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LeBron James says Lakers offense needs to run through Anthony Davis

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Lakers players got the memo: Don’t talk about a title. Don’t talk about the incredibly deep West or that other team in Staples Center. Instead, talk about process and building chemistry. Talk about one day at a time, do not talk about the end result.

“I think our biggest opponent is in the mirror. We’ve got to look at ourselves as a team,” GM Rob Pelinka said, adding he would define success as a good two practices tomorrow.

“Been very quiet this summer, for a reason. My mother always taught me, ‘Don’t talk about it, be about it.’ That’s where I’m at,” LeBron James said.

It felt well rehearsed, but saying it in a Lakers’ practice facility where 10 Larry O’Brien trophies sit gleaming in a window overlooking the courts, where 12 banners representing 16 championships (the Minneapolis one has five on it) hang overhead, the words fall a little flat.

Everyone knows what the expectations are. The Lakers may have missed the playoffs for six seasons in a row, but with Anthony Davis now, a refreshed LeBron James after the longest summer break he’s had since 2005, and with a lot of veteran role players, the expectations are title or bust. From the fans and from the Lakers themselves.

First that means turning a lot of new faces into a real team.

LeBron said that starts by running the offense through Anthony Davis.

“We do all know how good Anthony Davis is, and if we are not playing through Anthony Davis while he is on the floor, then there’s no sense to have him on the floor,” LeBron said. “He’s that great. It doesn’t mean every time down, we throw it to him, we throw it to him, we throw it to him. But we have the ability of doing it.”

“Aw, he said that?” Davis said later, almost sheepishly. “Very kind of him. We’re going to feed off each other tremendously. I think we’re two guys who are very selfless and just want to win, when we have two guys like that it makes both of our jobs easier.”

Nobody really questions if LeBron and Davis can be elite, and probably form the best pick-and-roll combo in the league.

The question is everyone around them. Can Kyle Kuzma — once he gets healthy from the stress reaction in his leg — become the No. 3 option on this team?  Is Dwight Howard willing to accept a role and play it well as a big who just sets picks, rolls hard, grabs boards and defends the rim? Do they have enough shooting with Danny Green, Quinn Cook, and Jared Dudley, plus a little Davis? Will this team defend well.

Also, can this team coalesce into something greater than the sum of its parts?

“Guys understand the importance of the opportunity and the magnitude of the situation,” Green said, at points referencing a team bonding trip to Las Vegas recently. “It’s a win-now situation. [Last season in Toronto] guys put their pride and egos to the side, and knew it was the team. I see it here already… It’s about the team, and everybody knows that. In order for us to make it, we have to continue that attitude moving forward.”

Guys want to play their roles. Kuzma may be at the heart of what happens, the Lakers need him to take the steps as a smart offensive player he showed in flashes with Team USA before his injury. And he has to play better defense.

Dudley wants to help get him there.

“My guy would be Kyle Kuzma,” Dudley said, adding he wants to do is take him under his wing as he did D'Angelo Russell last season in Brooklyn and Devin Booker in Phoenix before that. “What can I do off the court to help him get to his full potential? He’s really the key for us.”

Optimism abounded at Lakers’ media day, as it should. Guys are mostly healthy, rested, and ready to get after it.

On this first day, the Lakers stuck to the script. They also understand the expectation of those trophies and banners overhead.

“As a team, me myself, need to get the Lakers back to what they’ve been accustomed to every year,” LeBron said.

 

 

Kawhi Leonard says he expects more boos than cheers from Raptors fans

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Kawhi Leonard joined the Raptors reluctantly. As soon as he could, he left for a more glamorous L.A. market. His advisor and uncle, Dennis Robertson, reportedly made unreasonable requests of Toronto on the way out the door.

This has all the ingredients of the typical “superstar departs, becomes villain” story.

Except the big mitigating factor: Leonard led the Raptors to the franchise’s lone championship after they spent years coming up short.

Now with the Clippers, Leonard will return to Toronto tonight.

Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

I think Leonard will be dead wrong. I expect fans to show their appreciation for everything he helped Toronto accomplish.

Of course, they would have preferred he stayed. But he did everything they could have dreamed during his lone season, including playing hurt while carrying the Raptors over the finish line.

Toronto is still riding high. The tribute video is ready.

Everything is set for Raptors fans to shower Leonard with applause tonight.

Report: Carmelo Anthony tried to convince Knicks that signing him would help lure Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving

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The Knicks reportedly would’ve considered signing Carmelo Anthony if they first got Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Apparently, Anthony tried to persuade New York to reverse the order of operations.

Frank Isola of The Athletic:

According to a person close to Anthony, his representatives were in contact with Knicks management about Anthony rejoining the organization as a free agent on a minimum contract. Anthony’s camp was trying to convince the Knicks that signing Anthony would help the club’s pursuit of Irving and Durant, who became free agents on June 30.

Anthony badly wanted to return to the NBA. I don’t blame him for making whatever case he could. It’s on teams to say no.

And the Knicks reasonably said no.

Who’s supposed to believe a 35-year-old washed-up-looking* Anthony would make a difference with Durant and Irving?

*Even in his surprisingly resurgent stint with the Trail Blazers, Anthony has a -5.0 box plus-minus. He has been inefficient offensively and horrendous defensively. Better than my expectations, still not good.

After signing with the Nets, Durant and Irving reportedly pushed for Brooklyn to sign Anthony. It’s easy to believe Durant and Irving wanted Anthony on their team. Anthony is highly respected by his peers, and Anthony’s individual scoring skills fit nicely into Durant’s vision of basketball.

But Durant and Irving were tying at least the next three years of their careers to a franchise. It’s difficult to believe a factor as trivial as Anthony would have made a difference in their choices.

If they could’ve gotten Durant and Irving by signing Anthony, the Knicks screwed up. The Nets gave DeAndre Jordan a four-year, $39,960,716 contract in conjunction with getting Durant and Irving. Anthony was seeking just a minimum deal.

I don’t think the Knicks screwed up here.

Their real problem was years of dysfunction that turns off nearly anyone with better options. Signing Anthony wasn’t going to undo all that.

Raptors owner Larry Tanenbaum on Ujiri: ‘Masai is here to stay’

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Masai Ujiri-to-the-Knicks rumors are heating up.

Raptors owner Larry Tanenbaum is throwing cold water on the notion of his team president departing.

Tanenbaum, via Michael Traikos of the Toronto Sun:

“We haven’t talked (about an extension) at this point in time, but if you ask him, his intentions are pretty clear.”

“Masai has a contract that goes for another two years — this season and next season — so there’s really no need at this point (to re-sign him),” he said.

“He is the best,” said Tanenbaum. “But no team can come to talk to him. That’s tampering. And every owner knows that. Masai is here to stay.”

Apparently, Tanenbaum isn’t among those in Toronto afraid of Ujiri leaving for New York.

Tanenbaum’s comments come on the heels of mixed reports of whether the Raptors offered an extension that Ujiri rejected. Though I don’t blindly trust Tanenbaum – who’d be incentivized to deny getting rejected – I appreciate him putting his name behind this information. That’s more credible than the previous reports that cited unnamed sources.

The Knicks are reportedly “obsessed” with Ujiri. They can offer a more prestigious historical franchise, a bigger market, more connections for Ujiri’s foundation and maybe more money. They also have owner James Dolan, who is notoriously difficult to work for.

Tanenbaum sure sounds as if he knows New York won’t tempt Ujiri. The Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment chairman is speaking in no uncertain terms. If Masai isn’t there to stay, Tanenbaum will have a lot of egg on his face.

If Masai is there to stay, Tanenbaum will have one of the NBA’s best executives.

Three Things to Know: Miami’s young core can rival anyone’s, has fueled Heat’s hot start

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Miami’s young core can rival anyone’s, has fueled Heat’s hot start. Sometimes the headline can miss the real story.

