Coach Thibodeau Believes LeBron Makes LA a Title Contender

minnesota-tom-thibodeauMany are wondering how good the LA Lakers can be this season. After all, they added LeBron James and a few veterans to a good young core.

We’ve covered one set of projections that has the Lakers barely missing out on the playoffs. But others think that LA will do much better than this and even challenge for the NBA title.

Count Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau is one person who thinks that the Lakers are set for a very good season. See what the head coach has to say below along with more on how high this team can climb.

Thibodeau Sees LeBron and Lakers as Instant Contenders

Thibodeau spoke briefly with ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Ohm Youngmisuk on the Lakers. And he only had good things to say about his future Western Conference rivals.

“Any time a player like that comes to the West, particularly him, obviously if you got LeBron, you are an instant contender,” he said.

Few would know what it’s like matching up against James better than Thibodeau. He designed gameplans to stop LeBron many times as an assistant with the Boston Celtics and head coach of the Chicago Bulls. He’ll now see LeBron multiple times each year again while coaching the T-Wolves.

Lakers and Timberwolves Part of a Crowded West

lebron-james-lakersThe Minnesota Timberwolves earned the eighth seed in the Western Conference after winning 47 games. That said, LeBron improving the Lakers causes problems for Thibodeau and the rest of the conference.

The Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, and Los Angeles Clippers all figure to contend for a postseason spot. Add in the Lakers, T-Wolves, and even a healthy Memphis Grizzlies squad, and this makes 12 teams battling for a playoff berth.

Outside of the Warriors and Rockets, nobody seems to be guaranteed anything in the West. This will once again be a more competitive conference than the East.

Speaking of which, LeBron has had an easier ride the past several years while playing in the Eastern Conference. It’ll be interesting to see how he deals with all of the threats out West on a nightly basis.

It’s very possible that his streak of making eight straight NBA Finals appearances could be in jeopardy this season. But based on his immense talent along with the rest of the Lakers roster, don’t expect his bid for a ninth straight Finals to end before the postseason.

Lakers Projected to Miss Playoffs in 2019, Despite LeBron Signing

lebron-james-lakersThe Los Angeles Lakers landed the biggest signing of the 2018 free agent period. They locked LeBron James up for a three-year deal, which instantly boosts their chances of making the postseason.

Strangely enough, though, one expert has the Lakers missing the playoffs in the 2018-19 season. Keep reading to find out about these projections along with if LA can overcome what the expert in question thinks.

Lakers Projected to Finish Ninth in the West

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton recently released his win projections on the 2018-19 campaign. His projections take into account midseason trades, randomness, unpredictable injuries, and a number of other factors.

That said, here’s a look at how many wins each Western Conference team will earn according to Pelton’s numbers:

  • 1. Warriors — 58.6 wins
  • 2. Jazz — 53.4 wins
  • 3. Rockets — 53 wins
  • 4. Nuggets — 50.5 wins
  • 5. Timberwolves — 49.6 wins
  • 6. Thunder — 47.2 wins
  • 7. Pelicans — 44.1 wins
  • 8. Blazers — 42 wins
  • 9. Lakers — 41.2 wins
  • 10. Spurs — 38.5 wins

lonzo-ball-lakersPerhaps the biggest surprise here is the Lakers just barely missing out on a postseason bid. This is a team that won 35 games last year with a very young roster. Many expect them to win around 50 more games with LeBron now on the team.

Many would be shocked if this LA squad doesn’t at least land one of the eighth playoff berths. But then again, the West is so crowded with good teams that anybody in the top 10 could underachieve.

Lakers Added Some Nice Offseason Pieces

LA doesn’t plan on letting projections determine their fate. This team added some good pieces in the offseason, including Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley. They also return a nice core, including Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and Brook Lopez.

>Of course, the key player who gives them a chance is LeBron James. The 33-year-old is coming off a season where he averaged 27.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, and 8.6 APG.

LeBron carried the Cleveland Cavaliers to a fourth-straight NBA Finals, where they were swept by the Golden State Warriors. And while nobody expects this year’s Lakers squad to be better than Golden State, it’s at least an interesting roster.

That said, don’t be surprised if LA exceeds Pelton’s projections and graps one of the higher playoff seeds in the West. Of course, there’s going to be plenty of competition for these seeds. But the Lakers definitely have the talent to contend for a playoff spot.

Celtics Projected to Finish Second in East in 2019

kyrie-irving-celticsMany expect the Boston Celtics to win the East in the 2018-19 NBA season. After all, Boston is coming off a season in which they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals without star players Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

Strangely enough, though, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton believes that the Celtics are going to finish second place in the East once again. Let’s discuss Pelton’s win projections along if Boston can exceed them.

