Magic Johnson

LeBron: “Unless I’m Hurt, I’m Not Sitting Games”

The Lakers‘ slide continued on Monday night, as they dropped a home game to their L.A. rivals, the Clippers, falling further out of the Western Conference playoff picture. With just 18 games to play, the Lakers are now 5.5 games back of the eighth-seeded Spurs, who won a nail-biter over Denver.

While the Lakers’ odds of reaching the postseason are increasingly remote, there are still no plans for the team to rest LeBron James down the stretch. James said as much to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin after Monday’s loss.

“That would take a lot of convincing from [head coach] Luke [Walton] on up,” James said, suggesting that GM Rob Pelinka, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, and owner Jeanie Buss would all need to be involved in that decision. “Unless I’m hurt, I’m not sitting games.”

If the Lakers’ playoff hopes continue to slip away, it would make sense for the team to prioritize its young players down the stretch. Resting James would allow the team to avoid putting unnecessary miles on its franchise player in the first season of a four-year contract. And, of course, with LeBron out of the lineup, the club might end up improving its lottery position as well.

So far, no one from the Lakers has approached James about the idea, according to McMenamin. However, LeBron wouldn’t be surprised if the idea is broached sometime in the coming days or weeks.

“That conversation hasn’t occurred, but I’m sure it can happen soon,” James said.

While the four-time MVP seems opposed to the idea of shutting things down entirely, he acknowledged that if the Lakers’ don’t turn things around in a hurry, monitoring his playing time over the season’s final month would be a possibility.

“You kind of look at the rest of the games, and look at the percentages of what’s going on there in the future, and see what makes more sense for not only me but the team itself as well,” James said.

Here’s more on the slumping Lakers:

  • In a piece examining the problems in Los Angeles, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne writes that LeBron James talked with Magic Johnson before the season about targeting play-makers and guys known for their toughness. The Lakers ultimately ended up going out and signing veterans who fit that bill and were willing to play on one-year deals, which is how the team ended up with players like Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee rather than outside shooters.
  • There’s plenty of blame to go around for the Lakers’ disappointing season, Bill Plaschke writes in a column for The Los Angeles Times. Plaschke points to James, Johnson, Rob Pelinka, and Jeanie Buss as those who are at least partially responsible for the dysfunction.
  • Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report suggests (via Twitter) that there are ongoing whispers about Luke Walton being a candidate for the UCLA head coaching job if he’s let go by the Lakers at season’s end. Luke’s father Bill Walton is a notable UCLA alum.

Pacific Notes: Zubac, Fox, Lakers’ Issues, Free Agency

Young center Ivica Zubac has kept close tabs on his former team and says he could have made a difference for the Lakers if they hadn’t dealt him, Mirjam Swanson of the Orange County Register reports. Zubac was a part of the deal that landed brought power forward Mike Muscala to the Lakers. Zubac has averaged 8.6 PPG and 7.7 RPG in nine games as the Clippers’ starting center. “I’ve been watching almost every game,” Zubac said. “I feel like every time I watch them, I’m like, ‘If I was there, I would help them. I would definitely make a difference on the floor,’ you know? But they’re not my team anymore.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • The longtime trainer of Kings guard De’Aaron Fox is now his agent, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports tweets. Chris Gaston is newly certified as an agent and has launched the “Family First Sports Firm.” Knicks guard Damyean Dotson has also hired Gaston to co-represent him, Haynes adds.
  • Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and members of the front office believe that rival teams have taken great pains to cause internal damage to the franchise, a knowledgeable source told Sam Amick of The Athletic. President of basketball operations Magic Johnson felt the Pelicans didn’t negotiate in good faith during Anthony Davis discussions, Amick notes. The fact that specific trade packages were being reported throughout the process gives credence to those suspicions that other teams want to cause the Lakers grief.
  • While the Lakers could trade for Davis and/or land a top free agent, it’s also quite possible that they will strike out in those endeavors, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report writes. The future holds nothing more than “maybes” for the franchise and this disjointed season has given it a black eye, Pincus adds.

L.A. Notes: Harris, Expiring Contracts, Magic Johnson

The Clippers acknowledge the decision to trade away Tobias Harris was difficult, but they believe it was necessary to build the perennial title contender they envision, writes Dylan Hernandez of The Los Angeles Times. Harris was sent to the Sixers last week in exchange for some assets — rookie guard Landry Shamet and a package of draft picks — that could be used to acquire another star, possibly Pelicans center Anthony Davis. They also hope to open enough cap space for two max offers in free agency with an eye on building the NBA’s next super team.

