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.

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return

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Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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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

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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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.