AN ARENA NEAR YOU — Welcome to another edition of the CSN Insiders Notebook.
Our CSN Bay Area Insider Monte Poole writes about the Los Angeles Lakers' reaching out to former Laker great Magic Johnson to take on a more official role with the team and help them navigate through what has been one of the worst stretches in the franchise’s illustrious history.
Lakers: Magic Johnson returns
One week after one Lakers legend, Kobe Bryant, offered his assistance to the team, franchise shot-caller Jeanie Buss turned to another legend in hopes of pulling the team out of its four-year tailspin.
She brought back Magic Johnson, who will serve as an adviser.
Johnson will work with ownership and coaches and even mentor and study players on the roster or those who might be considered.
“Everyone knows my love for the Lakers,'' Johnson said in a statement released by the team. ''Over the years, I have considered other management opportunities, however my devotion to the game and Los Angeles make the Lakers my first and only choice.
“I will do everything in my power to help return the Lakers to their rightful place among the elite teams of the NBA.''
It’s a big job, as the Lakers are on a trajectory to win 26 games and miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season for the first time in franchise history.
Clippers struggling without Chris Paul
After losing star point guard Chris Paul to a ligament tear in his left thumb on Jan. 17, the Clippers lost six of their next eight games, with four of the six by double-digit margins.
So, yes, they desperately miss the man who orchestrates their offense and sets the tone for their defense.
“When you’ve got a guy out like Chris,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, “you don’t have a margin for error.”
When the Clippers opened the season by winning 14 of their first 16 games, there was growing belief they could push the Warriors for Western Conference supremacy. That hope is history. The Warriors have won nine in a row over L.A., including three games this season.
“We’re playing and figuring out how to play without a guy who has the ball in his hands probably 80 percent of the time on offense,” said Blake Griffin, who returned Jan. 31 after a five-week absence. “That changes a lot of things for us.” – by Monte Poole
Kings beat the best, beaten by the worst
The Kings joined rare company Saturday night. They are now one of just three teams to beat both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors this season. To confuse matters, Sacramento has also lost to the Suns, 76ers, Magic, Lakers and Heat (twice).
DeMarcus Cousins missed a triple-double by just one assist in Sacramento’s overtime win over the Warriors on Saturday night. The All-Star big man is averaging 6.5 assists per game over his last 22 contests.
Injuries are piling up for the Kings. Both Omri Casspi (right calf) and Garrett Temple (left hamstring) are out until after the All-Star break. They join Rudy Gay on the injured list, who is done for the season with a torn left Achilles. – by James Ham
Spurs: Another milestone for Popovich
After back-to-back losses last week, the Spurs have rattled off three straight wins and look primed for a deep playoff run. With their victory over the Nuggets on Saturday, Gregg Popovich surpassed Jerry Sloan for most wins with one team in NBA history. He now has 1,128 regular season victories as the head coach of the Spurs.
Pau Gasol is out until after the All-Star break after undergoing surgery on his left hand, but he is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation. – by James Ham
Mavericks: Yogi Ferrell staying around
OK, so let me get this straight. Yogi Ferrell wasn’t good enough to stick with the Brooklyn Nets (they’re the only team in the NBA that still has a single-digit win total this season), but can lead the lottery-bound Dallas Mavericks (although his play is making that more and more unlikely) to becoming one of the hottest teams out West?
Ferrell, who has reportedly came to terms on a two-year deal with the Mavericks instead of having him sign another 10-day contract, has led the Mavericks to four straight wins to put them within striking distance of being in the back-end of the playoff picture.
As of Sunday, they were 10th in the West but only two games outside of the eighth and final playoff spot that’s currently being held down by the Denver Nuggets.
“Our guys love him and we are thrilled by how well he has been playing," Mavs owner Mark Cuban told ESPN via the Dust messaging app.
In his four-game career with Dallas, Ferrell has averaged 17.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists while shooting 52 percent on threes. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Timberwolves: LaVine out for season
The breakout season for Zach LaVine has ended after the third-year guard suffered a torn ACL injury last week. The injury occurred during Minnesota’s 116-108 loss to Detroit on Feb. 3.
LaVine, better known for his above-the-rim exploits, displayed the kind of growth you like to see in a player striving to prove there’s more to his game than just highlight plays.
In 47 games this season, the two-time Slam Dunk champion averaged a career-high 18.9 points while shooting a career-high 45.9 percent from the field. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Nuggets: Jokic's strong play no joking matter
It’s understandable how a big man can get overlooked when your rookie season coincides with that of Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns and New York’s Kristaps Porzingis. But the days of not knowing who Nikola Jokic is, well they’re not going to last much longer. Not with the way he has been giving teams the business, blending in a solid offensive game that’s built around a strong knack for knocking folks around at the rim for rebounds.
