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With Anthony Davis committing to re-signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, Christian Wood becomes the preeminent free agent big man this offseason, which means there’s a good chance there will be a bidding war to land him.
While some free agent pundits established Wood’s market value around $10 million per year, other analysts have suggested he could command as much as $15 to $17 million per year based on his breakout year with the Pistons. Right now, there are six NBA teams who currently have the cap space to make an offer that high for Christian Wood: the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, and Phoenix Suns.
But other NBA teams could also make roster moves to create the cap space to add their names to the list and teams like the Lakers without cap space could expand the competition by proposing sign-and-trade offers for Wood. If the Lakers are serious about trading for Wood, the two big questions are who will be their competitors for him and what should be their ceiling in terms of dollars and assets offered when it comes to consummating a deal?
One thing that still haunts me is how Wood has the same unique skill set to play offense and defense at all three levels like Davis, which also makes him exactly the type of player teams need to match AD at both ends of the court. Davis’ ascension as a unicorn and the best big man in the game today has not gone unnoticed by the rest of the NBA. League GM’s now know the road to the NBA championship now runs through the Lakers and Anthony Davis.
We know the Celtics and Warriors have expressed interest in trading for the Pacers Myles Turner, whose another modern center who can protect the rim and defend in space on the perimeter. Perfect defender for Anthony Davis. Christian Wood falls into the same category and the Lakers should pursue him both to create a juggernaut team and prevent competitors from adding a player to counter the ultimate weapon they have in Anthony Davis.
Players like Christian Wood and Myles Turner are going to ignite an arms race between the elite teams looking for an answer for Anthony Davis and a way to derail what they fear will be another Lakers’ championship dynasty. The Lakers’ likely competition for Christian Wood is not going to come from the Hawks, Nicks, Pistons, and Suns; it’s going to come from teams looking for ways to pass the Lakers: the Heat, Clippers, Warriors, Celtics, and Bucks.
Unfortunately, that levels the playing field to acquire Wood more than if it were just a contest betweens teams offering only the MLE or money instead of an opportunity to win but the Lakers still have one significant advantage. They are the NBA Champions and Christian would be joining the team with the best two players in the world and a better opportunity to win a ring. The only question is how much would the Lakers be willing to pay to sign him?
Besides first year salary, the Lakers need to offer Wood a three-year deal so they will have his Bird rights and be able to go over the cap to keep him once the contract expires, which means compromising their 2021 plans. Since the Lakers will still want to have the option to pursue a third superstar after next season, they need to make sure Wood and his contract are easily tradable if necessary to create cap space to sign that superstar in 2021.
The maximum contract the Lakers should offer Christian Wood is a three-year $45 million deal starting at $15 million per year. Combined with a chance to win a championship, that should be an offer he just can’t refuse. Other teams could offer a few million more but the chance to join the champs and play with LeBron and AD in L.A. should be irresistible for a 25-year old who played for 4 teams in 5 years with a top salary of $1.6 million.
Assuming the Lakers can come to an agreement with Christian Wood on a contract, all that remains is working out an acceptable sign-and-trade deal the Detroit Pistons will accept as equitable compensation for trading him. The obvious centerpiece to the sign-and-trade deal is Lakers forward and Flint, Michigan native Kyle Kuzma, about whom the Lakers and Pistons had already had trade discussions before the trade deadline last winter.
The Pistons are in a difficult position. They would love to re-sign Wood and have the cap space to do it but he has announced that he’s going to leave via Instagram and they don’t want to lose him in free agency for nothing. While they Pistons have over $30 million in cap space, Detroit is not a top destination for free agents, which makes using their cap space to take on salary in a sign-and-trade a resourceful strategy to acquire quality players.
With Wood having agreed to a contract with the Lakers eliminating other potential trade partners, the Pistons would still have leverage knowing the Lakers don’t have cap space and need Detroit to agree to a sign-and-trade. But an offer from the Lakers of Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green, JaVale McGee, Quinn Cook, and their 2020 first round pick should give the Pistons more than fair compensation for agreeing to sign-and-trade Christian Wood.
The drawback for the Lakers adding a player via a sign-and-trade deal is it would limit their total payroll costs for the 2021 season to a hard cap of $138.9 million, meaning the Lakers could not exceed that for any reason. Right now, the Lakers have committed $119.6 million to 11 players in 2021. Bradley and McGee are not expected to exercise their player options but Davis, Caldwell-Pope, and Rondo are expected to opt out looking for raises.
Assuming the Lakers re-sign AD to a 1+1 max contract for $32.7 million and give both KCP and Rondo raises to $12 and $6 million using their Bird and Early Bird rights, they would then have $130.3 million committed for 2021. That would leave they with just $8.6 million left to add 4 more players to their roster, making it impossible to use the full $9.6 million MLE and challenging to use the $3.6 million BAE or even sign their first round pick.
But a sign-and-trade of Kuzma, Green, McGee, and Cook’s $26.1 million for Wood’s $15 million would free up $11.1 million in cap space and give the Lakers $119.2 million in salaries for 2021, $19.7 million under the hard cap. That would enable the Lakers to pursue free agents like Dragic, Gallinari, Harkness, and Baynes with their MLE, re-sign Morris or Howard with their BAE, and add other minimum salary players like Cousins or Dudley.
A sign-and-trade between the Detroit Pistons and the Los Angeles Lakers of Christian Wood for Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green, JaVale McGee, Quinn Cook, and the 28th pick in the 2020 NBA draft should be a win-win for both teams. The Lakers get a player who could transform their team and clear cap space to give raises to AD, KCP, and Rondo and use their MLE and BAE to further upgrade their roster despite being limited by the $138.9 million hard cap.
Detroit avoids losing a player who could have left in free agency and, instead of nothing, receives four championship-tested players they could not have attracted in free agency plus a first round draft pick from a sign-and-trade. The Pistons get the home town star they wanted in Kuzma, two quality defenders who are great roster fits in Green and McGee, a deadeye shooter whose contract is only partially guaranteed in Cook, and a first round pick.
While deals proposed by bloggers never happen, the approach outlined is a perfect blueprint for how the Lakers can take advantage of a trade or sign-and-trade to acquire a high impact player while increasing their cap space. The Lakers will need to figure out how to navigate a hard cap to reward key contributors like KCP and Rondo, use their full non-taxpayer MLE or BAE to upgrade the roster, or go after an elite prospect via a sign-and-trade.
The uncertainty of the pandemic and the lack of teams with cap space have given the Lakers a unique opportunity to steal free agent center Christian Wood, who is the perfect player to complement and unleash Anthony Davis.
Pairing 6′ 10″ Christian Wood and his 7′ 3″ wingspan with 6′ 10″ Anthony Davis and his 7′ 6″ wingspan would give the Lakers unprecedented size and length and a monster front court that would be a nightmare matchup. Imagine opposing defenses trying to defend a pair of near 7-footers raining threes and throwing down dunks and opposing offenses trying to score with two athletic pterodactyls challenging shots and protecting the rim.
The Lakers’ novel ‘small ball’ lineups with 6′ 5″ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 6′ 6″ Danny Green, 6′ 8″ LeBron James, 6′ 8″ Markieff Morris, and 6′ 10″ Anthony Davis dominated defenses and suffocated offenses in the playoffs. While they played a ‘small ball’ style, these lineups used their size, length, and physicality to punish the small ball front courts of the Rockets, modern stretch front courts of the Nuggets, and traditional front courts of the Heat.
What better way to elevate the Lakers to the next level than doubling down on defense and the size and length advantage that won the championship by adding Christian Wood to make them even bigger, longer, and faster. Offensively, they would dominate the boards, second chance points, and points in the paint. Defensively, they would control the glass, protect the rim, and have the quickness and length to challenge shots on the perimeter.
The 25-year old Wood had a breakout season for Detroit after being claimed on waivers from the Pelicans the previous summer and finally receiving an opportunity to start at center when the Pistons traded Andre Drummond. Christian averaged 21.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.9 blocks in 33.0 minutes per game in the 16 Pistons’ games he started, while shooting 55.9% from the field, 40.6% from three, and 75.9% from the line.
While the sample size is small, Wood showed he could score at all three levels. He has a sweet stroke from deep, nice pull up jumper from midrange, and top tier athleticism to attack the paint and finish at the rim with dunks. He needs to put on muscle to hold his ground against bigger centers and is raw defensively but has pogostick hops, elite shot blocking instincts, and the lateral quickness and speed to defend smaller players on the perimeter.
While there are safer and surer options in free agency, none possess the raw upside as an impact star player or pure potential to improve the Lakers at both ends of the court than Christian Wood. He’s a can’t miss opportunity. Christian is a modern AD clone with similar talents and skill sets as Davis. He can score at the rim, from midrange, or from deep. He can protect the rim, defend the paint, and guard all five positions anywhere on the court.
The Lakers have an excellent chance of acquiring Christian Wood, who’s already announced on Instagram he’s planning on leaving the Pistons, asking his fans which teams he should consider signing with as a free agent. While the Pistons would love to re-sign Wood, who made $1.6 million last season, they only have his Early Bird rights, which means the most they can offer him is around $10 million per year, basically the same as the MLE.
In a normal offseason, Christian could expect offers between $10 to $15 million per year from multiple NBA teams but this is clearly not a normal offseason with financial uncertainty and only five teams having cap space. Most free agency pundits are projecting Wood’s ceiling this offseason to be the $9.3 million non-taxpayer MLE, which the Lakers fortunately possess while many competitors are limited to the $5.6 million taxpayer MLE.
Should one of the five teams with available cap space offer Christian his full $15 million market value, the Lakers should agree to match the offer and work with the Detroit Pistons to negotiate a sign-and-trade to acquire him. The Pistons would certainly prefer to receive Flint, Michigan native Kyle Kuzma and Danny Green’s expiring contact in a sign-and-trade for Christian Wood instead of having him leave as a free agent with nothing in return.
The Lakers top priority in free agency should be to sign Christian Wood with their MLE or via a sign-and-trade. He’s a future star player and the missing piece to transform the Lakers into a championship juggernaut.
While the Lakers are over the salary cap, they still may be able to re-sign valuable free agent role players with raises as well as signing a free agent third scorer, second playmaker, elite wing defender, or modern center.
The Lakers will have to take advantage of league exceptions which allow teams to go over the cap when signing free agents, synchronized execution of the transactions, and opportunistic use of their MLE in a buyers’ market. The Lakers won’t be able to bring back every role player who contributed to their championship but should be able to re-sign the three most important and irreplaceable role players while giving them well deserved raises.
Those three role players are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, and Markieff Morris, all of whom were invaluable contributors to the Lakers’ championship rotation and are essential to the team winning next season. KCP and Rondo are exercising their player options to become free agents while Morris will be a free agent when his 1-year minimum deal expires. The Lakers need to re-sign all three and give them well deserved raises.
Caldwell-Pope earned $8.1 million last season and could easily attract offers between $10 to $12 million as a free agent but the Lakers have his Bird rights and are allowed to go over the salary cap up to re-sign him. Kenny proved he was the team’s third best player and a key component of the offense and defense during the regular season and playoffs. The Lakers should reward him with a 2 or 3-year contract for $12 million per year.
Rondo earned $2.6 million last season and proved to be indispensable both as a floor general and playmaker in the playoffs, setting a record for the most assists from a player off the bench in the history of the NBA playoffs. Rajon should attract offers for taxpayers’ MLE, around $5 million next season. The Lakers have his Early Bird rights and should reward him with a 2-year contract for $6 million with the second year partially guaranteed.
Morris was a late addition replacing Avery Bradley before the season restart. As a power forward who could shoot from deep and defend, he was the catalyst that allowed Anthony Davis to play as center for the Lakers. Markieff earned $2.2 million last season but should receive offers of $3 to $4 million as a free agent. The Lakers should use their Bi-Annual Exception to re-sign him to a 2-year $3.6 per year million contract as he is a key player.
