Shaq says Kobe, sexual assault case blew apart Lakers

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The reports of any truce between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal have been greatly exaggerated. Actually, where there any such reports?

Now that he is out of the game, Shaq has a new tell all book coming out: Shaq Uncut: My Story. Jackie MacMullan did the writing and it comes out Nov. 15. We like her and Shaq spins a good yard — even if the truth is stretched like taffy — so it should make an interesting combination.

Deadspin got some excerpts, including the parts where Shaq says Kobe’s Colorado sexual assault charges blew up the three-peat Lakers. And where Shaq threatened to kill Kobe. (Go read the whole thing, you want to see the part where young Kobe says he’s “going to be the Will Smith of the NBA.”)

So I’m on edge because I don’t have I don’t have a new deal, and Kobe is on edge because he might be going to jail, so we’re taking it out on each other. Just before the start of the ’03-’04 season the coach staff called us in and said, “No more public sparring or you’ll get fined.” … Phil was tired of it. Karl Malone and Gary Payton were sick of it. … So what happens? Immediately after that Kobe runs right out to Jim Gray and does this interview where he lets me have it. He said I was fat and out of shape. He said I was milking my toe injury for more time off, and the injury wasn’t even that serious. (Yeah, right. It only ended my damn career.) He said I was “lobbying for a contract extension when we have two Hall of Famers playing pretty much for free.” I’m sitting there watching this interview and I’m gonna explode. Hours earlier we had just promised our coach we’d stop. It was a truce broken. I let the guys know, “I’m going to kill him.”

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Kobe stands up and goes face-to-face with me and says, “You always said you’re my big brother, you’d do anything for me, and then this Colorado thing happens and you never even called me.” I did call him. … So here we are now, and we find out he really was hurt that we didn’t stand behind him. That was something new. I didn’t think he gave a rat’s ass about us either way. “Well, I thought you’d publicly support me, at least,” Kobe said. “You’re supposed to be my friend.”

Brian Shaw chimed in with “Kobe, why would you think that? Shaq had all these parties and you never showed up for any of them. We invited you to dinner on the road and you didn’t come. Shaq invited you to his wedding and you weren’t there. Then you got married and didn’t invite any of us. And now you are in the middle of this problem, this sensitive situation, and now you want all of us to step up for you. We don’t even know you.” …

Everyone was starting to calm down when I told Kobe, “If you ever say anything like what you said to Jim Gray ever again, I will kill you.”

Kobe shrugged and said, “Whatever.”

Shaq deserves some of the blame for that Lakers team breaking up, too. And not just because he ran down the court at a preseason game yelling “pay me” at owner Jerry Buss (although that didn’t help).

That was Shaq’s locker room at the time and Kobe was the brash young kid. Shaq needled Kobe, pushed on him and Phil Jackson sided with Shaq because in the end he needed the locker room and the veterans to win. That just exacerbated the issues. (When Jackson returned to the Lakers and it was Kobe’s locker room, Jackson patched up that relationship because he needed Kobe.) Shaq was not mature and accommodating, he was Shaq. He helped push that divide. When their contracts came up it was going to be one or the other, and Buss had no choice but to go with the guy who was younger and had the better work ethic.

But the part about Kobe keeping those guys at arm’s length? Spot on. And the team didn’t like it.

And Shaq still doesn’t, apparently.

Reports: Jimmy Butler requests trade from Timberwolves; wants to play for Clippers, Nets, Knicks

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Tom Thibodeau went all-in on Jimmy Butler, trading  Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn plus swapping first-round picks (which became Lauri Markkanen) to land the wing. On the surface it worked, Minnesota got 16 games better and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004, while Butler averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.

However, in the locker room things were not smooth. Butler is a Tom Thibodeau guy, and Karl-Anthony Towns is not, which led to tension between the two stars. Throw in Andrew Wiggins regressing after getting a big contract and nobody being happy with Tom Thibodeau grinding the starters into the ground, and you had one unhappy locker room.

How unhappy? How frustrated is Butler heading into a contract year? In a meeting with Thibodeau Tuesday in Los Angeles, Butler asked to be traded, reports Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

The Timberwolves put a five-year max rookie contract extension on the table in front of Towns on July 1, but he has yet to sign it. The Butler situation is reported to be the key reason. Once Towns signs the deal, he is the player in Minnesota with the power, and that’s not ideal for Butler or Thibodeau.

The timing of this is brutal for the Timberwolves. Ideally, they would like to get this resolved before training camp opens next week, but that’s likely not enough time. They are not going to recoup what they gave up to get Butler, not even close, but they need to get something back. Butler wants to go to the Nets, Clippers, or Knicks, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Minnesota is under no obligation to send Butler where he wants to go, they need to get back the best deal they can. However, leaking this could discourage other teams from jumping in the mix. Other teams — the Sixers, the Lakers — may want to get in on the bidding next summer, and could even reach out about a trade (the Sixers have the assets to make it interesting if they wanted, the Lakers would have to trade Brandon Ingram right now because all those veterans on one-year deals can’t be moved until Dec. 15).

However, if the report that Butler is willing to talk contract extension with those three teams — which at its max is $29 million total less than he could sign for as a free agent with another team — could encourage the Clippers, Knicks, and Nets to go big and try to get a deal done. This could move fast.

Pelicans stay one small step ahead of their shortcomings catching up to them, per usual

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

On Feb. 16, 2017, I published an article about how difficult it’d be for the Pelicans to get Anthony Davis a star teammate.

Three days later, they traded for DeMarcus Cousins.

