The San Antonio Spurs will be back in the Staples Center tomorrow afternoon for a game against the Los Angeles Lakers, who have made some moves on the court and in the front office. To help me preview this game, I turned to longtime friend of Project Spurs, Rey Moralde, who has written for several NBA websites and is the founder of The No Look Pass. You can also catch his podcast, Rey-Rey is Fundamental.
The Spurs will be seeing a bit of a different Lakers team tomorrow. What were your thoughts on the team’s leading scorer being traded?
I get it. With a playoff run pretty much impossible now, it was time to give the younger guys more run. I applaud Lou Williams’ career year but in a way, it was also stunting the growth of the core guys like D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. I think if a playoff spot was within reach, I don’t think Williams was going to go. This is the Lakers continuing to tank stealthily.
Where does Corey Brewer fit in once he gets acclimated to the team? Aside from getting a first round pick out of the deal, do you feel Brewer’s experience, energy and defense will make up for the loss of Williams?
Not really? Corey Brewer has had a bad year this season. He’s shooting under 42 percent from the field and 23 percent from three. Brewer’s strength has always been getting ahead on the break for a dunk or a lay-up. He’ll probably be a good locker room presence and he’ll have good flashes defensively but I don’t think that really makes up for Williams’ production. Plus Brewer actually makes more money and has the same contract length as Lou. This is more about the late first round pick and hoping that the team can find a gem late like they did with Larry Nance a couple of years ago.
I know it’s still early, but how do you think Magic Johnson has immediately affected the team and will affect them in the future?
Magic Johnson didn’t so bad with the moves he made. I get where Jeanie Buss was coming from, saying that the move to fire her brother and GM Mitch Kupchak was going to be made, anyway. Magic has said all the right things so far; he’s mentioned that he needs someone that knows basketball, the salary cap, and analytics. He might have gotten a lot of crap for his simpleton Twitter feed but you can’t deny his basketball mind and his star power. I’m playing wait and see but so far, it’s a good start.
While the Lakers lost Williams, they still have a young core in place with Russell, Clarkson, Ingram, Nance Jr. and Randle. Do you think Magic and the front office will continue to build around those players and just try to add in veteran role players like they have with Brewer and Deng before that?
Magic has done that so far. I’m sure he got tons of offers for all the young guys but he resisted and insisted he’s keeping the young guys. I’m also sure he’ll add in some complementary veterans in the summer but he’ll try to add some that fit. Luol Deng is a good player but he was signed with a pretty hefty price tag and hasn’t been great with the Lakers. The hope is that Magic signs good veterans on the cheap that fit with the Lakers’ style of play, which is seemingly going towards the Warriors and Spurs’ style with all that ball movement.
Let’s talk a bit more about tomorrow’s matchup. It’s no secret that Kawhi Leonard has been on a tear. His last game against the Lakers, he put up 31, and the other game this season, he nearly had a triple double. How will Walton and the Lakers look to try to limit him and who draws the defensive assignment. Do you think Brewer could see a big increase in minutes tonight on Kawhi duty?
Brewer will definitely get a shot but this is more of a test for Brandon Ingram. He’s shown some defensive chops this season and his length has proved to be problematic for opponents. Leonard has been a terror on both ends, though. I’m not diminishing his offensive game but I’m really watching how the Lakers handle Kawhi when they’re on offense. We know how teams have trouble getting past him at halfcourt; the guy is just everywhere on the defensive end.
You’ve always been one of the few writers who has chosen not to go the way of counting out the Spurs. How do you think tonight’s game plays out and how do you think the season could play out for the Spurs?
Look, their history speaks for itself. They’ve won 60 percent of their games every season starting from 1997-98. They’ve made the postseason 26 of the last 27 seasons and it’ll be 27 of the last 28 in a couple of months. Until we see a dropoff on where the Spurs are 25-25 after 50 games, the Spurs being in the playoffs are like death and taxes.
I feel like this game is closer to the embarrassment they faced last month than the close one they had in November. D’Angelo Russell had a big game offensively after a slump. Julius Randle has been very good at the boards this season. Brandon Ingram is still looking for that breakout game. Jordan Clarkson has been very up and down. But the injuries, youth, and the line-up shuffling has really given the Lakers’ fits in terms of getting a real chemistry going after their surprising start. That’s not a good recipe against a perennial title contender like the Spurs. I say Spurs handily win by 21.
As far as the season goes for San Antonio? A lot of people see an inevitable Warriors/Cavs final. But I won’t be surprised if the Spurs play spoiler. Do I think they can do it? Yeah. Do I think they will? Probably not; I do think the odds are against them in terms of making the Finals. But they are the Spurs and they’ve been the walking dead for nearly three decades.