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Should the Lakers trade LeBron James?

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LeBron James is now on a minutes restriction for the Los Angeles Lakers, who are poised to miss the playoffs in James’ first year in the Western Conference. The bulk of NBA writers are now backpedaling after unequivocally claiming that James was worth a guaranteed 40 wins, even out West.

Meanwhile, the dysfunction in LA is obvious.

They’re a team run on brand and brand alone, with an underwhelming court product that is not championship-level by any measure. And in the face of LeBron’s brand, the Lakers have immediately let him have the right of way despite their own purported stature in the basketball community. James has come first, and with it has been a series of bad front office moves that, while initially pleasing to LeBron, were obvious mistakes to anyone watching.

Now there’s real rumblings about what can actually be done to fix LA’s problem, particularly as it’s unclear whether stars outside of Anthony Davis really want to join James. Kawhi Leonard apparently does not.

To that end, the most radical suggestion has been to simply trade LeBron.

That was the idea put forth by Jeff Van Gundy this week, who said he felt as though exploration into the idea was necessary. Van Gundy suggested sending James to the Los Angeles Clippers for cap space, which would give the Lakers a better chance at signing Kevin Durant this summer.

Via Twitter:

This could never happen. LA has been waiting for another talent like James to pick them despite their obvious organizational flaws, and now they have their man. Even if hardcore Kobe Bryant fans continue to gripe about James, none of them will be tuning out the purple and gold anytime soon. A hate watch is still eyeballs on the screen, and thus the revenue keeps pouring in for the Lakers.

Los Angeles hasn’t put smart money into the rest of their franchise — front office, trainers, coaching staff — and instead have decided to play favorites with the hiring of Magic Johnson and Bryant’s ex-agent in Rob Pelinka. That they’ve been unable to find success in the first year with James isn’t surprising.

This story is one that plays out over and over again when billionaires in professional sports are left to their own devices. Money and prior success plays into owners’ confirmation bias about themselves, that everything they touch turns to gold and that they’re experts not only in their own field, but in related ones as well. That’s what gives us hirings like Johnson and Pelinka, all while better organizations, with better management, outmaneuver them.

Across the hall is a perfect example of an owner, just as passionate as the one in Lakerland, who has deferred to and hired experts as an investment in his organization.

Steve Ballmer is a billionaire who could have fallen prey to the same kind of hirings. But Ballmer didn’t choose the flashy smiles and championship rings of former players. Instead he hired folks with proven track records and set up the Clippers for both short term and long term success by hiring the right people (Michael Winger and Jerry West) and letting the butterfly effect of those additions play out.

The difference in management between two teams sharing one building makes comparative assessment that much easier. For Ballmer, winning is the only thing to focus on, and the decision-making of the Clippers supports that. That same clarity can’t be seen around Jeanie Buss, the Lakers owner who appears focused on many things outside of the on-court performance.

The Lakers shouldn’t trade LeBron. But they also shouldn’t cater to him in the way they have, either. James is an aging star who will likely continue to miss chunks of time. People think that skill degradation is the natural path of a guy like LeBron. That’s possible. But we’ve also seen players head into their later years while continuing to perform at a high level … for 50 games a season.

James’ aggregate impact could continue to wane, and he already doesn’t want to be the play-making guy. At least on paper, it’s seemed like LeBron has wanted to add help to the Lakers so he doesn’t have to do anything himself. Younger talent like Davis would certainly do that.

But that also means that Los Angeles shouldn’t acquiesce to every whim James has on roster and coaching changes, especially as he’s proven time and time again to be exceptionally poor at choosing both. James’ most successful years came with the Miami Heat, where Pat Riley was an expert at both managing personalities and being too strong a figure to intimidate. James wanted Erik Spoelstra fired in 2010, a move all involved are glad wasn’t made.

Then again, I’m not entirely convinced it’s all about basketball for the Lakers. Buss herself is a brand. We know her face, and her quotes, and her relationship status. She’s at the polar opposite of guys like Peter Holt, who most wouldn’t recognize if they passed him on the streets of San Antonio.

