LeBron says he will be ready to go Sunday, has tuned out criticism on social media

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SAN ANTONIO — LeBron James was trying to joke about it.

“If I had to say today I would probably be out on Sunday, I probably won’t play…”

Then LeBron laughed and said what everyone already knew.

“No, I’ll be all right. I’ll be in uniform on Sunday. I should be 100% on Sunday.”

After missing almost all of the final seven minutes of the Heat’s Game 1 loss to the Spurs due to severe cramps, LeBron spent Friday night and Saturday hydrating — he got two-and-a-half IV bags of fluid after Game 1 — and taking the other steps to be back on the court for Game 2 Sunday night. The extra day off between games is coming in handy for him here.

“I’m pretty sore right now just from the muscles spasming up and they’re starting to release, but I’m pretty sore in my legs,” LeBron said.

LeBron’s cramping has become a national conversation on a couple of fronts. One is the misguided discussion about toughness, one fueled by the Gatorade tweets, as if cramping was a personal failing. This conversation is taking place mostly on social media and sports talk radio, where guys eating a bag of chips on their couch call out LeBron’s mental makeup.

LeBron shrugged that off.

“What everybody has to say, you guys should know me by now; I don’t care, I really don’t,” LeBron said. “I really don’t care what people say about me, I don’t care about that sports group, the drink group that  I’m not even going to say their name. I’m not going to give them a light in The Finals. This is about the Spurs and the Heat, and it’s not about everybody else, man, I don’t care.”

Dwyane Wade shrugged it off, too.

“LeBron gets criticism all over the place from everybody,” Wade said. “Us as athletes, we all do. It’s the nature of the beast. It has nothing to do with basketball.”

Even Spurs coach Gregg Popovich came to LeBron’s defense on this one.

“What may be more amazing to me is the way he’s conducted himself over the years with all the scrutiny,” Popovich said. “None of us really understand what that is. He’s done it pretty damn well.”

The other thrust of discussion on LeBron’s cramping is was a why this is a pattern with him on a big stage — remember he cramped up in Game 4 of the 2014 NBA Finals against the Thunder.

Both LeBron and Heat coach Eric Spoestra played down the pattern idea, saying Thursday night was not a normal situation.

“It was some extreme conditions, I have never played in an NBA game in those conditions.” LeBron said.

“Let’s separate the past to last night,” Spoelstra said. “Last night was such an extreme situation and you have to be able to differentiate the two. Now, Game 4 in Oklahoma City that everybody knows about, since then we think that our staff and LeBron’s diligence has really taken care of that matter, just in terms of his preparation before games, what he’s doing during games in terms of always filling himself up with electrolytes, fluids, cramping pills when necessary. All of those things, we have been much more on top of it since Game 4 of Oklahoma City. We have had minimal issues with it, and he’s been able to handle it much better than before. Last night was so extreme….

“You know, the biggest issue that I think is lost out there is how competitive LeBron James is when you get to this level. Most athletes pace themselves, it’s not a coincidence and a secret and why we have had the success we have had with the best player in the world, when he pushes his body past the point of regular limits for a competitive advantage. I think it’s an extremely admirable trait….

“Most athletes pace themselves, that’s not in his DNA.”

LeBron and the Heat took it easy on Friday, Spoelstra saying that day was scheduled to be a film session with no physical work in practice anyway. Spoelstra added he would play Saturday by ear on how much work the players would go through.

Whatever the next day and a half hold, come Sunday night LeBron will be ready to go.

“Obviously I’m going to take it light today,” James said, “Training staff said I should take it light today. Give the body another day to recover, tomorrow I should be back on my feet full go, and I got all day Sunday to get ready for Sunday night.

“Don’t worry, you guys can talk about me as much as you want. I’ll be there on Sunday as well. I’m not hiding.”

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard meeting with Clippers set for July 2

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Kawhi Leonard will tip the balance of power this summer.

Whatever the Finals MVP decides with his free agency — stay with the Raptors, come to the Clippers, something else entirely — will change the landscape of the NBA. Wherever he goes that team will be an instant contender, with the Raptors and Clippers long having been the frontrunners and everyone else trying to get their foot in the door.

His decision likely will not drag out, but it’s not going to be LeBron James last summer “let’s do this so I can go on vacation” instant, either, if we believe this report from Frank Isola of The Athletic.

Of course, this report would be unofficial/off the record because teams cannot yet officially reach out to players or agents, and we know there is no tampering in the NBA. (Read that last sentence again in your best sarcastic voice to get the full impact.)

In Los Angeles, the Clipper hype has led to billboards.

If the Clipper meeting is July 2, in Los Angeles we presume, the question becomes when is the Toronto meeting? June 30/July 1 in Toronto, giving the Clippers the last shot? Or, are the first couple of days meetings with other teams that are longshots — Knicks, Lakers, Mavericks, etc. — just to get them out of the way.

It has long been rumored to be a two-team race for Leonard’s services. On the one hand is the chance to return home and become the leader of a 48-win Clippers team poised to be a threat for years to come if they land a superstar. (The Lakers have never been a serious consideration for Leonard, according to sources, for a variety of reasons. Let’s just say he’s not a superteam kind of guy.)

On the other hand is a Raptors team where he was given room to recover and be himself, and where he just won a ring. A city where he was fully embraced by the fans.

