Pau Gasol targets Bulls, Spurs

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
5:08
PM PT

The Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs have emerged as the two leading contenders to land prized free-agent big man Pau Gasol, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that Gasol is giving strong consideration to signing with San Antonio -- despite the Spurs' limited financial resources with such a deep roster -- in the event that the Bulls can't strike a sign-and-trade arrangement with the Lakers for Gasol.

The Bulls are making Carlos Boozer widely available in trade discussions, but sources say that the Lakers have shown a reluctance in talks with Chicago to take on Boozer's contract unless they also receive a young asset back from the Bulls as well.

Oklahoma City has been pursuing Gasol as hard as anyone, but sources indicated Friday that the Spurs have joined the Bulls ahead of the Thunder in Gasol's pecking order.

The Thunder have a $6.5 million trade exception that expires Friday night at 11:59 p.m. that they hoped to use in their own sign-and-trade with L.A.

The Lakers, meanwhile, appear re-signed to seeing Gasol exit after a successful six seasons together. Sources say L.A. did not want to offer Gasol anything longer than a two-year deal worth an estimated $20 million, hoping to preserve salary-cap space for the summer of 2016.


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Agent: Nick Young back to Lakers

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
2:52
PM PT
video

Nick Young is set to return to the Los Angeles Lakers, his agent confirmed to ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman.

Young's deal is for four years, with the fourth year being a player option, agent Mark Bartelstein confirmed. According to a source, the deal is worth $21.5 million.

Young took to Twitter to thank Lakers fans.

Young opted out of his contract with the Lakers in June. The 6-foot-6 guard is coming off a career year last season, when he averaged a team-high 17.9 points for a Lakers team that finished 27-55.

"I always wanted to be a Laker, and it will be a dream come true to still be here, but it's crazy," the seven-year veteran said in April. "You never know what happens. Last year they had a whole different team. It's obvious they're going to make some changes."

A Los Angeles native, Young played at USC. After opting out in June, a league source said Young wanted to be made "a priority" by the Lakers over the summer in order to stay.

Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.


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Big opportunity for Lin in L.A.? 

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
3:25
PM PT
Kaiser By Joe Kaiser
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Linsanity is coming to Los Angeles, according to Jeff Goodman of ESPN. Goodman reported on Twitter that Houston will send Jeremy Lin along with a first round pick to the Lakers in order to clear the cap space needed to sign Chris Bosh and match the offer sheet Chandler Parsons signed with Dallas.

Lin could have the chance to put up big numbers in L.A.

Lakers trade for Jeremy Lin

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
11:57
AM PT
video

The Houston Rockets have traded guard Jeremy Lin and a future first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers, a league source told ESPN's Jeff Goodman.

The Lakers were amenable to this deal, according to sources, because Lin is only under contract for one more season, thus preserving their cap space next summer. They also covet draft picks, after trading away their first-round picks in 2015 and 2017 to Phoenix and Orlando as part of the Steve Nash and Dwight Howard trades, respectively.

The Rockets made a maximum offer to center Chris Bosh of four years, $88 million, but came up empty as he agreed to a deal to return to the Miami Heat on a five-year, $118 million contract, sources confirmed to ESPN.

The Rockets had intended to match the Dallas Mavericks' three-year, $46 million offer sheet to restricted free agent Chandler Parsons after signing Bosh, a source told ESPNDallas.com. But with Bosh heading back to Miami, their plans are now up in the air.

The Philadelphia 76ers


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Rockets eye Lakers for Lin trade

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
11:05
AM PT

The Houston Rockets are in advanced decisions to trade Jeremy Lin to the Los Angeles Lakers, sources tell ESPN.com's Marc Stein.

Sources say the deal is imminent. The Lakers will also acquire a future first-round pick from Houston, a league source told ESPN's Jeff Goodman.

The Lakers would make sense as destination for Lin, as the team has the cap space to take on Lin's expiring contract without cutting into any of their 2015 cap space.

