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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

This Day in NBA History: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar becomes NBA’s all-time scoring leader

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It was fitting he did it with a skyhook.

On April 5, 1984, in a game against the Utah Jazz (played in a sold-out Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took a pass from Magic Johnson, swung left, and drained a hook shot that gave him career point No. 31,420, moving him past Wilt Chamberlain to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

The game stopped as the celebration ensued as Kareem’s teammates swarmed the captain. He was taken out of the game at that point, done for the night.

Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t done scoring, however. H retired five seasons later with 38,387 points, a record that stands to this day.

Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t have home court, players forced to workout with what they have

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo is spending much of his time during the coronavirus-imposed hiatus working out, helping care for his newborn son and playing occasional video games.

What the reigning MVP isn’t doing very often is shooting baskets since the NBA has closed team practice facilities.

“I don’t have access to a hoop,” the Milwaukee Bucks forward said Friday during a conference call. “A lot of NBA players might have a court in their house or something, I don’t know, but now I just get my home workouts, (go) on the bike, treadmill, lift weights, stay sharp that way.”

The hiatus is forcing thousands of athletes, pro and otherwise, to work out from home as they try to keep in shape. Equipment varies from player to player, too.

“It all comes down to what they have and what they’re capable of doing,” Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “We can do a lot of body weight stuff. That’s how they stay ready. That’s the most I can offer as a coach for them to stay ready. I can’t say ‘Hey, can you find access to a gym?’ That would be bad management on my part.”

For instance, Pierce said Hawks guard Kevin Huerter has access to a gym in New York and guard Jeff Teague owns a gym in Indiana.

Other players face different situations.

“I’ve seen LeBron’s Instagram,” Pierce said of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James. “LeBron has a house with a full weight room and he has an outdoor court. He’s got a different reality right now that gives him a little more access to continue the normal. (Hawks rookie) Cam Reddish lives in an apartment and it’s probably a two-bedroom apartment. He can’t go in the apartment weight room because it’s a public facility. So he’s limited in all things.”

Bucks coach Mike Budenhlolzer said he wanted his players to focus on keeping their bodies in shape and conceded that logistics surrounding the pandemic would make it tougher for them to do any basketball-specific activities.

The Bucks are still finding ways to stay sharp.

Bucks players said team officials have made sure they all have the necessary exercise equipment. Antetokounmpo noted the Bucks also had a catering company bring food to make sure they maintain a proper diet. Center Brook Lopez said workout plans have been sent to them via a phone app.

“They’ve done a really good job of getting everything taken care of and still having tailored workouts for each individual player despite the situation,” Lopez said.

But it’s difficult for them to work on their shooting without access to a court.

“Since the practice facility is closed down, I don’t have any access to a basketball goal unless I go to one of my neighbors’ houses and shoot outside,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “There’s really no basketball for me. It’s basically like Giannis said. Treadmill, jump rope, some weights and that’s it. I have a couple of basketballs I can dribble in my house or outside, but no actual goal to shoot on.”

Pierce noted that Huerter recently asked him when players would be able to get back into the Hawks’ practice facility.

“I told him, ‘I’ll tell you when we won’t,” Pierce said. “We won’t in April.”

Rumor: If there aren’t big changes to Chicago’s plan, Lauri Markkanen ready to move on

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NBC Sports Chicago recently reached out to members of the media — myself included — as well as doing a fan poll asking a simple question: Which young Bull has the highest upside?

My answer fell in with the majority (of both media and fans) in picking Coby White, but it was difficult not to select Lauri Markkanen. Seven-footers who move well and can shoot the three like Markkanen are incredibly valuable and hard to find, but this past season he often seemed a combination of lost and passive in Jim Boylen’s offense. Markkanen has regressed under Boylen.

Markkanen apparently felt the same way. If there are not significant changes and a better use of his skills, Markkanen would be happier somewhere else, reports Joe Cowley at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Make no mistake about it, third-year big man Lauri Markkanen was one unhappy camper before the coronavirus put the NBA on hiatus. Unhappy enough that if the direction of the organization was going to stay unchanged, he’d rather be elsewhere.

Change is coming to the windy city, the question is will that be enough change, or at least enough to find a better way to use Markkanen? Chicago just started its search for a new person to head up their basketball operations, with several deserving executives expected to be interviewed. The questions become: Will the person hired have the power to make real changes to the Bulls culture? Is Boylen safe or will there be a new coach? Change is coming to Chicago, but how much change?

The Bulls still control Markkanen’s rights. This was Markkanen’s third season with the Bulls, he is technically eligible for a contract extension this summer but that seems unlikely. More likely is he plays one more year with the Bulls before going to restricted free agency. Or, the new head of basketball operations thinks he can trade Markkanen and get back players that fit whatever style the team is going to play.

There are more questions than answers about what is next in Chicago, including if Markkanen will be part of that future.

ESPN plans televised H-O-R-S-E competition between isolated NBA players

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Friday night started ESPN’s broadcast of an NBA 2K tournament between NBA players. The network also has bumped up the release date of its much-anticipated Michael Jordan documentary.

Next up on its quest to find content in a locked-down sports world:

A televised H-O-R-S-E competition, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Discussions have been ongoing among the NBA, NBPA and ESPN about a competition among several players in isolation — presumably using home gyms — that would include them competing shot for shot in the traditional playground game, sources said.

Details — including a schedule and specific player involvement — are still being finalized.

What else have we got to do, re-watch Tiger King? Let’s make this happen, people.

There have been some rumblings about trying to spice up All-Star Saturday night with a H-O-R-S-E competition to go with the Dunk Contest and the rest, but it has not become a reality. With no other sports programming to put on its multiple channels, this seems like a good gamble by ESPN.