LeBron James

Western Notes: Jazz, Howard, Pelicans, LeBron

The Jazz could greatly benefit from bolstering their bench next season following a seven-game defeat to Denver this postseason, Ryan McDonald of The Deseret News writes.

Utah has a core of Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Bojan Bogdanovic and others under contract for next season, though several bench players such as Jordan Clarkson and Emmanuel Mudiay are set to enter unrestricted free agency.

“I can’t tell the future,” Clarkson said. “I know I had a great experience here, great time here. I love my teammates here, so definitely see what happens. You know, it’s kind of my first time actually going into a free agency. Definitely a whole new experience for me.”

The Jazz hold Clarkson’s Bird rights and can offer him more money than other interested teams, with the 27-year-old averaging 15.2 points per game off the bench this season. It’s clear Utah will sport an impressive starting group next season, but the team’s ability to maintain (or improve) its depth will be vital toward achieving success.

“We’ll see how they come back once they get away and hopefully improve and reflect,” executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey said when the team’s season ended. “We had a very successful G League season and we think a lot of those guys can provide internal solutions.”

Here are some other notes from the Western Conference tonight:

  • Lakers center Dwight Howard demonstrated his “dark side” in Game 1 against the Nuggets, Sam Amick of The Athletic writes. Howard finished with 13 points, three rebounds and two blocks in his 16 minutes of play, controlling the game on both ends. “As soon as I step onto the court, I’m gonna let him know that I’m there,” Howard said as part of a larger quote, referring to his solid defense on Nuggets star Nikola Jokic.
  • William Guillory of The Athletic addresses a number of topics related to the Pelicans in his latest mailbag, including which free-agent veterans could help the team and whether the franchise should trade Jrue Holiday. New Orleans finished with just a 30-42 record and failed to qualify for the playoffs this season. The team hopes to reload next season with a core consisting of Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and others.
  • Jackie MacMullan of ESPN.com explores how to “stop” Lakers star LeBron James, discussing the subject with players and coaches who have eliminated him from the postseason in the past, such as Tayshaun Prince, Bruce Bowen, Stan Van Gundy and Jason Terry. “He’s an all-world playmaker — one of the best I’ve seen,” former Warriors guard Shaun Livingston said. “That’s his separator. By that point of his career [against Golden State], he almost always made the right play at the right time with the right efficiency.”

Lakers Notes: Howard, James, Rondo, Davis

Dwight Howard barely played against the small-ball Rockets in the Lakers‘ last series, but he may be in the starting lineup for Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, writes Anthony Slater of The Athletic. Howard’s impact in Game 1 has coach Frank Vogel considering a change. During seven minutes in the second quarter, the veteran center had two blocks, two steals, and drew five fouls. He also boosted L.A.’s energy and physicality, Slater notes.

Howard started the second half in place of JaVale McGee and got Nuggets center Nikola Jokic to commit an important fourth foul, stifling Denver’s comeback hopes. Howard finished with 13 points in 16 minutes and was plus-14 for the game. Vogel won’t announce his Game 2 starters until the league requirement of 30 minutes before tipoff, tweets Mike Trudell of Spectrum.

“I had a chance to get there once and always promised myself if I had a chance to get back there, I’d give my teammates everything I got and lay it all out on the line,” Howard told Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, referring to his loss with the Magic in 2009 in his only NBA Finals appearance.

There’s more on the Lakers:

  • Vogel said LeBron James should be ready for Game 2 despite hurting his ankle Friday night, tweets Dave McMenamin of ESPN. James rolled the ankle when he stepped on Jerami Grant‘s foot.
  • Rajon Rondo put up seven points, nine assists and two steals in 22 minutes in Game 1, but the attitude he brings to the court is more important than his numbers, observes Helene Elliott of The Los Angeles Times“His impact’s always measured in swag with our team,” Vogel said. “He elevates the group’s confidence every time he’s on the floor.” Rondo, who has a reputation for raising his game in the postseason, passed Michael Jordan on the career playoff assists list Friday night and is closing in on Kobe Bryant. He has been a difference maker since returning from a fractured right thumb that caused him to miss all the Lakers’ seeding games and the first-round series with Portland.
  • Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report talks to several anonymous team executives about whether Anthony Davis is the best teammate James has ever had. Davis is in his prime at age 27 and has been a perfect complement to James since being acquired from the Pelicans last summer.

