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NBA Power Rankings: Toronto is for real, maybe the Clippers are, too

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Klay Thompson called the upcoming Thursday night matchup between Toronto and Golden State a potential Finals preview… and he’s right. Nobody doubts the Warriors will figure it out in the West (and they may have Curry back for that game) and so far, Toronto has been the class of the East. And they sit atop these rankings.

 
Raptors small icon 1. Raptors (18-4, last week No. 2). Toronto has won 6 in a row, but the knock on them had been they had the fourth easiest schedule in the league. Tuesday night they went into Memphis and beat the Grizzlies — that’s a quality win. A good game in that one from Fred VanVleet, who has struggled this season, was promising. The tests will keep coming over the next few weeks, so it’s a good thing C.J. Miles is back, they could use the depth. Now Golden State, Denver, and Philly make up three of the next four (and the tough run continues like that through much of December).

 
Clippers small icon 2. Clippers (13-6, LW 3). With the caveat it’s too early to have a serious postseason awards conversation yet, if I were voting for Sixth Man of the Year right now the Clippers would have two guys in the top three. First is the defending holder of that crown Lou Williams, who again leads the league in fourth quarter scoring. Then there’s Montrezl Harrell, who might be more important to the team off the bench. His energy, defense, and rebounding are eye-popping.

 
Bucks small icon 3. Bucks (14-6, LW 1). The Bucks are for real — they have the best net rating in the NBA, the best offense, a top-10 defense, and a serious MVP candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo — but when you live by the three like they do, you can die by it, too. When Brook Lopez goes 0-of-12 from three against the Suns, you lose. When you shoot 22.9% from three over the final three quarters against Charlotte, you lose. Not that they can or should stop shooting threes, it’s working, but it can lead to some ugly losses now and again (and a little slide down the rankings when it happens).

 
Thunder small icon 4. Thunder (12-7, LW 4).. Russell Westbrook had his first triple-double of the season last week, he’s not racking up the raw numbers like he used to, but what he’s done is be more efficient and that’s leading the Thunder to wins. Last season, Westbrook averaged 19.3 drives per game (leading the league) but shot 49.9% when he shot on those. This season the volume of drives is down, 15.5 per game, but he’s shooting 57.7% when he does drive and shoot. Those kinds of little things — and impressive OKC defense — has them as one of the best teams in the NBA over the last 15 games.

 
Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (14-7, LW 10).. Jamal Murray is struggling with his shot. The point guard Denver sees as part of its core is shooting 42.9% overall, 31% from three (down from 37.8% last season) and his 51.8 true shooting percentage is below the league average. His assists are up and the offense is still 2.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court (largely because he’s often paired with Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris), but the Nuggets need more out of him to stop having the hot-than-cold streaks. Right now they are hot, having won four in a row but now head out for five straight on the road.

 
Sixers small icon 6. 76ers (14-8, LW 7). Philadelphia is 5-2 since the Jimmy Butler trade. Butler is the closer they needed, he’s already got two game-winners, but that masks a +0.1 net rating in those seven games — basically that of a .500 team. The Sixers have a top five offense (it came together more quickly than expected) but a bottom five defense since they made the big trade. While the Sixers have some elite defenders, they don’t have great depth and teams are targeting the weak links on that end. It’s not a big concern, yet, especially as long as Butler keeps doing this:

 
Warriors small icon 7. Warriors (15-7, LW 11). About those Warriors’ struggles… they have won three in a row, Kevin Durant has been taking over (he dropped 49 on the Magic), and they may have Stephen Curry back as soon as Thursday in Toronto (and certainly during the upcoming five-game road trip). Golden State’s “rough patch” has dropped them all the way to the No. 2 seed percentage points behind the Clippers. Still a few interesting tests coming up on the road in Toronto, Boston, Milwaukee.

 
Pacers small icon 8. Pacers (13-8, LW 6). Indiana is 3-2 so far with Victor Oladipo out due to a knee issue, including a win over the Jazz (Indy was 0-7 last season, so it’s a huge improvement). The Pacers also keep winning while bucking the trend of shooting threes — they are 27th in the league in percentage of shots taken from three, but they are fifth in the NBA in three-point percentage, shooting 37.3 from deep. It helps make up for that when Darren Collison can do this with his crossover.