ESPN Projections Put Boston at 53 Wins

Last season, the Celtics finished runner-up in the East during the regular season. They notched 55 wins, which was only two off the Toronto Raptors, who led the conference with 57 wins.

gordon-hayward-celticsRather than having Boston improve on their total from last season, Pelton has them falling to 53 wins. He notes that despite getting 55 victories during the 2017-18 campaign, the Celtics had a point differential that was closer to a 51-win team.

Another reason why Pelton doesn’t have lofty predictions for Boston is because he has a milder expectations for Hayward and Al Horford heading into this season.

Assuming these projections are correct, Boston would face the Washington Wizards in the first round of the 2019 Playoffs. Washington is projected to take seventh in the East.

Overall, the Celtics are expected to have the league’s fourth-best record, trailing only the Golden State Warriors (58.6 wins), Toronto (55.1 wins), and Utah jazz (53.4 wins).

Draft Pick at Stake for Celtics in 2019

The Boston Celtics will be paying close attention to how the Sacramento Kings perform this season. After all, a draft pick is at stake based on a 2017 Boston/Philadelphia trade.

al-horford-celticsThe Kings are projected to finish with the NBA’s worst record at 25.4 wins, according to Pelton. If this happens, then Sacramento would be the favorite to earn the top overall pick. The number one selection would then go to the Philadelphia 76ers based on the trade’s conditions.

In this event, Boston would receive the Sixers’ first-round pick, which only projects to be 23rd overall. The Los Angeles Clippers (pick is protected 1-14, Clippers expected to finish 10th) and the Memphis Grizzlies (pick is protected 1-8, Grizzlies expected to finish 8th) aren’t projected to give their picks up to Boston this season either.

Will Boston Exceed Projections?

If the Celtics don’t like Pelton’s projections, then they can simply play well and exceed them. It’s perfectly within Boston’s capabilities to win more than 53 games, especially with a loaded roster.

Aside from Irving, Horford, and Hayward, the team also returns Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Morris. Considering that they won 55 games without Hayward for the entire season and Irving for some of the year, many expect them to improve.

The Celtics organization also has to worry about how Sacramento will finish up the season. If the Kings play bad enough to transfer the pick to Philadelphia, then Boston will certainly be disappointed.

In any case, these are merely projections and there’s a lot of basketball to be played next season. That said, it’s very likely that Pelton’s computerized predictions won’t be spot on.

Kevin Love Signs 4-Year, $120-Million Extension with Cavs

kevin-love-concussion-game-7-concussionWhen LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason, it seemed like the Cavs might go into tank mode. Such a plan would’ve likely included trading forward Kevin Love.

That said, it’s surprising that Cleveland has decided to re-sign Love to a 4-year, $120-million deal. As reported by Brian Windhorst, the contract will begin in the 2019-20 season, when Love’s current deal expires. It also guarantees that he stays a Cavalier (barring a trade) through the 2022-23 season.

Love brought the Cleveland fans into the moment, signing his deal during a ceremony in front of the Quicken Loans Arena.

The 29-year-old will play out the final year of his $24.1 million contract this season before beginning his new deal. Windhorst noted that the first season of the contract pays more than the rest.

Love’s New Deal Is a Win for Both Sides

Kevin Love could’ve possibly earned more money by waiting until he was a free agent. The max would’ve been 5 years and $221 million next summer.

He could’ve also signed a 4-year, $129.7-million max contract with Cleveland this summer. That said, it appears that Love gave his team a little hometown discount.

But on the other hand, he guarantees himself a big payday. As we’ve seen with the sad way Isaiah Thomas’ situation played out, this can be an important thing.

Love turns 30 in September and has missed 45 games the last two years due to a variety of hand and back injuries. He’s also suffered a concussion in two of the last three pro seasons. Inking this deal guarantees Love another $120 million from 2019-2023.

Certain teams that were eyeing Love may be disappointed that he’s essentially off the board for next summer’s anticipated free agency period. He likely could’ve fetched around the same amount of money if he had a big campaign in 2018-19.

Cavs Retain a Reliable Centerpiece

kevin-love-cavsKevin Love may not be LeBron James, but he’s at least a reliable player with All-Star potential. He’ll step into the 2019 campaign as the team’s number one option. He often played third fiddle to James and Kyrie Irving before the latter left for the Boston Celtics in 2017.

Prior to joining the Cavaliers in the 2014 offseason, Love put up big numbers for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists during his last season with Minnesota. It’s unclear if he’ll reach the same monster numbers as the top option for Cleveland. But his career history shows that he can produce when called upon.

