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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.

Report: Anthony Bennett likely would’ve fallen out of lottery if Cavaliers didn’t draft him No. 1

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Sometimes, teams pilloried for drafting a bust were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One of the Trail Blazers or SuperSonics were always going to wind up using a top-two pick on Greg Oden, no matter whether Portland picked him or Kevin Durant No. 1 in 2007. Darko Milicic was the consensus No. 2 pick in 2004 before the Pistons even landed that selection in the lottery. Derrick Williams surged to pre-draft ratings that nearly perfectly matched his No. 2 selection by the Timberwolves in 2011.

And then there are the Cavaliers in 2013.

Cleveland took Anthony Bennett No. 1 – a shocker to everyone, but apparently especially the teams drafting next.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN on The Woj Pod:

That draft night, it was funny, if you go back and look at – I guess if you went back and looked at Twitter, I’m pretty confident – I’m almost sure of this – there’s a tweet from me around, I want to say, 7 o’clock that night saying, hey, Anthony Bennett has a real chance to drop tonight.

And I was right except for, I was going through teams like two, three. I had gone as far as, I want to say, 14 or 15, who were saying to me, “He’s not really on our board. We’re not taking him. If he got to us, I still like guys better than him.” I spent the afternoon going through really every – I don’t know if I talked to all 15, but I had a very strong feeling from most of them, that if he got to them, they were passing on him.

And I was still not believing that Cleveland was going to take him one. They were talking about it, and I kept believing it was a smokescreen. I kept believing they really didn’t mean it.

And so I was right that he was going to drop, except for the fact he went one.

That’s the thing. If he didn’t go one that year, it wasn’t like he was going to go two or three or four. He probably – and I really believe this. This is not revisionist everyone later saying, “Oh, s— no. I wouldn’t have taken this guy.” It wasn’t that. It was that night leading into it that I really believe he would’ve dropped out of the lottery.

There are no Wojnarowski tweets up about Bennett’s stock before the draft, but he tweeted about Cleveland’s plan:

Obviously, that was wrong. Reading teams’ intentions before the draft is hard. Executives mislead, if not outright lie, frequently when given anonymity.

Maybe other lottery teams were as down on Bennett as they said before the draft. But if any teams were hiding their pro-Bennett stance behind a smokescreen of disliking him, they sure weren’t going to admit it after he turned into a bust. They’d just keep that part of the story private.

To some degree, the Cavs were just stuck in an unfortunate spot – holding the No. 1 pick in a draft thin on talent at the top. The rest of the lottery – in order: Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Trey Burke, C.J. McCollum, Michael Carter-Williams Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk, Shabazz Muhammad – has combined for only one All-Star appearance. And Oladipo didn’t get it until his fifth season and third team. Oladipo could make more All-Star games, and maybe McCollum, Porter and/or Adams sneak in. But this wasn’t a great lottery.

The best players in the draft – No. 15 pick Giannis Antetokounmpo and No. 27 pick Rudy Gobert – just weren’t discussed for the top pick. Criticizing the Cavaliers for passing on those two requires extreme hindsight bias.

But there were far better realistic choices than Bennett, who – judging by league-wide consensus – was an even bigger reach than previously realized.

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?

PBT Podcast: Full first-round NBA Mock Draft

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DeAndre Ayton goes No. 1. Luka Doncic second.

After that the 2018 NBA Draft is wide open — and even those first to are not locks (the Suns’ new coach has ties to Doncic having coached him on the Serbian national team). Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr., Trae Young, there are a lot of interesting prospects after the top two. Where do they land?

Rob Dauster, the host of College Basketball Talk at NBC Sports and the site’s successful podcast, joined Kurt Helin from ProBasketball Talk to put together a mock draft podcast. In Part 1 you can find a breakdown of the first seven picks in the draft, with Rob providing player breakdowns and Kurt bringing the knowledge on team needs and player fit. Part 2 of the podcast, which includes picks 8-30, can be found on the Pro Basketball Talk feed.

As always, you can check out the podcast below (both parts in this case), listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Here’s the first half, via College Basketball Talk’s podcast, which covers picks 1-7 (Suns, Kings, Hawks, Grizzlies, Mavericks, Magic, Bulls).

And here’s the second half, which starts with the Cleveland at No. 8 and continues through the entire rest of the first round.

Actor Ethan Hawke criticized the Knicks publicly, they took away his tickets

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The Knicks like having celebrities at their games — it’s good for the buzz in the building, the brand. So, like other NBA teams, they paper the house and give tickets to celebrities in prime spots. (Not Jack Nicholson, for the record he pays for those Lakers’ seats).

Actor Ethan Hawke — Dead Poet’s Society, Reality Bites, Training Day, The Purge, and who could forget Predestination… well, a lot of people — was one of those celebrities. He had grown up in the greater New York region and was a big Knicks fan — one who got those gift tickets from the team.

Until he publicly criticized the team. From The Bill Simmons Podcast, here is a transcript of Hawke talking Knicks tickets and how he lost them after criticizing them for keeping Carmelo Anthony. (Hat tip CBS Sports.)

“I’ve been a Knicks fan for a long time, but I got kicked out of the Garden. They won’t give me tickets anymore…

“I really was vocal on some talk shows like this that I thought it was a huge mistake to let Mike (D’Antoni) go and I would have bet on Mike (D’Antoni) before I bet on Melo….

“One person who owns (the team doesn’t like him)… I called up one night and they said it would be $7,800. I was like, ‘Oh, um, oh, why is this the first time you guys are charging me?’ They said that you should have thought of that before you went on the Jimmy Fallon Show. I was like, ‘Wow, this is real.’ So I’ve apologized publicly many times to try and get my seats again.”

These were free tickets, so let’s not shed too many tears for Hawke here.

However, if criticizing James Dolan or ‘Melo or the Knicks’ decisions costs you seats, would there be anyone left in New York who could go to games?

Consider it another reminder of the rather overly controlling, image-conscious, dictatorial atmosphere Dolan has created in Madison Square Garden. Hopefully, the new front office combo of Steve Mills and Scott Perry, along with new coach David Fizdale, can navigate away from and shield the basketball side from too much of that and allow it to flourish.