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Magic Johnson already excited by LeBron’s offseason impact on Lakers

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Magic Johnson can already see LeBron James‘ impact on the young Los Angeles Lakers before they’ve even had a regular practice together.

After just a few weeks of unusually competitive offseason scrimmages, the Lakers’ basketball boss can’t wait to see how James’ leadership will translate into real success.

Magic and general manager Rob Pelinka on Thursday pronounced themselves thrilled with the offseason progress made by their revamped roster and James, their prize free-agent acquisition. The Lakers have been working out together informally at the club’s training complex ahead of the start of training camp Tuesday, and Johnson likes what he sees so far.

“Just to see all of them together playing a pickup game, oh my goodness,” Johnson said. “It’s something to watch. I’ve watched LeBron from afar. I’ve been at many of his games. But to watch him in the gym is a whole different thing. How much he makes everybody better, but also how he raises everybody’s level of play. His basketball IQ and his leadership ability, it’s all on display.”

Lonzo Ball won’t be on display in every workout at the start of camp, however. The Lakers’ second-year point guard had knee surgery two months ago, and Pelinka said Ball will be held out of five-on-five scrimmages when camp begins, even though he has been fully cleared for all basketball activities.

Johnson and Pelinka praised Ball’s offseason work to improve his awkward jump shot by adjusting his shooting mechanics. They also realize Ball has plenty of work to do.

The Lakers are determined to allow Ball to grow into his role as a playmaking leader, and Johnson believes Rajon Rondo will play a mentoring role. Along with James, the Lakers also acquired Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley to form a new veteran core for a 16-time NBA champion franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2013.

The Lakers’ disparate collection of talent will need plenty of time to gel, but Johnson is already seeing it happen in those scrimmages.

“I mean, they are going hard,” Johnson said. “It’s physical. It’s tough. There’s trash talking. It’s just a lot of fun, and also a lot of teaching at the same time. It’s really great to see these young guys getting a chance to learn from champions.”

And as if he needed any reminder, Johnson has witnessed the singular skills of the 33-year-old James, who agreed to a four-year, $154 million free-agent deal.

“LeBron comes in, and he’s already in midseason form and shooting fadeaways and 3-pointers from almost half-court,” Johnson said with a broad grin. “And you’re sitting there saying, `Man, thank God we signed him.”‘

Along with blending their new additions, the Lakers must adjust to the loss of Julius Randle and Brook Lopez. Johnson and Pelinka aren’t worried about filling the space left by the departures of those two big men, believing they’ve got more than enough height to guard anyone.

“We feel we have two players at every position – a starter and then a backup to that person,” Johnson said.

Added Pelinka: “A lot of people have said this is one of the deepest rosters in the NBA, and that is an extreme strength to us.”

 

J.R. Smith gets shirtless as Browns win first game since 2016 (VIDEO)

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LeBron James may be a Los Angeles Laker now, but JR Smith is still with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Media day is right around the corner, and so NBA players are trickling in to their respective cities from their offseason locations.

Thankfully for us, Smith is already in Cleveland.

On Thursday night, the Cleveland Browns of the NFL won their first regular season game since Dec. 24, 2016. In attendance was none other than Smith, and lo and behold he was once again shirtless.

Just the way we like him.

Via Twitter:

Smith was famously shirtless in 2016 during the Cavaliers’ championship parade (and seemingly for much of that summer) after they beat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Someone even printed out a shirt you could wear that turned you into a shirtless JR.

There probably won’t be much celebrating in Cleveland for Smith this season, and therefore not many reasons for him to get shirtless on everyone. The Browns winning a Thursday night game seems like an appropriate arena for this type of thing now.

Report: Clippers emerging as frontrunner to sign Kawhi Leonard

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Does Kawhi Leonard prefer the Clippers or Lakers in 2019 free agency? Reports have been mixed, though credible journalists have increasingly favored the Clippers since LeBron James signed with the Lakers. Yet, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN held out on the Lakers being Leonard’s top choice.

Now – with Jimmy Butler reportedly preferring a trade to the Clippers – Wojnarowski appears to be coming around on the Clippers.

Wojnarowski:

The Clippers have two max contract slots available in July, and are emerging as a front-runner for Toronto’s All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard when he becomes a free agent in July, league sources said.

Leonard and Butler would form a tantalizing tandem.

Butler reportedly wants to showcase himself in a big city while Leonard seemingly wants both to be in Los Angeles but remain out of the spotlight. Together, maybe they could both get what they want.

Though Butler’s demanding style has worn on teammates in Minnesota, nobody has ever accused Leonard of lacking work ethic or competitiveness. I bet Butler would respect Leonard.

They’re both elite defensively and at least very good offensively. There could be issues with how often each likes to isolate, but get all that talent to L.A. then figure out the rest later.