Another good thing about Love is that he’s the prototypical modern big man. He’s 6’10”, 250 pounds and can play outside or inside.

Love is especially lauded for his three-point shooting, including 41.5% last season. He also has a strong back to the basket game and can get good shots in post-up opportunities.

The only reason why Love isn’t as highly regarded these days is because he deferred so much to James and Irving. Injuries also haven’t helped the equation since Love has been battling more ailments while playing extra minutes at center. But given that he’s the team’s top scoring option right now, he’ll likely play his natural power forward position a lot more.

What can Love and the Cavs Do Next Season?

kevin-love-vs-raptorsNobody is taking the Cleveland Cavaliers to make their fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals. After all, they lost Irving to a requested trade in 2017 and James to free agency this summer. But the question is whether a core led by Love can at least compete for a playoff spots.

As currently constructed, the team includes some quality holdovers, including Tristan Thompson, Kyle Korver, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., J.R. Smith, and Cedi Osman. They also drafted Alabama point guard Collin Sexton, who’s expected to have an immediate role on offense.

This is largely the same roster that couldn’t help James win a single game against the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 NBA Finals. But it’s also difficult to tell how good they can be without the NBA’s best player. It’s possible that this group rallies together and can push for a playoff spot in the watered-down East.

Cavs could Still Trade Love

One of the biggest questions worth asking is whether Cleveland is locking down Love, or just locking down an attractive pricetag that could be later traded.

Love’s new deal ensures that he can’t be traded for the next six months. However, that doesn’t exclude him from being moved before next February’s trade deadline.

kevin-love-staying-cleveland-1Cleveland has extra incentive to lose games, because their first-round pick goes to Atlanta if they finish above the draft lottery’s top 10 in 2019 or 2020. Therefore, it makes sense to consider a Love trade to make the team less competitive.

It could be a similar situation to what the Los Angeles Clippers did with Blake Griffin last season. They signed him to a huge 5-year, $173-million deal in the offseason after point guard Chris Paul left.

Many thought this signaled that the Clippers were interested in building around Griffin. However, they shipped him off to Detroit in January.

Another potential reason for the current deal is that Love becomes a more attractive trade asset when he’s locked down for over four years, as opposed to just half a year. Few teams will be interested in dealing for Love at the deadline as a half-season rental.

Of course, we also can’t rule out owner Dan Gilbert wanting to prove his team can stay competitive in the post-LeBron years. This is, after all, the same guy who promised that Cleveland would win a title before James after he bolted for the Miami Heat in 2010. Given that Gilbert appears to be every bit as competitive as LeBron, he won’t be as quick to tank as everybody thinks.

Whatever the case may be, it’ll be interesting to watch a team led by Love and the rest of James’supporting cast. Assuming the roster is kept together, it’s not unfathomable to think that they could make it to the postseason again.

Isaiah Thomas Signs 1-Year Deal with Denver Nuggets

It’s safe to say that Isaiah Thomas didn’t exactly have a dream 2018 season. He missed a few months to start the year with a hip injury that occurred in the 2016-17 campaign. Then, when he suited up for the Cleveland Cavaliers, he shot 36.1% in 15 games.

Thomas played a little better after being traded to the LA Lakers before the 2018 deadline. But the 5’9″ point guard didn’t fit into their future plans.

Thomas has found a new team, though, after signing a one-year deal with the Denver Nuggets. Let’s discuss the details of this contract along with how he fits into Denver’s scheme.

Thomas Signs for the Veteran’s Minimum

Just last year, Thomas was expecting to get a max deal in free agency. He famously said that the Boston Celtics had better “bring the Brinks truck,” because they weren’t going to re-sign him for cheap.

Unfortunately, he ran into all of the aforementioned problems discussed in the introduction. This has diminished his value to the point where he was forced to accept a $2 million deal from the Nuggets in lieu of more substantial offers.

Michael Malone and Thomas Have a Connection

isaiah-thomas-signs-nuggetsPlaying for Denver will feel somewhat familiar to Thomas. That’s because he already played for Nuggets head Coach Michael Malone in Sacramento (2013). Isaiah was the leading scorer for the team at 20.3 PPG.

Thomas reunited with his former coach in Las Vegas and also met Denver President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly. He’s continued texting both Malone and Connelly in an effort to discuss his role with the team.

Thomas tore the labrum in his hip in April 2017. He was still rehabilitating when he pushed himself to return to the Cavaliers last season. The Cavs stint only lasted 15 games before he was shipped off to the Lakers.

Now, Thomas gets a fresh start and can begin the season healthy. He should also have an important role on the Nuggets, one that includes carrying some of the offensive load.

