Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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What happened Wednesday night, while you were saving up for your jetpack

Bobcats102 Sixers 87: Some defenses execute well at a systemic level. Others, at an individual level. But the best defenses operate at both. And that takes talent and effort in symphony. The Bobcats have got the horns and woodwinds in perfect harmony, so to speak.

With the Bobcats up 17, with less than two minutes to go in the game, Gerald Wallace was still sprinting sideline to sideline to recover defensively. This against one of the worst teams in the league. You have to be a great offensive team to create opportunities against the Bobcats, and the Sixers are not. Their leading scorer? Rodney Carney with 14 points.

Gerald Wallace is a robot ninja.

Memphis 111 Celtics 91:
The scoreboard doesn’t even begin to describe how lopsided this was. The Celtics scored 12 points in the 1st quarter. A dozen. This against one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Ye Gods.

The Grizzlies created high percentage open transition buckets, almost without dribbling. They just sped the ball with quick, precise passes. When that wasn’t happening, they were launching unguarded threes from the perimeter and raining.

There was no effort from the C’s, no ability from the C’s, no legs, no spirit, no soul. They might as well have been ghosts. The Celtics were the past, fading into sepia, and the Grizzlies were youth, looking like Pleasantville.

Thunder 98 Hornets 83: This was a tense, up and down, competitive romp for about 12 minutes. Then the Thunder did their thing.

One of the staples of a young team is an indecisiveness. You learn to know what you’re doing through repetition, rote and unfettered, and that takes time. But Russell Westbrook? He just gets it. He pushes the ball into the halfcourt, makes the decision, and then executes.Nine assists for the Thunder maestro tonight, and with Darren Collison having an off night, that was pretty much the shebang.

David West’s mid-range game is devastating, but in all honesty, the rest of this team is revealing itself as the season goes on, and that reveal is to something not good.

Nuggets 110, Wolves 102:
Am I the only one that laughs a little bit when David Kahn’s team gets thoroughly kept at arm’s length primarily by point guard play? Chauncey Billups had 25 points and needed just three assists.

Corey Brewer will not win most improved, but he needs to get a second look by the voters. That Florida crew, man. What talent in that class.

Ricky Rubio did not play.

Mavs 96 Nets 92: Caron Butler was the difference. No joke. He, specifically, was the difference between the end of the Mavs streak and the Nets’ bajillionth loss this year. Butler got a huge putback down the stretch, then nailed a step-back jumper from the wing after creating space with a veteran shoulder shrug. The Nets competed, as they still do, and that needs to be pointed out.

Paid professionals or not, the Nets have every reason to bail on the season, not try, not work, and slough through it. But they’re working. They don’t know how to execute. It’s not that they can’t, they just haven’t learned how yet. Terrence Williams showed flashes (18 points, 13 rebounds), including a nifty behind-the-back dribble and finish late.

Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood.  Man. Even with this team’s not good, it’s still pretty good. They’re the pizza of the NBA.

Spurs 97 Knicks 87: Greg Popovich could beat Mike D’Antoni (who is a great coach) with a can of sardines and a box of twinkies. The Knicks gave up looks downlow.

The Spurs obliged them. And the Spurs’ defense was there tonight. You know, the one that’s been missing so much. Running off threes, pre-empting posts. Dogging, dogging, dogging. Double, rotate, rotate.

Manu Ginobili is doin’ work right now.

Kings 113 Raps 90: Tyreke Evans is 20 years old.

Tyreke Evans had 19 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds.

Tyreke Evans is incredible.

The Raptors don’t play defense.

That’s my story.

Heat 107, Clippers 98: Fact of NBA life #27: The aggressor gets the calls. People complain that the refs give superstars like Dwyane Wade the calls, but they attack (and, frankly, get fouled a lot).

Miami as a team — with Wade leading the way — attacked the rim hard in this one, particularly off the high pick-and-roll They were rewarded for that by the refs with 35 free throws (making 29). The Clippers, on the second night of a back-to-back, settled for jumpers. The result was just 13 free throw attempts. Wade had 17 by himself. And while the Clippers had a pretty good offensive night, the aggressors had the better one and get the win.

