LeBron’s popularity at an all-time low

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They say it’s better to be feared than loved. Maybe the modern sports equivalent is “it’s more profitable to be hated than loved. ”

Because even as LeBron James’ global brand is expanding to collegiate teams who have Final Four spots penciled in (plus Miami), as his jersey is tops in the world, as his financial intake is the highest it has ever been, his popularity is the lowest it could possibly be. From CNBC’s Darren Rovell:

In a poll taken just days after the decision (7/11/10), James’ appeal dropped by more 11 percent, his endorsement appeal by two percentage percent and trust plummeted by more than three percent. DBI took eight more polls of the public and how they felt about James.

James’ appeal had climbed back up somewhat to almost 63 percent by May 24, 2011, his endorsement was holding steady and his trust was showing improvement.

But all that plummeted when the poll was taken after the Finals. James was criticized for not showing up in the fourth quarter and for looking down on people who criticized him. DBI’s poll taken on June 19, shows that LeBron’s appeal was at the lowest it has ever been (57%) and that his trust was hovering at all-time lows (48.87 percent).

It’s debatable as to whether this has hurt LeBron’s business. Nike  said last month it sold more than 500,000 pairs of his signature shoes this past year and he was, after all, the NBA’s most popular jersey.

via A Year Later, Polls Show LeBron Still Hasn’t Recovered – CNBC.

So this just confirms what was pretty apparent from fan, media, and league reaction to James this season and during the Finals: everyone hates the guy outside of South Beach. He’s arrogant. Okay, so what? So is everyone in the NBA and for sure nearly every superstar. He’s brazen. This in a league filled with Kobe’s jaw-jut, KG’s incessant screaming, Durant and Co.’s constant pom-pom parade after every made three, and Derrick Rose’s preseason MVP proclamation. He’s constant in his exposure… much like Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, or Dwyane Wade on television. He betrayed the team that drafted him… by leaving in free agency which he had every right to do. He did it in a disgusting way… again, brazen. So what is it? And why hasn’t it affected his bottom line?

The reality is that James is more famous than popular. He’s not loved. He’s not feared. He’s just observed. His attention is constant, even if it’s mostly negative. And for whatever reason, companies are still flocking to him as a symbol of what they want to represent. He’s not winning titles. He’s not the people’s champion.

But he’s getting his empire, one way or another.

Report: Clippers interested in Tobias Harris

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The Clippers spent all season pursuing Kawhi Leonard – even trading Tobias Harris to the 76ers in February. Leonard will reportedly meet with the Clippers in free agency.

But Leonard just won a title with the Raptors, and stars almost never leave the defending champion. The Clippers must consider fallback plans.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

One team that should express interest in Harris should they miss out on Kawhi Leonard, according to league sources: The Clippers.

Harris will have plenty of suitors – including Philadelphia, which can offer him a five-year contract for a projected max of $190 million. (His projected max with another team is $141 million over four years.)

But the Clippers would be the spiciest option.

L.A. got a haul for Harris – Landry Shamet and two first-round picks, including the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder (which has huge upside). Imagine the Clippers keeping all that and still getting back Harris.

They could even chase Leonard again next summer if he signs a 1+1 contract with Toronto. If they don’t sign any another free agents to multi-year deals, the Clippers could give Harris the max and still projected to have enough cap space to max out Leonard in 2020. And keep Lou Williams at his partially guaranteed $8 million salary. And keep Montrezl Harrell‘s Bird Rights. And have about $7 million left over.

Even if Leonard re-signs on a 2+1 to reach 10 years of service and a higher max-salary tier in 2021, the Clippers have nobody on the books for that year other than rookie-scale players. Harris’ salary would not encumber L.A.

There’s no indication the Clippers and Harris soured on each other. The Clippers just preferred Leonard, got a strong offer from the 76ers and knew Harris might not wait out Leonard’s decision just to be a fallback in L.A.

But with those Philadelphia assets already banked, if Leonard stays in Toronto, the Clippers could turn back to Harris.

For Harris, it might matter whether Philadelphia offers the larger max. But among all his outside options, he at least already knows he fits well in L.A.

Marc Gasol opting in with Raptors for $25,595,700

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He joined the Raptors this season, helped them win a championship and will stay.

No, not him.

Marc Gasol, who had a $25,595,700 player option for next season.