How did that happen? A few months before Cousins became officially eligible, the Kings got got squeamish about giving him the super-max extension both sides had seemingly agreed upon. Sacramento lacked the organizational prowess to navigate a difficult situation by doing anything other than rushing to trade Cousins, who was still under contract for another season-and-a-half. In the process, the Kings tanked Cousins’ already-limited value even further. New Orleans had Sacramento target Buddy Hield and was willing to surrender a future first-rounder.

The Pelicans were in the right place at the right time.

That wasn’t the case this summer, when Cousins left New Orleans for the Warriors. And maybe that’s OK.

The Pelicans are a fringe playoff team in this loaded Western Conference. They couldn’t necessarily afford to wait on Cousins’ torn Achilles to heal. Every win matters to them – especially as they move toward inflection points with Davis.

Though I’m grading only this offseason, we can still note how New Orleans’ prior errors made the Cousins timing so tricky. Better-positioned teams wouldn’t stress him missing the start of the season if it meant getting a star at a big discount (though, to be fair, we don’t know whether Cousins would have accepted the taxpayer-mid-level-exception salary he’ll earn in Golden State from the Pelicans, who could have offered more).

It was a similar story with Rajon Rondo, who signed with New Orleans last year after finding an unwelcoming market. Because of their lackluster roster, the Pelicans offered the starting job Rondo coveted. So, he took a one-year deal, exceeded expectations then left for a raise in a glitzier market this year.

New Orleans replaces Rondo and Cousins with Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle. Whether or not that’s an upgrade is difficult to discern and made the Pelicans’ grade the toughest to assign this year.

Rondo fit well into New Orleans’ ball-movement system, and he stepped up defensively in the playoffs. But the Lakers’ offer to him ($9 million for one year) was steep. Still, Payton must take significant steps forward to match Rondo’s production. Maybe the 24-year-old will.

The Pelicans surged after Cousins went down last season, including sweeping the third-seeded Trail Blazers in the first round. So, in a sense, Randle is just an addition. He, Davis and Nikola Mirotic should form a nice big-man rotation with varying skill sets.

But Randle (two-year non-taxpayer mid-level exception with a player option) and Payton (one-year, $3 million) are locked in for only one season. If they play well, New Orleans will just have to hope everything lines up again next offseason. If they struggle, New Orleans will have even bigger problems.

In the meantime, the Pelicans have enough to deal with. They traded their 2018 first-round pick to get Mirotic last season. Randle got the entire mid-level exception, and Payton got nearly all of the bi-annual exception. That meant filling out the roster with several minimum contracts containing varying guarantees. Signing Tyrone Wallace to an offer sheet was a nice idea, but the Clippers matched, leaving New Orleans with Ian Clark, Jahlil Okafor, Jarrett Jack, Darius Morris, Troy Williams, Garlon Green and Kenrich Williams. Maybe there’s a diamond in the rough.

That’d be nice for the Pelicans, who know all too well about playing from the rough.

They just keep trying to plug holes, because it’s too hard to build a strong foundation around Davis. New Orleans might have done well enough this year, but the same issues loom next year.

Offseason grade: C

After hip surgery, Isaiah Thomas not 100 percent for start of Denver training camp

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Isaiah Thomas didn’t want to have surgery at first — he was coming up on a contract summer and the point guard who was fifth in the MVP voting just two seasons ago wanted to prove he was still the same guy. That he deserved to get paid. But after missing the start of the season in Cleveland with a torn labrum in his hip, getting traded to the Lakers, never being himself and being a below average player last season, Thomas decided to get the surgery on his hip last April. He eventually signed a minimum contract with the Denver Nuggets.

He is still not 100 percent at the start of training camp, coach Mark Malone said on Altitude TV, via Chris Dempsey. Sam Amick adds that it may be a while before we see Thomas in action.

That has the Nuggets adding to their training camp roster in the short term.

The Nuggets are a team looking to make a playoff push this season (and if Paul Millsap can stay healthy and improve the team’s defense they should make it, even in the brutal West). Thomas — a healthy Thomas — boosting the Denver bench is part of that. However, Thomas is the poster child for why one doesn’t play through injuries or rush back on the court, there is potential long-term damage that is hard on the body and can be hard on the wallet.

Denver can wait, and if Thomas can be Thomas whenever he gets back, it could be a good fit in Denver.

Lonzo Ball will not be cleared for 5-on-5 at start of Lakers’ training camp

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Lonzo Ball called having surgery on his knee this summer a “last option” — he had a PRP injection first — but ultimately didn’t have a choice. He’s spent a lot of his summer on recovery from his surgery, a partial removal of his meniscus.

When training camp opens, Ball will not be cleared to go 5-on-5, Lakers’ coach Luke Walton said on the Lakers’ cable station in Los Angeles, reports Mike Bresnahan.

Ball has been working on conditioning and getting stronger this summer, plus has undoubtedly tweaked his shot. However, it takes time to recover from a knee operation, and the Lakers have no reason to rush him back.

 

Things have changed this season for Ball and all of the Lakers’ young core. With LeBron James in-house, Los Angeles is a win-now team and all the young Lakers need to prove they can contribute to that today, there is now more patience for slow development. Ball needs to prove he can play well off the ball (he did that at UCLA) and that he has become more of a scoring threat, both with his jumper and finishing around the rim. His ability to move the rock and play at pace can fit with LeBron and the Lakers’ game, but the Lakers are not going to wait around while that slowly develops. It’s sink or swim time, especially for Ball with Rajon Rondo on the roster and Josh Hart looking all-world at Summer League.