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LeBron James hears criticism from Magic Johnson, Kobe, says he is being who he is

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First, it was Magic Johnson on SiriusXM NBA radio last week, saying the team went out and got a lot of playmakers this offseason to go around LeBron James so everything didn’t have to run through him.

“Now it is Cleveland all over again and we don’t want that… We got a lot of ball handlers so we feel we won’t overuse him in terms of his ball handling and also every play has to run through him.”

Then on Monday night at a Lakers’ All-Access event, Kobe Bryant — a player more than happy to take over games when he felt it was the best way to win, which was a lot — offered a similar criticism, although more nuanced. Via Joe Varden The Athletic.

“At the beginning of the season, you saw a collection of individual talent trying to figure out what they can do and where they can do it on the floor,” Bryant said. “What about their games? But at the same time how to figure out how to make those games blend in as a group. You can’t have one before the other, see what I’m saying? So it’s a test of Bron’s patience, and also doing what he needs to do to keep the team’s head above water. So it’s a balancing act.”

Since Rajon Rondo went down with a hand injury nine games ago, the Lakers have run everything through LeBron, his usage rate in those games is 33.7 and he has looked better. LeBron, speaking to the media, acknowledged what Magic and Kobe said, but didn’t sound like a guy about to change things. Via Bill Oram of The Athletic:

“I don’t know what asking me to do too much is, to be honest… I understand the logic behind what Magic and Kobe are saying because we want to grow the young guys… But, I mean, Magic and Kobe know who I am. I know who I am They know what they’re going to get out of me. That is, you know what you’re going to get out of me every game… When it’s really, really, really money time, you know who is going to be there.”

The fact is the Lakers offense has struggled the last nine games since Rajon Rondo went down, scoring 104.5 points per 100 possessions, which is bottom five in the league. However, the Lakers are 6-3 in that stretch thanks to top-five defense (102 per 100) and some timely plays from LeBron.

More to the point, what exactly did Magic expect? His roster of “playmakers” doesn’t exactly have a lot of good playmakers outside LeBron and Lonzo Ball. Brandon Ingram can create for himself, but he’s not a facilitator. Does Magic think Lance Stephenson should get more touches? Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart have succeeded because they’re finishers and shooters, the kinds of players who have always thrived next to LeBron.

LeBron is one of the best playmakers to ever play the game. Trust him. And if you want to spread the ball around more, then go get another superstar playmaker (which is the plan). Right now, this is who the Lakers are, this is the team Magic (and GM Rob Pelinka) built. Like it or not.

NBA promotes Bulls’ Mexico game with video of their bus bottoming out

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The Bulls will play the Magic in Mexico City tomorrow.

Even amid all Chicago’s problems, that’s still a marquee game for the NBA as it expands its reach globally. So, the league is showcasing Chicago’s trip.

With unintentional hilarity.

NBA:

That sound eight seconds in is Chicago’s season.

Stephen Curry on moon-landing conspiracy: ‘Obviously, I was joking’

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Stephen Curry said he didn’t believe we went to the moon.

That caused an uproar to the point NASA offered him a tour of a lunar lab.

Curry, via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

“One thousand percent,” Curry told ESPN on Wednesday of accepting the invite. “One thousand percent. Obviously I was joking when I was talking on the podcast. I was silently protesting how stupid it was that people actually took that quote and made it law as, ‘Oh my God, he’s a fake moon landing truther,’ whatever you want to call it, yada, yada, yada. So I was silently protesting that part about it, how the story took a life of its own.

“But in terms of the reaction that I’ve gotten, I am definitely going to take [NASA] up on their offer. I am going to educate myself firsthand on everything that NASA has done and shine a light on their tremendous work over the years. And hopefully people understand that education is power, informing yourself is power. For kids out there that hang on every word that we say, which is important, understand that you should not believe something just because somebody says it. You should do your homework and understand what you actually believe. But I’m going to go to NASA and I’m going to enjoy the experience whole-heartedly.”

Curry said he believed we didn’t actually go to the moon. I don’t find it unreasonable people took him at face value. I don’t find it unreasonable people thought he was joking, either. His sincerity was unclear.

I’m glad he set the record straight now.

We obviously went to the moon. There’s no way everyone who would’ve had to help fake the moon landing would have stayed quiet. People don’t keep secrets that well.

As for Curry, he got the NASA invitation and a lot of publicity. But it’s time to move on. Whatever he actually believed a few days ago, Curry has clarified his current view.

That separates him from Kyrie Irving, who also initially delivered a conspiracy theory during a lighthearted podcast segment. But Irving doubled down on his flat-Earth claim in several subsequent interviews.

Curry put this to rest fairly quickly.

Suns owner threatens to move team if city does not spend $150 million on arena upgrades

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The great professional sports team extortion of cities tour has come to Phoenix.

The Suns are pushing a $230 million renovation of their home since 1992, now named the Talking Stick Arena. As part of the deal, the City of Phoenix would pay $150 million from its “Sports Facilities Funds” and the Suns $80 million plus any cost overruns, and they would build their own new practice facility to free up room in the arena for the changes.

However, spending city resources on a stadium rebuild to enrich Suns owner Robert Sarver has proven unpopular. Understandably. Wednesday, Phoenix Mayor Thelda Williams asked to postpone the City Council’s vote on the issue rather than watch the plan go down in defeat, reports the Arizona Republic.