The question for the Clippers: Do they trade for Butler now or wait to try signing both stars in free agency next summer? The latter option carries more upside, allowing the Clippers to preserve assets. But it also risks Minnesota trading Butler and his Bird Rights to another team and him re-signing there.

The Clippers have several veterans – Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari – who might appeal to Tom Thibodeau, who seemingly wants to win now. L.A. could also offer 2018 lottery picks Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Alexander. However, the Clippers can’t convey a first-round pick until 2021 at the earliest.

I don’t know whether they’ll trade for Butler, but if the Clippers do, I know we’ll crank up the Leonard-Clippers speculation even higher. There’s value in putting that in Leonard’s mind while the Raptors are trying to woo him first-hand over the next year.

Report: Jimmy Butler less enthused about Lakers after they signed LeBron James

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In 2014, Jimmy Butler said, “I like being a role player. Star has never been next to Jimmy Butler’s name. It never will be. I’ll always be an under-the-radar dawg.”

Then, Butler kept getting better and better. He started to appreciate his stature within the game. He took a leadership role on the Bulls. He embraced celebrity.

Maybe his trade request from the Timberwolves – ideally to the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets or L.A. Clippers – is the next step in this evolution.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

He is enamored with the idea of playing a central role in a big market, sources said. Butler had once imagined playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, but LeBron James‘ arrival as the franchise’s cornerstone made it less appealing for Butler in the prime of his career, league sources said.

Playing with LeBron isn’t for everyone. Kawhi Leonard reportedly became more reluctant to join the Lakers once they got LeBron. (Interestingly, Leonard is reportedly dissuaded by the hoopla LeBron would attract while Butler apparently believes he wouldn’t get enough of a spotlight).

And of course, Kyrie Irving requested and received a trade from LeBron’s Cavaliers last year. Irving and Butler are friends, and maybe Irving warned Butler about the perils of playing with LeBron.

I’m not sure how this report fits with Butler wanting to play with Irving, though. Irving is more popular than Butler. Perhaps, Irving holding a smaller stature than LeBron is enough for Butler. Maybe playing with Irving would be the exception to Butler’s desire to have his own team in a big market.

Or maybe Butler still winds up in Los Angeles with LeBron. Butler was reportedly open to it, though that’s a pretty low standard.

No matter what, Butler should pursue what he wants. NBA careers are short. Players should make the most of theirs, whatever that means to them.

Butler has so far shown he can balance working hard and playing well with stardom. He has earned the right to seek a larger public profile without major consternation about what it’d mean to his on-court production.

Space Jam 2 closer to reality: LeBron reportedly teams with Black Panther director

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Space Jam 2 starring LeBron James — and, we can dream, Boban Marjanovic as one of the new Monstars — could be filming next summer and in theaters in 2019 or 2020.

This has been in the works for a while, and it has come together slowly (like most Hollywood projects). LeBron James’ production company has a development deal with Warner Bros. and a Space Jam sequel was always at the heart of it. While there had been rumors about the project for years, you knew there was some substance to the talk when Warner Bros. extended its trademark on “Space Jam” a couple of years ago.

In a sign this movie is going to be a reality, LeBron has found a producer — the man who directed Black Panther. From the Hollywood Reporter:

In his first project since directing the record-breaking Black Panther, Ryan Coogler is teaming with LeBron James on the anticipated follow-up to the Michael Jordan-Bugs Bunny hit Space Jam, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Coogler will produce the Space Jam movie and Terence Nance – who created HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness and directed the experimental film The Oversimplification of Her Beauty – will direct. Production on the Warner Bros. film is tentatively slated for 2019, during the NBA offseason. It will be James’ first starring role after a successful turn as a supporting character in the 2015 Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck…

“I loved his vision” for Black Panther, James tells The Hollywood Reporter, noting that when he was a kid growing up in Akron, Ohio, there were no black superheroes. “So for Ryan to be able to bring that to kids, it’s amazing.”

That’s a good team to make a movie, although we are all curious about the script.

Not that the original Space Jam starring Michael Jordan was winning a writing Oscar, but the move was a cultural phenomenon. It had MJ going head-to-head with aliens in a battle for Earth. Kid me loved that movie, adult me re-watched it and…

I didn’t love it as much as Patrick Patterson, who wrote: “To make a sequel to Space Jam would be like trying to paint the Mona Lisa again. Sure, you can probably do it, but why the hell would you want to?”

A lot of the older generation will say that, but if it’s a good movie it will do better than Uncle Drew. (Which, honestly, was better than I expected.) It could be a marketing coup for LeBron, plus add to his legacy of NBA titles and gold medals. Not everyone can put “saved the earth from annihilation” on their resume.