10 NBA players off to a hot start

The NFL is the biggest and most-watched professional sports organization in North America each October and November. Nothing the NBA does will ever alter that reality. With that said, basketball diehards could legitimately claim the Association has been responsible for the better and more entertaining storylines between the two leagues since the start of the 2019-20 campaign. 

Stephen Curry is out indefinitely after suffering a broken hand in late October, and the Golden State Warriors plummeted to the basement of the Western Conference standings. LeBron James once again looks like the best overall player on the planet. The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t a complete disaster as of mid-November. Seemingly everybody has a take on load management and what it means for the NBA now and in the future. 

Association experts, observers and fans promised the most open and competitive season of the decade, and the league didn’t disappoint as Halloween decorations made way for Christmas lights and holiday music. Granted, not every player off to a hot start this fall will be in meaningful basketball games come April. Some even may be moved before the trade deadline. But at least a few are early contenders for honors such as Most Improved Player and Most Valuable Player, and a certain 24-year-old may finally be in the infancy of a long-awaited breakout year. 

Who is off to a hot start so far this season?

Trae Young 

Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young tallying five steals during a Nov. 8 loss to the Sacramento Kings was an aberration. To put it nicely, the 21-year-old remains a liability on defense and often appears disinterested with that aspect of playing. Young also made history, per Hawks PR, by becoming the first player to ever notch at least 38 points, nine assists and seven boards across his team’s opening two regular-season contests. He drained 14-of-28 three-point attempts in four October games, and he’s shooting over 46 percent from the field. With John Collins suspended for 25 games, Young is tasked with carrying Atlanta’s offensive burden more than at any previous point of his 90-game career.

Kyrie Irving 

Nobody who has followed Kyrie Irving’s career was shocked by the report from ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that claimed Irving lapsed “into a funk” and was responsible for an episode that left “everyone scratching their heads as to what precipitated it” during the Brooklyn Nets’ preseason trip to China. Irving likely will always be enigmatic off the court to those outside of his inner circle, but even his detractors located in Boston and Cleveland can’t ignore his scoring over the season’s first 10 games. Irving posted 29.7 PPG, roughly seven points better than his career average, over his first stretch of contests in Brooklyn colors. As Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News wrote, Irving set a franchise record by accumulating 222 points through Brooklyn’s first seven games. The one-time champion who grew up in New Jersey says he’s happy living and playing in the Big Apple. Time will tell. 

Gordon Hayward

Basketball, like life, is often unfair. For the first time since Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome and horrific leg injury minutes into the 2017-18 season debut, the 29-year-old showed glimpses he had located his previous All-Star form. Hayward averaged 18.9 PPG and career-bests in REB (7.1) and field-goal percentage (55.5) over eight appearances. On Nov. 5, Hayward torched the Cleveland Cavaliers for 39 points while going 17-of-20 from the field. He was back. Then he suffered a broken hand on Nov. 9. That latest setback will sideline him for at least six weeks, according to Jimmy Golen of the Associated Press. 

Tristan Thompson 

Tristan Thompson and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t get the memo the team is tanking. Thompson finished Cleveland’s 10th game of the season third on the team in scoring, and he averaged career highs in PPG (16.5), REB (11.4) and BLK (1.4) over those outings. He’s even making threes for the first time in his pro career!
The 28-year-old is out of contract following the campaign, and the rebuilding Cavs have little reason to consider paying him beyond that deal. Thus, Thompson is auditioning for would-be contenders between now and Dec. 15 when offseason signees become trade-available.  
New Cleveland head coach John Beilein deserves praise for guiding a lackluster roster to a 4-6 start. The franchise nevertheless cannot exist in a state of denial. Thompson is currently worth more on the market than in the Cavs lineup. 

Thomas Bryant 

The Washington Wizards lost six of their first eight games en route to what is practically guaranteed to be a woeful season but center Thomas Bryant was one bright spot. The former Los Angeles Lakers castoff hit the 20-point mark in three of those eight outings, and he converted at least 60 percent of his attempts in three straight games from Nov. 4 through Nov. 8. Bryant began Nov. 13 averaging 2.3 BLK, 11.3 defensive rebounds and 14.8 total rebounds per 100 team possessions. If he can get back to his 33.3 percent three-point shooting from a season ago (he was at 26.1 percent after eight games), he can evolve into more than just a stat compiler for an awful team. 

