LeBron James

Barack Obama Details Call With NBA Players That Saved Season

Following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin back in August, it became unclear whether the NBA playoffs would be completed.

The Bucks became the first professional sports team to boycott their playoff game in protest. The Lakers, Thunder, Rockets, and Trail Blazers all followed suit. It was unclear if the players would return to the court and it was not until former United States President Barack Obama stepped in that progress was made.

Speaking on LeBron James‘ HBO show “The Shop,” the 44th president in U.S. history detailed the phone in which he pushed for players to urge the NBA to take a proactive effort in social justice issues, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

“I think it was close to midnight when Chris (Paul), CP, calls with LeBron, Carmelo (Anthony), I think Russ Westbrook was on the phone, and the conversation we had was along the lines LeBron spoke about,” Obama said. “Protest is useful in terms of raising awareness, but given the power that the NBA players had, my suggestion was that we use that platform to see if you can start asking for some specifics. This isn’t something that’s just a one-off. That’s sadly what we’ve seen, as it happens again and again.

“So, one of the suggestions I had for the players was: Is it possible for you guys to set up an office that allows you, on an ongoing basis, to take best practices that are going to start making incidents like [Blake] less likely?”

James, who ended up capturing his fourth career NBA championship and Finals MVP after play resumed, noted that he and the rest of the players within the campus were prepared to leave.

“There was a time where we were ready to leave too — the Lakers. Myself included, we were ready to leave,” James said. “And we were trying to figure out if we leave or if we stay, what is our plan, what is our call for action? And I’m lucky enough to have a friend, the 44th President, that allowed me and allowed CP and allowed us to get on the phone with him and get guidance.”

Within days, the NBA and NBPA announced the creation of a social justice coalition that would help people access voting, increase civic engagement, and advocate for reforms that could help prevent shootings, such as the Blake tragedy.

And-Ones: Herro, Season Start, Coaching Carousel, Superstars

Heat guard Tyler Herro leads a group of nine players who raised their stock during the 2019/20 restart in Orlando, John Hollinger of The Athletic opines.

Herro, 20, averaged 16 points per game during the playoffs, shooting 43% from the field and 38% from downtown in 21 contests. He came off the bench in 16 of those outings, averaging 33.6 minutes per game.

In addition to Herro, Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, Nuggets wing Michael Porter Jr. and Clippers center Ivica Zubac also emerged during the restart, proving their worth in the postseason. While it’s still unclear when the 2020/21 season will begin, all of these players have unquestionably increased their stock entering next year.

Here are some other odds and ends from around the basketball world today:

  • A panel of ESPN writers debated the pros and cons of starting next season before or on Christmas Day. The NBA is examining a number of different options for next season, including starting it earlier than originally anticipated. The players’ union would ultimately have to agree to the league’s proposal to finalize details for the campaign.
  • Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated assesses the NBA coaching carousel of 2020, with several teams replacing their coaches throughout the offseason. Among the new head coaches for the 2020/21 season are Stan Van Gundy (Pelicans), Nate Bjorkgren (Pacers) and Tom Thibodeau (Knicks).
  • Seth Partnow of The Athletic rates the league’s best players this year, with LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Kawhi Leonard and James Harden leading the way in the first tier. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, both of whom nursed injuries during the 2019/20 season (Curry played just five games), are located in the next tier.

Community Shootaround: How Many More Rings For LeBron?

Last summer, it appeared LeBron James might have to be content with three championship rings. He was 34, well past the prime for most NBA players, and was coming off the most serious injury of his career. He was also sitting out the playoffs for the first time since the 2004/05 season.

Everything looks different now, of course. LeBron and the Lakers tore through the competition in Orlando, being pushed past five games only by the Heat. James averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists during the Finals and became the second-oldest player ever to win Finals MVP honors.

A fourth championship ring enhances his place in history and gives him a chance to join even more elite company. Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan are among the players with five. Michael Jordan, whom James is frequently compared to, has six, as do Scottie Pippen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Cousy.

The Lakers look capable of winning multiple titles. Anthony Davis turned out to be a perfect complement for James and may be at the peak of his career at age 27. The rest of the roster is a mix of youth and veterans who all fit well into their prescribed roles. Avery Bradley, who opted out of the restart, seems likely to return next season, adding another strong defensive presence to the backcourt.

The biggest wild card is how long James can remain at an elite level. He averaged 34.6 minutes per game this season, which is the lowest of his career, but not by much. James led the league in assists for the first time at 10.2 per game, while adding 25.3 points and 7.8 rebounds. Remarkably, his production per 36 minutes has barely changed from a decade ago.

