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Magic Johnson: Lakers will consult with LeBron on big moves

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This is what should happen with the NBA’s elite players. When the Warriors were thinking about adding DeMarcus Cousins to the roster this summer, they reached out to Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant for their opinion, then pulled the trigger after listening to feedback. It’s going to be that way with James Harden in Houston or Anthony Davis in New Orleans or…

LeBron James with the Lakers.

Magic Johnson confirmed as much, speaking to the media, as reported by Bill Oram of the Athletic.

This gets blown up by some fans into “LeBron is the GM” but he’s never wanted to be the final decision maker. Teams defer to his wishes at times, but that happened with Magic (just as Norm Nixon) and virtually every other superstar in the modern NBA. It’s part of the game.

The art is knowing where the boundaries are and when to overrule. Pat Riley did that well (for the most part) when LeBron was in Miami. In Cleveland, there were more misses than hits, although David Griffin (and to a degree Koby Altman) did well within the limitations.

Consulting LeBron is a must. It’s expected. Will Magic and Rob Pelinka be able to tell him “no” at the appropriate times? That remains to be seen. So far they have not impressed with the veterans brought in to go with LeBron (if you want to see executives from other teams laugh/roll their eyes, just bring up the Lance Stephenson/JaVale McGee signings).

Magic won the summer by getting LeBron, but that’s not even half the battle.

Lakers insist they’re trying to compete with Warriors

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The Warriors were already historically great, and then they signed DeMarcus Cousins. If all goes well, they could be the greatest team of all-time. Their floor is championship favorite.

Plenty of teams seem content to wait out Golden State.

Does that include the Lakers?

They have LeBron James locked up three more years, and he doesn’t seem to be demanding urgency. Their other signings – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee – are for one-year deals designed to maximize long-term flexibility. Los Angeles hasn’t flipped any of its top young players – Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart – or future first-round picks for immediate upgrades.

But the Lakers say they’ve designed this roster specifically to compete with the Warriors.

Lakers general manager Pelinka, via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:

“If your goal is to win a championship, you’ve got to look at the way the champs are assembled and how you can give yourself the best chance to take them down,” Pelinka said of one of the many reasons for the construction of the Lakers’ current roster. “It is certainly part of the equation. … [President of basketball operations] Earvin [Johnson] and I had a conversation, and LeBron echoed this sentiment: I think to try to play the Warriors at their own game is a trap. No one is going to beat them at their own game, so that is why we wanted to add these elements of defense and toughness and depth and try to look at areas where we will have an advantage.”

“We did not want to go out and just sign specialists, ‘Oh, this guy can just shoot,'” Pelinka said. “We wanted tough two-way players that can defend with a level of toughness and also make shots. Listen, the road to the NBA championship has to go through the team that won last year, and we all know the guys up north have a special group. But one of the ways to attack what they have is with defensive toughness. I think we saw that in the Houston series with some of the players that Houston has.

This is intentionally different than the approach the Cavaliers took with LeBron. They prioritized offense and surrounded him with shooters. That left Cleveland short against Golden State the last couple years, and the Lakers are trying something different.

But the Lakers will run into the same problem the Cavs did: Their players just aren’t good enough. Rondo’s best defensive days are long behind him. Stephenson and McGee are good in moments, spacy in others. Caldwell-Pope is a good perimeter defender but struggles when switching inside or against bigger wings.

It’s not as much style as ability. The Rockets had way better players, which is why they came closer than anyone to beating the Kevin Durant Warriors in the playoffs.

The Lakers shouldn’t completely give up on this season. They have LeBron, and he alone gives them a chance. More importantly now, he provides the them a chance to build a more serious contender in future years.

But it’s tough to buy the Lakers’ stated plan for this season.

LeBron James signs four-year, $153 million contract to join Lakers

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We’ve known this since LeBron James let it be known he was going to the Lakers back on July 1, rocking the NBA world.

Now it is official — LeBron has signed with the Lakers.

That is a four-year, $153 million contract with a player option in the fourth year.

