Associated Press

In wake of LeBron’s comments on Anthony Davis, NBA sends memo to teams on tampering

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It was a well-coordinated effort by LeBron James and his agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports. Days before Anthony Davis and the Pelicans came to Los Angeles to face the Lakers, a flurry of stories were leaked and reported with LeBron’s endorsement of wanting to play with Davis as the big headline. It was an effort to put pressure on the Pelicans — the Lakers would love to get in a trade conversation with New Orleans right now before Boston can get involved in the discussion — but sources with direct knowledge of the Pelicans plans have been clear with me, Davis is not being traded during this season.

Was that tampering? Some small market GMs said yes (by a strict definition of the CBA), LeBron said no. By how the NBA has chosen to enforce the rules over time, it was not — players talking about other players has been allowed. Like it or not. And through-the-media moves like LeBron’s represent a drop in the bucket of recruiting that actually goes on. Everyone tampers. Everyone knows it. And with player movement part of what is fueling the growth in the NBA’s popularity, the league isn’t going to come down hard on stopping it.

Trying to save some face, the NBA sent a memo to teams about player tampering, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

In a memo obtained by ESPN on Friday morning, league counsel seemed to be alluding to James’ scenario, saying, “employment contracts are to be respected and conduct that interferes with contractual employment relationships is prohibited.

“This principle is particularly important in today’s media environment, where any actions or comments relating to potential player movement receive immediate and widespread public attention. Teams should be entitled to focus their efforts on the competition this season with the players they have under contract, without having to divert attention or resources to conduct or speculation regarding the potential destinations of those players in future seasons once their contracts expire.”

Okay, but what are you going to do about it?

The memo says if player comments are part of a pattern of an organizational effort to recruit a player, it will be seen as tampering. Great. But the Lakers — already burned by tampering fines for Magic Johnson — are not the ones making a public push to get AD to LA. That’s LeBron. He went to dinner with Davis after the Laker/Pelicans game, and the two share an agent so it’s easy for LeBron to get that message through. Or, LeBron could just text Davis. Or talk to him at the All-Star Game events. Or a million other ways. Teams can do the same thing. The Lakers signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in part because he is a Rich Paul/Klutch client and it helped establish a relationship that would bring future players to the team, but that’s not tampering, that’s a player signing.

Proving an organizational effort by a team to tamper is going to be very difficult, unless the league gets a hold of smoking gun emails or something. Teams are smarter than that.

All of this gets back to the main point above: How badly does the league really want to stop this. They don’t want the perception of tampering, but player movement and rumors of player movement are a huge part of the game’s popularity. The league doesn’t really want it to stop. It’s just about the perception.

Another name to watch at trade deadline: Minnesota’s Jeff Teague

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After a strong start to the season, Minnesota has lost seven in a row and slid back to 10-15. Amazingly, that’s not out of the playoff picture in a West where the back end is much softer than predicted this season, but for the Timberwolves’ brass it’s a reminder they are building towards something bigger down the line.

Jeff Teague, their 31-year-old point guard, is not part of that future.

Which is why they are open to trading him, reports Jon Krawczynski at The Athletic.

The Timberwolves made it known throughout the league last summer that Teague was available for trade and that remains the case right now, league sources said…

For a team that needs a point guard — either a starter or a backup — for a playoff push, Teague could be a nice fit. He has a wealth of playoff experience, is a teammate that generally meshes well in a locker room and in the right system can be an effective scorer.

His $19 million salary is expiring, so the money shouldn’t scare many teams away. But the sheer size of the contract does make it challenging to match up money in a trade.

Teague is averaging 14.4 points and 6.8 assists a game; he’s a solid pick-and-roll point guard who wants the ball in his hands. Which could help a lot of teams, it’s just not how Minnesota wants to play under Ryan Saunders.

It’s unlikely Teague is back in Minnesota next season, which is a big reason he could get moved before the deadline — Minnesota would rather get something than nothing for him.

However, that salary combined with the lack of cap space around the league makes a deal seem difficult, if not unlikely. For all the buzz about trades around the league, this is probably going to be a down trade deadline with only a handful of moves.

Maybe Teague gets moved, but in a related matter don’t expect Andrew Wiggins to be going anywhere.

Could the Knicks get a first-round pick for trading Marcus Morris?

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What are the New York Knicks going to do at the trade deadline?

It’s not a simple question, not with team president Steve Mills is on the hot seat — there’s a long history of GMs/POBOs making bad trades looking for a short-term boost to save their jobs. Will the Knicks trade veterans looking for picks and young players to be part of the future? On top of that, the Knicks are starting to get healthy and have won two in a row. Management may want to let this play out for a while.

