Knicks finalizing deal with Vujacic

July, 31, 2015
Jul 31
4:34
PM PT
Begley By Ian Begley
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The New York Knicks are finalizing an agreement with former Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic. Vujacic’s deal was originally believed to be a training camp pact but league sources said the two sides later agreed to a fully guaranteed contract for the veteran's minimum ($1.35 million).

Vujacic played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 2004 to 2011. He spent five of those seasons playing under Knicks president and then-Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, and four playing alongside Knicks coach Derek Fisher, who played point guard for the Lakers.

Vujacic, 31, has played overseas for much of the past four seasons. His lone NBA stint during that stretch was in 2013-14, when he played 10 minutes over two games for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Assuming he makes the regular-season roster, Vujacic could give the Knicks a needed threat from the perimeter.

He is a career 37.1 percent 3-point shooter in the NBA. Vujacic is also familiar with the Knicks’ triangle offense thanks to his time in Los Angeles. So he could help the Knicks’ younger players adapt to the system.

The 6-foot-7 Vujacic is the latest player coached by Jackson to sign a deal with the Knicks. New York has also signed former Lakers Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown and DJ Mbenga -- but none of those players had long stints with the team.

The Knicks have room to add Vujacic to the regular-season roster. They currently have 11 players signed to guaranteed contracts. Counting Langston Galloway, who has a partially guaranteed deal but is expected to make the regular-season roster, they have three open spots.

They will bring Harvard guard Wesley Saunders into training camp, sources said. Thanasis Antetokounmpo, their 2014 second-round pick, may also get a camp invite.

The Knicks also may not be done adding free agents. They have access to the $2.8 million room exception and are looking for a veteran big man.

Vujacic's agreement was first reported by RealGM.com.

In an era in which most top prospects enter the NBA after spending just one year in college, there's only a limited relationship between playing well as a rookie and long-term success. After all, the 2010-11 All-Rookie First Team included Landry Fields and Gary Neal, but not Eric Bledsoe, Derrick Favors, Greg Monroe or Paul George.

As a result, most projections for draft picks wisely focus on production over several years rather than immediate results. But my WARP projections are built on translations that convert NCAA and international performance to its NBA equivalents, adjusted for a year of player development. Therefore, we can use them to project the players who will be most effective as rookies.

I've ranked players here based on the rookie version of the consensus projections that incorporate where a player was drafted along with their past performance, factoring in the opinions of NBA scouts. Players are ranked on their winning percentage, the per-minute version of my wins-above-replacement player stat akin to PER. Let's take a look at the top 10.


1. Karl-Anthony Towns
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
Pick: No. 1 overall
Win percentage: .514

 Towns ranks just sixth going purely on statistical translations, but his status as the No. 1 overall pick lifts him to the top of the list. That's reasonable, because even if he takes his lumps offensively while learning to play in the post, per Flip Saunders' plan for his development, Towns will be a useful rebounder and defender from day one.

Rocky Widner /NBAE/Getty Imagesnull

The former Bucks and Sonics big man has shaken off struggles to create an 'excellent situation' for himself.
Johnny Nunez/WireImagenull

If this is all for show, it's a really good show.
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Actor and comedian Mike Epps weighs in on Roy Hibbert's comments that he "wanted to play for a coach who actually played in the league" and how Hibbert will fare in Los Angeles.
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Jemele Hill and Michael Rapaport react to Lakers coach Byron Scott's comments that Kobe Bryant could see time at power forward this season.
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Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless react to Phil Jackson's comments about his relationship with Kobe Bryant when Jackson coached Bryant with the Lakers.

Byron Scott: Kobe could see time as power forward

July, 27, 2015
Jul 27
7:33
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With an infusion of mostly young talent like No. 2 overall pick D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson and the addition of Lou Williams, the Lakers used their summer league pairings to start experimenting with their lineup. And that might mean a change for Kobe Bryant.

Coach Byron Scott told NBA.com it's possible Bryant could spend time at power forward.