LeBron James Expresses Frustration With MVP Voting

After a decisive Game 1 win over the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, Lakers forward LeBron James was asked about finishing as the runner-up to Giannis Antetokounmpo for the 2019/20 NBA MVP award.

The four-time MVP did not mince words about the results, taking particular exception with the final tally.

“Pissed me off. That’s my true answer,” James said, per ESPN. “It pissed me off, because out of 101 votes, I got 16 first-place votes. That’s what pissed me off more than anything. You know, not saying that the winner wasn’t deserving of the MVP. But that pissed me off. And I finished second a lot in my career, either from a championship, and now four times as an MVP.”

When it comes down to sheer impact, James has been in the MVP discussion nearly every season of his NBA career. Statistically, James had another dominant year in 2019/20 as he led the league in assists (10.2 APG) while averaging 25.3 PPG and 7.8 RPG for the Lakers.

Additionally, the Lakers made the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and were the Western Conference’s first seed for the first time since 2010. Ultimately, it was Antetokounmpo who took home the honors for the second year in a row. The Greek Freak also joined Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to ever win Defensive Player of the Year and MVP honors in the same campaign.

“I’m not going to sit up here and talk about what the criteria should be or what it is. It’s changed over the years since I’ve gotten into the league,” James added. “Sometimes it’s the best player on the best team. Sometimes it’s the guy with the best season statistically. Sometimes … I mean, you don’t know. You don’t know. But you know, Giannis had a hell of a season; I can definitely say that.”

Lakers Notes: LeBron/Buss Dinner, WCF, AD, Lineup

Near the end of a rocky first season together, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and All-Star LeBron James sat down for their first dinner together at Wally’s Beverly Hills in March 2019, alongside James’ agent Rich Paul and Lakers executive Linda Rambis. It was here that the foundation was laid for this season’s relatively drama-free Lakers run in 2019/20, per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.

“We’re committed to you and we’ll come out of this on top,” Paul told Buss during the dinner, according to a conversation with Shelburne. “We’ll come out of this different than what the world sees. Let the people who talk, talk. We just gotta do the work.”

Shelburne notes that forging this more personal bond helped stabilize the club.

There’s more out of Los Angeles:

  • The Lakers’ competition in the Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets, have earned the respect of Los Angeles’ marquee player, after coming back twice from 3-1 deficits in the 2020 playoffs, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN“It takes a lot of energy, effort, a lot of desperation to be able to come back from a 3-1 deficit,” James said after a team practice today. “They did it twice. So the respect level is out of this world for what we have for this ball club.”
  • Lakers stars James and Anthony Davis have instilled a hardworking mindset that has proved effective this season among their teammates, per Mark Medina of USA Today. “They’ve been the rocks and heart and souls of our team all year,” power forward Kyle Kuzma said of LeBron and AD. “If we don’t do our jobs, they don’t have the success that they have.”
  • Los Angeles is ready to make lineup adjustments against the Nuggets to best handle Denver All-Star center Nikola Jokic, according to Tania Ganguli of the LA Times. Frank Vogel appeared to indicate that he’ll return to playing centers JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, who got minimal run during the Lakers’ more speed-oriented attack against the Rockets during the semifinals. Forward Markieff Morris, a solid three-point shooter, started at center in McGee’s stead during most of the Houston series. “In terms of how much we’ll use our centers, I don’t want to get too much into detail, but obviously we’re gonna be the L.A. Lakers, who we’ve been all year,” Vogel said. Starting center McGee is currently on the first year of a two-season, $8.2MM contract with the team, while reserve Howard is on a one-year veteran’s minimum deal.

NBA Announces 2019/20 All-NBA Teams

The NBA has officially announced its All-NBA teams for the 2019/20 season. Voting was completed prior to the league’s restart in July and was based on results through March 11.

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Lakers forward LeBron James, widely considered the two frontrunners for this year’s MVP award, were the only two players to be unanimously voted to the All-NBA First Team this season. Rockets guard James Harden, Lakers big man Anthony Davis, and Mavericks guard Luka Doncic rounded out the First Team.