By using Bird rights to re-sign KCP, Early Bird rights to re-sign Rondo, and the Bi-Annual Exception to re-sign Morris, the Laker will have their full $9.3 million non-taxpayer Mid-Level Exception available to pursue free agents. With few teams having major cap space, the $9.3 million MLE and a chance to win a championship ring is likely to make the Lakers a major player for all but a half dozen elite free agents like Fred VanVleet or Davis Bertans.
The Lakers should have no problem filling roster needs with the MLE. How about Danilo Gallinari as their third scorer. Goran Dragic as their second playmaker, Mo Harkness as wing defender, or Aron Baynes as stretch big? There will only be five NBA teams with cap space to offer more to Gallinari, Dragic, Harkness, or Baynes than the Lakers and of those, only the Miami Heat had a winning record last season. The Lakers will get one of these.
Finally, the Lakers will end up with two or three roster spots to be filled by minimum salary veterans looking for an opportunity to win a championship ring or revitalize their career like Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo did. Heading the list of players in this category will be DeMarcus Cousins, who spent all of last year on the Lakers’ active roster or working out at their facilities after they waived him to sign Markieff Morris before the restart.
So while the Lakers don’t have cap space this offseason, they’re still going to be major players in the free agent market and should be able to re-sign their key free agent role players as well as signing at least one major free agent.
This is the first of a series of articles from each member of the Lakerholics editorial team recounting how this crazy and unprecedented year and NBA season personally impacted and affected them. Thanks to Blog Editor Sean Grice for suggesting and inspiring the series. We invite every Lakerholic to comment and let us know how this wacky year hit you and yours.
Lakers year in review: 2020 went wackadoo. That’s as succinct as you can get to describe the environment living as a Lakers fan, in this Universe.
My name is Sean Grice. I’m a man, I’m a son, I’m a brother, I’m an uncle, I’m a Type 1 Diabetic, I’m a Paramedic, I’m a lot of things.
I’m also human. I’ve seen the despair in the world. I’ve seen resilience. I’m about resilience. I’m living proof of resilience.
The first memory I have is trying to tie my shoelaces. I was 6. I failed. They were too loose and became untangled and hanging. I was upset, mad at myself. I couldn’t understand why at the time, I started remembering that when I was in HS.
I remember asking Jen DiVincenzo out on a date in grade 5. She said no. Rejection sucks. I learned to adapt. Hearing ‘No’ from women, job interviews, colleges, etc.
Every time I heard ‘No’ I knew all that meant was that I was just closer to a ‘Yes’. Took a while to understand what that really meant.
Hearing ‘No’ can be a trigger. Anytime, anywhere. Some people are capable of hearing the word and moving on, others hear that word and lose their minds. Can’t handle rejection, can’t handle they didn’t make the cut or couldn’t meet someone else’s subjective standards.
I love Basketball. Just as much as Jason Whitlock. For those who missed his thoughts on the Social Justice movement turning him away from the game, here they are:
I’ve never met Jason Whitlock. I’ve never felt the need or obligation to converse with him on social media.
I try to be fair. So I’ll just say this: I’m not a person of colour. I will never know what it’s like to be a person of colour. I try and do my best to listen and understand someone else’s plight through this matrix of life.
Conscience is a matter of choice. Choose to wake up, choose to make a stand, choose to be neutral.
I see ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the court. I stand for the message, I stand for the movement, I don’t stand for bad faith actors, or people with bad intentions on any side. Discussion about societal changes regarding the public’s interaction with police is long overdue. Let’s hope robust, equitable legislation gets passed and real change can manifest in ways we can’t see yet.
It’s fine being Uncomfortable with what’s going on. That’s what protest is, it’s supposed to be uncomfortable.
The issue I see, is that when an Idealogy doesn’t mesh with your social media experience/expectations, then it’s uncomfortable.
Basketball didn’t push Jason Whitlock away. He bailed on the game because he’s uncomfortable with something I don’t understand. Don’t want to understand. Can’t understand.
Let’s say it’s all some ruse, that the movement and messaging is just a giant distraction and ploy.
More people educated on issues, who vote en masse and decide to try and not be symbolic gestures themselves and decide for a better life.
What’s wrong with that?
‘Big Sexy’ as he calls himself, glamorizing obesity, doesn’t have children, he’s not married. He seems like a confused man, like a lot us, yet won’t admit it: that’s called hypocrisy.
Why do I bring this up? Because right now, I’m not married and I don’t have children. I wouldn’t presume to try and criticize a father or a mother for expressing pain and grief over losing a child because of a Covid-19, or Police brutality or complications.
If you’ve never experienced something before, it’s just irrational, judgmental and hypocritical to chime in with your thoughts.
The China crisis, losing Kobe, and Covid-19 shot all our 2020 plans to hell. Craziest calendar year for me as a Lakers fans. The confusion, the anger, the context over what happened in China. What about Kobe? We had all that plus agony and grief.
I periodically cried for a week after he died. He was an example. The way Kobe had the Mamba Mentality for his craft. I adopted it to mine. Obsession with being the best version of yourself.
Covid-19 grinding on our love, grinding on our resources, grinding away at our mental health.
Change is messy, my friends. It’s uncomfortable, it’s bothersome, it’s life-altering…
It’s also fucking necessary. I don’t swear a lot on the blog or in my personal life. That was necessary.
Change got people off the couch, off the stair master, off the phone and it makes people want to accomplish something, sometimes change happening is bigger than you thought and you realize the change isn’t about you anymore, bigger than you, bigger than me, bigger than Laker Tom, bigger than Jason Whitlock.
Since the NBA returned I’ve had nothing but joy running through my veins. Joy for the love of the game, joy for the Lakers champions (LAL 4-MIA 2) from our #17 championship. We’d tie them. We have 11 Titles over the last 40 years. Including 17 trips to the Finals. They would have 4 Titles in the the last 40 years. Including 7 trips to the Finals. In that span, the Lakers have lost almost as many championship finals (6) as the Celtics have appearances (7).
Don’t want to include our shared history with Minneapolis? Cool cool. Good to know
Then one good turn deserves another. We’re not gonna include the 13 Championships they won, when there’s only 8 teams and Tommy Heihnson and Bob Cousy were smoking cigarettes in the Locker Room.
Greenies were the big dogs for the first half of the this league’s existence. Now, in the last 40 years it’s the Lakers turn.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, a great American writer, left some relevant and words of wisdom: “ Families rise and fall in America.”
So do Corporations, Governments and Athletics.
“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
Change is messy. Communication doesn’t have roll around in the mud. Nor does understanding and empathy.
There are things more important than Basketball. A small part of life. The protests for a couple of days hit a mark. I hope it was a spark. Not just a dying ember of change.
Three hours of joy and escape. And yet I’m a little melancholy that we’re all displaced somewhat, both figuratively and metaphorically.
My fandom predates the World Wide Web, the Hubble Telescope, E-Commerce, smartphones and social media.
I’m a Forum Lakers fans. I was rocking Nick the Quick shorts in Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (B.K.T. as we called it) when everyone was wearing Jordan’s and Bulls gear.
I love the Lakers. I’m affirmed in my love for Basketball. This game gets in your blood and it invades your soul like a lightning storm. You can’t get rid of that. If you’ve decided to divorce yourself from Basketball, it’s because you didn’t really love the game, you loved the idea that you’re able to suspend your disbelief that the game of life is unfair and unequitable for everyone because Sports is the ultimate example of men and women from all walks of life coming together for a goal greater than themselves.
Keep visiting the site and if so inclined, post a comment or two, activation only starts with participation. If you’re not all the way in either, that’s cool. I’m not a casual person though. I didn’t spend a summer listening to Slayer cutting my arms with broken glass. I didn’t spend that one summer taking designer drugs for West Coast music festivals.
When I have passion for something it goes into auto overdrive.
Don’t let hate or misunderstanding take you off the golden path. Maybe the symbolic actions from corporate America and world of sports will fade away. People will walk away now. Bye. We’re stronger without you.
Here’s to a hell of a year. One of a kind from a Lakers fan. Till the Editorial of 2021, all the best gang.
All the love I have to give, Lakerholics
Sean Grice Blog Co-Editor+1 liked this
Now that the Lakers have won the NBA Championship, the question on every analysts’ mind is what do they need to do to repeat. Should they stick with what worked or go back to the drawing board and try to get better?
The answer to that question is bring back the core elements that won the championship but definitely try to get better because the Heat, Warriors, Clippers, Bucks, Celtics, 76ers, and every contender are going to upgrade. Standing pat is not an option, even in the middle of a pandemic. The Lakers must find a way to improve their roster if they want a chance to repeat and keep open the opportunity to threepeat. At stake is a potential dynasty.
The challenge Rob Pelinka and the Lakers’ front office face this offseason is the classic dilemma of a team that needs improvement in multiple areas but has to prioritize since it may only has the resources to fix one of them. The Lakers could benefit by adding a reliable third scorer, a capable second playmaker, a 3-and-D wing to guard bigger lead scorers, and a true modern center who can stretch the floor, protect the rim, and defend the perimeter.
The question is which of these areas of need can be solved by the resources the Lakers have and which will yield the greatest benefit in terms of helping the team repeat and empower a potential threepeat as NBA champions? There’s a good argument to be made that looking back at exactly how and why the Lakers were able to win the NBA championship this past season will provide invaluable wisdom and insight to best answer those questions.
HOW DID LAKERS SOLVE THEIR NEEDS IN PLAYOFFS?
So let’s first look at how the Lakers addressed the four needs listed above and see what the team did to solve them during the playoffs as that will give us a good idea where they should prioritize their resources this offseason. As they did all season, the Lakers solved the need for a reliable third scorer by committee. In some games, it was KCP to the rescue. In others, it was Rajon Rondo. Occasionally, Markieff Morris, Kyle Kuzma, or Danny Green.
The need for a second playmaker was filled by the terrific performance by Playoff Rondo, who set a record for the most assists from a player off the bench in the playoffs despite missing the first 5 games due to back spasms. The need for a 3-and-D wing to guard bigger lead scorers was filled by Anthony Davis and LeBron James taking turns as defensive stoppers, especially against Miami’s Jimmy Butler in Games 4 and 6 in the Finals.
Finally, the need for a true modern center to stretch the floor, protect the rim, and defend the perimeter was filled by AD playing the five despite his preference to play power forward, with Markieff Morris playing the four. KCP, Rondo, and Morris were in fact the triumvirate of role players that enabled the Lakers to address their glaring needs for a third scorer, second playmaker, elite wing defender, and true multi-purpose modern center.
While the Lakers can win with their third scorer being a committee, their second playmaker being Rondo, and their elite 3-and-D wing being LeBron and AD, pairing Anthony Davis with a stretch big makes them unbeatable.
WHY PRIORITIZE ADDING A MODERN CENTER?
Aside from allowing Davis to play his preferred power forward position, adding a second big man to stretch the floor, protect the rim, and defend the perimeter is the ultimate gambit to transform the Lakers into a dynasty. It would allow the Lakers to create a super-sized version of the Golden State Warriors’ infamous Death Lineup with five players who could stretch the defense and defend the perimeter and a suffocating duo of rim protectors.
We saw glimpses of how adding a stretch big who can also protect the rim and defend the perimeter transformed the Lakers offense and defense during the playoffs when Markieff Morris played alongside Anthony Davis. Offensively, the Lakers were able to spread the defense with five-out sets to open lanes for LeBron and teammates to attack the paint for layups and dunks and demoralizing drive-and-dish and drive-and-kick assists.
