David Stern leaves the door open for NBA to put franchises in Las Vegas and Seattle

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David Stern is in the final year of his tenure as commissioner, and he seems to be wanting to go out on as diplomatic of a note as possible.

When the topic of expansion came up after the Board of Governors held a press conference to announce rule changes for the upcoming season, Adam Silver, who will take over the job for Stern in February, shut it down very quickly.

“We’re not focused on expansion at the moment,” Silver said. “No predictions in Las Vegas today from me.”

Stern, however, wasn’t afraid to leave the door open for franchises to be added at some point in the future. And Las Vegas and Seattle were the cities at the top of his list.

Seattle, of course, had an ownership group assembled and an offer in place to try to pluck the Kings from Sacramento. But once a strong ownership group emerged that would keep the Kings in Sacramento and move forward with plans for a new arena, the league preferred not to rip another team from its passionate fan base.

Given the interest and the legwork done by Seattle, it makes sense that the league would consider the city closely. But Las Vegas — a bit sketchier, for a variety of reasons — has never been thought of as a legitimate, long-term home for the NBA until now.

“Given sort of all of the references that you see about Las Vegas and sin city, we have always believed that gambling is a very legal business regulated carefully here in Nevada, that this is a huge entertainment destination and this is a place that we should embrace,” Stern said.

“In addition to the USA Basketball and Las Vegas summer league and the All‑Star Game, you didn’t include the fact that shortly after I became Commissioner, Kareem broke the record for the most points right here at the Thomas & Mack Center, and I was here for the celebration because the Jazz were playing ten games here that season.

“So I think Las Vegas is in the NBA history books; and with the discussions now, it seems that there is an arena that is getting closer to moving ahead after years and years of discussions.  And that should make it interesting as well.”

The arena would need to come first, as Thomas and Mack on the campus of UNLV isn’t to the level of NBA standards — seating is limited, there are no luxury boxes, and the infrastructure is dated.

But in the past, the sort of intangible concerns about all that goes on in Las Vegas and the potential problems that could arise have kept the league’s interest minimal, at best.

That may have actually changed, or it may just be Stern choosing to be as diplomatic as possible on his way out of office.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if Commissioner Silver was looking at strong applications from Las Vegas and Seattle in the coming years, and I’m going to enjoy watching it,” Stern said.

Michael Avenatti charged with stealing money Hassan Whiteside intended to pay ex-girlfriend

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Heat center Hassan Whiteside became the first player in NBA history to go from a minimum salary one season to a max salary the next.

Some of that money allegedly got embezzled by Michael Avenatti.

Avenatti – the infamous lawyer who represented Stormy Daniels, who claimed she was paid to keep quiet about having an affair with Donald Trump – has been charged with attempted extortion of Nike and stealing from other clients. One of those other clients: Whiteside’s former girlfriend, Alexis Gardner.

Michael Finnegan of the Los Angeles Times:

An actress and barista, she’d hired him just a few weeks before to negotiate a settlement of a potential lawsuit against Whiteside. It’s unclear what she would have alleged. Avenatti quickly struck a $3-million deal, and the $2.75 million was Whiteside’s first payment.

Avenatti, prosecutors say, was entitled to take just over $1 million in legal fees, leaving the rest for Gardner.

Instead, they allege, Avenatti hid Whiteside’s payment from her and immediately took $2.5 million to buy a share of a private jet.

Report: Lakers have no plans to replace Magic Johnson, who’ll still help team recruit FAs

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Magic Johnson’s stunning resignation as Lakers president caused a commotion.

It didn’t create a power vacuum.

Rob Pelinka is clearly in charge. He’s the highest-ranking member of the front office. His title – general manager – is the one many teams give to the leader of their basketball operations. He’s running the Lakers’ coaching search.

Though they’ve been linked to big-name candidates for president, the Lakers could easily keep the status quo with Pelinka running the show. And it sounds as if that’s what Lakers owner Jeanie Buss will do.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

Buss has no plans to hire someone to replace Johnson, who is still expected to be part of the Lakers’ free-agent recruiting this summer.

Allowing Pelinka to hire a head coach – which, again, he’s in the process of doing – then supplanting him would be absurd. At least it seems the Lakers aren’t doing that.

But Pelinka was part of the organization while it made a comedy of errors. The former agent also had front-office experience until getting hired with Johnson a couple years ago. It’s hard to believe he’s the right choice to lead the team as it enters this critical stage.

LeBron James is 34. The Lakers will have max cap space this summer. Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are progressing toward establishing clearer value – one way or the other.

To entrust Pelinka in this situation, Buss ought to have a clear explanation for why Pelinka doesn’t deserve a fair share of blame for all the mistakes that occurred the last couple years. There are plenty of people, inside and outside the Lakers, who question him.

The wildest part about this report: Johnson still helping the Lakers recruit this summer. He’s an all-time great player and charismatic. But he also just said while resigning:

What I didn’t like is the backstabbing, the whispering. I don’t like that. I don’t like a lot of things that went on that didn’t have to go on.

How will he sell that to free agents – especially if Pelinka, suspected to be whom Johnson is referring to, remains in charge?

Russell Westbrook goes from ‘Next question’ to ‘That’s a good question. Not sure’ (video)

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Russell Westbrook can be a pain.

Pain to his opponents. Pain to his teammates. Pain to the media.

Sometimes, it seems Westbrook even takes pride in being a jerk. Which is fine. His cutthroat attitude is part of who he is, and it has gotten him a long way.

Lately, Westbrook has clashed with Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. For months, Westbrook has answered all Tramel’s questions with, “Next question.” Yet, Tramel keeps asking them – as he should. Westbrook has earned control over a lot of things. Tramel shouldn’t cede control of his job to Westbrook.

The back-and-forth has gotten increased prominence during the playoffs, when postgame press conferences are nationally televised. Both sides have found plenty of support. Westbrook’s fans love that his intensity never relents. Many also respect Tramel’s professionalism.

Four years ago, Westbrook infamously told Tramel, “I just don’t like you.” Westbrook got into it with Tramel again two years ago. But Tramel continues to cover the Thunder the best he can.

Likewise, Westbrook is trying to lead Oklahoma City the best he can. That means picking battles, even small ones like this, and pushing himself to win them all.

But after the Thunder’s Game 4 loss to the Trail Blazers last night, Westbrook finally gave an inch. But just an inch.

Tramel asked how the Thunder’s defense of Damian Lillard changed from the first half to the second half.

“That’s a good question,” Westbrook said. “Not sure.”

Tramel asked about the lessons learned about overcoming a 3-1 deficit to the Grizzlies in the 2014 playoffs. (Oklahoma City trailed 2-1 and 3-2 in that series, but never 3-1).

“Really don’t know,” Westbrook said.

For Westbrook, those answers were a huge breakthrough. They surprised everyone, even Tramel. Just a few days ago, the columnist predicted Westbrook wouldn’t change his two-word answers anytime soon: “He’s not going to give in this playoff series.”

Maybe this means the series is over.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse leaves mouth agape a loooong time after odd call (video)

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The Raptors got called for an extremely quick three-second violation during their Game 4 win over the Magic yesterday.

Toronto coach Nick Nurse couldn’t believe it.

Really couldn’t believe it.

Just couldn’t believe it one bit.