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Dolan vs. Ballmer: L.A. Forum owner sues Inglewood over new Clipper building

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Steve Ballmer wants to get his Los Angeles Clippers out of the dominating shadow of the Lakers. The Clippers play in the Staples Center, a building built thanks to the Kobe/Shaq era Lakers that has become synonymous with purple and gold. The Clippers can cover up the Lakers’ championship banners with images of their players, it still doesn’t change the perception in Los Angles and around the nation.

So owner Ballmer wants to build a new arena to house his Clippers, in Inglewood — just a couple blocks from The Forum where the Showtime Lakers played.

Problem is the Forum is owned by — and was not long ago completely renovated by — the Madison Square Garden company. MSG is owned by Knicks owner James Dolan. The Forum has become a popular concert and event destination in the city again, and MSG does not want competition in the form of a shiny new building a couple of blocks away. It contracts with the city was supposed to keep direct competition nearby away.

That has led to MSG suing the City of Inglewood over alleged secret negotiations. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN doubled as a court reporter on this one.

The owner of the Inglewood Forum filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court on Monday against the City of Inglewood and its mayor, James T. Butts, alleging that they held secret negotiations with the LA Clippers about building a new arena adjacent to the Forum and the site of the Los Angeles Rams’ future home.

The Forum has been owned and operated by Madison Square Garden since 2011. The company invested some $100 million in redeveloping the property in cooperation with the city, with a contractual agreement that the city would not attempt to attract another concert venue that would damage the Forum’s core business.

The suit alleges that Inglewood and its mayor breached their contract with the Forum when it entered into secret negotiations with the Clippers regarding 15 acres of property — which had been leased by the Forum for overflow parking — in January 2017.

The Clippers and Inglewood are moving fast down the path to build on those 15 acres. The city has already released the Environmental Impact Report on the proposed Clippers, and votes for its approval are coming soon. MSG says in the suit it was told the city was going to build an office part there, not a direct competitor to its business. MSG has also tried to stoke local opposition to the project from residents (there are always grassroots groups opposed to development in Southern California, some with legitimate complaints and some just NIMBY issues).

The lawsuit is not Dolan vs. Ballmer directly, but their business interests collide on this one. We’ll see how messy it gets.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.

Sixers hire Elton Brand as new General Manager

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Filling the 76ers vacant general manager position dragged out all summer for one main reason:

They liked what they already had in-house. The Sixers were an especially collegial and collaborative group with their decision making, and if they brought in a big name from the outside — former Cavaliers’ GM David Griffin, or the two guys who went deep into the interview process Utah assistant GM Justin Zanik on Rockets VP Gersson Rosas — it would change that dynamic.

Which is why they have decided to keep this in the family, and will promote Elton Brand from vice president of basketball operations to general manager. It’s a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark.

Brand, a former Philadelphia player, was the general manager of their G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats, before becoming the VP of basketball operations. He will replace Bryan Colangelo, who was forced out following a Twitter scandal involving his wife.

There were other title changes within the organization as well.

What this means on the ground is don’t expect any significant changes with the Sixers’ plans — nor should there be. They are banking on Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz — now with a functional jump shot, they hope — to be at the core of a contending team, then next summer they will go big game hunting again for an elite free agent. (There is more pressure to get a deal done this summer before the big extensions for those young stars start to really kick in.) That said, this is a team poised on the brink of a great run.

And if things are going well, why make a dramatic change? Brand can help them on the course already set.