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How Boozer Fits With Lakers, Julius Randle

On the surface, the Los Angeles Lakers' acquisition of Carlos Boozer doesn't make a lot of sense. At 32 and going into his 13th season in the NBA, Boozer is on his last legs. He's going from starter on a good team to starter on a bad team and there’s little chance he makes it back. If he plays on a contender again, it will be as a reserve. The Lakers are signing Boozer to put up empty numbers while blocking the development of Julius Randle, the No. 7 overall pick in the draft.

However, as weird as it might seem at first glance, Boozer could be the perfect veteran mentor for a young PF like Randle. His steep decline with the Chicago Bulls, as well as his hefty contract, has masked how good a player he was in his prime. Boozer is a two-time All-Star with a gold medal on his resume who has made over $125 million dollars in the NBA. Not many guys taken at No. 7 end up with that type of career, much less ones who fall all the way to No. 34.

For all his flaws, it's hard to consider Boozer's career anything but a resounding success. Once you get out of the first round, NBA teams are just hoping to find guys who can stick in the league and possibly crack a rotation. Glen Davis, the No. 35 overall pick in 2007, has had an excellent career for a second round pick and he's never been able to hold down a starting job. Boozer was a starter on two teams who made the Conference Finals - the 2007 Jazz and the 2011 Bulls.

Despite averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds a game on 66% shooting as a junior at Duke, Boozer fell in the 2002 draft because of concerns about his tools. At 6’9 260, he had only average size for an NBA PF and he didn’t have the type of exceptional athleticism that would allow him to make up for it. The odds were stacked against him - he entered the league without a guaranteed contract and had to earn his way onto the roster, much less the starting line-up.

After two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boozer signed with the Utah Jazz in fairly controversial fashion and immediately became one of the building blocks for an up-and-coming team. In his first season with the Jazz, he averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds on 52% shooting. From 2006-2010, Utah was one of the best teams in the NBA. They won an average of 51 games a year, got out of the first round three times and advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2007.

The Jazz were one of the main reasons why Tracy McGrady never made it out of the first round, as they knocked a 50+ win Rockets team out of the playoffs in 2006 and 2007. With Boozer and Mehmet Okur, Utah had two big men who could make it rain 20+ feet from the basket and drag Yao Ming out of the paint. Since they ran so much of their offense through the post, it negated Houston's ability to defend on the perimeter with McGrady, Shane Battier and Ron Artest.

Those Jazz teams aren't remembered that well because they had a stumbling block of their own - the Lakers. As effective as Boozer was when matched up with a slower defender like Yao, there was little he could do against a frontcourt duo as long, skilled and athletic as Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. L.A. beat Utah in the playoffs three years in a row - they gave the Jazz problems upfront with the power game (Bynum and Gasol) and with the speed game (Gasol and Odom).

Against elite competition, Boozer's physical limitations were exposed. The same happened in 2011, when the Bulls were the No. 1 seed and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Boozer wasn't quite big or athletic enough to dominate the Heat's undersized front-line. If Derrick Rose had stayed healthy and they had gotten another chance at the Big Three, the Bulls likely would have closed games with Taj Gibson, a much better defender than Boozer.

Boozer never had Randle's physical tools - he was only as successful as he was because he was a fundamentally sound player, at least on the offensive side of the ball. In his prime, Boozer was automatic from mid-range and was very effective with his back to the basket. He didn't make the game any harder on himself than necessary and he knew how to leverage his strength to create good looks at the basket. These are things Randle will need to learn as he tries to navigate the NBA paint.

Like most college big men, Randle will have a big adjustment process at the next level.­­­­ He goes from big fish in a small pond to a medium sized fish in an ocean. For the first time in his life, he will no longer be one of the biggest players on the floor. He might have seen a half-dozen NBA caliber big men at Kentucky - he will see that many in a weekend in the NBA. He needs a more consistent jumper and he needs to learn how to finish with his right hand around the basket.

These aren't things that will happen for him overnight, which isn’t a huge deal. Randle is only 19 - if he had stayed four years in school, he would have been in the 2017 draft. The Lakers don't need to put a ton of pressure on him in the first few months of his career. Playing him behind an established veteran like Boozer will force him to earn his way on the floor and it will give his coach the leeway to bench him if he's not doing the right things or developing good habits. 

Unless the Lakers are contending for a playoff spot in March and April, Randle will eventually get as much floor time as he can handle as a rookie. There's no need to force-feed him minutes on a bad team in November and December. Boozer is 32 and Randle is 19 - Randle was in first grade when Boozer entered the league. There's a lot he could learn from him, both on and off the court.  And if Randle learns a few things, this season won't be a total waste for the Lakers.

Jordan Crawford Finds His Commitment To The Game

Jordan Crawford can still remember his old habits as a rookie in the NBA, consuming courses of pancakes for daily meals and his fluctuating emotional state of mind. He had faults early in his career, branded a problem with the Washington Wizards, but Crawford has come far, fast, in the commitment to his body and game.

