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Lakers show much better urgency, understanding in second summer with LeBron James

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

LeBron James’ teams have an implicit mandate: Compete for championships.

He’s good enough to singlehandedly elevate a team near that level. As he approaches the end of his prime, it’s even more important to optimize each year.

The Lakers drastically failed in that regard last season.

They made amends this offseason.

Los Angeles added a superstar, upgraded its supporting cast and hopefully gave LeBron time to get healthy. Yet, the Lakers still face major uncertainty. Such is life in the wide-open NBA — especially with the Lakers’ uninspiring front office.

The Lakers did well to add Anthony Davis. He’s an elite two-way big whose finishing could could fit well with LeBron’s playmaking and can cover a lot of ground defensively. But make no mistake: The cost was high — Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, the No. 4 pick, two future first-rounders (including one that can be deferred), first-round swap rights to the Pelicans and Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Jemerrio Jones and a second-rounder to the Wizards. Los Angeles depleted nearly every asset to get Davis. Also bake into the price that Davis seemed likely to sign with the Lakers next summer even if they didn’t acquire him sooner.

Again, this was worth it considering LeBron’s timeline. The Lakers couldn’t waste another year waiting for Davis.

They’ll have to wait for a third star, though. Kawhi Leonard chose the Clippers, leaving Los Angeles’ other team loading up on role players.

The Lakers selected far better than last season, placing more emphasis on outside shooting and defense – essential skills around LeBron. But the signings still run the gamut from clear-and-obvious Danny Green (two years, $30 million) to poor-fitting Rajon Rondo (1+1, minimum).

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1+1 with starting salary of $8,089,282), Jared Dudley (one year, minimum), Alex Caruso (two years, $5.5 million), JaVale McGee (1+1 with starting salary of $4 million), Quinn Cook (two years, $6 million with second season unguaranteed), Dwight Howard (one year, unguaranteed minimum), Troy Daniels (one year, minimum) and Avery Bradley (1+1 with starting salary of $4,767,000) land in between.

DeMarcus Cousins also signed with the Lakers, but he’ll likely miss the season with a torn ACL. That caused one problem – a lack of depth at center – but maybe helped with another.

The Lakers have a lot of, um, personality. They’re full of players who have their own ideas about how things should operate and aren’t afraid to speak on it. Even the new coaching staff – with Frank Vogel as head coach an Jason Kidd as assistant – looks combustible.

Potential difficulties extend to the front office and beyond. The Lakers put Rob Pelinka in charge of the front office after Magic Johnson’s stunning resignation. Pelinka did well to distance himself this summer from Johnson’s poor decision-making, but major questions still linger around Pelinka. And Kurt Rambis and Linda Rambis. And Jeanie Buss. And even Rich Paul, LeBron’s and Davis’ agent.

A simple move – buying into second round for No. 46 pick Talen Horton-Tucker, a young and interesting prospect I pegged 18 spots higher – raised eyebrows, because Paul represents Horton-Tucker. Just who’s in charge? It’s a murky power structure full of people I’m unconvinced will deliver for the Lakers.

Pelinka and co. did enough this summer to bring the Lakers into the forefront of the championship chase. That’s why this grade is so high.

But if they haven’t done enough yet to win a title, I don’t trust this regime to find a way over the top.

Offseason grade: B

Report: 76ers happy with GM Elton Brand, who’s drawing Knicks interest

76ers owner Josh Harris and general manager Elton Brand
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The Knicks are reportedly interested in hiring 76ers general manager Elton Brand.

In New York, Brand would work under new Knicks president Leon Rose. Brand holds the top position in Philadelphia’s front office. So, Brand would likely go to New York only if fired by the 76ers.

Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

A team source on Wednesday confirmed Brand is under contract beyond this season and said the organization is very happy with his work since being named GM in 2018. The source cited Brand’s leadership and strong working relationships with players, agents, and executives around the league.

The 76ers are so pleased with Brand… someone said so without under the cloak of anonymity. If he wants to back Brand, 76ers owner Josh Harris can do so publicly. Otherwise, this is so weak.

Teams generally express support toward employees while the employees are still working for the team – whether or not the employees actually hold approval. A key way to tell whether the support is genuine? Check the source. Harris doesn’t want to look like a hypocrite. If he endorses Brand now then fires him soon, Harris would look silly. With this sourcing, nobody would get egg on his or her face if Brand gets ousted, because we don’t know the source.

I bet Brand does have good relationships with everyone. He has long connected well with others.

But his roster-building has fallen flat.

