Through Purple and Gold Frames

Lakers Hype

Sid Hartman was 27 years old when he began making player personnel decisions for the Minneapolis Lakers pro basketball team in 1947. It was, as Hartman often noted, a different newspaper era than the one he encountered in his later years, when editors became increasingly concerned about conflicts of interest. In 1947? “[Lakers co-owner Ben] Berger wanted me to quit the paper and run the Lakers as the general manager,” Hartman said in his autobiography, “Sid!” “I considered that, but it was not an either-or situation.”

Mikan was seeking $12,000, which “was a ton of money” at the time, Hartman said in his book. The Lakers initially dragged their feet, and Mikan decided he was flying back to Chicago, which could have ended the Lakers’ chances. “Max [Winter, who had become a team executive] and I talked it over and figured that if Mikan got on that flight, he was gone for good,” Hartman said. “So I drove Mikan to the airport, and I made sure to get lost on the way. I drove north toward Anoka, rather than south toward the airport. After Mikan missed his flight, we put him up in a downtown hotel, then brought him to the Lakers office in the Loeb Arcade the next morning and agreed to give him the $12,000.”

Hartman was certain that the Lakers without Mikkelsen or any of the Kentucky players available would have finished with the worst record, affording them the No. 1 draft pick. Hartman had already targeted University of San Francisco center Bill Russell as the man he wanted. According to Hartman, Lakers radio play-by-play man Dick Enroth was a huge Mikkelsen fan and didn’t want to spend the 1954-55 season watching a last-place team. Enroth took Berger out to lunch and pleaded with him not to make the deal. Berger opted to hold on to Mikkelsen, and the rest is history. Russell was drafted by Boston and proceeded to lead the Celtics to 13 titles in 15 seasons.

Essentially, Green sounded like he didn’t want to make excuses, but there was clear subtext that suggested he wasn’t all the way healthy while trying to gut out the NBA Finals and help the Lakers capture banner No. 17. The latest such signal came on the newest episode of Green’s eponymous podcast, “Inside the Green Room.” While talking about the Lakers getting back to Los Angeles after they won the title. Green mentioned yet another area he was having pain that was never on the injury report (emphasis mine).

Russell’s rookie season came during Kobe Bryant’s final year with the Lakers. The former No. 2 overall pick thinks things might have worked out differently for him with L.A. had that not been the case: “With the Lakers situation, it probably would have went different if it wasn’t Kobe’s last year and I didn’t go through what I went through,” Russell said, via Ben Stinar of The Big Lead. “It’s L.A., a lot of dudes come and go out of that organization. But I’m just thinking I could have been a guy that’s still there that they would have said ‘Man, I don’t care what we do. He’s a part of the future.’”

So it should come as no surprise that the Denver Nuggets, coming off back-to-back 3-1 comebacks this postseason, have James’ undivided attention — and respect — heading into Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Friday. “Very resilient, very confident, very driven, very well-coached team,” James said after practice Thursday when asked about Denver. “It takes a lot of energy, effort, a lot of desperation to be able to come back from a 3-1 deficit. They did it twice. So the respect level is out of this world for what we have for this ballclub. That’s how we’re going into this series: understanding what they’re capable of, where they stand.”

Dwyane Wade, retired 13-time NBA All-Star: “Quote me right where I say this — it’s LeBron James-like from the standpoint of how he’s able to rope that pass to shooters in corners, getting blitzed. There’s not many guys who can do that and put it right there. He does an amazing job of it.” Steve Nash, NBA Hall of Fame guard: “The numbers are a little inflated because of the pace and the hand check. But still, I do think LeBron was so gifted, but I don’t think he was as polished as Luka.”

Yet Ariza made the heart-wrenching decision to opt out of playing alongside his Portland teammates because he was presented with an opportunity to have 30 days of visitation with his oldest son Tajh, who he had not seen in nearly a year due to custody issues. Ariza has no second thoughts about his choice, but that doesn’t mean life outside the bubble has been easy. He has heard the pundits lamenting his absence, as he is a big, strong veteran player who could have helped handle Lakers forward LeBron James. “Man, the word ‘hard’ doesn’t even begin to describe it,” Ariza told ESPN. “This is what I was born to do, to play basketball. I’ve been doing it my whole life. And to know my team has a chance to compete for a championship, and I’m not with them. … It burns me up inside.”

