The Lakers and the high price of losing a sure-bet

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If you had asked any NBA fan, or expert, or even Lakers official back in June what they’d be doing two weeks before the start of the season, they’d say there’d be some drama. There always is. With Phil Jackson retiring and Jim Buss taking the reins over from his father, there were sure to be changes in the way that day-to-day operations and life of the league’s most prolific franchise. But no one could have foreseen this.

The Lakers’ attempts at restructuring a deal for Chris Paul fell apart Saturday night, two days after the league blocked an approved trade by all three parties in a three-way with Houston and New Orleans. As they pulled out of talks, leaving both Houston and New Orleans stranded, they shocked the world by trading Lamar Odom, Sixth Man of the Year and glue guy for two championship teams, to the Dallas Mavericks who just seven months ago knocked them out of the playoffs and set off this unraveling. In return? The Lakers get a first-round pick of Dallas’ choosing between now and a half-decade, and a traded player exception.

ESPN reports Odom demanded a trade Friday night. So hurt by the team’s decision to move him, the bridge was burned. He winds up on a conference rival. What’s stunning is not the move itself, this happens from time to time.

But not to the Lakers.

This is a franchise that has been largely untouchable. And under any other circumstances, their efforts in the Chris Paul trade would have paid off. They would then be in position to obtain Dwight Howard and complete the triad that would destroy the universe and reign for a thousand years. That’s the way it’s supposed to go. That’s what the Lakers do.

But they didn’t.

It took a confluence of events beyond description. George Shinn sold the team while having prostate cancer, essentially just giving up. A deal to sell the team had fallen through in the wake of the BP oil spill in the gulf, the same effects thereof kept a prospective buyer away. So the league bought the team. And held onto it for months, because of their desire to raise the value of the sale with a better CBA the league sacrificed 16 games for in a lockout. Then this happened, before they could. Had Shinn kept the team another year, had the oil spill not happened, had the league sold it before the lockout, had the lockout not occurred. Any of these things change, and the Lakers have Chris Paul in Lakers Gold right now.

But they did. The Lakers gambled big, but gambled on the fact that they have always succeeded. They should have pulled it off. They did pull it off. They talked the Hornets, facing the most massive rebuilding project of any team since… OK, well since Cleveland, into taking two guys over 30 with medium-to-large contracts and Kevin Martin who is a very specialized talent, along with a 20-ish pick from the Knicks by way of Houston in exchange for the best pure point guard in the league. Only the Lakers could pull this deal off, but they did it. Nothing could stop them…

Except the league.

And in doing so, by interjecting themselves where they were not wanted, by over-riding New Orleans GM Dell Demps who had been given permission to run the team along with Jac Sperling, the league has altered the course of Lakers history, interfered where it was not their place. If you don’t consider them a legitimate owner of the Hornets, as they are not the long-term owners of the team and as they have considerable conflicts of interest, then quite simply, the Lakers had the roulette ball land on their number, and yet the house took their bet with no return.

Without the trade, Odom is still obliviously happy in his natural environment, a hyper-media, reality-television, flashbulbs and confetti wonderland, instead of suiting up to hurt his former team. Pau Gasol isn’t emotionally scarred. If the trade had gone through, the Lakers have moved on to their next era of dominance.

Instead, it’s an uncertain future. Dwight Howard is still out there, even as rumors that they won’t trade Pau Gasol and Bynum for Howard percolate. And who knows, maybe the Lakers will return to chase Paul. But as it stands, they have a gaping hole in their front court, and a serious chemistry issue. Not one of their own design, but by consequence of the league’s interference.

It’s said that the Lakers don’t rebuild. They reload. But the league, in essence, has amputated a limb. They’ll likely figure a way out. But the result is the same.

The league vetoed a trade, and in doing so, have set off a set of consequences which turns a team that had every reason to believe they could return to challenge for a championship on the razor’s edge.

Good luck with that, Mike Brown.

Doc Rivers says Paul George will be out for the first 10 games

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We are expecting not to see Paul George on the court with Kawhi Leonard in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform until November. But until this week, we didn’t have a good idea about when George could return over the course of the next month.

Speaking to reporters this week, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers let it slip that George could miss up to the first 10 games of the regular season. That would put George at a tentative return date of Nov. 13 against the Houston Rockets.

Via Twitter:

The Clippers are still expected to be one of the best teams in the NBA, and the real question heading into the first several weeks of the season will be how much they allow Leonard to sit out due to load management if George is not on the floor.

The real question in Los Angeles — on both sides of the hall at Staples Center — will be about health, and the Clippers know that it’s not how you start the season but how you finish. It seems likely they will wait until George is fully ready to return to action rather than rushing him back from dual shoulder surgery.

Kyle Kuzma reportedly cancelled plans to announce Chinese sponsorships

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Tensions are still high between the NBA and China, and both sides are hoping that things return to normal soon. Whether that’s possible is another thing altogether, particularly with how raw the response to the NBA has been by domestic fans concerned with the NBA sticking to its stated principles with regard to social justice.

