Just how pissed is LeBron James at Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka?

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CLEVELAND — The most discussed topic among the media and team staff during All-Star weekend? Well, after the freezing temperatures…

LeBron James and Lakers GM Rob Pelinka.

As in, LeBron is back to his passive-aggressive ways to assert his will on a franchise, and Pelinka is in his crosshairs. Reports surfaced previously LeBron (and Anthony Davis) were not on board with the Lakers’ decision to stand pat at the trade deadline.

Then LeBron turned heads on All-Star Saturday when he spun a softball question about Thunder rookie Josh Giddey into a passive-aggressive dig at Pelinka.

“The MVP over there is [Thunder president] Sam Presti. He the MVP,” LeBron said. “Josh Giddey is great. Sam Presti, I don’t understand, his eye for talent. He drafted KD [Kevin Durant], Russ [Westbrook], Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Josh Giddey and the list goes on and on and on. This guy is pretty damn good.”

Then LeBron told The Athletic he would not close the door on a return to the Cavaliers in a couple of years.

All this after LeBron Tweeted support for Los Angeles Rams GM Les Snead, who wore a shirt to the Rams’ Super Bowl Parade with his own face and the words “f*** them picks” (Snead traded a lot of future picks to go all-in on winning).

 

LeBron is too measured and practiced with what he says publicly to suggest this is all a coincidence. He knows what he is doing. LeBron, of course, left himself plausible deniability, but there is no question he is frustrated with Pelinka and Laker management.

LeBron wanted Pelinka to trade Westbrook and the Lakers 2027 first-round pick for John Wall. As Eric Pincus points out at Bleacher Report, Wall is not-so-coincidentally a Klutch client (the same agency that reps LeBron, Davis, Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn, and a number of former Lakers). Pincus notes that is Klutch who is mad at Pelinka.

To be clear, it was LeBron and Davis who pushed for the Lakers to go all-in on Westbrook, pivoting away from a smaller trade for the Kings’ Buddy Hield. That trade with Sacramento would have let Los Angeles keep some of its depth, assembling a roster in the mold of the one that won the title in the bubble (shooing and defense surrounded LeBron and Davis, who have to play like top-five players in the league for that to work).

From a basketball perspective, the Lakers did the right thing not trading for Wall. He is, at best, a marginal upgrade over Westbrook at this point in their careers (he’s a better defender and shooter, but he was less efficient than Westbrook the last season both played, and Wall has not set foot on a court this year). Wall would not have salvaged this season for these Lakers. And, it would have cost Los Angeles a 2027 pick it can trade this offseason (along with their 2029 pick, one not available at the deadline) for a player who actually will make a difference.

But the Lakers also have to keep LeBron happy. He is eligible for a two-year, $97.1 million contract extension this summer, Pincus notes, although it has long been assumed around the league he would extend for one season with the Lakers then play with his son Bronny for a final season. LeBron said Saturday he would close his career wherever Bronny plays.

(As a side note, a week before coming to Cleveland I texted two people I trust as scouts and talent evaluators to get a read on Bronny as a player. One said he is a good D-1 college-level player but not an NBA guy, and the other said he might be a late second-round pick player as things stand now. Bronny is a high school junior, it is too early to say with certainty how good he could ultimately be, and he already is good enough to have major colleges interested; he’s just not the lottery level of player some fans think him to be.)

The conventional wisdom around the league has been that LeBron would extend for one year with the Lakers, then read the landscape in 2024 when Bronny could enter the NBA. But if this becomes a power struggle between LeBron and Pelinka, with Jeanie Buss stuck in the middle, all bets are off. If LeBron does not sign an extension, he can be a free agent in 2023. That would be tough for the Lakers.

LeBron traditionally gets what he wants within every franchise outside Miami, but the Lakers have some decisions to make.

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.