Trae Young

Lakers star LeBron James and Hawks star Trae Young
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Father: Trae Young choosing Klutch not about joining Lakers

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Hawks star Trae Young switched agencies to Klutch Sports Group. Obviously, that means he’ll leave Atlanta to join fellow Klutch clients LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Lakers.

Right?

Young’s father, Rayford Young, via Chris Kirschner of The Athletic:

He’s never been a follower. This whole thing with Klutch never had anything to do with going to play with the Lakers one day. They have a lot of people on their roster who aren’t with the Lakers.

“I would ask those fans who are fans of Trae or Atlanta fans to just look at his history. He knows this is a team effort, but he wants to have that statue next to Dominique (Wilkins) one day, man. I’ve told you this before, my son is 6-foot-1, but he thinks he’s the best player on the court no matter if LeBron is on the floor with him. Hopefully, it never backfires on him, but he’s got big balls and is very confident. He just knows what he wants to accomplish. I never think my son is going to join a super team unless they all come to Atlanta. He’s just got too much pride to do that. Maybe that pride will backfire, but who knows. My son has seen it happen here in Oklahoma City with (Kevin Durant). He wasn’t one of those who called him a cupcake, but he’s seen the backlash of something like that happen.”

Those are big words.

They don’t sound totally dissimilar from Davis, who insisted hiring Rich Paul didn’t presage leaving the Pelicans. Of course, Davis requested a trade within months and eventually steered his way to the Lakers. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry – who initially said that Davis hiring Paul didn’t signal Davis leavinglater admitted the hiring meant just that.

But a big difference: Unlike Davis, who altered a status quo that included repeatedly stating commitment to New Orleans, Young didn’t chang agents. Young stuck with Omar Wilkes, who switched agencies from Octagon for Klutch. (Kirschner more deeply explores the Wilkes-Young relationship.) While – especially in hindsight, but even at the time – Davis looked like he was at the very least preparing to move on, Young didn’t do anything that major.

Another big difference: Davis was just two years from unrestricted free agency when he went to Klutch. Young can’t unilaterally become an unrestricted free agent until 2023, and that’s only if he takes a one-year qualifying offer instead of a max contract – something nobody in his position has ever done. Far more likely, he’ll be locked into Atlanta through 2026.

At that point, who knows where LeBron (who’ll be 41), Davis (who’ll be 33) and the Lakers will be? Before then, the Lakers are short on trade assets outside LeBron and Davis after surrendering so much for Davis.

But to be fair, who knows how the Hawks will perform over the ensuing years? Young is already a star and showing frustration with a team that hasn’t come close to keeping up with his rapid ascension. Outside the most desirable markets, stars tend to be a little more impatient.

Which makes the Kevin Durant comparison interesting. Durant faced massive backlash for leaving the Thunder. He won multiple championships with the Warriors, but it’s unclear how happy he was in Golden State. How does Young – who’s from Oklahoma – internalize all that?

Ultimately, Young will chart his own course. Comparisons to other stars like Davis and Durant can be useful, but they don’t prove anything. Young’s father talking about his son playing for a super team only in Atlanta will inspire Hawks fans.

And, fairly or not, increase resentment if Young leaves.

LeBron James forms organization to help grow, protect black voting rights

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LeBron James wants to grow the number of black voters and protect their rights.

He’s far from alone, which is why Trae Young, Jalen Rose, Draymond Green, and Skylar Diggins-Smith are among those teaming up with LeBron, building on the words and energy of the recent weeks of protests, and turning all that into action.

LeBron and his partners have formed an organization called “More Than A Vote” that will not only register black voters for the November election but also teach them how to counter voter suppression tactics. Plus, LeBron said he will use his social media presence, and the organization, to push back against restrictions on the right to vote (which often target minorities). From The New York Times:

“Yes, we want you to go out and vote, but we’re also going to give you the tutorial,” Mr. James said. “We’re going to give you the background of how to vote and what they’re trying to do, the other side, to stop you from voting.”