The full All-NBA teams are listed below, with their vote totals in parentheses. Players received five points for a First Team vote, three points for a Second Team vote, and one point for a Third Team vote, so Giannis and LeBron scored a perfect 500 — First Team nods from all 100 voters.

All-NBA First Team

All-NBA Second Team

All-NBA Third Team

Among the players who just missed the cut were Bucks forward Khris Middleton (82 points), Sixers center Joel Embiid (79), Wizards guard Bradley Beal (32), and Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (26). A total of 11 other players also received at least one All-NBA vote — the full results can be found right here.

Today’s announcement is great news from a financial perspective for Siakam and Simmons. As a result of Siakam’s Second Team nod and Simmons’ Third Team spot, both players will earn starting salaries worth 28% of the 2020/21 salary cap, rather than 25%. Players who sign rookie scale extensions can earn maximum salaries up to 30% of the cap if they negotiate Rose Rule language into their deals.

The exact value of those new contracts will depend on where exactly the ’20/21 cap lands. Assuming it stays the same as in 2019/20 ($109.141MM), Siakam’s four-year extension would be worth $136.9MM instead of the $122.2MM it’d be worth if it started at 25% of the cap. Simmons’ five-year pact would be worth $177.2MM rather than $158.3MM.

While it’s also worth noting that All-NBA berths are of great importance to players seeking super-max contracts, there aren’t any real developments to report on that front as a result of this year’s votes. Antetokounmpo and Gobert remain eligible for super-max extensions, but they’d already qualified based on their previous accolades.

Embiid would have become super-max eligible in 2021 if he had earned an All-NBA spot, but he’ll need to make an All-NBA team next season to gain eligibility now, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks tweets.

Hoops Rumors readers accurately picked 12 of this season’s 15 All-NBA players in our spring poll. Beal, Embiid, and Devin Booker were your picks who didn’t make the official list. Of the 12 who made it, 11 made the exact team you projected, with Paul (who made Second Team instead of Third Team) representing the only exception.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Lakers Notes: Rondo, McGee, Waiters, LeBron

Rajon Rondo turned in an up-and-down performance in Game 1 of the Lakers‘ second-round series against Houston, but head coach Frank Vogel expressed confidence after that game that Rondo would be an important contributor for L.A. in the series. On Sunday, the veteran point guard proved Vogel right.

As ESPN’s Dave McMenamin details, Rondo contributed 10 points, nine assists, and five steals in the Lakers’ Game 2 win, with the team outscoring the Rockets by 28 points during his 29 minutes. While Rondo is on a minimum-salary contract and ranked eighth on the team this season in minutes per game, he’s viewed as a leader on and off the court for the Lakers.

“He has such an impact,” Vogel said of Rondo. “His impact on our team is measured in swag and just the confidence that he brings to our group.”

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • Lakers center JaVale McGee left Sunday’s game due to left ankle pain and didn’t return, per McMenamin. Vogel said after the game that McGee would be undergoing an MRI on his sore ankle.
  • Within the same story, McMenamin notes that shooting guard Dion Waiters also left the game with an injury and didn’t play the rest of the night. Waiters was diagnosed with a strained groin, and his status going forward remains up in the air.
  • Within a notebook piece on the Lakers/Rockets series, Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register explores how the two clubs have been using “scout teams” in practices to try to prepare for their opponent’s star players.
  • Asked on Sunday why his children haven’t joined him in the NBA’s bubble, Lakers star LeBron James explained that – despite being located within Walt Disney World – the campus isn’t especially kid-friendly. “My kids are too adventurous and they love to do so much stuff,” James said, according to Mark Medina of USA Today. “There’s nothing for them to do here. Go outside, come back in, go outside, come back in. They can stay in L.A. They’re great.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo Questionable For Game 4

With the season on the line Sunday, the Bucks may not have their MVP on the court. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been listed as questionable for Game 4 against Miami with an ankle issue, tweets Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press, who adds that Antetokounmpo had a “very noticeable limp” today.

