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Two critical things the Lakers need to go right to contend for a title

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis are the best superstar duo in the NBA. Flat out.

One could argue there are better teams built around superstar duos (for example, the one down the hall at Staples Center), but there is not a better two-man combo in the league this season. LeBron will have the ball in his hands, will be more of a facilitator making smart decisions, and Davis can do literally anything after setting a pick for LeBron — pop out, roll to the rim, get the ball and find the open shooter in the corner, whatever the defense gives him. Plus defensively Davis is the kind of versatile rim defender who can switch out and slow guards on the perimeter that can be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.

The Lakers are title contenders because of those two.

However, the Lakers are far from a lock. There are also two main issues that could derail Los Angeles’ chances at adding a 17th title banner to their collection.

LEBRON VS. FATHER TIME

LeBron James is a physical freak of nature, one of the most gifted athletes ever to play the game — and it puts in the work to maximize it. His conditioning is impeccable. LeBron spares no expense and puts in the time: He works out right, recovers right, eats right, gets sleep, and listens to what his body is telling him.

He’ll also turn 35 in the middle of this season and is already fifth all-time on the total minutes played in the NBA list (counting regular season and playoffs), and by the time this next season ends he likely moves into third (passing Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant). That’s a lot of miles on his Nikes.

Last season was the first time LeBron went through any kind of serious injury, missing 17 games after suffering a groin injury on Christmas Day. That period is when the Lakers’ season collapsed.

That injury also is an outlier in LeBron’s career — but will it be going forward?

LeBron had more time away from NBA basketball this summer than he has since the summer of 2005 (his second in the league), and the optimistic argument is that extra time off to rest and heal his body will lead to a healthy bounce-back season (with some load management thrown in). There’s some logic to that. But we also know Father Time eventually wins every race, the question for the Lakers is can LeBron hold him off for another season (or two)?

The Lakers simply cannot afford to lose LeBron for any length of time, or have his skills and efficiency erode much. He’s L.A.’s best shot creator and it’s not even close, they also need his gravity to draw defenders and open space for the role players, plus the Lakers have no way to replace the 27.4 points, 8.5 points, and 8.3 assists a game he brought last season. LeBron also shot 33.9 percent from three and 66.5 percent from the free-throw line last season, the Lakers cannot afford a dip in those numbers.

Los Angeles needs LeBron to keep winning that race.

CAN THE “ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS” ROLE PLAYERS COME TOGETHER?

Having LeBron and Davis makes the Lakers an instant threat in any game or playoff series. But if the Lakers are thinking titles, that is simply not enough.

“Obviously superstars are going to do what they do. But most teams win playoff games when role players step up,” new Laker Danny Green said at Lakers’ media day. “That usually determines how far you will go and how much you’re going to win, when role players step up and play good basketball. Those are the usually the teams that win and is the last one standing.”

Green has been one of those role players standing at the end and has two rings to show for it, one with the Spurs and last season with the Raptors.

The Lakers were lucky to get him.

After Kawhi Leonard finally made his decision last July (and the Lakers were right to stay in that race as long as they could), Laker GM Rob Pelinka did about as good a job as could be expected assembling a good roster out of the players left on the board. But it’s not an optimal group by any stretch.

Questions about the quality of players and their fit meld into one overarching issue: Can the Lakers’ role players step up and provide that championship quality depth? One could make an optimistic case they can — and plenty of Lakers’ fans have talked themselves into it — but there are plenty of questions hanging out there:

• Is Kyle Kuzma — once he gets healthy and back in the lineup — ready to take a step forward and be the No. 3 player on a championship team? Did spending time with Gregg Popovich and Team USA this summer mature his game and decision making?

• Is Dwight Howard ready to just accept a role, set picks, rebound, defend the rim, and just play hard every night, not be a diva? Can he and JaVale McGee form a solid center rotation for 35-40 minutes a night? (Davis is the Lakers’ best center but will only play the five in limited minutes.)

• Can Green, Avery Bradley, Quin Cook, Jared Dudley, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope provide enough shooting around the stars to balance the floor? It’s easy to say things like “Green shot 45.5 percent from three last season” but just remember that was 32.8 percent in the playoffs — when things get tight in a deep West, then in the playoffs, can these guys be counted on?

• Can some combination of Rajon Rondo and fan-favorite Alex Caruso form a point guard combo that is not a liability other teams exploit?

• Can enough chemistry develop among the role players — and between LeBron and Davis with those role guys — to get the Lakers where they want to go?

That’s a lot of things that need to come together and go right.

However, if the Lakers have a healthy LeBron and Davis, they have a chance. Which is a lot more than Laker fans have been able to say the past six years.

Orlando Magic to build new practice/health facility

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Last week, before the NBA world headed off to Chicago for the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend, the Orlando City Council voted to approve the sale of a plot of land to the Orlando Magic.

That land, located between the Amway Center (home of the Magic) and Exploria Stadium (home of Major League Soccer’s Orlando City Soccer Club) will become the site of the Magic’s new practice facility. The building will also house a community health center an orthopedic center. The Magic hope to have the facility ready in time for the 2021-22 NBA season.

When the Magic moved into the Amway Center in 2010, it was a state-of-the-art building. Not only is the Amway Center the home of the Magic for games, it’s the center of their entire basketball operation. The backside of the building is entirely dedicated to the Magic practice facility, including weight room, therapy and training space, and offices for the basketball staff.

The challenge with this setup is that there is little to no room to expand. For example, there is just one full court, as was seen during the Orlando Summer League, which ran from the building’s opening through 2017. In addition, there are two shorter courts, which run horizontally across the main court.

