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Luol Deng

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The NBA trade deadline has passed and with it any semblance of the Lakers making any kind of big personnel moves this season. This year has been a tough season for Laker fans as their team and its superstar have been hobbled by countless injuries. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. The Lakers go into this offseason with enough cap room to acquire a big name free agent. They did not trade Pau before the deadline, so the Lakers will either have a lot of cap room from Pau’s contract coming off the books, or they will be able to convince Pau to stay with the team for less money. That may seem like a long shot, but Pau loves the Lakers, he loves Kobe and he may also love their next head coach *wink wink*. They also have a first round draft pick that, given their abysmal record, will most likely be a top-5 pick. That means the Lakers will be able to sport a squad next season consisting of a Kobe, Pau, Big Name Free Agent X and Talented Draft Pick X core. That may not be enough to win a title next year, but it will absolutely be a contender if healthy and under the supervision of a new head coach. With all that said, here are some questions from LakerNation fans:

Q: Are we going to re-sign Nick Young next year?

- Jacob

A: If the Lakers are serious about contending immediately, they must re-sign Nick Young. Swaggy P has been one of the few bright spots this year for the Lakers as he earned the respect of Kobe and the rest of Laker Nation by competing every night. There are very few teams in this league that have a 6th man as effective as Nick Young. He is instant offense and his ability to draw foul calls on 3-pointers is uncanny. Young has always been capable of scoring, but he has an added intensity in his game since joining the Lakers this season. He knows what it takes to deliver for the Purple and Gold.

 

Q: How do you feel about the Lakers landing a big name free agent, this off-season with D’Antoni as the head coach?

- Jermaine

A: I feel very strongly about this issue, but I will do my best to keep it PG. THERE IS NO FREAKING WAY ANY BIG NAME FREE AGENT WANTS TO COME PLAY FOR A COACH THAT DOESN’T CARE ABOUT DEFENSE.  With the myriad of issues I have with Mike D’Antoni, the two I just mentioned take the cake. The man obviously doesn’t give a damn about defense when his team gives up an average of 105.9 PPG. That’s the 2nd worst in the entire NBA. Only the Philadelphia 76ers give up more points than us and they’re trying to lose every game this year! Let that sink in for a moment. D’Antoni may be a great offensive mind, but that does not make him a good head coach. I guarantee if Tom Thibodeau were coaching the Lakers, they would not be in the bottom half of the NBA in terms of defense. You want to talk about injuries? Look at the Chicago Bulls and their injuries. They rank 2nd overall in the league in terms of defense. Injuries are not an excuse for a lack of defense and effort. If the Lakers really want to land big name free agents this summer, Mike D’Antoni must be fired at the end of this season.

 

Q: Can we still get Love? Or Melo or even Deng? Please get them.

- Alexis

A: When you talk about Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and even Luol Deng, those guys want to win now. They don’t want to play for a coach with the same philosophies as Mike D’Antoni. Getting the right head coach will be step one. The second step will be finding out if Kobe is still Kobe. Make no mistake about it, if the Lakers didn’t have Kobe Bryant on their team, none of these free agents (except maybe Love) would even consider coming to the Lakers. Kobe must show that he is still one of the best basketball players in the world after coming off two of the worst injuries in his career.

 

Q: My question is, will the LA Lakers make it to the playoffs this season or next season, yes or no?

- Eyrika

A: I stated in my preseason article that the Lakers would not make the playoffs this season and that remains true. As for next season, it truly depends on a number of outcomes and possibilities. Who will be the new head coach? Will the Lakers land a top-5 draft pick this year? If so, who will they select? What free agents will be brought in? Which current players will stay with the Lakers? And, of course, what will the status of Kobe Bryant be? If Kobe is still Kobe, which I assume will be true, the Lakers will always have a shot. If the Lakers bring in one of the earlier mentioned big name free agents, that shot increases tenfold. My gut tells me the Lakers will get a new head coach, a lottery pick, land a big name free agent and the most underrated move they will make will be re-signing Pau Gasol. With that scenario, I believe the Lakers will be instant contenders next season and in the future. All things will be right in Los Angeles as the Lakers are at the top once again.

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Photo: USA Today Sports

January 14, 2014 — 4:00 PM (PST)
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN

The Lakers (16-32) travel to Cleveland to play the Cavaliers (16-32) tonight.

Despite getting PG Steve Nash and PG Steve Blake back, they could not solve defensive deficiencies, allowing 109 points to the Timberwolves.

