Through Purple and Gold Frames

Lakers Hype

McGee’s career season with the Lakers earned him a two-year, $8.2 million contract and an opportunity to compete for a third championship ring alongside James and Davis. While McGee isn’t ready to promise Los Angeles a title just yet, he told Omar Raja of House of Highlights that he thinks the Lakers can make a meaningful run next season: “I feel like the GM, they went on 2K and cheated and just put a whole bunch of good players on the same team. It’s definitely going to work out. I feel like we’re going to make a deep run.”

His early trials have been well-publicized by college recruiting sites and breathlessly quoted in anonymity by awestruck scouts, but for the unindoctrinated, Bates, a 6’8” guard from Ypsilanti, Mich., has been crowned by many as the best NBA prospect since LeBron James (or Kevin Durant, depending how you feel). He faced arguably the stiffest test of his fledgling career last week at the Nike Skills Academy in Thousand Oaks. Bates was the youngest player and only rising sophomore in attendance at the prestigious camp, which brings together the most promising prospects from the sneaker giant’s youth circuit and throws them into drills and scrimmages for NBA scouts to evaluate and pick apart. After playing in his own 15-under age group all summer, Bates held his own in a key proving ground against older players and stronger bodies, though not without some ups and downs. And while you can hedge and qualify everything while trying to guess at the future, it’s now impossible to deny the fact that Bates is on the way.

LeBron James: SHEESH?????? So HONORED and GRATEFUL to be apart of GREATNESS. P.S. Man o Man that STARTING 5 vs any franchise All-Time. Let’s Get it!! #LakeShow???????? #KingMe???? #Mamba???? #Diesel??????????? #Magic???? #KingSkyHook???? View this post on Instagram SHEESH?????? So HONORED and GRATEFUL to be apart of GREATNESS. P.S. Man o Man that STARTING 5 vs any franchise All-Time. Let’s Get it!! #LakeShow???????? #KingMe???? #Mamba???? #Diesel??????????? #Magic???? #KingSkyHook???? A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on Aug 10, 2019 at 10:00am PDT View this post on Instagram

Following four days of training and Friday night’s USA Blue-USA White intrasquad exhibition game in Las Vegas, USA Basketball announced 17 finalists for the 2019 USA Basketball Men’s World Cup Team. The 17 include 13 athletes from the USA National Team roster and four players from the USA Select Team. Finalists include 2016 Olympic gold medalist Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings); Marvin Bagley III (Sacramento Kings); Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics); De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings); Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets); Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers); Brook Lopez (Milwaukee Bucks); Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors); Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks); Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz); 2014 World Cup gold medalist Mason Plumlee (Denver Nuggets); Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics); Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics); P.J. Tucker (Houston Rockets); Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers); Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics); and Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs).

“Bench, whatever, I’m still going to get my game off regardless,” Kuzma told The Athletic. “My past two years, I’ve come off the bench every single year. I just proved myself and made it known that I’m a player. A coach’s job is always to put the best players on the court, and that’s what I’ve showed the past two years. “I’ve started the year coming off the bench, and just prove myself. I’m always going to find my way no matter who’s on the court. I think every time I step on the court, I’m one of the better players on the floor. For me that’s always been my mentality. I’m never worried about things that I can’t control.

“My motivation is there to be that third guy,” Kuzma said, “for the simple fact that playing with LeBron, with AD, I got high dreams for myself to do some pretty special things in my career. So that’s motivation in itself. It’s a testament to my work ethic and laying down the groundwork for my past two years being in the league. “From an individual standpoint, I have to focus on myself. I’ve had a chip on my shoulder my entire career, so I’m ready just from that standpoint. It won’t change.”

This year’s footwear class could feature the most potential since 2012, when Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, James Harden and Dwyane Wade were all up. Of the four then-Nike athletes, two switched to Jordan Brand, Wade opted for a lucrative deal with Li-Ning, and Harden re-signed with Nike for just two years, before bolting for a 13-year deal with Adidas in 2014. Once again, each of the top five players in this year’s class are currently under contract with Nike. The brand would ideally like to keep all five: Devin Booker, Luka Doncic, Kyle Kuzma, D’Angelo Russell and PJ Tucker.