James is under contract for one more season and holds a $41MM player option for 2021/22. There’s no certainty beyond that, but he hasn’t even hinted at retirement. The Lakers will try to maximize his title opportunities for as long as he’s on the roster and have shown a willingness to spend whatever is necessary.

We want to get your opinion. How many more titles do you believe James will win before retirement? Please leave your answers in the comment section.

Lakers Notes: Bradley, Davis, LeBron, Offseason

Having opted out of the NBA’s summer restart, veteran guard Avery Bradley wasn’t on the Lakers‘ active roster when they secured the 17th title in franchise history in Orlando earlier this week. However, Bradley was extremely invested in his team’s playoff run and celebrated the championship at his home in Texas, according to Dave McMenamin and Malika Andrews of ESPN.

“I watched every single game,” Bradley said. “I am still a Laker.”

Bradley has a player option worth $5MM+ for 2020/21, and despite being separated from his teammates for the past several months, he doesn’t sound like someone who’s preparing to move on from the franchise this fall. As McMenamin and Andrews detail, Bradley received FaceTime calls during Sunday’s celebration from multiple members of the Lakers, including general manager Rob Pelinka, who has said the guard will get a championship ring.

“He was just letting me know I am a part of it,” Bradley said. “It has been a long season — and an amazing one. And we’ve been through a lot. It was just an amazing win. You could see it on his face.”

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • ESPN’s Rachel Nichols (video link) got an exclusive sitdown with LeBron James and Anthony Davis following Sunday’s win and asked the two superstars about their respective futures. However, when pressed about his free agency, Davis offered no more specifics to Nichols than he did to the rest of the media. “We’ll see,” Davis said. With a laugh, James interjected, “Nobody’s talking about that right now.”
  • As part of his preview of the Lakers’ offseason, ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) explores Davis’ impeding free agency and his potential contract scenarios. Marks also takes a look at the possibility of an extension for James and evaluates where things stand for the rest of the roster.
  • Marks and John Hollinger of The Athletic both believe that a three-year maximum-salary contract with an opt-out after year two might be the most logical option for Davis and the Lakers this fall. That would put Davis in position to earn a higher max (35% of the cap instead of 30%) when he gains 10 years of NBA experience in 2022. It would also ensure he receives an 8% raise in 2021. If he signs one-year contracts for the next two years, he wouldn’t be assured of that raise, since there’s no guarantee the cap (and the maximum salary) will increase in 2021/22.
  • Earlier this afternoon, we passed along the early odds for the Western Conference in 2020/21. The Lakers, at +275, are considered the favorites for now.

Lakers Notes: Davis, LeBron, Pelinka, More

LeBron James added a few more major achievements to his résumé on Sunday, including his fourth NBA championship and his fourth Finals MVP award. However, as Anthony Slater of The Athletic writes, the Lakers’ playoff run and championship was also a major boon for Anthony Davis‘ reputation.

Within his article, Slater wonders how many players in the NBA a team would rather have on its roster over the next five seasons than Davis. In the wake of his extremely impressive postseason performance, Davis deserves to be mentioned in the NBA’s top tier of current stars, alongside the likes of James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, according to Slater, who adds that AD has a realistic chance to make a run at the title of world’s best player in the coming years.

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • Will James’ fourth title be his last? He certainly sounds prepared to go after his fifth, telling reporters after Sunday’s win that he’s still “got a lot of years left,” as ESPN relays (via Twitter).
  • An in-depth Ramona Shelburne piece at ESPN.com about Jeanie Buss‘ role in the latest Lakers title includes the following quote from an unnamed senior Lakers executive, which appears to be a shot directed at the Clippers: “While some of our so-called rivals spent literally hundreds of millions of dollars trying to win media cycles, we kept our heads down and focused on basketball — because the only thing we’ve ever cared about winning is championships.”
  • Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today outlines the long road the Lakers took to get to where they are today, starting with their 21-win and 17-win seasons from 2014-16.
  • In his press conference following the Lakers’ win on Sunday, general manager Rob Pelinka recalled the faith that Kobe Bryant expressed in him when he was first hired by the franchise (link via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN). “He said, ‘I’ll give you two, three years, you’ll fix this. You’ll get the Lakers back on top.'” Pelinka said of the late Bryant, whom he represented for two decades as an agent. “I guess you were right, man. You give me the energy to do it.”
  • Earlier today, we passed along Anthony Davis‘ comments on his contract situation.

LeBron James Wins Fourth NBA Finals MVP Award

Superstar forward LeBron James has been named the Most Valuable Player of the 2020 NBA Finals, as the Lakers clinched the 17th title in franchise history on Sunday night with a 106-93 win over Miami in Game 6.

