The days when the Los Angeles Lakers brought Showtime to an arena near you on a nightly basis are still a ways off.
Still, there is a definite buzz and excitement surrounding this franchise now, and it centers on one player: Lonzo Ball.
Taken with the No. 2 pick in the June NBA draft, Ball comes to the NBA after having played just one season at UCLA, where he averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 assists and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 55.1 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from 3-point range.
But his impact went beyond the numbers.
Ball showed an uncanny knack for doing more than just getting his teammates involved but actually making them better.
It is that intangible that makes him such an ideal fit for a Lakers franchise that has failed to make the playoffs in each of the past four seasons.
And in their last postseason appearance, they were swept by San Antonio in 2013.
As much as the Lakers show clear signs of improving this season, let’s be real.
There’s a clear and undeniable eye by this franchise towards the summer of 2018 when they will be well-positioned to land both LeBron James and Paul George.
Pursuing James is a no-brainer.
The same applies to George, who grew up near Los Angeles and has reportedly indicated a desire to go back and play closer to home with the Lakers.
The Lakers would love that, with that desire to bring George in going a bit too far in the eyes of the NBA, which fined the Lakers $500,000 for violating the league’s anti-tampering rules.
The league’s internal investigation revealed that Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka had conversations with George’s agent that, according to the NBA, “constituted a prohibited expression of interest in the player while he was under contract.”
Regardless of the fine, the Lakers will certainly pursue both James and George when they hit free agency next summer.
But in the meantime, the Lakers will try and field a team this season that will be more competitive. Their youthful core includes Ball, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle and continues to gain experience and pave the way for the next wave of Showtime.
Key free agent/draft/trade additions: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Detroit); Brook Lopez (Brooklyn).
Key losses: D’Angelo Russell (Brooklyn); Nick Young (Golden State).
Rookies of note: Lonzo Ball; Kyle Kuzma.
Expectations: 32-50 (third in the Pacific Division, 12th in the West)
LOS ANGELES – Kyrie Irving won’t be all by his lonesome during all-star weekend next month, with teammate Al Horford being selected as an all-star reserve.
For Horford, this will be his fifth all-star selection but first as a member of the Boston Celtics after joining the team in 2016.
Horford’s play, particularly on defense, has been instrumental to the Celtics (34-13) having the best record in the Eastern Conference, and third overall in the NBA.
This season, he has averaged 13.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while shooting a career-best 43 percent from 3-point range.
Horford’s numbers don’t always speak to his impact on teams and more important, winning games.
“He’s a big part of our team in order for us to be number one in the East and hopefully sustain that spot,” Irving said earlier today. “We know how valuable he is. The Celtics organization, our team, everybody. He definitely has a case; he’s got my vote.”
Horford is grateful and appreciative of being named an all-star.
But his focus, as you might expect, is on what he views as a much more significant prize – a victory tonight which would snap Boston’s season-long losing streak which stands at three straight.
Horford is more concerned about the Celtics setting the tone defensively tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“That has to be our mindset,” he said. “And sticking together. So this is a great time for us to make sure we’re together and we do it as a group.”
The NBA trade deadline is a little more than two weeks away and despite the Celtics owning the best record in the Eastern Conference, they may need to think long and hard about making a move.
The Celtics bench unit is shooting 39.3 percent from the floor this season. Not only is that last in the NBA, it’s the sixth-lowest field-goal percentage for a bench unit the past 18 seasons. Their 49.1 effective-field-goal percentage is 29th in the NBA. Of the 160 teams that qualified for the playoffs the past 10 years, only two finished the regular season ranked that low in bench eFG%; and both of those teams lost in the first round.
Part of the problem for the Celtics is the inconsistent shooting of Terry Rozier. The third-year guard has shown flashes as a dependable scorer, but has been unable to avoid long shooting slumps so far in his career (he’s currently mired in a 10-for-41 slump over the past five games). Scary Terry is certainly capable of terrorizing (Terryrizing?) opponents; the Celtics are 20-4 when Rozier hits two or more three-point field goals this season. But that’s happened in just 24 of the 47 games he’s played this season.
You can argue that his defense makes up for the offensive struggles. The Celtics bench does have the second-best defensive rating in the NBA. But how much of that is due to Marcus Smart? And how valuable is a second unit that can defend but has a historically bad FG%? The Celtics are going to have to answer those questions before the Feb. 8 trade deadline.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting the Celtics trade or replace Terry Rozier. They just need to improve their bench’s ability to make baskets, one way or another, if they want to be playing basketball in June.