands throughout the weekend in Vegas.

The Lakers will open training camp on Tuesday, with five days of practices before their first preseason game on Oct. 3 against the superstar-laden Brooklyn Nets, who raised the bar a season ago when they formed their own big three, featuring James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

It is only fitting that the Lakers will debut their own collection of stars against the team that is seen as their Eastern Conference counterweight, even if a preseason game is unlikely to reveal much about how it is all going to work. Those questions will begin to be answered in the regular-season opener on Oct. 19 against Golden State at Staples Center.

Ultimately, the Lakers’ confidence in their new trio of heavyweights is less about the questions of style. Instead, they are banking on the belief that when basketball royalty of this caliber assembles, the players will meet the moment.

That, more or less, is the foundation upon which the Lakers franchise has been built: Acquire the superstars. Trust them to be great.
We putting predictions here?

Training camp starts tomorrow so that means we must post our NBA predictions.

Past years:

2010-2011 Predictions
2011-2012 Predictions
2012-2013 Predictions
2013-2014 Predictions
2014-2015 Predictions
2015-2016 Predictions
2016-2017 Predictions
2017-2018 Predictions
2018-2019 Predictions
2019-2020 Predictions
2020-2021 Predictions
Most Valuable Player:

Defensive Player of the Year:

Rookie of the Year:

Sixth Man of the Year:

Most Improved Player:

Coach of the Year:

Executive of the Year:

All-NBA 1st Team:



NBA Champions:

Finals MVP:

Key Headlines:
Conspiracy P thinks the Nets staged Dave Letterman at Media Day to take some heat off the Kyrie-vaccination topic.
The Zion/Pelicans partnership couldn't have gotten off to a worse start.

Ya'll been waiting to see who would be the first to turn down that extension...this might be it.

Edit - Also weird how his family is always in the mix somehow.
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nba still desperately needs a wholesale referee overhaul

also, the knicks continue to improve and gain momentum this season becoming more attractive to free agents
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