He’s no longer restless and unsettling on a team’s bench and swears he’s misunderstood to some around the NBA. Years ago, Crawford had told a friend: If the San Antonio Spurs drafted me, I might be out of the league now.

Crawford’s a gifted scorer with the basketball in his hands, but he didn’t fully understand the professionalism and dignity needed within an organization. So he’s worked on maturing, worked to repackage his image. Now, Crawford yearns to play for a franchise with the level of discipline and structure of San Antonio. He wants to be coached hard. He wants to change any negative perspectives of coaches and executives.

“Over the years, I’ve evolved as a player and as a person, and sometimes people don’t see it,” Crawford told RealGM in a phone interview. “Each year, I’ve learned on and off the court. I know how to maintain my emotions and still be effective for a team. It takes time and it takes being around the NBA day in and day out to be able to get a grasp of it.

“Being around Joe [Johnson] and Jamal [Crawford] out of the gates as a rookie, you learn about how to be a professional scorer and how to come off the bench. You learn how to be an offensive power while being a good teammate. Every stop I had, it’s been a learning experience. I wouldn’t change them and I loved every one of them. From Atlanta to Washington to Boston to Golden State, they’ve been great experiences.”

Every summer, Crawford goes home to Detroit and trains in Los Angeles with people who helped arrange his diet and force him to stay on track: his brother Joe, Pooh Jeter, Brandon Heath and Frank Robinson. Off the court, Crawford recently completed his annual International Hoops Exposure in Detroit and Los Angeles, a summer camp that he and his mother and brother started five years ago to give players an opportunity in front of professional scouts.

On the court, Crawford, 25, had his best NBA season with the Celtics and Warriors. He remained diligent even when his playing time split in half once Boston traded him to Golden State before the trade deadline; a career year skidded as he adjusted to new surroundings, a new locker room and new coaches.

His old general manager, Danny Ainge, had listened to feedback on Crawford from previous teams, and they had been proven wrong in Crawford’s year-plus with the Celtics.

“Jordan has matured a lot,” Ainge said by phone. “He played well for us, and he grew a lot from the things I heard about him before. We were pleased with the way he was on and off the floor and I enjoyed being around him. I loved his passion for the game of basketball.” 

In Crawford’s first postseason, he simply watched how Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett would prepare themselves before games. They were on their last legs, and Crawford witnessed the integration process of future Hall of Famers, the reconfiguration of their mental state to believe they were 20-somethings again. A year later, as a reserve for the Warriors in the playoffs, Crawford averaged 6.2 points and scored 12 points on five of nine shooting in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Clippers.

“Even though Paul and Kevin weren’t in their prime, their mentality was the same as if they were in the prime,” Crawford said. “You could tell how they took the playoffs, how they turned it up, and what details they paid attention to. These playoffs, I was prepared for it and I wasn’t nervous for it.”

Five years ago, Jordan Crawford knew an unmistakable truth: He wasn’t prepared to be drafted into a franchise like the Spurs. He was too young, too brash. Behind some outdated judgments on him, Crawford has come a long way from the selfish gunner he was packaged as with the Wizards.

As a free agent, the Warriors decided not to extend a qualifying offer to Crawford, but the front office is open to a sign-and-trade to facilitate a contract for him. He still holds strong relationships with Golden State players and Mark Jackson – and mostly, he still holds hope of signing into a prosperous situation.

“I was surprised at first that I haven’t been signed yet, but I understand,” Crawford said. “From getting traded from Boston to Golden State playing 15 minutes, you forget about somebody. I was happy with my season with Boston and Golden State – staying professional and not being upset in moments when I feel I could help the team.”

Grading The Deal: Lance Stephenson Leaves Pacers For Hornets

The Indiana Pacers must find a way to replace Lance Stephenson midway through the offseason. Stephenson has agreed to a three-year, $27.5 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets. The third season is a team option.

As my RealGM colleague Shams Charania reported, Stephenson met with Michael Jordan and other team officials in Las Vegas on Tuesday night when the offer was presented. The Pacers offered Stephenson a five-year, $44 million deal shortly after free agency opened on July 1, but the two sides were not on the same page as time progressed. The Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks all had varying degrees of interest in Stephenson as well.

Stephenson’s agent, Al Ebanks, told Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star that his client was seeking a short-term deal, which explains why he wasn’t quick to take more guaranteed money from the Pacers with an additional two years of security. Stephenson will make $1.5 million more in Charlotte this coming season than he would have under the reported Indiana offer. The total value of the Pacers’ offer was $16.5 million greater.

Four years after Larry Bird gambled on Stephenson in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft, Stephenson is gambling on himself. Even if the Hornets exercise the third-year option on his contract, Stephenson will be an unrestricted free agent once again at just 26 years old.

