LeBron James

Lakers Notes: James, Bradley, Westbrook, Defense

LeBron James isn’t a fan of load management and believes he’s better off playing heavy minutes, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes. James missed 26 games last season due to a high ankle sprain. “I don’t play the game thinking about injuries,” James said. “And I also feel worse when I play low minutes.”

Coach Frank Vogel said that he still plans to give James some nights off this season.

“Obviously, it’s probably don’t want to have him play 82 games,” Vogel said. “But we’re not going to pre-script X amount of nights off. We’re going to take it as it comes throughout the year.”

We have more on the Lakers:

  • Avery Bradley didn’t participate in the Orlando bubble in 2020 in his last stint with the Lakers. There are no hard feelings lingering from that decision now that Bradley is back in a Lakers uniform, Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register writes. “We’re welcoming him back with open arms,” Vogel said. The Lakers claimed Bradley off waivers from the Warriors on Monday.
  • Russell Westbrook made an ugly Lakers debut in their loss to Golden State on Tuesday, contributing just eight points on 4-for-13 shooting while making four turnovers. His superstar teammates don’t want Westbrook to dwell on his disappointing opening-night performance, McMenamin relays in a separate story. “We said some things to him, and he smiled and things like that, so I expect him to be better in the game Friday,” Anthony Davis said.
  • Not only will it take time for Westbrook to build chemistry with the team’s other stars but the rotation members will also need time to develop at the defensive end, Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today notes. Zillgitt points out that three of the team’s best defenders are gone, either via the Westbrook trade or free agency.

Lakers Notes: Davis, Westbrook, Bazemore, Cap

The Lakers are considered to be one of the favorites in the West after trading for Russell Westbrook and adding a collection of veteran talent, but they haven’t looked like contenders so far, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN. L.A. dropped to 0-4 in the preseason with Sunday’s 29-point loss to the Suns, and Anthony Davis admitted that having so many new players creates adjustment issues that could linger into the start of the regular season.

“We want to be good, but we don’t want to skip steps. You can’t rush the process of what we’re trying to do and win championships,” he said. “We know, possibly, there could be struggles to start the season. … But we never want to get out to a slow start — 0-5, 0-6, whatever — we still want to be able to fight through our mistakes while winning games.”

The Lakers will get their first look tonight at Davis, Westbrook and LeBron James all on the court at the same time, one week before their season opener. Westbrook has struggled in his new surroundings, shooting 1-for-7 Friday in his debut, then following that with an eight-point, nine-turnover performance against Phoenix, but he’s not concerned.

“I never had one good preseason, I mean personally,” he said. “I never really worry about it because it’s preseason.”

There’s more from Los Angeles:

  • The Lakers are getting the defensive boost they expected from free agent addition Kent Bazemore, per Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times. At 6’4″, Bazemore brings versatility on defense and regularly matches up in practice with both James and Westbrook. “I really think Baze has separated himself some,” coach Frank Vogel said. “His wingspan and athleticism have been more impressive up close, in that regard.”
  • The Lakers’ 2021/22 roster is the most top-heavy group John Hollinger of The Athletic can remember seeing since Miami put together its initial “big three” in 2010. As Hollinger observes, the Lakers’ three stars will make more than $120MM on their own this season, while nine other players on the roster are on minimum-salary contracts.
  • Within Hollinger’s preview of the Lakers’ season, he also recaps the team’s offseason moves, examines Westbrook’s potential fit, and shares his regular season projection for the club. Hollinger has L.A. finishing with 52 wins, good for third in the West.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

Bulls Notes: Vučević, Ball, Caruso, Williams, Donovan

The Bulls revamped their roster over the offseason, but Nikola Vučević will still be a focal point of the team’s new high-octane offense, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic.

Vučević had a game-high 18 field goal attempts in the Bulls’ blowout preseason victory (121-85) over the Pelicans Friday night. New teammates Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and DeMar DeRozan are all finding the All-Star center in good positions to score.

With all the guys I have around me now,” Vučević said, “I have so many opportunities to score: trail 3s, drive-and-kick, off pick-and-pops, on rolls and dump-offs. We have so many guys who are good on the ball and that are willing passers, as a big man, it’s a luxury to have. We just have to get used to each other and build that chemistry, and I think it’ll be great for everybody.”

On a team with three 20-plus points per game scorers (Vučević, DeRozan, and Zach LaVine averaged a combined 72.4 PPG last season), Vučević knows he might not be the primary option every night, but his looks should be easier to convert, and he’s perfectly fine with that, per Mayberry.