“I hate when people talk about certain guys and say they can’t work together,” Tucker said. “It may not work with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard [on the Los Angeles Clippers]. It may not work with Anthony Davis and LeBron James [on the Los Angeles Lakers]. It may not work with anybody. [Westbrook] is another super aggressive guy who can attack the rim and score the ball. That opens everything up for everyone else. [Harden and Westbrook] know each other’s games. They’ve played together when they were young and they’re excited to play together again. If they’re excited, I’m excited.”

Kuzma, now the final young Laker standing from the core group Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka assembled, says he’s ready to become that third star LeBron James and Davis will need after free-agent target Kawhi Leonard opted to join the LA Clippers in free agency. “I don’t feel no pressure, but I believe that I am capable of being that superstar,” Kuzma told ESPN. “I put a lot of work in. My progress through my journey shows that I can be there. I developed every single year, dating back to college, and I don’t see that development stunting at all.”

The three Antetokounmpo brothers will be focused on one thing – leading Greece as far as they can in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019, where the table has been set for what seems like one of the most wide open races for the title of world’s best. “We’re just trying to encourage each other and get better,” Giannis shared. “It is an incredible feeling that all three of us are together. We have worked very hard to get here and to achieve this. That’s why I know that our mother is proud, as is our father, who I’m sure is watching us from the heavens.”

After bouncing around so much, is there part of you that wants to stay with the Lakers beyond one season and make this your home long-term? Tory Daniels: For sure. I mean, I’m human. I don’t want to keep bouncing around. I have a family and nobody wants to keep doing that. It is always good to be wanted, though. That’s how I try to look at it. That’s something I’ve learned over the years after moving a bunch and getting traded here and then getting traded there. When I was in Houston, I got traded to Minnesota and I cried. I sat there and cried because I didn’t want to leave. Everything was going perfect in Houston. I was playing well, I was coming off a good playoff run, I had signed a nice deal with them and I knew everybody.

I know it’s only been about a month, but is life as a Laker a bit different? Tory Daniels: It’s way different. I’m friends with a guy who used to be on the Lakers’ coaching staff and he always told me that being part of the Lake Show is very different and that there a lot of perks and things that come with it. He just told me to take advantage of everything I can. That’s what I’m going to do. I call them “America’s Team” because everyone knows about the Los Angeles Lakers and everyone knows about Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James. When you come play for this organization, you got to come correct. That’s what I’m going to do.

Jason Clarke is suiting up for the HBO drama pilot “Showtime.” The one-hour series focuses on the professional and personal lives of the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers. Clarke has been cast as Jerry West. West first joined the Lakers as a player in 1960, being named an All-Star in all of his 14 seasons with the team before retiring in 1974. He was then named head coach in 1976, a position he held for three seasons. He went on to become a scout and then general manager in 1982. Clarke’s West is described as the cantankerous tortured genius of basketball. West ought to be the perfect man to build the Lakers into a dynasty, if only he can get past his own worst enemy: Jerry West.

There also was the night James passed Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list and Caruso, who was on the floor at the time, was the first to congratulate him. Social media had a lot of fun with memes portraying James as having no idea who Caruso was. “To be honest, most of the memes I enjoy. Not many of them someone sends me I don’t laugh at myself,” Caruso said. “I don’t have to find them because we have group texts, Laker groups like in college, and they text and throw jabs when they find stuff online.”

Gentry says there’s a right way and a wrong way to request a trade. If a star agrees to work privately with the franchise, and agrees to wait until the offseason, he says, it avoids high-profile disruptions that hurt both the player and the team. “I’m a realist,” Gentry says. “When Anthony signed with Klutch Sports, I knew what was going to happen. They told me, ‘No, we’re not trying to get him traded,’ but we all realized it was just a matter of time. “I understand that some players feel the need to move on. With Anthony, it could have and should have been handled differently. If it was, I would have been OK with the situation.”