Aron Baynes

During the 2019 FIFA World Cup , Boston Celtics salary cap casualty and Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes shot 52.4 percent (11-21) from beyond the arc while averaging 11.4 PPG and 5.5 REB. The 32-year-old carried that form over to the start of the NBA season. In 10 games, nine starts, Baynes averaged career-highs in PPG (16.2), REB (5.8), AST (3.1), BLK (0.9), three-point percentage (50.0), field goal percentage (59.0) and MIN (24.3). Guard Devin Booker is making those around him better en route to taking a necessary career leap, but Baynes is playing well enough to potentially keep Deandre Ayton a spectator once the 21-year-old serves his 25-game ban. 

Andre Drummond 

Can the Detroit Pistons win with Andre Drummond? The same question many within the basketball community asked on Oct. 1 hovers over the club in the middle of November. The 26-year-old center is good for 20 points and 20 rebounds whenever the mood strikes him. As of Nov. 13, nobody had scored more two-point field goals (reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo had played in two fewer games heading into that evening), and Drummond led the Association in offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, total boards, and total rebound percentage.  As Michael Pina of SB Nation explained, however, Drummond’s inconsistent efforts and obvious offensive limitations coupled with the fact the Pistons don’t have enough horses to make anything resembling a deep postseason run raise concerns about Drummond’s future. He can either test free agency next summer or exercise a player option worth over $28.7 million for 2020-21. As cruel as it is to suggest, the Pistons may require a top-tier team to lose a starter at Drummond’s position to move the big man before the trade deadline. Both player and club could benefit from such a transaction. 

Andrew Wiggins

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins was a punchline for much of his side’s season opener vs. the Brooklyn Nets, even though he made a couple of clutch shots during the overtime period. Few are laughing at the 24-year-old after 10 games. Wiggins is averaging career marks in PPG (25.5), AST (3.3), BLK (1.1) and field goal percentage (47.3), and as Danny Cunningham of SKOR North wrote, he also has drastically improved his shot selection, and the six-year pro is attacking the rim unlike at previous times during his underwhelming “empty points” periods.  Can this version of Wiggins last through the harsh winter months? Will he put forth more than half-efforts on defense minus the occasional solid outing? If “yes” is the answer to both questions, Wiggins will contend for Most Improved Player honors. 

James Harden

Houston Rockets guard James Harden heard your offseason jokes about his inability and unwillingness to share the ball with Russell Westbrook. Per Justin Kubatko of Statmuse and Basketball-Reference, the one-time regular-season MVP is only the third player in league history to average at least 37 PPG through the opening 10 games of a campaign. (Harden was at 37.3 at the start of Nov. 13.) The 30-year-old also scored the most points across 10 contests (373) than any player since Rick Barry tallied 381 points in the fall of 1966. Most frightening for opposing defenses is that several signs point to Harden heating up rather than peaking ahead of Thanksgiving. He shot under 13 percent from three-point land in three of his first five games before returning to form from long distance over the subsequent four outings. From Nov. 4 through Nov. 11, Harden averaged 40.25 PPG in four games. 

LeBron James 

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James turns 35 years old in December, but one wouldn’t know that by watching him this fall. USA Today, Alex Kennedy of Hoops Hype, Nemanja Vukasinovic of Fadeaway World and Forbes’ Tommy Beer all mentioned James as an MVP candidate in early November, and the King averaged 24.0 PPG, 11.0 AST, 8.2 REB and 1.1 STL in his first 10 games. He shot 47.1 percent from the field over that period.  James isn’t a fan of load management. “If I’m hurt, I don’t play. If not, I’m playing,” he told ESPN earlier this month. Lakers coach Frank Vogel should approach the situation differently. Los Angeles is built to win a title next spring. Limiting James’ involvement in relatively meaningless games this winter is vital to achieving that goal. 

Last season, the Toronto Raptors featured Kawhi Leonard in 60 regular-season contests. Leonard entered the playoffs fresh, and he was the Association’s top two-way player throughout the postseason. The Lakers require James’ best beginning next April, not in January. 

https://www.yardbarker.com/nba/articles/10_nba_players_off_to_a_hot_start/s1_13132_30528971

By: Zac Wassink

NBA free agency: Winners and losers from Day 1

NBA free agency officially tipped off around the league Sunday evening. It’s been one of the most highly anticipated free agent classes in modern history.