It will come easier to me because we have so much talent out there that it’s harder for defenses to take stuff away. When we do a two-man game, any type of actions, it’s going to open up a lot for everybody. For me, the same. I think it will be easier to get touches in better spots,” Vucevic said.

Here’s more from the Windy City:

  • Ball was unfazed when facing his former team last night, writes Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times. Ball’s laid-back demeanor has served him well when faced with the near-constant rumor mill that has followed his career, Cowley notes. “I always have rumors circling around me all year,” Ball said. “So, I mean, it’s been the same for me the last four years. I’m just happy to be here.”
  • In the same piece, Cowley says that Caruso continues to praise former Lakers teammate LeBron James. “I owe a lot to [James] for where I am today. Obviously, I put a lot of work in, but he makes me look good. He makes the team look good. When you win, everybody gets paid, everybody gets to do a job. Being part of his legacy and being a part of that team for the last couple of years was fun for me,” Caruso said.
  • Cowley also relays that Patrick Williams, the fourth pick of the 2020 NBA draft, hasn’t recovered yet from his ankle sprain, but if he’s able to start practicing by next weekend, Cowley thinks there’s a good chance he’ll be ready for opening night at Detroit.
  • Coach Billy Donovan appreciated his time working with veterans Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple, and Thaddeus Young, according to K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “You talk to these veteran guys like Garrett and Thad and Sato and the word that always comes out of their mouth is ‘We. We’ve got to do this better.’ A lot of times, players say, ‘I.’ They were always ‘We,’” Donovan said. “I just admire that not only did they take care of themselves, they took care of the group.”
  • Follow more Bulls notes and rumors on our team page here.

Pacific Notes: Kings Lineup, DeRozan, Jackson, Bledsoe, Payton II

Kings coach Luke Walton is still tinkering with his starting lineup, according to Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. The forward spots are up for grabs, with Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes and Marvin Bagley III as the top contenders, depending on whether Walton opts to go small or with a more conventional lineup. “I have not come to (a decision regarding Barnes) and there are still open spots,” Walton said. It could all be a moot point if the Kings renew efforts to acquire Ben Simmons.

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • DeMar DeRozan had discussions with LeBron James about joining the Lakers in free agency, he confirmed to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). DeRozan wound up joining the Bulls in a sign-and-trade after Los Angeles opted to deal for Russell Westbrook. “It just didn’t work. You know how the business goes. … That was a hell of an opportunity that we tried to make happen,” said DeRozan, a Los Angeles native.
  • Clippers coach Tyronn Lue wants one of his veteran point guards to be on the floor at all times, Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times tweets. Lue will stagger the minutes of Reggie Jackson and Eric Bledsoe to make that happen.
  • The Warriors are hopeful Gary Payton II can play in a preseason game next week, Anthony Slater of The Athletic tweets. Payton is working his way back from a hernia issue. Payton remains a contender for the team’s final roster spot. Payton will need to make the opening-night roster to receive a $659K partial guarantee on his $1.98MM contract.

Lakers Notes: Westbrook, LeBron, Davis, Anthony

Russell Westbrook not only wanted to play in his native Southern California, it was important to him to join the Lakers after being a long-time fan of Kobe Bryant. Westbrook talked about his connections to the late Hall-of-Famer in an interview with Spectrum Sports Net (video link).

“That is something I think about daily. Coming into the gym, you come in here, you look up in the practice facility, you see 8 and 24, and I know he is looking down and making sure that I need to do what I need to do,” Westbrook said. “And that’s the only thing I could think about is knowing, being in this uniform, understanding the impact I can have of being home and being a Laker and creating a legacy not just for myself but for my kids, for the community of Los Angeles, for the people here. I’m gonna make sure I just do my part in going out and playing for him and through him as I complete in this uniform.”

There’s more from Los Angeles:

  • LeBron James sees a renewed energy in training camp stemming from a longer offseason break, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Last year, the Lakers won the NBA title on October 11 and had to report for camp less than two months later. This offseason felt more normal after L.A. was ousted from the playoffs in early June. “Last year after coming off the bubble it literally took everything away from you,” James said. “Any little bit of energy that you had, it was completely gone when we left there. … To come back into the season with the quick start that we had, kind of the life of the party was a little bit, just like, it was just kind of stale. You know, rightfully so. Guys just didn’t have an opportunity to get a mental break.”
  • Westbrook and James will sit out Sunday’s exhibition opener against the Nets, but Anthony Davis will play during the first quarter, McMenamin tweets“AD didn’t finish the season,” coach Frank Vogel explained. “He finished in street clothes because of injury. He wants to get out there, so we’ll support him on that.”
  • Brian Windhorst of ESPN examines why it took so long for James to team up with his long-time friend Carmelo Anthony after both entered the NBA in 2003.