The bigger impact of playing two modern bigs like Davis and Morris was on the defensive end, where the Lakers were able to rotate and recover from helping more quickly to better challenge drivers and 3-point shooters. Having five players with the size, length, speed, quickness, and mobility to defend and help at all three levels transformed the Lakers’ defense into a relentless juggernaut that shut down the Miami Heat offense in Game 6.
The Lakers proved defense wins championships so the answer to the question of how best to use their resources to improve the team should be to double down on defense and add a true modern center to play with AD.
WHICH CENTERS SHOULD LAKERS PURSUE?
Unfortunately, there aren’t many players who qualify as modern centers who can shoot the three, protect the rim, and defend the perimeter who would be good fits with LeBron and AD whom the Lakers could acquire. The top two candidates would be Indiana Pacers’ center Myles Turner, who is reportedly on the trade block, and the Detroit Pistons’ center/forward Christian Wood, who is an unrestricted free agent with great potential.
Turner is a 24-year old, 6’11,” 260 lb center who averaged 12.1 points, 6.6 rebounds,1.2 assists, and 2.1 blocks in 29.5 minutes per game last season, shooting 45.7% from the field, 34.4% from deep, and 75.1% from the line. Word is the Pacers are ready to move Turner because he doesn’t fit well with Sabonis but it would take an offer of Kuzma, Horton-Tucker, and a first round pick and maybe even Caruso plus Green as filler to interest Indiana.
Wood is a 25-year old, 6’10.” 214 lb center who averaged 13.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, and 0.9 blocks in 21.4 minutes per game last season, shooting 56.7% from the field, 38.6% from deep, and 74.4% from the line. While Christion is unproven, Pelinka would have to be aggressive and woo him with an offer close to the $18 million per year Turner makes to outbid other teams and the Pistons and convince them to sign-and-trade him.
While Turner or Wood would be expensive, their addition would also transform the Lakers at both ends of the court and give LeBron and AD the perfect front court teammate to unleash their championship potential.
WHAT IF LAKERS CAN’T LAND TURNER OR WOOD?
It’s always wise to have backup plans and the Lakers should clearly prioritize bringing back Markieff Morris, who’s proven he’s a great fit alongside Anthony Davis, regardless of whether they land Turner or Wood. Markieff may even be a higher priority and more valuable to bring back than Rajon Rondo or Dwight Howard considering how he opens the floor offensively for LeBron James and defensively for Anthony Davis.
The other backup plan for a modern center is for the Lakers to re-sign DeMarcus Cousins. While Boogie can’t defend out to the 3-point line like Turner or Wood are capable of doing, he does meet all the other criteria. He’s a proven high volume 3-point shooter with the size and length to protect the rim and an elite playmaker for his position. He’s also very affordable and Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo love playing with him.
Other modern center candidates whom the Lakers might consider include free agents Meyers Leonard, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol, all of whom lack the mobility to defend in space but can stretch the floor and protect the rim. One potential trade target the Lakers might have interest in would be Cleveland’s Kevin Love, who played with LeBron James and whom the rebuilding Cavaliers would probably be willing to move in a salary dump.
Finally, what the Lakers ultimately decide to do will depend on whether they’re willing to compromise their plan to chase Giannis and give anybody contracts for more than a year. That decision will determine their options.
Like the photo above, every championship is a snapshot of a moment to be savored and cherished when everything went right and a team won the ultimate prize but not a promise that can be repeated or three-peated.
Life goes on and winning has its costs and rewards. For superstars like LeBron James and Anthony Davis, championship windows open. For other Lakers, major career decisions loom and financial opportunities beckon. Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Avery Bradley, and JaVale McGee have big player option decisions to consider while Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris have serious free agent financial opportunities to ponder.
Rob Pelinka will face a big challenge trying to keep players like Rondo, KCP, Howard, and Morris who will have strong value based on how well they played in the playoffs and will have to use the team’s MLE to keep them. That means the only way the Lakers can upgrade their roster will be via a trade, with Kyle Kuzma as the primary trading chip, Danny Green and JaVale McGee as filler, and their first round pick as the deal sweetener.
So here’s my final grade for each player on the Lakers’ roster and my prediction whether they will leave or stay with the team going forward:
1. LeBron James – Grade: (A+), Prediction: Stays
What more can you say. Unanimous Finals MVP, still the best player on the planet, and showing zero signs of slowing down. The engine powering the Lakers all season long and the heart and soul of their championship effort.
2. Anthony Davis – Grade: (A), Prediction: Stays
The perfect complement to LeBron James and still not close to his prime. AD’s the second best player on the planet and future face of the franchise. He’ll exercise his player option and re-sign 1+1 max contract with Lakers.
3. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Grade: (A-), Prediction: Stays
KCP gets my vote as the third best player on the Lakers both for his outstanding regular season and clutch performance in the playoffs. He’ll exercise his player option and re-sign with Lakers for $12 million.
4. Rajon Rondo – Grade: (A-), Prediction: Stays
Rajon Rondo elevated his game and proved the Playoff Rondo moniker was real and he was still capable of being an elite player. He’ll exercise his player option but re-sign to play with LeBron and AD with a raise to $6 million.
5. Alex Caruso – Grade: (B+), Prediction: Stays
AC Fresh showed he deserved to play big minutes on the biggest stage and will continue to be a key component in the Lakers’ rotation. He should be untouchable when it comes to being traded and a key perimeter defender.
6. Markieff Morris – Grade: (B+), Prediction: Stays
Markieff Morris was the key to unleashing Anthony Davis at the five and will one of the Lakers’ top priorities in free agency this offseason for that reason. Markieff will re-sign with the Lakers and get a raise to $6 million.
7. Dwight Howard – Grade: (B), Prediction: Stays
Dwight Howard’s gamble on taking a non-guaranteed contract with the Lakers will payoff big and he will be a coveted free agent this offseason. He will ultimately re-sign at a discount with the Lakers for $4 million.
8. Kyle Kuzma – Grade: (B-), Prediction: Leaves
While Kuz made great progress this season as a defender, playmaker, and team player, he still plays the same starting position as LeBron and AD. Kyle deserves a starting role and salary. Lakers will trade him this offseason.
9. Danny Green – Grade: (B-), Prediction: Leaves
Danny Green played better than his personal stats indicated, posting top three net and plus/minus ratings showing his value goes beyond stats. Unfortunately, his $15 million expiring salary will be needed in a trade.
10. JaVale McGee – Grade: (C+), Prediction: Leaves
While JaVale played well early in the season, his play the second half of the season and playoffs declined considerably. He will decline his player option for the money but will be included in a trade with Kuzma and Green.
11. Avery Bradley – Grade: (C+), Prediction: Stays
Avery was an integral part of the Lakers’ regular season success but his decision to skip the playoffs for family reasons diminishes his final grade. He will decline his player option and stay part of the Lakers’ rotation.
12. Talen Horton-Tucker – Grade: (C+), Prediction: Stays
THT showed he has a future with the Lakers by his excellent playoff play. Depending on what happens with the roster, he could work his way into the rotation for next season. Or he could end up being trade sweetener.
12. Jared Dudley – Grade: (C), Prediction: Leaves
Jared Dudley filled his role as a veteran mentor and role model with the Lakers to perfection and was rewarded with a championship ring. Dudley will likely retire after this season and join some team’s coaching staff.
13. Quinn Cook – Grade: (C), Prediction: Leaves
Quinn Cook had moments during the regular season as a championship experienced mentor and the Lakers designated break-glass-in-case-of-emergency shooter. His contract is may be guaranteed if needed for a trade.
14. Dion Waiters – Grade: (C-), Prediction: Leaves
Dion Waiters had some promising moments during the seeding games but his performance ultimately couldn’t earn Vogel’s trust as a defender. Dion earned his championship ring but his time with the Lakers is done.
15. J.R. Smith – Grade: (C-), Prediction: Leaves
Despite being a last minute replacement for Avery Bradley, J.R. Smith got a few opportunities to shoot his way into the rotation during the playoffs but couldn’t take advantage of them. He gets a ring but will be moving on.
We may still be a month and a half away from NBA teams being able to sign free agents and make trades but you can bet Rob Pelinka and the Lakers’ front office are already discussing strategic moves to remain atop the NBA.
And they know for certain that the front offices of the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, Brooklyn Nets, and Golden State Warriors are already starting to put together plans to catch and surpass the Lakers next year. That means standing pat and rolling out the same roster that dominated and won the championship this year is not an option. If the Lakers want a chance to repeat and keep a threepeat alive, they need to get better.
That means Pelinka working with his front office and coaching staffs to identify the team’s needs and pulling off the right moves to fix the roster’s shortcomings and make next year’s Lakers an even better and deeper team. Heading the list of Lakers’ needs are a third scorer and elite 3-point shooter they can trust to complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis, which could be challenging considering the Lakers’ limited trade assets.
The first candidate we’re going to consider to fill that role is Sacramento Kings’ shooting guard Buddy Hield, who lost his starting job last season after having signed a 4-year $84 million extension that takes effect next season. The 27-year old, 6’4,” 220 lbs Hield is a 5-year NBA vet who averaged 19.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in 30.8 minutes per game last year, shooting 42.9% from the field, 39.4% from deep, and 84.6% from the line.
What are the Terms of the Proposed Trade?
The basic parameters of the trade would be 25-year old, 3-year veteran power forward Kyle Kuzma and 33-year old, 11-year veteran shooting guard Danny Green for 27-year old, 5-year veteran shooting guard Buddy Hield.
Should the Lakers be determined to land Hield and the Kings demanding a sweetener, the Lakers could include the 28th pick in the first round of the November 18 draft or talented young shooting guard Talen Horton-Tucker.
Why Would the Lakers Agree to the Trade?
Hield would give the Lakers the reliable third scorer and elite 3-point shooter they need to complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Buddy is a proven 20-points per game scorer and career 41.1% shooter from deep. While he’s not the defender Green is, he’s six years younger and exactly what the Lakers need offensively. He also has the size and athleticism to be a better defender when immersed in Frank Vogel’s defense-first culture.
While the Lakers love Kyle Kuzma’s growth as a defender, playmaker, and rebounder, the reality is he’s a starter quality player who plays the same positions as the team’s two superstars and their most valuable trading chip. The timing is also right now to move Kuzma, who will become a restricted free agent after next season and will certainly attract offers worthy of a starter, especially if he improves his average 3-point shooting prowess.
As for Danny Green, he’s still been one of the Lakers’ highest ranked players when it comes to net ratings and plus/minus despite struggling at times with his 3-point shooting and on-ball defense against small, quicker guards. While the Lakers will miss Green’s leadership and defense, Hield can slide right into Green’s starting slot and give the Lakers’ that elusive third scorer and elite 3-point shooter they need to complement LeBron and AD.
Why Would the Kings Agree to the Trade?
It’s obvious Buddy Hield has a problem with Sacramento head coach Luke Walton, who demoted him to the bench in favor of Bogdan Bogdanovic despite the Kings having just signed him to a 4-year, $84 million extension. Now that Walton’s been given a vote of confidence from new Kings general manager Monte McNair, it’s almost a certainty Hield will be moved, especially since he’s apparently refused to return coach Walton’s calls.
Luke Walton has always been a fan of Kuzma and the Kings and Lakers had discussions before the last trade deadline involving Kyle and Bogdan Bogdanovic, whom the Kings obviously view as Buddy Hield’s replacement. Green could slide right into Hield’s backup two guard role and give the Kings needed perimeter defense and veteran leadership. Replacing the disgruntled Hield with Green would help Walton build team chemistry.
Swapping Hield’s 4-year, $84 million deal with Green’s $15 million expiring contract makes good business sense for the small market Kings considering the uncertain economy the team is facing due to the coronavirus pandemic. The trade would also give new GM Monte McNair financial flexibility going forward. Beside addition by subtraction, it would give the Kings a chance to see what Kuzma and Green can bring without a long term commitment.
