Magic is wrong, this is no time to blow up the Lakers

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I grew up in Los Angeles idolizing Magic Johnson. My admiration for the man has grown since he left the game — what he has done as a businessman, and as a spokesman about HIV, has been as impressive as what he did on the court. He’s always seemed both flawed and genuine. He is a genuine hero of mine.

So it pains me to say this — Magic Johnson is totally wrong. This is not the time to blow up the Lakers.

Here is what he said after the game on ESPN (via the Los Angeles Times).

“Dr. Buss has a lot of work to do,” said Johnson. “He’s probably going to have to blow this team up after the season if the Lakers lose this series because you have to come back with some fresh faces. You have to pick between the two big men with which one you keep and then you trade the other one.”

Johnson didn’t aim his criticism solely at the Lakers’ front line, arguing that everybody outside of Kobe Bryant should be considered trade bait in what will be an uncertain off-season….

“The Lakers have two problems,” said Johnson, who sold his 4.5% ownership stake in the Lakers to billionaire season ticket-holder Patrick Soon-Shiong in October but has kept his title as vice president. “They’re too slow and they have no athletes. This is an athletic league now. When you think about all the teams that are in the playoffs right now, they all can run fast and jump high.

“Sometimes you can be together too long,” he continued. “This group has been probably together too long.

Magic is right about some things, like saying that the Lakers lack speed and athleticism — I don’t know how you can argue otherwise. They brought back Derek Fisher at the request of Kobe Bryant who was the only person in Los Angeles who thought that was a good idea. The big problem is that they didn’t give him just one year, they gave him three — Fisher has two more years at $6.8 million total left. Good luck moving that deal.

If Fisher was a backup PG playing 15 minutes a night the damage would not be that serious. He’s not. He’s a starter playing all the key minutes. Because the Lakers brought in Steve Blake to back him up — Blake should have been a better fit in the triangle than he turned out to be. Instead, the Lakers missed Jordan Farmar’s athleticism.

Matt Barnes on the wing did not bring the youth and energy the Lakers needed. Shannon Brown was athletic but inconsistent. Kobe is not the 22-year-old explosive Kobe. Luke Walton has never been explosive.

The Lakers need to look at some trades to get in some athletic players.

But this is not San Antonio or even Boston with a core that is too old to do this again. Kobe is 32 and in good shape despite all the miles on the wheels. Lamar Odom is 31 and just had his best season ever. Pau Gasol is 30. Andrew Bynum 23.

That is not old and only Kobe is past his prime — and he’s not far past it. With those four the Lakers have a few more years of title contention ahead if they can get better, more athletic players around those four.

Magic is completely wrong about trading one of the Lakers two big men. Coming back with fresh faces for the sake of coming back with fresh faces is how you end up with Isiah Thomas’ Knicks roster. The Lakers have the biggest, most skilled front line in the NBA and that is why they won two titles and went to three straight finals. These guys still have quality runs and play left in them, and you can’t match what height and skill bring. Good and tall still beats good and small.

To break that core up because of one bad playoff series is a mistake. That core is as good as any in the NBA still. Gasol had a terrible series against Dallas — that does not negate the two rings he already won. He did not forget how to play. He will tear it up next season. Watch.

The only way you trade one or two of the bigs is if you can get Dwight Howard or someone of that ilk. And by the way, while other team executives and agents love to speculate about how the Magic would do a Howard/Arenas for Bynum/Odom deal, the Magic are not there yet and likely never will be. They are going to spend this summer trying to convince Howard to stay. He is their marquee guy, he is the face of their franchise and they want to keep him. Then the new CBA will come out and looking at numbers Howard may decide he should pick up his $19.5 million extension year. That deal is not happening soon, nor is one for Chris Paul.

The Lakers do not need a blockbuster move to win again. They need to make moves around the core — they need better play at the point and more athleticism on the wings. They need to get younger.

But blow it up because of one series and the Lakers will be taking steps back, not forward.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.