Sarver threatened to move the team if the deal is not ultimately get approved, according to the report:

Whether they get a continuance or not could mark the beginning of a showdown between the city and Suns owner Robert Sarver, who is telling some council members that he will take the team to Seattle or Las Vegas.

This is a favorite tactic of sports teams owners across the country, regardless of the sport — threaten to move the team, hopefully scaring the hardcore fans of the team to back whatever changes they want. Teams often are part of a city’s identity and a local institution, and the owners use that as leverage to get their business demands.

Public money for arena upgrades are in general a flawed used of city resources — there are far more pressing needs for public money than arena renovations. Studies have shown the economic benefits for a city from these arena renovations (or a new arena) are limited at best — it is more a redistribution of where money is spent, pulling it from other areas into a concentrated downtown than it is generating new income.

That said, standing up to Sarver comes with risks, he could follow through on his threat and try to move the team. Seattle pushed back on spending on upgrades to Key Arena and that is part of — although certainly not all of — why the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City. (Then commissioner David Stern liked sending the message that cities should pay up.) Steve Ballmer wants to build a new arena in Southern California for the Clippers, but it would be privately funded (on land he purchased from the City of Inglewood).

The Suns’ lease for the arena currently runs through 2032, however, it could be broken in 2022 if the Suns could prove certain criteria saying the city did not live up to its end of the deal. If the upgrades are made the lease would run through 2037.

If the vote is postponed there will be public hearings to discuss what the money would be used for specifically, and the potential economic impact of the renovations. Postponed seems most likely because the other option is it gets shot down entirely.

Kawhi Leonard is returning to his vintage form, which means ignoring all the talk around him

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LOS ANGELES — There is a lot of noise around Kawhi Leonard, and it’s not just Kyle Lowry playing music and rapping along in the locker room pregame while his teammates try to ignore him. Although there’s that, too.

It’s noise from outside the locker room, speculation and constant chatter about Leonard and his plans as a free agent next summer: Is Leonard still leaning toward coming to Los Angeles? Lakers or Clippers? Or New York? Or somewhere else? Is he happy in Toronto and thinking of staying? Can he handle the weather in Toronto? Is he fully healthy?

This chatter fills sports talk radio shows, Twitter debates, message boards and more.

The noise also ramps up when Leonard goes to places he has been linked, such as Los Angeles.

“I focus on what we’re doing,” Leonard said of his reaction to all the speculation prior to his Raptors knocking off the Clippers Tuesday night (without him due to a sore hip). “I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me. At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.”

Does what is being said bother him?

“Not at all. I don’t watch TV too much,” Leonard said, adding he uses apps to watch movies and TV shows.

What Leonard is not doing is consuming NBA media.

However, the NBA world has obsessed over him in the past year.

Leonard forced his way out of San Antonio last offseason after the proper course of treatment for quadriceps tendinopathy (which sidelined Leonard all but nine games last season) became a wedge between him and the franchise. How much the people around and advisors Leonard helped drive in that wedge to grow the gap — to get Leonard out of San Antonio and to a larger market where he could be more of a star — is one of those topics of gossip and speculation. The Spurs are known as one of the most player-friendly organizations in the league.

Leonard got his wish, was traded to Toronto, and has looked like a top-five NBA player again this season, especially of late, shaking off the rust to average 26.1 points per game, shooting 38 percent from three, taking charge of the offense for stretches and locking down players on defense. If people forgot how good Leonard was last season, he’s reminding them — and helping lift the Raptors to a 22-7 record and the top spot in the East.

Yet everyone still has questions, and Leonard is not about to fill in the gaps in that knowledge, either.

For example, what does he think of the Raptors organization?

“It’s been good so far,” Leonard said of the fit in Toronto. “Like I said, we’ve been winning, everyone’s playing well. Can’t complain.”

Are the Raptors different than the Spurs as an organization?

“It’s still two goals and a basketball, just different teammates,” Leonard said.

What about Toronto as a city?

“It’s pretty hard to enjoy the city when you’re playing every other day,” Leonard said. “You usually take those off days to take some treatment and get your body ready for the next day. Just rest so you have the energy.”

Is the cold bothering the Southern California kid? That one he did answer.

“Just wear a jacket,” Leonard said. “We’re in a building. We’re not outside playing in the snow. And it’s good scenery.”

Leonard also confirmed that he’s not feeling the effects of that quadriceps injury last season and it isn’t slowing him down (the hip injury that had him out Tuesday in Los Angeles was separate, just the kind of bumps every player deals with over the course of a season).

“I was able to take my time and get the right treatment to make me feel comfortable, taking the right steps through training camp and throughout the season to have trust in myself,” Leonard said.

Will he be playing in back-to-backs soon?

“I’ve been playing a lot of minutes, we’ll just see as it goes on,” Leonard said. “It’s not that big a deal to play into a back-to-back.”

That’s all we get. No hints of his mindset or what he is planning for next summer. No deep thoughts on the organization or situation. He’s playing up the image that Gregg Popovich and the Spurs loved — a guy obsessed with the game who considers everything else a distraction.

That image isn’t completely accurate, either. Leonard is focused on his family as well. He has other interests. And you can be certain he has thoughts about what he does and does not want to do next July as a free agent.

He’s just not letting any of us in on it. Which is vintage Leonard.