Grade for Stephenson: B-

There are two reasons why Stephenson is taking a calculated risk. There will be a larger offensive role for Stephenson in Charlotte, which could increase his value down the line. In addition, the NBA’s current television rights agreement ends after the 2015-16 season. Reports have indicated that the league will look to double the current fee, which would have a huge impact on future salary cap numbers and contract figures.

With that said, Stephenson is taking a chance. If he doesn’t continue to develop, which most expect him to do on a young, emerging team, he may not earn back the money he left on the table over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons (the back end of the initial Indiana offer). He also loses some the shine that comes from playing for a contender, which the Pacers may no longer be without him.

Ebanks stressed Stephenson’s desire for a shorter term deal than the Pacers offered, but the elephant in the room is the fact that he didn’t get that much more money. The average annual value of the Charlotte deal is just $300,000 greater than he have earned with Indiana. That leaves us to decide whether Stephenson was left hanging when the market died up and the Pacers moved on, or he truly valued hitting the market again in three years over waiting until his late 20s.

The Pacers will undoubtedly miss Stephenson, who provided much of their edge during the 2014 postseason, but it seems plausible that one of two things happened during negotiations. They pulled $44M offer off the table when Stephenson hesitated, or they offered him a five-year deal knowing full well that he wasn’t going to sign a contract of that length. Either way, Bird made a decision on how he valued Lance and didn’t budge.

I reached out to both sides asking if Indiana’s initial offer was still on the table up until the Hornets agreement, but both declined to comment.

Grade for Pacers: D+

Indiana deserves some credit for standing firm with their offer, especially in team’s NBA, but this loss cannot be looked at solely in a vacuum.

The Miami Heat took a step back with the loss of LeBron James, opening up the short-term window for the Pacers to contend. When LeBron left for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will need some seasoning before reaching an elite level, Bird and Co. should have seen it as an opportunity to finally get back to the NBA Finals. The Eastern Conference is no longer top-heavy, but with Stephenson re-signed the Pacers would have been the favorite among a number of possible contenders -- including Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, Washington and Toronto.

Chemistry will often be mentioned as a positive for the Pacers with Stephenson gone, but that’s overstated. He may have cost himself a few million with his antics against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, but Indiana will severely miss his offensive tools and competitive nature.

The Pacers had the best defense in the NBA in 2013-14, but they scored just 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which ranked 23rd. Stephenson was often the only player on the roster capable of jumpstarting Frank Vogel’s offense when it stalled. He is volatile, and at times selfish, but can be a creative and willing passer. He led the Pacers in assists this past season.

Indiana needed help on the offensive end, even after signing C.J. Miles and Damjan Rudez earlier this month, and the loss of Stephenson compounds the issue. Bird will almost certainly have to address the need via trade, unless the club is able to shed salary in a deal and sign a free agent outright. The market isn’t exactly flush with options at this point and if a cash-saving trade was easy, one might have already been made to free up space for a larger Stephenson offer or to target someone that is already signed.

Rodney Stuckey and O.J. Mayo have been mentioned in the past and present as options. Stuckey is a free agent, while Mayo would have to be acquired from the Bucks via trade.

Adding Stephenson looks like an odd move for the Hornets on the surface, but considering the current state of the Eastern Conference it helps their chances of making the playoffs for the second-straight season. Charlotte has Gerald Henderson and Gary Neal at shooting guard, which may mean a trade is forthcoming.

Signing Stephenson for roughly $9 million annually is good value, even if it carries risk as he becomes the second option on a good team after being the fourth option on a very good team.

Grade for Hornets: B

Kemba Walker, who will be a restricted free agent next summer, stands to lose the most. Stephenson is at his best with the ball in his hands, which will reduce opportunities for the third-year guard. Stephenson was Plan B for the Hornets, who signed Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $63 million offer sheet and then watched the Utah Jazz match it over the weekend. If the Jazz let Hayward go to the Hornets, Stephenson might have been forced to re-sign with the Pacers.

Like the Pacers, the Bobcats tend to struggle offensively. That means more latitude for Stephenson, but how will he handle himself without as much veteran leadership, fewer meaningful games and suddenly flush with cash remains to be seen.

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Itís hard to assume what else the Celtics could have done with the $10.3 million trade exception, but receiving what they did is a very nice haul. Adding a seven-footer to your rotation and a first-round pick is an obvious win, but Thorntonís expiring deal brings other options as well.

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Orlando Summer League, Day 2 Recap

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Nerlens Noel, Mason Plumlee, Shabazz Napier, Marcus Smart and Pierre Jackson had notable days as Summer League began.

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Teams on the giving end of potential sign-and-trades rarely are unable to participate, but the Nets were unable to with Shaun Livingston's deal with the Warriors.

Grading The Deal: Celtics Keep Avery Bradley

The Celtics seem confident Avery Bradley will be healthy and that heís not done developing.

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No matter how strong the mutual interest in between the Pacers and Lance Stephenson, itís money that determines most offseason decisions.

Jason Kidd's Great Escape

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