“You know what? It’s weird, but the opinions that mattered the most to me were all the opinions applauding me for my actions,” Ariza said. “The Blazers couldn’t have been more supportive. They understand how big this is, the times we are in, how important it is to teach a young Black boy to grow to be a successful Black man.” During his month-long visit with Tajh, Ariza celebrated his son’s charisma, his wise cracks, his dance moves and his strong opinions. He taught him to box in his home gym, shot baskets with him at sunset and spent a lot of time listening and learning.

Lillard has hit 13 3-pointers in the four games against the Lakers. Twelve of them were either a high-screen pull-up, an open-transition look or off a simple dribble handoff. Only one of them came because of some off-ball action. Portland’s usage of Lillard is a bit one-dimensional. It’s a dangerous dimension, but often becomes easier for smart, talented defenses like the Lakers to guard when given multiple games (and raised stakes) to scout. It’s why the Blazers appear to be heading home soon after another playoff whimper.

“Kobe was the one who totally changed my perspective of the game,” Ariza said. “Everything small or big, it all mattered the same to him. His attention to detail was what separated him. You can be a great athlete, a great scorer, but what if you are playing hurt and can’t get to the spot you normally like to operate from? Kobe’s the one that showed me how to pay attention to angles, to footwork, to the nuances that can take you a long way in situations like that. He broke down the game differently than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

The Lakers wore the “Black Mamba” City Edition jerseys that included a heart with the No. 2, the number that Gianna once wore. They sported the Kobe V Protro 5x Champ Nike shoes. And most importantly, the Lakers mimicked Bryant’s competitiveness and skill to extend their series lead to 3-1 with a chance to close out the series in Game 5 on Wednesday. Mamba Mentality indeed. “Everyone has their own definition about it or their own mantra about it, but you don’t see any benefits if you don’t work,” Lakers star LeBron James said. “To be able to continue his legacy is something that hits home for me. It’s easy for me because I’ve put in the work. If you want to see results, you got to work at it.”

It was during his soon-to-become annual summer workouts at UCI that Anthony Katz, a local high school history teacher and former basketball coach, met Bryant and presented him with his rough design for leg wraps. The goal was to help players more efficiently ice their knees. An avid Lakers fan, Katz had noticed that at the end of blowout victories, Bryant would start icing his knees on the bench. The leaky plastic bags wrapped in bandages became a mess. “It was like an art project. I had zero business experience, I’d never taken a class and I didn’t know what the word entrepreneur meant,” Katz says. “But I had this idea and I knew that if I could get Kobe to wear it, then it would give it credibility and exposure.”

Within a short time, numerous other pro athletes had taken notice and were trying to get their hands on the product. LeBron James tried it and instantly wanted several dozen. Blake Griffin used them and was so impressed with it that he became one of the company’s first investors. “The difference between Kobe and LeBron is that when Kobe first got it, he didn’t want anyone else to know about it. He thought it was an advantage,” Katz says. “When LeBron first tried it, he immediately wanted some to share with Carmelo [Anthony], Chris [Paul] and Dwyane [Wade].”

First, James argued the entry-level requirements need to change. “I don’t want to sit here and say ‘I know what should be done.’ But I did see one thing about the level of time in the academy before you become a police officer,” James said. “We got kids that’s going to college three and four years, six years to get their master’s [degree] or they even go again, and they still didn’t even get the opportunity at the workspace, or the job that they actually want to get. But we have people going into the academy who’s becoming police officers in a year or two.”

Secondly, James called for gun reform. “Firearms are a huge issue in America,” James said. “I don’t know how you clean that up. I’m not saying that I’ve got all the answers, but guns are a huge issue in America. They’re not used for just hunting that a lot of people do for sport. Right now for Black people right now when you’re hunting, we think you’re hunting us. Unfortunately, there’s just too many killings going on. Not only from the cops, but we also have our own thing that we got to deal with, that we gotta get better at as well, with Black-on-Black crime.”

Another executive echoed Simmons’ shooting woes as a major red flag, and the executive deviated from the notion that small ball and a bunch of shooters around Simmons can win at a high level. “For sure, I’d trade Ben Simmons because Embiid is a much better player, but you have to factor the injury factor for Embiid,” one longtime Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype. “He’s been fortunate to stay healthy, but how long can that last? Ben had knee and back injuries too. It’s hard to build a team around Simmons because of his deficiencies. When you have a big guy that’s dominant, all the best teams are big. Toronto, Milwaukee, the Lakers. If you have a player as good as Embiid, it’s no question. I think Simmons is overrated.”

