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Report: Lakers trying to start superstar dominoes with Kawhi Leonard, because LeBron hesitant to be first

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants to join the Lakers. A lot of people are convinced LeBron James will sign with the Lakers. Paul George has openly expressed his desire to play for the Lakers.

Those stars could form a core capable of challenging the Warriors. But if only one of LeBron and George signs in Los Angeles and the Spurs won’t trade Leonard there, that lone Laker could be stuck on a middling team still too young to compete.

Who will blink first?

Adrian Wojnarowski, Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

As LeBron James remains hesitant to be the first superstar to decide on the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency, pressure is mounting for the Lakers front office to execute a trade with the San Antonio Spurs to acquire disgruntled All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard, league sources told ESPN.

There’s a race to secure Leonard before James is faced with deciding whether to become a free agent on Friday, especially with concern that Oklahoma City’s Paul George is no longer assured of signing with the Lakers, league sources said.

Another preference by James that could impact free agency, league sources said, is that he wants to make a decision quickly in July free agency.

Hope for the LeBron-Kawhi-Paul super team remains alive. But it’s contingent on the Spurs, and San Antonio has rebuffed the Lakers’ inquiries. However, according to this report, the Spurs are willing to trade Leonard to any team – but are also taking their time. Would they deal Leonard before LeBron decides on his next team?

The Lakers – with Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart – have the assets to spur action (pun intended). Even if San Antonio doesn’t like those particular players, the overall value could be about right. A third team could take a Laker and send the Spurs a preferable player or draft pick.

If Los Angeles gets Leonard, that’d open the door for LeBron. And would George really turn down an opportunity to play on his hometown team with LeBron and Leonard?

But if the Lakers can’t get Leonard, maybe LeBron goes elsewhere. His player-option deadline is Friday, and that’s his last, best opportunity to join the Rockets. He could also opt out and re-sign with the Cavaliers or sign with the 76ers or any other team. At that point, George might just prefer to stay with the Thunder.

The Lakers are at the center of the NBA universe once again, and their success or failure here will alter the entire league landscape. The stakes are high, and time is running out.

Knicks say they scouted Giannis Antetokounmpo in Greece

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s agent, Giorgos Panou, said the Knicks were the only team not to scout Antetokounmpo in Greece before the 2013 NBA draft.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

If the Knicks indeed scouted Antetokounmpo that thoroughly, it’s a shame they were smeared for not doing so.

Milwaukee took Antetokounmpo No. 13. New York had the No. 24 pick and kept it to draft Tim Hardaway Jr.

Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma scores 35, wins MVP, leads USA to victory in Rising Stars dunkfest

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CHARLOTTE — Nobody comes to the Friday night Rising Stars Challenge — the All-Star weekend showcase of first- and second-year stars — for the defense. Which is good, because there isn’t any. Zero. Nada. Your Saturday blacktop pickup game at the local park has guys that care more about defense than you see in this game.

What the Rising Stars has are dunks. A lot of big dunks. And some threes. Then more dunks.

For example, the Hawks’ John Collins was showing off why he was in the dunk contest, complete with a pass off the backboard to himself.

As for the game itself, the USA won 161-144 over the World.

The Lakers Kyle Kuzma raced out to 23 first-half points and finished with 35 to earn MVP honors.

“Last year I didn’t really play that hard,” Kuzma said of his first time in this game. “This year I just came out, one, I wanted to get some conditioning, and, two, why not MVP? You’re in the game. So might as well just try.”

Kuzma also broke out the windmill.

D’Aaron Fox said before the game he wanted to break the assist record for the Rising Stars, and while he fell short of that number he had 16 for the USA. Boston’s Jayson Tatum had 30 and Donovan Mitchell had 20 for the USA. Ben Simmons led the Word team of 28 points.

As for highlights, there were plenty.

Atlanta’s Trae Young hit six threes and had this dime.

He also had the play of the night, nutmegging Deandre Ayton.

Philly’s Ben Simmons had a couple of throwdowns.

The Timberwolves Josh Okogie had the putback of the night (teammate and All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns sat courtside wearing an Okogie jersey).

Hawks’ John Collins passes to self off backboard for dunk in Rising Stars

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CHARLOTTE — The NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge — the Friday night showcase of first- and second-year players during All-Star Weekend — has less defense than your lunch run pickup game at the Y. Even less than the All-Star Game itself.

Which leads to some monster dunks.

Enter Atlanta’s second-year big man John Collins, playing for the USA (vs. The World), who went off the backboard to himself for the best throwdown of the game.

That wasn’t Collins’ only quality dunk in this game.

He looks ready for Saturday’s Dunk Contest.

Report: Nuggets extend president Tim Connelly’s contract

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On the same day the Pelicans fired general manager Dell Demps, the Nuggets extended the contract of president Tim Connelly, who went to Denver from New Orleans.

Nuggets release:

Nuggets President and Governor Josh Kroenke announced today that the Nuggets have extended the contracts of President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and General Manager Arturas Karnisovas as well and also provided multi-year extensions for the entire basketball operations staff.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I don’t know whether Connelly used the threat of the Pelicans job as leverage. But he deserved this extension, anyway.

The Nuggets have only continued to rise since his previous extension three years ago.

Denver has yet to make the playoffs under Connelly, and he declared this season postseason or bust. Denver (39-18) is second in the Western Conference.

Connelly made a second-round pick so good in Nikola Jokic, it altered the course of the franchise. Connelly has done well to lock Jokic onto a five-year extension, surround him with young talent like Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez and get them a good coach in Michael Malone.

If Denver weren’t stuck barely missing the playoffs in the loaded West the last couple years, we might have been singing Connelly’s praises sooner. But his success is undeniable. The Nuggets are in great shape now and in the future, and Connelly should see that through.