Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope lead role players who take star turns for Lakers

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The Lakers emptied the cupboard to acquire Anthony Davis in a trade, but it was worth the price — adding the game’s best big man to a team with LeBron James made Los Angeles instant title contenders.

The question was always would there be enough around those two top-five talents? Could the Lakers get a third star?

It turns out the Lakers didn’t need one guy to be their third star, they assembled a roster of veterans who would take star turns when needed, when the matchups favored them. That was enough for a team that had LeBron and Davis (plus an elite defense).

“The IQ of the group, Rondo, Danny Green, JaVale McGee having been there, the talent level of the other guys, other guys willing to buy into starring in their roles,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said of his role players. “Just we had a strong belief in this group.”

In the closeout Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the third star the Lakers needed was Rajon Rondo — 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and even blowing by a dead-legged Jimmy Butler a few times to get in the paint. He finished 5-of-6 shots at the rim and — flying in the face of years of erratic shooting that led to the “let Rondo shoot” defensive strategy — hit three of four from beyond the arc. Rondo shot 40% from three in the playoffs (he was a career 29% from three before this season), he apparently liked the depth perception better inside the smaller venues.

“To be able to come back and redeem myself and play a big part in this championship is definitely a hell of a feeling and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Rondo said, referencing the 2008 title he won with the Celtics. It had been a long road between titles.

Rajon Rondo was a locker room leader on this Lakers team, along with LeBron and Davis — it was Rondo who spoke up at a team meeting on the off day between games five and six and said if they were going to win it would be with defense. It was Rondo who would take charge of the ball handling and offense when LeBron went to the bench.

In Game 4 of the Finals, it was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who stepped up — a guy Lakers’ fans had turned on because of his struggles last season, and guy some Lakers fans wanted traded, a guy many around the league thought was on the roster because he had the right agent (Rich Paul and Klutch Sports, who also rep LeBron and Davis).

Pope had 15 points in Game 4, hitting some clutch corner threes, plus he did a good job chasing Duncan Robinson around picks and not letting the sharpshooter get going.

“I just pride myself on my defense. My defense gets my offense going,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I’ve been playing that way since college. Just try to get defensive stops, get out in transition, easy layups, either to get to the free throw line or transition threes, open up my game. I try to start on the defensive end, get my energy going.”

In the previous series against Denver, it was Dwight Howard who sparked the Lakers with his physical defense on Nikola Jokic. Howard wasn’t even supposed to be on the team, he was just the best big man available when DeMarcus Cousins went down.

It was like that all year for the Lakers. Some days Kyle Kuzma was their third star for a night, another night it was Danny Green, the next time it was Alex Caruso (who started Game 6 for Los Angeles). There was always someone stepping up.

None of this was the original plan. In the summer of 2019, after acquiring Davis, Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka tried to add a third star in Kawhi Leonard. When Leonard finally decided to go to that team down the hall, Pelinka was seen from the outside as scrambling to round out the Lakers’ roster and he threw together a lot of challenging personalities — Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins (and when he got injured Howard), McGee and others. Pelinka said that wasn’t the case, the Lakers had a plan.

“In free agency last year, obviously we made a run to acquire a max free agent, but we had a counter, we had a backup plan and I knew we had a way to pivot and build a team with the other players we were able to acquire,” Pelinka said. “It worked out. It worked out well obviously.”

It worked out because Pelinka went big but athletic — something he could afford to do with LeBron and Davis (two big guys) at the core. It was also worked because LeBron provided strong lockerroom leadership — nobody was getting out of line, the big personalities were not causing big distractions (despite a little Dwight Howard weirdness in the bubble). The Lakers were focused on the task at hand, they were one of the two mentally toughest teams in the bubble.

And of those teams, they were the ones with the most talent. Not just the stars, but the guys around them who could step up as needed.

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

2022 NBA Summer League - Golden State Warriors v New York Knicks
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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

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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’

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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

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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.