Lakers Notes: Westbrook, Davis, LeBron, Vaccinations

One of Russell Westbrook‘s priorities with the Lakers will be to help unleash Anthony Davis, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN. After their first practice together on Tuesday, Westbrook called Davis “the ultimate weapon” because of his unique skills for a big man.

“He’s one of a kind,” Westbrook said. “There’s nobody like him who can do everything he’s able to do at his size. And my job is to make sure I continue to push him each day, each practice, each game, so he can be at the top of his game each and every night.”

Davis said he welcomes having someone who will drive him to be his best. He has been an All-Star the past eight years, but he’s coming off an injury-plagued season that saw him post career-low numbers with 7.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting career-worst percentages from the field and the free-throw line.

“I like teammates who are going to push me,” Davis said. “Encouragement — I don’t need encouragement. I want to be pushed. I want guys to tell me when I’m messing up. Me and Russ had numerous conversations in this first practice alone about things we can do together as a duo when we’re both on the floor.”

There’s more on the Lakers:

  • Coach Frank Vogel was impressed by how fast Westbrook still is at age 32, per Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register. Vogel called his new point guard “a blur out there” and said he plans to take advantage of it with an up-tempo approach. “When the ball’s outleted to (LeBron James), Russ has gotta fly; when the ball’s outleted to Russ, Bron’s gonna fly,” Vogel said. “And that’s the best way to complement those guys.”
  • James was instrumental in assembling the Lakers’ new roster, and Vogel believes he will adjust his game to make it successful, according to Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times. L.A. concentrated on veteran talent during the offseason, putting together a roster that’s very accomplished but is also the oldest in the league. “All these other stars that he’s played with, he’s adapted his game, done whatever’s necessary to win and put himself in position for the ultimate goal,” Vogel said. “The willingness to do it is one thing, but when you have his skill set and his mind, he literally can do it all. So I’m very confident that that’s going to work itself out.”
  • The Lakers plan to be fully vaccinated by the start of the season, tweets Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. “It was never a team discussion,” James said at media day, “but I think at the end of the day you’re figuring out ways to always be available and protect one another.”

Lakers Notes: Russ-LeBron, Nunn, AD, Reaves

Pricey new Lakers point guard Russell Westbrook expressed confidence in his fit alongside LeBron James, one of the most ball-dominant teammates with whom the very ball-dominant Westbrook has ever played. The decorated 6’3″ vet also made it clear that Los Angeles is heading into the 2021/22 season with title expectations.

“LeBron out of anybody else, he knows what it takes to win a championship,” Westbrook said during the team’s Media Day on Tuesday, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN. “And that’s the ultimate goal. So anything along the way … we cannot get distracted, cannot get deterred from our ultimate goal.”

The Lakers will be Westbrook’s fourth team in four years, following stints with the Thunder in 2018/19, the Rockets in 2019/20, and the Wizards in 2020/21. Last year, Westbrook was not named to the All-Star team during a relatively healthy season for the first time since 2009/10. His backcourt mate Bradley Beal was the lone Wizards player to earn that honor in 2021.

Though he averaged 22.2 PPG, a league-leading 11.7 APG, and 11.5 RPG (his fourth triple-double in five seasons), Westbrook was relatively inefficient as a shooter during his Wizards tenure. Westbrook posted a shooting line of .439/.315/.656. The Lakers are hoping that the 2017 MVP, 32, can help expedite their offense and relieve 36-year-old LeBron James of his playmaking burden, especially during the regular season.

He ups our pace right away,” James raved about his new teammate. “He’s always in the top five as far as pace. Whatever team is what he with, so being able to get out and being able to get out on the break and be able to try to get some early buckets before the defense is set. That creates that. But also he’s just a flat-out playmaker. I think what a lot of people don’t talk about in his game is how unbelievable of a passer he is. Everyone sees the rebounds, everyone sees the scoring and things of that nature, but his passing, his ability to make guys around him better, that does not get talked about a lot.”