What Are the Chances the Trade Happens?
Predicting a trade in today’s NBA is like picking 100 to 1 long shots because there are so many moving pieces and other possible options for teams and many trades simply happen because of the relationships between GMs. While Buddy Hield is going to be traded, the big questions are always what do the Kings think about Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma and what are other teams willing to offer. Hield is a talented young player who will be coveted.
There’s been no shortage of NBA teams rumored to have interest in trading for Buddy Hield. At the top of the list are the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas Mavericks, as well as the Los Angeles Lakers. We’ll have to wait until the NBA and NBPA agree when teams can sign free agents and trade players to find out but we know the Kings like Kuzma, Green’s a great short term fit, and the trade frees up options for McNair.
There are bigger targets the Lakers could pursue and there’s always the issue of not wanting to commit to more than 1-year deals to save cap space to chase Giannis but there’s also the pressure with LeBron to win now. Frankly, the Lakers might be wise to jump at the opportunity to trade Kuzma and Green for a proven young talent like Hield rather than waiting and gambling again like they did with Kawhi. Hield would be a perfect fit.
While Lakers fans should celebrate the joy of seeing their team crowned as NBA champions, they should be just as excited about the expansion of their team’s championship window and the opportunity for another dynasty.
No disrespect to Giannis and the Bucks; Kawhi, PG, and the Clippers; Steph, Klay, and the Warriors; or KD, Kyrie, and the Nets, but LeBron, AD, and the Lakers are the ones poised to dominate over the next five years of the NBA. Underestimated and underappreciated, the Lakers not only survived the loss of fans and home court advantage and rigors of the bubble but thrived on the pressure and clearly proved they were the best team in the league.
The Lakers’ dominating championship run proved this team possesses the five keys that transformed previous Los Angeles title teams into dynasties: best point guard, center, coach, general manager, and owner in the league. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Frank Vogel, Rob Pelinka, and Jeanie Buss are modern reincarnations of storied Lakers’ Hall of Famers Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Phil Jackson, Jerry West, and Dr. Jerry Buss.
While that might seem preposterous at first glance, the playoffs definitely showed the Lakers not only have the two best superstars and deepest roster in the league but are in a position to make moves to be even better. Quibble all you want, the Lakers dominated every round of the playoffs, beating the Portland Blazers, Houston Rockets, and Denver Nuggets four games to one and the Eastern Conference champs Heat four games to two.
For those who opine the Lakers had an easier path to the Finals because the Clippers and Bucks couldn’t handle the loss of home court advantage and stress of the bubble, remember the Lakers won despite those challenges. But let’s look closer at why LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Frank Vogel, Rob Pelinka, and Jeanie Buss were the keys to the 2020 NBA Championship and why they have the Lakers once again on the verge of another dynasty:
1. LeBron James is still the best player and not slowing down.
After winning his fourth NBA championship and unanimous Finals MVP, there’s no longer any question 35-year old LeBron James is still the best player in the league and is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The level at which LeBron’s been playing leads many analysts to project he could easily continue to play until he is 40-years old, which means the Lakers’ championship window is much wider than originally thought.
LeBron’s on a mission to become the GOAT and now only needs to win two more NBA championships to tie Michael Jordan. As long as he stays healthy, the Lakers will be the unanimous favorites to win more championships.
2. Anthony Davis is now the best center and still not in his prime.
27-year old Anthony Davis’ elite performances during the playoffs have already elevated him to be the second best player in the league and obvious heir apparent as the best player on the planet once LeBron James retires. What’s even scarier for Lakers’ opponents is Davis is not even close to reaching his prime, is an unstoppable offensive player and the league’s best defensive player, and has no equal as the prototype modern NBA center.
Anthony Davis not only gives the Lakers the power of having league’s top two superstars and a bridge to greatness after LeBron retires but also the possibility of becoming an even better team as he reaches his prime.
3. Frank Vogel outcoached everybody with a flawed roster.
Frank Vogel may not have been the Lakers’ first choice as head coach but he’s transformed a flawed roster that lacked a reliable third scorer, second playmaker, and elite 3-point shooting into a dominant championship team. He accomplished that by leveraging the defensive talent of Anthony Davis and LeBron James and getting everybody on the team to totally buy in to a defense first mentality that powered the Lakers’ championship success.
Vogel’s mix of strong interpersonal skills and savvy technical expertise enabled him to gain the trust and confidence of LeBron and AD and give the Lakers a championship caliber foundation, culture, and chemistry.
4. Rob Pelinka built the best roster with options to get better.
Just as Frank Vogel was disrespected in the voting for COY, Rob Pelinka was ignored in the voting for EOY. But the Lakers’ championship has pundits rethinking the importance of Rob Pelinka’s role in the Lakers’ dominance. Pelinka was the not only the architect behind trading for AD but also the savvy builder of a veteran championship roster of unlikely contributors like Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, and Markieff Morris on a limited budget.
As reigning NBA champions, Pelinka has the Lakers perfectly positioned not only to make major upgrades to the current roster but also to have cap space after the next season to sign a third superstar to join LeBron and AD.
5. Jeanie Buss showed everybody she knows how to win.
Success or failure in any business or organization starts and ends with the boss and Jeanie Buss has shown with her decision to give the reigns of the Lakers’ franchise to Rob Pelinka she was the right choice to run the Lakers. The collaborative imprint she’s made on entire Lakers’ organization has turned what had been called dysfunction and disarray into competence and confidence and restored the franchise to its rightful place atop the NBA.
Jeanie has a long way to go to match her dad’s legacy as an owner but she shares his total commitment to winning that created the Magic and Kareem and Kobe and Shaq dynasties and could lead to a LeBron and AD dynasty.
In a league where traditional centers have been devalued and the Lakers’ tag team of JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard has been the exception, the time may have finally come for Frank Vogel to embrace the modern center.
In today’s NBA, traditional centers whose only job is to protect the rim and dunk the ball have become dinosaurs who can be played off the court by modern centers who’re more mobile and athletic and can shoot the three. Frank Vogel’s been on a mission to prove the Lakers can still win with a traditional center anchoring his defense and protecting the rim and he’s been able to pull it off for the most part up until he got to the playoffs.
Vogel’s conviction defense starts with protecting the rim and Anthony Davis’ preference to play the four to avoid the physical banging of playing the five have definitely been major factors in the Lakers playing traditional centers. But these playoffs have taught the Lakers playing a quicker and faster power forward who can defend and shoot the three like Markieff Morris alongside Davis at center can work and make them better offensively and defensively.
The playoffs have exposed traditional centers as liabilities on both ends of the court. Offensively, their presence in the paint and lack of gravity on the perimeter make it easy for defenses to pack the paint and protect the rim. Defensively, their inability to guard the perimeter makes them vulnerable against teams with centers who can stretch the floor and their lack of speed and mobility makes them easy prey for smaller players hunting switches.
While the Lakers played JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard at center 74% of the time during the regular season, those numbers dropped dramatically to 52% for the first three rounds of the playoffs and to only 29% for the Finals. Since McGee did not play and Howard posted a team worst defensive rating of 135.7 in last night’s game, it’s highly likely the Lakers will opt not to play either of their traditional centers in tomorrow night’s Finals Game 6.
In many ways, the evolution of the center position for Frank Vogel and the Lakers this season has been a microcosm of the center revolution that has taken over the modern NBA in the wake of the ascension of the 3-point shot. The Lakers are fortunate that they have the perfect prototype of the modern NBA center in Anthony Davis. What they need to figure out going forward is who would be the ideal front court partner to optimize and protect Davis.
Re-signing Morris is going to be important and there are matchups like Jokic where a physical defender like Dwight Howard could be critical, although he may be offered more as a free agent than the Lakers could be willing to pay. The Lakers may prefer to re-sign DeMarcus Cousins, who would give the Lakers a true stretch five and whom Anthony Davis loved playing with when both were on the Pelicans, than bringing back Dwight Howard.
The Lakers might also prioritize pursuing a young power forward/center like Christian Wood or Myles Turner, who would better complement Anthony Davis and catapult the Lakers’ offense and defense into the modern NBA. Wood or Turner would not only give the Lakers a starting lineup with five players who can shoot the three ball and defend the perimeter but also the two bigs Vogel’s alway preferred to anchor the defense and protect the rim.
Despite the need for a playmaker, the Lakers’ priority this offseason should be to replace their traditional centers with modern centers who would complement Anthony Davis and revolutionize their offense and defense.
The long and winding road leading to the NBA championship has never been longer or more winding than it was this in this crazy unprecedented year, which will make it that much sweeter when the Lakers win it all.
Never has winning the championship been more of a challenge than this year with the China controversy, the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, the season suspension for coronavirus, and seeding games and playoffs in the bubble. Never has the league been forced to play games in empty arenas without fans, run a special play-in tournament for the 8th playoff slot, or schedule a full slate of playoff games at a neutral site with no home court advantage.
This will be a championship that will catapult LeBron James back into the GOAT conversation, Anthony Davis into the lead as the Best Player on the Planet, and the Lakers past the Celtics as the greatest franchise in the NBA. It’ll also be the championship that celebrates the greatness of Kobe Bryant, launches the beginning of the LeBron James and Anthony Davis era, and sets the stage for the Los Angeles Lakers to build their next dynasty.
It will be the title that confirms LeBron James was the ‘real’ Most Valuable Player, Anthony Davis the ‘real’ Defensive Player of the Year, Frank Vogel the ‘real’ Coach of the Year, and Rob Pelinka the ‘real’ Executive of the Year. It will be redemption for Jeanie Buss as the Lakers’ owner and for Rajon Rondo, Kyle Kuzma, Dwight Howard, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Markieff Morris, Danny Green, and Avery Bradley as players.
It will be the championship we will never ever forget, that restores the Lakers back to the pinnacle of the NBA and positions them once again to be the premier franchise for whom every player in the league wants to play. It’ll open doors for the Lakers to become an even better team next year and the opportunity to build a sustainable championship dynasty with the NBA’s leading players competing to be signed by or traded to Los Angeles.
Winning this championship will be the greatest achievement in LeBron James’ career and the most important championship in the Lakers’ storied history. It’s the championship that will change everything for the Lakers.
The Lakers’ march to the NBA championship has seen an evolution in Frank Vogel’s coaching philosophy as he’s embraced small ball lineups not only to create better spacing on offense but also speed and quickness on defense.
For a veteran coach who started and played two bigs the entire regular season, the transformation has been remarkable and one of the big reasons why the Lakers are on the verge of winning their 17th NBA championship. The metamorphosis has turned the Lakers into a juggernaut that’s rolled through the playoffs without losing more than a single game in any series and dramatically changed the team’s offseason roster building priorities.
Vogel’s embrace of small ball in these playoffs has shown the Lakers why a traditional defensive oriented shot-blocking center is not the only way to protect the rim and keep superstar Anthony Davis from getting beaten up. The speed, quickness, mobility, and athleticism of small ball lineups allows the Lakers to fight through pick-and-rolls, rotate faster after double teams, and more aggressively challenge shots on the perimeter and at the rim.
The time the Lakers played small ball can easily be measured by the time traditional centers McGee or Howard were not on the floor. During the regular season, the Lakers played small ball for just 12.5 minutes per game. That number has jumped dramatically in the playoffs where the Lakers played small ball for 21.7 minutes per game. In the Finals, the Lakers have almost abandoned going big, played small ball for 34.4 minutes per game.
To put those numbers in perspective, the more important the games have became, the more small ball the Lakers have played, averaging 26% of the time in the regular season, 45% in the playoffs, and finally 72% in the Finals. While matchups and McGee’s poor play certainly influenced Vogel’s decision on how much small ball to play, there’s also no question the elite play of the Lakers’ small ball lineups has forced coach Vogel to rethink the issue.
