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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 β€” front office, trainers, coaching staff β€” 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: Rockets exiled Anthony rather than just dropping him from rotation ‘because his name was Carmelo’

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Why isn’t Carmelo Anthony in the NBA?

That’s the question everyone obsesses over, but the answer is quite simple: He’s washed up. Anthony played poorly for the Thunder then even worse for the Rockets. He’s now 35. Occasionally, washed-up players still land on NBA rosters, but they usually don’t. It’s not worth fretting over the common outcome happening.

The question that really intrigues me about the latter stages of Anthony’s career:

How did Houston go from giving Anthony a major role to deciding he suddenly couldn’t be with the team at all?

Baxter Holmes of ESPN:

Still, the Rockets know they can’t just take him out of the rotation; doing so would cause a media firestorm. “Because his name was Carmelo, we treated it differently,” one team source says.

The Rockets hope that parting ways with Anthony quickly might allow him to join another team.

This is a strange explanation.

What made a “media firestorm” so inevitable? Even if it were inevitable, what made a “media firestorm” so difficult to deal with? The Rockets couldn’t handle a few questions about Anthony?

If Anthony protested about a reduced role, that would’ve been one thing. But by all accounts, he did what Houston asked of him while there. He didn’t even get a chance to show whether he could’ve helped as a non-rotation player.

The Rockets gave him 20-39 minutes in each of his games with them. If he deserved that much playing time, he couldn’t have helped at all in situational spot minutes? Maybe Anthony’s awful defense would have been at least tolerable if he could’ve conserved his energy for smaller bursts on the court.

If Houston tried to do him a favor, it failed. Anthony never landed with another team. His abrupt and confusing end with the Rockets certainly didn’t instill confidence around the league.

Anthony has expressed resentment for how Houston exiled him. He deserves some blame for the predicament. His prior objections about coming off the bench in Oklahoma City contributed to everyone being on pins and needles about his role.

But it remains strange the Rockets handled the situation in such an extreme manner.

Report: Lakers player lost $1 million endorsement deal in China

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LeBron James publicly criticized Daryl Morey and reportedly pressed NBA commissioner Adam Silver on punishing the Rockets general manager.

Why is LeBron so upset with Morey, who merely tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters trying to expand and maintain their freedom?

Following the money often provides an answer.

Due to Chinese backlash, the NBA will reportedly lose millions of dollars of expected revenue, which affects players’ salaries. Lakers players also felt even-more-direct consequences while in China for preseason games.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo — to name a few — had appearances canceled. One Lakers player, sources told ESPN, had agreed to a $1 million endorsement deal with a Chinese company prior to the trip. When he arrived — poof — it was gone. A seven-figure payday went out the window.

It’s understandable someone would be agitated by losing a $1 million endorsement deal because of someone else’s tweet. I can’t even imagine how frustrating it’d be to miss out on that money.

Morey chose to take a political stand. Others are paying the price. He definitely rankled people around the league.

But perhaps scorn for Morey is misdirected.

This is the peril of chasing money in a place where an endorsement deal can fall apart because of someone else’s tweet. Maybe a bigger problem is a business environment where free expression is so stifled.

Report: Kings offer four-year, $90M contract extension to Buddy Hield, who wants $110M

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Buddy Hield is making noise about leaving the Kings in free agency next summer if they don’t sign him to a contract extension by Monday’s deadline.

Where do negotiations stand?

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

The Kings have an offer for Hield on the table for four years and $90 million, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Hield and his agent, Brandon Rosenthal, are seeking a number closer to $110 million, sources said.

This will primarily come down to two factors – Sacramento’s willingness to bend and Hield’s appetite for risk.

A four-year, $90 million extension seems quite fair. I bet many players of Hield’s caliber would’ve already accepted it.

But in a weak free-agent class, he has a chance to get much more next summer. He could even draw a max offer sheet, which projected to be worth $125 million over four years (though that was before the NBA began losing China revenue).

Of course, the Kings would have matching rights on Hield, who’d be a restricted free agent without an extension. So, Hield can’t unilaterally leave Sacramento next summer. The Kings also have another good young shooting guard in Bogdan Bogdanovic (who has his own extension offer on the table). These factors all give Sacramento reason not to pay Hield generously now.

If the Kings up their offer, that’d make it easy on Hield. He and Sacramento are trending in the right direction together. A big payday would clearly satisfy him.

If the Kings hold firm at less than Hield’s desired $110 million, he faces a choice: How much risk is he willing to incur to bet on himself?

With those numbers so close, perhaps there’s room for compromise. In addition to salary, guarantees, incentives and options could help bridge the gap. But evident by the lack of a signed extension, a significant divide clearly remains.

Report: LeBron James pressed Adam Silver on Daryl Morey repercussions, perceived double standard for players

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Lakers and Nets players – who were meeting with Adam Silver in China – reportedly told the NBA commissioner they would’ve been punished for a tweet as costly as Daryl Morey’s and asked Silver what he’d do to Morey. LeBron James reportedly spoke up in that meeting. LeBron also later criticized Morey.

It wasn’t difficult to connect the dots.

But in case you wanted confirmation LeBron was among the players questioning Silver on Morey…

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

Silver opened the floor. James raised his hand.

His question was related to Morey — and the commissioner’s handling of the Rockets’ GM. James, to paraphrase, told Silver that he knew that if a player caused the same type of uproar with something he said or tweeted, the player wouldn’t be able to skate on it. There would be some type of repercussion. So, James wanted to know, what was Silver going to do about it in Morey’s case?

Silver pushed back, reminding the players that the league never doled out discipline when they publicly criticized President Donald Trump. Morey was exercising the same liberty when he challenged China. Regardless of the financial fallout of one versus the other, that’s not what should matter. Silver might have disliked the ramifications of Morey’s tweet, but he would defend the right to say it.

We can’t know what would’ve happened if a player tweeted like Morey. But Silver is right: The NBA has a track record of allowing players – including LeBron – to speak unchecked on social issues. I think a player would’ve gotten the same treatment as Morey. Still, as the WNBA showed, there might be limits for players’ freedom of expression.

This line of questioning also reveals something about LeBron. There are many possible responses to this situation. Seemingly suggesting Morey – who supported Hong Kong protesters, who are trying to maintain and expand their freedoms – deserved punishment is, um, one way to go.