Lakers rebuild roster for another championship run

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SPORTS DIGEST

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

Anyone who thought the Lakers wound stand pat this offseason and keep as much of its championship roster together as possible must have been stunned by the many moves made by general manager Rob Pelinka in the last week.

While the Lakers await word from Anthony Davis about how long a contract he intends to sign to stay with the team, the Lakers have traded for a point guard, signed a versatile veteran role player, stolen the sixth man of the year from the team down the hall at Staples Center and signed a player with a familiar name who is a link to the Lakers’ championship past.

And Pelinka might not be through dealing.

The Lakers did lose a couple of players to free agency they might have wanted to bring back in backup center Dwight Howard and reserve point guard Rajon Rondo.

But the Lakers might start the 2020-21 season next month with a better team than the one that won the NBA title less than six weeks ago.

Since winning the title, the Lakers traded starting guard Danny Green to Oklahoma City for guard Dennis Schroder.

Schroder came off the bench for the Thunder last year and was second in voting for the best sixth man of the year to Montrezl Harrell, who surprised many people by joining the Lakers on a two-year deal after the Clippers failed to show much interest in retaining him.

Harrell gives the Lakers a solid backup center who can rebound and score, though at 6-7, he sometimes has trouble defending real big centers.

That’s where Marc Gasol comes in.

Marc, Pau’s little brother, agreed to a contract with the Lakers, the team that originally drafted him in second round in the 2007 draft, Nov. 22. Marc Gasol never played for the Lakers. Instead, he was traded Feb. 1, 2008 to the Memphis Grizzlies, part of the deal that brought Pau Gasol to the Lakers, an instrumental cog in the Lakers’ championship teams in 2009 and 2010.

Marc Gasol is now 35 and a veteran of 13 NBA seasons, 11 with Memphis and the last two with Toronto. Over his career, he has averaged 14.6 points a game.

The Lakers also have signed Wesley Matthews Jr., who can play shooting guard or small forward. Matthews, 34, has averaged 13.1 points a game throughout his career. His father played with the Lakers from 1986 to 1988.

Matthews could fill the starting role that Green filled last season or could come off the bench. Either way, he brings a veteran’s presence who can knock down shots and defend three positions.

In addition to Green, the Lakers have lost Howard, who signed with Philadelphia, and Rondo, who signed with Atlanta. They also had to trade starting center JaVale McGee to make salary cap space for Gasol.

The Lakers also have resigned starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and backup forward Markieff Morris. Add key reserves Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso and the Lakers have a strong 10-man rotation with a solid mix of youth and veterans.

After several years in which the Clippers had superior rosters and records, the Lakers have regained the mantle of Los Angeles’s best basketball team.

The Clippers, who many experts favored to win the NBA title last year before the coronavirus pandemic set everything on its ear, are having to rebuild on the fly.

After showing coach Doc Rivers the door after he couldn’t get the Clippers past the Denver Nuggets in the playoff bubble, the Clippers have lost Hartzell and JaMychal Green while adding center Serge Ibaka in free agency, trading for guard Luke Kennard and resigning forward Marcus Morris.

The Clippers gave up shooting guard Landry Shamet in the trade for Kennard and still don’t have a point guard to run the office, a problem that really reared its head in the playoffs last year.

Without a solid point guard to get them the ball, stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George had to work too hard to get good looks and the offense sometime stagnated because of that.

The Clippers also need someone to serve as a clubhouse leader, since neither Leonard nor George are particularly vocal. Ibaka, a veteran big man who was Leonard’s teammate in Toronto in the 2019 championship season, could fill that role while teaching some of his tricks to Ivica Zubac, who at 23, remains on the cusp of greatness but has failed to show more than flashes of brilliance in his four years with the Lakers and the Clippers.

The Clippers are still a playoff contender, but Denver, Portland and Phoenix figure to be stronger in the Western Conference this coming season and the Lakers are again the best team in L.A.

And I’ve written 800 words without mentioning LeBron James, who remains one of the top five players in the league as he prepares to turn 36 next month.