They of course found vindication in 2016, historically overcoming a 3-1 series deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. The following season, however, brought that fantasy summer crashing back to reality. James’ contagious hunger to deliver a championship for Northeast Ohio dissipated. “There wasn’t a lot else for him,” Griffin says. “I don’t think he’s the same animal anymore about winning.” Many in the NBA now suggest James harbors two priorities: enduring to team with his eldest son, Bronny, and one day owning a franchise. The rest of the Cavaliers, in kind, hibernated on their laurels. After sporting the league’s 10th best defense the season prior, Cleveland plummeted to dead last as defending champions. The Cavs believed they could sleepwalk through the Eastern Conference—although to be fair, they practically did. “There was somebody better than me at keeping them on task after we won,” Griffin says. “I did a really s****y job of bringing enough urgency to the next year.”

James’ teammate Kyle Kuzma told ESPN’s Cari Champion on Thursday that James’ offseason — the lengthiest he’s enjoyed since the Cavs missed the playoffs his season season in the league — has given the superstar time to refocus for 2019-20. “This offseason, you see just, people slandering his name and saying this about him, saying that,” Kuzma said. “But you know, he’s been super motivated this offseason working, between shooting movies he’s in the gym. He’s in the gym early, night, whatever. So just being locked in. That’s the biggest thing … being ready for it all.”

You mentioned at the introductory press conference for Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram that you received trade inquiries from NBA teams for those players in the days after the Anthony Davis deal. How close, if at all, did you come to pulling the trigger on any of those deals? David Griffin: “There was interest but nothing that really spoke to us to any degree. From the very beginning we were excited about the potential of our group, but we certainly did have interest shown in them by many, many other teams in the NBA. We felt really fortunate that we were able to land the players we did, and it became really evident that we were fortunate because of the interest in them that was shown by several other teams basically immediately after the deal was announced. It was fascinating to go through the experience, but we didn’t acquire them to move them, so nothing was even close.”

“They made their pitch to Kobe and it was a very strong one because it seemed apparent to everyone at that point that Kobe and Shaq just could no longer co-exist,” Lawler said. “Then it’s time for Kobe to excuse himself and go and Donald Sterling walks him to the door expressing concern. ‘Is this really going to happen?’ “Kobe turned to him and — this is an exact quote that I’ve had repeated to me by multiple people — he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m a Clipper.’ So he walked out the door and [the Clippers] are all high-fiving each other thinking, ‘By God, we’ve done it.’ “If anybody denies any of that,” Lawler added, “ they are of faulty memory or they just don’t want to acknowledge it because that is what happened in that meeting in that hotel room.”

“Y’all kept saying that me and Paul’s favorite team growing up was the Lakers. I’m not going to say [Yahoo Sports], but whatever media outlet was out there saying that Kawhi prefers the Lakers over the Clippers, or Paul loves the Lakers, was wrong,” Leonard told Yahoo Sports. “I wasn’t a fan of the Lakers growing up. Not saying that’s why I didn’t choose them, but that’s not what it is. I wasn’t a fan of them, and [Paul] just told you guys he was a Clippers fan.”

Magic Johnson, the Lakers legend who abruptly resigned as president of basketball operations in late May and proceeded to torch owner Jeanie Buss and general manager Rob Pelinka on national television weeks later, thought it wise to broadcast that Robertson had called to pick his brain about the purple-and-gold before free agency had even begun. “I truly believe that when Magic started telling the media about the meeting he had with Kawhi and Dennis, that sealed the fate of the Lakers,” a person involved in the process told The Athletic. “I think that right there was when Dennis and Kawhi decided we can’t trust the Lakers as an organization. And that was it. I think that was it for them.”

Though that act alone didn’t eliminate the Lakers — Leonard still met and communicated with them before his decision — Johnson’s leakage certainly didn’t help his former employer’s pitch. On a fundamental level, the idea of forming a Big Three with James and Davis didn’t appeal to Leonard’s core sensibilities. He forged his legacy taking down super teams — like the 2014 Miami Heat and the 2019 Golden State Warriors — rather than joining them. “Elite players like Kawhi earn their stripes, and he was not going to be a guy who joins a so-called ‘super team,’” one source close to the situation told Charania. “Now, if a super team forms around him, there is nothing he can control. The Clippers were the best long-term fit.”

Morris has seen the speculation surrounding him turning down the Clippers’ three-year offer, but makes it clear that this was his decision and that he wanted to go through his process. “All this stuff that (Paul) didn’t want me to go to the Clippers and didn’t want me to go against LeBron, that’s not true,” Morris said. “He never told me not to take the deal. For as long as I’ve known Rich — and that’s still someone I have love for and that’s still my guy — he has been great in terms of advice. He told me he wanted me to take the Clippers deal. He gave me his advice. “It was my decision and I had to make the best decision for me and my family.”

