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Rob Pelinka pledges ‘to make the Lakers the greatest sports franchise in the world’

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — During his two-decade career representing Kobe Bryant and other prominent NBA players, Rob Pelinka developed an enormous respect for the Los Angeles Lakers, both as a team and a global phenomenon.

Pelinka is getting the chance to restore that tarnished brand as the Lakers’ new general manager, and he is approaching his new job with evangelical zeal.

“It didn’t feel like a decision,” Pelinka said Friday. “It felt like a true calling.”

Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson introduced Pelinka at a news conference, hiring Bryant’s longtime agent as his top deputy in the team’s new leadership regime. Both men spoke glowingly of a 16-time NBA champion franchise currently mired in the worst four-year stretch in team history.

Pelinka is recognized as a sharp negotiator on the other side of the NBA’s bargaining tables. In moving to the Lakers’ front office, he described his goals in terms far beyond dollars and cents.

“To put the Lakers back on the proper place of being the gold-standard franchise in all of sports for others to look at and try to emulate,” Pelinka said. “Because that’s what Dr. (Jerry) Buss did with this team, and what our calling is here. … We’re going to deliver on Jeanie’s challenge to us to make the Lakers the greatest sports franchise in the world. That will happen.”

Jeanie Buss fired her brother, Jim, and general manager Mitch Kupchak last month to clear the way for Johnson and Pelinka.

While the Hall of Fame point guard will be the Lakers’ frontman and big-picture leader, Pelinka will be responsible for overseeing the day-to-day work of contract negotiations, talent scouting and salary cap management. Together, they’ll attempt to rebuild the Lakers, who are wrapping up what’s certain to be their fourth straight non-playoff season, a franchise record for futility.

“When I thought about who I really wanted to start this journey with, and who could I pick that would complement my style and the way I am, and also who is strong where I’m weak, there was no other than Rob,” Johnson said. “We have the same personality. We have just a passionate love for this franchise. I wanted somebody who understood the Lakers and what it means to represent the Lakers, and Rob knows that better than anybody out here.”

Johnson’s word choice was bold at a news conference attended by none other than Bryant, who wrapped up his 20-year career last spring with five championship rings. Johnson also won five NBA titles in the 1980s with the Showtime Lakers.

Pelinka described Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, as his “best friends,” recounting group camping trips and mutual concern for each other’s children.

He also echoed the strong support for rookie coach Luke Walton voiced by Johnson and Jeanie Buss, calling Walton “a championship coach.” The Lakers have made it abundantly clear they’re thrilled with Walton’s work despite the current team’s 20-45 record.

While he offered few specifics about his plans for the Lakers, Pelinka spoke with enormous optimism about the importance of the Lakers’ reputation and location. He plans to highlight the abundant opportunities in endorsements, business deals and Hollywood exposure as factors in attracting free agents.

Yet Pelinka is also thinking much bigger. During an anecdote about a friend who saw a child in a Kobe jersey at a Syrian refugee camp, Pelinka spoke of the purple and gold as a worldwide force for good.

“This brand resonates around the world,” Pelinka said. “This brand, this Lakers brand, can give hope in the corners of the globe. If we’re doing our job here, and we’re the Lakers, we can bring joy and hope to everyone across the world.”

Adding Durant and thinking dynasty, it’s championship or bust for Warriors’ legacy

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The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA for three seasons now. That’s not my opinion, that’s LeBron James‘ — here is what he said after advancing to his seventh straight NBA Finals.

“That’s been the best team in our league the last three years, and they added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year, so that makes it even more difficult.”

Adding Durant did make them more difficult to beat, but it also added to the Warriors’ burden — after a 67-win season and a historic 12-0 sweep into the Finals, the series that their season will be judged on is the one still to be played. They may as well be 0-0 because the second they added Durant it was championship or bust in terms of how they want to be seen.

Win and a pattern of dominance over years starts to come into focus, they will have a couple rings and beaten LeBron — who will go down as one of the all-time greats in his own right — to get them. Lose and this season will be viewed as another failure.

The Warriors want us to look back on them in 10-15 years and see a dynasty. They talked quietly about it last season during their chase for 73 wins — they saw that as a part of their resume as one of the greatest teams of all time. That’s part of the reason for the push last year. They, like LeBron, are chasing the ghosts of greatness at this point, and the Warriors had a Jordan record in their sights.

Regular season marks are nice, but in the NBA the great teams’ legacies are built around championships. Plural. If you’re going to go down as one of the dominant teams of an era — like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or Jordan’s Bulls, or the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s, etc. — there needs to multiple rings on fingers. The Warriors have one, but their historic season unraveled last year when a combination of LeBron’s utter dominance, Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury (that one was underrated as an issue) all came together to snatch victory from their hands (and help cement LeBron’sa legacy).

The Warriors need the 2017 title for their legacy.

Not just the team, but the legacies of Warriors players will be impacted by this series. Injured or worn down or just in a shooting slump (or, most likely, a combination of the three), Stephen Curry struggled defensively and was outplayed by LeBron last Finals when the Warriors needed him. Curry has been fantastic through these playoffs, but like the team he will be judged as much or more for the games to come than the ones already played. Fair or not.  Can Green keep his head about him when LeBron pushes his buttons? Durant is back on the Finals stage, will he rise to that moment?

The championship or bust mentality is too often the prism through which fans — and media — view sports. It’s unfortunate because it clouds the joy of the game itself, the growth of players, of guys doing the unexpected and rising to heights we did not expect from them. Isaiah Thomas‘ brilliant season in Boston is not diminished because it didn’t end in a ring, to use one easy example. But there are hundreds more like that around the league. Championship or bust blinds people to the little things that can make the game joyous.

However, the Warriors have put themselves in a different place. They are chasing legends. They have the wins and the statistics to make a case, more importantly, they also have a style of play being copied (even by college teams) and is changing how the game is played. That is a hallmark greatness.

Now they need the rings to go with it. They need more than one, but it starts with this year’s title — it is championship or bust for them. Fair or not. If the Warriors want to be mentioned in the pantheon of all-time greats, it will take the 2017 title to be part of it.

Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — They are defending champions and decided underdogs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, say they aren’t using any snubs to get ready for the NBA Finals.

Set for a third straight championship matchup against Golden State, the Cavs are ignoring the Las Vegas odds makers and others who don’t think they have a shot at beating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel his team needs the underdog label for inspiration, saying being in the NBA Finals is “enough motivation alone.”

Kevin Love was reminded that Warriors forward Draymond Green said earlier this season that he wants to “destroy and annihilate” the Cavs in the Finals. Says Love said: “He wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday.”

 

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.

Kevin Love on Cavaliers: “I don’t feel like we’re underdogs”

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Kevin Love and Las Vegas bookmakers do not see things the same way.

In Vegas, the Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the title — bet $100 on them to win and you get back $41.7 (or less). Cleveland is a heavy underdog.

Love sees a confident team that is the defending NBA champions, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because, yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title,” Love said Saturday after the Cavs’ first practice in preparation for the Warriors since clinching a spot in the Finals. “We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel, we will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. We match up well with them, and I think they’d say the same about us.”

What else was he going to say?

More than any other team in the league, the Cavaliers are built to give Golden State trouble. The Cavaliers can exploit mismatches, be physical on defense, and they have LeBron James, Love and Kyrie Irving. Three NBA stars.

Is that enough against four NBA stars is the question.