Stay tuned after the game to lakerholics.com to the Lakers-Thunder post game show with the guys at 7:30 pm tonight!
The Lakers title hopes face three challenges: surviving a coronavirus forced suspension of the season, surviving an untested bubble in the epicenter of a pandemic, and then winning an NBA championship with a depleted squad.
After comfortably beating the Bucks and Clippers in a weekend sweep that catapulted them to the top of the league power rankings, the Lakers seemed poised to roll through the playoffs and win their 17th NBA championship. But that was a ‘then’ rudely replaced with a ‘now’ dominated by a growing pandemic, cratering economy, and protests of racial injustice forcing the league and players to seriously question whether to resume the season.
That confluence of events has already led Davis Bertans, Trevor Ariza, and Avery Bradley to decide not to join their teammates in Orlando. By the end of the day, others players like Dwight Howard may also decide not to play. Meanwhile, teams and players are complaining the bubble is too limited or too restrictive, worrying about getting injured or catching Covid-19, and questioning the optics of a bunch of black NBA players locked in a bubble.
Let’s look at the first challenge the Lakers must survive to win their 17th championship. Could rising numbers of new Covid-19 cases in Florida or players testing positive derail plans to resume the season and playoffs? While that’s possible, the financial repercussions for the league and the players would be disastrous. The networks would cancel all TV contracts, the NBA would void the CBA, and both sides would lose billions.
While conditions could worsen over the next two weeks, the realistic chances the NBA will cancel their current plans to resume the season are slim and none. We may see changes but there’s too much at stake to cancel. The league is counting on the bubble to protect the players from contracting the virus and testing to enable them to control its spread. Even players who have tested positive like Nikola Jokic should have time to recover and play.
As for complaints about the bubble, the league still has a couple of weeks to work with the players and Disney World workers to resolve their concerns. Expect an expanded bubble to protect more players, workers, and families. The stakes are so high the league will spend whatever it needs to satisfy all of stakeholders necessary for the resumption of the season and the playoffs to happen. The adverse impact of cancelling the season will demand it.
Once the challenges of coronavirus and the bubble have been resolve, the Lakers will get their opportunity to win their 17th championship, though without guard Avery Bradley and maybe even center Dwight Howard. While Bradley and Howard were integral contributors during the regular season, the Lakers have able guard replacements for Avery and already plan for Anthony Davis to play increased minutes at center going forward.
So while the Lakers would certainly have preferred to have Bradley on the roster, his or Dwight Howard’s absence would not be enough to prevent the Lakers from reaching their goal and winning their 17th NBA championship.
There are more popular and obvious candidates to become the Los Angeles Lakers’ point guard of the future but none would be a better fit or more perfect complement to LeBron James and Anthony Davis than Lonzo Ball.
While he needs to be a better free throw shooter and pick-and-roll passer, there’s no young point guard who combines Lonzo’s physical size, defensive chops, playmaking skills, rebounding, 3-point shooting, and court savvy. While salary cap considerations required the Lakers to send Ball rather than Kuzma to the Pelicans in their trade for Anthony Davis last year, there’s a possibility the Lakers could bring Lonzo Ball back this coming offseason.
New Orleans wants to pull off a blockbuster trade for Bradley Beal this offseason to create a true superstar Big Three with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson and transform the Pelicans into championship contenders. The problem is the Wizards are going to want more than just Jrue Holiday and pieces and picks as part of any mega trade with the Pelicans. They’re going to want Brandon Ingram or an equivalent package of young talent.
That’s where the Lakers could jump into the picture as a third team with front office relationships with the Pelicans and Wizards and trading chips that might be of interest to the Wizards to facilitate a blockbuster trade. While the Lakers lack the assets to acquire Beal, they have their first round pick and a talented pair of prospects the Wizards could be intrigued with based on their success with other young players acquired from the Lakers.
The proposed trade would have the Lakers sending veterans Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the Pelicans and youngsters Kyle Kuzma and Talen Horton-Tucker plus 2020 first round pick rights to the Wizards. Conversely, the Pelicans would return guards Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart to the Lakers and send Jrue Holiday to the Wizards while Washington shipped 27-year old sharp-shooting small forward Davis Bertans to the Lakers.
While the Lakers’ main target in the proposed trade would be point guard Lonzo Ball, the opportunity to acquire elite sharp shooter Davis Bertans and valuable role player Josh Hart would be the key to LA making the deal. Several contract issues would need to be resolved for the transaction to happen, including Rondo and Caldwell-Pope not exercising player options and Bertans and the Lakers agreeing to a new contract since he’s an UFA.
The trade should prove to be a win-win deal for all three teams. The Lakers would upgrade their roster with a trio of talented young stars to fill their needs for a starting point guard and more depth while keeping their core. Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and Davis Bertans are all better three-point shooters and more versatile fits for the Lakers’ roster than youngsters Kyle Kuzma and Talen Horton-Tucker or vets Rajon Rondo or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The Pelicans get the superstar guard they needed in Beal to go with future superstars Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson without having to give up their treasure chest of draft picks and young talent, most notably Ingram. The addition of quality vets Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope not only give them two players who can mentor and help their young players grow and develop but also give them some proven talent to win games now.