Pistons small icon 9. Pistons (11-7, 15). The Pistons are 7-2 in their last nine, Blake Griffin is still beasting, and the wing combo of Glenn Robinson III and Reggie Bullock settled in right as the winning streak started. All good things, but it’s not those starters that is to thank for this run — it’s the Detroit bench. Pistons fans should thank Ish Smith, Langston Galloway, and Bruce Brown are leading the way and it’s working, Detroit is solidly in playoff position in the East.

 
Grizzlies small icon 10. Grizzlies (12-8, LW 8). Memphis has zigged when the league zagged — pace is up everywhere, but the Grizzlies are throwing teams off by slowing it down (the slowest pace of play in the league) and playing a smart, grind-it-out game that takes teams out of their rhythm. Combine that with their length and Marc Gasol playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level in the paint and you have a defensive rating of 104.9, fifth best in the league. One troubling trend while losing three in a row is blowing leads (including 17 to Toronto Tuesday), this team doesn’t have the firepower to come from behind well.

 
Lakers small icon 11. Lakers (11-9, LW 13). Tuesday night, the Lakers were 5-of-35 from three. That’s not terribly out of character, ] Lakers normally don’t shoot a lot of threes (29.7 a game, 20th in the league), and they are shooting 34.7%. Laker coach Luke Walton is okay with some threes. “It is as long as we keep taking good ones…. Other teams scout to let us shoot threes, so when they are open, we’ll make open threes. Our guys are good… We don’t want to run to the three-point line in transition, we want to attack the rim. We don’t want to swing, swing, jack up a three, we want to penetrate the defense and then shoot a three. So as long as we take the right kinds of threes our percentage will stay up. We want to be a team that attacks the rim.”

 
Blazers small icon 12. Trail Blazers (12-8, LW 5). Losers of three in a row and 5-of-7, and that includes in the last week a 43-point thrashing by the Bucks and 28 by the Warriors (without Steph and Draymond). It’s been a rough patch, but they had a few days off, the schedule softens some (although Orlando tonight is no pushover) and the best news is Jusuf Nurkic should be ready to go after a shoulder contusion. They need him in the one lineup that is firing for this team (Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu, Nurkic).

 
Celtics small icon 13. Celtics (11-10, LW 14). What is wrong with Boston’s offense is everyone’s new favorite parlor game around the NBA (that and Bradley Beal trade scenarios). I don’t think it’s one simple thing, but to me the Celtics have to start driving more (their 34.8 per game is third fewest in the league), getting to the rim more (24.6 shots per game in the restricted area is third fewest per game in the NBA), draw some fouls (second lowest free throw rate in the league), and stop settling for long pull-up twos, nothing will change. The Celtics need to get playing downhill, that will open up the jump shooters more.

 
Rockets small icon 14. Rockets (9-10, LW 12). Just when you think they’ve turned the corner, the Rockets drop three straight, including games to the Cavaliers and Wizards (and despite James Harden dropping 54 in Washington). Those last two were without Chris Paul, who now is battling a left hamstring injury (that’s not the one that cost him games earlier this season), which means he could miss more time. Houston’s net rating is -1.1 this season. We keep thinking they will get healthy, go on a big run and look like the threat to Golden State we expected, but at what point is it time to start really worrying about this roster?

 
Pelicans small icon 15. Pelicans (10-11, LW 9). Losers of four in a row, although the first three were without Anthony Davis. He remains the key to everything in New Orleans, they are 10-7 when he plays and 0-4 when he doesn’t, no need to overthink that stat. The Pelicans are 17.4 points per 100 possessions worse when Davis sits. On the bright side, Julius Randle’s strong play has him in early consideration for Sixth Man of the Year (although that’s a crowded field and he’s got a lot of work to do).

