Lakers live by the Kobe, lose by the Kobe (and Lou Williams)

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Philadelphia keeps answering every question asked of them.

Can they win against the best teams? They beat the Bulls, Hawks and Magic last week… and now you can add the Lakers to the list after a 95-90 76ers win Monday night.

But Philly doesn’t have a superstar, who is going to score late in the game for them? Meet Lou Williams. He comes off the bench with a fearless gunner’s mentality and he is the one guy who can create his own shot (or pass to others) in the crunch. He had 12 points in the final four minutes of this one. He finished with 24 total on 12 shots.

The Lakers are supposed to have a guy like that in Kobe Bryant.

But as it has been much of this season the Lakers lived by Kobe and lost by him.

Kobe came out on mission in this game to pass Shaq on the NBA all-time scoring list, hitting 8-of-early and put up 24 in the first half reaching his goal.

But then the Sixers came with hard doubles on Kobe starting late in the second quarter and that took him out of his rhythm — Kobe went 1-11 on his next dozen. And the Lakers offense struggled. As it has too often this season.

The Lakers do have other guys who can score. Andrew Bynum had 20 points on 13 shots, not to mention 20 rebounds, and he looked every part the All-Star Game starter. When he is aggressive as he was in this game, there are few in the league who can hang with him, and Philly didn’t have any of those guys. Pau Gasol wasn’t as sharp but he is still a very skilled big who had 16 in this game.

But those aren’t the guys who get the ball for the Lakers late in games — they abandon the playbook in favor of Kobe isolations. Check out the juxtaposition of late game shots between these teams. To set the stage, Bynum finished an ally-oop from Kobe and the Lakers were up 7 with 4:30 remaining in the game. Then it changed, first with a pretty rainbow by Jrue Holiday over Bynum.

• The Lakers followed that with a miss, the Sixers pushed it back in transition and Williams runs to the arc, where Derek Fisher sags off him — Andre Iguodala hits him with a pass and Williams drains it.

• Lakers turnover then next Philly possession Williams comes off the pick, Bynum shows out hard and will not leave him, so Williams takes Bynum and Bryant with him all the way to the corner, two quick passes with the Lakers out of position and it’s a Sixers layup.

• Kobe takes a tough contested two with Iguodala in his face, Bynum gets the offensive board, but then in trying to clear out to get the pass back he commits and offensive foul.

• Lou Williams comes off the screen, catch and shoot off a pick at the top of the key. Nothing but net.

• Kobe tries to get to his space on the baseline but Iggy is right there with long arms in his face, Kobe misses.

• Williams is the ball handler, comes off pick and Bynum shows out but doesn’t slide with him, Williams turns the corner and gets a clean look at a three. Nails it.

• Kobe in isolation takes a ridiculously long wing three that misses, but Gasol gets the rebound, so the Lakers reset and iso Kobe on the block, but he misses a contested turnaround.

• The Sixers push it back up, Williams is covered by Fisher in transition and blows around him like he’s an orange traffic cone. Williams then hits the floater over Gasol.

You get the idea.

Williams showed there is someone who can step up for the Sixers late.

The Lakers need diversity in their late-game sets, but this is where the lack of a decent point guard hurts them — Kobe can create his own shot, who can create one or get the ball into Bynum on the block. He also needs to deal better with double teams, that haunted him this game.

But the Lakers execution at the end is predictable. The Sixers, well, now we know it’s going to be Lou Williams, but he’s not that easy to stop.

Report: LeBron James not planning to sit for elaborate pitch meetings in free agency

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
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LeBron James held court in Cleveland in 2010, listening to pitch after pitch as teams flew in to recruit the superstar during free agency. That approach became a model, and Kevin Durant followed it in the Hamptons in 2016.

But maybe once is enough.

Durant announced months ago he’d stay with the Warriors. And now LeBron – who could definitely leave Cleveland – is making clear he doesn’t want the hoopla, either.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

sources close to the situation tell ESPN that he has no intention of hearing elaborate pitch meetings from teams.

league sources believe he and his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini have enough understanding of the stakes and NBA landscape to handle the process without much fanfare.

LeBron is still haunted by The Decision. He’s a great player and philanthropist and does plenty to connect with fans. Yet, people still dislike him purely because of how he changed teams eight years ago.

If I wielded as much power as LeBron, I’d want suitors wining and dining me. He wants to avoid more backlash.

This will probably look similar to 2014 – LeBron’s agents hearing out teams then LeBron meeting with only the most serious options, though the final announcement will likely come via Uninterrupted rather than Sports Illustrated.

The Lakers, Cavaliers, Rockets and 76ers are commonly viewed as the favorites for LeBron. This approach makes it less likely for a longshot to emerge – though, for what it’s worth, we don’t know those four teams are his favorites right now.

