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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, broadcast airwaves, 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 to 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. He has shaken 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.

Draymond Green on Kevin Durant: “If he go, he go. If he stay, he stay,” focus is on title

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The conventional wisdom among front offices (and league observers) is that this summer Kevin Durant will leave the Warriors. He will go to a team — maybe the Knicks, maybe the Clippers, maybe someone else — where he is the dominant force to help grow his legacy. The Warriors of the last three years, the Everest nobody else in the NBA has been able to climb, will be no more.

Just don’t think that is bothering the Warriors.

Not according to Draymond Green, who told Sam Amick of The Athletic that the incident he had with KD early in the season is long forgotten and the team just wants another ring and parade.

“It’s not important,” he said of the Durant dynamic. “We’re not about to sit around and walk around, or carry something around, that happened in November.”

Free agency questions be damned.

“He’s part of it right now,” Green said about Durant. “Whatever happens this summer happens. Whatever the hell he do, he does. If he go, he go. If he stay, he stay. But while he’s here, we’re going to win another championship. It’s just that simple. Nothing else matters.”

The Warriors have shown that attitude recently when they rolled Denver and Oklahoma City, and beat surging Houston without Kevin Durant. Golden State can still flip the switch. They can also still sleepwalk through games (which is why the Nuggets have caught them in the standings).

Internally, the buzz has been the Warriors expect they may well lose Durant. They will have a strong pitch of (likely) having won three straight titles, they can offer more money and guaranteed years than any other team, and they will be opening a new arena in San Francisco proper (close to Durant’s home in the area). That may not be enough, but it has to be a tempting offer.

The idea this could be the last run of this version of the Warriors is fueling the team. It will make them that much harder to knock off.

If KD leaves, then the Warriors will have to return to a lineup like the one that won a title before Durant arrived. Life is so hard for them. (Read that last sentence in a sarcastic voice.)

Kobe on Kuzma, Ingram, Ball: “Are the three of them better than Anthony Davis? No!”

Associated Press
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There are Lakers fans that balked at the idea the franchise would trade their best three young players — Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball — for Anthony Davis. Those fans thought that (plus first round picks and salary filler) was too steep a price.

Kobe Bryant disagrees.

Kobe is on a global tour (he was just in China to help with the draw for the FIBA World Cup) and there spoke with the Spanish language sports powerhouse AS.com, and when asked about the possible trade for Davis and the impact on the team, Kobe said this (hat tip Reddit user hoodiefern for posting and translating):

“Kuzma, Lonzo, Ingram… are the three of them better than Anthony Davis? No! Ciao! Bye! Anthony Davis is one of the best players in the world. Not currently, in history. What are we talking about? If you can trade for Anthony Davis, you do it. If not, alright. We have three players who are very young and work hard. They’re smart and they have to develop. But if you can trade for Anthony Davis… yes!”

He’s right.

In the NBA, talent wins and Davis is as talented a player as the league has when unleashed (he has been reined in with the Pelicans since the trade deadline). Put Davis next to LeBron James and the Lakers can quickly become a genuine threat in the West. Whether New Orleans is willing to play along is another question, which is why the Lakers also are focused on free agency.

Elite talent alone is not enough — a lesson the Lakers brass did not take to heart this season. Stars such as LeBron and Davis (or Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, etc.) can thrive in any system because of their talent, but around them needs to be a system and role players picked to fit said system. Want to run a lot of pick-and-roll and/or isolations? Better get shooters who can knock down kick-out passes. Want to play uptempo? Better get athletes who thrive in that system, and shooters. Back in Kobe’s era, the Lakers were a triangle team but the non-stars fit the system and were good shooters of the era (think Derek Fisher, a guard who fit the triangle well but did not thrive in other systems).

Kobe gets that, but he knows the hardest part of the equation to get is the elite talent because there simply isn’t much of it.

The Lakers should be willing to trade their young players for a talent upgrade, but beyond that they still need an identity and players who fit whatever that identity/system is. Oh, and they need shooters.

 

 

Grizzlies: C.J. Miles likely out rest of season

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis Grizzlies guard/forward C.J. Miles is expected to miss the remainder of the season after injuring his left foot over the weekend.

Miles left a 135-128 loss to the Washington Wizards on Saturday due to left foot soreness. The Grizzlies announced Tuesday that an MRI revealed a stress reaction.

The 6-foot-6 Miles appeared in 53 games this season for the Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors. The Grizzlies acquired him from Toronto in the Marc Gasol trade Feb. 7.

Miles came off the bench in 13 games with the Grizzlies and averaged 9.3 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 22.6 minutes.

Report: Timberwolves fan called Blake Griffin ‘boy’

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With his recent outburst at hecklers in Utah, Russell Westbrook ignited a long-overdue discussion of how fans interact with players during games. The Jazz even recently banned a fan who repeatedly called Westbrook “boy” last year.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t an isolated case of that racist language being used toward a player.

Pistons Blake Griffin confronted a fan in Minnesota in December.

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

The fan was seemingly ejected. The Timberwolves didn’t respond to questions whether he faced additional punishment.

I’m all for good-natured heckling. Racist taunts are completely unacceptable – and maybe still more common than we realized. Because Griffin didn’t get as enraged as Westbrook on video, this got swept under the rug.

It shouldn’t be Griffin’s responsibility to fix this. Teams must do a better job holding accountable fans who cross the line.