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Three key moments to watch in upcoming Anthony Davis trade drama

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Anthony Davis will be traded. Before next season.

Just because it didn’t happen at the trade deadline last week — as Davis, his agent Rich Paul, and the Lakers wished and pushed for — doesn’t mean the Pelicans will keep him into next training camp. New Orleans understands it needs to get as much back for Davis as it can to help jumpstart a rebuild, and the Pelicans believed they could get a better deal this off-season than they could in February.

Now what happens?

First, Davis plays the rest of the season for the Pelicans. He’ll have reduced minutes, likely sitting out back-to-backs, and those things could hurt his All-NBA/post-season awards status a little. However, that’s the only real price — so long as Davis stays healthy. Everyone involved will just hold their breath every time he steps on the court, hoping he avoids injury.

After that, there are three key moments to watch.

1) The NBA Draft Lottery on May 14. There is a potential franchise-changing star at the top of this draft in Duke’s Zion Williamson. After that, there’s a drop off in talent and questions about the guys next on most draft boards — R.J. Barrett (Duke), Ja Morant (Murray State), Nassir Little (North Carolina), Cam Reddish (Duke) — which means the Pelicans may not be wowed by pick No. 3 or No. 5 (unless they fall in love with one of those players).

If the team that wins the draft lottery is potentially willing to deal the pick — we’re looking at you, New York Knicks — the Pelicans will listen. Most likely, especially with the new, flattened out lottery odds, the winner of the lottery will be a team that would keep it (Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta) but the Pelicans are interested to see the lottery outcome and how it could impact the offers coming their way.

2) The Eastern Conference playoffs. So much of July’s free agency could hinge on the taste left in players’ mouths by the postseason. For example, Kawhi Leonard may feel very differently about staying in Toronto if the Raptors make it through to the NBA Finals than if the team is bounced in the second round.

In the Davis saga, this becomes mostly about the Boston Celtics. The Celtics lobbied the Pelicans to wait, not to trade Davis at the deadline, to give them a chance to get in on the bidding and fulfill GM Danny Ainge’s dream scenario of pairing Davis with Kyrie Irving. Talk to front office people/scouts around the league and they believe almost to a man the Celtics can put together the best offer the Pelicans will see. (Some Lakers’ fans push back on this idea every time I write it, I will tell you what I’ve heard from sources in the league: Jayson Tatum is higher rated because of his potential than any Laker youngster, the Memphis pick is not only more valuable than any Laker pick it could be the second-best asset offered to New Orleans, and most have Jaylen Brown right in the mix with the Lakers Lonzo Ball/Brandon Ingram/Kyle Kuzma core.)

However, Ainge’s dream of pairing Irving with Davis only works if Irving stays and re-signs with Boston this summer. Ainge is confident it will happen, but he’s on an island with that one. The Celtics have played like individuals, Irving has called out his young teammates for not sacrificing enough of their games (while he has sacrificed almost nothing in terms of shots and usage rate), and rumors persist around the league that Irving wants to join Kevin Durant in New York. If Irving leaves the Celtics the calculus changes for Ainge — he probably can’t put Tatum in any offer. And that makes it difficult to put together a clear best offer.

Bottom line: If Irving is frustrated and disgruntled and wants out of Boston, the Lakers and everyone else are in the game. (And everyone else could now include the Los Angeles Clippers, who can put together a package based around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lou Williams, plus a bunch of first round picks, including the Miami 2021 unprotected pick. That might tempt New Orleans.)

3) Can the Lakers make a trade to get back in the Davis game? Will they need to? From the day it was leaked Davis had asked for a trade out of New Orleans, sources with an understanding of the Pelicans’ thinking told me the Pelicans were not going to rush the process. They would be patient. One part of it was they liked the idea of multiple bidders getting involved. Another part was they didn’t want to feel pushed and bullied into a trade.

Another aspect was the Pelicans were not that high on the Lakers’ young players — they were good, but not as good as the Pelicans wanted.

After the season ends for the Lakers, they may quietly explore a trade that could send some of those young players out to bring back someone the Pelicans’ value more highly. Who is that? Likely someone we don’t know is available. However, if there is a mystery “team X” that highly values Ball or Ingram, and a pick gets thrown in the trade, it works for our mystery team. If the Lakers can add a couple better first-round picks it might help, too.

And it might not matter.

The Pelicans are going to do what they believe is best for the franchise this summer — and that could mean changing general managers, bringing in a new front office for Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and the front office to negotiate with. What that new front office is looking to get back in a trade, and how they value certain players, could vary from the people the Lakers have been negotiating with so far.

Which means there’s just a lot of uncertainty around the coming Anthony Davis trade.

We’re all just trying to read the tea leaves. Which is why we’ll be watching these three areas closely.

Report: Kevin Love would prefer to play for Portland if traded

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are listening to trade offers for Kevin Love.

Love’s reaction to this is essentially “whatevs.” He’s been in the middle of trade rumors for four years now, it’s as constant and annoying in his life as taxes.