“I mean, it really stinks because you love the guy and what he means to the team,” president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said about losing Harris. “But what you have to do, you have to fast-forward and close your eyes and visualize. In order to build a sustainable championship contender, there are going to have to be some really hard and tough decisions to be made.”

Owner Steve Ballmer has instructed Frank and team consultant Jerry West to build for the future without sacrificing this season. The Clippers entered the All-Star break eighth in the West at 32-27 and remain confident they can make the playoffs without Harris.

There’s more news from Los Angeles:

  • The Clippers were active at the trade deadline, but because they brought in so many players with expiring contracts, another roster shakeup is likely in the offseason, notes Dan Feldman of NBC SportsIvica ZubacJaMychal GreenGarrett Temple and Wilson Chandler all have expiring contracts and may not return next season, depending how successful the organization is in free agency.
  • Lakers president Magic Johnson believes the NBA has a different tampering standard for him than the rest of the league. In a video clip tweeted by Carolina Blitz, Johnson refuses to comment about the possibility of signing Kemba Walker this summer. “You know I can’t answer any questions about no players because every time I do it, I get fined, but anybody else do it, they don’t get fined, so I’m going to stay away from that,” Johnson said.
  • In the wake of their failed attempt to land Davis, the Lakers have a leadership gap that has to be addressed by Johnson, GM Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and LeBron James, writes Andy Kamenetzky of The Athletic.

Los Angeles Notes: Davis, Lakers, Clippers

The Lakers weren’t able to get very far in talks with the Pelicans for Anthony Davis and team president Magic Johnson hinted that the team won’t prioritize a blockbuster trade this offseason, as  Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com relays.

“That’s not going to change our plans this summer,” Johnson said of being unable to trade for Davis at the deadline. “It’s a great [free-agency] class, and we just want to get one of them.”

If the Lakers sign a maximum salary free agent this summer, they are unlikely to land Davis as a free agent during the following offseason, Windhorst explains. It would be difficult for the team to add maximum salary players in back-to-back offseasons with LeBron James‘ max deal also on the books.

Here’s more from Los Angeles:

  • The most realistic path to finding a Davis-to-the-Lakers trade may involve a third team, Windhorst contends in the same piece. The Pelicans appeared uninterested in the Lakers’ young prospects at the deadline. However, Los Angeles’ prospects have value around the league and the franchise could ship them to another team this summer in order to build a package the Pelicans would prefer.
  • The Clippers turned over a third of their roster at the trade deadline, but the team’s “tough guy” culture will remain unchanged, as Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times relays. Coach Doc Rivers said the team doesn’t “want any guy that’s not really ready for warfare because for us to make it [to the postseason], it’s going to be hard.”
  • Rivers, who was previously more involved in the Clippers’ front office, was surprised that the two Los Angeles teams agreed to a trade. Rivers said past negotiations with the Lakers have been one-sided, as Greif passes along in the same piece. “I didn’t know we were doing business again because we have tried and it just has been no conversations [with the Lakers],” Rivers said. “It was good they wanted conversations.”

No Tampering Penalty For Lakers’ Comments On Simmons

The NBA has announced that it completed its investigation into possible contact between Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and Sixers star Ben Simmons and found no wrongdoing.

“We have concluded that Magic Johnson’s statements regarding Ben Simmons do not constitute a tampering violation,” the league said in its statement. “The Philadelphia 76ers initiated the contact with the Los Angeles Lakers by requesting a meeting between Johnson and Simmons. Both organizations ultimately concluded that such a meeting did not make sense at this time but in that context, Johnson’s response to a media inquiry regarding Simmons does not run afoul of league rules.”

Johnson kicked off an unusual news cycle over the weekend by revealing that Simmons had interest in meeting with him during the offseason to pick his brain about playing in the NBA as a point guard with size. While Johnson said he was open to the idea, subsequent reports indicated that both teams had decided it wouldn’t happen. Nonetheless, the league looked into the matter to see if there was communication between Lakers and the Simmons that violated anti-tampering rules.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com and Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times painted a clearer picture of the chain of events, reporting that Simmons initially mentioned his idea to a member of the Sixers. According to Ganguli, that person was Allen Lumpkin, Philadelphia’s director of basketball administration, who reached out to Lakers GM Rob Pelinka. Pelinka, in turn, called 76ers GM Elton Brand, and both GMs decided they were uncomfortable with the idea.

