Report: With offer on table, Phil Jackson to meet again with Lakers

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If Phil Jackson says yes, the job is his (according to the New York Times and other reports). He will for a third time become the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Jackson and Lakers management are going to meet again Sunday or Monday, reports Marc Spears at Yahoo.com.

But he adds that Jackson — who openly admitted he was tired of the grind of being an NBA coach when he walked away before the lockout — wants some conditions on travel and the like.

Those who have seen Jackson and spoken with him recently say he looks rested and in good shape, but still has concerns about the lengthy travel an NBA schedule requires, sources said. Some possible solutions, sources said, would be to allow his assistant coaches to coach some games and run shootarounds.

That is not a new request, it was something he suggested he would want while coaching in his last stint but never got it from the team.

Jackson is clearly strongly considering saying yes — he’s gone so far as to gauge the interest of potential assistant coaches.

The way the parting of Jackson, 67, and the Lakers went after the team was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs in 2010 made this kind of reunion seem impossible — there was civility but bad blood, and after he left Jim Buss (the son of Jerry and the guy running the Lakers now) cleared out a lot of long-time Lakers seen as Jackson supporters, such as assistant GM Ronnie Lester and much of the scouting staff.

But desperate times… the Lakers had Jackson on the top of their list as replacements for Mike Brown, who was fired following a 1-4 start. Jackson will want more power, will want some travel reduced, he will want a lot of cash in that paycheck.

And the Lakers seem ready to give it all to him.

Trail Blazers ‘essentially’ shut down Lillard for season… and here comes the trade speculation

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Officially, Damian Lillard is day-to-day (along with the rest of the Portland core of Jerami Grant, Jusuf Nurkic, et al.). Coach Chauncey Billups phrased it as “We’re just being cautious,” according to friend of the site Sean Highkin.

In reality, Lillard has been shut down for the season and it would be a shock to see him on the court again until the fall. The Blazers are five games out of the final play-in spot with seven games to play, they aren’t making up that ground. They are tied for the fifth-worst record in the league, which comes with a 10.5% chance at the top pick and Victor Wembanyama. We know where the Blazers are focusing.

Shams Charania at The Athletic wrote in “The Bounce” newsletter that Lillard is “essentially” shut down for the season. He then lit a fire under the topic that makes Trail Blazers’ fans’ eyes roll — Damian Lillard trade talk.

On the other side of things, you now have to wonder if Lillard ever steps on the court again for Portland. There was a ton of optimism going into this season after the team landed Jerami Grant and got off to a good start to the campaign. Now, not making the playoffs for a second year in a row, a soon-to-be 33-year-old star of this league who has never gotten a chance to win it all will have tons of questions to ask the front office this offseason, and I expect there to be serious conversations about what’s next for both sides.

We all knew the Lillard trade speculation was coming. Same with Bradley Beal in Washington. The same core rule applies to both of them:

Lillard will not get traded unless he asks to be moved. He has never done so, in fact saying just weeks ago about playing the rest of his career in Portland, “To that point, I’m also willing to die on that hill.” Portland has been loyal to him and Lillard signed a massive contract extension last offseason and has four years, $216.2 million left on that deal, including about $63.2 million in the contract’s final season when he is 36. He’s happy where he is and has deep roots in the community.

The odds are better than not that Lillard will retire a Trail Blazer, even if that’s not the path other stars would walk. Lillard is wired differently.

Can you construct an argument that the Trail Blazers should trade Lillard while his value is sky-high — he will be an All-NBA player again this season — because the organization’s best path to a ring is with whoever and whatever’s next? Maybe. However, that ignores the financial reality of the Blazers — Lillard brings the fans in the door, brings in team sponsors who want to be associated with him, and he sells jerseys. Lillard is good business for Portland, there is no incentive for ownership to move on right now.

In fact, it may be the opposite. Portland can throw multiple picks and good young players such as Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons into a trade to bring in another star to play with Lillard. That is more how their front office pictures this summer — they want to go all in on building around Lillard. Not sending him away.

Other teams covet Lillard, and trade packages can be constructed (would Miami be willing to move on from Bam Adebayo for the chance to pair Lillard with Jimmy Butler?). But it’s all idle talk until Lillard sits down with franchise ownership/management and says it’s time for him to move on. That has yet to happen. It may well never happen.

Just expect the avalanche of Lillard speculation to begin. Warranted or not.

Three things to Know: Timberwolves in top six, are they a playoff sleeper?

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Timberwolves beat Kings, move into in top six, could be playoff sleeper

When talk turns to dangerous teams in the bottom half of the West bracket, the conversation gravitates toward the established big names — Stephen Curry and the Warriors, LeBron James and the Lakers, Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers.

But for the past few weeks (maybe since the All-Star break), the Minnesota Timberwolves have been the best team in that group. It hasn’t always shown up in the win column — although after beating the Kings Monday night they have four in a row — but there has been maturity and chemistry to their game. Fitting Karl-Anthony Towns back in after he missed more than 50 games could have been tricky, but instead, it has inspired game-winning shots and improved play (although he sat out Monday night on a back-to-back).

Monday night’s win is nothing to overlook — going to Sacramento and picking up a victory that denied the Kings the chance to officially clinch their first playoff spot in 16 seasons in front of their home fans is no small thing. The Timberwolves were attacking the rim.

And attacking.