We got answers to some pretty big questions as free agency got going on Day 1. The Boston Celtics netted All-NBA guard Kemba Walker to replace Kyrie Irving, who ended up signing with the Brooklyn Nets.

Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic retained star center Nikola Vucevic on a less-than max contract. More than anything, the Nets’ ability to team Kyrie Irving up with Kevin Durant changes the entire dynamic around the Association.

It’s in this that we give you the biggest winners and losers from the first day of NBA free agency.

Winner: Kemba Walker

Walker traded the small market of Charlotte for the bright lights of Boston. While that’s going to come with a lot of pressure as the face of the Celtics’ franchise, Walker appears to be more than up for the task. He also joins a championship contender after toiling in mediocrity with the Hornets over the past eight seasons.

Equally as important, Walker netted a max four-year, $141 million deal from Boston after the Hornets low-balled him with a five-year, $160 million contract. Now the face of a contending team, Walker is a major winner.

Loser: Free agent big men

Nikola Vucevic receiving less than the max from Orlando represented a major hit for other free agent big men. In fact, his four-year, $100 million contract is well below market value. The same thing can be said about the three-year, $45 million contract Jonas Valanciunas signed with the Memphis Grizzlies.

This does not bode well for other free agents at the center position. Specifically, the market is going to be bare for DeMarcus Cousins.

Winner: Golden State Warriors

Even after both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson suffered serious injuries in the NBA Finals, it was reported that Golden State would extend max-contract offers to both free agents. While Durant ultimately signed with Brooklyn, the Warriors did in fact offer him a five-year, $221 million deal. Meanwhile, Thompson committed to a five-year, $190 million max deal with Golden State.

It’s rare in today’s sports landscape to see a team show this type of loyalty to players. Thompson’s ACL injury is less severe than Durant’s ruptured Achilles. But both are serious. Offering up $411 million in guaranteed cash represents a major commitment for a team that’s facing billions in payroll over the next few seasons, even with Durant on his way to Brooklyn.

Loser: Kyrie Irving

Irving might have received a max contract from the Brooklyn Nets Sunday night. But it did not come without his reputation being tainted big time. Reports of his diva-like mentality ruining the Boston Celtics gave way to Irving’s former team not showing any real interest in re-signing him. That’s a major black eye for the NBA champion.

It’s also important to note that Boston did not waste any time replacing Irving with fellow All-Star Kemba Walker. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how all of this plays out. Should Walker lead Boston to championship contention with Irving’s Nets struggling while forming a super team, it would represent another major hit for the veteran.

Winner: Brooklyn Nets

Irving as a loser with the Nets as a winner? Both can be true. Brooklyn targeted Irving immediately after the 2018-19 season. It culminated in a max contract agreement Sunday evening. It also represents the biggest free-agent signing in Nets history.

Well, that was until later on Sunday when Kevin Durant announced he was signing with the Nets . He’s going to be joined by best bud DeAndre Jordan to form a new big three in the Big Apple. While KD is out for all of next season, the Nets still have a team worthy of competing in the Eastern Conference until he returns the following season. It was a memorable day Sunday in the Mecca of the basketball world. That’s putting it lightly.

Loser: Charlotte Hornets

Michael Jordan’s tenure as the Hornets’ owner has been an unmitigated disaster. The latest example of this is Charlotte offering Kemba Walker a five-year, $160 million contract, about $61 million less than it could have offered the All-NBA performer.

Instead, the Hornets head into next season with Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller counting a combined $71-plus million against the cap. That’s just horrible stuff right there. And it’s certainly enough to make MJ and Co. major losers in free agency. But hey, at least they’re now paying Terry Rozier nearly $20 million annually.

Full Article

By: Vincent Frank

Best team fits for players in NBA Draft

Yardbarker NBA draft analyst Brett Koremenos offers the best player-team fits in the June 20 draft. (Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and the Lakers, anyone?)

Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and Los Angeles Lakers

During the 2018-19 season, the Lakers ranked 29th in three-point field goal percentage. Garland may be one of the best shooters in the draft. Should major contributors Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kouzma and, of course, LeBron James be on the L.A. roster opening night, Garland will be in a perfect spot. There will be no pressure for him to start right away, a nice transition for a player who missed most of his only season at Vanderbilt because of a knee injury. If he were to land with the Lakers, Garland would play with a ball-dominant playmaker — either James or Ball — allowing Garland to do what he does best: shoot.