The Rockets have made a maximum offer to center Chris Bosh of four years, $88 million, according to sources.

A source told ESPN.com on Friday that the Rockets expect Bosh to commit "soon" to joining Houston after Miami Heat teammate LeBron James told SI.com on Friday that he was leaving to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Rockets' plan now is to complete their agreed-upon trade of Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans and trade away Lin by Sunday, sources say.


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Carmelo down to Knicks, Bulls

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:52
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Carmelo Anthony has narrowed his options to the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls. He is no longer considering the Los Angeles Lakers, sources told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith.

Knicks president Phil Jackson said Thursday that he hadn't heard from Anthony in recent days but remained confident the All-Star forward would re-sign with the Knicks. Jackson said the Knicks have made five different contract offers to Anthony, one of which is believed to be a maximum deal of $129 million over five years.

As of Friday afternoon, the Lakers had yet to be informed they were out of the running for Anthony, a league source told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin.

Knicks coach Derek Fisher seems to be on the same page as Jackson.

"I haven't heard anything different than that," Fisher said Friday after the Knicks started off Las Vegas Summer League play with a 76-64 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. "We talked all this week about the fact that it's not our decision."

The first-time coach stressed that point.

"Decisions as free agents are never as easy as they seem," he said. "A lot of focus is on the contract size or the amount of money and the years, but oftentimes, guys are thinking on a much larger level."

"It's not just about basketball," Fisher went on. "Guys have wives, families, kids. Moving is tough."

Anthony's agent, Leon Rose, told ESPN.com on Wednesday afternoon that his client "hasn't made a decision yet."

Information from ESPNNewYork.com contributor Fred Katz was used in this report.


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The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The West

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:05
AM PT
By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Julius Randle, Dante ExumGetty ImagesWelcome to the NBA, rooks. High-profile picks Julius Randle and Dante Exum finally hit the pro stage.
There's something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For all the prized rookies in this year’s draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The West guide is below, and the East guide is here.


Dallas Mavericks


Gal Mekel: Perhaps it was a show of confidence in Mekel’s abilities that the Mavericks were willing to send both Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin to New York. Raymond Felton may be the worst projected starter at point guard in the league right now, so there’s a clear path to playing time for the Israeli point guard. A great summer league could go a long way.

Ricky Ledo: The mystery is no longer there, but the appeal still will be. Ledo came into Vegas last year without a minute of college or international playing time under his belt, but he’s showed glimpses of being a capable wing scorer. He plays with blinders on sometimes and can chuck a bit, but the talent is there.

Ivan Johnson: He’s the only player in Vegas with the distinction of being “banned forever” from the Korean Basketball League, but Johnson can really play despite some dustups over the years. In two seasons for the Atlanta Hawks, Johnson averaged a 15.1 PER and was solid on both ends. After playing in China last season, he’d make a nice bodyguard for Dirk Nowitzki off the bench.


Denver Nuggets


Quincy Miller: One play he’ll look like Kevin Durant, the next he’ll look like Austin Daye. Miller is a 6-foot-10 wing with guard skills and a sweet stroke from deep, but he’s a little too slow and a little too soft to really put it all to good use. You’ll fall in and out of love with him multiple times over the course of a game.

Gary Harris: He had one of the more surprising falls on draft night, but the Denver Nuggets were smart to snatch up a young 3-and-D wing for Arron Afflalo to mentor. Afflalo, on his second tour in Denver thanks to a pre-draft trade with Orlando, suffered a similar fate on draft night in 2007 despite a strong pedigree, but he turned himself into something much more with his great work ethic. Harris should take notes.

Erick Green: Last year’s second-round pick struggled a bit in Italy last season, and this is still one of the league’s deepest rosters. Green has a knack for creating space and finding his own shot, but with Harris and Miller needing to be fed and the Nuggets probably looking for a third point guard, he should focus more on distributing.


Golden State Warriors

Travis Bader: There have been a lot of great shooters in college basketball history, but Bader holds a spot above them all as the NCAA Division I leader in 3-pointers made, with 504. With shooting coming at a premium (here’s looking at you, Jodie Meeks) in free agency, smart teams may opt for a cheaper, younger specialist like Bader.

Nemanja Nedovic: Being dubbed the “European Derrick Rose” has been the highlight of Nedovic’s career thus far. He couldn’t find playing time under Mark Jackson last season, but with Steve Kerr taking over, Nedovic will get a clean slate and a chance to unleash some of the much heralded athleticism.

Rob Loe: After the Warriors missed out on acquiring Channing Frye and shored up the backcourt instead, the big man from Saint Louis might get a long look to fill the Warriors' need for a stretch big man with legitimate size. Although his percentages weren’t great in college, Loe’s mechanics are literally perfect when he parks himself on the 3-point line.


Houston Rockets


Nick Johnson: Most expected the Rockets to go with an international draft-and-stash candidate in this year's draft to avoid taking on salary, but Daryl Morey and company liked the Arizona guard enough to take the plunge. Early returns have been positive -- Johnson’s nasty throwdown in Orlando is the early favorite for the dunk of the summer.

Omar Oraby: Plenty of countries are represented in Vegas every year, but Oraby is looking to become the first player from Egypt to play in the NBA. The USC grad has size on his side (7-foot-2), but he’ll need to show he can protect the rim without fouling before warranting any serious consideration.

Isaiah Canaan: He got a little bit of burn with the Rockets last season, but Canaan was most impressive with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the 3-happy D-League affiliate of the big club. Canaan hit a whopping 3.7 3s per game on 38.7 percent shooting with that squad, and after teammate Troy Daniels temporarily saved Houston’s hide in the playoffs, Canaan could find a role.


Los Angeles Clippers


Delonte West: It’s no secret that Doc Rivers has an affinity for veterans and his former players, and West qualifies as both. Since 2010, West has worked for a furniture store, been arrested for carrying guns in a guitar case "Desperado" style, and has played in the D-League, China and the NBA in stints. This would be quite the career revival.

Keith Benson: The Clippers could probably stand to add some more depth in the frontcourt even after the signing of Spencer Hawes, and Benson might fill a need. After seeing what he did with DeAndre Jordan, a similar big man in terms of size and athleticism, Rivers may decide to take on another project big man with all the athletic tools and very little polish.

Jon Brockman: A summer-league tradition like no other. Brockman made his debut way back in 2009, and for years now he’s provided dogged offensive rebounding and physical play in the paint in this setting. The proceedings wouldn’t feel quite right without him here.


Los Angeles Lakers


Julius Randle: Randle will have a leg up on some of the other post prospects in town, as he’ll get a buffet of touches thanks to Kendall Marshall. The seventh overall pick should be able to put on a nice show for the always-present Lakers contingency as a magnet for the ball with superior motor and athleticism.

DeAndre Kane: If you tuned into an Iowa State game last season, it was tough to keep your eyes off Kane. His age (25) and lack of a true position kept him out of the draft, but Kane plays a very similar style to Lance Stephenson and can make his impact felt all over the court. He’s a serious sleeper.

Kendall Marshall: Great tweeter, better distributor. Marshall averaged 11 assists per 36 minutes last season for the Lakers, and while some of that is inflated by noted point guard whisperer Mike D’Antoni, Marshall also knocked in 39.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He’ll have questions to answer in a new system, but he has staying power.


Minnesota Timberwolves


Zach LaVine: Minnesota is just going to keep acquiring UCLA guys to try and placate Kevin Love, apparently, as LaVine is the third Bruin (Shabazz Muhammad, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute) to join the roster in the last year. With a ridiculous 46-inch vertical leap and a stylish flair, the raw singman’s dunks should set the internet on fire. Unless there’s an up-and-comer out there named Putmeon LaYouTube, LaVine is probably the most appropriately named prospect we’ve ever had.