WINNING WEEKEND: It was a big weekend for L.A.’s four top footballs teams. The Rams and the Chargers both won in the NFL, USC went to 3-0 with a tough road win against Utah, and UCLA scared the heck out of No. 11 Oregon before losing 38-35.

The Bruins should have beaten the Ducks, even with starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson home in Westwood because of COVID-19 quarantine rules.

Backup quarterback Chase Griffin acquitted himself well, throwing for 195 yards and a touchdown, but a pick-six interception return for Oregon on the last play of the first half ended up being the difference in the game.

The Bruins had the ball at their own 44 yard line with 6 seconds to play in the first half when coach Chip Kelly decided to go for a long pass, hoping to draw a pass interception penalty and kick a field goal to extend the lead to 20-14.

Instead Griffin was hit as he threw the ball, which fluttered into the hands of Jordan Happle who returned it 58 yards for a touchdown, giving the Ducks a 24-21 lead instead of trailing 21-17.

The Ducks came out in the second half and scored 14 points in the third quarter that Griffin couldn’t overcome.

With Thompson-Robinson out, the Bruins had to establish a ground game. Demetric Felton gained 167 yards on 34 carries and Brittain Brown gained 53 yards on nine carries, but Oregon scored 28 points following four UCLA turnovers and that was too much for the Bruins to overcome.

After winning their third game in as many weeks, the USC Trojans moved up to 19th in the Associated Press college football poll after a 33-17 over Utah.

Trojan fans are still wondering what is wrong with Kedon Slovis’ arm, even after he completed 24 of 35 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. Slovis insists he is having a problem with mechanics, but his passes lack the tight spirals most of his throws had last year and fans are wondering if there is something wrong with his arm.

The Trojans scored 21 points in the second quarter of their win over the Utes, who were playing their first game of the season.

The brightest stat of the night was the zero points allowed by the defense in the second half.

Vavae Malepeai took over the bulk of the running for the Trojans and finished with 62 yards in 20 carries. Sophomore Keenan Christon had a 47-yard run on his way to 55 yards in five carries.

Two former Mater Dei receivers were Slovis’ favorite targets, with Bru McCoy and Amon-Ra St. Brown both catching five passes.

The Trojans shoot for their fourth win of the season against Colorado Nov. 28 at 12:30 p.m. in the Coliseum. Channel 7 will carry the game. The Bruins host Arizona at the Rose Bowl at 5 p.m. with the game being carried on Channel 11.

The Rams scored a big win in the Monday night game this week, defeating the Tama Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady, 27-24.

Newcomer Matt Gay kicked a 40-yard field goal with 2:36 to play in the fourth quarter to give the Rams the lead and Brady threw an interception to safety Jordan Fuller to clinch the victory.

Jared Goff outdueled Brady for the first time in three meetings, including the 2018 Super Bowl.

He completed 39 of 51 passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions.

Brady was 26 for 48 for 216 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

For the Rams, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp had big receiving games. Woods caught 12 passes for 130 yards and a 4-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring in the first quarter. Kupp had 11 catches for 145 yards.

The Rams face the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium Nov. 29, tied with Seattle for the lead in the NFC West with six weeks to play. Four of the six games are at home and the Rams only have to travel as far as Phoenix and Seattle for the rest of the season.

The Chargers were celebrating their third win of the season and the end to a three-game losing streak after a 34-28 victory over the lowly New York Jets. The Chargers are now 3-7 on the season with their three wins coming against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Jets, who have combined for three wins all season.

Quarterback Justin Herbert bounced back from his worstb effort of the season against Miami the week before to throw for 366 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, but the Chargers still can’t put away a team in the fourth quarter, not even the winless Jets.

Leading 31-19 after three quarters, the Chargers were outscored 9-3 in the fourth quarter, the last two coming when the Chargers took a safety with 1:45 to play in the game. That gave the Jets one last shot at victory, but the game-winning drive ended  when defensive back Tevaughn Campbell broke up a fourth-down pass from Joe Flacco in the end zone to ice the win.

The Chargers travel to play the 7-3 Buffalo Bills Nov. 29 at 10 a.m.