"If we don't get another guard, then Kobe's in that mix," Scott said of a potential switch. "I'm kind of going through those scenarios. But not necessarily as far as who's starting and who doesn't. ... I think [Bryant] will play more 3 than 2. If we can get him at the elbows and at the mid-post, the more effective he'll be.

"I don't think he needs to be using up the whole 94-foot floor. If we can cut that down some, I think that saves his legs as much as possible. But if we can get him where he operates best, which to me is elbows on each area, top of the key, at the pinch post, at the mid-post, then I think he can be real effective for us."

Russell and Clarkson played long stretches together in Las Vegas, and Russell felt encouraged about sharing a backcourt with Clarkson.

"He seems like an easy guy to play with," Russell told ESPN.com. "He's a fast-paced guard, very up-tempo, and I'm the same. I'm not as light and fast as him, but I try to pass and keep it that way."

Scott said the franchise's goal through the draft and free agency was to become more versatile, and he thinks the team has accomplished that.


(Read full post)


The NBA's 2016 free agency will present a math problem. Currently, the league has about $1.7 billion in committed salary, including the first-year salaries for 2016 draft picks. For all teams to merely spend up to the projected $89 million salary cap -- an average they generally exceed -- they'll have to get to nearly $2.7 billion in payroll. That's a $1 billion windfall to be divided among free agents who collectively are making slightly less than $800 million this season.

The exact numbers will change slightly over the next 11 months, but the bottom-line conclusion won't: A bunch of players are about to get sizeable raises over their current contracts. Let's take a look at 10 candidates among the group of players who didn't make fellow Insider Amin Elhassan's list of the top 10 free agents in 2016 from last week.


Michael Kidd-Gilchrist | Charlotte Hornets | SF

Even after making strides as a jump shooter by reworking his notoriously poor form last season, Kidd-Gilchrist remains a subpar offensive player who provides little spacing from the perimeter -- he didn't attempt a single 3-pointer last season. Yet Kidd-Gilchrist still rates as one of the league's best small forwards by ESPN's real plus-minus because of his defensive dominance; the Hornets allowed 7.8 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor in 2014-15, according to NBA.com/Stats. Kidd-Gilchrist won't turn 22 until September, and if he develops into merely an average offensive player, he'll be a valuable starter for many years to come.


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Lakers star Nick Young hits a 3-pointer at the buzzer of the second overtime in the Drew League.
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Charles Barkley joins Mike & Mike to discuss Kobe Bryant not contacting his new Lakers teammates and who Barkley reached out to during his playing career.

Roy Hibbert leads new Lakers trio looking for fresh start

July, 22, 2015
Jul 22
3:26
PM PT
Holmes By Baxter Holmes
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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videoEL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers had hoped to be introducing a top-flight free agent (or two) this offseason, a big-name acquisition who could help revive the franchise that's in the midst of a full-on rebuild. But their top targets went elsewhere, leaving them with limited options.

They ended up signing forward Brandon Bass and guard Lou Williams while also acquiring former All-Star center Roy Hibbert in a trade with the Indiana Pacers.

[+] EnlargeRoy Hibbert
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsRoy Hibbert looks for a return to prominence in Los Angeles.

Sure, none of the three players are expected to contend for MVP status anytime soon, but they still represent quality additions to a roster that, as Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has said, needs plenty of help at every position after finishing a franchise-worst 21-61 last season.

The Lakers introduced those three players at a Wednesday news conference held at the team's practice facility here, and each of the players delivered a similar message, one that holds true for each of them just as much as it does for the Lakers themselves: They're all looking for a "fresh start."

Perhaps no player embodies that idea more than Hibbert, who two years ago was runner-up for NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors before everything turned sour in Indiana.

Hibbert's production and involvement in the offense slumped as the Pacers looked to play faster. There were sharp public comments from management, and, in the end, Hibbert was dealt away for just a second-round pick.

"They wanted to go in a different direction and I understand that," said the 7-foot-2 Hibbert, who spent his first seven seasons with the Pacers after being drafted by them in 2008.

"It’s a business. I’m really happy that I was able to land with a team that has such a rich tradition of big guys and have a winning tradition as well. I always say, embrace change."