Raptors PR:

Marc Gasol has exercised his player option with the Raptors for the 2019-20 season.

If Kawhi Leonard re-signs, Toronto will be happy to have a solid starting center like Gasol for a title defense. This leaves Leonard and Danny Greenwho’ll also be an unrestricted free agent – as the only core Raptors not locked up for next season.

But if Leonard leaves, Gasol will be an overpaid cog on a middling playoff team. There just isn’t that much of a market for merely solid centers, especially a 34-year-old.

Of course, Toronto knew Gasol’s salary situation when acquiring him just before the trade deadline. The Raptors got the best immediate outcome with a championship. Paying him $25,595,700 next season is a perfectly acceptable cost.

Report: Sixers ‘expressing confidence’ they will re-sign Jimmy Butler; Rockets still seek sign-and-trade

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If the Philadelphia 76ers put a five-year max contract of $189.7 million in front of Jimmy Butler, the smart bet is he signs it. Fast. Butler will be 30 next season and has a growing history of injuries, plus the Sixers are going to be contenders with him. That’s a lot of money and a good situation to walk away from.

The Rockets are still hoping to lure him away to Houston, forcing a sign-and-trade on Philadelphia, but the Sixers are confident they will keep him, reports Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe of ESPN.

As noted in the ESPN story, there is no indication that the Sixers or Butler are down with this trade idea.

The only way this sign-and-trade happens is if Butler goes to the Sixers and says he’s leaving anyway and wants a sign-and-trade to Houston. Then Philadelphia would play along only because they could get something back for Butler, rather than losing him outright.

However, I have heard from league sources that if Butler leaves Philly the Lakers are the team at the top of his list, paring with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Whether that is true or not, he has options including the Knicks. Maybe for Butler the chance to chase a ring with James Harden and Chris Paul is a bigger draw, however, to make that happen the Rockets will be stripped of a lot of depth. If the Lakers add Butler at the max, they will have three stars, Kyle Kuzma, and the rest of the roster will be minimum contract guys (plus somebody for the $4.8 million room exception).

If Butler leaves Philadelphia, the most he can sign for with any team is a four-year, $140 million contract. That includes in a sign-and-trade with the Rockets, under the new CBA a player cannot sign the larger five-year max as part of a sign-and-trade, it can only be for the $140 million the Rockets could sign him with outright.

While this is a fun rumor and report that gets a lot of ink, it seems highly unlikely to come together. Never say never in the NBA, but this seems a longshot.

That said, a Rockets locker room with Jimmy Butler, James Harden, Chris Paul, and a lame duck coach would be good for those of us who love NBA drama.

Rumor: Several teams want to pair Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler

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Kawhi Leonard is choosing between staying in Toronto with the Raptors or coming to Southern California and being a Clipper, according to sources and multiple reports.

Jimmy Butler probably signs a five-year max contract to stay in Philadelphia if the Sixers put it in front of him (as their management has said it would do), but if not the Lakers are considered to be the frontrunners according to the buzz around the league.

However, there are teams dreaming of pairing Butler and Leonard this summer, reports Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

Multiple teams have expressed interest in pairing Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler together in free agency this summer, per league sources familiar with the matter.

Those teams, obviously, would need to create the cap space required to sign both players. The teams interested in Butler and Leonard believe they would have interest in playing on the same team, per league sources.

This doesn’t suggest that Leonard is seeking to team up with any other player; that doesn’t fit his persona. But teams interested in pairing Leonard and Butler believe they would have interest in playing together.

There is a whole lot of supposition in that report (and from teams).

First, and Begley touches on it, this assumes that Leonard wants to team up with Butler, or anyone for that matter. Superteams are not his style. Butler can bring drama with him, and that is also not Leonard’s style. On the flip side, does Butler want to partner up with Leonard?

Second, there are not a lot of teams that can clear two max salary slots. Brooklyn, the Clippers (if they trade Danilo Gallinari, something certainly possible), the Knicks and maybe a couple others with some cap gymnastics. Just a note here: the writer Begley is based in New York and covered the Knicks for ESPN for many years. Draw whatever conclusions you want from that.

Third, this is most likely not the path for either of them. Never say never, because NBA free agency can flip on a dime, but pairing those two is not the most likely outcome.

But it’s the silly season, so rumors are everywhere.