Chris Paul trade chatter grows, Lakers right at front of line

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The buzz around the league that the New Orleans Hornets have decided that they have to trade Chris Paul and do it fast is growing.

And the name that keeps coming up more and more as a potential landing spot for the star point guard is the Los Angeles Lakers.

Hornets’ general manager Dell Demps did meet face-to-face with Paul, according to Marc Stein and Chris Broussard of ESPN.

Sources told ESPN.com that Paul and Hornets general manager Dell Demps did have their expected sitdown at the team’s practice facility Monday and that the tone of the meeting was amicable. But Paul, sources said, did not tell the Hornets that he is prepared to sign an extension before the regular season opens Christmas Day, which only increases the likelihood that the Hornets deal the star guard this month.

If they are going to move him, the question is the landing spot. There are a lot of teams interested: The Warriors, Clippers Celtics, Hawks, Rockets and Mavericks. Both the Celtics (who would offer Rajon Rondo) and Rockets are reportedly willing to trade for Paul without him having agreed to extend his deal with the team.

However, more and more the destination that comes up is the Los Angeles Lakers. Sam Amick at Sports Illustrated explains.

Numerous front-office sources told SI.com that the Paul-to-the-Lakers chatter grew louder this week, and the common belief is that it would take Andrew Bynum to get that deal done (as opposed to 31-year-old forward Pau Gasol).

As we passed along yesterday, there are reports that the Lakers and Hornets have had a conversation and would talk again, but that the talks were vague at first. However, that may be changing.

The Lakers want more than just Chris Paul, reports Broussard at ESPN.

It is no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers would like to trade for Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, but sources with knowledge of the situation says the Lakers actually have something greater in mind: acquiring both players.

Hoping to pull off a pair of blockbuster moves that would rock the NBA, the Lakers are willing to trade anyone on their roster outside of Kobe Bryant to bring Howard and Paul to Los Angeles, two sources said.

That is not going to happen because the Lakers have only one real asset a young, rebuilding team would want — Bynum.

Gasol is arguably the most skilled big man in the game right now but he is 31 years old with a huge contract, not a player a rebuilding team will want. Odom works as a throw in as part of a Bynum deal if the Lakers have to take back a bad contract to make it work. But a rebuilding team will want Bynum and picks as part of he deal and the Lakers have only one of him.

The question is, do the Hornets get him for Paul or the Magic for Howard? The key difference is that while the Hornets seem to have come to the conclusion they need to move CP3 now, the Magic still hold out hope they can convince Howard to stay. They  are on a different timeline. Paul seems to be the guy who will get moved first.

Remember this other hurdle to a Paul-to-Lakers deal — the Hornets are owned by the league right now. After preaching competitive balance and giving small market teams a chance throughout the lockout, could the league (and other owners) sign off on a deal that sends CP3 to a marquee team in a huge market? Do not underestimate how that could change things.

Three Things to Know from All-Stars: Recruiting is alive, will it matter in Greek Freak’s world?

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — All-Star Weekend in the NBA means there is a lot to unpack over three days, so we want to bring you the three things you need to know from the last 72 hours in the NBA.

1) Recruiting is alive: The undercurrent of a wild coming free agency was everywhere in Charlotte. From the moment LeBron James picked a free-agent heavy team — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, and Klay Thompson, plus he has Anthony Davis — the tampering jokes flew. LeBron tried to play down the idea that he would recruit guys over All-Star weekend.

Not Washington’s Bradley Beal, he leaned into it.

The NBA moved the trade deadline up a couple of years ago to avoid having talk of trades overshadow the events all weekend (DeMarcus Cousins being traded during the All-Star Game was the final straw). That has worked, to a degree. But the shadow of July’s free agency period that is going to reshape the NBA was still hanging over the weekend.

Especially with Davis, whose agent requested a trade before the deadline that did not come to fruition. When he met with the media Saturday, Davis also leaned into the controversy, including about the list of the four teams he wanted to be traded to (Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, Bucks).

“That list that came out, it’s between my agent and the Pelicans,” Davis said, but then added:

“It’s true.”

That list never included Boston, which now is one of the front-runners to be able to trade for him.

“They are on my list, I never said Boston wasn’t on my list,” Davis said.

So, is Boston on your list?

“I never said they wasn’t on my list,” he reiterated.

The NBA should take a lesson from Beal and Davis — lean into all the rumors and trade talk. It’s part of what has fueled the league’s growth.

2) Kevin Durant is your All-Star MVP, but talking about Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson is more fun. The All-Star Game felt like a distilled essence of what has gone on around the Golden State Warriors for two years.

On the biggest stage, Durant was the player of the three. The two-time Finals MVP was named MVP of the All-Star Game, an obvious choice as Durant helped spark Team LeBron’s comeback..

However, it’s far more fun to talk about Curry and Thompson.

They guarded each other for stretches of the game and Curry was loving it.

Then late in the game, Curry (who struggled in the fourth going 3-of-11) got Thompson on a four-point play.

“It was good to see Steph knock that shot down over Klay, because Klay is always talking trash to him,” Durant said after the game.

3) Soon it will be Giannis Antetokounmpo’s world and the rest of the NBA will just live in it. His team lost the All-Star Game, but Antetokounmpo may have been the best player on the court all night. He had 20 first-half points on his way to 38 points and 11 boards for the game, plus some ridiculous highlights along the way.

