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Lakers newsletter: Time to open the reader mailbag

Montrezl Harrell drives to basket against Dallas' Dorian Finney-Smith.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

Hi, this is Dan Woike, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times. Welcome back to the Lakers newsletter, the one email you get each week where you know our requests for wire transfers to help you secure large inheritances from distant relatives are legit.

The Lakers have wrapped their season-opening four-game homestand, with wins over Dallas and Minnesota and losses to the Clippers and Portland. The games gave us glimpses of the Lakers’ vast potential, exposed a few potential weaknesses and began the process of making an empty Staples Center look a little more normal.

For this week’s newsletter, we opened up the mailbag, reaching out to our Full Court Text users to see what they wanted to know.

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On to the texts:

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JaVale McGee, left, and Dwight Howard with the Lakers last season.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Hey Dan, it’s Anthony from Glendale. What are some things you’ve noticed from this year’s Laker team that have improved from last year’s? Losing Dwight and JaVale leads to fewer blocked shots, has this been a defensive problem so far?

Hey, it’s Ted from Riverside. Let me start by saying l’m very happy to have this outlet to express my views. I’m super happy with Rob Pelinka’s signings this year. Montrezl Harrell was a real steal and signing him to 2 years for 19M is great. Dennis Schroder is a terrific signing, a true point guard who can also score and play defense, who could ask for more and he’s 27, what a signing. I hope they can sign him to a long-term contract. …Marc Gasol is a disappointment so far. He looks too slow and seems to add very little to the lineup. I would much rather have Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee.

Will the Lakers regret not retaining one of their athletic centers from last season? Harrell and Gasol are not exactly great rim protectors and neither can switch onto guards.

I’m Gene Ward originally from Cali but I live in Houston. Did Rob Pelinka make a mistake not keeping Dwight and/or Boogie Cousins, both of whom signed for the minimum?

Answer: This was by far the most popular question next to “Stop asking me if I know how to assemble a child’s playhouse. Drink a beer, suck it up and read the directions.” It’s probably been the most notable visible difference between the Lakers of last season and the team this year. Without JaVale McGee, without Dwight Howard, the Lakers certainly look a lot less intimidating to anyone driving to the rim.

The Lakers led the NBA in blocks last season, rejecting 6.6 shots per game. Opponents had the fourth-worst field-goal percentage inside of five feet against the jumbo Lakers.

“I don’t think we should be any worse than we were last year,” coach Frank Vogel said Monday. “There’s gonna be high expectations of protecting the basket.”

They’re going to have to do it differently, though.

One way will be with Montrezl Harrell drawing charges, essentially a play that has the same result as a blocked shot. Harrell drew 30 last year (tied for second most in the NBA) while still blocking 72 shots.

And then there’s Gasol, who will defend more with his smarts than with his feet (he blocked a C.J. McCollum three on Monday with almost a blind, back-handed swat).

The numbers in the very limited sample of this season are similar. Within five feet, opponents are making 1% more of their shots. And instead of averaging 6.6 blocks per game like they did last year, they’re averaging 6.3.

Do I think the Lakers will lead the league in blocks again? No. The combination of the players who left, plus Anthony Davis looking to be safe early in the season, probably means they’ll slip from among the leaders.

But I also think they’ll still be good enough at the rim to warrant the changes; the additions in other areas (bench scoring, floor spacing and passing) will offset them.

Dennis Schroder slices past Robert Covington for a second-half layup Monday.
Dennis Schroder slices past Robert Covington for a second-half layup Monday.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Hey Dan it’s Mike from Oak Park. Do we think the Kuzma contract was a signal the team wants to keep him, or was it a possible sign and trade scenario?

Hey Dan, it’s Norma here from Tustin. You think Jeannie & Rob will do everything they can to sign Schröder?

A: Let’s lump these two together because I think the answers are similar.

There are two reasons why the Lakers would extend Kyle Kuzma and look to do the same with Dennis Schroder. First, they’re good, young players who fill specific needs on the roster, pieces that work around LeBron James and Davis.

And secondly, when you pay James and Davis the money they’re worth, your options in free agency are limited. The easiest way to keep talent around max players is to re-sign the guys you have.

Could Kuzma or Schroder eventually be used in trades? Definitely. And their higher salaries, in some ways, help in the pursuit of top-tier talent because it’s easier to make the salaries match.

For now, they’re both in the Lakers’ immediate plans. From there, who knows?

Hey Dan, it’s Sanju from Loma Linda. If Vogel eventually shortens his rotation, which players do you think would be the biggest casualties?

A: I don’t think rotations will get shortened anytime soon because of the looming fear that a team will be without players because of the COVID protocols (like Alex Caruso on Monday).

If the Lakers were to get into a situation where a significant rotation change happens, my bet would be on more minutes for Talen Horton-Tucker. Wesley Matthews would be the easiest person to yield time to THT, though it could come from frontcourt minutes too thanks to Horton-Tucker’s versatility.

The safer guess is that Vogel will continue to use 10 or 11 guys most nights when he can.

Hey Dan, it’s Philip from Louisiana. How do you think the Lakers will handle this new season amid the pandemic?

A: They’ll handle it mostly in isolation.

The types of activities people do on the road to make the traveling palatable, the nights out at restaurants and bars, the trips to movie theaters, have been greatly regulated or discontinued during the pandemic.

NBA rules are very strict about what players can do on the road this season, and violations of those rules can lead to lengthy quarantine times and fines — in addition to increased exposure to the virus.

It’s going to be a challenge.

Non-titled video segment with someone I like

Screenshot from video
(Youtube)

For this week’s NTVSWSIL, I sat down with the Toronto Sun’s Bruce Arthur to chat about DeMar DeRozan ahead of the Lakers’ two-game visit to San Antonio.

Bruce is a basketball junkie in addition to being one of Canada’s most recognized sports columnists. He covered DeRozan since his first days in the NBA and has seen him evolve into the player he is today.

Watch the video by clicking here.

Song of the week

“Sequestered in Memphis” by The Hold Steady
“Sequestered in Memphis” by The Hold Steady
(Youtube)

“Sequestered in Memphis” by The Hold Steady

Let’s hope the trip is less eventful for the Lakers than it was for The Hold Steady, who were “Subpoenaed in Texas, sequestered in Memphis.”

Did you miss it?


Lakers falter at finish: 5 takeaways from loss to Portland

Marc Gasol’s veteran savvy against Timberwolves leaves Lakers in awe

LeBron James is AP’s male athlete of the year for record-tying fourth time

Dennis Schroder and Lakers seem like ideal pairing, but they’re not at altar yet

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at daniel.woike@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!


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