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Lakers GM Rob Pelinka: Team looking to retool, ‘smartly build’ championship-caliber roster

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Lakers GM Rob Pelinka: Team looking to retool, 'smartly build' championship-caliber roster

The Lakers’ defense of their 2020 NBA title fell well short of expectations. And because of that, GM Rob Pelinka is looking to retool the roster.

In his exit interview following the Lakers’ season, Pelinka discussed the vision that he and owner Jeanie Buss have for the Lakers. Their focus? To “smartly build” a championship-caliber roster.

“Jeanie and the ownership group has empowered the front office to do one thing and that’s to smartly build a roster to win championships,” Pelinka said. “That’s been the hallmark of this team since Dr. Buss acquired it, and continues to be today. Clearly, all 30 NBA teams are confined by a salary cap, so we’ve got to be really smart with how we put all the puzzle pieces together, but there is only one goal, and it’s doing it smartly to have a championship-caliber team.

“I think next year, of course, hopefully with all of our fans being able to come back and be a part of the building, we owe them the work to start the process of retooling and having a championship-caliber team that can do special things next year, and that’s the driving passion and there’s alignment there between Jeanie, the front office, the coaches and our players that that will always be the goal.”

MORE: How will Lakers shape roster around LeBron, Anthony Davis?

This certainly seems like a good approach for the Lakers to take. They don’t have to get overly aggressive in their pursuit of another title. After all, they still have LeBron James and Anthony Davis on their squad. James missed 27 games and Davis missed 36 during the 72-game season, which ended with the Lakers at 42-30 and seeded No. 7 in the West.

The Lakers have an opportunity to reshape the roster around James and Davis. The Lakers have only five players on the team with guaranteed contracts for the 2021-22 season: James, Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Marc Gasol. Montrezl Harrell has a player option worth just under $10 million while Alfonzo McKinnie’s $1.9 million contract is non-guaranteed.

That leaves the Lakers with a lot of potential roster spots and thus, a lot of opportunities to bring in new veterans to fit around James and Davis as they look to mesh better than the 2020-21 squad did.

That said, Pelinka sounds comfortable trying to bring back at least some of the “core group of players” that the Lakers have.

“In terms of free agency, again, we feel like we have a core group of players that can do special things,” Pelinka said. “And I’m convinced that, again, without some of the unforeseen circumstances this year, the challenges that we had to face, that we’d be a championship-caliber team, so the goal is to try and keep that core group together.

“And, of course, with players like Talen Horton-Tucker, and Alex Caruso, and Kyle Kuzma — players that you draft or bring into your two-way system and groom and develop — there’s a level of pride in that, and what the Lakers have been able to do with those players to grow them. So of course our intentions would be to keep our core together, and to have a championship team.”

The Lakers could bring back players like Horton-Tucker and Caruso to keep some continuity while shoring up areas of weakness with outside help. That may be the smartest way for Pelinka to build the team, especially considering that Los Angeles struggled down the stretch largely because of injuries to James and Davis.

Soon, we’ll see what the Lakers will do, but one thing is certain. Another appearance in the play-in tournament as the No. 7 seed in the West and subsequent first-round loss won’t cut it.

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Clippers’ Paul George misses crucial free throws in stunning Game 2 loss to Suns

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Clippers' Paul George misses crucial free throws in stunning Game 2 loss to Suns

The box score from Tuesday’s Suns-Clippers game — a pivotal Game 2 win for Phoenix in the Western Conference finals — will show Paul George had a decent game.

Twenty-six points, on 10-of-23 shooting; six assists; six rebounds; and 5-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. He also scored his team’s last six points, all within the last minute, to help the Clippers to a 103-102 lead with just 8.2 seconds remaining.

The only stats that ultimately mattered in the Clippers’ 104-103 loss, however, were the final two free throws George — a career 84.7-percent free throw shooter — missed. They ultimately allowed Phoenix a chance at an unbelievable comeback victory, which may prove costly even as the series heads back to LA.

NBA MOCK DRAFT 2021: Who will Pistons, Rockets take with top picks?

Had George sunk both of those shots, the Suns would have needed a 3-pointer just to send the game to overtime. Had he sunk even one shot, they would have needed a 2-pointer. But he missed both, allowing the Suns to win on an inbound dunk with less than a second remaining:

Credit to Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder and the Suns. That play will go down as one of the top plays in NBA playoffs history. But every heartbreaking loss needs a goat, and no one fits the bill better than “Playoff P,” who could have secured a win for his team with the simplest of basketball scoring plays.

Here’s the bright side for the Clippers, if there is one: They have already overcome 2-0 deficits in each of their first two series against the Mavericks and Jazz, respectively. That’s likely a cold comfort as George and Co. head back to LA, however. The scathing Twitter comments aimed at George likely won’t do anything to help, either:

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Athletics’ Sergio Romo pulls down pants during substance check

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Athletics' Sergio Romo pulls down pants during substance check

MLB pitchers aren’t taking kindly to the league’s new foreign substance rules.

Athletics pitcher Sergio Romo seemed particularly annoyed that the umpires performed a substance check on him Tuesday night.

After working a one-run seventh inning for Oakland, the umpire beckoned for Romo to come over for the check. Romo responded to the moment by tossing his hat and glove to the ground and whipping his belt off.

MORE: Rays’ Wander Franco homers in first MLB game

Then came Romo’s final act. He pulled his pants halfway down to prove that he wasn’t harboring any illegal substances.

Romo certainly made his point, but Dan Iassogna, the umpire checking him, didn’t seem too bothered by his high jinks. In fact, the umpire flashed a smile at Romo, who the broadcast described as “heated.”

Romo wasn’t alone in being bothered by the substance check on Tuesday. Max Scherzer was checked for foreign substances three times in the first four innings of the Nationals-Phillies game and became increasingly irritable with each examination. He directed his rage at Phillies manager Joe Girardi, who was later ejected for jawing at Scherzer. The checks didn’t seem to faze the three-time Cy Young winner too much; he earned the win, pitching five innings while giving up just a run and striking out eight.

Needless to say, these antics will be fairly common as MLB attempts to implement these rule changes on the fly.

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Nationals’ Max Scherzer feuds with Phillies’ Joe Girardi over substance checks

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Nationals' Max Scherzer feuds with Phillies' Joe Girardi over substance checks

MLB’s new sticky substance rules are already causing havoc, and resulted in a feud between Nationals ace Max Scherzer and Phillies manager Joe Girardi on just their second day since being implemented.

Scherzer was checked for foreign substances three times in his first four innings against Philadelphia. He came up clean each time. The Washington starter didn’t look happy about his first check of the game after the opening frame.

That said, all starters will be checked for foreign substances under MLB’s new protocols, so that was expected.

MORE: Wander Franco cranks three-run homer in first career game

What wasn’t expected was that Scherzer would be checked after the third inning as well. He finally drew the line when Girardi requested that Scherzer be checked in the middle of the fourth inning.

The feud between Scherzer and Girardi reached its boiling point in the fifth inning. Scherzer stared at Girardi on his walk back to the dugout after retiring the Phillies in order, and Girardi took exception to it. He came running out of the dugout yelling at Scherzer and was ejected while the pitcher mocked him from a distance.

Be prepared to see more of these mini squabbles and frequent substance checks. Managers have the right to have the opposing pitchers checked, so they will likely take advantage of this as baseball implements this major rule change on the fly.

Though the Scherzer-Girardi feud was amusing, it’s certainly not a feather in MLB’s cap. If anything, it’s a bad omen that the league’s hastily made protocol changes could result in more conflicts, slowdowns and controversies as umpires figure out how to properly deal with them.

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