The Los Angeles Lakers have been awarded Kostas Antetokounmpo on a waiver claim, it was announced today by General Manager Rob Pelinka. Antetokounmpo, who is currently signed to a two-way contract, appeared in two games for the Dallas Mavericks last season and played 40 games (25 starts) for the Texas Legends of the NBA G League, where he averaged 10.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.0 steal in 25.4 minutes. Selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 60th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Antetokounmpo was acquired by the Mavericks in a draft-night trade.

Quinn Cook: I think that’s a big reason why they wanted me to come here, just the fact that I’ve been on a championship team. I contributed on a championship team, playing well at key moments in the Finals and in big playoff moments and things like that. I think that’s a big reason why they wanted me. And that is a big reason why I wanted to come here too. With my experiences over the last two years, I know there’s no better feeling as a basketball player than to play well at the highest level and on the biggest stage. That was definitely a big reason why I wanted to come to the Lakers. It’s an amazing opportunity and I’m just blessed to be part of a great organization with so much winning tradition. And I’m still young, like you said, so I just want to keep learning from all of these vets who I’ll get to play with.

Quinn Cook: He’s always been a great, reliable vet and mentor to me. I know I can always rely on him. Like I said, he and Kobe were two of my favorite players when I was growing up, so it’s sort of surreal to even have a relationship with him. Playing against him in the Finals was a dream come true for me. Now, getting the chance to be his teammate again is great and another dream come true. I’m really excited for this opportunity. I know he called [the front office] on my behalf to help get me over here to the Lakers, so I’m very appreciative of that. Ever since I’ve been in Los Angeles, we’ve been working out together and staying in contact. I just think I’m very blessed, and I’m very thankful to have this relationship with LeBron.

Most executives I chatted with wish teams caught tampering would be punished by the removal of first-round draft picks. “Basketball operations needs to get hit the hardest, not an owner’s wallets,” said another executive. Someone else went further and suggested that in addition to losing a pick, teams should be barred from trading any picks for some amount of years. Had a penalty been that harsh, the Lakers wouldn’t have had the assets to trade for Anthony Davis—obviously a much heavier penalty than what they did receive.

Turner also provided the first details we’ve gotten to this point regarding what specifically Leonard and his camp wanted to learn from their conversation with Johnson: “There was one interesting question (Leonard) had for Magic: ‘Did you guys try to trade for me when I was in San Antonio?’ And the answer was ‘yes, but because it was Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs, and our history, they were asking for 2,000 draft picks — well, not 2,000 — like four draft picks, first-round draft picks, and we just couldn’t do that.’ And that was one of his questions.

And speaking of reducing Leonard’s load and managing his health, according to Turner, Leonard also wanted to know if he was going to be able to have some say over who the Lakers hired to take care of that and his other needs. It seems like the team is amenable to such an arrangement: “LeBron James was able to bring on his own trainer, his own medical people. (Kawhi) wants to know if he can do that as well. LeBron James brought on some people that weren’t with the Lakers, and he wants to know ‘can I bring with a couple of my guys?’ … And as far as I know, the Lakers would be willing to do that, because you do those things for superstar players.”

Davis said he wouldn’t talk about the specifics of his trade from the New Orleans Pelicans until the transaction was complete and approved by the NBA, but he laughed when asked about James’ Instagram post of the two of them wearing Lakers uniforms after news of the deal broke on June 15. “It was cool,” Davis said. “I always looked up to him. As a kid, [James] and Michael Jordan were the two guys I [admired]. I didn’t get a chance to watch Michael Jordan live, but I watched LeBron a lot after he entered the league and he was the guy that I looked up to.”

In Monday’s explosive interview on ESPN’s “First Take,” Johnson acknowledged that after Russell had surreptitiously recorded teammate Nick Young’s confession of infidelity — and shared it on Snapchat — he knew he had to deal away the young guard. “I said let’s trade some people, get some draft picks, so on and on. D’Angelo, great guard, but had a problem when Shaggy P and the whole Nick, the whole thing went down,” Johnson said. “So I knew we had to get him out.”

Vogel and Kidd did not have a previous relationship, but the Lakers’ head coach laughed off the notion that some might view Kidd as a potential successor. “No, I am very good at blocking out noise,” Vogel said with a chuckle when asked about how some in the media have already deemed Kidd as a successor. “I have been around this business a long time. I really don’t give that a second thought. You can say that about every coach in the league about their assistant coaches. It happens from time to time. I believe if you treat people with the right respect and do the job at the highest level, build an environment of positivity and collaboration, you can’t worry about that stuff. “You can’t worry about looking over your shoulder. You got to worry about getting good damn coaches, and that is how I feel about this hire.”

I’ve noticed that today’s NBA stars try to promote the WNBA and its stars. I see some NBA players tweeting about the league and attending games. Have you noticed increased support from today’s NBA players? And when you played, what was your experience with the guys? Lisa Leslie: It’s interesting because I’ve always had great relationships with the NBA players. I’d train with them during the offseason. Derek Fisher and I would shoot together all the time before the Lakers’ practice when I’d be training in the morning. Kobe Bryant . I don’t think it’s the players who have adjusted, I think it’s the fans. I think social media has allowed to see that, because the guys have always been very, very supportive of us. They’d come to our games and cheer for us. They supported us when we won championships. They’d bring their children to games. Plenty of Lakers and plenty of Clippers always supported the LA Sparks. Even going back to Magic Johnson and the old-school Lakers, they allowed me to train and play with them.

The Los Angeles Lakers seemed like they might have the inside track on acquiring Davis after the two teams’ reported trade discussions earlier this season. However, the Pelicans came away from that debacle unhappy with how business was done. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said this week on “The Russillo Show” podcast that he thinks the Pelicans are still ticked about that and won’t make a deal with the Lakers, especially after New Orleans landed the No. 1 pick. “I don’t think the Pelicans want to make a deal with the Lakers — when I say I don’t think, I know that’s how they feel,” Windhorst told Ryen Russillo. “Had the Lakers won the lottery and had Zion and had an opportunity to offer something like that, it would have been so overwhelming that I think it might have removed that impediment. There’s a lot of animosity and scar tissue built up between these two organizations. I feel very strongly that New Orleans does not want to make a deal with LA.”

There’s understandably a lot of buzz heading into the lottery to see which team secures the No. 1 pick and the right to choose Williamson, who is the most heralded draft prospect in years. But nothing compares to the drama of the 2003 lottery, when LeBron James was the ultimate prize and the Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the teams in the mix for the Akron, Ohio, native. “It’s not even close, even with social media today,” James’ former agent Aaron Goodwin told The Undefeated. “I can only imagine what it would have been like for James with social media because he was a game-changer.

Stu Jackson, who was NBA executive vice president of basketball operations at the time, remembers watching James during his senior year. “I said to myself that I have never seen anything like that from a player that young to be that dominant both physically and skillwise at that age,” Jackson said. “That is no reflection on my evaluation skills, because the great ones are easy to pick out. But this was a different level.” Joe Dumars, who was the president of the Detroit Pistons and had a particular interest in the lottery (more on that later), marveled at James’ maturity, body and athleticism. Simply put, “I saw a transcendent player,” Dumars said.

Rajon Rondo said as much when he appeared on Wednesday’s NBA Countdown on ESPN. He stated it about as clearly as he could at the 6:30 mark of the interview: if the Lakers don’t have a head coach soon, he isn’t interested in returning to the team. “At this point in my career, a head coach is big for me,” Rondo said. “It’s all about a relationship. So if they don’t have one, it’s a no go for me.” In a vacuum, this would not be the worst thing to hear. The Lakers probably don’t plan to bring Rondo back next season anyway. Lonzo Ball is the starting point guard of the future, and Alex Caruso earned a backup job with his strong play down the stretch. The Lakers aren’t going to make a major investment in a non-shooting point guard that is aging quickly.

The Lakers are moving fast to try to fill their head-coaching vacancy by setting up an interview with former Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel on Thursday, according to people not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. In an event-filled Wednesday in which sources from the Lakers camp and Tyronn Lue camp said both parties had moved on from the other in the hiring process, the Lakers quickly targeted Vogel as a candidate and he will have a sit-down at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo.

