Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma will undoubtedly be under the spotlight, but it may be Josh Hart – the least heralded member of the Lakers’ young core – who ends up being one of the most important role players on the team.
As someone who can shoot and defend multiple positions well, the second-year wing possess qualities that make him an ideal running partner next to James.
For all the talk of the Lakers moving away from the player archetype that the Cleveland Cavaliers focused on surrounding James with, 3-and-D types remain valuable, not only as LeBron teammates but in the league in general.
After being drafted 30th overall in last year’s draft and coming into the league with relatively low expectations, Hart showed his polish as a four-year player in college at Villanova. His averages of 7.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists didn’t jump off the page, but perhaps most encouraging, offensively speaking, was his 39.6 per cent shooting from deep on 3.1 attempts per game.
His ability to defend one through four with tenacity was equally impressive, and if summer league is any indication, Hart may be another level this coming season.
In two summer league games in Sacramento, Hart had 24 points on 7-of-19 shooting, including 4-of-9 from long range. Through three games in Las Vegas, he’s averaging 23.3 points on 48 per cent shooting and is 12-of-27 from 3.
In the Lakers’ most recent game, a 109-92 win over the New York Knicks, Hart also took on the challenge of defending Kevin Knox after the ninth overall draft pick started catching fire in the third quarter.
Knox is far from an established star scorer, but the fluid 6-foot-9 forward is the type of player Hart may be able to guard next season so James doesn’t have to over-extend himself on that end of the floor.
It also looks like Hart has improved as a ball-handler and scorer inside the arc, which should make him more of an all-around threat.
He’s not going to be the Robin to James’ Batman, but he could be an important piece to the puzzle.
While NBA commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t agree with the narrative that the Golden State Warriors’ dominance is ruining the league, he does feel changes to the system could improve competitive balance across the board.
Speaking after the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Silver addressed the NBA’s current state of affairs and discussed potential changes that could come down the line to the salary cap, the one-and-done rule, playoff realignment and more.
Golden State’s firm hold at the top of the league’s hierarchy has been a bone of contention among fans and followers, with the star-laden team having won three championships in the past four years.
More than how much they’ve won, for many the issue has been how they’ve done it, with Kevin Durant’s decision to join in free agency in the summer of 2016 causing an uproar.
That feeling was only exacerbated this month when the Warriors landed four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins on a risk-free one-year, $5.3 million deal to bolster their lineup.
Though the Warriors’ ownership is footing a hefty bill to keep its talented core together, the soft salary cap is allowing them to do so. Silver feels looking at cap space and how it relates to the market could be the starting point for create more of an equal opportunity.
“I am not here to say we have a problem,” Silver said. “I love where the league is right now. But I think we can create a better system. We have learned from each successive deals, we try new things, we make predictions about how caps and exceptions will work, we have economists who come in and the union does as well, but it is not a perfect science in trying to predict the behavior of our teams and things change in the marketplace as well. I don’t think it is necessarily per se bad that the Warriors are so dominant.
“As I have said before, we are not trying to create some sort of forced parity. What we are really focused on is parity of opportunity… there are changes we can make to the system and I think we will create a more competitive balance and a more equality of opportunity. And the discussion in the room, people weren’t coming in necessarily complaining, but I think as good business people do, they are looking out to the future and saying how can we improve things.”
Adam Silver makes it clear that free agency will be moved up from midnight EST on July 1 to a more reasonable/TV friendly hour by next summer.— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) July 11, 2018
When it comes to the age limit for draft eligibility, Silver said he’s ready for the rule to change.
Currently, players are required to spend a year removed from high school before entering the league. There has been chatter the league will revert to allowing players to be drafted out of high school, potentially by 2021, but Silver expects to discuss the topic with the National Basketball Players Association before anything is formalised.
“My personal view is that we’re ready to make that change,” Silver said. “It won’t come immediately. But when I’ve weighed the pros and cons, given that Condoleezza Rice and her commission have recommended to the NBA that those one-and-done players now come directly into the league and in essence the college community is saying `We do not want those players anymore,’ I think that tips the scale in my mind.”
Silver also touched on playoff realignment and its feasibility.
With a clear imbalance right now between the loaded Western Conference and weaker Eastern Conference, the idea of seeding playoff teams one through 16 – regardless of standing in their respective conference – has been thrown around.
Silver said the concept has “real appeal”, but suggested travel could increase by “roughly 40-50 per cent”, making it a difficult proposition.
Whether or not anything actually changes is unknown, but Silver’s track record indicates the NBA will at least explore everything they can to improve their product.
The Klutch Sports Group, agents for James, tweeted a photo of the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player on Monday night with “officially signed with the Lakers” as the caption.
The agents revealed July 1, hours after the start of free agency, that James had agreed to terms on the Lakers deal, leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers after four seasons in which he led them to four NBA Finals.
James brought Cleveland its first major sports crown since 1964 when the Cavs won the 2016 NBA crown but lost three of four finals showdowns with the Golden State Warriors, falling to 3-6 for his career in the NBA Finals, and decided to make a move in hopes of rebuilding the Lakers into a winner.
The Lakers tweeted an image of James wearing the team’s purple and gold jersey with his name and number, 23, on the back and the city lights of Los Angeles in the background plus “The King has arrived” as a caption.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) July 10, 2018
“Today is a great day for the Lakers organization and Lakers fans all over the world to welcome LeBron James, a three-time NBA Champion and four-time NBA MVP,” Johnson said.
“LeBron is special. He is the best player in the world. He loves to compete and is an awesome leader who is about winning and making sure that his teammates are successful. The Lakers players are excited to have a teammate who has been to nine NBA Finals.
“It’s a huge step closer to returning the Lakers to the playoffs and to the NBA Finals.”
The Lakers, a 16-time NBA champion, have missed the playoffs for five consecutive seasons. They haven’t gone past the second round of the playoffs since Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to consecutive NBA titles in 2009 and 2010.