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How will Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, rest of young Lakers fit with LeBron James?

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This is the latest of NBC’s NBA season preview stories, and we will post at least one a day on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, with today the young Lakers as the focus.

LeBron James changes everything.

His presence changes the trajectory of the Lakers. The team spent the past few years drafting and developing a young core of players, building a base the way most teams need to build, slowly and learning from mistakes while taking some lumps along the way.

Then the Lakers land LeBron.

It changes everything — especially for that young core.

“There’s who you expect to be and then who you are when you play with LeBron. It’s two different things,” Channing Frye said this summer about those young Lakers. “I don’t know if they truly understand what it’s like to play with him because there is no room for mistakes. Because in all actuality, he could do it himself. He could lead a team to 40 wins by himself. I think for all of them they’re going to have to have a reality check, not only them but the people around them. There’s going to say, not a growing period, but a humility.”

It’s maybe the biggest question for the Lakers this season: Will Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma be on the floor with LeBron to close games for Los Angeles this season? Or, will Luke Walton have to turn to Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, and JaVale McGee?

How will each of the young Lakers fit and benefit from playing with LeBron? Let’s take a look at them.

Brandon Ingram

If one player from this Lakers’ youth movement is going to break out as an All-Star and top 20 NBA player it’s Ingram — which puts the most pressure on him to step up now. How good the Lakers are this season will start with how big a step forward Ingram takes. He needs to live up to being the No. 2 option on this team and show he can handle that role. He needs to establish himself — in his own mind and LeBron’s — so he remains the second or third best player on a potential contending team if/when the Lakers land another star next summer. (I think they will get someone, whether it’s the star they want is another question.)

Ingram impressed last season, growing into a role as a scorer and shot creator — in February he averaged 18.6 points per game with a 62.1 true shooting percentage (he strained his hip on March 1 and played just three games after, a reminder he needs to stay healthy, too). Last season, 53.8 percent of his used possessions (meaning he shot, passed or turned the ball over) came as the pick-and-roll ball handler or in isolation. He had the ball in his hands.

Ingram will have to adjust to having the ball less, LeBron will be the fulcrum of the offense most of the time, as he should be, plus this team is loaded with other players — Rondo, Ball, Stephenson, Beasley — who need touches. However, unlike much of last season, Ingram will no longer be the name at the top of opponent’s scouting reports. Ingram’s versatility should be on full display and make him especially dangerous next to LeBron. Ingram will need to draw defenders with plays off-the-ball — he was a very good spot-up shooter last season and hit 39 percent from three (although on less than two attempts per game, he needs to shoot it more) — but more importantly he needs to be the secondary scorer and guy attacking the rim with the ball when defenses are scrambling.

If the Lakers are going to thrive this season, Ingram will need to have a breakout season.

Lonzo Ball

Last season the Lakers learned that having him run a ton of pick-and-roll is not the best use of his talents. What is coming, with LeBron as the primary ball handler/shot creator could be a better fit — Lonzo will keep the ball moving and the pace up, he is a high IQ player who makes good cuts off the ball, and he and Kyle Kuzma can maybe get some second-unit time together to show their transition magic. Lonzo played off the ball a lot at UCLA (paired with Aaron Holiday, now of the Pacers) and his new role may be akin to that. Ball may be more comfortable in the Lakers’ new style.

However, Ball simply has to be a bigger scoring threat for this to work. Yes, that means his reworked jump shot needs to fall more, but Ball also shot just 49.4 percent in the restricted area — he has to finish better at the rim and in the paint.

He has to be a threat to score every time he touches the ball, or the impact of his brilliant passing is dampened. His defense and rebounding are good, better than expected, but it’s his offense that could hold him back. Beyond that, this season he needs to stay healthy, having played just 52 games last season. The fact he is going to training camp with his knee not yet fully healed from off-season meniscus surgery is not a good start.

Rondo is a Laker now, and Josh Hart has to get minutes and certainly can play the point. While the team will spin that as depth and insurance at the position, it’s also a message to Lonzo — “we’ve got your replacement right here if needed.” This is LeBron’s team now, and if Lonzo’s father or the circus around him becomes too big a distraction, well, the Lakers have a lot of depth at point guard and can jettison one of them. Same if the fit is not working on the court. There is no more growing into the role for Lonzo, he needs to step up this season.

Kyle Kuzma

The fit between LeBron and Kuzma seems like it could be natural. Kuzma thrived with Ball and Ingram as the creators by working off the ball, spacing the floor, finishing at the rim, and getting out in transition to the tune of 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, plus shooting 36.6 percent from three. With the passing of LeBron — and Ball, and Rondo, and most of this team — Kuzma could thrive in the role as a finisher.

