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PBT Mailbag: LeBron is definitely going to the Lakers, right?

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Free agency is almost upon us, and almost everyone thinks that it’s going to be sort of boring. It’s never good when the two biggest guys around the league — LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard — are talking about waiting each other out, but I’m not so sure it’s going to be all that bad. Meanwhile, Paul George is talking about staying put in Oklahoma City, which is great for Thunder fans when it comes to the win column but bad for Clay Bennett’s wallet.

The coolest thing that could have happened — LeBron going to Philly — is now a long shot, so I’m not sure what there is to look forward to. I guess if you’re a Lakers fan you are excited that you might finally get a big-time free agent. Then again, that realization has to come attached to the fact that one of the reasons LA never really got a bunch of free agents was explicitly because of Kobe Bryant.

The NBA has been wild during the offseason for the past few years, often surpassing the excitement of the regular season itself. That’s a good track record, so I’m not willing to rule out the idea that free agency this year could still be pretty fun. That’s even considering how boring the draft itself was.

Meanwhile, you all have questions about the team in your neck of the woods and who is going where, so let’s try to suss some of that out.

Submit your questions to the mailbag for next week by e-mailing pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

Let’s get to your questions.

John C

What is the Over/Under date on when LeBron informs the Cavs of his future plans?

There’s really not a rush for LeBron James to make a decision this summer. His opt-in date to take his current salary and thus be eligible to get traded to a team like the Houston Rockets is Friday June 29th. Outside of that, he doesn’t need to be hasty in his decision. The entire league is waiting around for him to make his choice, and there isn’t a lot of power on the other side of the table, whomever it may be.

So many NBA teams are capped out this season that the mid-level exception will become a powerful tool for teams that aren’t pressing their luck with the luxury tax. Meanwhile, only a few teams really have cap space and the enticing roster situation that LeBron wants. He knows who those teams are, and it really is about making that decision for him and his family.

It’s easy to say that LeBron has likely already chosen his destination, but the NBA season is such a cluster that it really did need to end for him to soundly decide from all of his options. No doubt LeBron has needed the time since the Finals ended to seriously choose between the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, and Philadelphia 76ers.

Obviously free agency starts on July 1st, but I think this year will play a bit slower than we are used to. I don’t think we see some 12:01 AM announcement that LeBron has verbally chosen LA. Then again, the biggest free agent decisions of the year also won’t necessarily impact the rest of the league. So many teams will be angling for some of those mid-level type of guys that LeBron’s decision (or where Kawhi Leonard goes) might not create as much as a sequential effect we’ve seen in years past.

The chatter has been that everyone is going to get to enjoy their July 4th festivities in peace, although as Kurt pointed out this week that has rarely been the case.

I am setting the over-under date at 12:01 AM July 5th. I’m not sure if that means we know that LeBron has actually verbally agreed to sign with a team (remember the moratorium is still in effect until July 6) or we just get reports that his decision has been made. I think either counts, and I don’t think he will jump the gun on informing the Cavaliers ahead of time either way.

Daniel V

Hello Dane, would it be tampering if I proposed a deal for a certain man from Akron in this weeks mailbag, and he responded with a counter in the next mailbag? Asking for a friend named Tragic.

This question really plays to my ego as it makes me seriously consider how many times Top 10 NBA stars read the words I write every week. I’ve been in the game long enough and know what kind of pageviews I’ve gathered over my career in sports journalism, and I think the numbers really play to my advantage. Plus, you have to understand how obvious it is that players read just about everything on social media and across websites like ours. They’re so bad at hiding that fact. Like, LeBron saying that he doesn’t pay attention to social media during the playoffs is complete nonsense. That guy knows every single new meme that’s come out over the last three months. He’s also definitely read my columns about, I don’t know, Evan Turner.

I think you’re in the clear as a fan per NBA rules. It’s not like the NCAA, where sending one tweet to a college football recruit will get you a three-year bowl ban. I think you are more than allowed to offer to any player you want to through this medium. Whether they would be allowed to respond via NBA rules is another question.

Plus, there is no way for us to verify whether an NBA player was actually the person responding. We would have to keep things anonymous, but that makes things hard to verify. If any agent wants to reach out to us here at Pro Basketball Talk, we of course have journalistic integrity and will protect our sources. Could I negotiate via proxy Will Barton’s new contract? It’s worth a shot. Get at me.

Josh B

Who does LA land?

Statistically? Nobody. Historically the Lakers have really struck out on guys who have been rumored to want to head to the City of Angels. That was mostly for one reason, that dudes didn’t want to play in Kobe Bryant’s shadow.

Now that Kobe has retired it does make the Lakers a more hospitable place to play basketball. I’m not sure I personally buy into the idea of needing to be in a market like Los Angeles unless you have very specific career aspirations. Even when it comes to LeBron, I don’t think living somewhere else would prevent him from being able to star and produce “Blue Chips 2: Slush Money” or whatever it is he wants to do. This is 2018, he can charter a private jet and fly to Los Angeles in a few hours if he wants to. Thanks to transportation and technology, distances state-to-state have shrunk greatly.