“He’s got potential through the roof,” Durant said after the game. “He’s still producing at an elite level, and it’s scary to see how far he can keep going. His game is rounding into shape. He’s still getting better, but he’s leading top five, top three MVP candidates right now at 20. How old is he, 23? [Ed. note: 24] To be that young and already at the top of the class as one of the elites in the game, it’s a joy to watch his progression.”

A joy unless you’re the coach that has to gameplan against him for the next 10 years.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: There was one dunk for the ages in the Dunk Contest. For the most part, the Dunk Contest was flat. Except for Oklahoma City’s Hamidou Diallo doing a Vince Carter-style elbow dunk over Shaq. That was as good as it gets.

Kevin Durant keeps building up superstar accolades with second All-Star MVP

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CHARLOTTE – When Kevin Durant won All-Star MVP in 2012, he was asked whether he considered himself a star, a label he had resisted.

“I wouldn’t say that just yet,” Durant said. “Hopefully. Hopefully soon I can say that.”

The notion was silly then. Durant had already made two All-NBA first teams and finished second for MVP.

But that All-Star MVP started to change how Durant presented himself. He made another All-NBA first team, again finished second for MVP and led the Thunder to the NBA Finals that season.

“In 2012, I started to feel like I started to hit that elite level,” Durant said. “All that stuff in one year was pretty exciting to me.”

The hits have kept rolling since.

Durant has added an MVP, two titles and two Finals MVPs. Tonight, he claimed another All-Star MVP. The Warriors star scored 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting to lead LeBron James‘ team to a 178-164 win.

“I just keep trying to rack them up, I guess,” Durant said.

That’s seven years between his All-Star MVPs. Few players sustain that elite level – starring among stars – so long. Only LeBron James (12 years), Michael Jordan (10 years), Kobe Bryant (nine years), Oscar Robertson (eight years) have gone so long between their first and last All-Star MVPs.

Durant, 30, appears to have plenty left in the tank.

Of course, the impending question: Where? Durant can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and this weekend included plenty of speculation.

Tonight’s game gave Knicks fans reason to fanaticize. New York’s presumed targets with its double-max cap space, Durant and Kyrie Irving showed strong chemistry. Half Durant’s baskets were assisted by Irving, who sent five of his six assists to Durant (the other an alley-oop to former teammate LeBron).

Asked which of his All-Star teammates he best meshed with, Durant refused to name one.

“You don’t really have to do too much when you’re playing with so many great players,” Durant said. “You can do what you’re just best at.”

Team LeBron starts playing defense first, comes from 20 down to win All-Star Game

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s All-Star Game, Team LeBron started to care.

Down 20 at one point early in the third, Team LeBron came out of a mid-quarter timeout with a different energy. The “bench” guys on the court started defending with the kind of relative intensity usually reserved for the final minutes of this exhibition (when it’s close), the players on the bench were standing and cheering like it was a playoff game, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal started knocking down everything, and the game just shifted. It culminated when Damian Lillard tied the game up with a 35-foot three.

Team LeBron kept up the momentum, owned the fourth as Durant went 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in the quarter, and Team LeBron got the win 178-164.

“It was our second unit that came in — Dame, Klay, Brad Beal, LaMarcus, Ben Simmons, KAT,” LeBron said after the game about what turned the momentum. “They came in and just changed the whole complexion of the game. We got stops, and, obviously, Dame and Klay caught fire from beyond the arc, and that allowed us to get back in the game.”

Durant was named MVP, a clear choice with his second-half play in particular.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 38 points and 11 rebounds, while Paul George showed anyone that hasn’t seen him this season how well he’s playing — MVP conversation level — on his way to 20.

This All-Star Game opened with the level of defensive intensity we have come to expect in All-Star Games. Which is to say none.

Well, except when Stephen Curry was guarding Klay Thompson.

The one guy who was intense from the start was Antetokounmpo, who scored the first six points for Team Giannis. He didn’t slow down on his way to 20 first-half points, plus he had one of the game’s great highlights on a bounce pass alley-oop from Curry.

Antetokounmpo wasn’t the only Buck hot to start, Khris Middleton entered the game midway through the first quarter and drained three shots from beyond the arc in a row. In the first nine minutes of the game, the Bucks were beating Team LeBron 28-27.

The favorite crowd moment of the first half was when future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki walked on the court and splashed a couple of threes.

Dwyane Wade was the other Commissioner addition to the game, which means for one last time we got Wade throwing the alley-oop to LeBron.

Curry struggled late, going 3-of-11 in the fourth, but he still got to rub it in Thompson’s face a little.

“It was good to see Steph knock that shot down over Klay, because Klay is always talking trash to him,” Durant said after the game.

Team Giannis was in control most of the first half and was up 13 (95-82) at the half, not that 13 points is much of a deficit in the All-Star Game. Not when one team started to care.

Stephen Curry gets four-point play after Klay Thompson foul, Curry does some taunting

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Stephen Curry is enjoying going against Klay Thompson. Maybe a little too much.

In the first half, Curry was matched up on his Warriors’ backcourt mate and enjoyed that Thompson missed the shot.

Then in the fourth quarter, with the game tight, Curry drained the contested three and drew the and-1 on Thompson — and did a little taunting.

That’s some All-Star fun.