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Report: None of Lakers’ young core ‘untouchable’ for right trade offer

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Another — possibly more accurate — way to phrase the theme of this story: Hey, Gregg Popovich, if you’re trading Kawhi Leonard how many of our guys would you want?

The Lakers liked what they saw from their young core this season. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Julius Randle all lived up to or exceeded expectations (some may have had outsized expectations for Ball, but he grew as the season wore on). The Lakers defended better than expected, played fast, and showed some promise.

However, not so much promise that they wouldn’t trade any of them for one of the game’s true superstars. From Tania Ganguli of the Los Angels Times, on the Lakers’ offseason:

While they like their young core and would prefer to keep those players growing together, they have told teams no player is untouchable in trades, according to multiple sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of trade and free-agent negotiations.

To be clear, the Lakers are not actively shopping any of their players. They are willing to listen to offers and could move one of them — even a member of the talented young cadre of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram or Josh Hart — if an offer blows them away.

That’s just smart management. The Lakers should not be wed to any of those guys. That doesn’t mean actively call and try to trade them, it means don’t hang up when your phone rings.

After watching a lot of Lakers this season (in person and televised), it’s hard not to like their young core. However, what they have are players three through seven or eight on a championship team. Maybe Ingram can grow into a No. 2. They are all quality players, but the Lakers do not have the “alpha” — the top-10 NBA player, the franchise cornerstone — among them.

If one of those kinds of players becomes available — Leonard in San Antonio, Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, another player unexpectedly put on the trade block — the Lakers should offer anyone and everyone on the roster. Those elite players are the hardest to get.

Los Angles is one of the few teams — thanks to the city and the franchise brand — that can draw that level of star as a free agent. However, guys like that so rarely are available, if the Lakers can trade for one they should. Don’t bet on the free agent market in a year, too many things can happen to change a player’s mind (or change is value due to injury).

It should be noted Lakers’ management seems to be downplaying expectations going into this summer. Read into that what you want. There are only a handful of elite free agents — LeBron James, Paul George — and if the Lakers don’t land those, this is not a management team that’s just going to overpay the next Timofey Mozgov to fill up the cap. They will sit on the cash until the deeper summer of 2019 class of free agents. Which is the smart move, but it may not sit well with an impatient fan base.

Suns GM says team ‘open’ to idea of trading No. 1 pick

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Last year, Celtics’ man in charge Danny Ainge traded the No. 1 pick in the draft, landing the No. 3 pick (Jayson Tatum) and either Sacramento or Philadelphia’s No. 1 next year (the better of the two, unless it is the No. 1 pick).

Could we see two years in a row where the No. 1 pick is traded?

Don’t bet on it, but Suns’ general manager Ryan McDonough said on ESPN’s broadcast from the Draft Combine exactly what he’s supposed to say, that he’s open to the idea (hat tip Rob Lopez of DefPen).

“We’re certainly open to that. We’ll consider it. I think we’ll have more information closer to the draft than we do today after we go through the workout process and the interview process. We’re open to that. I think if you look around the NBA, as far as the veteran players, there are probably a few we’d consider trading the pick for, outright, just pick for player.”

Hint: He was aiming that at Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs, if Kawhi Leonard does become available. Or at Dell Demps the Pelicans suddenly decide they don’t want Anthony Davis anymore. Or at Tom Thibodeau if he decides to test the market for Karl-Anthony Towns (that is less insane than you might think, but not likely).

Outside of something highly improbable like any of that happening (it’s hard to imagine Leonard forcing his way out of San Antonio just to tell Phoenix he’d be happy to sign there long term), expect the Suns to keep the pick.

Ainge traded the pick last year because he didn’t believe in Markelle Fultz the way most did, he liked Tatum better. (BTW, it’s too early to fully judge that trade: We haven’t seen what Fultz will become, and we don’t know what pick the Celtics get next year.)

This year Arizona center Deandre Ayton is on top of everybody’s draft board and he is seen as a potential franchise center by most, a guy who could have a Joel Embiid/Towns kind of impact on the Suns (Ayton’s game is different from those two, we’re just talking what he could mean to the franchise). Nobody is trading that unless they are getting a franchise cornerstone piece back. Sure, if a team calls with an offer McDonough will take the call and politely listen, that’s what a GM should do, but don’t expect him to pull the trigger on anything.