However, if he is going to get traded, he’d prefer to go home to Oregon and play for Portland, reports Kevin O’Conner at The Ringer.

Love would prefer to play for his hometown Portland Trail Blazers, according to multiple league sources. The Blazers make perfect sense as a destination for Love; they need help for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after the team has been decimated by injuries….

The Blazers have the salaries to make a deal work with the expiring contracts of Hassan Whiteside ($27.1 million) or Kent Bazemore ($19.3 million).

There were previous reports Love just wants to go to a contender. That said, there is logic to him wanting to go home, and there is a good fit in Portland, a team that needed help at the four before injuries rocked the roster. Love is averaging 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, is shooting 37.1 percent from three, and remains one of the best outlet passers in the game.

Making a trade work is trickier. Bazemore has to play a much larger role after Rodney Hood was lost for the season with a torn Achilles, his availability is up for debate.

Hassan Whiteside can make the trade numbers work with his expiring contract, and Whiteside won’t be missed once Jusuf Nurkic (and even Zach Collins) returns from injury. However, the Cavaliers are going to want draft picks or young players to help with their rebuild to make this trade. Would the Blazers throw in a protected first to make this happen?

There also is this question any team trading for Love has to ask itself: Do we want to take on the three-plus years remaining on his four-year, $120 million contract? That’s a lot of money and years for an All-Star player who is productive but aging, and also has a lengthy injury history.

Portland can also try to trade for Danilo Gallinari and his expiring contract with the Thunder, which has a lot less risk involved.

Love, however, would be popular in Portland, and he would help the team.

Jaylen Brown: Celtics nicknamed Grant Williams ‘Ben Simmons’ due to missed 3s

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Celtics rookie Grant Williams on 3-pointers in his first 20 games: 0-for-25.

0-for-25!

Nobody else has ever started a season that cold.

Of everyone else to attempt at least 25 3-pointers in their first 20 games, nobody made fewer than two. Of everyone else to miss all their 3-pointers in their first 20 games, nobody attempted more than 17.

Finally, Williams made a 3-pointer in Boston’s win over the Cavaliers yesterday.

Celtics forward Jaylen Brown, via NBC Sports Boston:

We were calling him Ben Simmons for the longest. But he knocked one down, and knocked them down, too. So, shoutout to both of those guys.

Yes, 76ers guard Ben Simmons barely shoots, let alone makes, 3-pointers. But it seems as if Brown realized mid-answer he shouldn’t provide bulletin-board material to a rival.

Too late.

Simmons has gotten called a coward numerous times by people in Boston due to his refusal to shoot 3s. Becoming the butt of the joke with fellow NBA players? That’s something else entirely.

We’ll see how Simmons responds, but many around him – including Philadelphia coach Brett Brown – have been urging him to hoist more 3s. It’s hard to see this inspiring Simmons to actually change his game.

Paul George says there’s more to his Pacers exit: ‘I promise you, I’m not the one to boo’

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In 2017, Paul George told the Pacers he planned to leave in free agency the following year. It wasn’t a trade request, but George knew his message would likely prompt Indiana to deal him. He wanted out.

George said he preferred the Spurs. (Or was it the Lakers?) The Pacers dealt him to the Thunder.

Now with the Clippers, George returned to Indiana and got booed.

George, via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:

“You know, someday I’ll do a tell-all and tell the leading events of how I left Indiana,” George said. “And I promise you, I’m not the one to boo.”

“… I’m not gonna share the teaser,” George later added. “… I like being the villain. I’m here two nights out of the year. The people they should boo is here a lot longer than I am.”

Maybe George felt he got wronged. Maybe George actually got wronged.

But fans generally side with their favorite team over a star player who chose to leave.

It’s hard to imagine a set of circumstances where Pacers fans would boo someone other than George for his exit. My hunch: His grievances are significant to him but wouldn’t persuade Indiana fans. Still, I’m at least curious about his full story.

LeBron James on 2011 NBA Finals: ‘I lost my love for the game’

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LeBron James became a villain by leaving the Cavaliers for the Heat on The Decision in 2010. He arrived in Miami promising “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” championships.

By the end of his first season with the Heat, he was beaten down. The Mavericks topped Miami in the NBA Finals, winning the last three games of the series. While Miami blew its 2-1 lead, LeBron averaged 15.3 points and 4.7 turnovers per game. He shot 2-for-12 on 3-pointers and 4-for-10 on free throws.

After Game 6, he callously mocked his critics:

“All the people that were rooting for me to fail… at the end of the day, tomorrow they have to wake up and have the same life that (they had) before they woke up today,” James said. “They got the same personal problems they had today. And I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things I want to do.”

ESPN:

LeBron emerged from his funk and led the Heat to consecutive titles. He returned to Cleveland and won another title there. He’s now with the Lakers leading another championship pursuit.

He plays well. He plays smartly. He plays with joy. He often rises to the biggest occasions.

LeBron probably had to go through a setback like the 2011 Finals to sharpen his mental edge. But it’s incredible how far he has come from the defeated player who left that series against Dallas.