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.

Three Things to Know from All-Stars: Recruiting is alive, will it matter in Greek Freak’s world?

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — All-Star Weekend in the NBA means there is a lot to unpack over three days, so we want to bring you the three things you need to know from the last 72 hours in the NBA.

1) Recruiting is alive: The undercurrent of a wild coming free agency was everywhere in Charlotte. From the moment LeBron James picked a free-agent heavy team — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, and Klay Thompson, plus he has Anthony Davis — the tampering jokes flew. LeBron tried to play down the idea that he would recruit guys over All-Star weekend.

Not Washington’s Bradley Beal, he leaned into it.

The NBA moved the trade deadline up a couple of years ago to avoid having talk of trades overshadow the events all weekend (DeMarcus Cousins being traded during the All-Star Game was the final straw). That has worked, to a degree. But the shadow of July’s free agency period that is going to reshape the NBA was still hanging over the weekend.

Especially with Davis, whose agent requested a trade before the deadline that did not come to fruition. When he met with the media Saturday, Davis also leaned into the controversy, including about the list of the four teams he wanted to be traded to (Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, Bucks).

“That list that came out, it’s between my agent and the Pelicans,” Davis said, but then added:

“It’s true.”

That list never included Boston, which now is one of the front-runners to be able to trade for him.

“They are on my list, I never said Boston wasn’t on my list,” Davis said.

So, is Boston on your list?

“I never said they wasn’t on my list,” he reiterated.

The NBA should take a lesson from Beal and Davis — lean into all the rumors and trade talk. It’s part of what has fueled the league’s growth.

2) Kevin Durant is your All-Star MVP, but talking about Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson is more fun. The All-Star Game felt like a distilled essence of what has gone on around the Golden State Warriors for two years.

On the biggest stage, Durant was the player of the three. The two-time Finals MVP was named MVP of the All-Star Game, an obvious choice as Durant helped spark Team LeBron’s comeback..

However, it’s far more fun to talk about Curry and Thompson.

They guarded each other for stretches of the game and Curry was loving it.

Then late in the game, Curry (who struggled in the fourth going 3-of-11) got Thompson on a four-point play.

“It was good to see Steph knock that shot down over Klay, because Klay is always talking trash to him,” Durant said after the game.

3) Soon it will be Giannis Antetokounmpo’s world and the rest of the NBA will just live in it. His team lost the All-Star Game, but Antetokounmpo may have been the best player on the court all night. He had 20 first-half points on his way to 38 points and 11 boards for the game, plus some ridiculous highlights along the way.

“He’s got potential through the roof,” Durant said after the game. “He’s still producing at an elite level, and it’s scary to see how far he can keep going. His game is rounding into shape. He’s still getting better, but he’s leading top five, top three MVP candidates right now at 20. How old is he, 23? [Ed. note: 24] To be that young and already at the top of the class as one of the elites in the game, it’s a joy to watch his progression.”

A joy unless you’re the coach that has to gameplan against him for the next 10 years.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: There was one dunk for the ages in the Dunk Contest. For the most part, the Dunk Contest was flat. Except for Oklahoma City’s Hamidou Diallo doing a Vince Carter-style elbow dunk over Shaq. That was as good as it gets.

Kevin Durant keeps building up superstar accolades with second All-Star MVP

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CHARLOTTE – When Kevin Durant won All-Star MVP in 2012, he was asked whether he considered himself a star, a label he had resisted.

“I wouldn’t say that just yet,” Durant said. “Hopefully. Hopefully soon I can say that.”

The notion was silly then. Durant had already made two All-NBA first teams and finished second for MVP.

But that All-Star MVP started to change how Durant presented himself. He made another All-NBA first team, again finished second for MVP and led the Thunder to the NBA Finals that season.

“In 2012, I started to feel like I started to hit that elite level,” Durant said. “All that stuff in one year was pretty exciting to me.”

The hits have kept rolling since.

