Report: Kawhi Leonard more open to Clippers with LeBron James on Lakers

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When ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said he heard Kawhi Leonard was more reluctant to join the Lakers with LeBron James there, I was skeptical.

But now Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports – who seems plugged-in with Leonard – is echoing that sentiment.

Charania on The Herd with Colin Cowherd:

One thing that’s been made abundantly clear. I’m going to stress this. There’s no guarantee if Kawhi Leonard hits the market next summer that he’s going to sign with the Lakers, period. I think his options have broadened a little bit, just inside L.A. There’s another team, obviously, in L.A. I think he’d be very much open to the Clippers.

And there’s a belief around the league that if the Sixers came hard, that there could be a potential there for him potentially being there long-term.

I don’t think there’s much interest in the Boston Celtics scenario for him.

Around Kawhi, what’s been made abundantly clear is there’s not an interest to go join a super team. I don’t think he’s jumping for joy that LeBron James is in L.A. with the Lakers. If anything, that’s going to make him look maybe more toward the Clippers. Because this is a guy that won Finals MVP against LeBron James. You think he’s amped up and wants to join LeBron now? I think that’s been overstated, and the Spurs are beginning to realize that and beginning to realize that we might have a broadened market for him.

Leonard initially leaked he wanted to leave San Antonio for Los Angeles – ideally for the Lakers, but leaving the door open for the Clippers. But that was before LeBron agreed to sign with the Lakers.

This latest revelation sparks many questions.

Will the Clippers more aggressively pursue a Leonard trade now? They’ll have enough cap space to sign him outright next summer, but they might not want to risk him going somewhere – like Philadelphia – and becoming attached.

Will the Lakers still try to trade for him? Would Leonard really leave the Lakers if they trade for him now then offer him a five-year max contract next summer?

If not Leonard, whom are the Lakers saving all their 2019 cap space for? Jimmy Butler? Klay Thompson? Kemba Walker? Kyrie Irving? (Ha!)

Why do other stars keep rebuffing LeBron? Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers. Paul George re-signed with the Thunder without even meeting with the Lakers. And now Leonard might want to avoid teaming up with LeBron.

One caveat to this entire discussion: It’s possible Leonard still favors the Lakers and the Spurs are leaking this to drum up trade interest from other teams. Multiple bidders would give San Antonio leverage.

But, ultimately, it’s becoming increasingly clear we don’t really know much about Leonard. We projected values onto him because he’s quiet and played for the Spurs. As we uncover more about what truly motivates Leonard, we’ll learn much more about the NBA’s landscape.

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

NBA: NOV 06 Cavaliers at Lakers
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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).