Ironically, the 34.4 minutes per game and 72% of the time the Lakers have played small ball in the NBA Finals is even greater than the 32.7 minutes and 68% of the time they played small against the diminutive Houston Rockets. Playing small ball 72% of the time against a Heat team with an All-Star and All-Defensive center Bam Adebayo, who was guarded by LeBron James and Markieff Morris as Anthony Davis defended Jimmy Butler, is remarkable.
The transformation from two traditional bigs to small ball lineups with Anthony Davis at the five is likely to continue this offseason. Re-signing Markieff Morris may be more important than re-signing Dwight Howard. McGee’s tenure with the Lakers may be over. We may see renewed interest by the Lakers in modern centers like DeMarcus Cousins, Serge Ibaka and Myles Turner and who can both stretch the floor and protect the rim
As the Lakers take the court in their Black Mamba jerseys this Friday night looking to close out the Miami Heat and the NBA Finals in five games, Frank Vogel may go all-in on small ball by starting Morris instead of Howard.
No disrespect to the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo or the Toronto Raptors’ Nick Nurse for great regular season performances but the ‘Real’ MVP, DPOY, and COY are always determined in the NBA playoffs.
While LeBron James or Anthony Davis will win Finals MVP, the dubious logic that enables biased media prematurely crown the best defensive player and best coach before the games that really matter happen should be changed. Were the votes for the NBA’s best defender and coach taken after their championship caliber performances in the playoffs, there’s no question Anthony Davis would have easily won as DPOY and Frank Vogel as COY.
There’s something inherently dishonest and unfair about awarding defensive player of the year and coach of the year awards that didn’t include the most important part of the year, which is the second season or playoffs. What’s even more frustrating is the voting for the awards is completely the prerogative of the media, many of whom are fundamentally biased, inherently unqualified, and often don’t even watch games.
Most objective experts who closely watched and followed the regular NBA season didn’t need to watch the Lakers’ dominant playoff performances to know LeBron James was the ‘real’ MVP and Anthony Davis the ‘real’ DPOY. They could have just listened to the players and coaches themselves, who clearly understood, while Giannis Antetokounmpo may have had a great season, LeBron James and Anthony Davis deserved to win the awards.
While the playoffs showed James and Davis deserved the MVP and DPOY awards, Vogel did need four playoff rounds of brilliant defensive coaching moves shutting down superstars to prove he deserved the COY award. There’s no question Nick Nurse is an elite NBA head coach but, like Mike Budenholzer last year, his winning ignored the savvy decision making and adjustments needed to win in the intense pressure of the playoffs.
The NBA playoffs are where regular season pretenders are separated from the legitimate contenders, where it became crystal clear LeBron James was the ‘real’ MVP, Anthony Davis the ‘real’ DPOY, and Frank Vogel the ‘real’ COY. The league either needs to postpone voting on DPOY and COY until after the playoffs or create a seperate awards for best defender and coach in the playoffs. They also need to include players and coaches in the voting.
While the bubble exposed Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard as MVP and DPOY candidates and Mike Budenholzer and Nick Nurse as COY candidates, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Frank Vogel shone bright. When the chips were down and legacies on the line, it was LeBron rallying the Lakers, Anthony Davis shutting down Miami’s Jimmy Butler, and the Lakers’ Frank Vogel out coaching the Heat’s strategic genius Erik Spoelstra.
The sad and unfortunate reality in today’s NBA is LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Frank Vogel have a major disadvantage in the NBA awards competition because they’re on the same team and that team is the Lakers. The NBA’s not going to change the requirements for MVP, DPOY, or COY, allow players and coaches to vote, or reward the best defender or coach in the playoffs but that’s not going to stop me from expressing my opinion.
The Lakerholics.Com Most Valuable Player is LeBron James, Defensive Player of the Year is Anthony Davis, and Coach of the Year is Frank Vogel. The trophy for their accomplishments will be the 2020 NBA Championship.
With a cocky Jimmy Butler telling LeBron James and the Lakers “You’re in trouble” and a taunting Tyler Herro sneering after a late three to clinch the win, the Miami Heat have suddenly brought the 2020 Finals back to life.
While you couldn’t blame the Heat for a little strutting and swaggering after losing the first two games in the Finals to the favored Lakers and then being written off by everybody, it might have been smarter not to poke the bear. You could see the storyline already developing as an angry LeBron James and Lakers team walked off the court with 10 seconds still left on the clock, setting the stage to approach Tuesday night’s Game 5 as a revenge game.
Forget LeBron allegedly telling Jimmy the Heat were in trouble earlier in the game or the Lakers completely disrespecting Miami by coming out flat, James has a long history of grasping anything possible for extra motivation. LeBron, AD, and the Lakers’ starters have no one to blame for losing Game 3 than themselves. They were passive, complacent, and ineffective. The only thing that kept them in the game was the outstanding play of their bench.
In addition to being outplayed, the Lakers were also outcoached. After a failed attempt to contain James and Davis by playing zone in Game 2, Erik Spoelstra went back to man defense in Game 3 but with key adjustments. Defensively, the goal was the same as playing zone in Game 2: prevent LeBron James from hunting and forcing switches on Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro by doubling, hedging, stunting, and fighting through screens.
Offensively, the Heat wanted to turn the tables on the Lakers and unleash Butler to relentlessly hunt and force switches to take advantage of Green, Kuzma, and Caldwell-Pope just as James had done to Robinson and Herro. While Frank Vogel has always been a strong opponent of switching, it was LeBron James’ unwillingness to fight through screens and willingness to allow switches that ended up making Spoelstra’s adjustments successful.
Overall, Jimmy Butler enjoyed a career best playoff game, posting a triple double with 40 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists in 45 minutes without taking a single 3-point shot, which reveals how teams need to defend him. The Lakers need to go under those screens and force Jimmy, who is average at best from deep on less than two attempts per game, to make his threes rather than letting him to go 14–20 from the field and 10–12 from the line.
On offense, the Lakers simply need LeBron James and Anthony Davis to play like superstars. James cannot turn the ball over 8 times and Davis cannot get into foul trouble and put up just 15 points and 5 rebounds with zero blocks. The Lakers’ other starters also need to show up. 5, 4, and 2 points and -26, -15, and -15 +/- from Caldwell-Pope, Green, and Howard in a Finals close out game won’t cut it. Frank Vogel clearly needs to make some adjustments.
While it may sound to some like a broken record, the time may be here for Vogel to sit Dwight Howard, move Anthony Davis to the five, and start Markieff Morris at the four to turbo charge the Lakers’ offense and defense. Whether Adebayo plays or not, that’s an offensive lineup with the 3-point shooting to offset the Heat doubling LeBron and AD and a defensive lineup to match up and defend the five-out sets that have been killing the Lakers.
In the end, the Lakers just need to come ready to play. Down 1–2, this is essentially another elimination game for the Miami Heat. Lose and they’re in a 1–3 hole from which only one team in NBA history has ever come back. While great coaching trumped talent in Game 3, LeBron, AD, and the Lakers will be looking to avenge their loss and will come out gunning for revenge. Game 4 should be a wire-to-wire blowout with the Lakers dominating.
Despite Jimmy’s heroics and Strolestra’s genius, it’s still Lakers in Five!
With the juggernaut Los Angeles Lakers thrashing the undermanned Miami Heat, the disrespectful chatter by the critics and doubters about the 2020 Bubble Championship being the Asterisk championship has already begun.
There’s no question the 2020 NBA Finals is a gross mismatch as the favored Lakers dominated the underdog Heat in Game 1. To add insult to injury or, more precisely, injury to insult, the Heat also lost their best two players. Losing starting center Bam Adebayo and starting point guard Goran Dragic was enough to bust any balloon of hope Miami fans had their team would be able to bounce back, which Game 2 unfortunately quickly confirmed.
While Adebayo may play in Game 3, Dragic is likely out for the entire series and the Heat face what is for all intents and proposes a Finals elimination game for them since no NBA team has ever come back from an 0–2 deficit. That makes Game 3 a close-out game for LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers, who are not going to take their foot off the throttle or the Heat’s throats knowing they are two games away from winning the championship.
Can the Heat come back and somehow win Game 3 and keep their dim hopes of stopping the Lakers from being extinguished? It’s the NBA where anything is possible but the odds are certainly daunting to say the least. Before Game 1, the Lakers were 5 to 1 favorites to beat the Heat and win the Finals. After winning the first two games and Heat losing players, the Lakers have now become prohibitive 200 to 1 favorites to win the Finals.
To put this in perspective, before tip off for Game 1, Miami at 5 to 1 was already facing the longest odds ever in an NBA Finals series, longer than the Mavs who were 2.8 to 1 underdogs when they upset the Heat back in 2011. Short of LeBron James and Anthony Davis getting injured, there’s frankly no way the Miami Heat are going to beat the Los Angeles Lakers and win the 2020 NBA Finals. It would take a miracle to win even one game.
That’s why Lakers critics and doubters are already declaring the Bubble Finals as the Asterisk Finals, claiming the championship if the Lakers win is not the same as other championships and should have an asterisk next to it. Their argument is the unprecedented conditions of playing in the bubble without fans and home court advantages skewed the results in favor of the lower seeds to give the Lakers an easier path to the championship.
While there’s no question the coronavirus bubble dramatically changed the competitive landscape of the playoffs and took away advantages from the higher seeds, that just makes the Lakers winning even more impressive. Rather than taint the Lakers’ accomplishment with an asterisk, the NBA record books should reward it with a gold or maybe purple and gold star because the Lakers were able to overcome what other top seeds couldn’t.
As the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, and Toronto Raptors soon discovered, winning in the bubble is no cakewalk and the Lakers should be congratulated and praised, not dissed and doubted, for what they’ve done. The Lakers beat the supposedly best 8th seed ever in the play-in champ Blazers, toughest matchup ever in the small ball Rockets, and greatest comeback team ever in the spunky Nuggets just to make it to the Finals.
So excuse me if I’m a little testy at the critics who want to put an asterisk instead of a star next to the 2020 NBA championship the Lakers are going to take home next week. Call it bubble fatigue or Lakers bias or sour grapes. The reality is the Lakers are going to win their 17th NBA championship, more than any other franchise but the Boston Celtics and now own one fourth of all of the NBA championship trophies that have been awarded.
And we have the best two players on the planet are just getting started!
A funny thing happened on the way to the Lakers playing big against a Heat team that lacked the size and physicality to match up with the Lakers front court. Frank Vogel decided it was time for the Lakers to embrace small ball.
Showing once again that he wasn’t afraid to make big changes midstream, With the Lakers trailing 23-10 just five minutes into Game 1, Vogel replaced Dwight Howard with Kyle Kuzma to go small with Anthony Davis at center. For a head coach who had consistently favored playing two bigs for the regular season and every series other than against the small ball Rockets, this was a bold move that changed the direction of the game and series.
While most teams opt to play small to turbo charge their offense or force the opposing team to adjust their defense, Vogel went small for the same reason he makes all of his strategic decisions or personnel moves: defense. What Vogel and the Lakers discovered when forced to go small against the Rockets in the second round was their small lineup with Anthony Davis at the five was actually a quicker, faster, and more athletic defensive team.
That small ball defensive adjustment was exactly what the Lakers needed as they went on an 83–44 run from the 7:05 mark in the first quarter through the end of the third quarter, going from 13 points down to up 26 points. Howard played just 15 minutes, McGee got a DNP, and the Lakers played two thirds of the game with Anthony Davis or Markieff Morris at the five as their defense dominated and shut down the high powered Heat offense.
While Vogel was reluctant to make lineup changes during the regular season except to replace injured players, he’s demonstrated he understands the greater urgency and need to make quicker adjustments in the playoffs. He replaced McGee with Morris to go small against the Rockets, Howard for McGee to matchup against Jokic against the Nuggets, and now Kuzma and Morris for Howard with Davis moving to the five against the Heat.
