Lakers looking long-term — or at least to 2019 — in building with LeBron

22 Comments

When LeBron James started winning rings and at least making it to the Finals every year (eight and counting) coincided with when he took charge of his own destiny and got into team building.

He chose to break with tradition and partner up with two other stars — Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — down in Miami. It was a move changed the landscape of the NBA. When the Heat situation no longer worked for him, LeBron went home again and pushed for roster moves he wanted — starting with moving Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love — and it all led to the four trips to the Finals and the first title for the city of Cleveland in more than five decades.

Now LeBron comes to Los Angeles — however, the process with the Lakers is not going to be as fast. It will take a little patience.

Heading into free agency there was no doubt LeBron James wanted to be a Laker, but plenty of people in the league were not convinced he would go on his own — he’d want another superstar player to come first. L.A. had to set up a team that could win right now because LeBron at age 33 was not going to wait around. Everyone knew LeBron plus the existing Lakers core is not going to be enough in the brutal West.

LeBron once again defied expectations and jumped in with both feet — he agreed to a four-year, $154 million contract with the Lakers.

Now it becomes about team building in Los Angeles.

That building starts with LeBron trusting Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka in a way he never trusted Dan Gilbert and the Cavaliers organization — he gave the Lakers four years (three plus one year with a player option, technically). In Cleveland, it was a series of one-year deals, and even when they won a championship it was only two years. He never gave up leverage, he pushed them as an organization (with mixed results). In Los Angeles, he planted a flag for the long haul.

How is this Lakers team going to get built? Patience not rushed decisions. This is not just a summer of 2018 project, lining up the right players to contend will stretch into 2019. At least.

Kawhi Leonard is the first name to come up — and make no mistake, LeBron would love to have the Spurs’ Finals MVP on the wing. If healthy, Leonard is exactly the kind of running mate LeBron needs to start to threaten Golden State — an elite switchable defender who can hit threes and create off the dribble. Leonard is an MVP-level player when right.

However, the Spurs want to extract the best price they can for surrendering their best player. As they should. San Antonio is not going to move fast, and they want to drag multiple teams into a bidding war — Philadelphia wants to play, Boston is on the fringes, and the Spurs are trying to lure them in. San Antonio is going to slow play this.

The Lakers are not waiting around. Los Angeles doesn’t feel the pressure to land Leonard to get LeBron. The sides will keep talking, but a trade that guts the L.A. roster of young players isn’t mandatory to get the big prize. Los Angeles has what it most wanted.

Instead, the Lakers’ moves in the wake of signing LeBron show a team thinking about the summer of 2019. Everything has been one-year deals — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (for $12 million), Lance Stephenson ($4.4 million room exception), and JaVale McGee (for the minimum). Those are players who can help the Lakers compete now but who do not carry salaries over into next summer.

That summer of 2019 is when a host of free agents come up: Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Eric Bledsoe, and Kemba Walker are the biggest names, plus guys such as Kevin Love and Al Horford have player options. Anyone who comes on the market, the Lakers can be in the mix to land if they so choose.

The Lakers are also positioned to go after any player who becomes available in a trade — the Lakers have a nice young core that can be moved for the right star.

That young core is excited about LeBron to the Lakers.

Now comes the harsh light of evaluation on those players — which ones can help win a title for the Lakers, and which ones are out. The days of patient evaluation and growth measurement are over in a lot of ways, it’s about winning and winning big. Can Brandon Ingram help with that? Lonzo Ball? Kyle Kuzma?

Julius Randle could be back with the Lakers on a one-year deal, or if he signs the qualifying offer because there are not other offers out there (it’s a very tight market), but the Lakers are not sacrificing their cap space for anyone.

Flexibility is the buzzword for Los Angeles going forward. That and patience.

The Lakers trust that the combined gravity of playing with LeBron and the Lakers’ brand/market is going to bring in star players. LeBron has bet on that as well. It’s just not going to be instantaneous. Maybe the best options pop up this summer (Leonard). Maybe it’s something unexpected closer to the trade deadline. Maybe it’s the summer of 2019. Whatever it is, the Lakers have left themselves the flexibility to go after it and make it happen.

LeBron is back in the business of team building — and this could be his most legacy-defining building project to date. But now he has a partner.

While his brother spars online with Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins takes up fight with Stephen Jackson

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Leave a comment

Jimmy Butler lit a fuse by requesting a trade from the Timberwolves.

Then, Andrew Wiggins‘ brother, Butler, Stephen Jackson and Wiggins himself all fanned the flames of the resulting fire.

Butler reportedly had problems with Andrew Wiggins last season, specifically Wiggins’ work ethic and defensive approach. Want corroborating evidence the Minnesota teammates aren’t simpatico? Wiggins’ brother, Nick Wiggins, tweeted (and deleted) “Hallelujah” to news of Butler’s trade request:

Butler – probably not coincidentally while working out – responded via Instagram:

Butler:

Hallelujah, keep that same energy

Then the retired Jackson acted out an elaborate scene in which Andrew – played by Jackson – copped to having no heart:

The real Andrew Wiggins didn’t like that and posted on Instagram:

Jackson responded:

If he didn’t like Butler giving him grief, Wiggins darned sure isn’t ready for heat from Jackson.