Shabazz Muhammad: The Las Vegas native returns for a second run at summer league, this time with a year of NBA experience under his belt. With a new coach in Flip Saunders and a possible youth movement taking place in Minnesota, Muhammad’s sturdy under-the-basket post scoring could be an asset. Question is, can he do anything else?

Gorgui Dieng: One of the lone bright spots in an otherwise lost season, Dieng burst onto the scene late and averaged 12.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes. Although he’s stuck behind Love and Nikola Pekovic for the time being, Dieng’s ability to play out of the high post and protect the rim puts him in pretty exclusive company among fellow big men.


New Orleans Pelicans


Josh Howard: Yes, that Josh Howard. At 34 years old, the former Dallas Mavericks forward is hoping to follow in Rasual Butler’s footsteps by performing well in summer league and landing another NBA contract. Injuries have ravaged his career, but given the need in New Orleans for a glue guy at small forward, Howard should get a fair shake if the body is willing.

Russ Smith: The lightning bug Louisville point guard should perform pretty well here, as he’s been blowing by elite opposing point guards for quite some time now. Unlike a few other guards in attendance, the frantic pace Smith played at with Louisville should transfer over nicely.

Patric Young: The Florida big man is a real grinder, and watching him lock horns with other big bodies in the frontcourt is always a treat. Young has some nice role-player potential behind Anthony Davis and Omer Asik in New Orleans, even if he’s limited offensively.


Phoenix Suns


T.J. Warren: NC State gave him all the possessions he could handle, but it’s hard to say how well Warren’s high-usage attack will translate to the next level. He’s a throwback scorer who lives primarily off the in-between stuff like floaters and below-the-rim finishes, but can he survive as an efficient offensive option without a more reliable jumper and better range?

Alex Len: It’s easy to forget that Phoenix battled for a playoff spot without the fifth pick of the 2013 draft involved, but there’s still hope that Len will become the skilled, mobile rim protector the Suns need in the middle. The fight for playing time with Miles Plumlee, who isn’t on the summer league roster, starts right now.

Tyler Ennis: Canada can trot out a pretty dangerous Olympic team all of a sudden, can’t it? Ennis was a somewhat surprising pick since Phoenix has Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to run the point, but he has the kind of distributing ability and shake off the dribble that could make him a dangerous player down the line. The point guard rich look like they got richer.


Portland Trail Blazers


C.J. McCollum: If McCollum can stay healthy, it’s not hard to imagine him winning a sixth man of the year award in the near future. At the very least he fits the typical profile - a combo guard with the ability to shoot the lights out and create for himself off the dribble. He could be the answer to Portland’s bench woes offensively.

Thomas Robinson: It feels like Robinson should have already moved on from playing in the summer league since he’s bounced around so much, but the fifth pick in the 2012 draft is still just 23 years old and raw enough to justify another appearance. He’s an elite rebounder, but he needs to bring something else to the table to earn real minutes.

Meyers Leonard: Do you trust recently signed big man Chris Kaman to stay healthy for a full season? Me neither. At some point in the near future, Leonard is going to need to soak up minutes at the 5 for a team with legitimate playoff potential. With that in mind, it would be nice if he didn’t float in the background again this summer.


Sacramento Kings


Ben McLemore: It’s been a while since an otherwise legitimate prospect has been crippled by tunnel vision this severe. Last year’s seventh overall pick seems to be lacking a basic feel for his surroundings, but he’s still trouble in transition when he can make straight line drives to the rim. If the jumper starts falling, there’s some 3-and-D potential here.

Nik Stauskas: The problem in Sacramento, as it always seems to be, is that there might not be enough distributors on the roster. We know Stauskas can shoot and shake and bake, but Sacramento may need him to take on more of a creating role, especially if Darren Collison: Starting Point Guard, ends up being a real thing.

Sim Bhullar: Vegas serves as a home for plenty of P.O.U.S (players of unusual size) this time of year, and New Mexico State big man Bhullar is the biggest of them all. Don’t adjust your screen -- Bhullar is really 7-foot-5 and 360 pounds, and he’s a serious threat to crush a cameraman under the basket at some point. If he’s going down, I’m yelling timber. Also, I’m so sorry.