 
Mavericks small icon 16. Mavericks (9-9, LW 20). They have won 6-of-7 with a +11 net rating during that stretch (third best in the NBA). That one loss in the last seven not coincidentally was the one J.J. Barea had to miss — Dallas is 17.6 points per 100 possessions better offensively when he is on the court this season, and he drives that second unit. They’ll need him with a rough week ahead: at Rockets, at Lakers, Clippers, Trail Blazers.

 
Hornets small icon 17. Hornets (10-10, LW 17). If we were picking emojis to go with teams Charlotte would get the ¯_(ツ)_/¯. They have the seventh best net rating in the league, which should mean a 13-7 record, but here we are. They have beaten the Buck and the Celtics in the past two weeks, but lost to the Hawks. What they have that’s working is Kemba Walker, who is playing at a “you better include me in your MVP talk” level. However, when he is not playing at that level this team lacks shot creation and just looks pedestrian. Hawks, Jazz, and Pelicans at home this week.

 
Spurs small icon 18. Spurs (10-10, LW 19). The Spurs are 2-5 on a string of 7-of-9 away from San Antonio, a run that ends tonight in Minnesota. Following a theme in these rankings, the Spurs can shoot the three (38.5% from beyond the arc this season, third best in the league) but take the second fewest shots from there of any team. Only 25.9% of their points come from threes, fourth fewest in the league. That’s to be expected on a team where DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are the stars, but a few more three pointers could help the cause.

 
Magic small icon 19. Magic (10-11, LW 16). Nikola Vucevic is having the best season of his career (in a contract year… shocking) and he credits coach Steve Clifford for a lot of that. ““The way we play now, it helps me playing inside-out, it gets me going and makes me more comfortable… [it] makes it much more difficult for the other team and gives them a different look. It works great for me because I get some easy ones in the paint and am able to step out. The way coach wants me, wants us, to play fits my skill set.” That’s true, but now Vucevic is confident — so confident he’s posting up and spinning by LeBron James.

 
Kings small icon 20. Kings (10-10, LW 18). This ranking feels too low for a team in the playoff mix in the West (but that brutal conference makes the middle of these rankings a bit of a crap shoot). They have lost 4-of-6 and over the last 10 games have a -4.6 net rating, maybe the fast start was a bit of a mirage. On the flip side, they have played the sixth toughest schedule in the NBA so far, as things soften up a little they may be able to rack up a few easy wins. Fun game Thursday night against the Clippers, two of the NBA’s most surprising teams through the first quarter of the season.

 
21. Timberwolves (10-11, LW 22). Is the turnaround in Minnesota real? This team has won three in a row and 6-of-8 since trading away Butler, and they have a +5.5 net rating in those eight games with the best defense in the NBA at 101 points allowed per 100 possessions. Robert Covington is quarterbacking that defense from the wing (and putting himself in the early Defensive Player of the Year conversation). The next three on the schedule are the Spurs, Celtics, and Rockets — San Antonio and Houston are the kind of games that count double in a tight Western Conference.

 
Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (8-12, LW 24). Don’t look now, but the Wizards have won 3-of-4 since Scott Brooks moved Thomas Bryant and Kelly Oubre Jr. into the starting lineup, pushing Markieff Morris to the bench where he has solidified the second unit. While the vultures have circled and fans/media members come up with trades, the Wizards have won 6-of-9 and may not be quite so ready to push the eject button when they are the nine seed, just 1.5 games out of the playoffs. Washington has 6-of-7 coming on the road, starting tonight in New Orleans.

 
Jazz small icon 23. Jazz (9-12, LW 21). One of the most confounding teams in the NBA. Their defense remains middle-of-the-pack overall, and even when Rudy Gobert is on the court they are a top-five defense but not elite like a season ago. On the other end, Joe Ingles is knocking down threes (38.9 percent on six attempts per game) but the rest of the team combined is shooting 30.2 percent from deep. Donovan Mitchell is taking 6.6 a game and hitting 29.2 percent, Jae Crowder is 6.4 per game and is knocking down 28.9 percent, and even Grayson Allen is at 28.6 percent. While there are flashes, this team does not look like the three seed we expected.