Also remember Leonard is at eight seasons of NBA service, meaning the max of this next contract is for 30 percent of the cap (a starting salary around $33 million next season). After two more seasons, he will have 10 years of service and be eligible for 35 percent of the cap (a starting salary of $38 million right now, and with the cap expected to go up the next couple of years it will be higher than that in reality). Despite the injury history, is Leonard willing to bet on himself and sign a two-year contract to get to the larger max, then re-sign?

The leading theory floating around the league now is Leonard signs a short deal in Toronto, then re-enters the market in a year or two. But it’s just a theory. Nobody really knows because Leonard does not tip his hand. About the only thing we seem to know his he will meet with the Clippers on July 2.

Ex-Sacramento Kings exec gets 7 years for siphoning $13.4M

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A former top Sacramento Kings executive was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison for siphoning $13.4 million from the team.

Jeffrey David, 44, the team’s former chief revenue officer, pleaded guilty in December to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

David diverted the sponsorship payments of five companies to a bank account he controlled from October 2012 through July 2016, using the money to buy and remodel Southern California beachfront properties, pay for a private jet membership and pay off credit card bills.

“The brazen scheme involved forgeries, stolen corporate executive identities, money laundering and even instructing a former colleague to destroy evidence,” U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott said in a statement. “Today’s sentence should deter others from committing substantial frauds such as this one.”

David’s lawyer, Mark Reichel, disagreed with the sentence from U.S. District Judge William Shubb.

“We see no appropriate purpose served by a sentence this lengthy,” Reichel wrote in an email, citing David’s “tremendous life work” before and after his crimes as cause for a reduced sentence.

“The Kings received back every single penny of the previously purloined money, and Mr. David worked very hard to make sure that happened. He is tremendously remorseful,” Reichel said.

The Kings have received over $13.2 million in restitution to date, according to the Department of Justice.

David is scheduled to begin his sentence on Aug. 20.

Lakers’ Jeanie Buss: “I have 100 percent confidence in Rob Pelinka”

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Internally, the Lakers believe they are on the right track: They signed LeBron James as a free agent, they spent years acquiring assets then turned those assets into Anthony Davis, and they believe the roster that will take the court next season will bring vindication for the front office and ownership group. The Lakers believe they will be back on top, where they belong.

From the outside, um, let’s just say there are doubts around the league. Doubts about all the picks — particularly the pick swaps and deferments — that the Lakers gave up to get Davis and now that could hurt them in the future. There are doubts about the ability of Rob Pelinka to build out a roster around LeBron and Davis that is truly a threat.

Jeanie Buss has no such doubts. Speaking to Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times (and other reporters) at the NBA Awards show Monday, Buss expressed nothing but confidence in Pelinka and the Lakers’ staff.

“I’ve always had confidence in Rob, whatever the speculation is out there,” Buss said. “We don’t need outside media to validate the things that we do. I’m very happy and I think we’re on the right path.”

“I have 100% confidence in him in running his basketball operations,” Buss said. “He’s brought us a great new head coach in Frank Vogel, whose teams have had a lot of success in the playoffs and who have played consistently ranking high in defense, which means not only does he emphasize defense but the players buy into his defensive schemes.”

The question isn’t Vogel’s credentials, although how a staff with Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, and other veteran coaches with big egos will mesh together is going to be interesting.

The question is talent.

The Lakers have the high end of that with LeBron and Davis, but when you think about the Laker title teams of the past it wasn’t just Shaq and Kobe, it was also Derek Fisher and Robert Horry and Rick Fox and a host of others. The same thing was true in this past Finals — the deeper team won because the Raptors could adapt and handle their star not being 100 percent.

Are the Lakers going to chase another star and then complete the roster with minimum salary players? Or, get two or three quality role players with their cap space to have a deeper team? Has this all been planned out and thought through? Maybe Rob Pelinka builds this roster out beautifully, but we only have one year of experience to judge him on, and that did not go well.

Buss may have confidence, she should, the rest of us are in wait and see mode.

The Greek Freak has arrived, Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Mike Budenholzer came in with a plan — an offense built around the fact no one man on the planet can guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It worked. The Bucks won 60 games and had the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer picked up Coach of the Year hardware for his efforts.

Now Antetokounmpo has won the NBA MVP award, edging out James Harden (who chose not to attend the NBA’s awards show in Los Angeles Monday). He was emotional in thanking teammates for helping him reach this point, then talking about his father.

It was a long road to this point, Antetokounmpo was playing second-division ball in Greece when the Bucks drafted him at No. 15 back in 2013. The word we used to describe his game at the time was “raw” — he was a long way from the player he would become. What he also turned out to be was driven. Willing to put in the work, be coached, and put in the long hours to get better and maximize his potential. Antetokounmpo earned the chance to walk up on that stage and accept the MVP award.

Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, but it was his ability to destroy any defender one-on-one that made the Bucks offense work. Either the Greek Freak got to the basket and finished, he drew a foul, or he drew so much attention the shooters that surrounded him on the floor had clean looks of their own. He also was the Bucks best defender, a guy tasked with tough assignments nightly.

Antetokounmpo was the best player on the best team.

Antetokounmpo won the award handily with 941 points to Harden’s 776. The Greek Freak had 78 of the 100 first-place votes.

James Harden — who averaged 36.1 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.6 rebounds per game — finished second in the voting, Paul George of Oklahoma City was third. Harden has finished first or second in the voting for four of the past five seasons. Harden believed he deserved to win and was frustrated with another second.

Antetokounmpo is the first player from Europe to win the MVP award since Dirk Nowitzki in 2007.

Nikola Jokic came in fourth in the voting, Stephen Curry was fifth. Here are the full results: