Celtics loom large as Anthony Davis sweepstakes head to offseason

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The Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving 0 games after his trade request. The Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard 0 games after his trade request. The Timberwolves traded Jimmy Butler 13 (nearly unbearable) games after his trade request.

The Pelicans will keep Anthony Davis at least 32 games after his trade request.

By holding Davis past today’s trade deadline, New Orleans set the stage for an unprecedented firestorm. One of the NBA’s biggest stars is caught in limbo. Opposing teams – Celtics now at the front of the line – will continue to jockey for him. Rumors will fly.

And it can’t be resolved for months.

The Pelicans didn’t create this chaos alone. Unlike Irving, Leonard and Butler, Davis requested his trade during the season. Cleveland and San Antonio spent a while soliciting and evaluating trades in the seclusion of the offseason. (Minnesota had the same option but stubbornly chose not to.) The Collective Bargaining Agreement effectively prevented Boston from trading for Davis now. Many circumstances contributed to this holding pattern.

Yet, we’re in it now primarily because of one factor – the Celtics.

Interest in the elite center won’t diminish. His desire to leave the Pelicans likely won’t change. But the Celtics are powerful enough to shift the landscape significantly.

Boston couldn’t realistically trade for Davis now, because both he and Kyrie Irving are designated rookie scale players, and teams can acquire only one via trade. But Irving’s contract status will change this offseason, allowing a trade for Davis then.

The Celtics are loaded with assets to send New Orleans. The big prize: Jayson Tatum. Boston has reportedly refused to directly dangle him while still making clear anyone besides Irving will be discussable. Will the Celtics actually include Tatum in an offer for Davis? They surely explained their intent to the Pelicans by now. It was on New Orleans to judge Boston’s specific words and tone. Any promise would be non-binding, anyway. The Celtics can’t officially trade for Davis until July 6.

In the meantime, everyone must handle this waiting period.

The Pelicans must determine how to manage Davis. They made him a healthy scratch the last couple games and are reportedly considering shutting him down the rest of the season. The five games New Orleans has already played after Davis’ trade request have been filled with awkwardness. But he reportedly wants to play, and it could get contentious. Sitting Davis the rest of the season would be a huge shame. He’s in the midst of an excellent season. I understand protecting an asset and tanking for a higher pick, but keeping such a talented player off the court that long would be a black eye for the NBA.

The Lakers must regroup in their playoff push. Trade rumors have seemingly disrupted chemistry, but this team is still capable of a deep run. LeBron James is that good, even without his desired co-star.

Boston must try to win over Davis. The timing of his trade request, when the Celtics effectively couldn’t deal for him, was a transparent attempt to avoid them. Davis’ camp furthered the push by leaking he was concerned about Kyrie Irving leaving Boston. The coup de grace: Davis’ father saying he’d never want his son on the Celtics after how they treated Isaiah Thomas.

Davis must convey what he wants. He won’t sign an extension anywhere, which means his team must ride it out into 2020 unrestricted free agency with him. That gives Davis leverage. He can say where he would and wouldn’t re-sign, incentivizing and de-incentivizing certain teams to trade for him. Anyone can still make New Orleans the best offer, but that’s extremely risky without Davis on board.

Once the season ends, everyone will be off to the races.

A wildcard team could try to trade for Davis, a la the Thunder with Paul George and Raptors with Kawhi Leonard. But Davis’ value is diminished by no longer being available for the 2019 playoffs.

A team will win the lottery and could use the No. 1 pick and right to draft Zion Williamson as trade bait for Davis. It’d have to be the right team winning the lottery, but that’s a head-turning asset.

The Knicks will chase Kevin Durant and Irving and then could try to trade for Davis. Or New York could just try to trade for Davis without having superstars already in place.

The Lakers could push again for Davis, but their offer wasn’t good enough now. How will it improve in the summer? With LeBron’s prime years dwindling, they might not be able to afford to wait for Davis’ free agency after yet another season. They’ll likely prioritize pursuing other stars.

And the Celtics will make their offer clear. No more hedging about what they might do. It’ll be time to put their cards on the table.

That’s when we’ll finally see real action.

LeBron James drops 31, leads Lakers comeback to beat Rockets

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HOUSTON (AP) — LeBron James had 31 points and 12 assists and the Los Angeles Lakers rode a big third quarter to a a 124-115 win over the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.

The Lakers bounced back after a loss to Orlando on Wednesday night that snapped their nine-game winning streak. The loss was the third straight for the Rockets, which ties a season high, and they have dropped four of five.

Kyle Kuzma scored 23 points, and Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope each had 20 for the Lakers.

Russell Westbrook scored 35 points for his fourth straight 30-point game and James Harden had 34 for the Rockets, who also lost three in a row in late November.

Los Angeles didn’t lead in the first half but used a 32-point third quarter to take a nine-point lead into the fourth.

Houston used a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 10 with about seven minutes left, but the Lakers scored the next six points to extend it to 110-94 midway through the quarter. That sent many Rockets fans streaming for the exits and caused a large contingent of Lakers fans to start chanting, “Let’s go Lakers.”

The Rockets did not get closer than seven points the rest of the way.

The Lakers opened the second half with a 10-3 run to take their first lead of the game, 69-68, with about eight minutes left in the third quarter. James capped that run by making a basket and then added another one seconds later after JaVale McGee blocked a dunk attempt by Clint Capela. McGee beat his chest and screamed after in Capela’s direction after the play and received a technical foul for taunting.

There were about seven minutes left in the third when Westbrook and Anthony Davis, who missed the game with an injury, both received technical fouls for jawing at each other.

The Lakers led by three later in the third when Kuzma scored the first four points of a 9-2 run that stretched the lead to 85-75.

Houston had a chance to cut the deficit at the end of the third quarter, but Westbrook missed two free throws to leave the Lakers up 91-82 entering the fourth.

 

Watch Kawhi Leonard’s 39 points spark Clippers rally past Pelicans 133-130

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 39 points and the Los Angeles Clippers rallied to beat the New Orleans Pelicans 133-130 on Saturday.

Lou Williams scored 14 of his 32 points during a dominant fourth quarter for Los Angeles, which outscored the Pelicans 31-20 in the final 12 minutes.

Williams’ 3 with 31.6 seconds left, after Patrick Beverley had rebounded Leonard’s miss, gave the Clippers a 133-127 lead and sent numerous fans toward the exits.

But JJ Redick hit a quick 3, and after Leonard ran down the shot clock and missed a 3, New Orleans had 2.4 seconds to attempt a tying 3 that Redick missed off the back rim.

Montrezl Harrell scored 24 points for the Clippers, who trailed by 10 in the final seconds of the third quarter, but turned a steal into two free throws and then opened the fourth with an 8-0 run to tie it at 110.

After shooting 58.5% (38 of 65) in the first three quarters, the Pelicans made just 8 of 21 shots in the fourth as the game slipped away from them.

Lonzo Ball had 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for the Pelicans, who were seeking their 11th victory in 15 games despite the recent absence of guard Jrue Holiday, who has missed seven games with an elbow injury.

Derrick Favors had 22 points and 11 rebounds for New Orleans, while Brandon Ingram had 21 points and Redick scored 19.

The teams combined for 152 points in a fast-paced first half, during which New Orleans tied a franchise record with 80 points.

Favors made his first seven shots and had 15 of his points in the opening 24 minutes, when the Pelicans shot 63.6%, including 11-of-21 shooting from 3-point range.

Ball hit three 3s in the first half, his last giving the Pelicans an 80-72 lead that stood at halftime.

Leonard has scored at least 30 points in each of his last five games.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: NBA system wants you to flop, but ‘that’s not who I am’

Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
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Giannis Antetokounmpo scores inside unlike anyone since Shaq.

Like with Shaquille O’Neal, Antetokounmpo has sparked a conversation about how much contacts he absorbs.

Antetokounmpo, via Eric Woodyard of ESPN:

“It’s kind of hard because in the NBA, the way it’s built, they want you to flop,” Antetokounmpo said of playing physically. “It wants you to be weak, kind of, because sometimes I think when you’re strong and you’re going through contact, they don’t call the foul. But when you’re flopping and kind of going into the contact and throwing the ball out, they’re just going to call foul, but that’s not who I am, that’s not what I’m gonna do.

“I’m just gonna try to power through contact. It’s going to be … where if a guy grabs me or pushes me, I’ve got to show it more, but I think I’ve done a better job of showing it more so the refs can see that the guys are holding me, pushing me and just being physical.”

James Harden and Antetokounmpo have traded barbs since last year’s MVP vote, which Antetokounmpo won over Harden. Was this another shot across Harden’s bow?

Harden isn’t the only player who flops. But Harden has earned a reputation as the NBA’s foremost flopper.

Antetokounmpo could do a better job of selling contact. But his tenaciousness sets a tone for the Bucks. His teammates see his determination and follow his lead. There’s a real positive effect to Antetokounmpo’s style.

Also, Antetokounmpo already averages 10.4 free throws per game. How many more fouls would he draw by flopping? Officials could be reluctant to give him even more whistles. Though each call should be evaluated independently, there can be a tendency not to call too many fouls.

Report: LeBron James views Jason Kidd as only living peer for basketball intelligence

LeBron James and Jason Kidd
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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LeBron James is a basketball genius.

That somewhat explains why, since becoming a superstar, he has clashed with all previous his coaches – Mike Brown, Erik Spoelstra, David Blatt, Tyronn Lue and Luke Walton. Traditional roles make coaches the brains behind the operation. But what happens when LeBron is the smartest person in the room? At best, it creates complications.

So, of course there were questions about how LeBron would take to new Lakers coach Frank Vogel. Vogel is a coach. That’s enough.

But LeBron also previously spread word of his desire to be coached by a former player. Vogel never played professionally. However, one of his assistants was a Hall of Fame player with previous head-coaching experience – Jason Kidd.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN:

One of those primary assistants would be Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd, whom two sources have independently said James regards as the only person alive who sees the game of basketball with his level of clarity.

This is probably hyperbolic. But Kidd was an incredibly smart player. His court vision, defensive recognition and ability to find ways to contribute all over the floor were elite. I can see why LeBron would enjoy talking basketball with Kidd.

But that alone doesn’t make Kidd a good coach. Playing ability doesn’t always translate to coaching ability. His record with the Bucks and Nets leaves a lot to be desired. Interpersonal issues were glaring. Dated thinking became even more apparent when Mike Budenholzer succeeded Kidd and immediately guided Milwaukee to the next level. Kidd’s record of player development is mixed.

Still, that level of endorsement from LeBron carries major weight.

Kidd has been trying to become an NBA head coach again. He lobbied for the Lakers job while Luke Walton held it and interviewed for it before Vogel got it.

Vogel said he wasn’t worried about Kidd undermining him and acted as if he truly isn’t. The Lakers are 33-8, and Vogel is endearing himself in Los Angeles. To better understand how he’s doing it, I highly recommend reading Arnovitz’s article.