LeBron has never been shy about using his celebrity and social media presence to support a cause — or to criticize President Donald Trump. That has been especially true since George Floyd was killed at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

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However, forming “More Than A Vote” is taking the next step for LeBron into using his celebrity to build something that can spearhead real change. He is leading a generation of younger athletes willing to take a stand in a way that is reminiscent of legendary black athletes of the 1960s and ’70s but went out of style in the ’80s and until recently.

“I’m inspired by the likes of Muhammad Ali, I’m inspired by the Bill Russells and the Kareem Abdul-Jabbars, the Oscar Robertsons — those guys who stood when the times were even way worse than they are today,” Mr. James said. “Hopefully, someday down the line, people will recognize me not only for the way I approached the game of basketball, but the way I approached life as an African-American man.”

More Than A Vote will work with other voting rights organizations already doing similar work, but it brings some star power to the game. LeBron reached out to comedian Kevin Hart to do some speaking gigs, and included other NBA stars such as  Green and Udonis Haslem in the organization.

Protests spontaneously sprung up nationally in the wake of the Floyd being killed, protests that have evolved but continued for weeks. Out of those has come a national discussion of what’s next to change issues of systemic racism in our country, centered around Black Lives Matter and “defund the police,” among other topics.

LeBron has found his topic, one that can help make a real change in this nation by getting people to vote. It’s a powerful step and symbol — like building a charter school — and it will someday be a huge part of how we remember LeBron. He’s not going to be remembered simply as a basketball player.

Increasing buzz teams well out of playoffs will not come to Orlando for games

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The Golden State Warriors have been public about it, they expect their season to be over. Golden State is far from alone, multiple teams well out of the playoff picture have questioned the expense and risk-to-reward ratio of coming back to play a handful of regular season games without fans in Orlando.

More and more, the buzz has been the NBA league office sees things the same way. I am not the only reporter hearing this: Steve Popper of Newsday wrote a column saying there was no reason to invite all 30 teams to the bubble city and the USA Today’s well-connected Jeff Zillgett added this:

This is where we throw in the caveat: There are no hard-and-fast plans from the NBA yet and every option is still being considered. One lesson Adam Silver took from David Stern was not to make a decision until you have to, and Silver is going to absorb more information in the coming weeks — such as from the recent GM survey — before making his call.

That said, the league seems to be coalescing around a general plan, which includes camps starting in mid-June and games in mid-July in Orlando.

For the bottom three to five teams in each conference, there is little motivation to head to Orlando for the bubble. It’s an expense to the owner with no gate revenue coming in, teams want to protect their NBA Draft Lottery status, and the Warriors don’t want to risk injury to Stephen Curry — or the Timberwolves to Karl-Anthony Towns, or the Hawks to Trae Young — for a handful of meaningless games.

The league is considering a play-in tournament for the final seed or seeds in each conference (there are a few format options on the table, it was part of the GM survey). That would bring the top 10 or 12 seeds from each conference to the bubble, depending upon the format, and they would play a handful of games to determine which teams are in the playoffs (and face the top seeds).

Either way, that would leave the three or five teams with the worst records in each conference home. Which is the smart thing to do, there’s no reason to add risk to the bubble for a handful of meaningless games.

LaMelo Ball reportedly top point guard on Knicks’ draft board

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LaMelo Ball has the highest upside of any player in the 2020 NBA Draft, according to NBC’s own Rob Dauster. He’s a 6’7″ guard who has fantastic handles and elite court vision, which makes him dangerous off the pick-and-roll. Ball’s supporters see a guy who could have a Trae Young, All-Star kind of offensive impact.

There are also serious questions and doubts about whether Ball can reach that ceiling. He lacks a consistent shot, especially from deep, his decision making needs work, his defense is not good at all, and there are lingering questions about his work ethic. Ball is a high variance pick, maybe he can be developed into an elite player, but his floor is also pretty low.

The Knicks, in need of a star, are willing to take a big swing and hope Ball can be a home run. He is the top point guard on the team’s draft board, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

The Post has learned unequivocally LaMelo Ball is currently the top-rated point guard on the Knicks’ board.

