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LaMarcus Aldridge’s renaissance started when he told Popovich to trade him

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LOS ANGELES — The renaissance in LaMarcus’ Aldridge’s game this season — back to an All-Star level — began last summer when he said something to Gregg Popovich nobody else ever had.

“When he said ‘I want to be traded,’” Popovich said when asked what started the conversations about how to better use Aldridge. “It’s as simple as that. I said, ‘Whoa. Nobody has said that to me before. It’s been 20 or whatever years and nobody had said that to me.

“(Aldridge said) ‘I’m not enjoying this, I’m not confident, I’m not sure you want me here. I want to be traded.’”

Aldridge had previously called it a “come to Jesus” meeting between the two. Leaving was Aldridge’s answer to his frustration with how he was used in a Kawhi Leonard-centric offense. Aldridge’s shot attempts dropped to the lowest level since his rookie season, and with that his points per game declined along with his efficiency. Aldridge was still good, but he was not being put in positions where he was comfortable, spots where he could thrive, and he wanted out.

That was not going to happen.

“I was very candid with him. I told him, ‘you get me a talent like Kevin Durant and I’ll drive you to the airport. I’ll pack your bags, I’ll drive you there, I’ll get you on the plane and I’ll get you seated,’” Popovich said with a smile. “And he laughed at that.

“But short of that, I’m your best buddy, because you’re here for another year and you’re not going nowhere. Because we’re not going to get, for you, talent-wise what we would want. So let’s figure this thing out.”

Dinners and meeting ensued, where Popovich and Aldridge talked hoops and life (as one does with Pop, it’s never just about basketball). Through it all, Popovich said he came to a realization.

“As discussions went on, it became apparent to me it was me,” Popovich said of what was holding Aldridge back. “He’s played in the league nine years, I’m not going to turn him into some other player. I could do some things defensively or rebounding-wise, but on offense I was going to move him everywhere. I was going to make him Jack Sikma off the post, get him on the elbows and he was going to pull it through, and that was just silly on my part.”

This season Aldridge has moved back closer to the basket — 41 percent of his shots this season come off post ups (according to Synergy Sports). He’s spotting up less, and with that he is shooting fewer long-two jumpers that were just not efficient. He’s still setting picks and popping out for some threes, but these are cleaner looks and he is shooting 34.4 percent from deep. Aldridge is getting the rock in his spots.

It’s worked. Aldridge is averaging 22.6 points per game, 8.6 rebounds, and has a PER of 24.4 that would be a career high. He’s going to be an All-Star (not a starter, based on the fan vote where he is 10th among Western Conference frontcourt players, but no way the coaches leave him off the team). He very well could be an All-NBA player again at the end of the season.

It all came about because Popovich, to use a favorite phrase of his, is “over himself.” He just got out of the way and let a great player play.

“I decided not to play Mr. Coach with him and try to be the smartest man in the room,” Popovich said. “That helped him out — he was already a good player, he didn’t need me to be there. I coach him at the defensive end, at the offensive end he’s better off without listening to me, and that’s been proven the entire year. Because in the past when he played I just confused him and tried to make him something he wasn’t. I was going to teach him all these things, and that didn’t work out real well.

“Obviously we’ve figured it out because we’ve extended him and he’s staying and all that sort of things.”

Rockets sign Ben McLemore

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The Kings couldn’t figure out what to do with Ben McLemore, the No. 7 pick in the 2013 NBA draft.

Now, the Rockets will try.

Rockets:

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The link in the Rockets tweet leads to an inaccessible page, which is pretty fitting.

McLemore has talent, athleticism and size. He probably doesn’t have as much talent and athleticism as it seemed when he became a lottery pick. But he still has some. He also plays shooting guard, a common position of need throughout the league. Maybe Houston can find a way for the 26-year-old to become productive for the first time in his career.

It’s a low-risk bet considering the cheap cost, and the upside probably isn’t that high. But it’s still an interesting attempt considering McLemore’s stature when he entered the league.

Report: Clippers tried to trade for James Harden before landing Paul George

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Kawhi Leonard tried to recruit Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Leonard eventually got Paul George to join him on the Clippers.

Two other stars the Clippers tried to land? Bradley Beal and James Harden.

Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic:

The Clippers inquired about Washington’s Bradley Beal and Houston’s James Harden, according to league sources, but neither star was available.