“Today is a great day for the Lakers organization and Lakers fans all over the world to welcome LeBron James, a three-time NBA Champion and four-time NBA MVP,” Lakers President of Basketball Operations Earvin “Magic” Johnson said in a statement. “LeBron is special. He is the best player in the world. He loves to compete and is an awesome leader who is about winning and making sure that his teammates are successful. The Lakers players are excited to have a teammate who has been to nine NBA Finals. It’s a huge step closer to returning the Lakers to the playoffs and to the NBA Finals.”

The Lakers are closer to returning to the NBA Finals, but they are not there. Yet. LeBron’s signing further stacks the Western Conference and puts the Lakers back into the national spotlight, but the roster around him is not going to threaten Golden State or Houston as currently constructed.

The Lakers have a solid young core led by Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma. To that, Magic and GM Rob Pelinka have added Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and JaVale McGee. That’s a lot of big personalities, a lot of guys who are considered playmakers (but aren’t consistent at it), not a lot of shooting and not a lot of consistent defenders. All of which is to say, the Lakers are a good team, a playoff team, but nowhere near a contender yet.

What the Lakers have done is left themselves a lot of flexibility — Rondo, KCP, Stephenson, and McGee are one-year deals. Whether by a trade or next summer in free agency, the Lakers are poised to land another superstar or two who can pair with LeBron and turn this team into a threat to the Warriors. For all the spin about playmakers and competing, the Lakers are about being in position to add an elite player or two. That’s what matters. After that, the rest of the roster can be filled in.

LeBron gave the Lakers four years, which gives Magic/Pelinka time to get that star without overpaying (for example, sending all their good young players to San Antonio now for Kawhi Leonard). They can be smart and patient.

We’ll see if that pays off, and how patient Laker nation — and LeBron — can be.

5 up, 5 down: Is LeBron going to the Lakers wack, meaningless, or great?

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5 Up, 5 Down is a column featuring the best and worst from the NBA.

We haven’t published this column for some time as we have been gone sunning ourselves outside in the beautiful NBA offseason. But now we are back, and LeBron James is rightly on the West Coast. His decision to join the Los Angeles Lakers felt all but inevitable, and even if it doesn’t quite have the basketball impact many are hoping for when it comes to the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, it’s still the biggest story of the summer.

It seems like LeBron coming to California is a big deal, but if we are to believe that he doesn’t have a real chance of tipping the Warriors or rockets in the postseason, I’m not sure it actually has an appreciable difference on how we view the regular season. The Lakers always get talked about — as does James — so combining them is almost becomes more of an ease of access thing for NBA media.

I kid, of course, but if we have to seriously listen to people pontificate all season about why LeBron can’t make the NBA Finals this year with a roster that includes JaVale McGee and Lance Stephenson, that’s another thing. No doubt some of us are headed that way no matter what, so I suppose we should just tuck in for the ride.

So without further ado.

5 Up

Kawhi isn’t a Laker

As with most Millennials, I am firmly in the camp of players having more control over their destiny in the NBA. But something about this Kawhi Leonard thing … just isn’t right.

It all started a while back when we heard rumors about Leonard drinking nothing but alkaline water, which is something that only gets sold on Instagram promoted feeds and in the types of grocery stores where the hot bar is $15.99 a pound. That seemed harmless enough, but we really haven’t talked about how Leonard and his “people” keep pushing him into a direction away from the league’s best franchise.

Set aside all of the weirdness with Tony Parker and how the Spurs managed his injury over the course of last season: it now it seems like there might always be serious distance created by those advisors between Leonard and whatever team he may be on.

If you are the Los Angeles Lakers or any other team looking at Leonard, I think there are several things to look at. It’s not just about his injury history, and it’s not about trying to make the right swap that keeps your roster mostly intact. It’s also examining the people that are around Leonard and what kind of things they’re going to put into his ear next.

I’m sure I will be proven wrong about all of this in 20 years when Leonard’s book comes out, but in the meantime it definitely seems like such a stark turn it’s hard to ignore the “hidden advisor” aspect of this whole thing. Plus, the NBA is not better when the Los Angeles Lakers are good. LA hasn’t won more than 40 games since 2013 and in that time the association has taken off. Don’t @ me.