This has affected not just the league, but players too. James Harden and Russell Westbrook were involved in an incident where an official shut down a legitimate question by a CNN reporter. Now it’s being reported that Los Angeles Lakers big man that Kyle Kuzma decided not to announce sponsorship deals with Chinese companies during his team’s visit to the continent this month.

Via Bill Oram:

Kuzma’s plans to announce additional sponsorship deals with Chinese companies were scrapped once the Lakers arrived on Tuesday and found themselves caught in the middle of a stalemate between the NBA and the Chinese government.

The whole story of what it was like to cover the trip in China as an American is worth reading by Oram. It’s an interesting look at the collision of politics, business, and the perception of sports as separate from those spheres.

Meanwhile, players and their management teams will need to think more carefully about the social perception of business deals both at home and abroad.

Facilitator Kawhi Leonard in Clippers opener could be glimpse into season

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

LOS ANGELES — You could see the impact almost immediately.

In his first minutes in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform last Thursday against Denver, Kawhi Lenoard drained a 14-foot midrange shot, stole a Gary Harris pass and turned that into a step-back three-pointer. Five points and a steal, all in 21 seconds.

More importantly for the Clippers, you could hear the impact almost immediately, too.

Leonard was talking a lot on defense, directing players and making his presence heard. That has been the case in team practices as well, according to people with the Clippers.

“He’s more verbal than you would ever know,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s more demanding in a very positive way. You have to do it right. I love that for our team.”

Questions abound about how Leonard — and Paul George, when he returns at some point likely in November — will fit in with an established Clippers roster and culture this season. The Clippers on paper may be title favorites, but how all those pieces come together remains one of the potential turning points of this NBA season.

The cultural fit seems smooth.

Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell brought an intense, hard-working, tough-to-play-against ethos to Los Angeles — but Leonard and George are lunchpail guys at heart. The Clippers’ new editions may be top five (certainly top eight) NBA talents, but they came into the league seen as “3&D” guys with some potential. They worked their way to the top, and that works for the Clippers.

On the court — at least in the slightly more than 10 minutes he played against Denver — the roster fit also seemed smooth.

Leonard had seven points on 3-of-6 shooting, but what stood out were the six assists. Leonard played a facilitator role. The first bucket of the game was a Leonard drive-and-kick to JaMychal Green in the corner, who hit the three. Leonard’s other assists were mostly to bigs Ivica Zubac and Harrell cutting to the basket.

Doc Rivers’ plan is to let Leonard feel how other teams are going to guard him, them adapt.

“Some teams will try to guard him one-on-one and he’ll probably try to score,” Rivers said. “Some teams, like Denver today, was up doubling him a lot, and he’ll be a facilitator…

“That’s what Kawhi does, it’s not like we’re recreating anything here. He’s a smart player. We’re going to try and keep as much shooting out with him, so teams can’t help. We will try to keep one roller on the floor with him, so that guy’s going down the middle of the paint and he’s creating help. We don’t have to make it that difficult.”

“He found me every time I was open,” Zubac said. “I really like playing with him.”

This was not by direct design so much as Leonard taking what the defense gave him.

“It just happened naturally,” Leonard said. “For the most part I cause a lot of attention, and I’m going to pass it to the open man. They was knocking down the shots tonight.”

We will see more of “facilitator Leonard” this season, and facilitator George as well. That Rivers wants to keep shooters on the court around his stars speaks to what a vital role Green and second-year guard Landry Shamet will play in Los Angeles — they are going to get opportunities and have to make the defense pay. (Shamet had 11 points against Denver and was 2-of-5 from three.)

Then off the bench, Los Angeles rolls out the best pick-and-roll combo in the league right now, Lou Williams and Harrell. Those two drove the Clippers offense last season, which is why both finished in the top three in Sixth Man of the Year voting, but this season there will be less pressure on them. They may not even close games, even though Williams is one of the better end-game bucket getters in the league.

The Clippers are that deep with talent.

Leonard showed already how he just makes the game easier for that talent. Zubac setting picks for Leonard and rolling, with shooters on the floor, is not going to be easy to stop — and that’s without George in the mix yet.

It’s more than the Xs and Os, however, Leonard and his rings just bring a gravitas to the Clippers they needed.

“He has a presence about him when he is on the floor, just feels a little different, how he carries himself, how he plays,” Shamet said.

That presence could carry the Clippers franchise to places it has never been before. It’s the impact the Clippers are ultimately hoping to see.

Cavaliers visit owner Dan Gilbert, recovering from stroke

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Cavaliers visited team owner Dan Gilbert, who is recovering at home after suffering a stroke in May.

After playing an exhibition game in Detroit on Friday night, the Cavs delayed their trip to Boston so they could spend time Saturday with the 57-year-old Gilbert.

He recently returned to his home in Franklin, Michigan, after staying at a rehabilitation facility in Illinois. Gilbert suffered a stroke on May 26 after being taken to a hospital by a family friend following stroke-like experiencing symptoms.

All of Cleveland’s players, along with first-year coach John Beilein and his staff, held a film session and short walk-through on a replica basketball court Gilbert has at his home before having lunch. Gilbert and his wife, Jennifer, spoke with many of the players.

The Cavs play their third preseason game Sunday against the Celtics.

Gilbert has owned Cleveland’s franchise since 2005.=