 
Knicks small icon 24. Knicks (7-15, LW 26). One of the biggest surprises of the young season to me is Noah Vonleh not sucking (that’s what I get for writing off a 23-year-old). He’s knocking down threes (42.1% on the season and he’s been hotter of late) and now has become a solid part of the Knicks’ rotation. Along with Tim Hardaway, Allonzo Trier and others, you can see some guys who could be role players on a roster as things turn around. The Knicks had won three in a row through a tough part of the schedule (Celtics, Pelicans, Grizzlies) until they ran into Detroit Tuesday. Still, David Fizdale’s team is flashing signs of promise.

 
Nets small icon 25. Nets (8-13, LW 23). The “Brooklyn can make the playoffs” talk has slowed as the team dropped three in a row and 7-of-9 (although they are just two games out of the 8 seed right now). They miss Caris LeVert’s playmaking and the one game Spencer Dinwiddie and D'Angelo Russell combined for 69 points Jimmy Butler does them wrong in the end. Jarrett Allen continues to show growth and promise, not just in the raw numbers but in taking on more of the offense while still being efficient.

 
Heat small icon 26. Heat (7-13, LW 25). Miami misses Goran Dragic (knee issue), they are 1-4 without him in this stretch and 2-6 without him on the season, with a -4.3 net rating when he is off the court. Also at issue is Miami’s penchant for turnovers — 15.6 percent of their possessions end in a turnover, fifth worst in the NBA. On the bright side, Bam Adebayo is playing better of late — he’s had some nice double-doubles — and looks like the future for the Heat. Of course, that leads to some tough Hassan Whiteside questions.

 
Cavaliers small icon 27. Cavaliers (4-15, LW 28). Cleveland had a couple of nice wins in the past week, knocking off Philadelphia and Houston (although that will move them up only so much in these rankings). Collin Sexton is showing flashes and getting buckets, and through those wins Tristan Thompson was a beast on the boards. Trade rumors — about Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith, primarily — continue to swirl, but it may take an injury or some pressure on another team to get the job done. Great job by Cleveland handling the LeBron James return tribute last week.

 
Hawks small icon 28. Hawks (5-16, LW 30). The Hawks have won two in a row and it’s not a coincidence that has happened with John Collins back and starting to get his legs under him again. Through six games he has averaged 15.2 points per game shooting 62.7%, with a PER of 18.9, and on defense he had the game-winning block against Charlotte. He provides some of what the Hawks lacked inside. Trae Young continues to struggle with his shot, hitting 34.8% overall and 26.9% from three in his last five games (which isn’t good but better than the previous five games).

 
Bulls small icon 29. Bulls (5-16, LW 27). Losers of 7-of-8 (the lone win came against Phoenix, the only thing keeping Chicago out of the bottom of these rankings). If you’re looking for a silver lining, Jabari Parker is averaging 20 points a game over his last five, and is shooting 35% from three overall in that stretch. It’s not efficient enough to make up for his defense (and someone has to get the points on this team), but he looks like a guy who maybe can find a bench role in the league going forward.

 
Suns small icon 30. Suns (4-16, LW 29). Just one win in their last six but you can see the potential — Devin Booker is a scorer, rookie Deandre Ayton is giving them 17 and 10 a night, T.J. Warren has improved — but this team lacks the kind of game-managing quality point guard that can be the glue, who can bring all these parts together and make it all work. Jamal Crawford has given them a couple of nice recent games, expect his name (along with Trevor Ariza) to come up in trade rumors soon).

Three Things to Know: Dwyane Wade turns back clock for a night, drops 35 in loss

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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) Dwyane Wade jumps in the hot tub time machine and puts on a show, drops 35 on Raptors. This was so much fun to watch. It wasn’t enough — Kawhi Leonard had 29 points and the Raptors are the far superior team, so they won 125-115 — but for one night we got to watch vintage Dwyane Wade, Hall of Fame Dwyane Wade, again.