The tears streamed down Shaquille O’Neal’s face when he reflected on Kobe Bryant both a day after his death and nearly a month later at his memorial. Nearly seven months later after sharing his initial thoughts about Bryant on TNT, the tears have not fully dried. “I don’t want to see anybody go out like that and never to be able to talk to him again,” O’Neal told USA TODAY Sports about Bryant, who would have turned 42 on Sunday. “The thing that hurt me was all the stuff that I wanted to say, I hadn’t said it. I never said it.”

Years later, however, O’Neal and Bryant often credited each other for being friendly with each other’s kids. Shortly before Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others died on a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, Bryant had traded messages with O’Neal’s son, Shareef. “You never know what stuff is going to happen. So you shouldn’t let stuff linger,” O’Neal said. “Were we best friends? No. Did we respect the hell out of each other? 1,000%. Do I wish we could’ve talked every day and hung out every day. Yes.”

Austin Karp: I think Anthony hit on a lot of great points there. If I had to describe it at the macro level, I’d say the NBA is down right now but not out for sure. A couple years ago, when the Warriors were hitting on all cylinders, some people we’re talking like, “Oh, the NBA? When are they going to overtake the NFL?” Now we’re talking about the NBA like it’s the Titanic. We have to find some sort of happy medium there and that’s usually where the truth lies. The NBA ratings are down year over year. I think they were down 12 percent headed into the All-Star break. So being down right now, it was something we expected. A lot of the networks were backloading their schedule with Lakers and LeBron (James) games. They did not get that so they couldn’t close the gap on that.

Even for ever confident Diana Taurasi, the greatest scorer in WNBA history, it takes some nerve to wear a jersey with Kobe Bryant’s name and No. 8 in a game. Understanding the expectations that would accompany the decision, Taurasi almost didn’t go through with honoring her friend Bryant in that way Sunday on what would have been his 42nd birthday. “Even until the moment I put it on, I was still a little hesitant,” Taurasi said. “Then when I ran out there, I was like let’s go for it.

“There was only one way to play. I’m not talking about scoring points, I’m just talking about loving basketball and competing and putting that effort he taught me by watching him every single day.” The Mamba mentality that linked the two superstars until Bryant’s death along with his daughter Gigi and six others in a helicopter crash in January. Taurasi, nicknamed the White Mamba by Bryant, spoke at his memorial service in February and spoke loudly on the court in his honor Sunday with a season-high 34 points in an 88-87 win over Washington.

The Los Angeles Lakers spent time on Sunday, Kobe Bryant’s birthday, doing something the franchise’s late star surely would have approved of: getting in extra work on the practice floor. After shooting just 28-for-43 (65.1%) from the foul line on Saturday in their Game 3 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, Lakers coach Frank Vogel dedicated Sunday’s practice to free throw shooting. “Everybody made 100 free throws,” Vogel said. “Hopefully we will shoot better at the free throw line [in Game 4] tomorrow night.”

During a pregame ceremony honoring Bryant, every Dodgers player and coach took the foul line wearing a gold Lakers No. 8 or No. 24 jersey — the two numbers the guard wore during his Hall of Fame career — as did former Dodger and current Rockies outfielder Matt Kemp. Vin Scully narrated a memorial video shown on the scoreboards and posted online. And before first pitch, an old clip of Bryant announcing, “It’s time for Dodger baseball,” echoed around the park. We miss you, Kobe. pic.twitter.com/nAp4JbqTz2 — Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) August 23, 2020

Yet, it’s hard to believe that there was that much of a difference in the physicality and aggressive nature in the Lakers over the Blazers Saturday night. The total free throw discrepancy for the game finished at 43 to 18. After the Blazers 116-108 loss, Damian Lillard explained that both teams were physical in Game 3 as he tried to make sense of the difference at the charity stripe. “The discrepancy in free throws is something that is out of our control… Last game we came out — they played a really physical game, a really aggressive game that led to blowout victory for them. But tonight, we came in saying, we wasn’t going to get bullied any and let them out physical and out aggressive us and maybe sometimes we did foul, but they’re a physical team as well.” –Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard

“Us as the NBA, and us as the players, and me as one of the leaders of this league, I want her family to know and I want the state of Kentucky to know that we feel for it and we want justice,” James said. “That’s what it’s all about. What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong. And this is a wrong situation that’s going on in my eyes and in a lot of other eyes, not only here in America but I bet in the world as well.” He pointed out the irony of how “fortunate” it was that Floyd’s death — caused by a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck — was captured on video, because the tragedy was undeniable. “I mean, is that what we need to see, a video of Breonna being killed to realize how bad the situation is?” James questioned.