That happened Tuesday night in the NBA, where the headline out of the Hawks/Heat game was Trae Young calling game, waving his arms and saying it was over after his assist to Alex Len for a dunk put the Hawks up 6 with less than a minute to go in the game.

It was not over, Miami had been coming back all night long and did so again, capped by a Jimmy Butler three that sent the game to overtime.

Miami owned the overtime and went on to win 135-121. Butler took to Instagram after the game to say Trae Young is no Nostradamus.

That back-and-forth is entertaining, but it missed the real story of the night — Miami won that game because it’s young core bailed them out.

As it has all season. Jimmy Butler has been phenomenal and was in this game — a triple-double of 20 points, 18 rebounds, and 10 assists — but the Heat don’t win if their young core guys do not go off. Miami is 18-6 and third in the East because their young core is better than anyone predicted.

Just ask the Hawks. Bam Adebayo is playing at a near All-Star level and had a triple-double of 30 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. Kendrick Nunn is in the thick of the Rookie of the Year race and led Miami with 36 points. Then there is Duncan Robinson, who drained 10 threes on the night.

This season Miami got back to its identity — Pat Riley’s team has always found young diamond’s in the rough and developed them into quality players as well as any organization in the league. That — and Miami’s ability to get veterans into great shape and raise their level of contributions — has fueled consistent excellence over the decades. Of course, the Heat also hunted and bagged star players (Miami is a place you can recruit big names to come).

The Heat got back to that identity this season — they went out and got Jimmy Butler, but it’s the young core of guys (and we didn’t even discuss Tyler Herro or Justise Winslow) that is at the heart of why the Heat keep on winning this season.

2) Joel Embiid was having a little fun again and the Sixers improved to 13-0 at home. Joel Embiid has been a little subdued this season. He’s still been one of the game’s elite centers, but his minutes, shot attempts, points per game, efficiency, and his trash-talking fun factor all have been down a little this season.

Which is why it was so much fun when the old Embiid broke out for a minute against Denver. Embiid hit a circus shot while being fouled and then ran out to center court to do a little shimmy for the crowd.

Last Sunday, Embiid explained his more subdued self this year this way, via Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“The whole season it feels like I’ve been going through the motions and part of it is also making sure I’m healthy for the playoffs,” he told reporters. “Going into the season, the last playoffs that I’ve been part of I’ve not been healthy, so for me going into this season, my main goal was to make sure that I get to the playoffs healthy and so far I’ve been doing a good job of that —taking care of my body.”

After the win against the Sixers, Embiid said we may see more of the old-school, fun version of himself this season going forward, via Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“I have not been having fun like usual. … It goes back to with me being mature. And one of the biggest parts of my game is just having fun and by having fun is talking trash, but that part, that’s kind of been cut. I just need to be myself and I guess just do whatever I want. Because when I’m having fun, I dominate.“

With the win, the Sixers improved to 18-7 on the season — 13-0 at home but 5-7 on the road.

3) Two guys vying for Most Improved Player — Davis Bertans and Devonte’ Graham — put on a show in Hornets win over Wizards. Of all the end-of-season awards, Most Improved Player is the one that usually takes me (and a lot of media and league followers) to settle on. It’s just the nature of the award. Most improved usually goes to a player nobody expected to make a massive leap doing just that, so you don’t see it coming. Then, guys come out hot to start the season, but can’t sustain it. For MIP, it just takes longer for the field to sort itself out.

Two guys in the discussion early on for the award are Charlotte’s Devonte’ Graham and Washington’s Davis Bertans — and those two put on a show Tuesday night. Bertans had a career night, scoring 32 on 11-of-18 shooting off the bench, including 8-of-12 from three.

Graham, who has gone from a guy who played in just 46 games a season ago to Charlotte’s leading scorer at 19.2 a night, had 29 points on 19 shots to lead the Hornets.

Charlotte picked up the win, 114-107, and if you want to dream big, remain 2.5 games back of the eight seed and a playoff berth in the East.