Trade him to the Clippers.

DeMarcus Cousins is a Warrior

This move is all kinds of weird on paper, but it makes sense for both parties involved and I am okay with it. First, Cousins gets to try to rehabilitate not only his image as a franchise player, but his playing ability when it comes to being offered a max contract in the summer of 2019.

For Golden State, it’s worth the risk if Cousins comes back toward the end of the season and plays dominant basketball or some semblance of the way he did before his Achilles tear. That makes Golden State even more ridiculous, and perhaps pushes us toward the league finding a way to stop guys taking discounts in their primes to load up on one team.

Plus, if you are a Warriors hater there is like a 30% chance that DeMarcus will torpedo the Golden State locker room.

All the weirdo guys the Lakers signed

We all agree that every Lakers signing works toward the goal of creating a reality show and not an NBA team, right? Next year will not be about basketball for LeBron James. What a Lakeshow.

Paul George staying in OKC

Every single person cannot go to the Lakers, and as the Thunder moved towards trying to keep their own players it only made sense that they were going to offer Paul George a massive contract like the one he signed.

The Thunder will be able to duck some of their luxury tax filings with the Carmelo Anthony move, but still Oklahoma City will carry a massive cap figure as they battle for a middle place finish in the Western Conference. It sort of reminds me about those early 2000s Portland Trail Blazers teams that were always over the luxury tax and getting walloped by the Lakers or the Spurs in the playoffs. It’s truly a beautiful thing to watch a ownership group set a bunch of money on fire for a Game 5 elimination in the second round.

Good for George, and too bad for the Thunder. They won’t have a lot of maneuvering space and I’m not sure getting back Andre Roberson will be enough to counteract the rest of the improvements made in the Western Conference this offseason.

Chris Paul has a gigantic contract

If you are a Rocket hater you should probably love the Chris Paul contract. It’s massive, and although it keeps Houston in contention for the next couple of years alongside the Golden State Warriors, it also means that the Rockets will be laden with Paul’s contract as he continues to age.

Remember, Paul is a player who had knee surgery a decade ago and there are serious doubts about whether he can make it through an entire season — or postseason — without taking on a serious injury.

Houston can play beautiful basketball when they are in the regular season. But in the playoffs this year, they became the same old story. Watching James Harden and Paul use gamesmanship to grab 35 fouls per quarter was boring as hell, and I’m not going to root for it. The regular season Rockets are fun, but the postseason version isn’t. Paul’s decline is likely coming soon, which should save us from having to watch Playoff Houston for too much longer.

5 Down

LeBron James is a Laker

This was both the wackest way possible for LeBron James to end his tenure in Cleveland while simultaneously being the most obvious.

The supposition here, especially with the current Lakers roster, is that James is waving the white flag against the Warriors and the Rockets, allowing them to take over the basketball side of the postseason while he takes on more of a brand focus. That’s fine, and Los Angeles certainly is a good place to do that. There is no arguing that, it’s just that now that James is in LA it’s going to make Lakers fans feel as though their team is relevant again.

Let’s be clear: not even good teams in the NBA are relevant. The Lakers aren’t a good team, even with James on them. There is an 80% chance LA is a complete tire fire next year, which will be fun to watch if you aren’t from Glendale. I’m not saying the Milwaukees and Phoenixes of the world need to be given a fair shake. I’m just not conceding that LeBron in LA is cool in any way.

I suppose this move to California doesn’t matter given that LeBron’s legacy is already set. Even if he plays out the entirety of this next contract with the Lakers, no one will ever think of him as a Laker first. He’s always going to be a Cavalier, then a Heat, then a Laker. It’s weird that moving to Los Angeles, given all of its benefits, won’t have an impact on LeBron’s legacy. If he wins a championship, then we can talk.

Las Vegas Summer League

Summer League is ridiculous. It’s full of bad basketball and air balls, all by top picks you hoped would be much better in their first NBA action. Meanwhile, Vegas itself is a nightmare. It’s a hundred degrees outside by 8:45 AM and any time spent heading to the UNLV facilities is largely dominated by wanting to not soak through your button down shirt.