Robinson was so incensed about it that in 2000 that when Jackson was the Western Conference All-Star coach and attempted to greet Robinson during the customary pregame introductions, the stone-faced big man sprinted past without acknowledging Jackson. “That’s just Phil,” sighs Kerr, who remains friendly with his former Chicago Bulls coach. “When he first mentioned the asterisk, I just rolled my eyes, because I knew his game. “He likes to provoke, to get under people’s skin. He was poking the Spurs because they were a threat.”

Among that glut of guards is the Lakers’ newest player, J.R. Smith. Smith is mostly known as a shooter at this point in his career, but when asked to describe how he sees his role during an interview with Allie Clifton of Spectrum SportsNet, he made it clear that he’s aware he’ll have to make an impact on the other end of the floor in order to stay out there for the Lakers: “Same as always. Bring the energy, play defense as hard as I can, get to my spots, shoot when I’m open, create for my teammates. If I’ve got two (defenders) in front of me, somebody’s open. But more than anything, I’m just trying to get the defense down because that’s how I’ll stay on the court. If I play defense they’ll keep me on the court longer, so that’s my main focus.”

The NBA’s best player had not played a game in more than four months. But Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James was not here to speak about the games he missed. Nor did he seem inclined to say anything about the Lakers’ 108-104 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in a scrimmage Sunday. Instead, James sought to show once again that he is more than an athlete. “I want to continue to shed light on justice for Breonna Taylor,” James said. “To her family and everything that is going on and that situation.”

J.R. Smith said he likes that he can play golf every day and the food has gotten better since the initial quarantine period. There’s just one problem. Asked what he wished he had packed, Smith replied, “Man, more underwear and socks.” “Honestly, I packed like seven because I thought I’d be good for once a day,” Smith said. “But I ain’t calculate all the showers in between everything that I be doing, so I’ve been running through in like two, three days. We’ve got a great laundry system, though. We’ve got a great laundry system, so I’m good.”

While teammate JaVale McGee caught his free-agent-to-be teammate shouting “Purple ‘til the day I die” in his latest video blog post, it was shared slightly out of context in a purple-vs.-white scrimmage in Saturday’s practice. Anthony Davis has been far less revealing on his long-term plans in purple and gold, though many around the league speculate he will re-sign with the Lakers to continue playing with LeBron James and fulfill the franchise’s vision of becoming a long-term foundational star. Asked about a brewing negotiation that has slid back on the league’s timeline to Oct. 18, Davis remained tight-lipped and claimed he hadn’t thought about it at all.

Almost all players and coaches on Zoom calls with local and national media on Tuesday were wearing masks, strongly suggested if not mandated by the league. Dudley says that players been sticking with that protocol when the cameras are off as well. “Ninety-eight percent of the time, you see people with masks,” Dudley said. “Maybe (not) outside, if they’re walking somewhere or riding a bike or something like that. But for the most part, I want you to imagine you’re in a hotel room, and a convention center’s connected. By the time you leave your hotel room, you’re in the elevator, you go downstairs, your mask (is) on, (when) you get to the meal room, you take your mask off. You wear your mask to practice. You get to the practice, you take it off. It’s really a five-, 10-minute thing, and you can take it off. People are doing that. I would say that people are taking it serious, but to be honest with you, we’re not doing too much. Yes, you might see some pictures of people fishing. When they’re fishing, their masks are usually off. But when they’re around people – especially people who are non-teammates – and you’re walking by, everybody has their masks on.”

Howard took to Instagram Live on Tuesday in an apparent effort to clear the air. “I do not want people out here lying and people on here trying to say stuff about me because of my (Instagram) Lives and stuff that’s going on,” Howard said. “Because I’ve seen some things online about this whole mask situation.” He proceeded to rail against an online aggregator, BallerAlert.com, as well as USA Today, MSN and Yahoo, saying he had never talked to reporters from any of those outlets. However, his recent social media posts and a video conference with reporters on Saturday provided ample material for publications to quote him.

Players around the NBA have joined together in calling for action in the death of Taylor since arriving for the season restart at the Walt Disney World Resort. Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris, Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown and Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard are among those drawing attention to the death of Taylor. Davis, and teammate Serge Ibaka, joined his peers in bringing her death front and center. We’re united right now. We’re just keeping the focus on Breonna Taylor’s killers. That’s what I want to keep the focus on this week. It’s nothing against you guys — and I can answer all of you guys’ questions post-game or any time after we’re playing — but right now I just want to keep the focus on what’s really going on in the world. There’s a lot of social injustice going on and I just want to make sure that I’m doing the right thing and using my platform, as well as other athletes, to just continue with this thing, man. We all stand united. We might not all have to be on the same team but we’re still united in this league. I just want to keep the focus on Breonna Taylor’s killers and just keep that going, man, because it’s still going on in the world.

