Can Lakers form LeBron-Kawhi-George superteam?

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Two weeks ago the cry from some corners of the Internet and a lot of talk radio hosts was that superteams were ruining the NBA…

Until they got the chance to talk about a new one being formed.

Last Friday, when Kawhi Leonard’s people leaked that he wanted out of San Antonio (without telling the Spurs first face-to-face, something that still has not happened… real classy), it came with the news his preferred destination was the Lakers. Add that to the fact both LeBron James and Paul George had already been rumored to want to go to Los Angeles and… suddenly the NBA speculation machine was in high gear. People could envision another threat in the West to the Warriors.

The rumors started flying. This is why Magic Johnson was given the reins of Lakers’ basketball, to bring back the days where Lakers’ exceptionalism seemed justified, and if he can pull off getting these three he could bring back the glory days with this one swoop.

Can the Lakers pull this off?

Technically, yes. In fact, you can be sure that people from teams LeBron/Leonard/George are at least discussing how to make it work (through back channels, of course, there is never any tampering in the NBA…).

Is it likely? No. But in a world where Mexico can beat Germany in the World Cup anything is possible. Just don’t bet the rent money on the Lakers here, this is a longshot.

• How the Lakers can pull it off

The Lakers put themselves in position to land two max contract superstars this season with just minimal moves (waiving and stretching Luol Deng and the $36.8 million he is owed over the next two years is a big part of that). That flexibility can be put to use to bring the three stars together.

First, the Lakers trade for Leonard, sending the Spurs some combination of Brandon Ingram/Lonzo Ball/Kyle Kuzma plus some picks and Deng and his contract. I have heard from sources (and others have reported) the Spurs are not particularly interested in Ball as part of this deal, and as a rebuilding team they would not want Deng either. Ingram, Kuzma, Deng and picks (maybe this year’s No. 25, more likely future picks) can work for Leonard and Bryn Forbes. That’s not likely to go down before this Thursday’s Draft, however.

More likely this trade would ultimately involve a third team that would take on Deng (probably and Ball) and send some players/picks back to the Spurs that they find more interesting. There are scenarios where this works out.

Bottom line: The Lakers have the assets and cap space to pull this off — it will gut the roster and leave the Lakers trying to fill out the team around their stars with the taxpayer midlevel ($4.4 million) and minimum contracts, but we know LeBron James can attract veterans to chase a ring with him for less.

What’s more, expect the Lakers to go all in on this — this will not be a half measure. They will exhaust their efforts to see this come about.

• The Biggest Roadblock: The San Antonio Spurs

For this to work, Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have to play along.

That could happen, but first the Kawhi Leonard is going to have to sit down across from Popovich and say he wants out. That hasn’t happened, it has just been through social media. (The Spurs think the people around Leonard are trying to get him to a bigger market for branding reasons, that this isn’t fully driven by Leonard himself.) Until it does, the Spurs are still not listening to trade offers.

Also, there are reports that it’s not the Spurs preference to play ball with the Lakers, which is also what I have heard around the league. All things being equal, San Antonio would rather send Leonard to the East, not a team in the West with the resources of the Lakers. Ultimately, however, the Spurs are going to take the trade offer that’s best for them, and if they perceive that to be the Lakers, then they will do it.

(Note: Some Lakers fans seem convinced Spurs have no leverage here, that if Leonard says he will only re-sign with the Lakers that’s the only place they can trade him. Not true. Most importantly, the Spurs care only about the return on the trade not what happens after. Leonard’s threat will scare off some teams that shouldn’t put that many assets into a deal — Sacramento’s rumored interest is a perfect example — but it’s not going to scare off Boston, Philadelphia, or a handful of others who are convinced they could win Leonard over within that first year. They will make the same bet OKC did on George, that they can win him over with their culture/coach/fans/winning, plus he would be able to get $49 million more guaranteed if he re-signed.)

The Spurs will get multiple trade offers. The Lakers offer likely looks something like discussed above: Ingram, Kuzma, picks, and Deng (very possibly with a third team in the mix to take on Deng and other assets the Spurs don’t want, but that team will need a sweetener, too).

Boston’s offer is rumored to be along the lines of Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris (for salary reasons), and Sacramento’s first-round pick in 2019 (only No. 1 pick protected). The Celtics and their wealth of assets could alter this trade in other ways: Sub in Jayson Tatum for Brown (that would mean less valuable picks going to the Spurs), plus they have the Grizzlies 2019 pick (top seven protected) and the Clippers 2019 first round pick (lottery protected), plus their own first rounders and a few second rounders. Boston also could re-sign Marcus Smart and move him in the trade. Danny Ainge has options.