Here are the stories you can write every year coming out of Summer League. There’s no need to even have this thing.

  • Player A has gained 20 pounds of muscle.
  • Player B was a shooter in college but apparently can’t shoot now.
  • Player C was a second rounder who looks ready to start.
  • Player D scared an entire fanbase when he tweaked a knee. He’s fine, but now you assume he’s going to get hurt if he plays more than eight minutes at a time.
  • Player E went in the Top 5 and is scoring 25 points per game against dudes who will get cut by Israeli league teams. He’s going to fall on his face maybe 10 out of the first 20 games of the actual season.

LVSL exists for one explicit purpose and that’s for all us blog boys to meet each other in person to find out how weird looking we all are. Call me when Summer League is somewhere cool, like Portland. Or the moon.

The Draft was boring

We didn’t have any current NBA players traded during the first round of the actual draft itself. The salary cap crunch has hit everybody particularly hard, and save for the teams going after the likes of the LeBron Jameses and the Paul Georges of the world, many teams had to simply do what the draft was intended for: take the best guy available to develop them.

It’s not like those players can’t get traded later, but it does seem as though many teams will be taking a chance on long-term development of players they might not have wanted in first place.

Meanwhile, all I can think about is how dumb the NBPA was for not agreeing to cap smoothing. Those guys are usually pretty smart, and they have a lot of help on their side, including Michelle Roberts. Maybe they were just scared off by literally every CBA negotiation they’ve ever had with the NBA, where they usually get their own butts handed to them in some unforeseen way. But the NBPA’s flat-out refusal to smooth the cap — as the league suggested for their own good — was a huge blunder. Sure, they gave giant chunks of money all at once to guys like Chandler Parsons and Evan Turner. And good for them! But no doubt more players this season will have to play somewhere they don’t want and take smaller deals in anticipation for next summer because guys like Turner and Parsons got massive deals.

I also wonder if the talk about the summer of 2019 is a bit trumped-up. Sure, a lot of big guys will come on the market and they will get their contracts. But they were always going to get their contracts, whether it was this year or next. The real goal of the NBPA is to have a rising tide that lifts all boats. It’s possible that teams will remember the sting of 2016 and be more reticent to spend big money on role players the way they did that season when next summer comes around.

The Blazers are drowning

I wrote about how the Blazers refusing to re-sign Ed Davis was perhaps an indicator that GM Neil Olshey was going to make a few drastic moves. They have already taken to a couple of the options I suggested, including signing Jusuf Nurkic to a $12 million per-season contract. They have also used up a bit of their mid-level exception, so all that is left from my proposed offseason plan is to utilize their trade exception from Allen Crabbe.

That trade exception expires at the end of July, and it’s unclear whether Portland will be able to find someone good enough to use that exception on. There has been lots of talk in Portland about Damian Lillard perhaps wanting to force his way out of Rip City, which I think is nonsense. However, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that Lillard is getting a bit frustrated. He has already had a talk with owner Paul Allen, and moving forward it seems like Olshey needs to find some kind of solution, and quick.

I don’t think that Lillard sees losing to the Warriors as that much of an issue. More realistically, it’s the idea of not having a good enough team to take on the Warriors and at least have a chance. That’s why joining the Lakers or playing for the New York Knicks, both terrible teams, doesn’t make sense for Lillard. Olshey needs to show he’s at least trying, and not playing it smooth and safe in the face of free agent failure. Even if it’s another Evan Turner-like gamble, that exception needs to get used by Olshey. If he doesn’t, he might be on his way out of Portland either way.

Carmelo Anthony is leaving the Thunder

Carmelo Anthony was a prolific scorer during his time in Denver. And, for two seasons in New York, he was an efficient power forward. That was his true position. But last year in Oklahoma City, it was apparent that Carmelo was unwilling to play his correct position. He also wasn’t going to come off the bench, and the results were predictable.