Mark Cuban explains some, though not all, of his role in Mavericks’ hostile work environment (video)

AP Photo/Ron Jenkins
1 Comment

As a result of the investigation into his team’s hostile work environment, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will donate $10 million “organizations that are committed to supporting the leadership and development of women in the sports industry and combating domestic violence.” The Mavericks will also report to the NBA on structural changes to their organization.

And Cuban showed accountability by granting an interview to Rachel Nichols of ESPN:

I appreciate Cuban sitting for this interview with Nichols, who grilled him. I appreciate him apologizing to the actual victims. I appreciate him taking responsibility for the wrongdoing that happened beneath him. I appreciate him explaining what he did wrong and what he learned. I appreciate him, along with Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall, explaining the changes they’re making to rectify the situation.

But, though he explained his logic and subsequent lesson from handling Earl Sneed’s domestic violence, Cuban gave no real answer to how he let former CEO Terdema Ussery – found to be an serial sexual harasser – remain in power for 15 years. Taking Cuban at his word – that he was blind to the sexual harassment prevalent in the Mavericks business office – means shattering his image as a great businessman. The sharp and in-charge owner Cuban presented himself as would never grant Ussery such unchecked power for so long. “If I was in our business office five times in 15 years, that was a lot,” Cuban told Nichols. “I mean, it’s embarrassing to say.”

And that’s the benign explanation. Embarrassing is nothing compared to the alternative – that Cuban was as involved as he portrayed, which would mean he knew about Ussery’s misconduct and excused it. The choices are that Cuban’s first-rate businessman image was fraudulent or that he’s directly complicit in Ussery’s sexual harassment.

More than anything, hopefully Cuban has truly learned how not to repeat his prior errors.

Report: Clippers emerging as frontrunner to sign Kawhi Leonard

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
4 Comments

Does Kawhi Leonard prefer the Clippers or Lakers in 2019 free agency? Reports have been mixed, though credible journalists have increasingly favored the Clippers since LeBron James signed with the Lakers. Yet, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN held out on the Lakers being Leonard’s top choice.

Now – with Jimmy Butler reportedly preferring a trade to the Clippers – Wojnarowski appears to be coming around on the Clippers.

Wojnarowski:

The Clippers have two max contract slots available in July, and are emerging as a front-runner for Toronto’s All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard when he becomes a free agent in July, league sources said.

Leonard and Butler would form a tantalizing tandem.

Butler reportedly wants to showcase himself in a big city while Leonard seemingly wants both to be in Los Angeles but remain out of the spotlight. Together, maybe they could both get what they want.

Though Butler’s demanding style has worn on teammates in Minnesota, nobody has ever accused Leonard of lacking work ethic or competitiveness. I bet Butler would respect Leonard.

They’re both elite defensively and at least very good offensively. There could be issues with how often each likes to isolate, but get all that talent to L.A. then figure out the rest later.

The question for the Clippers: Do they trade for Butler now or wait to try signing both stars in free agency next summer? The latter option carries more upside, allowing the Clippers to preserve assets. But it also risks Minnesota trading Butler and his Bird Rights to another team and him re-signing there.

The Clippers have several veterans – Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari – who might appeal to Tom Thibodeau, who seemingly wants to win now. L.A. could also offer 2018 lottery picks Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Alexander. However, the Clippers can’t convey a first-round pick until 2021 at the earliest.

I don’t know whether they’ll trade for Butler, but if the Clippers do, I know we’ll crank up the Leonard-Clippers speculation even higher. There’s value in putting that in Leonard’s mind while the Raptors are trying to woo him first-hand over the next year.

Reports: Jimmy Butler’s trade preference is Clippers, Knicks less interested

Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Knicks president Steve Mills said New York wouldn’t trade its draft picks and wouldn’t trade for players it could just sign in free agency. In other words: No more Carmelo Anthony– or Andrea Bargnani-type deals.

Then, Jimmy Butler – who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer – requested a trade from the Timberwolves and put the Knicks on his list of preferred destinations (with the Nets and Clippers).

Will Mills hold firm in his patient plan?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Brooklyn and the Clippers appear motivated on Butler, while the Knicks have been firm all summer that the team does not want to part with assets and instead prioritize signing free agents outright, according to sources.

The Knicks should be reluctant to trade for Butler now. Especially with Kristaps Porzingis injured, Butler is unlikely to help New York win meaningfully this season. It’d be much better to sign him next summer and preserve assets.

But there’s no guarantee the Knicks sign him next summer. Whichever team has his Bird Rights and ability to offer him a larger contract will have the upper-hand. There is value in trading for him now.

Perhaps, the Knicks can find a worthwhile Butler trade that includes trading picks. The only way to find out is negotiating with Minnesota.  For New York to eliminate the idea outright because the team made mistakes in similar situations would be misguided.

But Knicks are going to Knick.

At least New York isn’t Butler’s first choice.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Might that other max slot go to Kyrie Irving?

First, L.A. must make the best offer to the Timberwolves and one acceptable to a reportedly reluctant Tom Thibodeau. Then, the Clippers must lure Irving – or any star (Kawhi Leonard?) – from his team.

It’s easy to imagine. It’s far more difficult to turn into reality.