How Kawhi Leonard signing, Paul George trade created real rivalry in Los Angeles

Getty Images
9 Comments

There’s a real rivalry between the Lakers and Clippers now.

The Lakers were incredibly confident internally in recent days that they would be the new home of Kawhi Leonard. They had the history, the brand, and LeBron James and Magic Johnson helping make their pitch. The Lakers were selling the best big three the NBA had ever seen: LeBron, Anthony Davis, and Leonard.

What the Clippers had — after a year-long pursuit of Leonard — was both his interest in playing for them (not in the brighter spotlight of the Lakers) and inside information: Leonard wanted to play with Paul George, and George wanted out in Oklahoma City. The Clippers also understood what it would look like if the Lakers landed Leonard — a dominant superteam in the same building, casting them again deep into the shadows in Los Angeles. That gave the Clippers both the appropriate fear to get the deal done and an opening, and they ran right through it agreeing to sign Leonard and trading for George.

It’s now LeBron James and Anthony Davis vs. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the hallway series in Los Angeles. Lakers fans were stunned and angered by the news that their “little brother” just stole their star free agent and grabbed the guy they thought was a lock to be theirs a couple years ago. The Lakers finished 11 games back of the Clippers last season, landed Anthony Davis, and still lost ground.

The Clippers are now legit title contenders because they landed two guys the Lakers wanted.

Leonard was always an enigma who teams could not predict, but it was the trade for George that blindsided the Lakers and everyone else in the NBA.

The rumors of some tension between Russell Westbrook and George after just two seasons had bubbled up a little around the league in recent days (reminiscent to a degree of the things said about the Kevin Durant and Westbrook relationship in years past), but it seemed more smoke than substance.

Leonard helped make it become real and solid.

George sat down with Leonard in Los Angeles this week — before Leonard met with any teams — and they hatched this plan. If George’s relationship with Westbrook were ideal, if George thought the Thunder were contenders, Leonard’s request may have fallen on deaf ears. It didn’t, but George came to Westbrook’s defense on Twitter.

The bottom line is George and his agent asked for a trade. That blindsided the Thunder organization.

This was the same Paul George that a few years ago was forcing his way out of Indiana and had his people telling every suitor that would listen not to sign him because he would head to the Lakers as a free agent in a year. In large part because they believed they would land him as a free agent, the Lakers didn’t go all in trying to trade for George from Indiana. That lack of a serious effort to trade for George, plus a good first season with Westbrook, had George deciding to stay in OKC and signing a new contract just one year ago.

However, George’s relationship with Westbrook evolved, as did his understanding of how far the partnership in OKC could really go. How much of George’s decision was that and how much was Leonard’s pitch, we will never quite know. What we know is combined that was enough for George to ask out.

The Clippers gave up a TON to get George, but to them it was worth it because it is really getting two stars — Leonard would not be a Clipper either without this trade. If the Clippers want to compete with the Lakers on the court for a title, if they want to compete off the court in Los Angeles for fans to fill the expensive seats and for team sponsors, if owner Steve Ballmer wants to get a new building approved and built for the Clippers in Inglewood, it was going to take star power. This trade is worth it for them, but the price was high.

For most rivalries to gain real traction, the teams have to meet in the playoffs with a lot on the line. This is the exception because the Clippers got two players the Lakers wanted and now stand, at the very least, on equal footing with them in the West. The Clippers are actually little ahead because of the depth of roster around their stars (Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, etc.).

The history and legacy of the franchises are not near the same. The Lakers remain by far the more popular team in Southern California, they have the 16 titles, they are the franchise where fathers pass on their love of the team to their sons and daughters. That, however, is ancient history to players. If you have been in the NBA for the last five years, what do you know about the Clippers? They went to the playoffs every year, they have a coach that everyone loves to play for in Doc Rivers, they were the excitement of Lob City, they rebuilt on the fly to a team that was clearly having fun playing together last season and got along, they have Jerry West as part of a smart front office, and they have a competitive owner worth $50 billion who is not afraid to spend it. The brand? Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were not hurting for major national endorsements as Clippers.

What have you seen from the Lakers the past five seasons?

Clippers vs. Lakers games at Staples Center next season are going to be intense.

Draymond Green not expected to miss any games, Warriors to handle discipline ‘internally’

2022 NBA Summer League - Golden State Warriors v New York Knicks
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
0 Comments

Draymond Green is not expected to miss any games for punching teammate Jordan Poole during an altercation during practice, Warriors GM Bob Myers said Thursday.

That’s not to say he is escaping any punishment, it will just be handled internally, Myers said.

Green showed up at Chase Center and apologized to the team and then left, he did not practice with the Warriors, reports Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Draymond apologized to the team this morning, Jordan was there in the room, I was there in room with the team, the coaches, the players and we heard that,” Myers said.

Whatever punishment the Warriors are handing down to Green, it will not include missing games, Myers said.

Coach Steve Kerr added, “I expect [Green] to return on Saturday and get back at it.” That implies a couple of days suspension, likely with a hefty fine.

Kerr was also quick to shoot down the rumors of Poole having an “attitude” around camp as he comes up on a massive contract extension. Stephen Curry echoed that, saying those reports are “absolute BS.”