Durant has added an MVP, two titles and two Finals MVPs. Tonight, he claimed another All-Star MVP. The Warriors star scored 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting to lead LeBron James‘ team to a 178-164 win.

“I just keep trying to rack them up, I guess,” Durant said.

That’s seven years between his All-Star MVPs. Few players sustain that elite level – starring among stars – so long. Only LeBron James (12 years), Michael Jordan (10 years), Kobe Bryant (nine years), Oscar Robertson (eight years) have gone so long between their first and last All-Star MVPs.

Durant, 30, appears to have plenty left in the tank.

Of course, the impending question: Where? Durant can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and this weekend included plenty of speculation.

Tonight’s game gave Knicks fans reason to fanaticize. New York’s presumed targets with its double-max cap space, Durant and Kyrie Irving showed strong chemistry. Half Durant’s baskets were assisted by Irving, who sent five of his six assists to Durant (the other an alley-oop to former teammate LeBron).

Asked which of his All-Star teammates he best meshed with, Durant refused to name one.

“You don’t really have to do too much when you’re playing with so many great players,” Durant said. “You can do what you’re just best at.”

Team LeBron starts playing defense first, comes from 20 down to win All-Star Game

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s All-Star Game, Team LeBron started to care.

Down 20 at one point early in the third, Team LeBron came out of a mid-quarter timeout with a different energy. The “bench” guys on the court started defending with the kind of relative intensity usually reserved for the final minutes of this exhibition (when it’s close), the players on the bench were standing and cheering like it was a playoff game, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal started knocking down everything, and the game just shifted. It culminated when Damian Lillard tied the game up with a 35-foot three.

Team LeBron kept up the momentum, owned the fourth as Durant went 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in the quarter, and Team LeBron got the win 178-164.

“It was our second unit that came in — Dame, Klay, Brad Beal, LaMarcus, Ben Simmons, KAT,” LeBron said after the game about what turned the momentum. “They came in and just changed the whole complexion of the game. We got stops, and, obviously, Dame and Klay caught fire from beyond the arc, and that allowed us to get back in the game.”

Durant was named MVP, a clear choice with his second-half play in particular.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 38 points and 11 rebounds, while Paul George showed anyone that hasn’t seen him this season how well he’s playing — MVP conversation level — on his way to 20.

This All-Star Game opened with the level of defensive intensity we have come to expect in All-Star Games. Which is to say none.

Well, except when Stephen Curry was guarding Klay Thompson.

The one guy who was intense from the start was Antetokounmpo, who scored the first six points for Team Giannis. He didn’t slow down on his way to 20 first-half points, plus he had one of the game’s great highlights on a bounce pass alley-oop from Curry.

Antetokounmpo wasn’t the only Buck hot to start, Khris Middleton entered the game midway through the first quarter and drained three shots from beyond the arc in a row. In the first nine minutes of the game, the Bucks were beating Team LeBron 28-27.

The favorite crowd moment of the first half was when future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki walked on the court and splashed a couple of threes.

Dwyane Wade was the other Commissioner addition to the game, which means for one last time we got Wade throwing the alley-oop to LeBron.

Curry struggled late, going 3-of-11 in the fourth, but he still got to rub it in Thompson’s face a little.

“It was good to see Steph knock that shot down over Klay, because Klay is always talking trash to him,” Durant said after the game.

Team Giannis was in control most of the first half and was up 13 (95-82) at the half, not that 13 points is much of a deficit in the All-Star Game. Not when one team started to care.

Stephen Curry gets four-point play after Klay Thompson foul, Curry does some taunting

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Stephen Curry is enjoying going against Klay Thompson. Maybe a little too much.

In the first half, Curry was matched up on his Warriors’ backcourt mate and enjoyed that Thompson missed the shot.

Then in the fourth quarter, with the game tight, Curry drained the contested three and drew the and-1 on Thompson — and did a little taunting.

That’s some All-Star fun.