It’s the other end of the floor that could hold Kuzma back — he has to defend better, well enough stay on the court. Kuzma’s defense was okay when his decision tree was small — close out on a spot up guy, switch onto and defend a big on a pick-and-roll — but he has to show more feel for the game and ability to read the play now. Experience should help with that, and LeBron can undoubtedly mentor Kuzma on the mental aspects of the game. This is where he needs to step up, if he doesn’t his role will shrink.

Josh Hart

While he can play the point, expect him to get time as a backup two guard behind Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. However you want to define his role, his MVP performance in Summer League showed it’s not going to be easy to keep him off the court. He can create shots for himself and finish, he shot 39.3 percent from three last season, and he’s getting better at creating some for others, too. With the plethora of ball handlers on this team roles will shift, Hart will not get to dominate the ball like in Summer League. He needs to show he can still make plays.

When Hart gets his windows, he needs to play so well it’s hard for Luke Walton to sub him out.

Svi Mykhailiuk

There are a lot of people both internally with the Lakers and around the team who think the Lakers could have a draft steal here. Maybe. He had a quality showing at Summer League — not only did he put up points, but he also showed some versatility and defense in his game — but that comes with the asterisk it’s Summer League. There is potential here, but I’m not sure how much run the rookie can really get on a win now team with a lot of veterans — vets on one-year contracts, so they want minutes and numbers — ahead of him. That said, being around the work ethic and game IQ of LeBron is going to help Mykhailiuk develop faster into whatever he will become.

Irving, LeBron pace Cavs to 107-91 win over Thunder

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CLEVELAND (AP) Kyrie Irving scored 29 points, LeBron James had 25 and 14 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers played one of their better all-around games in weeks, beating Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder 107-91 on Sunday.

The Cavs have won two straight after the NBA champions lost six of eight amid internal turmoil sparked by James criticizing the team’s roster following a recent loss.

But while not forgotten, the chaos has calmed down a bit and a quality win sure helps.

Westbrook finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his 24th triple-double, but only made 7 of 26 shots for the Thunder, who had won three straight.

Cleveland All-Star forward Kevin Love didn’t play in the second half because of back spasms. Love has been dealing with back issues since he came to Cleveland and he missed a game earlier this month with spasms.

James became the first player in Cavaliers history to score 20,000 points for the franchise. He came in needing six points to hit the plateau and reached it with a layup early in the second quarter.

Oklahoma City played its first game without reserve center Enes Kanter. He broke his right forearm punching a chair Thursday in a win over Dallas, had surgery Friday and will be out at least a month.

Leading by 13 at halftime, the Cavs let the Thunder get back within eight before Irving put on a show with several drives to the basket.

Showing off his magnificent dribbling skills to open space and tie up defenders, Irving scored three layups in a span of 58 seconds to put Cleveland back up by 17.

Oklahoma City made a run with Westbrook on the bench in the fourth, getting within 82-75 but Irving scored a pair of layups and later drained a 30-foot 3-pointer to give the Cavs a 98-82 lead.

Wearing a Michael Jackson-inspired red leather “Thriller” jacket, Westbrook walked into the arena about two hours before tip-off with Jackson’s “Don’t Stop `Til You Get Enough” playing from the speakers near the security entrance.

It was fitting musical accompaniment for Westbrook, who joined Oscar Robertson as the only players to average at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists through the first 40-plus games. Robertson averaged a triple-double for the entire 1961-62 season.

Westbrook, though, struggled with his shot as the Cavs did all they could to slow him down.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Westbrook’s 24 triple-doubles are the most in a season since Wilt Chamberlain had 31 in 1967-68. … It was Oklahoma City’s 11th road game of 12 in January. … Coach Billy Donovan said it’s a misconception that Westbrook is selfish. “He understands he’s part of a team and he’s always wanted to be part of a team,” Donovan said. “He’s one of the league leaders in assists. He generates a lot offense for other guys. He gets in there and helps rebound in the frontcourt. He’s found that balance.” … Donovan played against Irving’s father, Drederick, in college when he was at Providence and the elder Irving was at Boston University. “We beat him in the NIT,” Donovan said. “I think. That was 30 years ago.”

Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson had 19 points and 12 rebounds. … James has scored nearly twice as many points as Cleveland’s No. 2 career scorer Zydrunas Ilgauskas (10,616). James scored 7,919 points during his four seasons with Miami. … Cleveland is 29-6 in its last 35 home games against Western Conference teams. … Cleveland made eight 3-pointers after dropping at least 13 in five straight games.

UP NEXT

Thunder: At San Antonio on Tuesday.

Cavaliers: At Dallas on Monday, the first of three back-to-backs before the All-Star break.

Report: Cavaliers holding firm at $80 million offer, communicating little with Tristan Thompson

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Tristan Thompson reportedly rejected a five-year, $80 million contract offer from the Cavaliers.

He reportedly wants a max deal, $94,343,125 over five years.