Williams, the 2014-15 NBA Sixth Man of the Year, is also looking forward to a new beginning after parting ways with the Toronto Raptors, who didn't even offer him a new contract after his expired deal after last season. Asked why that happened, Williams said, "No idea. That's in the past."

Williams signed a three-year deal worth $21 million with the Lakers, a team he said kept coming up during early talks with his agent.

"Once it came down to it, I felt like I needed a new start," Williams said. "I’ve been in the [Eastern Conference] the first 10 years of my career. To have the opportunity to play in the West was very intriguing to me."

Bass joins the Lakers after playing four seasons with their biggest rival, the Boston Celtics.

"I haven’t thought so much about it," Bass said of the teams' rivalry. "All I’ve thought about is me playing in purple and gold when I was in college [at LSU]. It kinda got me back to my roots. I remember being in college and being a Laker fan. I haven’t thought about the rivalry, but I know I’m going to get a lot of questions."

Bass did say of joining the Lakers that it gave him "a fresh start. I just thought it was a great opportunity to play with one of the greatest to ever play the game [Kobe Bryant]."

Hibbert faced several questions about what went wrong with the Pacers, but he focused more on the future. He also said he was happy to waive $2.2 million of his trade bonus to join the Lakers.

"That was a no-brainer," Hibbert said. "Indiana wanted to go in a different direction, wanted to go younger, and the Lakers wanted me, so I said, who wouldn’t want to be in L.A.? That was a no-brainer. I talked it over with my agent and I didn’t think twice about it."

He also said he's focusing solely on defense, unlike with the Pacers.

"In the past, I was asked to do a little bit of both, but looking at the team here, they have a lot of [offensive] firepower," Hibbert said. "My job is to make sure I clog up the paint, [offer] help-side defense and whatever else I get on the offensive end is candy. My main presence is going to be on defense to make sure these guys know that I have their backs out there."

Kupchak is hopeful Hibbert, whose contract ($15 million) expires after next season, can regain his old form.

"I think it starts with him," Kupchak said. "I think he used the expression of 'fresh start' or 'new start.' I think that’s important."

Kupchak added: "I don’t think he’s going to be the person that averages 26 points and 15 rebounds a game. I do think that he can be a consideration for an All-Star [spot]. But he has to really choose –- and it sounds like he has -– the style of basketball that he wants to play. To me it sounds like he wants to star on the defensive end, which is what we need."

However, Kupchak said it's not as though Hibbert solves all their defensive problems in the middle; opposing teams scored 18.9 field goals per game within 5 feet of the basket against the Lakers last season, the third most in the league.

"If you’re on the perimeter, you can’t just let your guy get past you and say, ‘Oh, Roy is back there,’" Kupchak said. "It doesn’t work that way. Everybody is going to have to buy in defensively and make a commitment defensively. But it’s nice to know that if something breaks down, there is somebody back there who can protect or roam the paint."

Williams is known for providing a scoring punch -- he averaged 15.5 points per game last season -- off the bench. But when asked who would shoot the ball when he and fellow volume shooter Nick Young were on the court together, Williams smiled.

"Whoever has it," he said.

He added: "I’ve played in systems with multiple guards, with having two or three guards on the court at the same time. I’ve played in systems like that. I think the most important thing is not to pin Nick and I against each other. We’re teammates now. We both have similar games. We both like to score the basketball. That’s been one of our strong suits. That’s one of the things we hang our hat on. But once we’re on the court, I like to play team basketball."

Bass played under Lakers coach Byron Scott when both were in New Orleans, and said that experience gave him plenty of motivation.

"My first two years, I didn't play as much," Bass said. "I knew I had to get in the gym and get my grind on."

Bass, who averaged 10.6 points with the Celtics last season, said he hopes to be a two-way presence with the Lakers.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
22.3 5.6 1.3 34.5
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsC. Boozer 6.8
AssistsK. Bryant 5.6
StealsV. Blue 1.5
BlocksR. Sacre 0.6