Nash, who played for the first time since November, played exceptionally well in his limited minutes, scoring 7 points and dishing out 9 assists. However, he will sit out tonight’s game since it’s a back-to-back.

To make matters worse, SG Jodie Meeks and F Jordan Hill left last night’s game due to injuries. Meeks, who will compete in the 3-pt contest during All-Star Weekend, suffered an ankle injury 2 minutes into the game and will miss the rest of this road trip.

Hill, who brings instant energy off the bench, suffered a cervical strain after colliding with his own teammate and his status for tonight’s game remains uncertain.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers’s fortune has not been much better under Mike Brown’s leadership despite having the Kyrie Irving and Luol Deng duo.

Deng, who was acquired from the Chicago Bulls last month, has averaged 16.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 3.2 APG while playing with the Cavaliers.

A future NBA superstar in the making, PG Kyrie Irving, seeks to lead the struggling Cavaliers into the playoff race. Irving, who averaged 21.7 PPG and 6.2 APG, has showed that he can hold his own against NBA’s elite guards and has even outplayed some of them at times. If Irving can learn how to lead the Cavaliers, no reason exists for them to not be successful.

Projected Starters

PG – Kyrie Irving / Jordan Farmar [Advantage: Cavaliers]
SG – CJ Miles / Steve Blake [Advantage: Even]
SF – Luol Deng / Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Cavaliers]
PF – Tristan Thompson / Ryan Kelly [Advantage: Cavaliers]
C – Anderson Vaerjao / Robert Sacre [Advantage: Cavaliers]

Notable Bench Players

Cavaliers: F Earl Clark, G Dion Waters, F Tyler Zeller, PG Jarrett Jack

Lakers: G/F Nick Young, G Kendall Marshall, G Manny Harris, C Chris Kaman

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Injury List

Cavaliers: None

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-G Jodie Meeks, GTD-F Jordan Hill

Keys for Lakers Victory

Rebound: If we evaluate the Lakers based on their last month of play, we can see that they cannot play defense and grab defensive rebounds. Therefore, the Lakers have to focus on not allowing the Cavaliers to grab a lot of offensive rebounds in order to try to limit their possessions.

Bottom Line

Both the Lakers and Cavaliers are currently suffering from a multitude of issues. The Cavaliers suffer from locker room issues and players who do not want to play there. Unfortunately, the Lakers have been dealing with trying to maintain the health of their players. Hopefully, the Lakers play with a sense of urgency and relentlessness. They should play with a lot of energy tonight and hopefully come away with a victory tonight.

Prediction

Lakers: 107-104

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Source: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images North America

January 14, 2014 — 7:30PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Laker Nation can admit it. The Los Angeles Lakers (14-23) currently find themselves stuck in a dire state as they play the Cleveland Cavaliers (13-24) tonight–their final home game before they embark on a 7-game, 12-day Grammy road trip. This will be former Lakers Head Coach Mike Brown‘s first game back at Staples Center since the Lakers fired him after five games last season.

They suffered a huge embarrassing loss vs. inter-city rival Los Angeles Clippers 123-87 last Friday in front of a national audience. The Lakers allowed the Clippers to score 43 points in the first quarter and were outscored 31-8 in the third quarter.

The only Laker who has played at a high level during this losing streak is C/F Pau Gasol. Ever since fully recovering from his respiratory issues, Gasol has averaged 21.8 PPG and 11.6 RPG in his last five games. Gasol has shown what he can do when he is fully healthy and receives the ball near the paint where he can attack, without getting double-teamed.

As the Lakers seek to get at least some if not all of their injured guards back within a few weeks, Gasol was injured vs. Clippers on Friday. Gasol, who has been playing very well since recovering from respiratory issues, received an MRI yesterday, which showed a moderate toe sprain. Gasol is listed as a game-time decision for tonight’s game, but many may hope he rests his toe tonight since they are far outside of playoff race and suffering bad luck with injuries.

However, according to ESPNLA.com’s Beto Duran, Lakers Head Coach Mike D’Antoni expects him to play tonight.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers’s fortune has not been much better under Brown’s leadership. However, they still seek to make the playoffs this season, evidenced by their acquisition of All-Star SF Luol Deng from the Chicago Bulls for disgruntled C Andrew Bynum‘s contract. Deng, who was supposed to be a major piece in the puzzle for a potential Bulls dynasty before PG Derrick Rose‘s unfortunate luck with injuries, has averaged 18.4 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 3.5 APG while making his mark as a very high quality on-ball defender.