Ask people in the NBA which teams might come after Walker, and the responses are what you’d expect: The Knicks, especially if Irving remains in Boston. The Lakers, who will be desperate to surround LeBron with talent and might be stuck choosing between second-tier stars like Walker, Jimmy Butler and DeMarcus Cousins. There are whispers around the NBA that the Mavericks are intrigued by Walker, but it’s hard to discern where that rumor arose and if it’s anything more than another game of NBA telephone.

And now, with less than three months remaining before free agency formally begins and with the Anthony Davis trade talks with New Orleans expected to re-start as well, this question remains: Is Pelinka capable of steering the Lakers out of this abyss — hiring the right coach to replace the departed Luke Walton, closing a deal or two along the way — and fulfilling their title-contending dreams? It depends on whom you ask, but the vast majority of agents and executives polled by The Athletic have serious doubts. Pelinka has no shortage of detractors around the league, with the issues raised ranging from his trustworthiness to his communication style and relatability. The question of trust has dogged Pelinka since 2004, when his then-client Carlos Boozer reneged on a verbal commitment to re-sign with Cleveland and took a more lucrative offer with Utah.

But there are also respected power brokers who say they’ve had functional and positive experiences dealing with Pelinka, and who believe that his background as a player (he went to two Finals Fours with those Fab Five Michigan teams), attorney and prominent agent who built and ran his own agency is a fit for the Lakers. What’s more, Pelinka was widely known to be handling the lion’s share of the daily duties before Johnson’s departure. He was, in essence, running the front office already.

Madsen, 43, has been a recognizable fixture on the West’s basketball landscape for years, including as a member of two Lakers championship teams and later as an assistant coach under Byron Scott and Luke Walton. Madsen brings a coaching career that has included six seasons on the Lakers staff, a year as the Lakers G League head coach and a season as a college assistant at his alma mater, Stanford. Madsen replaces Mark Pope at Utah Valley, which is a member of the Western Athletic Conference. Pope was hired at Brigham Young after a 25-win season at Utah Valley.

The academic results are early, and at 240, the sample size of students is small, but the inaugural classes of third and fourth graders at I Promise posted extraordinary results in their first set of district assessments. Ninety percent met or exceeded individual growth goals in reading and math, outpacing their peers across the district. “These kids are doing an unbelievable job, better than we all expected,” Mr. James said in a telephone interview hours before a game in Los Angeles for the Lakers. “When we first started, people knew I was opening a school for kids. Now people are going to really understand the lack of education they had before they came to our school. People are going to finally understand what goes on behind our doors.”

While the fiasco surrounding Big Baller Brand and Alan Foster, Lonzo Ball has endured plenty of emotional turmoil in the recent month. Forced to sever ties with the co-founder of the company, Ball has since sued Foster and begun moving on from the company and Foster himself. During his exit interview on Wednesday, Ball discussed publicly the situation for the first time. “We just put so much trust in him. So, when that came out in October – like I said, he’s like my second dad – I just talked to him and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it when he gave me his story. Looking back at it, obviously I wish we would have jumped on it back in October. But I’m glad we still caught it.”

With LeBron James missing the playoffs altogether for the first time since the 2004-05 season with the Los Angeles Lakers eliminated from contention, Curry and the Golden State Warriors will see something this postseason that the NBA hasn’t experienced in 14 seasons. “It’s different but what is it? [Eight] straight Finals he went to?” Curry said at the Warriors’ morning shootaround before facing the Lakers for the final time this regular season. “I’m sure it’s a different experience for him, for better or worse.”

Vlade Divac knew he wanted De’Aaron Fox after watching him light up UCLA — and Lonzo Ball — for 39 points in the Sweet 16 in 2017. Six weeks later, Brandon Williams, now the Sacramento Kings’ assistant general manager, was part of a Philadelphia 76ers contingent interviewing Fox at the NBA’s draft combine. Someone asked Fox if he had taken special pleasure in outdueling Ball. Fox gave the polite answer, they recall: Every game mattered. But he sensed the Sixers’ brass might enjoy the real response. “But yeah,” he continued. “That s— was personal.” Everyone loved it. “It wasn’t necessarily because it was Lonzo,” Fox clarifies today. “It was that he was one of the only NBA-level point guards we played. I didn’t get to play Dennis [Smith Jr.] or Markelle [Fultz].”