Vogel’s putting together an impressive resume as a savvy playoff coach whose arsenal of defensive tactics have essentially shut down Damian Lillard, James Harden, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and the entire Heat roster. He’s stayed true to his core belief defense starts with protecting the rim but understands speed, quickness, and athleticism from going small can also win matchups defensively, especially when you have Anthony Davis.
It’s a shame the NBA only considers the regular season when awarding honors for best job as head coach because Frank Vogel deserved more recognition. Hands down, he should have been the Coach of the Year.
There’s more at stake in these NBA Finals than just surviving the bubble, defeating the Miami Heat, and winning the league championship. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are also chasing the Ghosts of Laker Legends.
They’re on a holy quest to honor Kobe Bryant by winning the Lakers’ 17th championship and have their retired jerseys hanging together in the rafters at Staples alongside legendary duos Magic and Kareem and Kobe and Shaq. Winning this championship is just another step in a grand master plan to catapult LeBron James past Michael Jordan as the GOAT and Anthony Davis past Giannis Antetokounmpo as the next Best Player on the Planet.
LeBron knew he needed more than just championships to become the greatest ever. He needed a bigger platform to provide him with the ultimate opportunity to become a hero, which is why he signed with the Lakers. Winning a first championship for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers was great but resurrecting the Los Angeles Lakers and leveraging their big market advantages to put a crown on his legacy as the king was the key.
The Miami Heat are just the unfortunate team in the way of LeBron’s grand plan, not unlike the New Orleans Pelicans who suffered the misfortune of having the young superstar James and his team at Klutch Sports coveted. And while coronavirus and the bubble threatened to derail the plan, LeBron and Anthony were able to prevail and dodge the bullets that took down the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers and make it to the Finals.
Now they find themselves just three wins away from winning the first of what could be multiple NBA championships together, an achievement that will open up opportunities to make the Lakers even better next season. While the offseason talk will be focused on the return of the Golden State Warriors and the ascent of the Brooklyn Nets, the threat contenders should be worrying about is the Los Angeles Lakers building another dynasty.
While the Lakers still need to take care of business and finish off the Miami Heat, LeBron James, Rich Paul, and Rob Pelinka are already strategizing on short and long term moves to transform the Lakers into an NBA dynasty. Short term goals could include luring a top free agent like Jerami Grant to force a sign-and-trade or a young superstar like Victor Oladipo, who’ll be a free agent next offseason, to force a trade to the Lakers ala Anthony Davis.
Long term goals could include LeBron re-signing at a discounted salary to create the cap space for the Lakers to sign a third superstar like Giannis Antetokounmpo to help win now and take over after LeBron finally retires. Another enticing and realistic option down the road could be the Lakers signing Atlanta Hawks’ dynamic young point guard Trae Young, who just signed a contract for Rich Paul of Klutch Sports to become his agent.
There’s no doubt LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers, and Klutch Sports are working in concert help James in his crusade to pass Michael Jordan as the GOAT and Davis in his mission to win the Best Player in the World title. This championship will be a key step towards executing the grand master plan that started with LeBron James signing with LA two years ago. Lakers fans should get ready to enjoy a fun dizzying ride over the next few years.
The sky is the limit right now for the resurgent Los Angeles Lakers as superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis are following a grand master plan for NBA domination and chasing the Ghosts of Lakers Legends.
Whether regular season or the playoffs, the NBA is all about the matchups. Because offense and defense in a playoff series is often more of a team than individual effort, lineup and rotations matchups can determine the winner.
How the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat answer the following three critical questions about the specific lineups and rotations they plan to use in the next four to seven games could determine who wins the NBA Finals:
1. What Do the Heat Do When the Lakers Go Big?
The first key matchup question the Heat are going to have to answer if they hope to upset the Lakers and win the NBA Finals is what do they do when the Lakers go big with Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, and LeBron James? Miami’s starting front court of Bam Adebayo, Jae Crowder, and Duncan Robinson doesn’t match up well against the Lakers’ super-sized front court, which means the Heat may be forced to change their starting lineup.
The Lakers’ Howard, Davis, and James front court is a nightmare matchup for the Heat because they ideally need Bam Adebayo to defend Anthony Davis but Duncan Robinson or Jae Crowder cannot guard Dwight Howard. To make matters worse, even if Adebayo defends Howard, there’s no way Crowder and Robinson will be able to guard Davis and James, which means Miami is likely going to be forced to change their starting backcourt.
This is the matchup that is likely to doom the Heat because it’s going to force them to replace Duncan Robinson, a player whose elite 3-point shooting their offense depends upon, with either Kelly Olynyk or Andre Iguodala. Miami has two options: bring in Olynyk to defend Howard, allowing Adebayo to guard Davis and Crowder to guard James, or bring in Iguodala to defend James, leaving Adebayo on Howard and Crowder on Davis.
Either option is fraught with peril. Adebayo, Crowder, and Iguodala may have a better chance of limiting Howard, Davis, and James than Olynyk, Adebayo, and Crowder even though Bam wouldn’t be guarding Anthony. The Lakers’ advantage in sheer size, talent, and experience in the front court is what makes them the prohibitive favorites in this series. The Heat’s only options may be get Howard in early foul trouble or to go small.
2. What Do the Lakers Do When the Heat Go Small?
The Heat’s best strategy against the Lakers’ big lineup could be to go small and try to force the Lakers to match up by replacing Dwight Howard with Markieff Morris at power forward and moving Anthony Davis to the five. There’s no question that a front court of Adebayo, Crowder, and Robinson or maybe Iguodala versus Davis, Morris, and James would be a much better matchup for the Heat than having to go against Howard, Davis, and James.
The good news for the Heat is that the Lakers normally play their version of small ball with Anthony Davis playing the five around half the time. The bad news is Frank Vogel could surprise everybody and play big all game long. While JaVale McGee has not played great recently, he did play well in the two wins the Lakers had over the Heat back at the end of 2019 and there’s an argument to be made playing two bigs against the Heat could be smart.
One of the Miami Heat’s weaknesses is their lack of a capable defensive center to backup Bam Adebayo and the Lakers going big for the entire game could scramble all of Erik Spoelstra’s planned defensive strategies and rotations. While Howard will likely start and play 30 minutes for the Lakers, there’s a good chance Vogel will give McGee a chance to redeem himself, keep Howard the out of foul trouble, and test whether he can be effective against the Heat.
While a Lakers’ front court of Davis, Morris, and James may be easier for the Heat to match up against, it also may be the Lakers best lineup at both ends of the court, providing better 3-point shooting and quicker rotations. Regardless of what Vogel decides, the Lakers will still have an advantage in the front court whether they stay big with Howard or McGee at the five or go small with Davis at the five against the Heat’s normal starting lineup.
3. What Do the Lakers Do When the Heat play Zone?
One way the Heat might be able to cover for their mismatch disadvantage in the front court against the Lakers is to deploy a 2–3 zone defense, which has been a key element of their defensive game plans throughout the playoffs. The zone could enable them to keep their starting front court of Adebayo, Crowder, and Robinson on the floor, especially when the Lakers went big with Howard or Mcgee at the five. They used the Zone against LA before.
Deploying the 2–3 zone against the Lakers could be a smart strategy for the Heat to test because capable and consistent 3-point shooting, which is one of Los Angeles’ weaknesses, is a critical criteria to beating zone defenses. Unfortunately, the other way smart teams beat zones is to get the ball to a superstar zone buster like LeBron James or Anthony Davis in the heart of the zone at the free throw line where they can either score or facilitate.
In fact, that’s exactly what the Lakers did to beat the Heat zone in the games the Lakers won in November and December 2019. Posting LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the middle led to a plethora of easy points and assists. Spoelstra will have to come up with new wrinkles for the Heat’s 2–3 zone to confuse the Lakers this time around but playing zone is definitely a way for Miami to avoid having to change their normal lineups and rotations.
Look for the Lakers to also exploit the weaknesses of teams playing zones, namely poor offensive rebounding and transition defense because each defender doesn’t have a specific responsibility for any one offensive player. Frank Vogel and the Lakers’ coaching staff are going to have the Lakers ready to take advantage of the Heat’s 2-3 zone, especially when they go big. Laker centers will be sprinting down court looking for touchdown passes.
The rumors head coach Frank Vogel may decide to return to starting JaVale McGee rather than staying with Dwight Howard as the Lakers’ starting center against the Heat in the upcoming 2020 NBA Finals are worrisome.
Howard has not only played far better than McGee in Conference Finals but also has consistently outplayed him in the second half of the regular season and in the seeding and first two rounds of playoff games played in the bubble. With Howard starting and helping the Lakers win the last two games to clinch the West Finals, it seems foolhardy for Frank Vogel to even consider making a change before the four most important games of the season.
Now is not the time for misplaced loyalty to displaced starting center JaVale Mcgee to derail what has worked well for the Lakers in the last two rounds to dispatch the scruffy small-ball Rockets and the gritty come-back Nuggets. The Heat, with All-Star center Bam Adebayo, resemble the Nuggets more than the Rockets or Blazers and the Lakers should deploy a defensive game plan built around starting Dwight Howard at center to shut down Adebayo.
Vogel needs to be careful not to overthink the situation. Don’t rock the boat and make changes after the team just played their best two games of the playoffs. Here are four reasons why the Lakers should start Dwight Howard:
1. Howard’s a Better Defensive Matchup Against Adebayo!
While he is not the 3-point threat Nikola Jokic was, Miami’s Bam Adebayo presents similar defensive problems as a scorer, rebounder, and passer, posting 32 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 assists in the Boston close out game. Stopping Adebayo is the Lakers top priority as Bam dominated the Eastern Conference Finals, averaging a team-best 21.8 points, team-best 11.0 rebounds, and team-best 5.2 assists in team-high 39.1 minutes per game.
Bam is the offensive engine that powers the Heat’s game and that’s why the Lakers would be smart to use the same strategy they used to stop Jokic and start Howard and have him on the floor whenever Adebayo’s in the game. Howard posted a team-best defensive rating of 100.0 in the Nuggets series in 20.2 minutes per game, dramatically better than the 110.5 defensive rating posted by JaVale McGee in the 7.6 minutes per game he played.
Just four wins from their 17th NBA championship, the Lakers should keep the same starting lineup that shut down Nikola Jokic in the conference finals and start Dwight Howard to defend Bam Adebayo in the NBA Finals,
2. The Lakers’ Offense Runs Better with Howard at Center!
Neither Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee are going to score many points or dish out many assists from the center position but the screens they set and offensive rebounds they grab can be critical to the Lakers’ offense working. Howard was a key component to the Lakers’ offensive success against the Nuggets, posting a team-best 123.5 offensive rating for the series compared to JaVale McGee’s 97.4 offensive rating for 7.6 minutes per game played.
Unlike the Nuggets’ Jokic, the Heat’s Bam Adebayo is a excellent defensive rebounder, good team defender, and elite rim protector as he showed with his great game-saving block against Jayson Tatum in the conference finals. The Lakers will need Dwight Howard’s physical screen setting, aggressive offensive rebounding, and dominating power dunking off lobs to keep Bam Adebayo busy defensively and prevent him from defending Anthony Davis.
Starting Dwight will make the Lakers’ offense run better as the Heat will have to focus on keeping him off the boards and preventing him from getting easy dunks off lobs when LeBron or Rondo penetrate the paint.
3. Starting Howard Will Force Miami To Adjust Lineups!
The Miami Heat would love the Lakers to go small with Anthony Davis at the five and Markieff Morris at the four, which would enable them to have Adebayo guard Davis, Crowder guard James, and Robinson defend Morris. What they don’t want is the Lakers to start Howard because that’s going to expose Robinson and force them to replace him with Olynyk or Iguodala in the starting lineup to matchup against the Lakers big-three front court.