Cleveland’s response?

Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com, via Chuck Myron of Hoops Rumors:

all I know is Rich Paul is asking for five years and $94MM and the Cavaliers are $14MM short of that figure. That’s Randy Moss-type separation. There’s limited to zero communication because of that tremendous gap.

Thompson might accept less than the max, or the Cavaliers might increase their offer. But what’s the incentive for either side to budge now?

The deadline for Thompson to accept his qualifying offer his Oct. 1. Communication should heat up closer to then.

I think Thompson is worth less than $80 million to most teams, even with the salary cap skyrocketing. But he has leverage on Cleveland.

Even if the Cavaliers believe LeBron James, who shares an agent with Thompson, won’t leave over this, they project to be over the cap for the foreseeable future whether or not they keep Thompson. They won’t get a similarly valuable player with the mid-level exception. So, the biggest drawback to keeping Thompson would be the real-dollar cost to Dan Gilbert. From a team-building standpoint, they’re better off maxing him out than watching him take the qualifying offer – a real possibility, according to Paul.

On the other hand, an $80 million offer already strikes me as one reliant on that leverage. Thompson could have brought back an offer sheet for Cleveland to match, but he hasn’t.

There are good reasons for both the Cavs to increase their offer and Thompson to settle for what’s currently on the table. That’ll lead to interesting negotiations – eventually.

Report: Cavaliers don’t fear LeBron James leaving Cleveland over Tristan Thompson

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After LeBron James said Tristan Thompson should spend the rest of his career with the Cavaliers, there was talk LeBron would wait to re-sign until Cleveland locked up Thompson. LeBron and Thompson share an agent, Rich Paul, who once said LeBron considers the agency and its clients to be family.

But LeBron already re-signed, and Thompson continues to wait for a max offer.

Crisis averted?

The Cavs apparently didn’t think there was one to begin with.

Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report:

I’m told that, privately, the Cavaliers are convinced that LeBron cannot afford to break Cleveland’s hearts a second time and leave and therefore does not have the leverage that everybody supposes he has.

If this is what the Cavaliers believe, I think they’re right. The way LeBron framed his return to Cleveland – professing his commitment to Northeast Ohio – it’d look awful for him to leave.

But I don’t know they’re right, and neither can they. Nobody can read LeBron’s mind. If he has told them he’s OK with their handling of Thompson, that’s a strong indicator. It still doesn’t mean they know his true feelings, though.

Remember, LeBron left the Heat, at least in part, because he was dissatisfied with their spending. Dan Gilbert has paid plenty this offseason, but we don’t know LeBron’s exact standards.

LeBron has repeatedly and publicly said he wants Cleveland to re-sign Thompson. He has dialed down his rhetoric from when he pushed for Thompson to be a Cav for life, but the message is clear. LeBron believes the Cavaliers should get this done.

And if they don’t? Yes, it’s too late for LeBron to leave this summer. But he’ll probably be a free agent next year and the year after. I doubt LeBron would bolt just because Thompson takes the qualifying offer, but it’s one decision that could eventually contribute to his departure.

Again, I think LeBron will stay with the Cavaliers for precisely the same reasons they reportedly believe he’ll stay. But do they really want to find out whether they’re correct?

The downside of pushing his limits is extreme.

LeBron James: Championship not a requirement of a great team

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LeBron James played for a 66-win team. Didn’t win a title.

LeBron and his teammates proved it wasn’t a fluke the next season, winning 61 games. Didn’t win a title.

LeBron joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a team many feared would destroy the NBA’s competitive balance. Didn’t win a title.

LeBron formed yet another super team with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Didn’t win a title.

But – at least in LeBron’s eyes – that doesn’t mean those teams necessarily fell short of greatness.

LeBron, via Bleacher Report:

If you don’t know the history of the game, man, you’ll forget how many great teams didn’t win championships. And that doesn’t mean they wasn’t great, though.

LeBron was referring to the 2000 Western Conference finals. The eventual-NBA-champion Lakers beat the Trail Blazers in seven games. Portland – with a starting lineup of Damon Stoudamire, Steve Smith, Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace and Arvydas Sabonis – won 59 games and crushed the Jazz and Timberwolves before running into the Lakers.

I agree with LeBron’s premise. A team can be great without winning a title. Sometimes, a team just catches the wrong breaks, like playing in a season where there are multiple great teams.

Those Trail Blazers were borderline great, with both past and future success to support their consistency. They just ran into Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Nothing Portland could do about that.

But a title is an important consideration – the most important – when determining a team’s greatness. Personally, I think the 1999-00 Trail Blazers fall just short, but either argument is reasonable.

And for what it’s worth, I think all of LeBron’s title-less teams fall short of greatness for similar reasons, though last year’s Cavaliers played great between their midseason trades for Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith and the postseason injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.