Wade was driving and dishing. He was knocking down step-back mid-range jumpers. He was 4-of-7 from three. He was posting up and showing spectacular footwork. It was just a joy to watch.

Those 35 points were the most scored by a Heat player off the bench in franchise history. It’s also the most points scored by a bench player this season in the NBA.

Wade can’t do this nightly, and it’s not enough for the team to get wins (they miss Goran Dragic badly), but it sure is fun to watch.

2) Jimmy Butler drains another game-winner, 76ers keep on winning since the trade. In the seven games since the Jimmy Butler trade, Philadelphia is 5-2. That despite a Net Rating in those seven games of +0.1 — basically that of a .500 team. The Sixers have a top five offense but a bottom five defense since they made the big trade.

How they keep winning is Jimmy Butler makes plays at the end of games. He was 7-of-7 in the fourth quarter Sunday against Brooklyn and drained another game winner.

That felt just like the OT win against Charlotte.

This was one of the reasons Philly went all-in on Butler. Ben Simmons can drive the lane with the best of them but his lack of a jump shot can limit him in crunch time. Joel Embiid, for all his brilliance this season, is not a guy who will create his own shot at the buzzer. Butler wants the ball and thrives in that situation.

Those shots have covered up play that is not as good as the team’s record since the trade. Butler should improve the Sixers defense, they will get things figured out on that end eventually (and they miss the depth traded away). Until then, they just need Butler to keep making shots.

3) Nikola Vucevic exposes problems in the Lakers’ defense, scores 35, Magic sweep season series. With the game on the line, tied 104-104 in the final minute at Staples Center Sunday afternoon, Orlando’s Terrence Ross got the ball on the wing, drove the lane… and nobody was there to stop his dunk. It proved to be the game-winner (although the Magic scored again).

Why? Where was the contest at the rim? All season long the Lakers have dropped their bigs deep, playing back off the pick-and-roll and prioritizing rim protection.

But when they have done that against Orlando, they have paid — Nikola Vucevic had 31 points Sunday (plus 15 boards and 7 assists). He was knocking down threes and forced JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler to come out high, away from the bucket, to guard him. When they didn’t he drained a three from the top of the arc (he was 2-of-5 on straight on threes in the game).

“That’s the advantage of having Vuc out there,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “Normally, if you don’t have a range shooting center, they’re going to have somebody in the paint there. He’s so involved, especially [late] in the game, there’s a lot of room to drive the ball.”

The problem is, when the Lakers did come out, he just drove around them. Vucevic was the key to Orlando’s 108-104 win Sunday.

This is the second game in a row where the Lakers struggled to stop Vucevic, he had 36 points against them in Orlando last week (another Magic win).

The Orlando offensive strategy Sunday was to have Vucevic set a screen, then pop out. If either McGee or Chandler sagged back (the Lakers preferred defense), then Vucevic got a clean look at a three. If the Laker big stuck with Vucevic the ball handler would attack the rim and bet the help would be too slow to arrive (and it almost always was late). Switch the pick-and-roll and the Magic posted Vucevic up, he was 6-of-8 shooting in the paint in the game. The Lakers tried going small for a stretch, with LeBron guarding Vucevic, but that didn’t work either (he had a nice baseline spin move and drive for a dunk on LeBron).

“When he’s in the game, it’s hard for [the other team to go small] because he’s good at posting and our guys are good at finding him…” Clifford said. “Every team that’s downsized when he’s on the floor, we’re good. We struggled when he wasn’t out there.”

Orlando won this game in the second and third quarters when they outscored the Lakers 67-42. While the Lakers had gotten off to a fast start they were down 16 late in the third, and while they got all the way back to a late game tie, it was not enough as the defensive execution issues caught up with them late. That and matchups that pulled their bigs away from the rim.

NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern: ‘Dell Demps is a lousy general manager … and he may lose Anthony Davis’

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David Stern’s blamed the Rockets and Lakers for the fallout from the vetoed Chris Paul-Lakers trade. Stern blamed former Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak specifically for the deal falling through.

And now Stern is blaming Pelicans general manager Dell Demps.