Philadelphia will want to get in on this, too: This year’s No. 10 pick, Markelle Fultz, and Robert Covington would work, and they have their own first-round picks in future years to offer. (While fans seem to have given up, some teams believe Fultz could still be developed into what was expected of the former No. 1 pick.) However, after this draft the deal gets harder for the Sixers unless the Spurs love Fultz.

For the Spurs, it may well simply come down to this: How do they internally rate Ingram vs. Brown/Tatum (and picks) vs. Fultz? If they have a strong preference toward one of those players over the others, or the potential of the picks offered, they will lean that direction.

• What if the Spurs decide to take their time?

Right now, the Spurs are still not listening to trade offers, wanting to sit down with Leonard. While ultimately that may not change the situation, the Spurs are not an organization that gets rushed into things they don’t want to do. Reports are (and again, sources have confirmed this to me) that the Spurs are not going to hurry this decision on when and where to trade Leonard. They are willing to drag it out deep into the summer or even into next season if they don’t like the offers presented.

The longer this goes on, the harder it is on the Lakers to pull together this super team.

On July 1, the Oklahoma City Thunder will put a max five-year, $176 million extension on the table in front of Paul George. Reports are he’s leaning toward taking it — or, more likely, taking a shorter, one-plus-one or two-plus-one contract where he is a free agent again in a year or two — but the idea of going to Los Angeles to play with LeBron and Leonard will give him pause on signing that deal. He will wait to see how it shakes out… for a little while. How long is the question?

LeBron is in the same boat. Starting July 1 he will meet with multiple teams and field multiple max offers, from the Lakers and others. He may want to form a three-player super-team in Los Angeles, but would he come to L.A. without Leonard? If the Spurs sit on their hands early in free agency, how does that impact LeBron’s decision making process?

Even the Lakers are on the hook here — other teams are going to come hard at restricted free agent Julius Randle. Los Angeles would like to keep him after Randle’s leap forward on the offensive end last season. Randle can sign an offer with another team on July 6 and the 72-hour clock is on the Lakers — match it and they can’t bring together this big three.

• Other things that could mess the Lakers up

• The biggest is one mentioned before: Paul George agrees to take OKC’s $176 million on July 1 and it’s done. Or, more likely, George agrees to a shorter deal where he can hit the market (and head to the Lakers or wherever then). George may want to give it a run with the Thunder, and if that doesn’t work consider his options again. If that happens, the Lakers could scramble to try to find another max player to bring in (Chris Paul?) but if PG13 just decides he likes the Thunder and playing with Russell Westbrook, there is nothing Magic Johnson nor LeBron can do about it.

• LeBron James could decide he like’s Chris Paul’s recruitment pitch on Houston and join the Rockets. We’ll know about that one by June 29, the day LeBron has to tell the Cavaliers whether he’s opting into our out of his contract. If he opts in then the trade is worked out in principle (that or he’s staying in Cleveland, but I wouldn’t bet on that one). If LeBron opts out, he’s not going to Houston, it’s just hard to make the math work.

• LeBron decides to stay in the East and signs as a free agent with the Sixers. Philly is going to come hard at him.

Right now, you can be sure that forces are working through back channels to make this new Lakers’ super team happens. Some people want to happen.

But none of those people are in the Spurs organization. Ultimately, they hold the cards on this. And if they don’t want to deal those cards, LeBron, Paul George, and the Lakers will have to find a game elsewhere.

Kevin Durant says he and Draymond Green have agreed to move on after spat

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Will Kevin Durant leave the Golden State Warriors in free agency this coming summer?

It’s entirely possible, and the big argument between Durant and fellow Warriors teammate Draymond Green last week led many to speculate that it might have an impact on the former’s pending free agency.

Both Green and Durant are back on the same floor for Golden State, and in a recent interview with Yahoo Sports Durant said that the row won’t have any effect on him choosing to stay or leave the Warriors.

Speaking with Yahoo’s Chris Haynes, Durant said that he understood Green’s personality and that he had decided not to let the dust-up affect him moving forward, presumably toward their ultimate goal of another championship.

Via Yahoo:

“I never really felt like it was a problem, because I know Dray and he says some crazy [expletive] out his mouth all the time,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “But on top of that, it was just that there was so much coming with it from the outside, and so much stuff that we have to answer now.”