LeBron James did retweet a video posted by Democratic nominee for president Joe Biden teasing a conversation between the former vice president and his old boss, Barack Obama. James added a caption to the original post, which suggested Biden would become the 46th president of the United States, with googly eyes, praying hands and raised fist emojis, if you want to read between the lines. ????????????????? https://t.co/iLMvBUM0IX — LeBron James (@KingJames) July 22, 2020

On Thursday, two days before the wedding, he made his decision and texted his family: He would skip it. He had friends record “basically the whole event” and send him video, he said. He spent his downtime over the weekend watching the footage in his room. “There were some people that should have had masks on that didn’t,” Caruso said of the wedding. “I would say 75% of the people had them on. Texas and Florida — they can kind of be their own countries at times. Some people just like to do their own thing.” He could not FaceTime into the wedding because the reception wasn’t good enough, he said. He said he is sad but at peace with his choice. “If I was on a team that didn’t have title aspirations — a team trying to hold on to the No. 8 seed or something — it might have been different,” Caruso said. “But we have worked too hard.”

They saw the video screens surrounding the court, where it’s possible virtual fans will be shown during a game. They saw the bench area where seats will be spaced apart, nothing like the knee-to-knee setup on a normal NBA bench. The court reads Black Lives Matter just in front of a plexiglass box that encloses the scorer’s table. “I think it’s pretty cool how they’ll have the big monitors, where you can have your family, friends, fans, whoever, kind of be in the arena,” Davis said. “I think that’s a pretty dope idea. I know they’re still trying to figure out some things as far as lighting and sound and stuff. But I think the whole concept of it is pretty dope.”

At one point during the prepractice stretches, Waiters stood in one corner of the convention center ballroom that had become their practice court and danced, sang and rapped along to the music accompanying their movements. On the other corner of the room, Smith sat near James as James got stretched by his longtime trainer Mike Mancias. “I think we’re pretty close,” Davis said, when asked how far the team is from where it wants to be when games begin to count. “There’s still some things that we want to work on. We were one of the worst teams in transition [defensively], so we’ve been going over that a ton, watching film on that a ton. But I think everybody came back in shape. You could tell guys have been working during the break. Now it’s all about putting it all back together.”

But let’s be clear: There are likely other motivations for league and team officials to have limited our accessible slice of the Coronado Springs property to less than one square mile, as measured on a walk by my colleague Ben Golliver of The Washington Post. They don’t want us to see and document violations — players not wearing masks or failing to maintain a proper distance. They don’t want us to see the inter-team mingling that, in the N.B.A.’s social media era, will inevitably (and instantly) be construed as tampering, like last week when Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka and Andre Iguodala of the Miami Heat, who have a longstanding relationship as former player agent (Pelinka) and client (Iguodala), were spotted walking together.

More Than A Vote, the James organization dedicated to maximizing Black turnout in November, shared its plans with The Associated Press on Wednesday after the Detroit Pistons became the second NBA franchise to announce plans to use its arena for voting later this year. In Georgia, Fulton County elections officials this week approved the Atlanta Hawks’ proposal to use State Farm Arena as a polling site. Plans call for the arena to serve as a countywide early voting site ahead of Election Day.

Lloyd Pierce, head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, said the arrangement in his city ensures “high turnout” in a safe environment. Benson, Pierce and David Fizdale, former New York Knicks head coach, will advise NBA franchises and arena management entities around the country on how to replicate the existing deals. The Milwaukee Bucks also confirmed they are willing to use their home arena as a voting site in the most populous city in the key battleground of Wisconsin.

“Going forward as to how it relates to this team and the league, I’m 100% backing Black teammates, Black coaches, anybody who I’ve never had the opportunity to live the life they have, to experience the things they do,” Caruso said Wednesday on a video conference call after a workout at the team’s practice facility. “Part of my role as the white guy on the team and a white guy in the league is understanding and realizing I’m never going to understand what they actually go through … but being there to support them and be a crutch for them to lean on whenever they need it.”

Caruso said he was impressed listening to Lakers legend and activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during a video conference call that the Hall of Famer had with his teammates early last month. The conversation left Caruso wanting to do his part for change and to keep the moment going strong. “Like I said from my perspective of being a white guy in a predominately Black league, just tell the truth,” he said. “Tell what’s going on, be an advocate for the people and be a voice for the people that can’t be heard. It’s a long-run game. This isn’t going to change in a month, probably won’t get changed in a year. It’s going to be time and time again where you’re going to have to step up, be courageous, use your voice and try to make an impact and change lives for the better.”

