Report: NBA general manager concerned Dante Exum will force his way to Lakers

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A draft prospect who grew up overseas really wanted to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. But a team drafting before the Lakers also wanted the player. So, the player threated to sign with a foreign team if he couldn’t go to the Lakers.

Safe to say, the Nets wish they had called Kobe Bryant’s bluff/threat (or if you prefer, threat/bluff) and drafted him before the Charlotte Hornets did on behalf of Los Angeles in 1996.

Eighteen years, could the scenario repeat itself?

Dante Exum is working out in Los Angeles preparing for the draft, and he’s said the Lakers would be his ideal fit. Via Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report:

“Definitely L.A. is one option,” he said. “I’ve been to L.A. many times and I love the city, and it is a great city. If I get the opportunity to go to L.A. and play for the Lakers, I know I’ll have love for the city. And their fans are loyal and they have the rivalry with the Clippers. But just to be in an environment where you have a great player like Kobe, where you have a mentor in a way as a rookie, I think that would be the best option.”

Maybe that’s an idle assessment, but maybe it’s the first step of a a bluff/threat (or if you prefer, threat/bluff). After all Exum’s agent is Rob Pelinka, who also represents Kobe (though Arn Tellem represented Kobe as a draft prospect in 1996).

At least one general manager is concerned. Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

But would Exum go so far as to try to angle his way onto the Lakers, who currently have the fifth-worst record in the NBA? That’s the concern among some front-office executives around the league.

“When you hear some of what he says, it does make you wonder how the process is going to go as far as workouts and that sort of thing,” one general manager told Sporting News. “We have seen this story before, of course. I am not sure a player can have that kind of control, though.”

I like Exum as a draft prospect, and I like his fit with the Lakers. (As long as we’re speculating, especially with Kevin Love also joining the tam.)

But Exum might also perform best if he starts his career at shooting guard and eases his way into playing point guard. In Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant obviously has shooting guard locked down. And can the Lakers depend on Steve Nash to become a viable starting point guard again in the meantime?

If the Lakers can remain patient through another season – especially if it includes developing Exum through his growing pains – they’ll be better off in the long run. But will Kobe tolerate another losing season as his career winds down? Will the Los Angeles fans? The Lakers haven’t had back-to-back losing seasons in 20 years.

If Kobe is most-concerned about his legacy, and I think he is, he should focus on winning another title – and passing Michael Jordan for third on the all-time scoring list. The latter would require fewer than 12 points per game in Kobe’s next 50 contests, so that’s inevitable if Kobe can get back on the court.

Back to the championship.

No matter how the Lakers focus on building the strongest team possible next season, I can’t see them creating a title contender. So, Kobe should want them to focus on 2015-16, the final year of his contract extension.

By his second season, Dwyane Wade was the best player on a team that reached Game 7 of the conference finals, pulling an aging but still effective Shaquille O’Neal with him. Could Exum and Kobe fill that role in two years? It’s a longshot, but it might be Kobe’s best shot of getting his sixth title – along with the the Lakers waiting until 2015 to pursue a stronger crop of free agents (including Love).

First, though, the Lakers would actually have to get Exum. Exum and Pelinka can turn down workouts and try to threaten Exum’s way to the Lakers, but the Lakers can do much more themselves to get into position to draft him.

At 19-39, the Lakers are on pace to have the league’s fourth-best lottery odds. Lose a few more games down the stretch, the chance to nab Exum only increases.

As the the chance to draft Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle or anyone else. It’s early in the process. I doubt the Lakers even know yet whom they prefer.

If the interest with Exum is mutual, he and the Lakers can explore exploiting the draft process later. For now, the Lakers should focus on tanking and evaluating, and Exum should focus on developing.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.