“I was upset, but I know that I can’t hold on to something like this,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “I know that I’ve got to make a choice with myself, like how long are you going to be upset about this to the point where you’re going to let it affect what you do on the floor or how you approach the game? Once it gets there now, I got to make a grown-man decision and tell myself, ‘Look, man, no matter what, you still got to come to work every single day. It’s going to work out. It’s going to figure itself out.’ And I think everyone’s been handling it the best way they could and we’re just trying to move forward with it.”

All of Durant’s quotes are worth reading for more context on the biggest free agency of 2019. There’s a lot to unpack there, and if you have paid attention too much of what Durant has said in the past, it’s hard to put any weight on any comments given to Haynes in this instance.

Durant isn’t the most forthcoming person, and his angling when it comes to his career seems both clumsy and transparent at times. Durant could be seen mouthing what appeared to be an indication that he was going to leave the Warriors while on the floor against the Los Angeles Clippers, and we won’t get any direct comment on that anytime soon.

Durant did what he needed to do. He made public comments about how he is going to move forward from here on out so the Warriors can continue their run of dominance through the NBA. But short of signing a new contract (or both players holding a joint press conference where it’s clear from their faces that things are A-OK) everyone is going to assume there’s tension building under the surface with Golden State all season long.

Wizards fans are now wearing bags over their heads (PHOTO)

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The Washington Wizards are bad, and Tuesday night’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers won’t make up for that. John Wall‘s 30-point night won’t make up for that. Any kind of staid quotes from the coaches or players won’t make up for that.

The story is that this team just plain doesn’t like each other, and it’s hard to see how that will change enough to keep this core together. The Wizards front office is already taking calls for potential trades, and teams like the Charlotte Hornets are inquiring about stars like Bradley Beal.

Of course, fans in D.C. are not taking the news of the team’s pending separation lightly. As folks started to pour into the Capital One Arena on Tuesday, at least one fan showed up with the universal symbol of a vote of no confidence.

Via Twitter:

Washington beat Los Angeles, 125-118, but that won’t make up for the general malaise surrounding the franchise.

Given how long the Jimmy Butler Saga continued with the Minnesota Timberwolves, I don’t have any confidence in NBA teams to get trades done in a timely fashion anymore. But the tipping point seems to have been reached in our nation’s capital, and the Wizards will probably shake things up soon.

Watch Toronto’s Danny Green hit game-winning shot over Magic (VIDEO)

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The Orlando Magic gave the Toronto Raptors a bit of a scare on Tuesday night. After a close game and a late lead by the best team in the East, it was the Magic who appeared ready to snd things to overtime.

As things came to a head at the end of the fourth quarter, both teams found themselves gunning for the win as time wound down. The Raptors were up by two points when they missed a 3-point attempt by Kyle Lowry with 12 seconds to go.

The Magic grabbed the rebound and quickly called timeout. That allowed Orlando to reset themselves, resulting in an Evan Fournier bucket with just 2.3 seconds to go and the teams tied, 91-91.

Enter Danny Green.

Via Twitter:

Green hit the clutch shot with less than a full second to go, and the Magic were unable to score on a long-distance heave.

Late shot by Green helped the Raptors win, 93-91. Toronto moved to 14-4 on the year as they sit solidly in first place. Orlando is currently sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

Report: Sixers rookie Zhaire Smith has lost 20 pounds since allergic reaction incident

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The Philadelphia 76ers are still dealing with the apparent allergic reaction that rookie Zhaire Smith had to some kind of food material in the team facility. The team already knew that Smith had a peanut allergy, but it was revealed later that he also had a sesame allergy.

We were originally expecting Smith to see the floor again sometime in December. But now it looks like that timeline has been pushed back. According to the Ringer, Smith has lost 20 pounds since his allergic incident, and it’s not clear whether he will return this season.

Via the Ringer:

Several reports stemming from the November 9 background briefing mentioned that Smith had “lost weight” over the past month and a half, but I was told that he lost “upward of 20 pounds.” For someone who’s listed at 199 pounds on the team website, that’s significant. As is the difference between Smith not playing in 2018, as reported, and “being in danger” of not playing at all this season, which is how it was explained to me. I was also told that he had more than one procedure to address the issue, which is evidently what the Sixers meant by the fuzzy “additional medical treatment” line. (The team had no comment, according to a spokesperson.)

The Sixers are a curious source of medical drama. Point guard Markelle Fultz apparently will be seeing a shoulder specialist to further diagnose whatever issue he is having with his shooting stroke.

Even still, Philadelphia sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and they just traded for Jimmy Butler. The NBA is a weird league, so having a Eastern Conference Finals-hopeful squad with these types of issues — I suppose — shouldn’t surprise us by now.