San Antonio Spurs


Kyle Anderson: How did the rest of the league let this happen? Allowing a young Boris Diaw clone to learn from the real Boris Diaw could have serious consequences for the rest of the league down the line. Yes, Anderson is slower than molasses, but his playmaking, size, ballhandling and intelligence are top notch. This is how the Spurs stay the Spurs.

Deshaun Thomas: He can get buckets in a hurry. It’s a little surprising that Thomas hasn’t found a C.J. Miles-type role for an NBA team yet, but at 22 years old, there’s still plenty of time for that to happen. San Antonio’s roster is understandably crowded, but this guy is too good offensively to ignore for much longer.

Vander Blue: Marquette has a history of pumping out pesky perimeter defenders, and Blue certainly qualifies. If his 3-point stroke finally starts to cooperate, Blue could hold down a steady roster spot. For teams that miss out on Kent Bazemore in free agency, Blue should be an option worth considering if his mechanics are cleaned up.


Utah Jazz


Dante Exum: No more chopped up footage from four years ago -- we’re finally getting the real thing. The Australian guard and fifth overall pick in this year’s draft certainly appears to have all the natural tools you love to have from a lead guard, and he could take on a role in the same vein as someone like Brandon Roy once occupied. That kind of star power is exactly what a franchise like Utah needs.

Trey Burke: How’s the potential backcourt of the future going to co-exist? On paper it seems like a good fit, as both Burke and Exum can swing the ball side-to-side and attack against recovering defenses. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship if the two play off each other instead of simply taking turns, which is always tempting in these types of games.

Rudy Gobert: After exploding onto the scene last season in Orlando Summer League by showing surprising mobility, good hands and natural shotblocking ability, it’s easy to dream on what Gobert might look like with a little more seasoning. Big men typically develop a little slower, but here’s hoping he gets unleashed yet again in the Jazz’s first ever summer-league appearance in Las Vegas.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

Lakers mulling many 'Plan B' options

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
7:15
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
It's no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers' primary plan in free agency was to bring the top two prizes available on the market in LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony into their possession. By bagging one of the top 10 players ever to play the game in James and arguably one of the top 10 most gifted scorers ever to lace them up in Anthony, combining them with Kobe Bryant in the twilight of his career (someone who fits on both of those top 10 lists), the Lakers felt as if they would automatically reboot their team back on a championship trajectory.

It was a solid Plan A. Or it technically still is a solid Plan A until James and Anthony officially inform the Lakers they have plans to the contrary. And even if James should choose to head back to Cleveland or stay in Miami or go elsewhere, and even if Anthony opts to stay in New York or entertain one of the other offers out there from Chicago, Houston or Dallas instead, it's a strategy that Bryant fully supports.

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant, Mitch Kupchak
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesKobe Bryant says GM Mitch Kupchak and Lakers management are doing everything they can to make the moves necessary to turn the team around.
"They're going for it," Bryant said Wednesday of Lakers management. "There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. They're being extremely aggressive and they have solid concepts and plans to be able to get it done. They're pulling out all the stops to ensure that we put a contender on the floor next year. That's all you can ask for. Same thing that they ask of me: When I step out on the court, they expect me to play my heart out. Right? To prepare and to give it my best shot. Sometimes it doesn't always work out the way you want it to, but at least the intention and the commitment was there."

Of course, if the Lakers don't land their top targets this summer, they have a contingency plan in place.

The philosophy behind the Lakers' Plan B is twofold: find a way to be competitive next season to get back on track after a disastrous 27-55 campaign in 2013-14 yet at the same time, protect their cap space flexibility to be able to pursue the biggest names in the summers of 2015 (Kevin Love), 2016 (Kevin Durant) and 2017 (Russell Westbrook).

