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.

LeBron becomes oldest player with 39 points, 11 boards, seven 3-pointers (he’s also the youngest)

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The first question after LeBron James put up 21 and 8 to help the Lakers beat the Spurs Friday night was whether he would play in the back-to-back Saturday. He had just missed five games with a groin strain, after all.

Not only did LeBron play Saturday, he had a historic night.

LeBron had 39 points, 11 rebounds, and shot 7-of-12 from 3 — making him the oldest player in the history of the NBA with a 35+, 10+ with seven 3-pointer game.

The youngest player ever to put up that stat line? Also one LeBron James.

The 39 points were also the second most points ever scored by a player in his 20th NBA season, trailing only Kobe Bryant gunning his way to 60 in his final game.

The Lakers got the second straight win over the Spurs on Saturday behind LeBron, 143-138, a game more likely to be remembered for Zach Collins getting ejected for a foul that left Russell Westbrook bloody. The Lakers have won three straight and 5-of-6 but have done it against a very soft part of the schedule (three of the wins were over the tanking Spurs). Los Angeles beat the teams in front of it and started to show signs of life this season, but now they have to carry that over into a stretch against better teams, beginning Monday against the Pacers.

Watch Deandre Ayton put up 29 points, 21 rebounds, lead Suns past Jazz 113-112

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PHOENIX — There was much debate during the NBA offseason about whether Deandre Ayton was worth a max contract.

On nights like Saturday, the answer is a resounding yes.

Ayton notched season highs with 29 points and 21 rebounds, Devin Booker added 27 points and the Phoenix Suns held on for a hard-fought 113-112 win over the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz led 81-78 after three quarters, but the Suns pushed ahead 99-93 by midway through the fourth. The game remained tight through the final minutes, but Phoenix never lost the lead. On top of Ayton’s scoring and rebounding, he also had a crucial steal in the final minutes that helped thwart a final Jazz rally.

“I don’t know what he ate for Thanksgiving,” Booker said. “I should have been over there.”

Ayton grabbed his 21st rebound of the game on the final possession, securing Booker’s miss off a 3-pointer to keep the Jazz from a final possession. Ayton signed a four-year, $133 million deal during the offseason after the Suns matched an offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers.

“That young man has been coming to the gym at crazy hours, lifting with (coaches), so that he can be prepared for moments like this,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It’s just good to see the work pay off. It’s good to see him have monster games against really good teams on a back-to-back. That’s pretty impressive.”

Ayton was the first player to have at least 28 points and 20 rebounds in a game for the Suns since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2007. He shot 11 of 19 from the field and added three assists and two blocks.

“I want to do more, I feel like I can do more,” Ayton said. “I’m just trying to do what I can to contribute to my team.”

Curiously, the Jazz didn’t foul the Suns on their final possession, essentially allowing them to run out the clock. Utah coach Will Hardy said the last play simply didn’t unfold like the team expected and there was some miscommunication.

“We wanted to get the ball out of Booker’s hands, and then foul,” Hardy said.

Ayton scored a season high for the second straight night. He poured in 28 points against the Pistons in a 108-102 win on Friday. Booker had a tough night shooting, making just 8 of 27 shots.

Utah was one of the NBA’s surprise teams in the first few weeks of the season, starting with a 10-3 record. The Jazz are just 3-7 since that point.

“One game, one stretch of the season doesn’t define your season,” Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk said. “You’ve got to go through ups-and-downs. Adversity – learn from it and come out the other side better for it.”

The Suns have an 11-1 record at home this season and have won four straight games.

Jordan Clarkson scored 22 points for the Jazz. Collin Sexton added 20 while Lauri Markkanen had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The Jazz had a 54-51 lead at halftime. Clarkson led the Jazz with 12 points while Ayton had 11 points and seven rebounds.

Watch Spurs Collins bloody Russell Westbrook with a foul, get ejected

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs
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Jakob Poeltl was dominating the paint, scoring 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting with nine rebounds in 10 minutes, and giving the Lakers serious trouble. Then he had to leave the game with a sore quad, meaning Zach Collins would get more run.

Collins was ejected for a flagrant foul 2 on Russell Westbrook that left the Lakers guard bloodied. Westbrook bounced back up and LeBron James had to hold him back from going after Collins.

Collins plans to appeal the ejection he said after the game.

Collins will face a fine or suspension from the league, although he doesn’t have a history of this kind of foul, something the league takes into consideration. Westbrook also got a technical for going after Collins.

The Lakers went on to beat the Spurs 143-138, behind 39 points from LeBron James. It’s the second time the Lakers have defeated the Spurs in three days, the kind of wins over tanking teams the Lakers need if they are going to turn their season around.

Watch Victor Wembanyama drop 30-point double-double in France

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Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.

In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.

That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.

He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.

Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.