There’s more out of Los Angeles:

  • New Lakers guard Kendrick Nunn has joined many of his L.A. teammates on the decorated roster of Klutch Sports clients, McMenamin reports (via Twitter). Nunn, who faced off against the Lakers in the 2020 Finals as a rookie on the Heat, signed a two-year, $10MM deal with Los Angeles this summer. After going undrafted out of Oakland in 2018, the 6’2″ point guard carved out a role for himself on a veteran-laden Miami squad in the 2019/20 season, and was named to the All-Rookie First Team in 2020. Nunn averaged 15.0 PPG, 3.0 APG, 2.9 APG and 0.9 SPG during his two seasons with the Heat. The 26-year-old boasts an impressive career shooting line of .458/.364/.881.
  • Lakers All-Star big man Anthony Davis acknowledged during the team’s Media Day that he has had conversations with head coach Frank Vogel about finally becoming the club’s starting center, per Mark Medina of USA Today (Twitter video link). Los Angeles rebuilt its frontcourt rotation around Davis during the offseason, adding veteran former All-Star centers DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard on minimum deals. “That was discussed and I expect to play center,” Davis said. “Obviously there’s times where Dwight or DJ might get the start at center depending on games, but for the most part, I think the plan is to go with me playing center.” In the past, Davis has preferred to start at the power forward position. He has shared the floor alongside a variety of veteran centers while with the Lakers, though Los Angeles found its most success in the 2020 playoffs with Davis at the center position.
  • Further details have emerged concerning the new contract of Lakers guard Austin Reaves, per Keith Smith of Spotrac (via Twitter). Smith reports that the deal is a two-year contract at the league minimum. Reaves has a partial guarantee of $100K for the 2021/22 season, and his full first-year salary will become guaranteed on January 10, 2022. The second year of the agreement is fully non-guaranteed. The 6’5″ rookie, 23, went undrafted out of Oklahoma this summer.

Russell Westbrook Helped Engineer His Trade To Lakers

Russell Westbrook “took control of his situation” when he saw a chance to join the Lakers, according to Bill Oram, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic in a thorough look at how the team remade its roster over the offseason.

A Southern California native, Westbrook had dreamed of returning home to play and thought he might be headed to the Clippers along with Kawhi Leonard two years ago. When a second chance emerged with the Lakers in August, Westbrook was determined to make it happen.

He was among several potential additions discussed in a “war room” setting of players that was led by LeBron James and included Anthony Davis and Jared Dudley. They saw Westbrook as an asset because he’s a perennial All-Star who can share playmaking duties with LeBron. However, he still had two years remaining on his contract and the Wizards weren’t looking to move him.

Although The Athletic’s sources say Westbrook would have been willing to stay in Washington if a trade didn’t happen, he decided to act on the morning of the draft when he heard that the Lakers were near a deal with the Kings to acquire Buddy Hield. Westbrook approached Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and asked him to work out a trade with L.A.

Leonsis agreed and Washington general manager Tommy Sheppard called Lakers GM Rob Pelinka to start trade talks. Within a few hours, a deal was in place to give up Westbrook and a pair of second-round picks in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 selection in this year’s draft.

There’s much more information packed in The Athletic report, which is worth checking out in full. Here are a few highlights:

