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.

LaVar Ball denies leaking Lonzo Ball’s knee injury

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The Lakers reportedly believe someone in Lonzo Ball‘s camp leaked his knee injury to depress his trade value and keep him in Los Angeles.

So, of course, speculation turned to his media-savvy father who has a major financial interest in maintaining footing in the Los Angeles market.

LaVar Ball, via TMZ:

“I don’t leak nothing. I always say what’s on my mind, so you don’t never see me saying, ‘I think I should say this now and let it leak.’ I don’t do that.”

It would be more in-character for LaVar just to announce Lonzo’s knee injury or – especially now that the Lakers are publicly acknowledging Lonzo’s need for surgery – brag now about his maneuvering. So, maybe he wasn’t behind this.

But it still could have been someone else in Lonzo’s camp, with or without LaVar’s knowledge.

The Balls don’t need to apologize if they disclosed Lonzo’s injury. It’s his knee. He can say what he wants about it, however it affects the Lakers.

But these accusations and subsequent denials certainly don’t signal a strong relationship between the team and player.

Bucks unprecedentedly squander value of a No. 2 pick (Jabari Parker)

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I rated Jabari Parker No. 1 on my 2014 NBA draft board – which obviously turned out wrong.

I was wrong about Parker’s position. I thought he’d be a small forward, but he’s clearly more of a power forward in the modern NBA.

I was wrong about his fit with the Bucks, who drafted him No. 2 (behind Andrew Wiggins, the other player in my top tier that year). Giannis Antetokounmpo has blossomed into a star worth building around, and his pairing with Parker has been unfulfilling at best.

I mainly just wrong about Parker’s ability to produce in the NBA. He has twice torn his ACL. He’s a high-usage offensive player who has improved his 3-pointer and passing (at least when healthy). His defense has been lousy, save one game in last year’s playoffs.

But that doesn’t mean pre-draft evaluations should be completely discarded.

Parker is just 23. He’s still trying to find himself in the NBA. The work ethic that helped build him into the No. 2 pick hasn’t necessarily vanished. (By some accounts, it has only hardened.) The perimeter skills that made me see a small forward could be waiting to emerge in full force once he gets healthy and improves his feel.

The last four years should count more than anything else. But completely ignoring his time at Duke and even prior would be foolish. Assessing Parker’s entire record is the optimal way to evaluate him.

And Parker’s entire record makes him a clear candidate for the “second draft,” a term popularized by John Hollinger. Second-draft players were selected high in the actual draft, didn’t pan out with their original team and maybe could use a change of scenery.

Parker will get that with the Bulls, who signed him to a two-year, $40 million contract.

And the Bucks will get nothing.

That’s unprecedented for a No. 2 pick in this draft era.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement gives teams massive control over players drafted in the first round.

A first-round pick, unless he waits three years to sign, is bound to a rookie scale with relatively low salaries. The contract is four years with two team options. The team gets exclusive negotiating rights on an extension after the third year. If no extension is struck and the player completes the four-year deal, the team can make him a restricted free agent, which often chills his market.

Essentially, the drafting team gets first crack of the player panning out on the court. If he doesn’t, the drafting team often holds enough leverage to get value from him another way.

That’s especially true with high first-round picks.

The higher-picked a player was, the more likely other teams also coveted him, the more suitors likely in a “second draft.” A team with a highly picked bust still on his rookie-scale contract can often still trade him.

The Cavaliers traded Anthony Bennett in the Kevin Love deal. Though that was probably mostly about using Bennett’s salary for matching, the Timberwolves certainly didn’t mind getting someone only one year removed from being the No. 1 pick. And, at minimum, Bennett’s salary was useful.

The Pistons traded Darko Milicic to the Magic for the first-round pick that became Rodney Stuckey. Even after two-plus seasons of Milicic struggling, Orlando still had hope the former No. 2 pick would realize his potential.

The Wizards and former No. 1 pick Kwame Brown were so fed up with each other in 2005, Washington suspended him in the playoffs and described it as mutual. But the Wizards still extended Brown’s qualifying offer that summer and used the threat of matching to land Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers.

It is not hard to get something for a high draft pick before his fifth season. But Milwaukee failed in that regard.

The former No. 2 pick, Parker is the highest-drafted player to leave his original team high and dry in free agency at the conclusion of his rookie-scale contract since 1998, when the NBA instituted four-year rookie-scale contracts.

Just five other top-five picks have left their original team via free agency that quickly in that span:

Mario Hezonja (No. 5 pick in 2015)

The Magic declined Hezonja’s fourth-year option, and he signed with the Knicks in unrestricted free agency this summer.

O.J. Mayo (No. 3 pick in 2008)

After four up-and-down seasons with the Grizzlies, Mayo didn’t receive a qualifying offer. He signed with the Mavericks then spent three years with the Bucks. He’s currently banned from the NBA.

Shaun Livingston (No. 4 pick in 2004)

Livingston blew out his knee in his third season, missed his entire fourth season then didn’t even receive his qualifying offer from the Clippers. He bounced around a few years before finding a niche on the Warriors.

Marcus Fizer (No. 4 pick in 2000)

Fizer underwhelmed in four seasons with the Bulls, to the point they left him unprotected in the 2004 expansion draft. Charlotte selected him, which made him an unrestricted free agent, and he signed with Milwaukee. After a season with the Bucks then a couple 10-day contracts the following year, Fizer fell out of the league.

