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


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.


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.

Malone’s message clear to Nuggets, ‘I don’t think we played well in Game 1’


DENVER — Game 1 was a coach’s dream in some ways for Michael Malone and the Nuggets staff.

They got three-quarters of dominating play — the Nuggets were up by 21 entering the fourth quarter — and they got the win. But they also have one quarter of struggling, sloppy play that gives Malone a valid reason to call guys out and have a candid film session.

“I don’t think we played well in Game 1,” Michael Malone said, despite his team picking up an 11-point victory. “I watched that tape, and they were 5-of-16 on wide-open threes. As I told our players this morning, the fact that they got 16 wide-open threes is problematic, and if you think that Max Strus is going to go 0-for-9 again or Duncan Robinson is going to go 1-for-5 again, you’re wrong. The fourth quarter, we gave up 30 points, 60% from the field, 50% from three, 6-of-12 from the three-point line.”

Malone added he thought the Nuggets offense struggled in the fourth quarter because they didn’t get stops so they were constantly going up against the Heat’s set defense.

“That fourth quarter, you know, we came out in the flat,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “We had a great looks at the basket, we just didn’t knock them down. But we want to get into our offense a little bit earlier than like :14 seconds on the clock and just play normal basketball, our basketball.”

It was all part of a theme Malone wanted to drive home: They are still three wins from a title and those will not be easy to get.

“I told our players today, don’t read the paper,” Malone said (do any of those 20-somethings get an old-school paper?) “Don’t listen to the folks on the radio and TV saying that this series is over and that we’ve done something, because we haven’t done a damn thing.”

There were positives for the Nuggets to take away from Game 1, particularly on the defensive end. Jokić, who does not have the reputation of a strong defender, played well on that end.

“I think when you see the last game, us against Miami, in the first three quarters, they score 65, 68 points [Ed. note: it was 63]. I think that’s really amazing,” Nikola Jokić said. “And then you can see the fourth quarter, they scored 30-something. When we are collectively really good, then I’m really good [defensively], too. But when we are collectively not good, I’m not really good.”

Jimmy Butler had praise for Jokic’s defense.

“He moves his feet well. He’s constantly making guys make decisions whenever they get into the paint. Then his outlet passes from a defensive rebound are very, very elite; that, he’s been doing his entire career,” Butler said. “As much as everybody looks at what he does on the offensive side of the ball, he’s a hell of a defender, as well.”

“I think overall, I think Nikola’s defense has been a real positive,” Malone said. “I think you have to get past the eye test with Nikola because I think most people just think of great defensive players as a guy who is blocking a shot or just making a great athletic play. Nikola does it differently. He has a tremendous IQ. He’s got great anticipation. He’s got unbelievable hands for deflections, blocks. He’s got unbelievable feet for deflections.”

In the postseason, the Nuggets have held their own in the non-Jokić minutes and that continued in Game 1 — the Nuggets were only -3 in the non-Jokić minutes in that game (-1 in the first half and -2 in the fourth quarter).

“Defense,” Aaron Gordon said of the focus in non-Jokić minutes. “So, when he’s sitting on the floor we need to lock in on defense. That’s probably the most important, crucial aspect of the non-Nikola Jokic minutes because that’s how we get our offense, as well.”

In its last couple of series, the other team had to be aggressive with adjustments because the Nuggets were forcing them to. The Finals may prove a little different, we could see some defensive tweaks early from the Nuggets.

Denver’s offense is going to get points, if its defense can be as good as Game 1, Malone is going to have to look hard to find things before the Game 3 film sessions.

Heat look for ways to make Nuggets uncomfortable in Game 2


DENVER — One thing was clear from Game 1 of the NBA Finals: The Nuggets are not going to assist in their own demise the way the Celtics and Bucks did against the Heat. When Miami made their fourth-quarter run Thursday, the Nuggets showed poise, got the ball to Nikola Jokić, and got the comfortable home win.

If Miami is going to win Game 2 and, eventually, this Finals series, they have to make Denver a lot more uncomfortable.

The Heat need to be the team applying pressure.

“I think I’ve got to be more aggressive putting pressure on the rim,” Jimmy Butler said, echoing his comments after Game 1 when he didn’t get to the free throw line once. “I think that makes everybody’s job a lot easier. They definitely follow suit whenever I’m aggressive on both sides of the ball. So I have to be the one to come out and kick that off the right way, which I will, and we’ll see where we end up.”

Jokić only had to defend two shots at the rim in Game 1. The Heat want that number to go up exponentially in Game 2. To a man Heat players discussed playing with more “intention” or “force” on Sunday.

It would also help if they hit their jumpers.

The Heat as a team were 5-of-16 on open 3-pointers (using the Second Spectrum tracking data). Max Strus, Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin combined to shoot 2-of-23 from 3 in Game 1.

“We did see some things that we liked and we got some great looks, myself included,” Strus said. “We’ve got to knock those down.”

“In terms of the shooters, that’s pretty simple. Let it fly. Ignite. Once they see two go down, it could be three, it could turn into six just like that,” Erik Spoelstra said, snapping his fingers, when asked what he told his shooters heading into Game 2. “As long as we are getting those clean looks, that’s what matters.”

One of those shooters, Martin, was not at practice due to an illness on Saturday, but he likely plays on Sunday.

Another shooter the Heat could use is Tyler Herro, but his status remains “unchanged,” Spoelstra said. Herro has been out since fracturing his hand in the first round of the playoffs, although he is nearing a return. Spoelstra would not rule out Herro for Game 2, but he wasn’t making it sound likely.

