Rumor: No Lonzo (and no LaVar) Ball for the Spurs in potential Spurs-Lakers trade

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We don’t know where Kawhi Leonard will end up playing next season. NBA free agency is nearly upon us, and already it appears to be a game of musical chairs with nobody willing to be the one left standing up.

LeBron James is reportedly waiting to make his decision until it is determined where — if anywhere — Leonard will end up. The San Antonio Spurs are slow playing the rest of the league, waiting for the best offer after Leonard cut some of their leverage after prematurely leaking that he would like to leave the organization.

The Lakers have until 11:59 p.m. on Friday for James to opt in or out of his contract, which has implications about Los Angeles signing him outright or having to trade for him. Obviously LA would rather have James opt out, which would allow them to sign James. Trading for LeBron sort of takes the Lakers out of the Leonard sweepstakes financially.

The problem for Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka appears to be that the Spurs are uninterested in some of the current assets the Lakers have to offer. Last year’s No. 2 overall pick, Lonzo Ball, is not on San Antonio’s radar. The team reportedly wants nothing to do with the former UCLA point guard (or, presumably, his loudmouth father).

Via Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post:

The question now is whether the Lakers even have enough to convince the San Antonio Spurs to send Leonard there. With San Antonio believed to be uninterested in Lonzo Ball, the Lakers have three other intriguing young players — Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart — plus their future first-round picks to include in a deal.

In an attempt to sweeten the pot, multiple sources said the Lakers and Denver Nuggets are discussing a potential deal that would see Los Angeles take back bad money for a draft pick. The Nuggets, who will be deep into the luxury tax after re-signing restricted free agent center Nikola Jokic next month, have about $34 million in expiring contracts for Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur and Wilson Chandler to send out in possible deals.

Can you really blame the Spurs if this is the case? As a player, Ball had sort of a disappointing rookie season, although he wasn’t a lost case. Far from it — he will be one of many top-flight picks that simply need time to develop over the next several years.

However, Lonzo’s father LaVar Ball is another story. The plastic shoe-hawking, Facebook reality show-producing former College basketball player has introduced himself unnecessarily into just about every position he can as a means to create brand value for both him and his son. One would think playing for the Lakers would be enough to do that, but that was not the direction LaVar took over this last year.

If you are familiar with the ethos of the Spurs, it’s no surprise that they aren’t very interested in dealing with LaVar and the circus that he pays to follow him around. And, from a basketball perspective, the Spurs are already in a position to move on from Tony Parker at the guard spot. The team has Dejounte Murray and signed Patty Mills to a new four-year deal in 2017 that runs through 2020-21.

The takeaway here I think is twofold. First, because the Lakers have a timeline they would like to meet, it really plays into San Antonio’s hands, much better than you would expect given the fact that Leonard sort of killed their leverage. If they really are scrambling to find another first round pick they can ship over to Texas, that really supports the idea of the Spurs holding out and making everyone else sweat.

Second, if San Antonio gets what they really want out of this deal, which includes at least one good Lakers youngster plus a couple of first-round picks, we could be in for the first major rebuild the Spurs have undergone in a couple of decades. There has been chatter about LaMarcus Aldridge potentially being traded as well, which would mean at least another first round pick. That would put San Antonio in a position to build themselves back up through the draft, paired with some of the better young players they have, like Murray.

What the Spurs do from here on out is anyone’s guess, but they are handling the end of the Leonard situation with aplomb.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.

 

Cavaliers’ Dean Wade to miss 3-4 weeks due to shoulder injury

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In Cleveland’s search for a fifth starter to play the three next to Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, Dean Wade might be the best of the group. Not that the numbers are great for him or anyone (Cedi Osman is the best statistically) but the eye test makes one think Wade could be the answer.

We’ll have to wait a while to find out as Wade will be out 3-4 weeks with an AC joint sprain in his left shoulder, the Cavaliers announced. Friday night against the Magic he suffered an aggravation to a previous injury.

Wade has been a quality floor-spacer for the Cavaliers this season, shooting 41.1% from three, and is averaging 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds a game, playing a little more than 24 minutes a night.

When he returns, hopefully coach J.B. Bickerstaff will give him a little more run with the rest of the Cavaliers core (when they are healthy).