Kuzma doesn’t see the last nine Lakers games as fruitless time, either. He’s sought to use those minutes as a workshop for his game. He’s noticed that defenders are treating him as a scorer and less as a passer – giving him a lane to become more of a distributor in the absence of Ball, Ingram and other important playmakers on the roster. “We have guys who need the ball, and I’m a guy who creates a lot of attention out on the court because of the way I score and shoot the ball,” he said. “I think it’s my job to just continue to develop and become a playmaker, and just grow an all-around game.”

But Kuzma gets it: Winning is serious business. Pressure comes with the territory. And if there’s anything he’s learned during this season, it’s that he doesn’t want the pressure to conquer him. “It’s just all about learning from this year, and it’s all about always having fun,” he said. “You can’t worry about high-pressure situations or let the stakes of something take the joy and fun away from you, no matter what circumstance, no matter the situation just always having fun.”

A Cleveland Heights tattoo artist who inked LeBron James, Tristan Thompson and other basketball stars won what his attorney called a “helpful” decision Wednesday in his lawsuit against the makers of the “NBA 2K” video game series. Jimmy Hayden said in a lawsuit that the makers of the popular game infringed on copyrights he holds for tattoos he created for James, Thompson and Toronto Raptors player Danny Green. The game makers included those tattoos on the computer-generated versions of the players without obtaining his permission.

While Buss has been an ardent backer of Walton, she has also empowered Johnson, who has been less resolute in his support. His efforts have all worked against his coach rather than with him. After delivering James in July, Johnson ignored the pleas of the coaching staff that he retain Brook Lopez and Julius Randle. Instead, he signed controversial and limited journeymen JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson. When a fiery early season meeting between Johnson and Walton became public, Johnson responded not by saying he supported Walton but that he would allow him to “finish the season.” After the season? All bets would presumably be off.

The exchange between Van Gundy and fellow analyst Mark Jackson went like this: Van Gundy: I think in the offseason, they [Lakers] need to rebuild this roster, right? And to me, it could be a trade for an Anthony Davis, or I think they need to explore trading LeBron for getting as much as they can. Jackson: What are you doing, seriously? No, seriously, what are you doing? Van Gundy: You’ve got to get on the right timeline. I’m going to say, if I could trade him for the Clippers into cap space, which would give me a better chance to get Durant or Kawhi Leonard, would I not do that? Jackson: OK, LeBron James is not getting traded. OK? Van Gundy: You’ve got to put everything on the table. Jackson: No, you can’t.

James came into the Los Angeles Lakers’ game against the Denver Nuggets needing 13 points to surpass Jordan for fourth place on the all-time list. Five minutes 38 seconds into the second quarter, he managed to force his way to the basket for a layup, giving him 14 points for the game and 32,294 for his career. For good measure, he was fouled on the play. After a short stoppage to acknowledge the moment, play resumed as the Lakers, clinging to the last shreds of their playoff hopes, tried their best to overcome a huge early deficit at home against a heavily-favored opponent.

Lakers coach Luke Walton noticed how Kyle Kuzma’s body movement looked restricted and removed his young forward to determine how much longer Kuzma could be effective against the physical play of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Kuzma acknowledged after Thursday night’s game that he’s been “dealing with a little hip strain” for the past week that has impeded his motion. He rejected thoughts of resting because the Lakers have been shorthanded and he figured he could play through the pain. “I just don’t like to sit out games,” said Kuzma, who hopes to play Sunday against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center. “But it’s a little give and take. I’m a little hard-headed sometimes, but I gotta see what’s right and what’s wrong.”

For now, though, because of Damian Jones’ season-ending injury and the unknown of Cousins, sources maintain the priority remains adding a big. But there’s also been a push for patience. Cousins’ return, three weeks before the deadline, gives them plenty of evaluation time. The candidates: Dating back to early July, there was mutual interest between Tyson Chandler and the Warriors. Both sides began sniffing then, sources said, and again before he was bought out by the Suns and chose to sign with the Lakers a few months back. But that option is gone.