Lamar Odom (No. 4 pick in 1999)

Odom signed a six-year, $65 million offer sheet with the Heat in restricted free agency. The Clippers declined to match. Odom spent a season in Miami then was the centerpiece of the Heat’s trade for Shaquille O’Neal. Odom stuck in Los Angeles and helped the Lakers win a couple titles.

Unlike the Clippers with Odom, the Bucks never officially declined to match an offer sheet for Parker. Milwaukee actually rescinded Parker’s qualifying offer, allowing him to sign directly with Chicago.

That was mostly a favor to Parker, whom the Bucks seemed content to part with. Hard-capped after signing Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee would have had to dump salary to match and almost certainly wasn’t going to.

But rescinding the qualifying offer also allowed the Bulls to include a team option in the second year of Parker’s contract. Offer sheets must be for at least two seasons (not counting options). If forced to sign an on offer sheet, Chicago and Parker could have made the second season unguaranteed, and it would have been mostly similar. But a team option – which doesn’t require Parker to clear waivers if declined – was preferable to both him and the Bulls.

That Milwaukee allowed a division rival to get Parker on more-favorable terms speaks volumes. That’s how little the Bucks value Parker at this point. They’d rather be nice to him than hinder a nearby foe’s acquisition of him.

What if the Bucks kept Parker’s qualifying offer in place? Would the Bulls have just signed him to an offer sheet with an unguaranteed second season with the expectation Milwaukee wouldn’t match? Would Chicago have engaged the Bucks on a sign-and-trade to ensure getting Parker (though players signed-and-traded must get at least a three-year contract)?

What if the Bucks hadn’t hard-capped themselves by rushing to sign Ilyasova? How much more leverage would have held?

Perhaps, most significantly, what if Milwaukee just traded Parker last season? It was easy to see this situation coming.

Parker played just a few games before the trade deadline, but he at least proved he could get back on the court. And his performance since then was totally in line with projections – and led to a contract that pays $20 million next season. No team would have sent the Bucks a small asset for Parker last February?

The optics would have been bad, Milwaukee dealing a former No. 2 pick for peanuts. But that’s better than losing him for nothing now. The Bucks don’t even gain cap space, as they’re already well over.

Maybe Milwaukee didn’t get any offers before the trade deadline that were better than keeping Parker for the rest of the season and hoping – even against the odds – everything would work out. Maybe pleasing Parker’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, carries more importance than getting value from Parker directly. Maybe the Bucks will be better off with Ilyasova.

But it’s worth recognizing this is a unique way to turn a No. 2 pick into nothing in just four years.

Fight involving Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker caught on video

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Devin Booker was upset with the Suns for waiving Tyler Ulis without first telling the franchise player.

Want a glimpse of their bond?

Watch this 2017 video, recently published by TMZ:

TMZ:

We’re told Tyler was trying to hold the elevator for his friends when another group of guys tried to get on.

When Tyler continued to hold it … they took offense and a scuffle broke out.

A short time later, Ulis’ friends — including Suns superstar Booker — took the elevator to the scene of the fight and found the men who attacked Ulis. Another fight broke out, Ulis threw punches.

Booker — who covered his face with a bandana — does not appear to hit anyone.

azcentral:

The Suns say they are looking into the incident.

TMZ:

A source close to the Suns administration tells us, “While these guys know they are always potential targets for others trying to cause trouble, it’s hard to blame them for defending their friend who is on the bad end of a 4 on 1 attack.”

It sounds as if the Suns have already made up their mind and are saying they’re looking into the incident because that’s what they’re supposed to say.

Ulis – who was at the heart of the fight – is already gone. Booker, who signed a max extension this month, was involved but not much more than that.

The Suns should investigate further to better understand the situation, but based on that video and report, it’s hard to see anything for the team to do at this point.

Reversing reported course, Clippers fully guarantee Milos Teodosic’s salary

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The Clippers reportedly wanted to move on from point guard Milos Teodosic.

Teodosic opted in anyway, guaranteeing $2.1 million of his $6.3 million salary. Why not get as much money as possible on the way out?

But apparently Teodosic isn’t leaving L.A., as his contract became fully guaranteed yesterday.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The Clippers are expected to keep guard Milos Teodosic despite their crowded backcourt, according to an NBA official not authorized to speak publicly.

The Clippers traded guard Austin Rivers for center Marcin Gortat since the initial report, but that hardly ended the backcourt logjam. Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Lou Williams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, C.J. Williams and Jawun Evans remain at guard.

The bigger logjam is with the overall roster, though. The Clippers now have 17 players on standard contracts, two more than the regular-season limit. That doesn’t bode well for Williams, whose salary is unguaranteed. Without another trade, Evans or Sindarius Thornwell could get cut.

Why the change of heart on Teodosic? Perhaps, he’s progressing better than expected medically. The 31-year-old missed 37 games last season with a foot injury, and there was concern about his long-term health. But when on the court, he’s a dazzling passer and long-distance shooter. Being slowed won’t help his already-woeful defense, though.

The Clippers were already over the cap, and they’re in little danger of entering the luxury tax. So, the only costs of guaranteeing Teodosic are owner Steve Ballmer’s real money, a roster spot and him potentially blocking playing time of L.A.’s lottery-pick guards. But the Clippers could even cut Teodosic in the preseason if someone else emerges as more deserving of the roster spot, and Doc Rivers can choose whether to play Teodosic or Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson.

So, the biggest development is the roster spot. Teodosic is now extremely likely to hold it into the season, which means monitoring who gets dripped.