But replacing Robinson with Iguodala or Olynyk doesn’t eliminate the matchup nightmare created by Howard. Starting Dwight puts the Heat in a bind. Who does Bam Adebayo cover? Anthony Davis or Dwight Howard? There’s no way Robinson, Crowder, and Adedayo can defend James, Davis, and Howard. The Heat could go small and try to play McGee off the floor but Howard’s elite physicality and athleticism would force them to adjust.
Starting Dwight will give the Lakers a James, Davis, and Howard front court whose athleticism and physicality will create an absolute nightmare matchup and force the Heat to change their lineups and rotations.
4. Howard Will Be More Likely To Re–Sign Next Season!
The Lakers need to think about their future. Dwight Howard’s emergence in the playoffs as a major difference maker changes the dynamic for next season, especially in light of JaVale McGee’s continued diminished performances. Dwight’s an unrestricted free agent this offseason and there’s already rumors of the Boston Celtics offering him their MLE and a chance to start. Vogel starting Dwight in the Finals could be the key to him re-signing.
While the Lakers may still have their eye on DeMarcus Cousins as their perfect starting center for next season, there’s also no question Howard has shown he can still be an elite defensive center as well as a great teammate. Dwight deserves the opportunity to start in the NBA Finals and hopefully Frank Vogel and his staff see that and understand how the decision whether to start him or JaVale McGee could determine his future as a Laker.
The Lakers would be smart to stick with the lineup that won them the Western Conference Finals and start Dwight Howard at center. It’s the kind of move that could convince Dwight Howard to finish his career as a Laker.
The NBA Finals starting Wednesday night between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat will be a matchup between a team that made it despite the bubble and a team that made it because of the bubble.
There’s no question these NBA Finals will go down as the strangest in league history considering the five-month suspension due to coronavirus and the three-month restart and playoffs held in the bubble without fans. The long layoff, loss of home court advantage, and lack of fans clearly hurt higher-seeded veteran teams like the Bucks, Clippers, and Raptors while helping lower-seeded younger teams like the Heat, Celtics, and Nuggets.
Surviving and Thriving in the Bubble!
The West’s top-seed Lakers were the only one of the league’s top four seeds to survive the bubble, which ended up eliminating the 2nd-seed Clippers from the West and the top and 2nd-seed Bucks and Raptors from the East. The Lakers won 5-game series against Damian Lillard and 8th-seed Blazers, James Harden and 4th-seed Rockets, and Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, and 3rd-seed Nuggets, despite playing in the bubble and losing home court.
Meanwhile, the East’s 5th-seed Heat benefitted from playing on a neutral site in the bubble where their young players were able to avoid fan pressure and facing three higher seeds who lost hard-earned home court advantages. Because of the bubble, the Heat swept Victor Oladipo and 4th-seed Pacers in four games, surprised Giannis Antetokounmpo and top-seed Bucks in five games, and took down Jason Tatum and 3rd-seed Celtics in six games.
No disrespect to the Pacers, Bucks, and Celtics but the Lakers are the one veteran team that has not only survived but also thrived in the bubble. They have tamed what critics said was the toughest road to the championship. They dominated in 5 games what was supposed to be the best 8th-seed ever in the Blazers, the most challenging matchup ever in the 4th-seed Rockets, and the best come-back playoff team ever in the 3rd-seed Nuggets.
The NBA Finals matchup the bubble created between the Lakers and Heat is such a mismatch that Miami winning would be the first time in the 68 year history of the Finals that a 5th-seed had ever been crowned as champion.
The Youth and Experience Factor!
While playing at a neutral site without the pressure of fans has helped the Miami Heat upset three higher seeded teams in the playoffs, age and experience are still likely to be major factors when it comes to the Finals. The Los Angeles Lakers with 35-year old LeBron James and 27-year old Anthony Davis have a clear advantage in age and experience over the Miami Heat with 30-year old Jimmy Butler and 22-year old Bam Adebayo.
Aside from LeBron James, who will be playing in his 10th NBA Finals, the Lakers have three other major players in their rotation who have Finals experience, including Danny Green, Dwight Howard, and Rajon Rondo. The only player on the younger Heat with Finals experience is Andre Iguodala, whom Miami dusted off in their Game 6 win over the Celtics and who’s had success guarding LeBron James in the Finals with the Warriors.
While the Finals won’t be played before fans, the pressure is going to ratchet up on Miami’s young 3-point shooters, who hit 39.1% of their threes against Indiana and 37.3% against Milwaukee but only 32.3% against Boston. Finals experience will be a major factor in who wins the championship. LeBron James is going to be laser focussed on taking full advantage of this opportunity to win his 4th NBA championship and boost his case for GOAT.
The Lakers’ edge in age and experience of their superstars and key role players over the Heat’s stars and players is going to be the challenge the Heat will have to somehow overcome to have a chance to win in the finals.
Dwight Howard’s the Wild Card!
The Heat are hoping 22-year old All-Star center Bam Adebayo can keep Lakers’ 27-year old superstar Anthony Davis in check while a mix of Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder, and Andre Iguodala somehow contains LeBron James. While the chances of that happening are probably remote, the strategy completely ignores Dwight Howard, the wild card in the Lakers’ starting lineup who single-handedly shut down Nikola Jokic in the last series.
Dwight Howard’s likely to be the wild card in these NBA Finals also. The Heat will need to figure out how their current starting lineup is going to defend a dominating Lakers’ front court of James, Davis, and Howard. There’s no way a Heat front court of Robinson, Crowder, and Adebayo can handle the size and physicality of a James, Davis, and Howard front court. The Heat may be forced to change their starting lineup and rotations.
Replacing Robinson, their weak link defensively, with Olynyk or Iguodala is possible but could further hurt the Heat’s struggling offense, which has been dependent on surrounding Adebayo and Butler with 3-point shooters. Miami’s only solution may be to take a page out of the Houston’s playbook and try to beat the Lakers by going small. Only problem is Miami doesn’t have the defense or rebounding to make small ball work against LA.
The bottom line is Spoelstra will need to make adjustments to the Heat’s starting lineup to account for the mismatch the Lakers starting Dwight Howard creates or this Finals is likely to end quickly in four or five games.
No disrespect to Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kawhi Leonard but LeBron James took over Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals and showed the world why, at 35-years old, he’s still the MVP and best player on the planet.
While Antetokounmpo’s Bucks and Leonard’s Clippers succumbed to the perils of the bubble, LeBron’s Lakers rolled through three straight tough opponents with five-game series wins and are headed to the NBA Finals. While a flawed Giannis and Bucks team crumbled in five to the Heat and a overhyped Kawhi and Clippers team blew a 3–1 lead to the Nuggets, LeBron and the Lakers showed how true champions perform in the playoffs.
While Giannis and Kawhi stumbled in the clutch, LeBron closed the Lakers’ final two wins against the Nuggets with four straight stops defending Jamal Murray in Game 4 and four straight baskets to clinch the series in Game 5. LeBron dished out 19 dimes with only 2 turnovers in those two games. He finished Game 5 with 38 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, and his 27th playoff triple-double, trailing only Magic’s 30 postseason triple-doubles.
Smartly pacing himself through the playoffs, those last two games were the first in these playoffs where LeBron James played more than 40 minutes, testament to the Lakers’ depth and Frank Vogel’s fine rotation management. These Finals will be James’ 10th as a player, which is more than 27 of the 30 franchises in the league can claim. For the Lakers as a franchise, this will be their 32nd Finals appearance and, if they win, their 17th championship.
As LeBron James again reminded us as he sat relaxed on the floor with the confetti falling as the Lakers accepted the Western Conference Finals trophy, we’re now “one step closer to the goal but the job is still not done.” Standing between the Lakers and their league leading 17th championship are whomever wins the Eastern Conference Finals, in which the 5th seed Miami Heat hold a 3 games to 2 lead over the 3rd seed Boston Celtics.
The emergence of Playoff LeBron has been a transformative moment that could change the historic legacies for him, his superstar teammate Anthony Davis, and the franchise he inherited after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant. The 2020 NBA Playoffs will be momentous to LeBron James’ quest to be the GOAT, Anthony Davis’ odyssey to take the mantle from the King, and the LA Lakers’ challenge to surpass the Boston Celtics for most championships.
With all that on the line, LeBron, AD, and the Lakers only need four more wins to turn the greatest playoff challenge an NBA team has ever faced into the most satisfying and rewarding championship in the league history.
The wear and tear of coming back twice from 1–3 deficits in the first two rounds of the playoffs and trying to dodge near-elimination 0–2 and 1–2 deficits against a better Lakers team finally caught up to the Nuggets.
The Nuggets ran out of gas and succumbed to the pressure of playing from behind in the series and Game 4 as James shut down Murray to close out the game and Davis held Jokic scoreless for second straight fourth quarter. While the Nuggets and their fans would like to think they could easily be up 3–1 on the Lakers, closing games is usually when the favorites demonstrate why they’re favorites and the underdogs show why they’re underdogs.
Murray’s disconsolate post-game interview was a stark reminder of how physically and mentally exhausted the Nuggets were by game end and how improbable a third straight 1–3 comeback would be against these Lakers. Playoffs magnify small things that lead one team winning and one losing, such as three Lakers’ defensive stops that led to easy transition points and three offensive rebounds that led to free throws in the closing minutes.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the Cinderella Nuggets and their budding superstar duo of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, who gave the Lakers everything they could handle and proved there are a team of the future. While the series is theoretically not over, the Nuggets know they’re not coming back this time and the blown opportunities to win Game 3 and tie the series last night will certainly haunt and motivate them this offseason.
For growing young teams like the Nuggets, learning to win in the playoffs is a series of progressions and their performance this year will accelerate their ascent but they need to realize they’re still a young and inexperienced team. Growth is rarely a straight line and the Nuggets and their fans would be wise to be satisfied with their playoff success rather than regretting what they think could or might have been. They simply lost to a better Lakers team.
While it’s fun to declare the Nuggets have the Lakers right where they want them at 1–3, winning Game 5, Games 6, and 7 against the Lakers will be a more daunting challenge than Denver faced against the Jazz and Clippers. While the Nuggets are 6–0 facing elimination in the playoffs, the Lakers are 2–0 given an opportunity to eliminate an opponent in the playoffs, winning Game 5 against the Blazers in round one and the Rockets in round two.
With the Heat leading the Celtics 3–1, the Lakers must take care of business Saturday night and close out the Nuggets in 5 games. The last thing they want is to lose Game 5 and extend the Conference Finals to 6 or 7 games. Last night’s playoff win was number 11 of 16, leaving the Lakers just 5 wins from their 17th NBA Championship. The Lakers know this is the stretch run. AD played 41 minutes and LeBron 38 last night, both playoff highs.
LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers are on a championship-or-bust quest. They know they now have their foot on the throats of the Denver Nuggets so don’t expect them to do anything but press hard to win.
Jeff Pearlman, New York Times Best-Selling author and the man behind the #1 Amazon Basketball Biography “Three-Ring Circus” covering the Kobe-Shaq-Phil Lakers dynasty of the early 2000s stops by to talk about the book and the legacy that threepeat has left behind. Get the book on Amazon here: https://amzn.to/2G6R7Uf Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/3kM9D38 Excerpt: https://es.pn/33YNXdo and check out his entire sports library at JeffPearlman.com.
The overconfident Lakers’ furious fourth quarter rally ran out of gas and Jamal Murray’s clutch dagger three’s in the final 2:17 sealed a Game 3 win and saved the Denver Nuggets from going down 0–3 in the West Finals.