This is the Suns’ first No. 1 pick in franchise history, McDonough is not going to trade that away for anything less than a Godfather deal.

Rumor: Here’s what it’ll take to pry Kawhi Leonard away from the Spurs

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Is Kawhi Leonard on the trade block, or isn’t he?

That’s the question much of the NBA is asking as we plow through the conference finals and into June. We don’t have an answer yet, and the back-and-forth between Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs has been one of the oddest sagas I can remember between a star player and his team in some time — especially considering the perceived equanimity of both sides.

There’s been rumors that teams like the Philadelphia 76ers are quietly targeting Leonard should he become available and the relationship become unrepairable with the Spurs.

No doubt other teams have started to gather trade offers for Leonard, who has a player option after the 2018-19 NBA season. Any trade package for Leonard would realistically have to be significant, and the apparent bad blood between the Spurs and Leonard won’t decrease the Spurs’ potential asking price.

According to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, San Antonio, “Won’t settle for anything less than a grand-slam offer.”

That sort of makes you wonder whether a team like the Sixers, who have a core of young talent they’re trying to add to, should be considering giving up big pieces. Signing Leonard outright if he opts out next summer is one thing, but leveraging the chemistry you’ve built is another.

This perhaps makes other teams bigger players for Leonard, ones who might be more willing to sell the farm for a shot at the Spurs star.

O’Connor’s information from several sources isn’t anything we didn’t expect, and we have to take it at what it’s worth. Remember, if someone in the NBA is talking anonymously it’s usually for one of three reasons: to tell their story when they don’t feel heard, to influence the market or public perception, or as quid pro quo.

Is this San Antonio driving up the asking price on Leonard, is it the Spurs responding truthfully to what they need in exchange for their top star, or is it a little of both?

We’ll have to wait until this summer to find out.

Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis finalists for Defensive Player of the Year

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The NBA delaying revealing its regular-season awards until after the playoffs comes with one major upside – a TV special that can be monetized.

But it also sucks the enthusiasm out of the honors. After the drama of a lengthy and high-stakes postseason, who cares about the best performances in a relative mundane regular season?

That can perhaps be felt most strongly in Defensive Player of the Year. Nobody produced an elite defensive season that a national audience will be excited to celebrate months later, and all three finalists have already been eliminated from the playoffs:

Kawhi Leonard missed nearly the entire season. Draymond Green didn’t bring full effort. Andre Roberson got hurt after a strong start to the season.

And with that, three prime candidates didn’t become (or deserve to be) finalists.

I’d pick Gobert, but even he missed 26 games. Nobody sustained elite defense for a large portion of the regular season. How many people will care June 25 who voters deemed came closest?

JR Smith gets Flagrant 1 for pushing Al Horford in the back while airborne (VIDEO)

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: NBA officials made a questionable call regarding a player ejection in a meaningful playoff game.

On Tuesday night, Cleveland Cavaliers guard JR Smith was given a Flagrant 1 for pushing Boston Celtics big man Al Horford during an alley-oop attempt. Smith made no attempt to make a play on the ball, and Horford was sent careening under the basket near the stanchion.

That caused Marcus Smart to get in Smith’s face, with the two pushing until they were separated.

Both players were impotently assessed a technical foul, and Smith was given a Flagrant 1.

Via Twitter:

Just for fun, let’s review the definition of a Flagrant 2, via the NBA website.

A flagrant foul-penalty (2) is unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent. It is an unsportsmanlike act and the offender is ejected immediately.

The NBA prides itself on making sure players aren’t making dangerous plays toward each other, especially in the playoffs. The league made an entire rule about landing space after Zaza Pachulia injured Kawhi Leonard in the playoffs.

That refs allowed Smith to continue playing is embarrassing to the league. Smith’s foul was a textbook example of a Flagrant 2, and the double-tech after was a bit of an insult.

Smart and Celtics took Game 2, but no doubt the league should be looking at Smith’s dangerous actions further in the coming week.

At least Boston fans got a chant going to help assuage their feelings (NSFW):