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Can LeBron James and Magic Johnson lure next big star to Lakers?

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Kyrie Irving asked to be traded away from LeBron James and Cleveland because he wanted out of LeBron’s massive shadow and to have his own team.

Paul George pushed his way out of Indiana with his people telling anyone who would listen he was going to be a Laker in the summer of 2018. However, when he had the chance to join LeBron last summer, the Lakers didn’t even get a meeting.

Jimmy Butler is trying to force his way out of Minnesota and the teams on his preferred listthe Heat, Clippers, Nets, and Knicks — do not include teaming up with LeBron.

The Lakers won the summer by landing LeBron — combine him with their existing young core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and it’s easy to see the potential. Right now, however, this team is not a threat to Golden State, Boston or Houston, right now the Lakers are a middle-of-the-pack team in the West. To get to where LeBron and team president Magic Johnson want to be, it starts with bringing in one more elite player… but the moves of Irving, Butler, and George raise a question.

Can LeBron and Magic recruit their next star to the league?

Yes.

The tag-team combo of Magic (an all-time great player and the model for an athlete-turned-business man) and LeBron (best player on the planet and one of the biggest athlete brands in the world) will be formidable. Throw in the lure of the Lakers’ brand and playing in Los Angeles and LeBron/Magic will land someone.

Just don’t expect it to be easy.

Lakers fans shouldn’t expect every elite player switching teams to just flock to Los Angeles to play with LeBron. Playing with LeBron is not for everyone. For a player who wants the ball in his hands, who wants to be the man and lead his own team (like Irving), playing in LeBron’s shadow is not a draw. Even if the pairing looks good on paper and might lead to a ring. We’ve seen that with the examples above.

It takes a particular mindset to play with the LeBron. Kevin Love was asked about this recently, by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.

“You have to follow. You have to learn a lot about that…

“You have to be resilient. I had a lot of hard nights. There were dark times,” Love said. “But I always believed keep fighting, I was stubborn about it. And LeBron makes sure you have a chance to win every year. He’s gotten a lot of guys rings.”

Playing with LeBron forces guys to adjust. Love did. Chris Bosh had to learn how to stretch the floor in Miami and work as a pick-and-pop guy not on the block. Dwyane Wade had always had the ball in his hands before LeBron and had to learn how to cut and move off the ball to thrive with him. For ball dominant players, playing next to LeBron is a massive adjustment.

Players today and their agents get that, which is why not every free agent about to come up is going to fit with the Lakers. Take Kevin Durant for example. If leaves Golden State (still a big “if” even if the team is preparing for the possibility) league sources suggest he’s not going to leave the ball-sharing system and shadow of Stephen Curry to be in LeBron’s shadow and be the No. 2 option again. Durant wants his own team if he’s leaving the Warriors. Or, look at it this way: Remember how much heat Durant took for leaving OKC and jumping to a championship team? What happens if he leaves that to join LeBron?

The Lakers reportedly love the idea of how Klay Thompson would fit with them, and they should. But nobody around the league thinks Thompson is leaving the Warriors. He’s spoken openly and multiple times about wanting to be a Warrior for life. Beyond him, Kyrie Irving has said he will re-sign in Boston and Butler does not want to be a Laker.

There are other big names out there, with Kawhi Leonard at the top of the list. He reportedly wants to come to Los Angeles, although sources have told me (and others have reported as well) that the Clippers could be that destination as much as the Lakers. (Yes, Lakers fans, seriously, Leonard is not a fan of drama around the team and overly bright spotlights, and the Lakers are both those things by their nature. Plus, the LeBron shadow/own team thing is legit.) Also, Leonard may decide to pull a PG13 and stay. After that the free agency talent pool drops off to very good players but not what the Lakers need — DeMarcus Cousins, Goran Dragic, Al Horford, Kemba Walker.