Brand told ESPN that he considers the situation a non-issue, and apologized to the Lakers for insinuating during a Monday radio appearance they they reached out to the Sixers unprompted to ask about a Simmons/Johnson meeting, per Shelburne.

The Lakers were fined $500K in 2017 for tampering with Paul George, and were hit with another $50K fine last year after Johnson made comments about Giannis Antetokounmpo. On Monday, Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry was penalized $25K for publicly discussing Anthony Davis.

Lakers Notes: Simmons, Hart, Ball, Zubac

The Lakers released a statement stating that the Sixers had sought their permission for floor leader Ben Simmons to speak with team president Magic Johnson, Dave McMenamin of ESPN tweets. Philadelphia emailed the Lakers in November, according to the statement, asking if Simmons could speak with Johnson about his Hall of Fame career. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka subsequently told Sixers GM Elton Brand that Johnson could only do that with Philadelphia’s written pre-approval. That was the end of the matter, the release adds. The league has launched an investigation to determine if any communication between the parties violated league rules.

We have more on the Lakers:

  • Guard Josh Hart received a PRP injection to treat tendinitis in his right knee, according to a team press release. Hart will be re-evaluated after the All-Star break, the release adds. Hart didn’t play in blowout losses against Indiana and Philadelphia and only lasted eight scoreless minutes against Boston.
  • Lonzo Ball isn’t considered a defensive specialist but the Lakers have missed him at that end of the court, Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times notes. The Lakers’ defensive rating is the third-worst in the league in the nine games since Ball was sidelined by a severe ankle sprain. “He allows us to switch a lot,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “If they want to run any pick and roll minus the center, the 1-5 pick and roll, we can just switch it. And we feel confident Lonzo can guard most of the other players there. We have Lonzo picking up full-court the other team’s points guard. He’s great at instincts, getting deflections.”
  • Trading young center Ivica Zubac to the Clippers to ‘rent’ power forward Mike Muscala doesn’t make much sense, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report argues. Zubac could have been an inexpensive, long-term contributor for the Lakers, Pincus continues. He would have been a restricted free agent with a modest cap hold of $1.9 million. Muscala’s cap hold is $9.5MM and he might not be any more productive than Zubac would have been the rest of this season.
  • LeBron James claims the reason he drafted Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis for his All-Star team had nothing to do with recruiting, according to another Ganguli story. “That’s all part of the speculation that continues to drive our sport,” he said. “It’s all good and well and dandy, but for me I picked according to my draft board and I picked according to who was the best available.”

Atlantic Notes: B. Simmons, Lakers, Gasol, Knicks

Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson told reporters over the weekend that Ben Simmons had reached out to the team asking if he could get together with Johnson during the offseason to talk to him about playing in the NBA as a point guard with size. While Johnson suggested he’d be on board if the Sixers, the Lakers, and the NBA all signed off, it sounds like it won’t happen.

Appearing on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia (Twitter link), Sixers GM Elton Brand said today that Lakers GM Rob Pelinka contacted him to ask for authorization and Brand said no “over a month ago.” Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times (Twitter link) hears a different account, citing a source who says that the 76ers initiated the discussion about Simmons wanting to meet with Johnson, with Pelinka calling Brand back to say the Lakers weren’t comfortable with it.

While it’s not clear which team shot down the idea first, neither side appears to be on board, so presumably Simmons and Johnson won’t meet this summer. The fact that the young 76er is represented by Rich Paul is sure to generate some speculation, but Ganguli tweets that Simmons’ desire to talk to Johnson was simply due to their on-court similarities, and he intends to be a Sixer for a long time.

Ganguli’s report won’t necessarily satisfy the NBA though. According to league spokesperson Mike Bass, the NBA is looking into whether there was any communication between Simmons and the Lakers that violated league rules (Twitter link via Ganguli).

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Marc Gasol waived the 15% trade kicker on his contract to help finalize the trade sending him to Toronto last week, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks on The Lowe Post podcast. While the trade bonus would only have been worth about $1.29MM, Gasol’s decision could save the Raptors about $3.2MM in projected tax penalties, as Blake Murphy of The Athletic notes (via Twitter).
  • Speaking of Gasol, the Raptors are still experimenting with a fluid frontcourt rotation as they figure out how to best use Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Pascal Siakam, head coach Nick Nurse said today (Twitter link via Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca).
  • Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic takes a wide-ranging look at what the summer could bring for the Knicks and their two maximum-salary contract slots, from the “utopia” outcome to the “doomsday” scenario.