Nuggets’ players and fans may disagree with that assessment of where the Western Conference Finals stand but that’s what an objective comparison of the teams’ strengths and weaknesses and review of the game stats show. While the Nuggets deserve praise for hanging tough the last two games, the Lakers are still the better team with better superstars and a 2–1 lead in the series, despite how well Denver and their two superstars may have played.
All the Nuggets’ desperate win last night did was give them a brief reprieve to keep from going down 0–3. Tomorrow night, their backs are once again against the wall in another ‘must win’ game to keep from going down 1–3. Denver needs to win tomorrow night to keep this series alive because they know the odds of pulling off a third straight 1–3 comeback in these playoffs against a championship caliber Lakers team are close to impossible.
The cocky Lakers came into last night’s game with a 2–0 lead in the West Finals and the knowledge LeBron James is 17–0 when his team takes a 2–0 lead in a playoff series. Unfortunately, they forgot to bring their A-Game. The desperate Nuggets were the hungrier and more aggressive team, dominating the boards 53–34, winning the 3-point shootout by 15 points, making 9 more free throws, and building a 20-point fourth quarter lead.
With 10:24 left in the game, the Lakers came roaring back behind Rondo’s defense and LeBron’s offense and, in a stunning 4 minute 17 second burst, slashed the Nuggets’ 20-point lead to 3 points with 6:07 left on the clock. The game seesawed back and forth until, with just 2:17 left on the clock, Jamal Murray hit a dagger three to put the Nuggets up by 7 and then, with 53.3 seconds left, a second dagger three from 29 feet to seal the win.
Murray’s heroics, like Davis’ the game before, were the difference between winning and losing and the series now stands 2–1 in favor of the Lakers. The Nuggets can wish it were 2–1 in their favor but it could easily be 0–3. They dodged a bullet just like the Lakers did when Davis hit that game winning three. Bottom line, their backs are against the wall again tomorrow night when they must win or once again fall into that familiar 1–3 hole.
The problem the Nuggets face is the Lakers are unlikely to come out flat tomorrow night. The Lakers now know the Nuggets are capable of beating them and are going to come out treating the matchup like a close-out game. The Lakers know they let last night’s game get out of control and rallied too late. LeBron’s on a crusade to win his fourth NBA championship and AD’s going to be hungry to redeem his lackluster performance in Game 3.
The Lakers are going to come out looking to dominate the Nuggets early and coast to a wire-to-wire win. Here are the five reasons why the Lakers will win Game 4 and put the Denver Nuggets on the brink of elimination:
1. Playoff LeBron Will Emerge.
To be honest, the Lakers haven’t needed Playoff LeBron this postseason. However, last night’s loss and insinuations age and mileage are finally catching up with him are exactly what Lebron thrives on for motivation. James has only played 34.4 minutes per game in these playoffs, averaging just 25.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 8.8 assists. In the 2018 playoffs, he played 41.9 minutes and averaged 34.0 points, 9.1 boards, and 9.0 assists.
The Lakers are now in the stretch run. With two wins to the Finals and six wins to the championship, it’s time for Playoff LeBron to take over. Look for LeBron to play 40 minutes with a monster triple double in a Game 4 win.
2. Anthony Davis Will Redeem Himself.
While he had 27 points on 9–17 from the field and 9–10 from the line, AD had a disappointing Game 3, especially after his clutch game-winning buzzer-beating heroics to win Game 2. He has openly admitted as much. Davis was passive the entire game, only grabbed two rebounds, and was never a factor with the game on the line. He simply did not deliver a performance worthy of a top-five superstar and team’s second best player.
But Anthony will get an opportunity to redeem himself tomorrow night when the Lakers look to win Game 4, take a 3–1 series lead, and put Denver on the brink of elimination. AD needs to play 40 minutes and dominate.
3. Lakers Defense Will Dominate.
The Lakers had the third best defense during the regular season and have the fourth best defense in the playoffs. Their team identity is defense and they pride themselves on their ability to stop opposing teams’ superstars. They shut down Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in the first round of the playoffs and James Harden and Russell Westbrook in the second round. They’re confident they can do the same to Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic.
L.A. may have found the defensive key in the fourth quarter last night as their zone held Denver to just 21 points with a 77.8 defensive rating. Look for Frank Vogel to use that zone to crank up the pressure in Game 4.
4. Lakers Will Control the Boards.
The Lakers are the bigger and better rebounding team, 9th in the regular season with 45.7 rebounds per game versus the Nuggets 20th with 44.1. In the playoffs, LA is 7th with 44.0 boards and Denver 13th with 41.4 boards. In the two games they won, the Lakers outrebounded the Nuggets 39 to 34. In the one game they lost, however, the Nuggets dominated the boards 53–34, which is why they were able to build a 20-point lead in the fourth.
One of the Lakers’ strengths as a team is their edge in size and athleticism, which usually translates into winning the rebounding battle. The Lakers will come out and impose their domination on the glass tomorrow night.
5. The Lakers Will Make their Threes.
When opposing teams pack the paint and dare the Lakers to shoot from deep, they need to make their threes to win. In the two games the Lakers won, they shot 38.7% from deep. In last night’s loss, they only shot 23.1%. In the ten playoff games the Lakers won, they shot 39.2% from deep. In the three games they lost, they only shot 22.9%. For the series, the Lakers have shot 34.1% from deep, just a notch below their 35.5% playoff average.
One of the Lakers’ vulnerabilities is their average 3-point shooting, which is why opponents try to clog the lane and force the Lakers to shoot from deep. Fortunately, the numbers strongly suggest the Lakers will make their threes.
No disrespect to LeBron James, who valiantly took the mantle from Kobe Bryant and carried this team through the most difficult and unprecedented season in the history of the NBA, but Anthony Davis is the Lakers’ future.
When AD’s game-winning buzzer-beating dagger-three splashed through the net, it was like the world stopped, the team’s legacy clock reset, and the era where Anthony Davis takes over as Lakers top superstar officially began. Out of respect, the Lakers will still be known as LeBron’s team like they had been known as Shaq’s team but the cognoscenti will know the moment had come when the team’s future depended on AD like it once did with Kobe.
Great as LeBron James is, the Lakers will only go as far as Anthony Davis can carry them. We saw hints of this throughout this long disjointed season and its harsh reality during the second half of last night’s Nuggets’ game. There will be games LeBron can still dominate just like there were with Shaq but the time has finally arrived when LeBron and the Lakers need to look to AD to close games like Shaq and the Lakers needed to look to Kobe.
While LeBron James is still the King and MVP of the regular season, it will likely be the ascent of Anthony Davis to Finals MVP and best player in the league that wins the Los Angeles Lakers their 17th NBA championship. That’s what this season, the Klutch Sports driven trade for AD, LeBron’s taking the baton from Kobe, and James’ respect and deference to empower Davis has all been about: winning championships and building a legacy.
This has been an unbelievably tough season for the Lakers with obstacles like the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, the five-month coronavirus layoff, and losing home court advantage to the bubble repeatedly blocking their way. But the basketball gods may finally be smiling on the Lakers as the bubble playoffs have eliminated the Bucks and Clippers, their main competitors, and cleared the road for Los Angeles to win its 17th NBA championship.
No disrespect to the Nuggets, Heat,or Celtics but this season is the Lakers’ best opportunity to win a championship with the Bucks and Clippers gone and the healthy Warriors and the new look Nets back in the mix next year. Who knows how long LeBron James can continue to cheat Father Time, what blockbuster moves franchises may make to create new superteams, or how long the coronavirus pandemic will devalue home court advantage.
When LeBron James joined the Lakers in free agency two summers ago, critics said he did it for family reasons. In retrospect, the decision was a calculated move to enhance his legacy and chances to become the GOAT. LeBron could play four more seasons after this, retire at 40-years old after his sixth season and maybe fourth championship as a Laker, and trump Michael Jordan as the GOAT with seven NBA championship rings.
No NBA superstar has ever had the career savvy and vision of LeBron to understand how combining his star power, the Lakers’ legacy, and AD’s talents could give him his best chance to surpass MJ to become the GOAT. That’s why he has deferred to AD and is willing to give him the opportunity to become Finals MVP and best player on the planet and even take a pay cut on his last contract with the Lakers. It’s all part of his master plan to win.
That clutch step-back dagger three at the buzzer by Anthony Davis not only positioned the team six games away from their 17th championship but also gave the rest of the NBA formal notice the Anthony Davis era had begun.
As we get ready to for Game 2 in the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, one of the big questions to consider is who has been the Lakers’ third most valuable player so far in the NBA bubble playoffs?
After staying with essentially the same starting lineup most of the season, Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel has made several major adjustments both to the starting lineups as well as his rotations since we started the playoffs. Before the playoffs, the talk was about the Lakers needing Kyle Kuzma to step up and be the team’s third star to be win a championship but now other players like Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard have started to emerge.
It’s easy to say the Lakers’ third star is the open man or their elite defense but history tells us the team is more likely to need a key role player to emerge as the third most valuable player to win the NBA championship. Will that be a current starter like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Danny Green or a key reserve like Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo, or Dwight Howard. At the halfway point, we’re starting to see who could be legitimate candidates.
To help you analyze those candidates, let’s look at how individual Lakers ranked according to the following key playoff player stats per NBA.com:
Net Rating, Plus/Minus, Points, Assists, Rebounds, Blocks, and Steals.
Net Rating Per Game
One of the key stats used to compare a player’s overall performance is Net Rating because it measures the difference between the player’s offensive and defensive rating. Danny Green’s net rating is best on the team and tops LeBron James and Anthony Davis, which makes him a serious candidate.
Plus/Minus Per Game
Plus/Minus is another stat analysts like to use to compare players as it measures how the team does when a player is on the floor and includes intangibles such as fit, chemistry, and things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Danny Green’s third best plus/minus adds to his candidacy.
Points Per Game
There’s a case to be made that points per game is the best stat by which to measure who is the Lakers’ third most valuable playoff player. The Lakers do need a third consistent scorer to complement LeBron and AD. Kyle Kuzma being the team’s third best scorer makes him a top candidate.
Assists Per Game
Next to scoring, a second playmaker to play alongside and free up LeBron James from being the Lakers’ only facilitator and to run the offense when he rests is always near the top of the list of Lakers’ needs. Rajon Rondo’s elite playmaking, though only in three games, catapults him into contention.
Rebounds Per Game
As expected, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are the Lakers’ best two rebounders. Controlling the boards has always been a critical factor both aton the defensive and offensive glass for teams to win in the playoffs. Dwight Howard’s elite rebounding makes him a legitimate candidate.
Blocks Per Game
There’s truth in the axiom ‘defense wins championships’ and Frank Vogel’s defensive philosophy has always been defense starts inside-out with rim protection. The surprise is Dwight Howard not making the list but JaVale McGee should be added as a candidate because of his shot blocking.
Steals Per Game
Steals are often an underappreciated defensive stat but impact the team’s offense because they often lead to easy transition points on the offensive end. Rajon Rondo’s 2 steals per game in limited games and minutes should add to his candidacy as the Laker’s third most valuable playoff player.
Summary of Rankings
Here’s a recap of where each Lakers player finished as far as the playoff top five rankings for the seven statistical categories discussed above:
Obviously, the Lakers’ third most valuable playoff player should contribute in multiple areas like LeBron James and Anthony Davis have done. Per that criteria, the leading candidates so far are Rajon Rondo and Danny Green. We’re slightly past what hopefully is the halfway point in the Lakers’ quest to win the championship, so a lot can change as competition and pressure ramps up as we finish the Conference Finals and then the NBA Finals.
We’ll continue to track who’s performing as the team’s third most valuable player as the Lakers pursue the franchise’s 17th NBA championship and follow up at the end of the playoffs with a final article and award.
Gerald is back with Rafael Barlowe from NBA Draft Junkies as they recap Game Three of the Heat-Celtics.
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