Beal fits the most obvious parameter of an available star: He’s on a bad team. But the Wizards aren’t interested in trading him. For most of the summer, they didn’t even have a general manager to negotiate a potential deal.

Harden is the far more interesting target. The Rockets have built around him, but they reached a rough spot with Harden and Chris Paul. Houston could have viewed that as the end of the road. The Clippers parted with an elite package for George – five first-round picks, two pick swaps, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari. That’s the kind of offer that can open many doors. Instead, the Rockets went the other way by acquiring Russell Westbrook.

Still, a Leonard-Harden pairing would’ve been quite interesting. Both work best as offensive focal points, not contributing much off the ball. Harden’s defensive deficiencies would’ve put more pressure on Leonard. But the talent level would’ve been astronomical.

I think the Clippers are just happy with Leonard and George, who fit better together and still carry elite talent.

Report: NBA opens investigation into tampering following ‘tense’ owners meeting

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Kyrie Irving (Nets), Kemba Walker (Celtics) and Derrick Rose (Pistons) appeared to have their next teams lined up before free agency officially began. The Celtics reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford. Several other players agreed to terms so quickly after free agency began 6 p.m. June 30, it’s impossible to believe the deals weren’t pre-arranged.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said free-agency rules should be revised and enforced.

The league will also investigate.

Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Within days, the league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say.

The investigation followed a tense owners meeting, which multiple sources described to ESPN.

In the midst of it, Rick Buchanan, the NBA’s longtime general counsel, issued an evenhanded but sobering message to the room, multiple sources said.

Buchanan told the governors that as partners they were entitled to expect all teams to abide by a common set of enforceable rules for free agency — and that the league office would come back with a proposal for a revised set of rules that would then be strictly enforced. He asked the group if they were comfortable with the league “seizing servers and cellphones,” a line that stuck with many in attendance, according to sources who recounted the scene later.

It’s unclear whether this investigation will be punitive, exploratory or both.

Teams and players are absolutely violating the written rules. Some teams occasionally get punished. The rules are arbitrarily enforced, which is unfair. This investigation could lead to widespread punishment, though proving which teams did and didn’t tamper would be difficult. If it goes this route, expect uneven enforcement.

I’m with Silver: The rules should be enforced. An easy way to do that is writing the rules to match what currently occurs. As much griping as everyone does, the system mostly works. It’d work even better if everyone were on the same page about what is and isn’t allowed. So, this investigation could uncover details of how free agency actually happens. Then, the rules could be tailored around that.

This is clearly trending toward allowing contact with free agents sooner. That’s already happening, anyway. And billionaire team owners sure don’t want their privacy invaded for strict enforcement of a more-prohibitive system.

Tricky questions remain, though.

How will the NBA handle players tampering with each other? That’s forbidden by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but Silver has practically said he’ll allow it. And it happens plenty. I’d prefer it becomes officially allowed. Having unenforced rules can lead to selective enforcement.

When will teams and free agents be permitted to contact each other? Seasons end at different times, depending how far teams advance. Even with the starting period moved up, some teams will still seek an edge.

So, there’s no perfect solution.

But there are obvious problems with conditions now. It sounds like the NBA might finally be addressing them.

Report: Damian Lillard out, Julius Randle and Jaylen Brown in for Team USA consideration

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Team USA is losing its best player.

Again.

After Anthony Davis then James Harden withdrew from consideration for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Damian Lillard is also pulling out.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

This is a major drop in star power for the Americans. Their best player on the World Cup roster could be Kemba Walker? Kyle Lowry? Khris Middleton? This is no Dream Team.

The United States also went from stacked to thin at point guard in a hurry. Walker and Lowry remain – if Lowry is healthy. Donovan Mitchell and Marcus Smart are combo guards. But that’s a big drop from an expected 1-2 punch of Harden and Lillard.

Julius Randle and Jaylen Brown won’t help there.

Brown is a solid addition to the roster pool. He’s a versatile wing who can fit into many lineups and styles. That malleability will be important as Team USA can longer rely on a huge talent disparity.

Randle probably makes less sense. He’s an impressive individual scorer with passing ability. But his ball-stopping tendencies and woeful defense as a big leave major questions about his ability to contribute with other top players. He’s more of a floor-raiser. If the Americans need a floor-raiser, they’re in trouble.

DeMar DeRozan apparently withdrew from the training-camp roster before anyone knew he was even added, which is pretty fitting for this team.