Not Much Risk for Denver in Signing Thomas

isaiah-thomas-nuggets-1Signing Isaiah Thomas appears to mostly be an upside move for the Nuggets. They were hoping to have a realistic shot at landing LeBron in the offseason. But he appeared to only have eyes for the Lakers.

Thomas may not be the do-everything player that James is, but he can definitely score the ball. The 2017 NBA First-Teamer averaged 28.9 points two years ago for the Celtics, and he boasts a career average of 18.9 PPG.

Assuming he’s healthy, then Thomas should definitely help Denver win some games. And even if things don’t work out, they can quickly cut ties with him after just one season.

Dwight Howard Looking to Make Impact with Wizards

dwight-howard-wizardsThe Washington Wizards have signed 8-time All-Star center Dwight Howard. The Wizards were in need of a quality starting center after trading Marcin Gortat.

Howard has rubbed certain teammates/coaches the wrong way during stints in Orlando, LA, Houston, Atlanta, and Charlotte. But Washington point guard John Wall actually reached out to Howard to get him on the team.

The 3-time Defensive Player of the Year brings good rim protection to a team that doesn’t have any shot-blocking presence. Howard should also lead the squad in rebounds, assuming he stays healthy.

Will Howard Fit In with Wizards?

The biggest issue with Howard isn’t his talent, but rather how his attitude will fit in with the team. He’s typically known as a fun-loving player who doesn’t always give a consistent work ethic.

This combination rubbed Kobe Bryant the wrong way when Howard played for the Los Angeles Lakers. Dwight also demanded the ball more while playing alongside James Harden in Houston. He didn’t had much luck in Atlanta or Charlotte either, given that he only spent one season with each.

john-wallThere’s no problem with Howard’s production, though, since he has continually put up numbers throughout his career. Now 32 years old, Howard averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks for the Hornets last season. He’s also been durable since injuring his back in Houston, averaging 75 games over the past three years.

Washington could use an upgrade at starting center over Gortat and Ian Mahinmi. The last time that the Wizards had really good big men running the paint was when Antwan Jamison and Brendan Haywood were on the roster almost a decade ago.

The Wizards ranked 21st in the NBA in rebounding and 22nd in blocked shots. Gortat was the leading rebounder at 7.6 per game, while Wall led the team in blocks as a point guard. Howard will immediately provide a positive impact in both categories.

Howard should Benefit from Playing with Wall

One of Howard’s biggest problems on previous teams he’s played for has been complaining about not getting the ball. This shouldn’t be a problem with Washington, though, thanks to Wall and his passing talents. The All-Star point guard has averaged 9.2 ssists per game in his career, including 9.6 last season.

Additionally, Dwight has always played his best when he’s flanked by three-point shooters. The Wizards have several players who can shoot the three, including Otto Porter Jr., who ranked fourth in the league last year with 44.1% shooting.

Wall, Bradley Beal, and Austin Rivers all shot over 37% from beyond the arc. Markieff Morris (36.7%), Jodie Meeks (34.3%), and Kelly Oubre Jr. (34.1%) can also hit three’s when open.

All of these shooters will help the Wizards provide good spacing for their newly acquired big man. In return, Howard will serve as a strong post presence and provide the rim protection that this core Wizards unit has never had.

Wizards Now Have a Higher Ceiling

We discussed the potential downsides to adding Howard. But Washington is willing to take this chance when considering that they haven’t been able to make a breakthrough with their current unit yet.

dwight-howard-rocketsThis team largely underachieved last year after finishing 43-39 and sneaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed. They were quickly ousted by the Toronto Raptors in six games.

If Washington wants to take the next step, they have to take a big chance. And Howard at least has the talent to be worth the possible headaches he brings.

It’s very possible that the Wizards have quietly had the best offseason out of any Eastern Conference team. They added Howard, Rivers, Jeff Green, and drafted Troy Brown Jr. In the first round. One can make a case that their roster features more talent than any other team in the East.

Here’s a look at their projected roster before the season starts:

  • (Starters)
  • PG John Wall
  • SG Bradley Beal
  • SF Otto Porter, Jr.
  • PF Markieff Morris
  • C Dwight Howard
  • (Bench)
  • PG Tomas Satoransky
  • SG Austin Rivers
  • SF Kelly Oubre, Jr.
  • PF Jeff Green
  • C Ian Mahinmi
  • SG Jodie Meeks
  • SF Troy Brown, Jr.
  • PF Jason Smith
  • C Thomas Bryant

Lebron James famously left the East for the West this offseason. That said, any Eastern Conference team could step in and earn a trip to the Finals.

Don’t be shocked if Washington is able to do so on the strength of their new additions and a roster that already had talent before the offseason began.