It’s the fourth championship and the fourth Finals MVP award for James, who previously earned the honor in 2012 and 2013 with the Heat, and again in 2016 with the Cavaliers.

Entering this series, LeBron had been one of five players in NBA history to earn at least three Finals MVP awards. Now he’s one of just two players to earn that honor four or more times — Michael Jordan won the award six times. James is also the first player in NBA history to be named Finals MVP with three separate teams.

While Anthony Davis had a monster series for the Lakers, anchoring the defense and averaging 25.0 PPG, James led the club in points, rebounds, and assists, making him the obvious choice for the MVP award. He received all 11 votes from the media panel responsible for naming the winner.

In six games against the Heat, LeBron averaged 29.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG, and 8.5 APG while shooting 59.1% from the floor and 41.7% from beyond the arc. The 35-year-old capped off an impressive playoff run with his 28th career postseason triple-double (28 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) on Sunday, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin (Twitter link).

The Lakers’ title represents the first career championship for a number of notable veterans on the roster, including Davis, Dwight Howard, Jared Dudley, and Markieff Morris. It’s also the first championship for veteran head coach Frank Vogel in his first year with the organization. Meanwhile, Danny Green is the only player on the Lakers to hold an active streak of two consecutive titles, having also won a year ago with the Raptors.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Lakers Notes: LeBron, Davis, Vogel

More than a year after the first game of the NBA’s 2019 preseason tipped off, the ’19/20 campaign may finally come to an end tonight.

The Lakers hold a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals over the Heat and haven’t dropped more than one game in any of their three playoff series so far. If that trend holds, they’ll be crowned 2020 NBA champions before the end of the day.

As we wait to see if Los Angeles can finish off Miami tonight, here’s some Lakers-related reading:

  • LeBron James wasn’t immediately embraced by die-hard Lakers fans when he signed with the team in 2018, but he said on Thursday that he understands why it took them some time to warm to him. “They don’t care about your résumé at all until you become a Laker,” James said, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. “Then you’ve got to do it as a Laker, and then they respect you. I’ve learned that.”
  • Ahead of his upcoming free agency, Anthony Davis referred to Lakers head of basketball operations Rob Pelinka on Thursday as a “great executive,” as Mirjam Swanson of The Orange County Register writes. Davis added that Pelinka’s seventh-place finish in Executive of the Year award voting puts him in good company. “That’s kind of been a thing this year with myself with Defensive Player of the Year, LeBron with MVP (he was runner-up), now Rob with Executive of the Year,” Davis said. “But if we’re able to win one more game, then no one cares about those other awards. We’ll all be champions.”
  • Revisiting Davis’ midseason trade request from 2019, Jordan Greer of Sporting News observes that the public nature of the demand earned AD a fine and created a messy situation in New Orleans for months, but ultimately got the star big man everything he wanted.
  • With Frank Vogel on the verge of his first NBA title, Mark Whicker of The Orange County Register takes a look back at Vogel’s long, winding coaching career, which essentially began when he served as a student manager on Rick Pitino‘s Kentucky squad in 1994/95. Vogel’s first NBA job was a video coordinator role for the Celtics under Pitino several years later.

Pacific Notes: Harrell, Lakers, Howard, Suns

Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell won the 2019/20 NBA Hustle Award on Wednesday, the NBA announced in a press release. The award honors the player who makes the energy and effort plays necessary to help his respective team. 

This is the second award that the veteran forward was won this season. Last month, Harrell earned the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award for the first time. He averaged a career-high 18.6 PPG and 7.1 RPG in 27.8 MPG.

Past winners of the league’s Hustle Award include Marcus Smart, Patrick Beverley, and Amir Johnson.

Here’s more from around the Pacific Division:

  • John Hollinger of The Athletic takes a look at how the Lakers’ bench hasn’t been an issue and is actually one of the reasons why they are up 3-1 in the NBA Finals. In the minutes that LeBron James and/or Anthony Davis have not played, Los Angeles has performed surprisingly well. According to Hollinger, the Lakers have been +13 when James hasn’t been on the floor and have played Miami to a draw without Davis on the court.
  • The Warriors could be looking to address the center position this offseason. If they choose to do so, Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area believes that Golden State should go after Dwight Howard. Poole explains that Howard would bring a defensive presence in the middle and could share minutes with Marquese Chriss, Kevon Looney, and Draymond Green. Additionally, he adds that the 34-year-old center might not cost a lot, which would be good news for the Warriors.
  • The Suns had a great run in the bubble this summer, going undefeated (8-0) and putting them in a great spot heading into next season. The team will be looking to upgrade its roster further this fall, prompting Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic to explore whether Fred VanVleet or Jerami Grant would be a better fit for Phoenix. Both players are reportedly on the team’s radar and expected to be highly sought after in free agency. VanVleet’s price tag could be $20MM per year, while Grant’s might be around $16MM per year.