Report: Nuggets re-signing Nikola Jokic to five-year max after declining team option

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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The Nuggets are building around Nikola Jokic.

But a second-round pick turning into a franchise player so quickly creates complications. Denver is resolving one by declining Jokic’s team option, which will send him into restricted free agency (as opposed to unrestricted free agency next year) and paying him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This ought to please Jokic. He would have earned just $1,600,520 next season if Denver exercised his team option.

Jokic is one of the best-passing full-time centers ever. He also shoots and rebounds well, though he must improve his defense to become worthy of this contract. At just 23, he’s worth betting on.

That said, I’m surprised the Nuggets didn’t get him on a slight discount. Though they clearly didn’t want to risk him testing unrestricted free agency next year, they gave him a MASSIVE raise (about $24 million) next season when they didn’t have to.

Jokic’s exact max salary won’t be determined until the salary cap and luxury-tax line are set this month. But this clearly puts Denver in cost-cutting mode now.

As constructed, the Nuggets are in line for about $24 million in luxury-tax payments. That’s without considering Will Barton, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Expect Denver to look to unload Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler and/or Mason Plumlee.

Jokic was always going to be in Denver next season. The Nuggets have now secured him far longer. It will cost them next year – an important season to them – but they also clearly value a future with Jokic.

With momentum gone and interest down, NBA finally will give out awards tonight

Associated Press
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When the NBA season ended, there was a passionate debate going on about the end-of-season awards.

Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell for Rookie of the Year? James Harden was the MVP favorite, but what about LeBron James and his monster season? Did Rudy Gobert play enough games to win Defensive Player of the Year? Not only was picking the Coach of the Year hard, narrowing the list down to three for the ballot out of the seven or eight candidates was brutal.

NBA fans — and NBA Twitter — had roiling debates over all those topics. Fans backed their man and defended their positions and media members who announced their votes — as we did — had to defend those choices. As they/we should.

That was mid-April.

Now, the NBA fandom has moved on — the Finals are over, the draft just happened, and everyone’s focus is on free agency and the possibility of a Kawhi Leonard trade and where he might land.

So now, finally, more than two months after the regular season ended, the NBA will get around to giving out its awards at its second annual awards banquet Monday night (televised on TNT, starting at 9 p.m. ET). The league will hand out the official awards for MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved, Sixth Man of the Year, Executive of the Year (voted on by other executives), and a series of fan-voted awards (Best Style, Dunk of the Year, Block of the Year, Clutch Shot of the Year, Assist of the Year and Handle of the Year). Those are all regular season awards, with ballots from the media-voted awards due before the playoffs started.

The league needs to do something about the timing of the awards show, they have lost all momentum getting around to it now.

I get it, the NBA wants a big awards event and broadcast that can be televised (the league just used to announce them during the playoffs via press release, with the recipients getting the award at a playoff game in their home arena, if there was still one). The NFL does a great awards show, but they have a natural (if too long) two-week break between the AFC/NFC finals and the Super Bowl, which allows them to have their event at the peak of interest for the sport.

The problem for the NBA these are regular season awards now given out 10 weeks after the regular season ended.

The NBA is entering the phase of the calendar that is its most popular — free agency. The draft draws interest as the unofficial start of this off-season, as teams start to reshape their roster. Trades and player movement — and the rumors and breakdowns around them — draw more interest than the NBA Finals or the games themselves (just check the traffic at any NBA website, including ours). Fans of all 30 teams are invested in playing armchair GM and, along with the media, second guessing every move they make to build that roster. (By the way, that second guessing is just part of the job for a GM, they can’t have family members on burner Twitter accounts trying to defend them.)

There’s no easy answer here for the NBA as to the timing of the awards show. There isn’t much of a gap between the end of the regular season and the playoffs and pretty much every player or coach who will win an award is prepping for the postseason at that point, they don’t want to fly to Los Angeles (this year) or New York (last year) for chummy banquet with their soon-to-be rivals. As this year showed, when the conference finals run seven games there isn’t much of a gap there before the Finals start (and again, key players will be involved in the Finals every year).

Where the league has the show now is the most convenient place on the calendar.

It’s just too late. The momentum of the regular season is gone, the attention of fans has turned to free agency, and this just feels like an odd break.

But Monday night the NBA is getting around to it. And we can try to revive old debates, they will just die out fast in the wake of free agency talk.

 

Have questions leading up to free agency? Submit your questions via e-mail for our PBT Mailbag feature. Drop us a line at pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

LeBron James’s son Bronny Jr. just misses breakaway dunk. At 13.

Getty Images
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LeBron James is spending his summer like a lot of fathers of children who play AAU basketball (or other travel team sports) — going to gyms, local and sometimes not so local, to watch his son play.

And Bronny Jr. can ball.

At age 13, he can almost dunk.

Gotta love LeBron’s reaction.