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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.

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.