  • Another player who received serious consideration from the Lakers was DeMar DeRozan, who also hails from Southern California and eventually signed with the Bulls. He met twice with James and had several other phone calls. DeRozan’s representatives had concerns over whether the Lakers’ front office was on board with the players’ plans, but sources tell The Athletic that Pelinka “strongly considered” a sign-and-trade offer that would have sent Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope to the Spurs. L.A. couldn’t come to an agreement with San Antonio or on a new contract for DeRozan, and the proposed sign-and-trade never advanced to the stage where it was presented to owner Jeanie Buss.
  • The Kings’ front office was left “steaming” over the Lakers’ decision to pull out of the Hield deal. It would have come at a lower cost — only Kuzma and Harrell were needed to match salaries — so the Lakers could have kept Caldwell-Pope and their first-round pick. As an elite three-point shooter, Hield might seem like a more natural fit alongside James and Davis, but the Lakers believe Westbrook will make them a better team in the playoffs.
  • With limited resources to fill out their roster after the trade, both James and Westbrook contacted Carmelo Anthony before the official start of free agency. Anthony was still hoping to hear from the Trail Blazers and ultimately received interest from the Knicks and Sixers, but he opted to join James, who was a longtime friend. The chance to win a title attracted other low-cost veterans such as Trevor ArizaWayne Ellington and Kent Bazemore to what became the league’s oldest team with an average age of 30.9 years.
  • James has always enjoyed close relationships with the veterans on his team and was particularly upset when Dudley wasn’t re-signed. Dudley was 36 and coming off an MCL tear, and the Lakers felt it was important to maximize every roster spot. He was offered other positions with the organization, but opted to become an assistant to Jason Kidd in Dallas.
  • James, Davis and Dudley also talked about Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal, but the Lakers didn’t have the assets to land either of them. Sources tell The Athletic that Westbrook tried to convince Beal that they should both ask to be traded out of Washington. Although Beal didn’t agree, he supported Westbrook’s desire to get to L.A. The Lakers’ group also targeted free agent guard Kyle Lowry, who eventually signed with the Heat.
  • The Lakers announced an extension this summer with Frank Vogel to avoid having him enter the season as a lame-duck coach. However, multiple sources told The Athletic that the extension only covers one year, which takes Vogel through the end of the 2022/23 season.
  • Many people in the Lakers’ organization were frustrated by the decision not to compete with the four-year, $37MM offer that Alex Caruso received from the Bulls, per The Athletic. He has become of the NBA’s best role players after starting in the G League, and many believed he was worth what it would have cost to keep him.

Lakers Notes: Pelinka, Roster Openings, Caruso, Vaccination, James

The Lakers have 13 players on guaranteed contracts and head of basketball operations Rob Pelinka said the front office is looking to finalize its decision on the 14th spot prior to the start of training camp on Tuesday, Jovan Buha of The Athletic tweets. Pelinka plans to initially keep the 15th spot open, Michael Scotto of Hoops Hype tweets, due to tax implications and the flexibility it will give the club in the buyout market.

We have more on the Lakers:

  • Pelinka said he make a spirited effort to retain free agent guard Alex Caruso, Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register tweets. “We pursued him and wanted to keep him,” Pelinka said. The Bulls signed Caruso to a four-year, $37MM contract.
  • Pelinka expects the team to be fully vaccinated by opening night, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes. “On opening night when we play the Golden State Warriors, all of the players that are currently signed on our roster, on that night, will be deemed fully vaccinated,” he said.
  • LeBron James will hold a three-day team mini-camp in Las Vegas beginning on Friday, Shams Charania of The Athletic reveals on a Twitter video post. James did something similar prior to the championship 2019/20 season. With Russell Westbrook joining the lineup, James hopes to use this mini-camp prior to training camp as a “catapult” entering this season, Charania adds.

Lakers Notes: Anthony, LeBron, Nunn, Coaching Staff

Carmelo Anthony was hoping to return to the Trail Blazers this summer before LeBron James urged him to join the Lakers, writes Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Appearing on Haynes’ “Posted Up” podcast, Anthony said he was waiting to see if Portland was interested in bringing him back when James reached out to him. Anthony spent the last two years with the Blazers, but said management didn’t contact him about a return.

“No, not the way I thought. But honestly, I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “… Not to say Portland did anything wrong, but I was sitting around because I’m a loyal person. I didn’t want to leave (Damian Lillard) and CJ (McCollum) and those guys. But I know the business.”

In addition to his long friendship with James, Anthony chose the Lakers because he sees the team as his best hope to cap off his career with a championship. He told Haynes that several other organizations expressed interest, which felt good after being out of the league two years ago.

“New York was always there, always a story,” Anthony said. “I told my son when he made it to high school, I’d be there. Philly, I didn’t get a chance to converse with Philly, but there was interest. New Orleans had interest. It felt good to see that again and being a part of teams being interested in me when 18-20 months again, it was nobody.”

There’s more from L.A.:

  • James has played fewer minutes per game each season since 2016/17, and Jovan Buha of The Athletic expects that trend to continue this year. James will turn 37 in December and the Lakers will be try to be careful with him to avoid the kind of long-term injury he had last season.
  • Of all the players the Lakers added in free agency, Kendrick Nunn was probably the most surprising, Buha adds in the same piece. The former Heat guard signed for the taxpayer mid-level exception, and Buha speculates that he could have gotten a better offer from another team. Buha also questions whether Nunn will get the playing time he’s used to with Russell Westbrook handling most of the minutes at point guard.
  • The Lakers have officially announced the additions of David Fizdale and John Lucas III as assistant coaches (Twitter link). Both hires were previously reported.