NBA Execs Size up Turnaround of ‘Embarrassment’ Lakers

LeBron James (left) of the Lakers

Getty LeBron James (left) of the Lakers

After all the abuse heaped upon the Lakers early this NBA season — a good portion of it transcribed and published here — we feel it’s almost a public service to report when a few people say something nice about L.A.’s legacy franchise.

The Lakers took three straight wins and eight in their last 10 into Tuesday night’s loss in Cleveland, getting some remarkable work of late from Anthony Davis and continued LeBron James-ing from LeBron James. They’re still below .500, but they are now a true threat to nightly foes.

“The Lakers are coming on,” one league executive told Heavy Sports. “I’m not saying they’re a championship team; all I’m saying is they’re not what they were early. They’re much better than that now. How much better? I don’t know. But they’re not the embarrassment they were.

“With those two guys, you’re going to win games. And Lonnie Walker’s playing well. Austin Reaves is a nice player. I’m not going to go crazy and say they’re a championship team; I’m just saying they’re not pathetic like they were early. You have to deal with them now. They’re not the easy game they were before.

“They’re even getting stuff out of Russell Westbrook. He’s playing pretty well. If he accepts that role (coming off the bench), he can help them. He’s not what he was, but he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame and he can still give you numbers in that role. I know he’s got his flaws, but he can still be effective at times.”

James has been on more than an “at times” schedule. It was easier to dismiss his efforts when the Lakers were losing in lackadaisical fashion early on, but the consistent quality is showing through even more when framed by success.

Said a longtime NBA front office person flatly, “LeBron is the greatest athlete of our time. His durability, the fact that he’s still unbelievably productive and athletic, I mean, he’s a medical miracle. He’s freakish. At his age (38 later this month), he can still turn it on physically. It’s unbelievable.”

But, this source and others acknowledge the Lakers will still have to overcome a lack of outside shooting and Davis’ poor track record of availability to even make the playoffs.

Decision Time on the Trade Front

We’re a bit more than a week away from December 15, the date when players signed this past offseason can be traded. But that alone isn’t expected to open the floodgates on deals.

According to one general manager, teams still must figure out who they are and how they fit going forward.

“We’ll be getting to the point soon where teams have to decide whether they want to add or subtract,” he told Heavy Sports.

“I think what you have is a whole lot of teams bunched in together, and what they’re asking right now is, ‘What’s going to separate us?’ That’s usually the push for a team to do something: ‘What are we going to have to do to make us better than what we’re up against?’

“You look at the whole league, and you really only have Boston and Milwaukee in the East that have separated themselves. Then you have a big group, and each of those teams has its own questions. Cleveland pretty much knows what it is — young and still looking for a key piece or two. But the rest of those teams in that bunch — even the ones with stars — have to be worrying that what they built might not work.”

Knicks in a ‘Depressing’ Situation as Trade Season Arrives

One of the teams in the latter category is likely the Knicks, who are stumbling along at 11-13.

“They have to do something with (Julius) Randle,” said one league source. “He’s still ‘the guy’ half the time, and if he’s your ‘guy,’ you’re not going to get where you need to go. He’s dominating the ball. His numbers have gotten a little better, and I’d try to use that to move him. They gave him the ball a couple of years ago and made him a stats star. Now they have to deal with that.

“But I don’t know what else they can do. I think (Jalen) Brunson was a good move; he’s been good for them. But he hasn’t been enough to make them a lot better because the roster’s not right. They have to do something to shake it up there, because the mix they have isn’t working now and it’s not going to work. They don’t guard like you’d expect with that coach (Tom Thibodeau). He’s a defensive guy, and their (defensive) rating is in, like, the bottom third or bottom quarter (23rd of 30 teams).

“It’s just kind of a depressing situation there, I think. But it all starts from the top, from the owner (James Dolan). I just think it’s karma. I know that’s not much of an analytic point, but their karma’s bad because of Dolan. And then the roster… that roster just doesn’t work. They’ve got some good players, but there’s no fit. The talent they have doesn’t help each other enough.”


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