Anthony Davis is the big prize everyone around the league is watching, and Davis switched agents to Rich Paul, LeBron’s agent. However, he has two years on his contract. The Pelicans are not trading him this season, they will get to next summer and put a designated veteran $230 million offer in front of him and dare him to say no. You don’t switch to an aggressive agent if you plan to sign whatever is put in front of you, but that’s a lot of money. If Davis turns the offer down maybe the dynamic changes and the Pelicans talk trade, and maybe not (think Durant in OKC, smaller markets don’t get players like that often and will not always make a trade even at the risk of losing him for nothing). Even if they do talk trade, teams such as Boston and Philadelphia — and, frankly, every team in the league will be in on it.

There are a lot of obstacles, but other names will come up as well and nobody doubts at some point the tag-team of Magic and LeBron will land the Lakers another superstar.

But it’s not going to be simple and easy. Don’t expect a conga-line of stars just dancing their way to Los Angeles and the Lakers.

Celtics GM Ainge on Kyrie Irving: ‘He can be the best player in the world’

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Kyrie Irving has committed to staying with Boston next summer when he can — and will — opt out of his contract and become a free agent. Right now, it’s like all of Boston is singing kumbaya: Irving loves Boston, the Celtics fans love Irving, Brad Stevens is praising Irving and he is returning the praise to his coach, Irving loves his teammates and his teammates love him.

But nobody had praise — and raised expectations — like Celtics president/GM Danny Ainge. Check out his comments to Joe Varden of The Athletic.

“I see a more mature Kyrie than even just last year. I think he feels more comfortable with everything in his life and the organization and where he is as a player…

“I think he’s anxious to be a leader, not anxious to just lead the team in scoring or be the most efficient player on our team, but I think he really wants to hold the guys to a high standard…

“I don’t know to what extent, but it has accelerated our timeline to the point where Kyrie is one of those players that can be the best player in the gym on any given day against any given team,” Ainge said. “He can be the best player in the world. He can add a lot of juice to your team and his teammates a lot of confidence.”

That’s setting the bar high for Irving, but setting the bar high is what this Celtics’ season is about. (For Irving, getting near that bar starts with him staying healthy for a full season.)

Expectations in Boston are Finals or bust — this team made the Eastern Conference Finals last season without Irving or Gordon Hayward, both out injured. Their young core players, particularly Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, stepped up, Al Horford reminded everyone he is good at everything, and Boston kept surprising teams. Until they ran into LeBron James. However, he’s gone, Boston’s healthy, and they are the team to beat.

Celtics spoiled with depth. Too much?

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The Celtics return eight players who started during a playoff run that ended one game from the NBA Finals.

Boston also has two other players who might be better than those eight.

Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will join Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Aron Baynes, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris and Semi Ojeleye on the court this season. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

It’s also a stacked roster that exists at the same time as the Warriors, arguably the greatest team of all-time. So, Boston will still have major external barriers.

But the Celtics’ initial challenges will come from within as they try to balance all this talent. How will they manage?

Coach Brad Stevens is already sending his message: This is a special team capable of winning big if everyone sacrifices, and these opportunities don’t come around often. Stevens is an excellent communicator and has repeatedly gotten his players to embrace their roles. The expectation should be a continuation this year.

Perhaps no player has set a better tone than Rozier. Starting for an injured Irving in last year’s playoffs, Rozier wowed. He looked every bit like the starting point guard he hopes to become. But Rozier has consistently said he has no problem returning to the bench behind Irving.

This is also a contract year for Rozier (unless he signs an extension before the season). He has been stuck on a relatively low-paying rookie-scale deal and this will be his chance to earn set-for-life money.

If he can buy in, why can’t everyone else?

There are plenty of Celtics with big reputations considering their standing in the league. Boston put a league-high seven players in ESPN’s ranking of the NBA’s top 100 players. Per #NBArank, the Celtics have the NBA’s second-best third-best player (Horford), second-best fourth-best player (Brown), best fifth-best player (Hayward), best sixth-best player (Smart) and best seventh-best player (Rozier).

Here’s how the top 100 is represented by rank within each team – teams’ best players in the first column, teams second-best players in the second column, etc.:

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Quibble with the exact rankings. But the overall picture is clear: The Celtics are loaded.

And Boston has three extra first-round picks, likely including the Kings’ this season (top-one protected). The Celtics aren’t just in great shape now. They’re poised for a long run of success.