The injury occurred early in the first quarter of Game 3 and Antetokounmpo was seen grimacing in pain throughout the night, according to Eric Woodyard of ESPN. He still managed to put up 21 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists and said afterward that the ankle felt “great” and “it wasn’t bothering me at all.”

Antetokounmpo was named Defensive Player of the Year earlier this week and is expected to be named MVP for the second straight season. The Bucks are 5-5 in games he has missed this year, according to StatMuse.

In other injury news around the league:

  • Rockets forward Danuel House left Friday’s game early, but the team explained it was for precautionary reasons and he won’t have to enter the concussion protocol, tweets Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Coach Mike D’Antoni said House was fine after the game.
  • LeBron James has a sore right groin, Anthony Davis has a sprained left finger and Rajon Rondo is suffering back spasms, but the Lakers list all three as probable for Sunday, according to Feigen (Twitter link).
  • The Heat are listing Kelly Olynyk as questionable for Game 4 with the right knee issue that caused him to miss Friday’s game, tweets Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald.
  • Point guard Tremont Waters will be available for today’s Game 4, the Celtics announced. He had been sidelined with a sprained knee.

Thursday Call Between Players, Owners Addresses Player Concerns

A Thursday evening conference call between NBA players and owners addressed various player concerns ahead of a return to action, and seems to have pointed the way forward this season while satisfying both parties.

The NBA expects to resume its slate of playoff games on Saturday. All games have been postponed since Wednesday, when the Bucks refused to take the court in Game 5 of their first-round series against the Magic.

On Thursday’s call, players expressed a desire to be “proactive, not reactive” when it came to social justice causes, according to Taylor Rooks of Bleacher Report (Twitter link). Rooks says players called for a “dedicated coalition” within the league to address key issues of concern, including voting rights and structural police reform.

Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic (Twitter link) reports that players challenged team owners to create actions, rather than just financial commitments, adding that a new program will be developed by the NBA and the NBPA and will be devoted to regularly addressing “player-creative (social) initiatives.”

In speaking to Fox Prime Ticket, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers reiterated the desire from players to create a group devoted to tackling police reform, voting, and other extant social problems important to players, per ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk.

Rooks also tweets that Lakers All-Star LeBron James, whose new foundation More Than A Vote is designed to address voting inequities, was particularly vocal on Thursday’s call. According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, LeBron had told players he was prepared to resume the season, but was willing to change course if he didn’t like what he heard on the call with owners. That conversation assuaged his concerns, per Haynes.

As Haynes explains, James was among the players who was initially upset about the fact that the Bucks decided not to play Wednesday’s game without telling any other teams or players, since it left everyone else scrambling to react, without a clear plan in place. The Bucks had been planning to forfeit the game vs. Orlando and didn’t necessarily anticipate that their decision would temporarily shut down the league, says Haynes.

LeBron’s “emotions got the best of him” on Wednesday, one source told Tania Ganguli and Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times, but he always supported the Bucks and was on board with what the majority of players wanted to do. He simply wanted “unity and a specific call to action,” sources tell Haynes.

Although Friday’s games won’t take place as initially scheduled, all 13 teams still at the Walt Disney World campus have scheduled practices for today, according to the NBA.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

Players Decide To Resume Playoffs; Thursday’s Games To Be Postponed

The three NBA playoff games scheduled to take place on Thursday will be postponed, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter links). However, players have decided to resume the postseason and discussions are underway about when that will happen, Wojnarowski reports.

Games appear likely to resume as soon as Friday, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Jeff Goodman of Stadium (Twitter links).

[UPDATE: NBA Hopes To Resume Postseason By Saturday]

According to Charania (Twitter link), NBA players who met today want to find “new and improved ways” to make social justice statements as they prepare to restart play.

Another meeting will take place today on the Orlando campus at 4:00 pm eastern time, with two players from each team participating, per Goodman and Tim MacMahon of ESPN (Twitter links). The goal of that meeting will be to formulate a specific action plan to address racial injustice issues and to work out the logistics of restarting play, a source tells MacMahon (Twitter link).

A meeting of NBA owners and players is also set up for later today, Wojnarowski and Marc Spears of ESPN report (via Twitter). It sounds like that will be a separate meeting, though it figures to focus on similar issues.