But if you are like Kawhi Leonard or Paul George and want to play close to home (allegedly) more power to you. Then again, “homeward bound” rumors also usually don’t pan out. The NBA is about money, and whoever offers the most usually scores the stars, at least within reason.

I don’t think there is a way for Leonard to end up in Los Angeles, especially if LeBron is waiting his turn. That’s just not something that the Spurs are going to do unless the offer is too good to pass up. George seems to be wavering, and he might stay in Oklahoma City. So I will say the answer is LeBron, just because there aren’t that many teams who can actually sign him outright and his time in Cleveland seems to be over.

Man, LeBron on the Lakers is going to be so wack.

Vince Q

Say the Sixers dont land any big names, who’s a good mid tier fit?

I think it depends on what you consider a big name.

The Sixers have tons of cap space to burn, but if they don’t get LeBron it’s not as though there are many guys out there on the market. Remeber, next summer is the big leagues. Players like Paul George aren’t out there in spades, and even then PG himself appears ready to perhaps go back to OKC.

Honestly, the thing that seems to make sense the most for Philadelphia with their cap space, specifically with regard to a mid-tier or impactful type of talent, is to re-sign JJ Redick. That team needs shooting, and he was valuable for them last year not only as a veteran presence and 3-point specialist, but as a dribbler as well.

Brett Brown put Redick in a situation last year to dribble more than he did in prior seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, and I think he was good at making decisions for them off the dribble and opening up the shooting lanes for others.

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I also think Philly needs to bolster their frontline a little bit just as an injury buffer for Joel Embiid. It’s been suggested that the Sixers could go after guys like Brook Lopez, but the talent pool at center is deep this summer in the NBA and extends all the way down to guys like Kyle O'Quinn. It’s hard to predict what Philadelphia will do given they don’t have a general manager at this time, but they will need to be measured this offseason if they swing-and-miss on big names, if only so they don’t have a domino effect after the firing of Bryan Colangelo.

Jason

What incentive do the Clippers have to deal DeAndre Jordan and what would they want from Mavericks?

The only real incentive to move Jordan for the Clippers is to clear cap space and make way for the tank. Helping a Western Conference foe is never the goal of a rival. Likewise, it’s not as though Dallas has much to send back in return.

Zach Lowe said on his podcast this week that he thought it made the most sense for them to simply accept a trade exception, and I tend to agree with that sentiment. Some teams will be willing trade partners, taking on bad contracts in exchange for draft picks as they try to actively be bad for the next few years. With Doc Rivers, I’m not sure the Clippers are in that same mode. They would rather open up cap space and try to make way for the fabled summer of 2019, when more teams will have money and lots of big name free agents will be on the market. If a deal gets done between the Clippers and the Mavericks, that will be the impetus behind it.

Nick S

Portland: What the hell are we doing?

Portland is doing the same thing they always do: Play it smarter than everybody in the room while publicly acting as though the real world limitations on the team aren’t hampering them.

Neil Olshey said that it wasn’t their job to play things safe, which looks sort of hilarious given Portland whiffed on their main goal during the 2018 NBA Draft. The Blazers wanted to bring in a veteran player on the wing with their draft selection and whatever other assets they could dangle via trade. They weren’t able to get that done, and ended up having to select Anfernee Simons with the 24th overall pick. He’s a long-term plan to replace Shabazz Napier, or perhaps bolster their guard rotation if the unthinkable happens and they have to trade one of Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum.

The reality is that there’s not much to be done. Olshey hamstrung Portland with a series of bad contracts in 2016, largely led by Evan Turner. Now that the rest of the league has also had their cap space locked up by poor deals, the big wait is for 2019. The Blazers are in the same boat as everyone else, and they will need to wait to make drastic moves until other teams have cap space open up or until their own bad contracts run out.

Meanwhile, the best case scenario for the Blazers is largely one that we all have heard before. Moe Harkless needs to play up to his potential, perhaps the biggest swing for Portland outside of the re-signing of Ed Davis. Harkless, when he is in a good mental place, plays above his $10 million-a-year contract. When he is down in the dumps, he’s welded to the bench and not worth the roster spot.

There is a small nugget for Blazers fans here though. Jusuf Nurkic turned down a giant contract at the end of last year, a blessing in disguise given how he played over the course of this season. It’s possible his agent will help Nurkic negotiate a short-term contract this offseason with Portland at a more palatable number moving forward. Much has been made about how that’s good news for Nurkic, who will get to try for another big contract before he’s 30. But a shorter Nurkic contract also gives Portland some flexibility moving forward. Paul Allen is going to pay the luxury tax if the team is good and contending, so Nurkic’s next big contract isn’t that scary for the Blazers. They just need to duck the repeater. Meanwhile, if Nurkic doesn’t realize his potential, Portland can bail. It’s win-win.

Submit your questions to the mailbag for next week by e-mailing pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.