Even though the Lakers officially signed veteran guard J.R. Smith on Wednesday, Caruso said he’ll be ready to fill any void when called upon. He averaged 5.4 points and 2.1 assists in 58 games. He shot 35.5% from the three-point range, 49.6% from the field and displayed an all-around skill set that included solid defense. “I’m not sure if I’m going to be the sole provider of everything that Avery did,” Caruso said. “That’s a lot to ask for just because of how good he is at what he does. But I’m definitely going to be ready to fill part of that gap and that need.”

In a conference call on Tuesday, Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said that Howard has not yet informed the team on if he will play or sit when the NBA resumes its season July 30 in Orlando. Melissa Rios, the mother of Howard’s 6-year-old son David, died on March 27 near her home in Calabasas, California, because of a seizure after fighting epilepsy. Amid protests the past month, begun after George Floyd died while in police custody in Minneapolis, Howard has said publicly he may sit out the season to help ongoing efforts to address racial inequality. “We are going to continue to work through those extenuating circumstances with Dwight, support him, support his 6-year-old son and hope for the best that he would be a part of our roster in Orlando,” Pelinka said. “But that will be a continued process.”

The next morning, the Heat representatives arrived early to prepare. Riley, Elisburg, coach Erik Spoelstra, Alonzo Mourning, owner Micky Arison and his son, Nick, then a vice president, showed up 45 minutes before James. Riley paced the hallway with nervous energy. The velvet bag with the rings came out again. During the presentation, Mourning shed tears talking about the organization’s support when he needed a kidney transplant and the joy of later winning a title. But two pieces anchored the pitch: the explanation of playing in Florida, where there’s no state income tax (and what that would save in salary and endorsement income), and the plan to unite James, Wade and Bosh.

The Bulls’ motivation, sources say, was split. After two days of meetings, they thought they were in competitive position with Bosh and Wade. They were not as sure about James, even as some rivals feared that Chicago was in pole position to steal him from Cleveland. Nonetheless, with owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s blessing, the Bulls got to work on finding a path to land all three. They tried to move Deng to the LA Clippers, sources say, but were turned down. They talked to Toronto about a sign-and-trade for Bosh — the Raptors began discussing Deng’s fit and possible parameters of a deal, sources say — to leave room to sign Wade and James.

A week earlier, just after 11 a.m. on July 1, the Nets arrived at the IMG building in downtown Cleveland as the first of six teams to meet with James. Out of one side of a Lincoln Town Car emerged Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire Russian oligarch who had bought the Nets less than two months prior. Out of the other side emerged Jay-Z. “It was a circus show,” said Avery Johnson, who had been hired to coach the team. “We were very excited. But in all honesty, we weren’t ready as an organization. And we were playing in Newark for the next two years — not New York. But Jay-Z really gave a great pitch. He appealed to their friendship and sold New York.”

HoopsHype asked some experts to weigh in on Tatum’s future and the likelihood of him getting the max. “I think he is getting a max extension,” an Eastern Conference general manager told HoopsHype. “That may be one where you have some incentives in the deal; I mean, it’s not like he’s LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo. But he’s pretty close to being a Top 20 player, if he isn’t already, and he’s still so young. Usually, you’re trying to keep goodwill with a player like that.

Kyle Kuzma: That’s why white people have to realize, it’s not just about your “heart” or your individual mindset. Like how some people say, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.” Well, the system does, and you can’t see it because it benefits you. The best analogy I’ve heard that explains white privilege is that it’s like an invisible backpack that every white person wears. If you’re white and you’re ever in a situation where you might need help, you can take that backpack off, open it up, and pull out all sorts of s—. Get Out of Jail Free card. Job opportunities. Health benefits. Housing loans. Don’t get me wrong. Black people can get those things, too, but it’s a lot harder.

Not because all drugs are super, super harmful to society, but because drugs were something very prevalent in black communities. It was how people put food on the table for their families in neighborhoods where people were frozen out of jobs. So, what happened next? Let’s crack down. “Zero Tolerance.” You’re a prisoner now. From having just a gram or two of weed. See the connection? That’s what people are talking about when they speak about how racism is systemic. You think this moment happened because all police are just terrible, terrible people? Nah, it’s wayyy bigger than that.