Texas’ Jaxson Hayes and Washington Wizards

When the aging Marcin Gortat was traded last year, Wizards franchise point guard John Wall lost arguably the best pick-and-roll partner he has had in D.C. Enter Hayes. Nothing would help a rookie center find his NBA footing like one of the league’s best passers. As for Wall, he’d find new life having a young, lob-catching big man to help him torture defenses.

Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura and Miami Heat

Ever since the Big Three left town, Miami has become the basketball version of the Island of Misfit Toys. From Josh Richardson to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, the Heat has taken players without a clearly defined position and found a way to make them work. For a hard-working but unrefined forward such as the 6-foot-8 Hachimura, Miami would be a godsend. Somehow Miami’s culture would likely find a way to ensure Hachimura becomes a valuable NBA contributor.

Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson and Detroit Pistons

Detroit’s recent mediocrity mostly can be linked to sub-par wing play. Johnson’s game isn’t super-sexy, but he’s an energetic defender with a jump shot that should require respect from NBA three-point territory. 

Tennessee’s Grant Williams and Utah Jazz

With Donovan Mitchell emerging as the offensive star and Rudy Golbert anchoring the defense, the Jazz isn’t desperate for star power. Instead, the team needs role players capable of executing their savvy brand of basketball and hitting open shots. That sounds exactly like what the rugged but instinctive Williams should bring. Although the shooting isn’t quite a sure thing (yet), the Tennessee forward would carve out a rotation spot quickly in Utah.

Arizona State’s Lu Dort and Portland Trail Blazers

Perhaps the biggest flaw in Dort’s game is the decisions he makes with the ball in his hands. When you play for the Portland Trail Blazers, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard handle those situations. With the Blazers, Dort could emerge as the perfect defensive yin to Lillard and McCollum’s offensive yang. The strong and athletic guard could handle tough backcourt assignments, allowing Portland’s bucket-getting duo to focus solely on tormenting defenses.

Washington’s Matisse Thybulle and San Antonio Spurs

Over the past two decades, the Spurs have developed a reputation. San Antonio will take a raw wing player and, almost under the cover of night, develop him into a crucial cog in their playoff machine. Thybulle has made a name for himself as an athletic, disruptive 6-foot-5 defender oozing potential but lacking refinement. He spent time at Washington playing in a 2-3 zone and doesn’t have much in the way of offensive skills. If any team could unlock Thybulle’s potential and turn him into a two-way force, it’s the Spurs.

Georgia’s Nic Claxton and Brooklyn Nets

After making an appearance in this year’s playoffs, the Nets finally got a chance to show off their innovative offense. It was orchestrated by young players who benefited from the great developmental process in Brooklyn. If you squint hard enough, Claxton has the makings of a rangy, perimeter-savvy center with a respectable outside shot. But like unfinished sculpture, Claxton needs a team to chip away the rough edges. For a Nets offense that likes to have all its players capable of handling themselves behind the three-point line, Claxton would be a perfect addition

Full List

By: Brett Koremenos

Bucks Get Tyler Zeller From Nets

Written by Colin Ward-Henniger at CBS Sports.com

The Milwaukee Bucks added to their frontcourt depth by agreeing to acquire center Tyler Zeller from the Brooklyn Nets, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

In return, the Nets will receive guard Rashad Vaughn, along with a second-round draft pick, the details of which Wojnarowski detailed in his report:

The Bucks will send the 2018 second-round pick to the Nets should it fall between 31 and 47 in the draft. Otherwise, Phoenix will receive the pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. If the Bucks pick doesn’t convey in 2018, Milwaukee will send its unprotected second-round pick in 2020 to Brooklyn, league sources said.

Zeller is a 7-foot center averaging 7.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in nearly 17 minutes this season for the Nets. He’ll compete with Bucks big men John Henson and Thon Maker for playing time in Milwaukee.

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Nets Trade For Jah Okafor

Written by Zach Lowe at ESPN.com

Jahlil Okafor got his wish on Thursday when the Philadelphia 76ers finally traded the beleaguered No. 3 overall pick of the 2015 draft to the Brooklyn Netsin exchange for forward Trevor Booker.

The deal ends the stalemate that had kept Okafor on the bench for all but two games this season.

Once a prized piece of The Process, Okafor rapidly fell out of favor with the rise of star center Joel Embiid.

“Love you. New beginnings,” Embiid said he texted Okafor. “Good luck. And I made sure to let him know I was going to kick his ass.”

