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.

Grizzlies’ standout rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. out indefinitely with deep thigh bruise

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Jarren Jackson Jr. looked like a future franchise cornerstone in Memphis this season. He’s averaged 13.8 points a game, shot 35.9 percent from three, grabbed 4.7 points per game, played good defense as a rookie, been improving, and as the Grizzlies enter a rebuild he will be what the team is building around in the paint.

However, he’s going to miss some time now with a thigh bruise, the team announced Friday night. From the official announcement:

Grizzlies forward/center Jaren Jackson Jr. suffered a deep thigh bruise and will be out indefinitely. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Expect the Grizzlies to be cautious and take their time bringing him back, he may no return this season. In part because they should be cautious with an injury to a future cornerstone, but also in part because they are trying to hang on to their draft pick this year, which is top eight protected (otherwise it goes to Boston). Currently the Grizzlies have the sixth worst record in the league and only a four percent chance of losing their pick, but fall farther back in the standings and the odds get even better they keep it.

Watch Paul George drain game-winning floater in 2OT, lift Thunder past Jazz

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Paul George floated in a basket with less than a second remaining in double-overtime, capping a 45-point night with the winning shot in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 148-147 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday.

George dribbled out the final seconds before splitting the Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio double team then hitting a rainbow floater over Rudy Gobert 0.8 seconds left that gave the Thunder the win.

Kyle Korver got off a desperate 3 for Utah, but it went long as the buzzer sounded.

Russell Westbrook added 43 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists, helping Oklahoma City overcome 38 points from Donovan Mitchell. Westbrook fouled out with 1:09 left in the first overtime, ending his NBA streak of 11 consecutive games with a triple-double.

The game went to overtime after the Thunder’s Jerami Grant completed a tying three-point play, then blocked Mitchells shot at the other end. Grant had 18 points.

In the first overtime, Abdel Nader hit a 3-pointer to give the Thunder a 139-137 lead in the final minute after Westbrook and Terrance Ferguson had fouled out. Utah’s Rudy Gobert tipped in the tying basket with 33.7 seconds left, and George and Mitchell eached missed jumpers in the closing seconds.

Gobert hit two free throws with 1:10 left in the second overtime for a 147-146 lead, but Utah went cold from there. Mitchell’s driving shot off the glass missed the rim, and Joe Ingles missed on a long 3-point try as the shot clock expired with 13.2 seconds left.

Steven Adams played a game-high 47 minutes for Oklahoma City, returning from a pre-All-Star break ankle injury to score 16 points and grab 10 rebounds to go along with five steals.

Derek Favors hit his first 10 shots, finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds for Utah. Gobert had 26 points and 16 rebounds for the Jazz.

The teams were physical throughout. Westbrook got a flagrant foul for crashing into Gobert while defending a layup, and there was a fracas late in the first half after Jae Crowder fouled the Thunder’s Dennis Schroder.

 

Jeremy Lin says “at times it kind of sucks” being only Asian-American in NBA

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When Jeremy Lin landed in Toronto — after being bought out and waived by the Hawks, clearing the way for him to sign with the Raptors for the playoff push — the number of cameras and reporters in the Raptors locker room instantly ballooned. Lin remains one of the most popular players worldwide in the NBA, he’s a social media phenom, and there are cameras there to track his every move and send it around the world, particularly back to Asia.

Lin isn’t in the NBA because he’s famous and sells tickets — he’s a quality guard who can help a team, there’s a reason the contending Raptors picked him up — but he inhabits the role of both player and groundbreaker.

Lin talked about that (and Asians in popular culture) with Cary Chow of the Undefeated in an interesting Q&A at The Undefeated, where he said being the only Asian-American in the NBA is not easy.

At times it kind of sucks. At other times it’s amazing. Amazing because you get to challenge everyone’s viewpoints and perspectives. I’m rooting for so many more Asians to come in. Last year, when I was with Brooklyn and we had Ding [Yanyuhang] on the summer league team, I was like, ‘Dude, please make the team. We’d have so much fun together during the season.’

On the feeling that he has to represent an entire race.

Yeah. At first it was something I ran from and really struggled with. Now I embrace it way more and am more equipped to handle it. I’m not perfect, but I kind of know who I want to be at this point in my career, so I keep trucking along and doing things the right way and stay above all the distractions.

Lin has handled his fame deftly over the years. He has challenges and opportunities not open to other players, and that’s the balancing act. It takes someone smart, but also grounded and balanced to pull it all off. The Raptors got all that, along with the extra cameras around the team.

Mostly, though, the Raptors got a player who is going to help them make a deep playoff run.

 

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.