The Lakers, and everything that comes with them, are a brand, and NBA teams are businesses. Purists might scoff at this, but it’s not crazy that ownership could see Los Angeles’ path to success is as a marketing concern and not a basketball operation in the decades to come. While there’s nothing wrong with the Lakers not putting basketball first, or with Buss hiring those she trusts who are close to her, the idea that the team is struggling on the court for reasons outside of those major factors is an argument made in bad faith.

The Lakers don’t need to win games to be a going concern. LA is a branding mecca, and it’s certainly not hurt their footprint to have won fewer than 40 games since 2013. If the on-court product was clearly the top priority, hiring guys like Johnson and Pelinka wouldn’t have been the moves they made. Those, like many other decisions, were more about the appearance of running a team rather than the actual knowledge of running one.

The Lakers are a bad basketball team who, if their main goal is to win games, is run poorly. They’ve got a hole to dig themselves out of, and there’s some tough decisions ahead regarding James. Trading him is patently crazy, either from a basketball or branding perspective. But the pitching of that idea supports the feeling around the league that something real needs to be done to get James back in the playoff conversation, and that LA’s problems run deeper than just this season.

Report: Ball family has discussed shutting down Big Baller Brand

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I could write a thousand words about what seems to be happening with the Big Baller Brand — the shoe/apparel company that’s the brainchild of LaVar Ball and provides the shoes for the Lakers’ Lonzo Ball — but sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

Or, in this case, a social media message.

If you haven’t been following the saga — something maybe actually worthy of watching on Facebook Live from the Ball family — over the weekend it was reported Lonzo Ball cut ties with Alan Foster, a co-founder of the Big Baller Brand (BBB) who served as the business manager, over inappropriate use of funds. That was in addition to news the Lakers reached out to Lonzo to ask if his shoes were part of the reason for his ankle injury and slow recovery. This was followed by social media buzz (and some hints) Ball was going to switch over to Nike as a sponsor (since he is shut down for the season because of the ankle, we won’t see what shoes he wears on the court until summer at the earliest, when the inevitable “look how hard I’m working out” Instagram posts come out).

Now the entire thing is so tainted the Ball family may just shot Big Baller Brand down, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

If they did (no sure thing), the company could be re-formed under a new name. This is as much about cutting out Foster as anything.

What role Lonzo would play in any new Ball family business is up for discussion. Lonzo’s next season will be his third, after which the Lakers (or whatever team has his rights) can offer him an extension on his rookie contract, or choose instead to let him go into a fourth season followed by restricted free agency (an extension deal could be reached in the fourth season, too). This coming season is a huge one for Ball: Can he stay healthy (he has missed 65 games over two seasons) and can he prove he’s a key guy that a franchise would want to lock up and pay?

Ball has talked about finally being healthy during the summer and getting to work on his body and game. That would be good, but we’ll if he remains focused.

Report: Lakers not actually interested in Jason Kidd

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The Lakers hiring Jason Kidd as their next coach went from rumor shared by Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report to report by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Stephen A. Smith of ESPN:

I’ve been told there’s no way they’re really considering Jason Kidd. He’s not on their list. Now, that’s what I’m hearing. But I also want to emphasize I’m not covering the NBA like that. As much as I cover these games or what have you, I’m not on the phones with these executives every single day as intimately as the great Adrian Wojnarowski is. So, I’m certainly not trying to cast any aspersions on any of his reporting. Listen to this man, because he’s usually right on the money. He’s my friend. I respect the hell out of him. But in this particular story, the Lakers are saying, no, we’re not interested in Jason Kidd. And they want to make sure that that’s clear. I don’t know why, but they wanted to make sure that that was clear.

If the Lakers are spreading word they’re not interested in Kidd, I have one strong guess why: He’s a bad coach.

The latest Kidd rumors have caused panic among Lakers fans. Kidd really struggled guiding the Bucks, who’ve taken off since firing him.