A future NBA superstar in the making, PG Kyrie Irving, seeks to lead the struggling Cavaliers into the playoff race. Irving, who averaged 21.7 PPG and 6.1 APG, has showed that he can hold his own against NBA’s elite guards and has even outplayed some of them at times. If Irving can learn how to lead his young team quickly, expect to see the Cavaliers in the playoffs this season.

Projected Starters

PG - Kyrie IrvingKendall Marshall [Advantage: Cavaliers]
SG - CJ Miles / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Even]
SF - Luol DengWesley Johnson [Advantage: Cavaliers]
PF - Tristan ThompsonPau Gasol [Advantage: Lakers]
C - Anderson VaerjaoRobert Sacre [Advantage: Cavaliers]

Notable Bench Players

Cavaliers: F Earl Clark, G Dion Waters, F Tyler Zeller, PG Jarrett Jack

Lakers: G/F Nick Young, F Jordan Hill, F Ryan Kelly, C Chris Kaman

Bench Advantage: Even

Injury List

Cavaliers: None

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-PG Steve Blake, Out-G Xavier Henry, Out-PG Jordan Farmar, GTD-C/F Pau Gasol

Keys for Lakers Victory

Start Over: Hopefully having 3 days off helped the Lakers players clear their mind and start over. After losing 10 out of their last 11 games, they have to play tonight’s game as their 1st game of this season. Mentally restart their season at 0-0 and forget about what has transpired in the past month. They currently have played with no confidence, energy, heart, or passion since SG Kobe Bryant‘s knee injury, so they have to get back on track mentally to play like they did during the 1st month of this season prior to Bryant’s return.

Bottom Line

Both the Lakers and Cavaliers are currently suffering from a multitude of issues. The Cavaliers seek to effectively incorporate Deng into their team while they battle locker room issues. Unfortunately, the Lakers have been dealing with trying to find healthy players to put on the floor, primarily point guards. Hopefully, the three days off will help the Lakers play with a sense of urgency and edge. Regardless of whether Gasol plays or not tonight, they should play with a lot of energy tonight and hopefully win tonight’s game, and carry some positive momentum into their Grammy road trip.

Prediction

Lakers: 93-90

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Carmelo Anthony
Credit: USATSI
Carmelo Anthony
Credit: USATSI

It is well-known throughout the NBA that the Lakers will have a nice amount of cap space this upcoming offseason even with the new $48.5 million contract of Kobe Bryant on the books.  What is unclear is the direction the team may be looking to go in.

Will the Lakers attempt to make a splash by adding a big name free agent such as Carmelo Anthony?  In previous weeks, the Lakers and the 29-year-old small forward have been linked, saying it was an obvious pairing, but yesterday Steve Kyler of HOOPSWORLD noted that the interest from the Lakers may not be as high as originally thought.

“For weeks its been Anthony and the LA Lakers talked about as a likely pairing, however insiders doubted that the Lakers would make Anthony a max-level contract offer.”

While Anthony is the most likely big name free agent to come to the Lakers, I can see why the team may not want to head in that direction.  Pairing a soon to be 30-year-old Anthony along with a 36-year-old Kobe may not exactly scream championship with a lack of financial ability to add more quality pieces around those two.  Anthony has an opt out clause after this season but there is a chance he could opt in if traded during this season.

Although, I would not call this situation dead in any sense.  Anthony considers Kobe to be an older brother and mentor entering the league.  The relationship could ultimately drive the Lakers to add Anthony this offseason which would bring excitement back to Staples Center for the purple and gold and give the team a dynamic scoring duo.  One other question that needs to be asked, what is the relationship between Anthony and coach Mike D’Antoni?  It was reportedly anything but good in New York and that could play a big factor in any decision moving forward.

The other direction the team could go in is to use the money on quality role players that would allow them to go into the 2015 offseason with a chance of adding a player like Kevin Love, if he decides to opt out of his respective contract. While there are many options this offseason, Alex Kennedy of HOOPSWORLD wondered if soon-to be free agent Luol Deng would consider the Lakers this offseason and even posed the question to Deng to which he responded:

“When the summer comes, I can probably answer that,” Deng told HOOPSWORLD. “To be honest with you I’ve done my best – I’ve been in a contract situation before when I was young and it affected me. This year, during the summer, I told myself that no matter what, I’m just going to be in the gym working. … I don’t know what it’s like in any other locker room or any other organization — maybe it’s better, maybe it’s not. I have no complaints with how blessed and how lucky I’ve been to be in such an organization for 10 years. Not a lot people could say that. I don’t know if the grass is greener. Maybe it is, but my grass is green enough.”