The hard part of making the Heat uncomfortable is slowing Jokić, and just as important is not letting the Jokić and Jamal Murray pick-and-roll get flowing. Heat players across the board talked about needing to tighten up on the defensive end as they adjust the off-ball movement and the more untraditional style of play the Nuggets use.

“I think it’s an opportunity to learn,” Robinson said of going against the Nuggets offense in Game 1. “You watch the film, go to school on it, try to take away some things that you did well, and then certainly learn from some things that you can do better. I think in that sense there are some encouraging aspects of it.”

One thing the Heat have done better than their opponents in every round is adjust — Miami got better faster than the teams they beat along the way to the Finals. That won’t be easy against a Nuggets team with a strong coach and a high-IQ MVP in Jokić.

Expect a much more aggressive Heat team in Game 2. Whether that is enough to make the Nuggets uncomfortable remains to be seen.

Coach, front office moves update: Pistons make Williams hiring official, Borrego or Stotts to Bucks bench?


There are far from settled across the NBA in both the coaching and front office circles, with news still leaking out daily. Here’s an update on things which have come to light in recent days.

• The Detroit Pistons made the hiring of Monty Williams official.

“A week ago, I was not sure what the future would hold,” Williams said in a statement, referencing reports he had planned to take a year away from coaching. “But, after talking with Tom [Gores, team principal owner] and Troy [Weaver, Pistons GM], I was excited hearing their vision for the Pistons going forward. They had a thoughtful plan and I am so appreciative of the emphasis they placed on the personal side of this business. They showed tremendous consideration for me and my family throughout this process.

“They also showed a commitment to success and doing things the right way,” he said. “As we discussed the team and expressed our collective goals, I realized that this would be a great opportunity for me to help a talented young team and build a strong culture here in Detroit. This is obviously a special place with a deep basketball history, and my family and I are looking forward to the opportunity to be a part of this city and organization.”

Williams has a six-year, $78.5 million contract with the team and that reportedly could grow to more than eight years, $100 million if incentives are hit. He was brought in to help build a culture of defense and discipline for a franchise with some nice young players but many questions.

• Kevin Ollie, the former NBA player and UConn coach who was in the mix for the Pistons’ job before Williams was hired, will be on the bench in Brooklyn next season.

• While Adrian Griffin has not officially signed his contract as the new Bucks head coach, he is sitting in on meetings running up to the draft and has essentially started the job, reports Eric Nehm and Shams Charania at The Athletic.

More interestingly, The Athletic reports the Bucks plan to put an experienced, veteran head coach next to the rookie Griffin, and are speaking to former Hornets head coach James Borrego and former Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. Bringing in an experienced staff to put around Griffin is the smart move, with what we saw this season with Joe Mazzulla in Boston as an example of why this is the smart path.

• The Wizards have hired former Hawks head of basketball operations Travis Schlenk to be the right-hand man next to new Wizards president Michael Winger. This is a quality hire. Schlenk was rumored to have questioned Atlanta’s trade for Dejounte Murray to put next to Trae Young — a move ownership wanted — and by mid-season he was pushed out the door. Having Winger and Schlenk in the Washington front office is a lot of brain power, the question remains will they be given true freedom by owner Ted Leonsis to make moves for the long term and not prioritize just making the playoffs? The Wizards have a big offseason coming up with questions about new contracts/extensions for Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis.

• Aaron Nelson, the training staff guru hired by the Pelicans away from the Suns in 2019 to help Zion Williamson and others, appears to be out of the mix in a restructured staff, reports Christian Clark at the Times-Picayune. Zion did not have a great relationship with Nelson, but the question is was Nelson the scapegoat for players issues beyond his control? From Clark’s article:

Williamson’s relationship with Nelson became strained during his rookie season. At different points, Williamson refused to work with him…

Brandon Ingram sat out 29 consecutive games with an injury the team described as a left toe contusion. Ingram kicked the back of a Memphis Grizzlies player’s foot in November. Two days after the injury, Pelicans coach Willie Green said Ingram was “day to day.” Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Ingram did not play again until Jan. 25 — exactly two months after hurting his toe…

Ingram has sometimes seemed unwilling to play through minor discomfort, to the point where some of his teammates have become frustrated with him over the past two years. The Pelicans thought they had solved their player care and performance problem by hiring Nelson. Four years later, Nelson’s time in charge of the department is over.

When the Pelicans have all their stars on the court, this is at the very least, a playoff team in the West and potentially a dangerous one. I’m not going to speculate on the internal dynamics of the Pelicans front office and training team, but after years of injury issues it’s fair to ask if this is a matter of the training staff, or is this on the players themselves?

Knicks’ Julius Randle undergoes ankle surgery, should return for training camp

2023 NBA Playoffs - 	New York Knicks v Miami Heat
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Knicks’ Julius Randle sprained his ankle with two weeks to go in the regular season. He returned from that in time to face the Cleveland Cavaliers and their massive front line in the playoffs, but he struggled in that series — 14.4 points a game on 33.8% shooting — and injured his ankle again in Game 5. He did make it back for the Heat series after missing Game 1 but was never fully himself.

Now, as he hinted at during the playoffs, Randle has undergone offseason arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Randle is expected to be ready for the start of training camp in the fall.

Randle had an All-NBA season, averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds a game, and was part of the reason, along with Jalen Brunson, the Knicks were the No. 5 seed in the East last season.

Randle’s name has come up in trade rumors, mostly with him going out if the Knicks get in the mix for a superstar who becomes available this offseason. If someone such as Karl-Anthony Towns or Bradley Beal hits the market and New York wants to be in play, sending out Randle — set to make $25.6 million this season, with two more seasons on the books after that — is the way to match salaries.

Randle should be healthy and ready for training camp for whatever team he is on come September.