The Wizards could end up being the biggest winners of in the mega trade swap of Bradley Beal for Jrue Holiday as it will save them over $45 million in salaries because of the one less year and lower salaries due to Holiday. Those savings plus two promising young stars in Kyle Kuzma and Talen Horton-Tucker plus three first round picks fit perfectly with Washington’s need to start acquiring assets for the rebuild of the Wizard’s franchise.
Blockbuster trades rarely helps all the teams get better but this trade could transform the Lakers into a dynasty, catapult the Pelicans into a contender, and give the Wizards the young talent and draft picks for a great rebuild.
While the NBA’s always been a leader in allowing its players to raise their voices against racial injustice, the time has now come for the league to take a stronger stand and support its players in a push for major social change.
No professional sports league has as high a percentage of black players, as supportive a culture, or as progressive a commissioner as the NBA, whose owners and players have worked together tirelessly to build bonds of trust. Threatened by a deadly pandemic with dire economic consequences and a plague of police brutality that has players questioning whether to play, the league must find new ways to support the fight against racial injustice.
The current protests over the blatant murders of black men have touched the hearts and minds of people in America and around the world unlike any of the prior situations and are not going to go away without major change. If the NBA wants players to welcome returning to play in Orlando, they need to come up with a serious program the players will wholeheartedly embrace to support the cause of Black Lives Matter and racial justice.
With that in mind, here are some suggestions the NBA should consider which would give the players a powerful platform to promote Black Lives Matter and a strong motivation and justification for returning to play:
1. Dedicate the resumption of the NBA season and playoffs to BLM.
2. Have everybody present kneel before each game to honor BLM.
3. Contribute 10% of all television and radio proceeds to BLM.
4. Require advertisers to make similar 10% contributions to BLM.
5. Add BLM patches to all NBA jerseys worn by players and sold to fans.
6. Invite black celebrities to talk about BLM in special pre-game shows.
7. Invite black entertainers to create special BLM halftime shows.
8. Have top players of each game talk about BLM in post-game show.
9. Sell 1,000 special specially protected BLM seats for each game.
10. Auction actual player uniforms and memorabilia from each game.
These are just ten ideas I came up with off the top of my head but I’m sure the professional marketing staffs of the NBA and the teams could find even more ways to support their black players and promote Black Lives Matter. Ultimately, the goal is motivate the players to return to play in Orlando and give them a powerful platform with which to support and raise money and awareness for Black Lives Matter to create and support social change.
With America and the world coming together in a unprecedented moment of universal support for Black Lives Matter and rejection of racial injustice, black NBA players are struggling to decide how they should move forward.
At the heart of the decision facing black NBA players is whether to agree to the NBA’s proposed plans to resume play in Orlando beginning July 31st. While some are eager to return playing, others appear to be reluctant. While the NBA has been a poster child for owners and players working together, the lack of agreement about returning to play among the players could threaten both the current season as well as the future of the NBA.
Should enough players decide not to play, the NBA would likely be forced to cancel the season and playoffs, which would inevitably lead to the owners using Force Majeure to terminate the Collective Bargaining Agreement. That would force the owners and player to renegotiate a new CBA and could end up with the league and the players cancelling this season and next season, which would mean massive financial losses for both sides.
Right now, black players seem to be split into multiple groups. Some prominent players like Lakers’ superstar LeBron James sincerely believe playing in Orlando won’t deter their “ability to continue inspiring change.” James, of course, is naturally focused on leading the favored Lakers to their 17th NBA championship and winning his fourth ring so the last thing he wants is to lose that opportunity by having the season cancelled.
Others like Dwight Howard believe “basketball isn’t needed at this moment” and would only distract from progress being made by the protests and “start a trickle-down effect” that could undermine the power of the moment. Howard’s willing to make the sacrifice: “I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship, but the unity of My People would be an even bigger Championship, that’s just too beautiful to pass up.”
The Nets’ Kyrie Irving has taken the narrative to another different level and is outwardly distrustful of the NBA and contends “something smells fishy” about the league’s plans to resume play, which the players should boycott. Irving’s sincerity could be questioned since he’s also currently injured and would not be able to return until next season and enjoys the security of a recently signed lucrative long term contract with the Brooklyn Nets.
There’s also a group who are genuinely concerned about the potential risks of major injury due to returning to play so soon after the long layoff or contracting Covid-19 as a result of playing in the middle of a pandemic. Finally, there are others concerned about the bubble and the stringent rules that will have to be enforced in Orlando to keep players safe and healthy and don’t want to be locked up in isolation for such a long period of time.
There’s so much financially at stake it’s hard to imagine the NBA owners and the various groups of players not being able to find common ground to keep the plans to resume the season in Orlando on schedule as planned. And as monumental as the promise of progress towards racial justice is, black NBA players must ultimately know a basketball hungry fanbase and media provide the best possible platform for promoting their cause.
What’s happening around the country and the world today with the protests and support to end racial injustice and inequity offers black NBA players an opportunity to unite to use their voices to support major change.