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Can LeBron James and Magic Johnson lure next big star to Lakers?

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Kyrie Irving asked to be traded away from LeBron James and Cleveland because he wanted out of LeBron’s massive shadow and to have his own team.

Paul George pushed his way out of Indiana with his people telling anyone who would listen he was going to be a Laker in the summer of 2018. However, when he had the chance to join LeBron last summer, the Lakers didn’t even get a meeting.

Jimmy Butler is trying to force his way out of Minnesota and the teams on his preferred listthe Heat, Clippers, Nets, and Knicks — do not include teaming up with LeBron.

The Lakers won the summer by landing LeBron — combine him with their existing young core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and it’s easy to see the potential. Right now, however, this team is not a threat to Golden State, Boston or Houston, right now the Lakers are a middle-of-the-pack team in the West. To get to where LeBron and team president Magic Johnson want to be, it starts with bringing in one more elite player… but the moves of Irving, Butler, and George raise a question.

Can LeBron and Magic recruit their next star to the league?

Yes.

The tag-team combo of Magic (an all-time great player and the model for an athlete-turned-business man) and LeBron (best player on the planet and one of the biggest athlete brands in the world) will be formidable. Throw in the lure of the Lakers’ brand and playing in Los Angeles and LeBron/Magic will land someone.

Just don’t expect it to be easy.

Lakers fans shouldn’t expect every elite player switching teams to just flock to Los Angeles to play with LeBron. Playing with LeBron is not for everyone. For a player who wants the ball in his hands, who wants to be the man and lead his own team (like Irving), playing in LeBron’s shadow is not a draw. Even if the pairing looks good on paper and might lead to a ring. We’ve seen that with the examples above.

It takes a particular mindset to play with the LeBron. Kevin Love was asked about this recently, by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.

“You have to follow. You have to learn a lot about that…

“You have to be resilient. I had a lot of hard nights. There were dark times,” Love said. “But I always believed keep fighting, I was stubborn about it. And LeBron makes sure you have a chance to win every year. He’s gotten a lot of guys rings.”

Playing with LeBron forces guys to adjust. Love did. Chris Bosh had to learn how to stretch the floor in Miami and work as a pick-and-pop guy not on the block. Dwyane Wade had always had the ball in his hands before LeBron and had to learn how to cut and move off the ball to thrive with him. For ball dominant players, playing next to LeBron is a massive adjustment.

Players today and their agents get that, which is why not every free agent about to come up is going to fit with the Lakers. Take Kevin Durant for example. If leaves Golden State (still a big “if” even if the team is preparing for the possibility) league sources suggest he’s not going to leave the ball-sharing system and shadow of Stephen Curry to be in LeBron’s shadow and be the No. 2 option again. Durant wants his own team if he’s leaving the Warriors. Or, look at it this way: Remember how much heat Durant took for leaving OKC and jumping to a championship team? What happens if he leaves that to join LeBron?

The Lakers reportedly love the idea of how Klay Thompson would fit with them, and they should. But nobody around the league thinks Thompson is leaving the Warriors. He’s spoken openly and multiple times about wanting to be a Warrior for life. Beyond him, Kyrie Irving has said he will re-sign in Boston and Butler does not want to be a Laker.

There are other big names out there, with Kawhi Leonard at the top of the list. He reportedly wants to come to Los Angeles, although sources have told me (and others have reported as well) that the Clippers could be that destination as much as the Lakers. (Yes, Lakers fans, seriously, Leonard is not a fan of drama around the team and overly bright spotlights, and the Lakers are both those things by their nature. Plus, the LeBron shadow/own team thing is legit.) Also, Leonard may decide to pull a PG13 and stay. After that the free agency talent pool drops off to very good players but not what the Lakers need — DeMarcus Cousins, Goran Dragic, Al Horford, Kemba Walker.

Anthony Davis is the big prize everyone around the league is watching, and Davis switched agents to Rich Paul, LeBron’s agent. However, he has two years on his contract. The Pelicans are not trading him this season, they will get to next summer and put a designated veteran $230 million offer in front of him and dare him to say no. You don’t switch to an aggressive agent if you plan to sign whatever is put in front of you, but that’s a lot of money. If Davis turns the offer down maybe the dynamic changes and the Pelicans talk trade, and maybe not (think Durant in OKC, smaller markets don’t get players like that often and will not always make a trade even at the risk of losing him for nothing). Even if they do talk trade, teams such as Boston and Philadelphia — and, frankly, every team in the league will be in on it.

There are a lot of obstacles, but other names will come up as well and nobody doubts at some point the tag-team of Magic and LeBron will land the Lakers another superstar.

But it’s not going to be simple and easy. Don’t expect a conga-line of stars just dancing their way to Los Angeles and the Lakers.

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer reportedly tells organization he still wants playoff push

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When the Clippers traded their best player — Tobias Harris — right before the trade deadline, it was a move generally seen as throwing in the towel on this season’s playoffs, but it was applauded around the league because of the haul it brought back to L.A. It set the Clippers up with one max cap slot this summer and a reasonable path to a second one, plus the Clippers landed rookie shooting guard Landry Shamet, Philadelphia’s 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected) and the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick unprotected.

Except then the Clippers not long after traded for Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green — boosting the roster’s depth in needed spots. Not a move a team looking to fall out of the playoffs makes.

That’s because owner Steve Ballmer doesn’t want them to fall out of the playoffs, reports Sam Amick of The Athletic.

Sources say Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has let it be known throughout the organization that he wants to keep making this playoff push. Never mind that such an accomplishment would cost them their first-round pick this season.

The coach and players should never be told to lose games, they need to go all-out every time they are on the court. That goes to the culture of an organization. If a decision is made to focus on the future, then it’s about roster decisions at the GM level. That is what the Clippers did, and there is nothing wrong — or even strange — about the owner telling them to push and try to make the playoffs.

Either way, it works for Los Angeles.

Make the playoffs as the eight seed and the Clippers are likely just the first-round appetizer for the Warriors as they chase a three-peat, but it shows potential free agents the role players on the team have grit and just need a star and leader. Their young stars would gain a little playoff experience. While the Clippers would lose this year’s first-round pick, giving up a late teens pick in what is considered a down draft (especially after No. 1) is not that painful a loss. It’s one less asset to throw in a potential trade (Anthony Davis anyone?), but it’s not devastating.

Miss the playoffs and they get a late-lottery pick and things go as expected.

Make or miss the playoffs, the Clippers are focused on July 1 and landing a couple of free agents, with Kawhi Leonard at the top of the list (and a lot of sources around the league think that’s where they are headed).