Deng would be a nice piece to the puzzle for the Lakers and wouldn’t command a max contract on the market. In his career, the Sudan born forward has averaged 16.1 ppg and 6.4 rpg while also playing excellent perimeter defense.  The concern with Deng is his history of injuries over recent seasons although that could help the Lakers in negotiations if it gets to that point.

There will be plenty of names linked to the Lakers over the next two seasons.  As we get closer to the end of the season, the plan for the Lakers to return to relevancy in the NBA will be clearer.   How the Lakers execute the plan will be the interesting part but as we’ve seen in the past, this franchise will find a way.

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Image: CHRIS TROTMAN | GETTY IMAGES

According to ESPNLA.com’s Ramona Shelburne and ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst, the Lakers are focusing on rebuilding around the two biggest free agents for 2014 – Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony.

Image: Harry How | Getty Images
Image: Harry How | Getty Images

In accordance with ESPN.com’s Marc Stein’s prediction of a $62.1 million salary cap for the 2014-15 season, the Lakers will theoretically have about $51.5 million in cap space next summer.

Although the reality of pairing James and Anthony together is still a long-shot at this point, the Lakers have made it clear that they plan to try.

The Lakers have positioned themselves into making a realistic run at not just one superstar next summer, but possibly two in the same off-season.

By refusing to commit to any contracts past this upcoming season, the Lakers have maintained maximum flexibility to cash-in on the 2014 free agency frenzy.

A league source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN:

“It’s all wishful thinking at this point,” a league source said. “Teams are doing more wishing than LeBron is wanting right now.

“It’s not about where LeBron wants to go [to win]. He already has two rings. If LeBron moved to Reno, teams would come to him.”

James, who has an opt-out clause for next season, has not made it clear as to whether he plans to exercise his opt-out or not.

It seems that James has learned from his previous “decision” by refusing to discuss his future plans until the time comes.

Image: Jeff Gross | Getty Images
Image: Jeff Gross | Getty Images

In addition to James, Anthony also has an early termination option in his contract after this next season.

One source close to Anthony’s situation told ESPN:

“It would make sense for him to exercise the early termination option on his contract after next season to become a free agent and secure either a four- or five-year extension.”

Although the Lakers have tons of cap space next season, there is nothing concrete to sell potential free agents on.

As it currently stands, the Lakers do not even have any current marquee players, like they would have had had Dwight Howard re-signed this off-season.

Not even Kobe Bryant, who is in the final year of his contract, is guaranteed to be in the fold after next year.

Bryant has said recently that he plans to play another two or three more seasons, but would need to take a major pay-cut for the Lakers to maintain enough room to purse two max-level free agents.

Bryant, however, recently told ESPNLA.com’s Dave McMenamin that he intends to be involved in the Lakers’ recruiting efforts for 2014:

“It’s an open conversation, via text and also meeting in person and just picking up the phone and calling,” Bryant said of his involvement. “[The Lakers] have kept me in the loop pretty well.”

With Bryant at the head of the recruiting process, it could bode well for the Lakers’ pursuit of Anthony, in particular.

Image: Phil Walter | Getty Images
Image: Phil Walter | Getty Images

Bryant and Anthony developed a close relationship during their time together in the recent Summer Olympics, and have remained friends since.

The two superstars have also discussed potentially playing together in the past.

It should be interesting to see if the Lakers can in fact lure two max-level free agents next summer, in addition to re-signing Bryant at an affordable price.

The Lakers remain poised to do so, however, with Steve Nash ($9.7 million) and Robert Sacre ($915,243) the only players on the books for 2014-15.

According to the ESPNLA.com’s report, the new collective bargaining agreement would allow the Lakers to waive the final year of Nash’s contract, so they could potentially “stretch” his $9.7 million out over three years.

This would mean that only $3.2 million would count against the 2014-15 salary cap, giving the Lakers even more cap flexibility.

As a result of this cap rule, the Lakers could then grant Bryant’s wish and extend his contract for another few seasons at between $10-15 million per season.

Even with Bryant making about $10-15 million per season, the Lakers would still theoretically have enough room to pursue two max-level players.

In addition to Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, the 2014 free agency class potentially includes Dwyane Wade, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Andrew Bogut, Dirk Nowitzki, and current Lakers Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, among others.

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The past season for the Lakers was one of the most painful things to watch. A new era aims to change that. The question is, however: Why should we believe?