Magic CEO Alex Martins said the Magic and AdventHealth (who will run the community health center and orthopedic center) “will build a world-class practice and health facility”. Martins and Magic President of Basketball Operations, Jeff Weltman, have toured other facilities around the NBA to gain insights and ideas in what Orlando should be looking for in a new facility.

The new building is expected to include at least two full courts, and likely additional baskets for drills and shooting work. In addition, as NBA teams invest more in health and physical science, the new facility will have space for equipment related to those advances as well. That type of addition to a facility allows a team to keep all of it basketball training and medical rehabilitation all under one roof.

When Kevin Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets, he commented that one reason was the Nets practice and training facility. Multiple players have commented that Brooklyn went all out when building the facility and regularly uses it as a recruitment tool in free agency. While facing a lengthy rehab from a torn Achilles’, Durant is able to work out and get treatment in the same building as his active teammates. In recent years, the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, and others have upgraded their facilities.

NBA players desire simplicity when off the court. By keeping medical and practice facilities in the same building, it allows for them to go to one location. Where the Magic will build their new facility is right around the corner from the Amway Center, which allows players to commute to the same general vicinity as they do today.

The Orlando Magic already have some built in advantages when it comes to recruiting players. Central Florida has beautiful weather year-round, there is no state income tax, plus there are major players in the entertainment business and a growing technology sector in the Orlando area.

The Magic have used those benefits in the past to lure free agents like Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. Adding a shiny new practice facility to the list, just as a banner crop of free agents hits the market, is something Orlando hopes can get it back in the superstar mix once again.

Report: Villanova coach Jay Wright not reciprocating Knicks’ interest

Villanova coach Jay Wright, rumored Knicks target
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A report of the Knicks being interested in Jay Wright and Wright emphasizing his happiness at Villanova.

Let’s do it again.

Adam Zagoria of Forbes:

League sources say Villanova coach Jay Wright could become the next head coach of the Knicks.

“There is a strong possibility that Jay Wright in New York could happen,” one league source said.

Dana O’Neil of The Athletic:

The Knicks are reportedly hiring Leon Rose to run their front office. Presumably, he’ll choose New York’s next coach.

Despite the Knicks’ denial, Steve Stoute let the cat out off the bag: The Knicks aren’t keeping interim coach Mike Miller. Perhaps, Miller can rally late in the season and change their minds. But it seems unlikely.

So, we’re in a limbo period where many candidates will emerge. Getting reported as a possibility is a great way for a coach to get publicity and maybe even gain leverage in contract negotiations at a current job. It can be difficult to tell which rumors are real.

But when a credible reporter like O’Neil states something with such certainty and attributes it to only a single source, that carries major weight.

Rockets to add Spurs buyout DeMarre Carroll, free agent Jeff Green

Spurs forward DeMarre Caroll
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ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reported that DeMarre Carroll and the San Antonio Spurs have agreed to a buyout. Carroll will then sign with the Houston Rockets:

ESPN’s Tim McMahon added in a subsequent report that the Rockets will bring in free agent forward Jeff Green:

Green will first sign a 10-day contract with the Rockets, so he can get used to their system and see if there is a fit, Woj reported.

Carroll signed a three-year, $20.65 million contract as part of a sign and trade from the Brooklyn Nets to the Spurs this past summer. That agreement was part of a three-team trade that saw San Antonio send forward Davis Bertans to the Washington Wizards. The 10-year veteran is owed $7 million for this season, $6.65 million for 2020-21 and $1.35 million guaranteed for 2021-22. San Antonio will incur a cap hit for each of the three seasons as part of the buyout process with Carroll. How much of a cap hit will depend on how much money Carroll gave up as part of the buyout agreement.

Carroll was added via sign and trade after Marcus Morris spurned the Spurs in free agency. Morris had originally agreed to sign with San Antonio, but backed out after the New York Knicks offered him $15 million as a free agent. The Spurs moved on to Carroll as a backup plan, but he was never able to crack the rotation. He’s played only 135 minutes over 15 games with San Antonio.

Green was with the Utah Jazz earlier this season, before being waived to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker. The 11-year veteran Green averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances with Utah. The Rockets will be the ninth different franchise Green has played for.

In Houston, Carroll and Green will join Mike D’Antoni’s small-ball crew as big man depth. Carroll and Green will likely back up P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington up front. Their experience at both forward spots will give the Rockets additional depth for their playoff run. Carroll and Green are also likely be to asked to play some center, as Houston has downsized dramatically at that position, including trading Clint Capela at the trade deadline.

NBA players’ union votes to support formation of G-League union

Kyrie Irving
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Better pay. Better working conditions. Not to be treated as disposable parts by their employers.

The players in the G-League want the same thing out of a union that auto workers, teachers, and (most obviously) NBA players do. As had been expected (talks had been going on for a while), on Monday the National Basketball Players Association (the NBA players’ union) voted to support the formation of a G-League union, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The G-League players are expected to support this. Sources have told NBC Sports that team and league officials will not oppose the players unionizing, they believe there will be benefits, too.

The primary issue will be pay. Most players in the G-League earn a $35,000 salary, unless they’re an elite high school prospect, or on a two-way contract (which means they are tied to an NBA team and can be called up for 45 days a season). Some players make more through an Exhibit 10 contract with a team — meaning they go to training camp with a team, then get a bonus ($50,000 or so) if they sign with that team’s G-League team.

Other issues would include freedom of player movement, work benefits, and giving the players a voice in other matters like discipline issues.

The NBA continues to push toward each of its teams having a minor-league affiliate. Right now, only the Trail Blazers and Nuggets do not. As the G-League grows, it’s understandable the players want a larger voice in how things are run.

In other news out of the players’ union meeting, Kyrie Irving was voted in as vice president, replacing Paul Gasol. Via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Chris Paul remains the union president.