The plan is not to make any sudden moves on Sunday — the day most players signed over the summer (nearly 40 percent of the league) can be traded — or early in the trade season. However, the offers are going to come.

Particularly for Marcus Morris.

The veteran forward is leading the Knicks scoring 18.6 points per game, and he’s spacing the floor shooting 48 percent from three. He’s gritty, physical, defends well — exactly the kind of player that can help a team make a playoff run. The Knicks are going to get calls about him, it will be one of the most discussed rumors out there.

Will the Knicks trade Marcus Morris (who is on an expiring contract)? That could come down to can they get a first-round pick, something Mike Vorkunov broke down at The Athletic.

The market for Morris, according to opposing scouts and execs, is probably a team that believes his addition could help push them further into the playoffs. Morris is likely the only player on the Knicks who could get dealt this season who could get a first-round pick back in return, those sources believe. The Knicks could also ask for a young player with upside.

It’s not unanimous, though, that the Knicks would definitely get a first-rounder back for Morris, those scouts and executives say. Drawing a first-round pick is difficult. Last season it was only done by teams willing to take on bad contracts to free up cap space ahead of free agency — something the Knicks were unwilling to do this summer and may not be willing to do now either — and by the Knicks when they traded Porzingis.

This trade season is different from last year because the NBA feels wide open. While there are teams that have separated themselves — Lakers, Bucks, Clippers — those teams have flaws and the gaps to them are not insurmountable. There are teams out there such as Denver, Boston, and others looking at the trade market and thinking one player could make a real difference. Plus, with a very down free agent market next summer, teams feel they may have a better chance of adding now as opposed to waiting until July.

Will those teams throw in a first-round pick to the Knicks for Morris? It seems possible, but it depends on how a quiet market right now starts to heat up and shake out.

It’s going to be an interesting couple of months coming up in New York.

LeBron, what sparked your second half turnaround? “My teammates got on my ass”

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In the first half in Miami Friday night, LeBron James scored 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting, and he had seven turnovers. The Lakers were down eight points at the break and LeBron was -6.

In the second half, LeBron looked more like the guy in contention for an MVP: 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, 3-of-5 from three, and just one turnover. He was at the heart the Lakers come-from-behind win, 113-110 win.

What sparked that turnaround? From LeBron’s walk-off interview on ESPN with Israel Gutierrez:

“My teammates got on my ass. They told me you’re playing too passive, thinking about the game way too much instead of read and reacting and doing what you do… [Anthony Davis] got on me, Boogie Cousins got on me and they told me to just be me. So I was like, ‘Thank god we have two halves in a basketball game,’ where I can flush the first one and then come back and try to help us win.” 

After the game, Anthony Davis said it is the entire team’s willingness to accept constructive criticism has been a key to the Lakers’ fast start.

For most of the season it has been LeBron getting on his teammates’ asses that has fueled the 23-3 Lakers. Not only is he playing at the highest level we have seen from him this early in the season since Miami — 25.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and a career-high 10.8 assists a game — but he’s pushing his teammates defensively and not letting them take plays off.

The Lakers have won six in a row, four of those on the road where they are 13-1 this season. The road tests continue this week, including Friday night against Milwaukee. Also looming out there in 11 days, a Christmas showdown with the Clippers.

LeBron can’t have an off first half in those games, and he knows it.

Toughest player to defend in NBA? Jonathan Isaac votes for James Harden

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Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac is turning heads this season. He has turned into the defensive backbone of the Magic, a long, switchable player who can protect the rim and make plays out on the perimeter.

In the past week, coach Steve Clifford asked Isaac to match up with Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, and LeBron James. So who was the toughest to guard? (Via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.)

Harden dropped 54 on Orlando to lead Houston to the win. It was his second game in a row with 50+ points and hitting 10 threes.

Nobody should be arguing with Isaac here. For one thing, he’s the guy who had to guard them all this week, his opinion is informed. Harden has six points while Isaac was matched up on him Friday night, but the Rockets scored 14 others. Harden did most of his damage when Evan Fournierwas on him, scoring 18. (Via NBA.com matchup data.)

One could make the case that Antetokounmpo and LeBron contribute more on the defensive end and that makes them more valuable (a debate that will come up again at end-of-season awards time), but as a pure scorer there is nobody like Harden. Ever. He has ridiculous shooting range and the best stepback in the league, he’s physically strong and finishes through contact on drives, and he has turned drawing fouls into an art form. Defending James Harden is next to impossible (and incredibly frustrating for those tasked with it).

Houston has built its entire offense around Harden, and they are contenders because of it.