But personal agendas sometimes derail teams headed for greatness. Rozier and Morris are playing for new contracts, though at least they might be the only ones in the rotation. Irving is practically guaranteed the max next summer no matter how he performs this year. Horford and Baynes have relatively lucrative player options to fall back on. There are fewer potential pitfalls here than usual.

The best thing Boston can do to keep everyone on track is win. Many players across the league feel as if their role isn’t large enough. The ones on winning teams usually keep quiet (enough) about it. How can they complain when the overall plan is working? They typically understand it won’t go over well. It’s players on underwhelming teams who grumble more.

Essentially, these things snowball.

And the Celtics have been snowballing toward greatness for a while. They could hit a snag, but the avalanche is building and coming for the rest of the league.

Joel Embiid on DeAndre Ayton: ‘He’s about to get his ass kicked this year’

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At some point in the future — maybe not as far in the future as he thinks — a lot of NBA fans are going to turn on Joel Embiid and his unfiltered trash talk and social media presence. (Which, oddly, is very different from how teammates describe him, this seems to be more of a public persona.) It’s the nature of fame, we love the rogues and rebels until we don’t.

For now, Embiid is a lot of fun.

He went on the set of ESPN’s “The Jump” with Rachel Nichols on Friday (at Sixers media day) and when the picture of Deandre Ayton came up, well…

“He’s about to get his ass kicked this year.”

Embiid isn’t wrong.

Ayton is going to have a good rookie year, maybe very good (although the lack of a quality point guard to feed him the rock in spots he can do damage will hurt him), and at Summer League Ayton was a bit of a man-child against other rookies and young players. However, he showed flaws — his hands, for one, need to get better — and nightly in the NBA teams will roll out men who can match him and push back on him. It’s going to be harder than he realizes, and not just with Embiid or Rudy Gobert or DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond or Marcin Gortat and the other guys who can match up physically with him, but with the skill guys as well. Ayton isn’t going to push around Draymond Green easily. Al Horford is going to school him with skills.

Ayton is going to be on a learning curve this season, a steep one at times. All rookies get that. What matters is how he responds and how he develops. Expectations are rightfully high, but he’s got some learning to do.

Celtics’ rookie Robert Williams still battling knee tendinitis, yet to play 5-on-5

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Robert Williams, the center out of Texas A&M, was a steal in the draft for Boston, having fallen all the way to No. 27. He has incredible athleticism and a 7’5.5” wingspan and in college used those tools to be a shot blocking and rebounding force, skills that can translate over to the NBA.

We haven’t seen much of that, however. One game into Summer League he banged knees with a 76ers player, which aggravated Williams’ knee tendonitis. That is still an issue, and he has yet to be medically cleared to play 5-on-5 just weeks before training camp opens, Williams told Tom Westerholm of Mass Live.

“Still taking it day by day,” Williams said. “There’s people that have a lot of time, a lot of money invested in you now, they don’t want to mess up what they got going. But I’m thankful for the trainers and the coaches, just taking it day by day.”

“Just strengthening places I need to strengthen,” Williams said. “Obviously my knee, obviously knowing what’s going on out there on the court, knowing the calls before (Brad Stevens) throws in me a 5-on-5 game. He’s been teaching me actually the past couple days, just hammering in the calls, all the play names, all the big names for things, so it’s just been a great perspective, a great opportunity.”

Boston always planned to bring Williams’ along slowly, he was always viewed as a project. The Celtics have Al Horford and Aron Baynes ahead of him in the center rotation, so Williams was always going to see limited court time in Boston and time in the G-League is not out of the question at all.

Williams has the tools to become a quality NBA center, he just has to get his body right as much as he can — he has an arterial condition in his legs that can lead to blood flow issues. Williams also has to prove he’s willing to work — that was the real reason a guy of his size and skill fell to 27th in the draft. There were questions about his work ethic, questions if he loved the game enough to put in the hours that were needed daily to reach his goal. The fact that he was late to his introductory press conference, then missed a flight, which made him late for Summer League practices, then twice has lost his wallet since the draft, all added to the questions.

It’s on Williams now. And that starts with doing the work to get healthy and stronger and on the court.