NBA Playoffs: It’s not Kobe’s ankle, it’s Chris Paul breaking them

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Game 5 is about ankles.

The one getting all the hype is Lakers guard Kobe Bryant’s left ankle. His foot is still attached, so he’s playing. That’s not the question.

He twisted his ankle (and foot) at the end of Los Angeles 93-88 loss to New Orleans in Game 4 and has since refused to get an X-ray or an MRI.  That can be taken as a sign that his ankle is not that bad, or that he is stubborn. Take your pick. Maybe even some of both. But it could backfire.

If Kobe’s ankle isn’t right, his shot will be flat and he won’t be of much help defending Hornets point guard Chris Paul tonight in Game 5. And that could be trouble for the Lakers. Maybe.

The other ankles are the ones Paul keeps breaking.

He has torn up the Lakers defense this series, and in the Hornets’ two wins he has been absolutely dominant in the second half. His crossovers are breaking ankles and creating space, but more importantly they are forcing defensive rotations and then he is finding the open man.

Who is knocking it down? In the first half of Game 4, Trevor Ariza didn’t even need Paul’s help (he got plenty of isolations) and made plays. The Hornets will need more of that.

The Lakers were 2-2 in their first-round series against Oklahoma City last year, too, but found their footing in the next two games. History may well repeat itself.

That footing has less to do with Kobe’s ankle and more to do with the Lakers getting back to pounding the ball inside (then making those shots). Hornets center Emeka Okafor was able to keep Andrew Bynum — the real key for these Lakers this series — in check. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom were off.

The Lakers need to get a lot of points in the paint, more importantly they need to own the boards. They are the bigger team, but they were outrebounded last game. Paul had as many as Odom and Gasol combined (13). What Pat Riley told the Showtime Lakers years ago remains true for these Lakers today: rebounds equal rings.

The Lakers need to make Paul work — they had success in Game 2 with ball denial — and they need to be physical with him. They are the bigger team; they need to wear him down. He is the Hornets’ chance. Even slow him to average and the Lakers can win. But when he breaks out, he is a perfect key to unlock the Lakers.

At this point, this series is not about adjustments. It’s about execution. Paul has been the master; the Lakers have been spotty. If the Lakers play like that again, their dreams of a three-peat will be in sudden and serious jeopardy. Because we know CP3 will bring it.

Report: NBA opens investigation into tampering following ‘tense’ owners meeting

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Kyrie Irving (Nets), Kemba Walker (Celtics) and Derrick Rose (Pistons) appeared to have their next teams lined up before free agency officially began. The Celtics reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford. Several other players agreed to terms so quickly after free agency began 6 p.m. June 30, it’s impossible to believe the deals weren’t pre-arranged.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said free-agency rules should be revised and enforced.

The league will also investigate.

Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Within days, the league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say.

The investigation followed a tense owners meeting, which multiple sources described to ESPN.

In the midst of it, Rick Buchanan, the NBA’s longtime general counsel, issued an evenhanded but sobering message to the room, multiple sources said.

Buchanan told the governors that as partners they were entitled to expect all teams to abide by a common set of enforceable rules for free agency — and that the league office would come back with a proposal for a revised set of rules that would then be strictly enforced. He asked the group if they were comfortable with the league “seizing servers and cellphones,” a line that stuck with many in attendance, according to sources who recounted the scene later.

It’s unclear whether this investigation will be punitive, exploratory or both.

Teams and players are absolutely violating the written rules. Some teams occasionally get punished. The rules are arbitrarily enforced, which is unfair. This investigation could lead to widespread punishment, though proving which teams did and didn’t tamper would be difficult. If it goes this route, expect uneven enforcement.

I’m with Silver: The rules should be enforced. An easy way to do that is writing the rules to match what currently occurs. As much griping as everyone does, the system mostly works. It’d work even better if everyone were on the same page about what is and isn’t allowed. So, this investigation could uncover details of how free agency actually happens. Then, the rules could be tailored around that.

This is clearly trending toward allowing contact with free agents sooner. That’s already happening, anyway. And billionaire team owners sure don’t want their privacy invaded for strict enforcement of a more-prohibitive system.

Tricky questions remain, though.

How will the NBA handle players tampering with each other? That’s forbidden by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but Silver has practically said he’ll allow it. And it happens plenty. I’d prefer it becomes officially allowed. Having unenforced rules can lead to selective enforcement.

When will teams and free agents be permitted to contact each other? Seasons end at different times, depending how far teams advance. Even with the starting period moved up, some teams will still seek an edge.

So, there’s no perfect solution.

But there are obvious problems with conditions now. It sounds like the NBA might finally be addressing them.

Report: Damian Lillard out, Julius Randle and Jaylen Brown in for Team USA consideration

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Team USA is losing its best player.

Again.

After Anthony Davis then James Harden withdrew from consideration for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Damian Lillard is also pulling out.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

This is a major drop in star power for the Americans. Their best player on the World Cup roster could be Kemba Walker? Kyle Lowry? Khris Middleton? This is no Dream Team.

