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

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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.

In wake of Kobe Bryant’s death, NBA postpones Tuesday night’s Clippers vs. Lakers game

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Kobe Bryant’s untimely death in a helicopter crash Sunday has shaken the entire NBA world, but particularly the Laker organization.

Obviously, the loss hit the players — Kobe and LeBron James were friends, plus he had been a mentor to Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, and many others — but also the team support staff and entire organization. Kobe was a 20-year Laker employee who was the face of a franchise and who had ties not just in the locker room but also on the business side and throughout the company. On Monday, the Lakers reportedly brought grief counselors into the office to help employees cope with the loss.

Considering all that, the NBA announced that it will postpone the Clippers/Lakers game that had been scheduled for Tuesday night at Staples Center. From the media release:

“The decision was made out of respect for the Lakers organization, which is deeply grieving the tragic loss of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other people in a helicopter crash on Sunday. The game will be rescheduled at a later date.”

It was the right move by the league.

The Lakers’ next scheduled game is Friday night at home against Portland.

No makeup date is scheduled, but there are limited opportunities on the NBA schedule — and that of Staples Center, which also is home to the NHL’s Kings plus hosts concerts and events — to add a game. It could be April before this game is made up. That late in the season the game could have serious seeding implications in the West for one or both teams.

That, however, is secondary right now.

 

 

Kobe Bryant said he traveled by helicopter to spend more time with kids

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Kobe Bryant was such a superstar, his method of transportation to and from practice – helicopter – became a sensation.

Bryant died in a helicopter crash Sunday. In an old interview, he described why he traveled by helicopter.

Kobe Bryant on The Corp:

Traffic started getting really, really bad. Right? And I was sitting in traffic, and I wound up missing a school play, because I was sitting in traffic. And these things just kept mounting. I had to figure out a way where I could still train and focus on the craft, but still not compromise family time. And so that’s when I looked into helicopters and being able to get down and back in 15 minutes. And that’s when it started. So, my routine was always the same. Weights early in the morning, kids to school, fly down, practice like crazy, do my extra work, media, everything I needed to do, fly back, get back in the carpool line, pick the kids up. And my wife was like, “Listen, I can pick them up.” I’m like, “No, no, no. I want to do that.” Because you have road trips and times where you’re not – you don’t see your kids, you know? So, every chance I get to see them and spend time with them, even if it’s 20 minutes in the car, I want that.

The irony and tragedy of Bryant and his daughter dying in a helicopter crash is just gut-wrenching.

Grizzlies call up Josh Jackson from minor league

Josh Jackson
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A few months ago, the Grizzlies thought so little of Josh Jackson, they didn’t even bring him to training camp. He remained on an NBA contract. Memphis gained no roster or salary-cap flexibility. The Grizzlies planned to send him to their minor-league affiliate, but the Hustle hadn’t yet opened their training camp. There was nowhere else for Jackson to be. The Grizzlies just didn’t want him around.

Now, Jackson will get his chance on the parent club.

Grizzlies:

The No. 4 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, Jackson still has a lot to prove with his maturity, professionalism and production.

But this is an opportunity – for Memphis to showcase him before next week’s trade deadline and for Jackson to showcase himself before unrestricted free agency next summer.

Grayson Allen is injured. Jae Crowder is also banged up. Jackson could actually receive playing time.

Kobe Bryant’s death a unique tragedy

Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson
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Magic Johnson – one of the NBA’s brightest stars – stood behind a podium, smiled and shook the world. Johnson had HIV and was retiring from the Lakers, he announced. Confusion, speculation and, most prominently, grief followed. Everyone thought he’d die. Charles Barkley said, “It’s kind of like somewhat of a death of a brother.” Larry Bird called it “probably the toughest day I’ve had since my father passed away, and I’ve been very depressed and sort of been out of it.” Pat Riley called for a moment of silence before a game.

More than 28 years later, Johnson mourned Kobe Bryant.

Bryant’s death yesterday was the tragedy everyone believed Johnson’s diagnosis to be. Sudden. Crushing. Unbelievable. All the same emotions came pouring out. Except this time there was no mistaking the finality.

Johnson has continued living, thriving, inspiring. He’s a renowned businessman, beloved celebrity and fantastic ambassador for basketball. It’s the type of retirement expected for Bryant, because why wouldn’t it be?

The NBA has grown accustomed to its titans aging gracefully. Unlike baseball, the NBA hasn’t existed long enough for multiple generations of old-timers to pass away. Unlike football, the NBA doesn’t subject its players to such traumatic physical tolls.

Just two MVPs in all of NBA history had died, Wilt Chamberlain (age 63 in 1999) and Moses Malone (age 60 in 2015), and those deaths felt far too soon.

Bryant was only 41.

Just four All-Stars died younger. Don Sunderlage was in a car crash at age 31 in 1961. Maurice Stokes suffered a head injury during a game, became paralyzed then – after teammate Jack Twyman cared for him for 12 years – died at age 36 in 1970. Pete Maravich had a heart issue while playing pickup basketball at age 40 in 1988. Reggie Lewis suffered a heart attack during what should have been the midst of his career at age 27 in 1993.

Lewis – like Len Bias (who died of a cocaine overdose at age 22 in 1986) and Drazen Petrovic (who died in a car crash at age 28 in 1993) – never got to fulfill their potentials. That creates its own kind of anguish.

There is no analogue to Bryant’s death.

Bryant’s accomplishments – one MVP, five championships, two NBA Finals MVPs, 11 All-NBA first teams, two All-NBA second teams, two All-NBA third teams and 18 All-Star appearances – place him among the very greatest of all-time greats. No player anywhere near that stature had ever died anywhere near this young.

Bryant could be charming and ruthless, sometimes simultaneously. His play and conduct earned him loyal fans and harsh critics. The never-ending Kobe debates seemed only to inflame the passion of his supporters.

Few adored him like fellow NBA players. They admired his skill and determination. He responded by mentoring many. It’s difficult to overstate just how cherished Bryant was in this league.

Few understand the cold realities of the NBA like Austin Rivers. He grew up with his father, Doc Rivers, frequently gone playing and coaching. As a result, they aren’t particularly close. Now an NBA player himself, Austin speaks of their distant relationship with far more acceptance than wistfulness. He’s too focused on competing to do much else.

Yesterday, Austin cried on the court:

Then, explained how little he cared about the Rockets losing a basketball game:

Others shed tears in arenas around the country. The NBA could have cancelled yesterday’s games. Playing while grieving proved difficult for many.

There was just no good way to handle the loss. Mere moments of silence felt insufficient.

The Spurs and Raptors began their game yesterday with shot-clock violations in honor of his No. 24. Other teams exchanged a shot-clock violation and eight-second violation in honor of his other number. Trae Young wore No. 8.

Other tributes popped up around the world. Bryant was a global icon.

He was also a loving father. As incredibly wide as this tragedy lands, it also cuts unimaginably deep. Bryant’s daughter, 13-year-old Gianna, also died in the helicopter crash.

Appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2018, Bryant just lit up when discussing her:

Bryant’s death is devastating – for those touched closely and, because of its unparalleled nature, even those not. Nobody was ready for this.

It’s a punch in the gut. The basketball world – which expanded far larger than imaginable in 1991, when Johnson made his announcement, because of people like Bryant – remains in a daze.