Magic Johnson Discusses Trade Deadline, Free Agency

Magic Johnson spoke to the media prior to the Lakers‘ game against the 76ers on Sunday, discussing several topics that ranged from the trade deadline to the team’s upcoming free agency plans. Below are a sample of his comments.

Asked about the trade deadline – and implicitly the negotiations with the Pelicans for Anthony Davis – Johnson said that the Lakers didn’t feel as if they’d entered good-faith negotiations. “At the end of the day, what happened happened,” Johnson said (video link via Kyle Goon of The Southern California News Group).

Johnson also downplayed the idea that players would be negatively impacted by having had to deal with the possibility of being traded, suggesting that it’s part of the business. “A lot of people got traded on Thursday and Wednesday,” Johnson said (video link via Bill Oram of The Athletic). “Guess what’s going to happen next year? A lot of players are going to get traded.”

Johnson also indicated that the lack of success negotiating a trade for Davis won’t affect the Lakers’ free agency plans (Twitter link via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com).

Finally, Johnson revealed that Ben Simmons reached out to the Lakers about the possibility of working with Johnson over the summer, as Simmons hopes to learn from the best big guard in league history. Johnson expressed his willingness to work with Simmons, but only if the league approves such an arrangement (video link via Oram).

Magic Johnson To Meet With Lakers’ Players

After approximately half of the players on the Lakers‘ 15-man roster were mentioned in rumored trade talks for Anthony Davis within the last week, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson intends to meet with the club this weekend in Philadelphia, reports Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times.

According to Turner, Johnson will talk to the Lakers’ players about the Davis saga and will listen to every player who wants to say something, encouraging an open dialogue so that the Lakers can move forward and focus on the task ahead for the rest of the season. Turner writes that Johnson will emphasize “that the NBA is a business and that this franchise is about winning championships and doing all it can to accomplish that goal.”

Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were all featured in various Davis-related rumors last week, with reports suggesting that L.A. had offered each of those players in at least one package for the Pelicans’ star.

The ongoing chatter seemed to be affecting the Lakers on the court on Tuesday night, when the team suffered a 42-point loss in Indiana. However, L.A. bounced back on Thursday, winning a dramatic 129-128 contest over the Celtics.

At 28-27, the Lakers remain in the hunt for a playoff spot in the West and currently sit 1.5 games behind the eighth-seeded Clippers. The club opened up a roster spot on Thursday and could add some reinforcements for the stretch run.

While Carmelo Anthony has frequently been linked to the Lakers, the team also has interest in Markieff Morris, assuming he’s healthy, Turner reports. Morris, who is dealing with a neck injury, was waived by the Pelicans on Thursday and is on track to reach free agency this weekend.

Pelicans Leaning Toward Keeping Davis Past Deadline

The Lakers are fighting an uphill battle to finalize a deal for Anthony Davis before the trade deadline, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports. There’s significant support within the Pelicans organization to retain Davis for the remainder of the season and revisit trade talks during the offseason, when several new and different scenarios would be available to them, Wojnarowski adds.

The Lakers are growing increasingly pessimistic the Pelicans will make a deal with them, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN tweets.

The Lakers upped the ante on Monday in their zeal to acquire Davis, who can become a free agent in the summer of 2020. They are presently offering the Pelicans a package built around three young starters — Brandon IngramKyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball— and two first-round picks. They’re also willing to take on Solomon Hill‘s contract, which runs through next season.

Los Angeles president Magic Johnson had multiple phone conversations with New Orleans GM Dell Demps on Monday. Davis expanded his list of teams that he’d consider signing with in the long term besides the Lakers, including the Bucks, Clippers and Knicks.  But the Clippers and Bucks have yet to make offers for Davis and the Knicks haven’t contacted Demps since trading Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas, league sources told Wojnarowski.

The Celtics remain anxious to trade for Davis during the offseason and pair him with Kyrie Irving, though their plan to pursue Davis remains unaffected by whatever Irving might do in free agency. The Celtics remain confident they’ll re-sign Irving, Wojnarowski adds.

New Orleans is hopeful the Celtics might include their top young player, Jayson Tatum, along with a package of first-round picks. By waiting past the deadline, the Pelicans would also have a better idea what type of first-round picks the Celtics could convey to them.