A refresher on events: In 2011, Stern was serving as both NBA commissioner and owner representative of the New Orleans franchise (then called the Hornets). George Shinn had sold the Hornets back to the league, which was in the process of re-selling the franchise. Chris Paul requested a trade from New Orleans, and Demps agreed to send him to the Lakers in a three-way trade with the Rockets. The Hornets would have gotten Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. But Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, not commissioner, he says – vetoed the deal. It’s standard for owners to exercise final say on deals of that magnitude, but Stern’s dual roles opened many questions about his true agenda. The Hornets then traded Paul to the Clippers for Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman and a first-round pick (eventually used on Austin Rivers).

It depends how much hindsight and supposition you want to apply, but Stern probably got New Orleans a better deal. Dragic developed into a star, and Martin and Scola remained quality contributors for a while, but Odom fell way off, and the Hornets would have likely been middling-to-bad with the initial trade. Younger players like Gordon and Aminu and Kama’s large expiring contract gave New Orleans far more flexibility. And though Gordon battled numerous injuries there, Aminu didn’t blossom until he left and Rivers was a disappointing top-10 pick (who also hit his groove after leaving), New Orleans got something else in the trade – a clear rebuilding direction. New Orleans was bad the following season and got the No. 1 pick, Anthony Davis.

Still, the episode casts a shadow over Stern’s legacy – from people who don’t understand Stern’s unique place as commissioner/owner and from people who do understand but are suspicious of Stern’s unknowable motives in keeping Paul from the Lakers.

So, Stern is still fighting perception.

Stern, via Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated:

“I didn’t do a great job of explaining it at the time. There was a trade that [New Orleans GM] Dell Demps wanted us to approve and I said heck no, but he had told [Rockets GM] Daryl Morey and [then Lakers GM] Mitch Kupchak he had authority to do it and he didn’t. I said no. We just settled a lockout and you want me to approve a basketball trade?”

“[Demps] had agreed to [trade Paul to the Lakers for] Kevin Martin and Luis Scola or something, and I said we can do better than that…. And the next trade was [to the Clippers for] Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu and what we thought was a really great draft pick, the 10th pick, which turned out to be Austin Rivers. At least those three and someone else [center Chris Kaman]. But Dell Demps is a lousy general manager and none of those players are currently with the team anymore, and he may lose Anthony Davis.”

This is wild! Forget for a moment whether Stern was right or wrong in his handling of the situation. He still holds a title with the league, “Commissioner Emeritus.” Though je has criticized teams before, for someone in his position to so strongly attack a sitting general manager by name like this is so extreme.

Just as Stern wasn’t wrong about the trade, he isn’t necessarily wrong here. Demps has a dismal track record, though he has upgraded his performance to questionable recently. And Davis might leave the Pelicans, a potential outcome that hangs over the franchise.

But – wow. This hell of a message from Stern, even considering his blunt and confrontational manner (which is on full display in Ballard’s excellent profile, which is worth reading in full).

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.

Report: Heat source says Timberwolves asking for ‘the first born of all our kids’

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Timberwolves-Heat Jimmy Butler trade discussions reportedly collapsed over the weekend, Miami placing the blame on Minnesota.

Just how bitter are the Heat?

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Asked what the Wolves are seeking, a Heat source said: “The first born of all our kids.”

The Wolves are believed to be asking for several of the assets the Heat considers most valuable: Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk, Justise Winslow and a No. 1 pick.

That’s some rhetoric.

Remember, the Heat are incentivized to paint Minnesota – especially Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau – as unreasonable. That could get Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, who’d probably be more agreeable, to step in and run negotiations.

Either the Heat are desperate for that to happen or Minnesota is really getting on their nerves. Maybe both. But discussions have pushed Miami to this extreme position.

The Heat have several players with consensus bad contracts: Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters, Hassan Whiteside. Including one of them in the deal would only increase the positive assets – like Richardson, Adebayo, Dragic, Olynyk, Winslow and a No. 1 pick – Miami would have to send the Timberwolves.

Butler is extremely valuable. Minnesota should seek a lot for him.