“We know we have the talent and the personnel to be able to beat anybody on any given night,” Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert said, via the Associated Press. “Really out of urgency and consistency … we play every game like it’s our last and we play every game like there’s no tomorrow. That’s the mindset that we need.”

Minnesota is showing a balance and maturity of game that was lacking much of the season. It starts with trading away D'Angelo Russell and bringing in Mike Conley at the point, adding a traditional point guard and floor general to the mix (rather than a player who creates more for themselves). Conley’s veteran presence can be felt across this team.

Jaden McDaniels has been locking guys down on defense. Anthony Edwards — back quickly from a sprained ankle that could have been much worse — has turned into a quality shot creator but adds another athletic defender. Gobert finally started to find his space and had 16 points and 16 rebounds against the Kings. Naz Ried has been a force of nature off the bench lately.

With the win, Minnesota tied Golden State for the No.6 seed in the West at 39-37, and moved ahead of the Warriors officially because the Timberwolves have the tiebreaker after beating them Sunday. This Minnesota team could avoid the play-in if they keep racking up wins — and if they are the No.6 seed they likely draw this Kings team in the first round.

The questions about how this team will handle a small-ball team that can space the floor over a seven-game series remain, but they showed Monday against the Kings they may have the answer to that question.

The most dangerous teams in the playoffs are often the ones that look the best over the season’s final weeks, and in this Western Conference that makes the Timberwolves a threat.

2) Luka Dončić with the assist of the season.

Are. You. Kidding. Me.

Luka Dončić made the pass of the season Monday night. Trapped in the corner by two defenders, Dončić lept in the air, spun and threw a bullet skip pass to Jaden Hardy for 3.

Even Dončić was impressed with that dime.

The Mavericks entered the night desperate for a win after losing four straight, they needed the win to try to climb back into the play-in. Dončić wasn’t even expected to be on the court earlier in the day, but was cleared to play earlier when the NBA rescinded his 16th technical of the season, which would have triggered an automatic one-game suspension. With 25 points from Dončić leading the way, the Mavericks beat a shorthanded Pacers team without Tyrese Haliburton or Myles Turner, 127-104.

3) Jalen Brunson was out so Immanuel Quickley dropped 40

Losers of three straight, and with the Heat lurking just a couple of games back in the loss column, the Knicks needed a win. Enter the Houston Rockets.

Jalen Brunson remained out but Immanuel Quickley stepped up with a career-high 40 points on 14-of-18 shooting, plus he had nine assists, and the Knicks picked up a needed 137-115 victory.

Julius Randle added 26 points, RJ Barrett had 19 and Obi Toppin finished with 15 for the Knicks. New York was moving the ball and finished with a season-high 35 assists.

It was exactly the kind of win the Knicks needed. It’s hard to see them falling out of the No. 5 seed.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Are you kidding me, Russell Westbrook?

The Clippers got the 124-112 win over the Bulls without that shot, but still.

Watch Luka Dončić throw the pass of the year to Hardy for 3

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Insane.

Luka Dončić was on the court for the Mavericks Monday — something that was not assured until earlier in the day — and once there made the pass of the season. Trapped in the corner by two defenders, Dončić lept in the air and threw a bullet skip pass to Jaden Hardy for 3.

That is your assist of the year. Even Dončić called it one of his best passes ever.

Dončić led the way with 25 points and six assists and the Mavericks — desperate for a win as they try to climb back into the play-in — beat a shorthanded Pacers team without Tyrese Haliburton or Myles Turner, 127-104. Dončić was cleared to play earlier in the day when the NBA rescinded his 16th technical of the season, which would have triggered an automatic one-game suspension.

Lakers’ LeBron James says he could need offseason foot surgery

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LeBron James wanted back on the court. He saw the glimpses of what this current roster can do when healthy and focused — the same glimpses that have Laker exceptionalism running strong in Los Angeles — and he sees a West without a dominant team. Together those things mean opportunity.

LeBron could have shut it down when he felt something pop in his foot last month, admitting that two doctors told him to get surgery. However, the “LeBron James of foot doctors” told him he could be back this season — and he made that return Sunday. Still, LeBron admitted he could need off-season surgery.

“I don’t know. Right now, I don’t need it, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll probably get another MRI at the end of the season and go from there. But if I end up having to get surgery after the season, you guys won’t know. I don’t talk to you guys in the offseason, and by the time next season starts, I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready to go.”

As for what motivated him to get back on the court this season and not shut it down.

“Now we sitting at a chance to be able to… to hell with the play-in, we actually can be a top-[six] seed. That definitely changed my mindset on me coming back and trying to be a part of this, obviously, so — well, I don’t really want to say changed my mindset, it just enhanced what I was trying to do as far as my workouts, as far as my treatment and everything”

The Lakers sit tied for 9/10 in the West, one game below .500. While LeBron can say, “to hell with the play-in,” his Lakers would need help from the Clippers or Warriors to climb into the top six even though they are only 1.5 games back (time is short for L.A., if the Warriors or Clippers go 4-3 the rest of the way, the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight). Los Angeles also is just a game up on Dallas for the 11 seed, and if the losses pile up they could fall out of the play-in completely.

With LeBron back, missing the play-in is unlikely. But having him back (and eventually a healthy D'Angelo Russell, who was out Sunday with a hip issue) also is no guarantee of wins — the Lakers still need peak Anthony Davis to compete. When he has a solid game of 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists (as he did Sunday), they lose. The Lakers need bubble Davis every night, or even if they make the postseason it will be short-lived.