Lakers newsletter: Thirty-seven random thoughts about the Lakers
Hi, this is Dan Woike, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your Lakers newsletter, where we don’t get to go on All-Star break.
In honor of the Lakers’ 24-13 first half record, I’ve decided to give everyone 37 random Lakers thoughts/observations from the first half of the season, a chance for me to get some things off my chest about what I’ve witnessed with this team since way back in December.
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1. I asked Kyle Kuzma last night about the first half of the season, and I tend to mostly agree with him when he called the 24-13 record “a win.” There’s ultimately been more good than bad during a stretch of games that really only matter so much.
2. The Lakers haven’t been shy when talking about the value they’re placing on these games. Dennis Schroder has a word for them – “practice.”
3. The reason the team can afford this approach – the defense is phenomenal and there’s seemingly enough offensive talent where the Lakers won’t be over-run in a playoff series.
4. Still, a lot of this is projection. Anthony Davis has to be better than he was in the first half of the schedule, where some scouts have sort of marveled at how inconsistently he’s performed.
5. Davis’ injury might end up being scarier than it sounds. The ways the Lakers have spoken about Davis injury, tying it so closely to a four-week timetable makes me think that it’s way more about rest than it is anything else.
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6. I think the biggest disappointment with Davis this season is how he’s backed off from becoming a threat from three-point range.
7. LeBron James has been playing at an MVP-caliber level which makes sense because he’s probably still the best player in the league. In particular, his defense has largely been remarkable – an All-Defensive team spot isn’t out of reach.
8. His minutes are a worry. No matter how much James says “tired” is a mindset, it’s an unavoidable reality.
9. That being said, there’s really no good reason not to trust James when it comes to how he handles his body. It’s his most valuable instrument, and he spends tons of time, money and energy to keep it well-tuned. The safe best is on him being where he needs to be in the playoffs.
10. Kuzma’s playing the best basketball of his career – helping the Lakers win in a bunch of different ways on a pretty consistent basis. His extension this offseason, in the eyes of rival scouts, is looking like a bargain.
11. Dennis Schroder’s acclimated nicely as well and seems like he’s earned himself a nice extension too. His energy has been valuable in a season largely devoid of emotion. But it’s worrisome that his three-point percentage has dipped along with his attempts.
12. The Lakers’ three-point shooting, as a whole, has been disappointing. I’ve talked to some scouts who think it’s a bigger need than help at center.
13. Speaking of centers, the Lakers need to figure out what to do with Montrezl Harrell.
14. Earlier this year, Harrell stayed on the bench because Washington went too big. Against Phoenix, he stayed on the bench because the Suns went too small. Finding the “just right” matchups for him won’t cut it. He matters too much.
15. Defensively, it seems like he’s not up to speed with what the Lakers want/need from him. And those problems look much worse with Davis not on the court. He can cover up for a lot of those errors.
16. I don’t think Marc Gasol has played as bad as his numbers suggest, but I also don’t think his intangibles have been valuable enough for the Lakers to feel comfortable at center.
17. Signing Andre Drummond if he gets bought out seems like the best option considering how little the Lakers have to trade.
18. Alex Caruso has played well enough in the first half of the schedule where he can reasonably expect to get the full mid-level exception from a team this summer.
19. Talen Horton-Tucker’s season has been uneven, but he’s, by far, the Lakers best trade asset. And because of his free agency this summer, the Lakers are going to have to decide what the right number is for him and whether they want to pay it (hint – it’ll be pretty big).
20. I think P.J. Tucker would make a lot of sense – his spot-up shooting, defensive flexibility make him an ideal partner with LeBron James. But does he offer Davis enough protection from banging with other physical centers.
21. Most scouts think the Lakers’ best option at center is already on the roster – Davis himself. It’s just not something he’s interested in full time.
22. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s season has been confounding. He’d looked perfectly at home in his role as a pace-pusher, spot-up shooter and competitive defender. But as his shooting has fallen off, so have the other areas in his game. Is there a way the Lakers maybe upgrade at SG at the deadline?
23. Staples Center without fans is a weird place.
24. Markieff Morris has become a favorite with the media for his habitual truth-telling. He said he’s mentally drained. Guess what? The Lakers look like they’ve been mentally drained for a while.
25. I spoke with a former NBA All-Star today who made the simple observation – despite their inconsistency and struggles, the Lakers are really the only team who went deep in the bubble who played relatively well in the first half of the season.
26. Damian Jones has definitely earned himself a second 10-day deal, but I have some skepticism. If a young, bouncy center couldn’t figure it out with Stephen Curry, Trae Young or Chris Paul, I’m not sure how much there’s left to do.
27. I will watch LeBron James’ “Space Jam” – but only out of professional obligation.
28. The Lakers have way too many uniforms and I can’t keep track.
29. I think JaVale McGee would be a nice addition – he’s willing to sacrifice, gives the Lakers a dimension they miss without having to add a huge ego. I’ve heard there’s some interest, but McGee would need to be traded to another team from Cleveland and then be bought out to be eligible to sign with the Lakers.
30. It’s not just that the Lakers have struggled some – the NBA is better as a whole with teams like Brooklyn, Utah, Philadelphia and the Clippers all looking like legit threats to the Lakers’ title. I’m not sure I’m there on the Suns, but they’ve played great, too.
31. While you cook up fake trades in the next few weeks, the key is to try and figure out who the active sellers might be. Teams I’d call and check on – Orlando (maybe Terrance Ross?), Toronto, Cleveland, Chicago, New Orleans and Sacramento. But it’s going to be tough to do something significant.
32. There just aren’t a ton of players who would upgrade the Lakers roster who make the salaries in a trade match while also being under-valued by the team trading them. And it’s not like the Lakers have picks to trade.
33. I truly believe that if LeBron James and Anthony Davis are both healthy, the Lakers should be the favorites in the Western Conference (but I think they should be underdogs against a healthy Brooklyn team).
34. If the Lakers are able to get healthy, I’d expect them to recapture some offensive rhythm and maybe work their way back into the NBA’s top third. They’re not as good as they played at the start of the season, but it’s not as bad as its been over the past month.
35. The All-Star break might be the most important week of the Lakers’ regular season.
36. Credit to Frank Vogel for keeping the Lakers so engaged on the defensive side of the basketball while continuing to keep an eye on big picture goals. It’s a lot easier for a team to focus on offense, especially when its tired. And the Lakers have fought hard against that, despite a few clunkers late.
37. I can’t believe we’re only halfway done.
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