"It's a good class, but in terms of today who might be at the very top, maybe it's not as large as it might be next year or the year after," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said on draft night when asked about the free-agency market this summer. "And keeping that in mind, we structured our salary knowing that, hey, you might not get two or three guys, but we have enough room to get at least one. And if we don't have one and we choose to, we can go down the road and have flexibility next year and the year after that."

The Lakers' desire to maintain a star-based system is pretty understandable. When you are in one of the media capitals of the world and are charging $3,000 per courtside seat, there needs to be a draw on the court to expect those prices. When you are being paid upward of $200 million per season from your regional sports network television partner, Time Warner Cable SportsNet, there's a certain obligation to have not only a competitive team, but compelling characters to get people to want to tune in and watch.

The specific machinations of the Lakers' Plan B remain a mystery, however. There are many different directions in which they can head, depending on how other pieces fall into place around the league.

"We have several options," Bryant said. "Obviously depending on the timing of this process, it affects some of those. You have a plan that's flexible, but you have a Plan A and a Plan B. But some of the Plan B is affected by the timing of Plan A. So, you just kind of plan it out and wait and see what happens and respond from there."

Here's a look at several ways L.A. could end up responding if it loses out on its top choice:

SportsNation

What should the Lakers do with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony out of the picture?

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,163)

1. Sign Pau Gasol
The way Gasol's season came to a premature end thanks to a bizarre bout of vertigo, it seemed as if his time in L.A. would finish with a whimper after 7½ seasons. Gasol posted on his personal website in February that, "My decision will be based purely on sporting considerations." Meaning, he wants to win. But how much money is he willing to sacrifice to do so? If the Lakers don't end up using max money on Anthony, they could try offering Gasol a big-money, short-term, two-year deal that coincides with the end of Bryant's contract. Think $10 million-$12 million range and even give Gasol a player option for the second year allowing him to skip town for greener pastures should he not feel as if the Lakers were heading in the right direction.

Not only would this allow Gasol to stay in the city he loves for its culture and community -- he has several charities in Los Angeles with which he is very involved -- but it would also keep him from having to suddenly uproot his life at 34 and settle someplace else. Not to mention, just like Gasol is being used as a potential selling point to try to bring in Anthony this summer, he'd be an intriguing potential teammate for the other big names that the Lakers go after in the coming years.

Yes, Oklahoma City and San Antonio -- two of the handful of teams vying for Gasol -- are much more equipped to win right now, but they can offer him far less money. Same goes for Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks. Putting Gasol alongside a healthy Bryant and a promising rookie in Julius Randle next season would not only get the Lakers back on track in the short term, but could help them get one of those other stars they covet in the future.

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Jackson: Optimistic Melo will sign

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
2:26
PM PT
video

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson said Thursday that he hasn't heard from free agent Carmelo Anthony in recent days but remained confident that the All-Star forward would re-sign with the Knicks.

Jackson's optimism stems in part from the rapport he's established with Anthony through the Knicks' meetings with the free agent forward.

"I felt really good about my conversation with Melo," Jackson said. "We really struck a chord. The two of us, I think, feel really passionately about what we're trying to get accomplished. It's his ability to stay, be patient, lead and watch us develop a winner. There's no instantaneous winner that we think is going to happen to the Knicks right now, but we're going to be a lot better."

Jackson said the Knicks have made five different contract offers to Anthony, one of which is believed to be a maximum deal of $129 million over five years.

Anthony's agent, Leon Rose, told ESPN.com on Wednesday afternoon that his client "hasn't made a decision yet."

"No decision yet," another source said. "Still up in air."

Anthony visited the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers last week in addition to meeting with Jackson and the Knicks in Los Angeles.


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Kobe changes tune on Buss siblings

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
8:46
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
ISLA VISTA, Calif. -- Maybe Kobe Bryant was just having a particularly bad day and didn't really mean it. Maybe things have truly changed in the Los Angeles Lakers' organization in the past four months.