Team president Bryan Colangelo said he reached a deal with a team he declined to name to trade Okafor last season until it fell apart at the last minute. That led to an awkward situation where Okafor didn’t even travel with the team during the trade deadline. Okafor led the Sixers in scoring as a rookie with Embiid out with injuries. Okafor played 55 games last season and never really meshed with the franchise center. Okafor started piling up DNP-CDs and those stretched into this season, where the Sixers will chase a playoff berth without him.

“He can go play basketball again,” coach Brett Brown said.

The Sixers also sent seldom-used guard Nik Stauskas, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2014 draft, and a 2019 second-round pick to the Nets for Booker. Booker, the 23rd overall pick of the 2010 draft, averaged 10.1 points and 6.6 rebounds with the Nets.

 “There is a level of toughness and versatility that interests me,” Brown said. “He’s shown that he can play, handle not [playing] and be good people and handle himself like a pro.”
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Nets Trade For Allen Crabbe

Written by NBA.com Staff at NBA.com

On Day 25 of free agency, the Brooklyn Nets had the most remaining cap space. And they used it to add more young talent to their roster. The team announced the trade for Allen Crabbe in exchange for Andrew Nicholson.

Crabbe, a 25-year-old wing who shot 44 percent from 3-point range for Portland last season, is one of the four restricted free agents Nets general manager has signed to an offer sheet over the last 13 months. In all four cases (Tyler Johnson, Donatas Motiejunas and Otto Porter were the others), the player’s original team matched the offer.

But after last year’s spending spree and with big contracts for Damian Lillard ($26 million this season), C.J. McCollum ($24 million) and Evan Turner ($17 million) on the books, the Blazers are in a position where they need to shed salary. Crabbe’s 2017-18 salary is almost $13 million less than that of Nicholson, who the Blazers will waive to save even more money this year. The $19.9 million left on his contract will be stretched over the next seven seasons.

The Blazers lose some depth on the wing and their best complementary shooter, but gain, along with a ton of tax relief, some flexibility going forward. That could be critical with Jusuf Nurkic set to be a restricted free agent next summer.

With Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll (also acquired with cap space) and Caris LeVert, the Nets have some starting-caliber talent on the wings to complement their backcourt of D’Angelo Russell and Jeremy Lin. Nicholson had originally been acquired with the No. 22 pick from Washington for Bojan Bogdanovic in February. Having arrived in Brooklyn with no assets, Marks continues to make moves to inch his team toward being competitive. The Nets will be without their own first round pick for one more year.

Only Kyle Korver (45.1 percent) shot better than Crabbe (44.4 percent) from beyond the arc on at least 200 attempts last season. Brooklyn ranked fourth in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range, but 26th in 3-point percentage.

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Raptors Make Two Trades Over Weekend

Written by Jon Krawczynski at NBA.com

Looking down the barrel of some significant luxury tax penalties, Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri is moving swiftly to get below the tax line while keeping his team competitive in the wide-open Eastern Conference.

Ujiri pulled off two trades in about 12 hours, sending veteran forward DeMarre Carroll to Brooklyn in a salary dump and landing C.J. Miles in a sign-and-trade with Indiana for Cory Joseph, three people with knowledge of the dealings told The Associated Press.

The Raptors and Nets agreed to the Carroll deal late Saturday night, with Toronto sending a future first- and second-round pick to Brooklyn with Carroll and getting Justin Hamilton in return.

The deal allowed Toronto to offload Carroll’s remaining two years and $30 million from its books, which helped the Raptors dip below the punitive luxury tax line in a summer when they re-signed point guard Kyle Lowry to a three-year, $100 million deal.

Carroll was coming off a disappointing season in which he averaged 8.9 points on 34 percent shooting in 72 games. Still, his abilities as a defender and his veteran presence were important for a Raptors team that is trying to close the gap on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who swept Toronto out of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

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Otto Porter Agrees To Max Contract With Nets, Wizards Have Until Saturday At Midnight To Match

Written by Tim Bontemps at Washington Post.com

The Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night offered a four-year, $106 million contract to restricted free agent Otto Porter Jr., the maximum they could give the Washington Wizards forward, following a meeting between the two sides the day before.