When we last left the Lakers, Cousins — signed last summer and subsequently lost for the season with a blown knee — had been waived to make room for forward Markieff Morris. There is speculation the league may allow expanded playoff rosters in the bubble — perhaps carrying 17-20 players — in order to have more reserves available should a rash of COVID-19 cases hit. With the extra time off to rehab, combined with potential expanded rosters, will Cousins make his return to L.A.? The former All-Star center would give the Lakers the stretch 5 they missed most of the season and, with crowd noise a nonfactor in Orlando’s empty arenas, he could certainly have an impact as a vocal bench presence.

Portland Trail Blazers star Carmelo Anthony has “mixed feelings” about resuming the 2019-20 season at the Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. “As far as basketball goes, I’m ready for it and excited to get back to work,” Anthony said during a discussion with Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma. “But to be honest with you, I’m still battling on traveling to Orlando amid everything going on. Just being isolated away from the rest of the world is why I have mixed feelings about the NBA returning.”

Charley Rosen, Jackson’s confidant/biographer and his former Albany Patroons assistant, has appeared in two episodes. He’s still worried Jackson’s failed 3 ½-year run as Knicks president has hurt his perception in New York. Rosen said Jackson should never have come out of retirement and taken the position in March 2014. “I told him not to take it because it’s crazy there,’’ Rosen said. “Jeanie [Buss] told him not to take it. If he came there, it would end their relationship 3,000 miles away.”

Quibi and LeBron James’ Uninterrupted sports media company are teaming up for a new docuseries about a cheating scandal that has gone down in baseball infamy. The short-form content platform has ordered “Sign Language” (working title), a series which aims to give viewers an inside look at the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal and its unprecedented fallout. Per the logline for the series, it will look to “transcend the baseball diamond to explore larger themes of greed, cheating, corruption, sportsmanship, and social media activism.” News of the series comes around two months after it was announced that “Slow Burn” producers Leon Neyfakh and Andrew Parsons are looking to hit a home run with a podcast about the Astros’ controversial World Series-winning 2017 season, which they then intend to adapt into a scripted series.

The answer to the complaint filed by Berge Zobayan in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Friday disputed the lawsuit’s claims. “Any injuries or damages to plaintiffs and/or their decedent were directly caused in full or in part by the negligence or fault of plaintiffs and/or their decedent, including their knowing and voluntary encounter with the risks involved, and that this negligence was a substantial factor in causing their purported damages, for which this answering defendant bears no responsibility,” the answer said.

Beyond the Celtics, the top player isn’t Jordan either; Kobe Bryant edges out his mentor because his title teams were never as strongly favored as Jordan’s. For instance, the 2000-01 run, in which the Lakers set a record (at the time) with a 15-1 playoff mark, is even more astonishing in retrospect. Despite nearly full regular seasons from Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, those Lakers had the point differential of a 51-31 team, and their playoff opponents were all superior: Portland (53-29 Pythagorean record), Sacramento (57-25), San Antonio (63-19), and Philadelphia (54-28). Maybe the 2000-01 Lakers simply underachieved in the regular season. But that one title was part of a trend: Bryant’s teams regularly advanced farther in the playoffs than expected. None of his titles were faits accompli—judging only by the quality of playoff opponents, his Lakers teams faced some of the toughest slates any champion has ever navigated.

According to our historical database, Scottie Pippen is one of only two NBA players since 1980 to average at least 22 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 2.5 steals per game over the course of an NBA season, which he did through 72 games in 1993-94. The other? Michael Jordan in 1989, when MJ averaged 32.5 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 2.9 steals in 81 games. Pippen’s 1993-94 campaign was further proof that he could have absolutely thrived in a LeBron James-style, jumbo lead ball-handler role with shooters surrounding him.

“At that time, people were calling Larry Bird the quintessential forward,” Rodman says. “He was great, but he couldn’t play multiple positions like Scottie could. He wasn’t agile enough. I just don’t think people realize what Scottie was doing in 1991. “He revolutionized the point-forward position. All these players today should thank Scottie Pippen. Guys like Kevin Durant should say, ‘Wow, look what you did for us.’ Scottie could handle, he could shoot the ball, he could defend, he could rebound. “If LeBron was playing during the ’90s, I’d still say Scottie Pippen was the second-best player behind Michael.”

Asked if LeBron James bumped him intentionally in that frequently-replayed video clip from the team’s 17th game in November 2010, the first year of the Big Era era, Spoelstra said: “No. I don’t think so. When you’re on teams like that, they naturally get micro-analyzed. We were 9-8 after that game, it exploded in the media. After that, we went on a run, winning 21 out of 22.” He said in the weeks that followed that 9-8 start, he and James “would walk by each other in the hallways and collide into each other and we would laugh.”

