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Report: LeBron James asked Cavaliers not to trade Kyrie Irving, but Irving threatened to undergo season-ending knee surgery

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Kyrie Irving‘s trade request last summer reportedly blindsided LeBron James. The quickly emerging narrative that Irving wanted to leave because of LeBron surely didn’t diffuse tension. It reached the point LeBron was reportedly eager for the Cavaliers to trade Irving.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

But, according to multiple sources, James ultimately asked the Cavs’ front office not to trade Irving after the request was made known, promising to bridge the apparent gap with him.

According to sources, Irving needs minor knee surgery as a follow to the procedure he underwent during the 2015 Finals to repair his broken knee cap.

According to multiple sources, Irving threatened to sit out the season and have surgery on his knee, convincing Gilbert and Cleveland’s front office that the relationship with Irving was not salvageable.

The Cavs chose to move Irving rather than call his bluff, which upset James, sources said.

Irving pulled a Mo Williams! Using surgery to secure a desired career outcome is straight out of the playbook of Williams, who returned to the Cavs as part of LeBron’s circle.

It’s so poetic.

What’s far messier is the implicit finger-pointing – yes, more of that – and ass-covering in this report. The agendas at play are thinly veiled.

The Cavaliers look like they’ve lost the Irving trade so far. Isaiah Thomas has been hurt and looks plenty rusty. Jae Crowder is having the worst year of his career. The Nets, whose first-round pick Cleveland acquired from the Celtics, are overachieving.

Nobody wants to take the blame for this mess.

Cavs brass, from owner Dan Gilbert to general manager Koby Altman, sure doesn’t. If Irving is portrayed as a less valuable asset, the return he fetched won’t look quite as underwhelming. The Cavaliers say they were backed fully into a corner with an injured player, and if everyone buys it, maybe they can swing the narrative about Thomas being the only damaged goods in the trade. Perhaps, Irving is on the verge of breaking down – though he’s playing pretty darn well in Boston. It’s a tough sell.

LeBron has the benefit of hindsight. Even if he soured on the trade with foresight, his frustration is lingering because of the results. If he were wrong and the trade looked like a victory for Cleveland, he would quickly forgive the Cavs for not honoring his request to keep Irving. LeBron also has the luxury of nobody knowing the counterfactual. Reality has gone poorly for the Cavaliers. Perhaps, keeping Irving would have gone even worse, with him sitting out the entire season and lowering his trade value while providing no help in Cleveland’s bid to beat the Warriors.

But it matters only so much what blame levied by LeBron is fair. He can become a free agent next summer, and in many ways, his perception matters more than reality. If he were upset with the Cavs defying his request not to trade Irving, why would he be any less upset with the team now that he’s seen how it’s playing out?

Lakers’ recruiting pitch for Paul George leaks

AP Photo/R Brent Smith
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LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.

Paul George never said that, though.

So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.

Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:

Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational

The text:

When you were just a kid

In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale

We were dreaming too.

While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival

And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.

Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.

The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too

Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?

My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?

Report: No divide between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

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That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?

Sam Amick of USA Today:

As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.

Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.

Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.

Report: LeBron James not planning to sit for elaborate pitch meetings in free agency

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LeBron James held court in Cleveland in 2010, listening to pitch after pitch as teams flew in to recruit the superstar during free agency. That approach became a model, and Kevin Durant followed it in the Hamptons in 2016.

But maybe once is enough.

Durant announced months ago he’d stay with the Warriors. And now LeBron – who could definitely leave Cleveland – is making clear he doesn’t want the hoopla, either.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

sources close to the situation tell ESPN that he has no intention of hearing elaborate pitch meetings from teams.

league sources believe he and his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini have enough understanding of the stakes and NBA landscape to handle the process without much fanfare.

LeBron is still haunted by The Decision. He’s a great player and philanthropist and does plenty to connect with fans. Yet, people still dislike him purely because of how he changed teams eight years ago.

If I wielded as much power as LeBron, I’d want suitors wining and dining me. He wants to avoid more backlash.

This will probably look similar to 2014 – LeBron’s agents hearing out teams then LeBron meeting with only the most serious options, though the final announcement will likely come via Uninterrupted rather than Sports Illustrated.

The Lakers, Cavaliers, Rockets and 76ers are commonly viewed as the favorites for LeBron. This approach makes it less likely for a longshot to emerge – though, for what it’s worth, we don’t know those four teams are his favorites right now.

Report: Nuggets re-signing Nikola Jokic to five-year max after declining team option

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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The Nuggets are building around Nikola Jokic.

But a second-round pick turning into a franchise player so quickly creates complications. Denver is resolving one by declining Jokic’s team option, which will send him into restricted free agency (as opposed to unrestricted free agency next year) and paying him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This ought to please Jokic. He would have earned just $1,600,520 next season if Denver exercised his team option.

Jokic is one of the best-passing full-time centers ever. He also shoots and rebounds well, though he must improve his defense to become worthy of this contract. At just 23, he’s worth betting on.

That said, I’m surprised the Nuggets didn’t get him on a slight discount. Though they clearly didn’t want to risk him testing unrestricted free agency next year, they gave him a MASSIVE raise (about $24 million) next season when they didn’t have to.

Jokic’s exact max salary won’t be determined until the salary cap and luxury-tax line are set this month. But this clearly puts Denver in cost-cutting mode now.

As constructed, the Nuggets are in line for about $24 million in luxury-tax payments. That’s without considering Will Barton, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Expect Denver to look to unload Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler and/or Mason Plumlee.

Jokic was always going to be in Denver next season. The Nuggets have now secured him far longer. It will cost them next year – an important season to them – but they also clearly value a future with Jokic.