In the Nuggets' last 25 games (they are 13-12 in that span, and were 9-16 before), he has been a near double-double machine with a 19.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists while shooting 62.5 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from three-point range. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Celtics: Passing of the torch
For 15 years, the Boston Celtics were Paul Pierce’s team even after Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen came aboard. After he was traded to Brooklyn in 2013, they became the post-Big Three/Pierce Celtics.
Well, Isaiah Thomas has made this his team, and Pierce is behind that changing of the guard 100 percent.
Before Pierce’s final game at the TD Garden on Sunday (he’s retiring after this season), he had a chance to sit down for dinner with Thomas on Saturday.
Pierce praised the two-time All-Star for the player he was becoming and the role as the franchise’s leader he was stepping into.
“He’s taken the torch, man,” Pierce said. “He’s ... the city is proud of him for what he’s doing. You know, I keep up. I’ve been watching him. And especially where he’s come from. I mean, he’s been on like three or four different teams and now he’s finally established himself as an NBA MVP candidate, All-Star. Just the route that he took — he wasn’t projected to really be much in the NBA as a small guy, and so he’s ... he’s taken a different route than a lot of us and he definitely could carry the torch in his time here.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Raptors: Upgrade at backup PG?
There has been a lot of talk about the Raptors’ search for another big man. But they’re also in the market for better play from their backup guards, too. Cory Joseph has been Kyle Lowry’s backup and while he has shown himself to be a decent shooter, his defense this season has left a lot to be desired. And as we all know, it’s a team’s defense that more often than not factors heavily in its ability to navigate from one round of the playoffs to the next. Joseph isn’t the only option they have in-house.
If Joseph’s defense continues to be a problem, Toronto head coach Dwane Casey may turn to Fred VanVleet, who is smaller in size but has shown the ability to be a solid defender and decent playmaker.
The Raptors also have Delon Wright from Utah. The second-year guard has not seen any action with them this season. His 6-foot-5 frame gives Toronto some flexibility when he’s on the floor defensively. He would be an ideal defensive-minded point guard, which could certainly complement Kyle Lowry’s game. But his shooting needs lots of work, and as we’ve seen more and more with the league these days, teams want guards who are at a minimum, adequate shooters. Wright isn’t there yet. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Cavs: Varejao back to Cleveland?
When the Golden State Warriors waived Anderson Varejao, the rumor mill immediately focused on the veteran big man's returning to Cleveland, the team that drafted him and later traded him away.
While there’s no doubt Cleveland could use him as an additional big man, the Cavaliers aren’t likely to jump on him immediately.
For starters, he’s unlikely to clear waivers, not with a handful of teams still needing to get to the NBA salary floor of $84.7 million. And even if he does, they couldn’t reacquire him until Feb. 18 because league rules prevent players from returning to the team that traded them away for at least one year.
A bigger need (at least in LeBron James’ eyes) for Cleveland is to acquire another playmaker. The Cavs aren’t eager to trade for one but could land a good one (Rajon Rondo?) if a player is waived or becomes available after agreeing to a buyout. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Magic: Serge Ibaka on the move?
Their offseason restocking of the roster hasn’t worked for the Orlando Magic, and apparently, Serge Ibaka could be traded again.
Ibaka is making $12 million in the final year of his contract, and while he has posted solid numbers in Orlando he hasn’t been a difference-maker in the win column.
One team listed as having “interest” in Ibaka — the Wizards — is incorrect. They already have a starter power forward in Markieff Morris who is significantly more affordable, better because he has a post-up game, playing the best basketball of his career and under contract through 2019.
Ibaka will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and will command a hefty raise that’s out of their price range.
Just like with Ryan Anderson last year at this time, the Wizards weren’t going to gamble with picks or rotation players for a rising unrestricted free agent who they’re not willing to enter a bidding war to retain. Ibaka wouldn’t start for the Wizards in such a scenario, which would be problematic and they don’t have attractive enough assets on the bench they’re willing to part with to facilitate such a deal.
The Wizards are waiting for Ian Mahinmi to return to action, which should occur before the All-Star break, to determine their next move. If the backup center isn’t able to be effective coming off platelet-rich plasma therapy to both knees, they’ll be in the market for a big to slot behind Marcin Gortat, 32, who is playing a career-high 34.5 minutes. – by J. Michael
Hawks: Hardaway Jr. benefiting from Korver trade
The trade of Kyle Korver has done wonders for Tim Hardaway Jr., and his stock is at the highest of his career.
Coach Mike Budenholzer still keeps him coming off the bench because of the offensive spark, but Hardaway has been exceptional. He scored a career-high 33 points in a 20-point comeback over the Houston Rockets. He's averaging 17 points as a starter.
Hardaway is making $2.2 million so keeping him restricted won’t be a problem for Atlanta. They’re in the thick of the playoff race and thin at guard so unloading him for a player of comparable salary doesn’t add up. There are plenty of teams that believe they are one bench scorer away from reaching the next level and because of that, players such as Hardaway always will create interest. – by J. Michael