Kidd is better at getting his name connected to openings – and even potential openings. Remember the Lakers haven’t fired Luke Walton, though that’s expected after the season. Kidd has been linked to the Suns, Pistons, Warriors, Knicks and Lakers. And that’s just since leaving Milwaukee. He also attempted a coup with the Nets then, when that failed, took a soft landing with the Bucks.

Magic Johnson’s decision-making with the Lakers has been suspect at best. Hiring Kidd, an old-school-style coach, would have been right in line with Johnson’s other failures. There are reasons Kidd-to-the-Lakers was at least believable.

There are also potential reasons the Lakers could have leaked interest in Kidd. Not all of this necessarily came from him.

Now, if the Lakers hire Mark Jackson, that will look far better by comparison. Tyronn Lue could look like an absolute steal by comparison.

DeMarcus Cousins: Fans have called me n-word a few times

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The NBA has fined DeMarcus Cousins for swearing at fans four separate times.

Cousins wants to call attention to the other side of interactions like those.

Cousins, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

“Oh, I’ve been called n—–,” he told Yahoo Sports in the latest Posted Up video podcast that will be released this week. “And it’s crazy because this has happened to me on a few occasions. I reported it to the league, and, you know, I may have said whatever I said back and I was still punished for it. But obviously it became a bigger issue when it was Russ [Westbrook], and he was still fined for it. I don’t really understand it. We’re the product. We push this league, so I don’t understand. When does our safety, when does it become important?”

When asked which cities he heard racial slurs, the nine-year veteran and four-time All-Star declined to answer. However, league sources told Yahoo Sports one of the incidents occurred in Sacramento.

“I don’t really want to [name cities or teams], because I’m not really trying to put a label on an entire fan base,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports. “There are ignorant individuals in every city. I’ll just put it like that. … [The league] tells you to ignore it, or whatever the case may be, but how many times am I supposed to ignore that. Me coming from where I come from [Mobile, Alabama], they lucky all they got was a response.”

Players would ignore out-of-line fans if the players believed teams were properly holding fans accountable. If teams removed fans who made racist and/or personal comments toward players, the players would let arena security handle it.

As is, players often feel they must take matters in their own hands to get a proper resolution.

This conversation is happening now only because Russell Westbrook got videoed vulgarly confronting a Jazz fan. Westbrook got fined for that, but overdue attention is being paid to fan-player interactions. The Jazz banned that fan from their arena, but they didn’t eject him from the game against the Thunder. Could they have investigated more quickly? They don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. The Jazz just banned a fan who called Westbrook “boy” last year! The incident received attention now only because of Westbrook’s recent squabble with a Utah fan.

Players too often face racist and personal taunts. There’s no way to eliminate that. But teams must do better at punishing fans who act inappropriately.

The NBA should fine players who swear at fans. That’s bad for business and should be discouraged.

The key difference: The league is already on top of punishing players. Punishing misbehaving fans hasn’t taken enough of a priority.

The NBA should pay more attention to the root of some of these incidents. This isn’t just happening in a vacuum.

Report: Spurs signing Donatas Motiejunas

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In 2016, both the Pistons (who agreed to trade for him) and the Rockets (who agreed to match his offer sheet from the Nets) failed Donatas Motiejunas on physicals. He finally signed a prorated minimum contract with the Pelicans for 2016-17. He has spent the last two seasons in China. It has been rough for him.

Now, Motiejunas is somewhat surprisingly returning to the NBA.

ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs have agreed to a deal with veteran Donatas Motiejunas, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

San Antonio needed another big man after buying out Pau Gasol, who signed with the Bucks. Motiejunas provides depth behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl.

The 7-foot Motiejunas is capable inside and out. But NBA centers have gotten so good at 3-point shooting so quickly. I’m not sure Motiejunas remains ahead of the curve on the perimeter.

Whatever his current ability, he should at least fit well with the Spurs. They maximize skilled bigs.