The bubble is about more than just crowning a champion,” one veteran player told Spears (Twitter link). “More so now than ever. It felt like the message was fading. Hopeful this can create a new level of activism and commitment from our owners, (the) league, (and) teams towards real change.”

After the Bucks decided not to play Game 5 of their first-round series against the Magic on Wednesday to protest social and racial injustices, the Rockets, Thunder, Lakers, and Trail Blazers followed suit, and the NBA postponed those games.

Today’s contests between the Nuggets and Jazz, Celtics and Raptors, and Mavericks and Clippers will also need to be rescheduled. Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press (Twitter link) hears that one “common-sense” scenario being considered is to simply push each game back by two days, from Wednesday to Friday and Thursday to Saturday.

Following Wednesday’s boycott, players gathered last night to discuss next steps and that meeting reportedly got “emotional.” Players from the Lakers and Clippers voted in favor of ending the season, while other teams voted to continue playing and some players – including CJ McCollumcautioned against giving up the platform afforded by the NBA’s bubble.

After further discussions both last night and this morning, LeBron James and other prominent players changed their positions, agreeing that it’s in players’ best interest to finish the season, tweets Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Sources tell Charania that players today discussed the sacrifices they’ve made to reach this point of the 2019/20 season, as well as the sense of normalcy that will be gained when family members are allowed to enter the Orlando campus next week (Twitter link). Everyone was ultimately in agreement on restarting the season, one player told Goodman (Twitter link).

Pacific Notes: LeBron, Fox, Warriors, Williams

Lakers superstar LeBron James is beginning to find his groove in the playoffs, with Game 3 serving as proof of such, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com writes.

James played noticeably aggressively in the team’s first-round series against Portland on Saturday, recording 38 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in 34 minutes of work. It’s the type of play the Lakers need to defeat a fearless Blazers team, especially with a star backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum tiring out the likes of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Danny Green each game.

“I just think my offensive pace tonight,” James said postgame. “At times I was fast, slow, medium-paced. It was like a stick shift. Sometimes I was in gear 1, sometimes I was in gear 6. Being able to read and react, depending on whether I had the cruise on or was in a residential area or the highway or I was on the straightaway. Being able to have a car that can go in different speeds and zones, depending on what the traffic is, is very key.”

James was joined in the win by fellow All-Star Anthony Davis, who finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists. The two stars each shot 11-of-18 from the field and took a combined 31 attempts from the free throw line, demonstrating their aggressive mindset and play.

“I told Bron at half, I have to take some of the pressure off of him,” Davis said. “I missed a ton of free throws [five of nine first-half attempts]. I didn’t want him to have to carry the team the whole time, where he didn’t have to try to come down and score every time.

“He was in attack mode. We need him like that all the time. When he’s attacking, it’s our job to make shots.”

Here are some other notes out of the Pacific Division:

  • Kings guard De’Aaron Fox showed flashes of a potential superstar during his third season in the league, Kyle Ramos of NBA.com writes. Fox, 22, averaged a career-high 21.1 points, 6.8 assists and 1.5 steals per contest this year, also shooting a career-best 48% from the floor in 51 games. His averages increased to an impressive 25.3 points and 7.3 assists during the Orlando games.
  • Anthony Slater of The Athletic examines the Warriors’ options in the 2020 NBA draft, with the team being awarded the No. 2 overall pick last week. The current front-runner to be drafted by Golden State appears to be 7’1″ center James Wiseman, though no decisions have been finalized yet — and that’s if the team decides to even keep the pick. “I know there’s a lot of narrative around us trading our pick and what we’re going to do with it, but we don’t really know anything,” general manager Bob Myers said. “At this point, we found out half an hour ago we had the No. 2 pick, so that’s the first step as far as getting some clarity.”
  • Suns coach Monty Williams spoke with Greg Moore of The Arizona Republic on a number of topics, including how he guided his team to an 8-0 record in Orlando and how he handled the social justice movement. “We did have organic, spontaneous conversations even before we went to Orlando — maybe three Zoom chats, where we had really good conversations that weren’t just about basketball,” Williams said of his team. “Then when we got to Orlando, we just dialed in to what we say every day, ‘Family on three.’”