The United States also went from stacked to thin at point guard in a hurry. Walker and Lowry remain – if Lowry is healthy. Donovan Mitchell and Marcus Smart are combo guards. But that’s a big drop from an expected 1-2 punch of Harden and Lillard.

Julius Randle and Jaylen Brown won’t help there.

Brown is a solid addition to the roster pool. He’s a versatile wing who can fit into many lineups and styles. That malleability will be important as Team USA can longer rely on a huge talent disparity.

Randle probably makes less sense. He’s an impressive individual scorer with passing ability. But his ball-stopping tendencies and woeful defense as a big leave major questions about his ability to contribute with other top players. He’s more of a floor-raiser. If the Americans need a floor-raiser, they’re in trouble.

DeMar DeRozan apparently withdrew from the training-camp roster before anyone knew he was even added, which is pretty fitting for this team.

Thunder’s new uniforms commemorate Oklahoma City bombing (photo)

Oklahoma City Thunder
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For years, “Oklahoma City” referred to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995.

The Thunder have helped move the city forward and broaden its image. But the team doesn’t want to distance itself from that tragedy, which remains a central aspect of Oklahoma City’s identity.

To that end, the Thunder have unveiled new uniforms.

Thunder release:

The uniform design features symbols that represent elements of the memorial. Across the chest, “Oklahoma City” appears in gold-lined letters, with the twin Gates of Time spanning down the side of the jerseys that carry into the shorts. The times 9:01 and 9:03 appear within the vents of the shorts. They reflect the innocence of the city at 9:01 before the attack, followed by the time the city began to come together and heal at 9:03. The white on the side of the shorts represents the Reflecting Pool, a shallow depth of water that provides comfort and peace. “Service,” “Honor” and “Kindness” appear above the jersey’s tag – reflecting the ideals of the Oklahoma Standard, and the manner in which Oklahoma citizens treat one another and their community.

The Survivor Tree, a 90-year-old American elm at the site of the memorial, is also depicted in full color on the belt of the uniform’s shorts. The tree serves as a symbol of human resilience and strength as it withstood the force of the 4,000 pound bomb. Inside the jersey, a blue ribbon is layered with the words, “We Remember Those Who Were Changed Forever, April 19, 1995.” Along the back of the neck, Thunder blue, navy, yellow and sunset stripes tie the uniform to the team’s traditional colors and represent the many gifts of remembrance that visitors left on the fence at the original site and continue to leave at the memorial today.

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The Thunder are the second NBA team to base a jersey on a significant and tragic world event. The Grizzlies have worn uniforms designed around the motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

I have mixed feelings on what could be a burgeoning trend.

In both cases, the iconography appears to be meaningful and solemn. There’s value in elevating these important symbols. The Thunder will also donate to the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum, which honors those affected by the bombing.

But the purpose of frequently introducing new uniforms like these is to turn a profit. It feels cheap to exploit a tragedy to come up with a new jersey idea. That’s especially unavoidable with the glaring advertisement on these Oklahoma City uniforms.

The Thunder also revealed revised versions of their white, blue and orange uniforms:

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The changes to the white and blue uniforms are subtle. The orange uniforms – now with bright blue letters and numbers – really pop. For better or worse.

Quinn Cook says Laker chemistry impressive, some players already working out together

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The Lakers enter this season title contenders. Which is where the franchise always believes it belongs.

Two be a threat to win it all, two things have to happen for the Lakers. First, LeBron James and Anthony Davis need to stay healthy for the playoffs (health matters to every contending team).

Second, the interesting and diverse patchwork of role players the Lakers put around LeBron and Davis have to come together and contribute in meaningful ways. There needs to be real chemistry.

Quinn Cook, one of those role players the Lakers need, told Alex Kennedy of Hoopshype that relationship is coming together.

We have our team group chat going and the guys are very active in it. It feels like this team has been together for a while. Everyone has been really active in the group chat. Ever since I signed, I went straight to Los Angeles and I’ve been working out with Bron, Kuz, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and JaVale [McGee]. We’ve been working on a lot of stuff and I’m getting a chance to learn from the coaching staff, getting a chance to talk to Coach Vogel a lot and work out with Coach [Miles] Simon. Everyone has been so welcoming since day one when I signed. I know the other guys will start to trickle in; it’s still really early in the summer. As guys trickle in, we’ll keep working hard and getting ready for the season. All of the guys are really excited to get things going, man. I know this NBA season will be one of the better ones for everyone – from players to coaches to fans. If you’re a fan of basketball, this season will be amazing.

It’s a good sign for the Lakers this is happening organically, especially with a roster loaded with new faces.

Also, know that just about every team can say the same thing right now as players start to ramp up their workouts heading into the season. Each team is different and some have more established chemistry already, but this is not uncommon.

It’s going to be a wild NBA season in Los Angeles. This is just the start.