Anthony held the ball, killing valuable Thunder possessions while ending up with a negative VORP for the season. Him finding a way off the Oklahoma City roster is good news for both parties, since Anthony will likely get most of his money and the Thunder will be able to avoid some luxury tax considerations.

Now the question is where Anthony will land, with two obvious solutions being the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. Adding Anthony to the Lakers would be in line with their offseason plans of adding every bad, weird, former star player that still is active in the NBA. If he joins Rockets, it’s a rejoining of Anthony with former coach Mike D’Antoni, who will butt heads with him once again as they tried to get him to run within the Rockets system.

No doubt many Houston fans are convincing themselves this very instant that Anthony would be perfect when the Rockets turn to isolation.

“He can be a great pick-and-roll man with either Paul or Harden!”

“He’s an iso player! He’s perfect!”

Houston’s isolation system doesn’t rely on one player to simply score in isolation. Their iso sets are more about getting switches, finding mismatches, then putting players in a position to score off the ball from that isolation as a backup plan. Anthony is the other kind of isolation player, one who does not pass out of those possessions and who will create a dip in efficiency while doing so.

Who knows where Anthony ends up, but just about every rumored landing spot is pure comedy.

Do you have a question about the NBA you need answered? Our PBT Mailbag publishes on Wednesdays, so send your question to have it answered by our team of NBA experts. E-mail us at: pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

Rajon Rondo expects to ‘win now’ with LeBron James, Lakers

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LAS VEGAS — Rajon Rondo officially joined the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday with a clear idea about his future with LeBron James.

“We’re expected to win now,” Rondo said.

Rondo agreed to a one-year deal worth $9 million earlier this week to suit up alongside James, whose signing hasn’t yet been announced by the Lakers.

The veteran point guard is eager to be a mentor to Lonzo Ball, and he sees a chance for immediate success with the thoroughly revamped club. The Lakers haven’t made the playoffs for a franchise-record five consecutive seasons, but Rondo believes they’ll make immediate strides back toward contention for a 17th NBA championship.

“You put any group of players around LeBron James, as he has done (eight) straight times, he went to the finals,” Rondo said. “So my expectations are the exact same thing. Even with the Warriors adding (DeMarcus Cousins) and the Rockets being who they are, I think we fit right up there in the mix. It is early, obviously, and I’m not promising anything, but at the end of the day, I expect to win. Nothing else.”

Rondo is a familiar figure to Lakers fans, and not necessarily in a good way. He played a major role for the Celtics when they met the Lakers in the NBA Finals, winning a ring with Boston in 2008 and losing to LA in 2010.

Seeing Rondo on the other side of that enduring NBA rivalry won’t be as weird to Rondo as it might be to some Lakers fans.

“Does it feel strange? Um, no,” Rondo said. “My battles with the Lakers were over a decade ago, and none of the players I was battling with are on the same roster.”

The 32-year-old Rondo expressed no concerns about playing with Ball, the precocious passer chosen by the Lakers with the second overall pick in last year’s draft. Ball will be sidelined for most of the summer with a torn meniscus in his left knee, but Rondo is eager to work on their chemistry in the fall.

“I’m excited to get a player that age and try to help him as much as I can,” said Rondo, a starter for all but small portions of his first 12 NBA seasons spent with five franchises.

Rondo sees the Lakers’ potential surplus of ball-handlers as an advantage. He isn’t worried about finding roles for everyone in coach Luke Walton’s up-tempo offense, which is designed to create plenty of offensive chances for every player.

“It will be very versatile, and I don’t think you’ll be able to scout and stick to one game plan as far as being able to stop a certain player,” Rondo said. “I think guys like LeBron or myself, I haven’t played with a lot of guys that make plays for me. So it’s going to be exciting to be able to just get up, get a couple of easy looks, be able to push the pace in the open court.”

The Lakers also announced the re-signing of guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who got a one-year deal worth $12 million to provide a perimeter shooting threat to an offense that could still use more outside shooters.

The Lakers haven’t yet announced the acquisitions of James or veterans Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee during a thorough makeover following the worst half-decade in franchise history.