Report: Lakers climbing fast on LaMarcus Aldridge’s list of preferred destinations

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The Trail Blazers quickly denied it, but it sure felt like the team trading Nicolas Batum to Charlotte for Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson felt like the first move a franchise realizing their star player was about to bolt and they needed to adjust the roster.

That star is LaMarcus Aldridge, and if there is a top 15 player in the NBA most likely on the move this summer, it’s him. More and more the sense around the league is he’s gone.

While it has been assumed he’d want to go home to Texas (he played his high school ball in Dallas) the ever-present Lakers are lurking, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

ESPN.com reported in May that both the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks strongly believe they’ll have a great shot to lure Aldridge back to his home state of Texas next month. But sources said this week that Aldridge is actually thinking more and more about a free-agent jump to the Los Angeles Lakers….

The Spurs, sources say, continue to be Aldridge’s most likely destination if he goes through with the idea of leaving the Blazers to start anew. But sources also say there is a rising sentiment that the Lakers have edged past the Mavericks on Aldridge’s wish list despite the fact that he was a high school star in Dallas.

Remember this when you hear the Lakers’ name come up in seemingly every free agent rumor this summer: Every smart agent is using them as leverage. This is not to say the Lakers will not land somebody (this summer or next), maybe even Aldridge. But much like the NFL used the LA market to force other cities to build new stadiums, agents will use the threat of the Lakers to get other teams to up their offers.

This isn’t a question about money, Aldridge is going to get the max. He’d actually take home more in Texas, a place without state income tax.

The question is who is he would playing next to in Los Angeles… well, besides Kobe for a year. Is it Jahlil Okafor, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, or is it DeMarcus Cousins after a trade? (I wouldn’t bet on that trade happening, but that’s another story.)

With either of those options, is he closer to a title than he would be in Texas? Certainly not if the Spurs can free up the cap space to get him (it depends on what happens with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili). And Dallas has Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and a roster that won 50 games last season. Both of those options are further along on the court

But the Lakers are a draw with cash to spend. And they are leverage. And they are going to be coming up in a lot of rumors this summer.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.

Mike Brown reportedly on list of Indiana coach interviews

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The buzz for a while has been the Indiana coaching job is Mike D’Antoni’s to lose — the Pacers want to update their offense, and no one is more qualified to do it.

But other names are circulating and people being interviewed: Dave Joerger, the Spurs’ Becky Hammon, Miami’s Dan Craig, Dallas’ Stephen Silas, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Minnesota’s David Vanterpool, Philadelphia’s Ime Udoka, Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts, and don’t forget Chauncey Billups.

Now add veteran coach Mike Brown to the list, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Brown was the head coach of both the Cavaliers and Lakers, leading the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007 and being named Coach of the Year two years later. Brown has been the lead assistant under Steve Kerr for a few years now and has undoubtedly soaked up knowledge on setting up a modern NBA offense.

Whoever fills Nate McMillan’s shoes in Indiana has a tough job. Expectations may be high from ownership, but McMillan’s Pacers’ teams played hard and defended, making them difficult to play against. Their offense also was old school, which is why McMillan was fired after the Heat swept the Pacers in the first round, but it wasn’t terrible. How big a leap this team makes may rely less on the style of play and more on if Victor Oladipo has returned to his All-NBA form.