The Lakers will not be among the first wave of NBA teams that reopen their facilities for individual workouts on May 8, Frank Vogel said, but L.A.’s head coach is just fine with that. “There’s a competitive balance element to this that I personally am not really all that concerned about,” Vogel said on a video conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “I think we’re still a long way away from returning to play.” The Lakers contacted the Los Angeles mayor’s office to inquire about the viability of having players use their practice facility before the current shelter-at-home order for L.A. residents expires on May 15, sources told ESPN.

Each day as new directives from government health officials emerge, the reality of what society looks like changes. And so does the reality for the Lakers. That has prompted Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka and coach Frank Vogel to check in with each other every day, usually in the morning. Players have been asked to check in daily to update the team about their health. As a group they have periodic conference calls to determine their next steps.

“When I was asked the question would you play without no fans, I had no idea it was actually a conversation going behind closed doors about the particular virus,” James told reporters before the Lakers’ 104-102 loss to the Nets on Tuesday. “Obviously, I’d be very disappointed with not having the fans. That’s who I play for. I play for my family and I play for my fans. “No one could actually come to the game if it actually got to that point. I’d be disappointed in that. But at the same time, you got to listen to the people that are keeping track of what is going on. If they feel like it is best for the safety of the players, safety of the franchise and the safety of the league to mandate that, then we all listen to that.”

Markieff Morris had just gone head-to-head a few times with the 6-foot-7 and 285-pound Zion Williamson, and the Lakers forward didn’t like how he responded. So when the Lakers’ 122-114 win was over Sunday night, Morris worked out in the hallway outside the locker room with the team’s training staff. He lifted weights and did push-ups, all with the intent of getting his body ready for the brute force of Williamson or any other powerful player he might face. Morris played 14 minutes off the bench with Anthony Davis out with a sore right knee. Kyle Kuzma got the starting nod.

LeBron and Zion did engage in an elaborate bro hug and whisper campaign after this game, unlike their first meeting last Tuesday. It was not surprising, given the attention the lack of interaction between them got this week, from me included. “It’s my obligation and it’s my job to continue to pass on the game to the guys that’s coming in after me,” James said. “That’s just my responsibility. No one told me to do that. I just feel like it’s my responsibility to leave the game in a better place than when I had it. “So it’s my responsibility and anybody that says that, ‘LeBron, why would he do that while he’s playing? It’s a sign of weakness … He’s buddy-buddy with the guys he’s going against.’ Tell them to kiss my ass. All right? With a smile, too,” added James.

He told me he wouldn’t be at the season opener because he was going to Natalia’s volleyball game that night. When I asked him why he rarely went to Lakers games he smiled. “I have my routine at home,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t want to go, but I’d rather be giving B.B. a shower and sing Barney songs to her. I played 20 years and I missed those moments before. “For me to make the trip up to Staples Center, that means I’m missing an opportunity to spend another night with my kids when I know how fast it goes. … I want to make sure the days that I’m away from them are days that I absolutely have to be. I’d rather be with them than doing anything else.”

“What I love about Gigi is her curiosity about the game,” Bryant said. “She’s very curious. Even in a heated situation in a game where it’s going back and forth, she can detach herself and come to me and ask a very specific question, which is not common. She’ll come over and say, ‘OK, on this particular trap when I’m trying to close the gap but she’s getting on the outside, do I need to change my angle?’ It’s a very specific question. That’s pretty damn cool.”

Through it all, a source said, the Lakers’ pursuit of roster changes in the past week was half-hearted. And that goes back to the tragic helicopter crash that took the life of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others on January 26, just 11 days ahead of the trade deadline. While much of the league has begun to move on from Bryant’s death, these Lakers are just in the early stages of that process. Going through the experience together has bonded them and it proved difficult to break that bond within the roster for the sake of some trade or another.

Anthony Davis hit a season-high four 3-pointers, including a clutch four-point play with less than 3 minutes to go, in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 130-127 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday. And the team is urging Davis to let it fly even more often from the outside. “We want him to take more 3s,” LeBron James said after Davis went 4-for-7 from 3-point range against the Thunder. “Teams are playing off of him, and he’s too damn good of a shooter not to shoot them. And he’s been doing that the last couple games.”

“It’s interesting in this situation with China, they’re shoving a camera in our face and be like, ‘No you can’t say no comment we need you to speak on this,'” Iguodala continued, highlighting what he believes is a double standard. “They ready to attack LeBron for making a statement because they don’t like his statement, they feel like he should have took another stance. But when he’s home and he makes a stance about… and it’s like, ‘No this is not your place to make that statement.’ That was just mindblowing. That’s what bothered me the most.”