Jazz 115, Pistons 104: The Jazz are capable of stretches of beautiful basketball, with crisp player movement and making the extra pass leading to layups and open looks. The game as god and Naismith intended. Utah had one of those during the second quarter Wednesday. Detroit is neither capable of stopping it nor hanging close to that. They didn’t, it was a 35-14 second quarter for the Jazz. And that was your ballgame. But you knew it was coming — that’s 10 in a row for the Jazz over the Pistons.

Report: Kobe Bryant’s agent, Rob Pelinka, leads list of Lakers’ GM candidates

ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 26:  Agent Rob Pelinka talks with Kobe Bryant during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional Final at Honda Center on March 26, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Magic Johnson is now the Lakers’ President of Basketball Operations, and he has said his first call will be to Kobe Bryant.

Maybe that’s just to get the number of Kobe’s agent, Rob Pelinka.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Pelinka is still an agent, and Arn Tellem is a former agent who now works for the Pistons. Agents are becoming trendier picks for front-office jobs since Warriors general manager Bob Myers blazed the trail.

If the Lakers are willing to spend big, Neil Olshey — who previously worked in Los Angeles with the Clippers — would be a good choice. A large salary could pull him from Portland.

Kevin Pritchard or Peter Dinwiddie could be fine if the Lakers aren’t willing to make a mega-offer good enough to lure a sitting general manager. Chris Grant might bring baggage.

As Johnson has acknowledged, he needs a general manager more savvy in the nuances of the salary cap. Any of these names would qualify. It’s about finding the very best person for the job, because Johnson needs all the help he can get.

Report: Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak tried to save their jobs by trading for DeMarcus Cousins

SACRAMENTO, CA - DECEMBER 12:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings in action against the Los Angeles Lakers at Golden 1 Center on December 12, 2016 in Sacramento, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The Lakers reportedly refused to include Brandon Ingram in a trade for DeMarcus Cousinsat least until it was too late.

The Kings traded Cousins to the Pelicans, and Magic Johnson’s takeover of the Lakers’ front office ousted Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak.

Related?

Sam Amick of USA Today:

I like Ingram, but I value Cousins more. Ingram has shown only flashes of reaching stardom, which, to be fair, is all you can reasonably ask of the 19-year-old. Cousins is a guaranteed star, because he already is one.

From the moment he declared his intention to get the job, it seemed Johnson would run the front office. But the timing — two days before the trade deadline — is a little curious. If Jeanie Buss were set on hiring him, she should have done it weeks ago to let him get systems running before the deadline. If she were unsure, perhaps Jim Buss and Kupchak failing to deal for Cousins was the final straw.

There’s a reasonable case the Lakers were right to hold Ingram over Cousins. Look what Sacramento got for Cousins. NBA teams clearly didn’t think so highly of him.

But if Jim Buss were willing to trade Ingram for Cousins and failed to get the trigger pulled, that speaks to larger issues in process. And that, more than anything, explained why Jim Buss needed to go.

The Lakers might not have shook up their front office today for the right reasons, but it can still work out for them.

Lakers name Magic Johnson President of Basketball Operations

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 15:  Magic Johnson attends a ceremony honoring Jackie Robinson before the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on April 15, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  All players are wearing #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Magic Johnson essentially publicly anointed himself in charge of the Lakers’ front office.

Now, the Lakers are actually giving him the job.

Lakers release:

Los Angeles Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss announced today that the team has named Earvin “Magic” Johnson as President of Basketball Operations. In addition, General Manager Mitch Kupchak has been relieved of his duties, effective immediately. Furthermore, Jim Buss will no longer hold his role as Lakers Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

“Today I took a series of actions I believe will return the Lakers to the heights Dr. Jerry Buss demanded and our fans rightly expect,” Jeanie Buss said. “Effective immediately, Earvin Johnson will be in charge of all basketball operations and will report directly to me. Our search for a new General Manager to work with Earvin and Coach Luke Walton is well underway and we hope to announce a new General Manager in short order. Together, Earvin, Luke and our new General Manager will establish the foundation for the next generation of Los Angeles Lakers greatness.”