Because the NBA is still in its moratorium to begin free agency, the offer won’t become official until noon Thursday, when deals are first allowed to be signed. And the Wizards would then have until 11:59 p.m. Saturday to match the offer and retain Porter’s services. If Washington chooses to match the offer — something several sources reiterated Tuesday that the Wizards have every intention of doing — the Wizards would keep Porter and he would not go to Brooklyn.

When those moves happened, the expectation was that Porter had told Sacramento he wasn’t going to sign there — meaning that he had another maximum offer in hand from a more desirable team. And, as expected, it turned out the Nets were that team, with their offer coming after their own meeting with Porter.

Now the ball is in Washington’s court. And, barring a reversal from what several sources have maintained for months, Porter will return to the Wizards as the team’s highest-paid player next season.

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Lakers Laughing At Brooklyn, Fleeced Them In Trade

Written by Baxter Holmes at ESPN.com

Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka on Thursday explained the team’s logic for pulling off its draft-week trade with the Brooklyn Nets, which included shipping out promising point guard D’Angelo Russell in what amounted to a salary dump. The trade was made official Thursday.

Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft, was dealt to Brooklyn along with center Timofey Mozgov, who is entering the second year of a four-year, $64 million contract. In return, the Lakers received Nets center Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in Thursday’s draft.

Pelinka was first asked if Russell was traded in part because the Lakers were so confident in the abilities of point guard Lonzo Ball, whom the Lakers drafted No. 2 overall Thursday.

“I think D’Angelo is a special player and definitely wouldn’t want to attach the name ‘expendable’ next to him, because he’s an extraordinary talent,” Pelinka said. “We just looked at that trade as really doing three things that were really positive for us.

“One is we got an All-Star caliber [center] that can spread the floor and open things up. Brook Lopez really transformed his game last year and became a guy that was making 3s.”

Lopez, 29, averaged 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 blocks for the Nets last season. He also attempted 387 shots from 3-point range and made 34.6 percent of them.

Lopez enters 2017-18 in the final season of his contract that will pay him $22.64 million. His expiring contract and clearing Mozgov off their books will give the Lakers close to $60 million in significant cap room next summer.

“Then of course, we were able to get amazing salary-cap relief and space, so in July of 2018 we have the ability to add hopefully two max-salary players to our franchise,” Pelinka said. “And that really fit into our long-term play.

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Lakers Trade D’Angelo Russell And Mozgov for First Round Pick and Brook Lopez

Written by Ben Golliver at SI.com

D’Angelo Russell just went from point guard of the future to salary-dump facilitator in two years flat.

In June 2015, the No. 2 overall pick was pitched as a possible heir apparent to Kobe Bryant, a flashy scoring guard who would drive the Lakers’ rebuild. On Tuesday, Russell was sacrificed by L.A.’s new front-office regime to shed one of the NBA’s worst contracts.

The Lakers have reportedly agreed to trade Russell and center Timofey Mozgov to the Nets in exchange for center Brook Lopez and the No. 27 pick in Thursday’s draft. L.A.’s motivation in this deal is primarily financial: Mozgov is owed $48 million over the next three years while Lopez will make $22.6 million next season in the final year of his contract, an exchange that will give the Lakers significantly more salary cap room next summer when LeBron James, Paul George and other marquee stars enter free agency.

Let’s grade the trade.

Los Angeles Lakers: B–

Russell’s two-year tenure in L.A. should live forever in the “How Not To Develop A Top Prospect” Hall of Fame. Arriving in Hollywood at age 19, Russell was stuck playing for a coach (Byron Scott) who didn’t trust him and alongside a legend (Bryant) who had little time for him. As a result, the “highlight” of his rookie year was his release of a locker room-fracturing tape of teammate Nick Young discussing private matters. In Year Two, Russell got a new coach (Luke Walton) and was freed from Bryant, but he failed to show much progress on the court as questions about his maturity continued to dog him.

While he showed flashes of the scoring and playmaking skills that made him a top pick out of Ohio State, Russell (15.6 PPG, 4.8 APG) also proved to be a streaky shooter, a mediocre offense-initiator, and a consistently abysmal defender, posting an atrocious 113.4 defensive rating for a Lakers team that ranked dead last in defensive efficiency. Down the stretch off his second season, Russell was benched and then shifted off the ball, raising questions about his role next season. If the Lakers draft UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball at No. 2, as expected, how would a Ball/Russell backcourt ever score enough to make up for their porous defense? And, would Russell be able to reach his ceiling as a playmaker if Ball was running the show at the point?

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