Inertia will probably keep him in his job. Philadelphia overachieving in the playoffs (whatever form they take) – certainly possible – would make that an easier call. It’s just difficult to build an affirmative case for Brand as a team’s lead executive.

Report: No chance of traditional NBA playoffs this season

NBA playoffs
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The NBA playoffs have a familiar format – four rounds, best-of-seven series, games in front of fans at home arenas.

But the coronavirus, which has forced the NBA into an indefinite stoppage and disrupted life around the world, makes that untenable. Don’t expect the league to wait until that’s workable, either.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

At this point, several team and league officials told SI.com, any chance of a traditional postseason is out.

A shortened playoffs in Las Vegas is gaining momentum. It’d allow the NBA, hemorrhaging money, to draw revenue sooner. A reduced postseason would also minimize disruption to future seasons.

But even that comes with major complications, especially containing coronavirus from undermining the entire operation. It could be a long time until its safe to hold games, even in a centralized location without fans.

It could be so long… a traditional playoffs could be back on the table. Though I find that unlikely, I’m still not convince people have a proper understanding of how lengthy this hiatus could be.

Everyone wants to finish the season. The playoffs are the NBA’s most lucrative time, and it feels right to crown a champion.

So, it’s good the focus is on alternative formats. It’d be naïve to expect business as usual when the NBA resumes.

Who should be drafted No. 1? Podcast talking NBC Sports mock NBA Draft.

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Should Anthony Edwards be the No. 1 pick?

Or James Wiseman? How would Obi Toppin fit with the Warriors?

More importantly, how is anyone preparing for a draft when nobody knows when it will take place?

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports — who just completed his mock draft — joins me to discuss what they know and don’t know about the 2020 NBA Draft, starting with having no idea when it will take place. We discuss Obi Toppin, Lonzo Ball, sleepers to watch, and everything in between in a draft preview podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Bucks hoping to complete title pursuit after coronavirus stoppage

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks remain confident the coronavirus pandemic won’t put a permanent halt to the season and that they’ll get to resume chasing their first league title in nearly half a century.

The Bucks had a league-best 53-12 record when play was suspended three weeks ago. With Giannis Antetokounmpo having a potential second straight MVP season, the Bucks seemed poised to make a run at the title that has eluded this franchise since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led them to an NBA championship in 1971.

Bucks general manager Jon Horst thinks they will get that opportunity.

“We believe that we’re going to play,” Horst said Wednesday in a conference call. “Everything that we’re doing every day in our communications, in our preparations, everything we talk about is being prepared to play at some point, finish out the season and have a resumption.”

That’s why Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer has spent part of this hiatus making sure the Bucks don’t lose their edge whenever they do get back on the floor.

He’s been studying the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets — the Bucks’ two most likely first-round playoff foes — as well as other Eastern Conference teams Milwaukee could see later in the postseason. He’s tried to learn from his experiences as a San Antonio Spurs assistant coach during the NBA’s most recent work stoppages.

“One of my reference points with the coaching staff has been lockouts,” Budenholzer said. “Sometimes when you come out of a lockout, things have been kind of slow, you haven’t been able to maybe do your normal routines and preparation, and things happen really fast. Whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker.”

His instructions to his players have focused on conditioning while understanding they might not have as much time to spend working on their basketball skills.

“I think that we feel that there are things they can continue to do as far as continuing to stay strong, continuing to maintain a conditioning level and really just put a lot of time and effort and energy into their bodies,” Budenholzer said.

After blowing a 2-0 lead to the eventual league champion Toronto Raptors in last season’s Eastern Conference finals, Milwaukee appeared to have all the elements in place to make a serious championship run this year before the pandemic struck.

The Bucks had just returned from a winless three-game trip west when the hiatus occurred, but that was the first time they had lost as many as two straight contests all season.

Despite their optimism and their confidence that league officials will do what’s best for the safety of everyone, the Bucks realize that play might not resume. However, Budenholzer said they aren’t thinking about what impact canceling the season might have.

“If for some reason this season is not played or there’s nothing to look forward to or to complete, I’ll process it then,” Budenholzer said. “I would add that I don’t think it’s being totally head-in-the-sand. I think hopefully watching news, listening to the commissioner, listening to whether it be Tony Fauci or Dr. (Deborah) Birx or whoever it is, it does feel like there is I think some realistic hope and belief that we will get through this.

“I know that there are some negatives, some less optimistic modeling, but literally all we think about is we are going to play and we want to be the best team when we do play so how do we prepare for that, how do we get better? It’s a great way to get through this.”