“It’s a dream come true to return to the Lakers as President of Basketball Operations working closely with Jeanie Buss and the Buss family,” said Earvin “Magic” Johnson. “Since 1979, I’ve been a part of the Laker Nation and I’m passionate about this organization. I will do everything I can to build a winning culture on and off the court. We have a great coach in Luke Walton and good young players. We will work tirelessly to return our Los Angeles Lakers to NBA champions.”

Jeanie Buss added, “I took these actions today to achieve one goal: Everyone associated with the Lakers will now be pulling in the same direction, the direction established by Earvin and myself. We are determined to get back to competing to win NBA championships again.”

Regarding Mitch Kupchak, Jeanie Buss stated, “We are grateful for the many contributions Mitch has made to the Lakers over the years and we wish him all the best.”

With regard to fellow owner and brother, Jim Buss, Ms. Buss said, “Jim loves the Lakers. Although he will no longer be responsible for basketball personnel decisions, he is an owner of this team and we share the same goal: returning the Lakers to the level of greatness our father demanded. Our fans deserve no less.”

In addition to the changes made within the basketball department, the Lakers also announced they have parted ways with John Black who had been the Lakers Vice President of Public Relations. Chief Operating Officer Tim Harris will immediately begin a search for a replacement. Jeanie Buss added, “We thank John for his many years of service.”

This closes an ugly chapter in which Jeannie Buss named Johnson as an advisor, and then he went about publicly trashing Jim Buss and Kupchack while evaluating them for her and clamoring for their front-office power.

Now, the real work begins. And that doesn’t mean calling Kobe Bryant.

Johnson inherits a team with plenty of young talent: D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac. That’s a great starting point.

But the Lakers also face significant hurdles back to the top.

They lose their 2017 and 2019 first-round picks if their 2017 first-round pick doesn’t land in the top three. The Lakers have the NBA’s third-worst record. In the past, Johnson has expressed an affinity for tanking.

The Lakers also have the burdensome contracts of Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. Those make it tough to clear cap space to sign a star.

At least they can trade Lou Williams, who’s having a special season. The deadline is Thursday, so Johnson must hit the ground running.

These conditions are the effects of Jim Buss’ misguided pledge to jolt the Lakers back to contending. Their shortsighted moves and even bigger dreams backfired so spectacularly, they backed into several high draft picks — and at least chose well. While Kupchak’s overall tenure was positive, his approach had grown stale.

The Lakers needed a change in management. I’m just not convinced Johnson was the solution.

Would they have hired him if he didn’t play for them? Probably not. Does his playing experience with the Lakers specifically, as opposed to any team, better prepare him for this job? Probably not.

But even if Johnson were hired for the wrong reasons, he can still succeed.

He thrived in business after retirement by putting the right people around him, and he can do that here. Johnson obviously knows basketball, but managing a roster and all the salary-cap complexities is a different animal. He needs staff, including a general manager, more familiar with that.

Johnson will be the franchise’s new smiling face. But, for this to truly work, Johnson will have to build a winner the old-fashioned way: With savvy drafting, trading and signing.

Reports: Bulls telling teams they won’t trade Jimmy Butler

Chicago Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler, top, shoots over Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry during the overtime of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Chicago. The Bulls won 123-118 in overtime. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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The Bulls reportedly weren’t making Jimmy Butler available for a trade last month.

As the trade deadline approaches, it seems that hasn’t changed.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The teams that talked to the Chicago Bulls today were told, “Just about everybody on our roster is available, but Jimmy Butler is not.”

The Bulls are not obliged to stand by that, and there’s no indication they’ve assured Butler anything. If they’re offered a package more valuable than Butler, they’ll trade him.

But that’s a lot of value.

Butler is playing like a superstar, 27 and locked up for two more seasons after this one. Not many teams have the assets to trade for someone like that.

Plus, Chicago could use the designated-veteran-player rule to re-sign him. No other team would hold that advantage if it trades for him.

So, Butler is probably valued more by the Bulls than any other team. But if another team with significant assets makes a suitable offer, I doubt Butler remains unavailable.