That should hardly be surprising, knowing new president Leon Rose likes to shoot for the stars. Knicks officials believe the 6-foot-7 playmaker/driver has one of the higher upsides in the entire draft despite his lack of a 3-point shot. Rose has already dealt with outspoken father Lavar Ball when his sons were briefly with Creative Artists Agency.

A couple of quick thoughts. First, teams are blowing a lot of smoke around their draft intentions at this point, so take every report like this with a grain of salt. Second, teams are not going to seriously factor Lavar Ball into their choice. He will be at most a challenge for the PR staff, but teams have dealt with overbearing parents before. With Lonzo Ball and the Lakers, LaVar was doing television and making a splash early on in the market, but he was a much bigger deal outside the locker room than in it.

This is a draft without a star at the top, so teams are going to look both at potential and the ability of that player to reach it. Does Anthony Edwards have as high a ceiling as Ball? Maybe not, but he’s more likely to reach it and has a higher floor. Fit also may matter to teams more than in other drafts.

The Knicks need a ball handler and Rose may be willing to give Ball a shot to be that guy (RJ Hampton interests the Knicks as well), but he’d be smart to bring in a veteran who can play that role as well.

The Knicks have the sixth-worst record in the NBA as things stand today (it’s unclear if there will be more regular season games). New York a 37.2 percent chance of landing in the top four picks (9 percent they get the top pick) where Ball potentially will be on the board, but a 50.4 percent chance they draft No. 7 or 8, at which point he is likely already taken.

The 2020 NBA Draft is still technically scheduled for June 25, but with the draft lottery and combine already postponed, the draft itself will be pushed back. Likely into the fall.

Nets owner Joe Tsai suggests some non-playoff team owners are not into restarting regular season

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Optimism is growing among team executives the NBA will find a way to complete the playoffs and crown a champion this season. Even if that means pushing back the start of next season until Christmas.

The question becomes, should the NBA play out the regular season, or at last a portion of it, or jump straight into the postseason?

Nets owner Joe Tsai, speaking last week at a Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders virtual event, suggested the feelings among owners is not unified on the regular season question (hat tip Nets Daily).

“The reality is everybody is still trying to figure things out with the hope that maybe we can reopen the season —the current season— because … think about this: the Los Angeles Lakers or the Milwaukee Bucks, they’re in first place when the season got suspended. There’s a chance of them going for the championship. Of course, they want to play. The players want to play. The ownership wants to play.

“Then, there are other teams, if you’re in 28th place, maybe this season isn’t that important. So there’s a difference of opinion among the owners as well.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr has hinted at the same thing.

It makes sense: If you’re the Warriors or Timberwolves or Hawks or any other team well out of the postseason, what do you gain from the expense of putting your players, coaches, trainers, equipment managers, and everyone else (plus some of their families) into a bubble to play a handful of regular season games? So that the local television partner can get a few more games? For the owners, it’s an expense with no real revenue coming in, for them it might be simpler to negotiate with the RSNs.

Also, from Kerr and the Warriors’ perspective, what is the point of playing Stephen Curry — and pushing him to return, increasing injury risks — to play five or seven more games? Same with Trae Young in Atlanta or Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, and that list goes on and on. The restart of the season after guys have not been able to work out regularly will lead to increased injury risk, even if the league provides a long ramp.

The timeline also is already tight. If the NBA wants to have a long-enough training camp (say 25 days) plus play out a nearly full playoffs — which reportedly would take 55 days — the league is already at 80 days in the bubble. To finish those playoffs by mid-September, say Sept. 13, means having teams starting training camps in late June. Any days added for regular season games makes the start date earlier. Does anyone think the data is going to say it will be safe to open training camps in early June?

Later on, Tsai echoed Adam Silvers’ words that the data and not dates will drive the NBA’s decisions. Right now, in the NBA league office, they are mapping out multiple scenarios for a restart. As they should be.

It’s just difficult to imagine a scenario where the data will say the league should open up and play enough regular season games to be meaningful. The playoff teams will need games to get into shape for whatever form the playoffs take, but to add 14 more teams to the bubble to play regular season games? That seems unnecessarily difficult.

And it sounds like some owners feel that same way.