It’s that time again. It’s a new year, and that means an opportunity to check-in with some SB Nation bloggers from around the league.
Having tons of familiarity with the team that we follow, but not being as knowledgeable about what’s going on around the league, is something we’re all a little guilty of. I’m going to try and make an effort again this year to reach out and network with some other SB Nation bloggers around the NBA to preview significant games on Orlando’s schedule. This time around, Sabreena Merchant of Silver Screen & Roll (silverscreenandroll.com) was kind enough to answer some questions I prepared for her to help preview Saturday’s match-up between the Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers.
1) Outside of snagging LeBron James, what did you make of the rest of the Lakers’ off-season? Considering the amount of time beforehand the organization was preparing themselves for last summer, did Los Angeles do enough?
Merchant (@sabreenajm): I was skeptical of the Lakers off-season outside of LeBron James, mostly because they let go of Julius Randle and all their other bigs while only signing JaVale McGee. The numbers just didn’t add up. McGee was a perfectly reasonable addition, especially with so many good passers on the team to set him up for lobs. I think most people were on board with the idea of Rajon Rondo, if not signing the former Celtic himself, because the Lakers have desperately needed a backup point guard for a few years now.
The real letdown of the off-season was that the Lakers couldn’t find a second star to pair alongside LeBron, but once Paul George decided to go to OKC, there wasn’t an opportunity to do so. At least the team kept the powder dry to remain players in free agency next season.
2) Who on the Lakers’ roster has seemed to benefit the most from playing alongside LeBron James? While we’re at it, based off what you’ve seen so far this season, what is the most ideal/best five-man lineup for the Lakers?
Merchant: Truthfully, it’s hard to not benefit from playing alongside LeBron. But it seems like the young trio of Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, and Lonzo Ball has benefited the most from LeBron’s presence. Kuzma moves really well off the ball and LeBron hits him with at least one ridiculous pass off of a cut every game. Hart has increased his three-point volume and finds a lot of good looks spacing around LeBron. And Ball just looks better playing next to someone who sees the floor as well as he does.
I’ve thought a lot about Laker lineups this season, like, a lot. I’m not even sure what the best five-man lineup is at this point, but currently, I’d love to see more of Lonzo, Hart, LeBron, Ingram, and Chandler.
3) How hot is Luke Walton’s head coaching seat at the moment? Do you think his job leading the Lakers is in real jeopardy, or were some of the reports (about his meeting with management, etc.) about dissatisfaction within the ranks overblown?
Merchant: First of all, I love Luke Walton. I’m of the Richard Jefferson belief that he has the perfect demeanor and life experience to make an excellent head coach, and I was terrified when the reports leaked about Magic Johnson being dissatisfied with his performance. I believe Walton is safe for this season because Jeanie Buss believes there has been too much coaching turnover in recent years, but I am genuinely concerned that a new coach will be replacing him in the off-season. I don’t think that’s the right decision. The Lakers definitely need to beef up the bench with some more tactically-minded assistant coaches to help Walton out.
4) Were you surprised by LeBron’s comments (reported by Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports) that he “almost cracked” already while playing for the Lakers, just four weeks into the NBA season? If you would, discuss his comments, as well as your latest piece at Silver Screen and Roll in which you dive into the “stress” that comes with covering the Lakers at the moment.
Merchant: I don’t think it’s unreasonable that LeBron would have been a little overwhelmed by the circus that is the Lakers. I’ve been rooting for the team my whole life, and I’m still stunned by all of the drama that follows this team. It’s a lot to handle. Even though LeBron admitted to nearly cracking, he’s been doing and saying all the right things. He has been nothing but complimentary of the young players, he’s been preaching patience, and he finally, truly brought a vintage LeBron performance against Portland. It has been a good week.
That being said, there are so many ups and downs in a season, and we may just be in the calm period before another storm. I fear there will be another dip in performance that tests my stress levels soon enough.
5) Finally, is there a positional match-up (or anything else) in the Magic/Lakers game that you are particularly eager to see play out?
Merchant: The Lakers’ recent win streak has come against teams with strong perimeter players; the team hasn’t really been tested in the front-court. Orlando has some intriguing bigs like Nikola Vucevic who could provide a challenge defensively for McGee. Aaron Gordon also physically profiles well to defend LeBron, but that’s obviously easier said than done. I would like to see Ball dominate his match-up against D.J. Augustin, as he definitely has the talent to do so. I’m also interested to see how Chandler fares against a mobile center like Mo Bamba because the team’s defensive coverages will allow Bamba to have some open jumpers. Los Angeles has more talent than Orlando, but the Magic have had some surprising wins, most notably against San Antonio and Philadelphia. This is a game the Lakers should try to control from the tip, particularly with Miami looming on the back-to-back.
I want to thank Sabreena Merchant again for taking the time to help us out at Orlando Pinstriped Post. You can find Sabreena’s (and the rest of our friends at Silver Screen & Roll) work at www.silverscreenandroll.com.
And at Orlando Pinstriped Post, you can check back here tomorrow (Saturday) for an Orlando/Los Angeles game preview, as well as for the community GameThread (7:00).