The Warriors have seen their fair share of Draymond Green incidents over the years, and as a locker room and franchise they know how to move on from it. While this made headlines, the Warriors will shrug it off and move on.

Miami, Milwaukee have their eyes on Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
Getty Photo
0 Comments

The Heat and Bucks don’t just have interest in the same player. They’re looking to replace the same player.

Two years ago, P.J. Tucker helped Milwaukee win their first championship in a half-century. Last season, he helped Miami lock up the top seed in the East and make the Conference Finals.

With Tucker in Philadelphia, both the Heat and Bucks are looking to fill the void with a different lockdown enforcer that can stretch the floor.

Jae Crowder and the Suns agreed that he won’t participate in practice as the team looks to accommodate his trade request. In a recent ESPN+ article, Zach Lowe made it clear that both Miami and Milwaukee are interested in pursuing a trade for Crowder.

“The Bucks have internal interest in Crowder as that Tucker replacement after getting into the recent Jerami Grant and Bojan Bogdanovic discussions, sources say. They will search all season for one more piece.

“The Heat have interest in Crowder too, sources say, but finding matching salary is tough until Dewayne Dedmon, Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo become trade-eligible in the winter. Martin might start, and the Heat are optimistic Oladipo can play a huge role.”

Grant and Bogdanovic were traded to Portland and Detroit, respectively. The Heat may struggle to find a trade that works since Phoenix probably won’t want to take on Duncan Robinson’s contract. Dedmon, Martin and Oladipo will become trade eligible on January 15th.

Crowder has a history with the Heat, as he helped them make the NBA Finals in the bubble. He helped Phoenix make the NBA Finals two seasons ago and then helped them finish with the best record in the NBA last season.

LeBron says Wembanyama is an ‘alien’ and a ‘generational talent’

0 Comments

There was a time when LeBron James was the “it” kid coming for the NBA — a freakish athlete like nobody in the league had seen. A player the size of Karl Malone with the quickness and skills of an elite point guard.

Now the “it” guy is Victor Wembanyama, the 7’4″ mold-breaking big out of France — and LeBron is impressed.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, well he’s more like an alien,” LeBron said after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Suns in Las Vegas. “I’ve never seen, no one’s ever seen anyone as tall as he is, but it’s fluid and as graceful as on the floor…

“His ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot step-back jumpers on the post, step-back 3s, catch-and-shoot 3s, block shots. He’s for sure a generational talent. And hopefully he continues to stay healthy, that’s the most important for him personally, and as you could tell he loves the game. He was smiling a lot while playing the game last night. I think it was the two best players in the draft on the floor last night and they both did their thing.”

Wembanyama is projected to be the No.1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, just ahead of point guard Scoot Henerson, who scored 28 points with nine assists of his own leading his G-League Ignite to a win over Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92. Wembanyama scored 37 points in the game, hit 7-of-11 shots from 3, had five blocks and a few other shots changed because of his length (7’11” wingspan) and the threat of his block.

Wembanyama and Henderson face off again tonight in a second game between the Ignite and Metropolitans 92 just outside Las Vegas in Henderson (9:30 p.m. ET on NBATV).

Wembanyama will play, with his agent telling ESPN there are no plans to shut the No.1 pick down to avoid injury and protect his draft status. “He’ll never agree to that. He wants to compete and get better,” Bouna Ndiaye said.

LeBron looked back on his time as the “it” player and said simply, “thank got there wasn’t social media” at the time. It’s a different world now, but game still recognizes game.

And LeBron recognizes it in Wembanyama.

LeBron tells Adam Silver he wants to own expansion team in Vegas

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
0 Comments

The odds are good that Las Vegas will get an NBA expansion team. Eventually.

But when it happens, LeBron James wants to be in the Vegas ownership group — and he made that pitch directly to Adam Silver after the Lakers exhibition game in Sin City against the Suns on Wednesday.

“I know Adam is in Abu Dhabi right now, I believe. But he probably sees every single interview and transcript that comes through from NBA players,” James said, via the Associated Press. “So, I want the team here, Adam. Thank you.”

Silver is in the United Arab Emirates, which is hosting an exhibition game between the Bucks and Hawks this week. But LeBron doesn’t need to worry about Silver seeing this request. He probably already has.

The widely held belief around the league is that the NBA owners will not entertain expansion until a new CBA and a new television/streaming rights deal are locked in (driving up the franchise prices), things that will take a couple of years. Expansion talk may come after that, and maybe there will be two new NBA teams by the end of the decade.

“We are not discussing that at this time,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said of expansion last June. “As I said before, at some point, this league invariably will expand, but it’s not at this moment that we are discussing it.”

If and when expansion happens, Las Vegas, along with Seattle, are the clear frontrunners to land teams. Most importantly, both cities have NBA-ready stadiums and fan bases to support the franchises, and their mayors are on board.

LeBron would be the face of an ownership group. While LeBron himself is a billionaire, Silver had called reports of a $2.5 billion expansion fee per team “low.” And that’s not including all the other start-up costs that come with a team.

But if the NBA is coming to Las Vegas, don’t be shocked if LeBron is involved.