Lakers Notes: Rondo, LeBron, Vogel, Green

It wasn’t long ago that Rajon Rondo seemed destined for journeyman status, playing for six teams in five years, but now he’s a fixture on a Lakers squad that’s two wins away from an NBA title, writes Jackie MacMullan of ESPN. The veteran guard averaged a career-low 20.5 minutes per game during the regular season, but “Playoff Rondo” has been on display since he returned from a fractured thumb in August.

“I honestly believe his return to the bubble saved the Lakers’ season,” said ESPN analyst and former teammate Kendrick Perkins. “They were struggling without him. He takes pressure off LeBron (James) and (Anthony Davis), and he turns the key in the back of role players like (Kentavious) Caldwell-Pope and (Kyle) Kuzma because he’ll put them in the best position to succeed.”

Helping others succeed has been one of Rondo’s defining qualities throughout his 14-year NBA career. He has handed out more than 7,200 assists and has been an on-court strategist whom Alvin Gentry calls the smartest player he has ever coached. Rondo told MacMullan that he hopes to play four more seasons and eventually transition into a coaching or front-office job.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity,” Rondo says of being close to his second career championship. “I want to be the best role player there is. I don’t need acknowledgement from other people on whether they consider me a winner or a great teammate.”

There’s more Lakers news to pass along:

  • Michael Lee of The Athletic reviews the six NBA Finals that James has lost and looks at how each has motivated him to become better. “There’s nothing out on the floor that I cannot do at this point in my career. That’s all because of the competition and the adversity and the losses and everything I’ve been through throughout the course of my career,” said James, who has been to the Finals in 10 of the past 14 seasons. “The best teacher in life is life experience, and I’ve experienced it all.”
  • Long-time coach Rick Pitino believes his former graduate assistant, Frank Vogel, has been an ideal leader for the Lakers, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. “It’s a player’s league, and he’s with two of the top five players,” Pitino said. “Frank is the perfect coach for those two guys and the team. He’s going to do all his work behind the scenes, get them ready, never be on camera, never get any credit. And he wants it that way. His perfect scenario is them winning a championship, never mention his name and get ready for next season.”
  • Danny Green sounds determined to play in Game 3 despite his injured hip, tweets Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. “I’m not worried about my body,” Green said. “I’ll worry when it’s over… We’ll see tonight how it goes.”

Lakers Notes: Davis, LeBron, Bryant, Smith

Anthony Davis, the Lakers‘ prize addition last offseason, may be on the verge of winning the Finals MVP award, writes Mark Medina of USA Today. L.A. is getting the type of production from Davis that it envisioned when it sent a package of young talent to New Orleans to acquire him in June of 2019.

Davis turned in a dominant performance in Wednesday’s Game 1 with 34 points — the fourth-highest total by any player in his Finals debut since the merger — along with nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks. He followed that with 32 points and 14 rebounds Friday night.

“He’s damn near playing like the best player in the game,” said teammate Rajon Rondo. “Hands down. I’m very fortunate he’s on our team this year.”

There’s more on the Lakers:

  • Fans who remember the uneasy relationship between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal don’t have to worry about a repeat with Davis and LeBron James, Medina adds in the same story. James, who played a role in convincing Davis to seek a trade to L.A., told reporters last night that there’s no jealousy between the two stars. “We want the best, seriously, every single day, both on and off the floor, for one another,” he said. “We’re just not jealous of one another. I think that you align that with respect, I think the sky’s the limit.”
  • Long before he joined the Lakers, Davis received valuable lessons from Bryant, notes Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. Davis was only 19 when he earned a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, where Bryant took him under his wing. They stayed in touch regularly over the years, but Bryant never made a sales pitch to try to get Davis to the Lakers.
  • J.R. Smith hasn’t seen much court time in the playoffs, but he may have an increased role if Danny Green‘s hip remains a concern, according to Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times“Danny was battling a hip injury, and you know, he and KCP (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) were playing well, but were struggling a little bit from the perimeter,” coach Frank Vogel said after Game 2. “So was just looking to see if we can buy a few minutes with J.R. because of Danny’s injuries, and obviously he carries that threat to knock down a three or a few threes. I just like the threat of him being out there against the zone.”