Whatever the case, Bryant sounded vastly different Wednesday when he talked about the relationship between Lakers president Jeanie Buss and her brother, Lakers executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss, than he did when he referred to them during his news conference in March to announce he would be missing the final 18 games of the season because of his left knee injury.

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillKobe Bryant seems to have a positive outlook about the Lakers' future, including how Jim Buss and Jeanie Buss are running the team lately.
First, a refresher of his previous comments, when he challenged the direction in which the franchise was heading:

"I think we have to start at the top in terms of the culture of our team," Bryant said. "What kind of culture do we want to have? What kind of system do we want to have? How do we want to play? It starts there. And from there, you can start building out your team accordingly."

Bryant wasn't finished.

"You got to start with Jim," Bryant said. "You got to start with Jim and Jeanie and how that relationship plays out. It starts there and having a clear direction and clear authority. And then it goes down to the coaching staff and what Mike [D'Antoni] is going to do, what they're going to do with Mike, and it goes from there. It's got to start at the top."

Bryant's words were prophetic. Just about six weeks after that news conference, D'Antoni resigned, accepting a buyout worth approximately half of the $4 million he was owed for next season.

And as the calendar creeped into the second week of July, Bryant on Wednesday expressed a renewed faith in the Buss siblings who are running the only professional team he has ever known.

"I am," Bryant confirmed when asked if he was confident in the members of the Buss family leading the Lakers. "I know Jim and Jeanie are on the same page. They're ready to go. They both understand what they need to do individually and how that works together as a unit to turn this organization around. I think you'll see some changes that really fall in line with the history and the culture of the organization. You're seeing James [Worthy] at the draft, and so forth and so on. You start seeing some of the legends from Laker past being around a lot more to make sure that that culture continues to exist."

Yes, it was a downright sunny Bryant on Wednesday, speaking to a throng of reporters during a news conference at the start of his eighth annual youth basketball academy on the campus of UC Santa Barbara.

Then again, Bryant is the same guy who back in 2011 said he truly believed the Lakers would become the first team to come back from an 0-3 series deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs. He considers himself the eternal optimist.

But he's also a cutthroat competitor.

It's easy for him to have confidence right now. There are still infinite possibilities of what the Lakers can do with their free-agency dollars.

But where will that confidence level check in if the Lakers don't look anywhere close to a championship contender next season?

That's when his faith in the Buss family will truly be shown.

Kobe would welcome Melo, Scott

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
5:56
PM PT

ISLA VISTA, Calif. -- It remains to be seen who the Los Angeles Lakers will land in free agency this summer. There's also that pesky question of who they'll hire to be their coach. Kobe Bryant provided a clear vision of how he would like to see the team filled out, however.

All that salary-cap space the Lakers lined up in anticipation of some of the league's brightest talents hitting the market? Start by bringing in Carmelo Anthony.

"I would love to play with him," Bryant said Wednesday at the start of his eighth annual youth basketball academy on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. "We've really clicked since 2008, and I would love to see him out here [in Los Angeles]."

As for who he would like to see roaming the sidelines next season? Look no further than Byron Scott.

"He was my rookie mentor when I first came into the league," Bryant said of Scott before endorsing the former Showtime-era Lakers great for the job. "So I had to do things like get his doughnuts and run errands for him and things like that. We've had a tremendously close relationship throughout the years. So, obviously I know him extremely well. He knows me extremely well. I've always been a fan of his."

Bryant also is a fan of how the Lakers have approached free agency this offseason, no matter how it plays out from here. Even if Anthony chooses to stay in New York and even if LeBron James decides on Miami, Cleveland or someplace else other than L.A., Bryant said his team put its best foot forward.

"The organization, if God forbid we end up with absolutely nothing, it's not for a lack of effort," Bryant said. "So, that's something that I would be extremely proud of. You put forth the effort, you give it your best shot, but you can't [close the deal], what can you do? You just go from there, and then it's on me to go out there and do my best to try to help us win."

It was a change of tune for Bryant since his diatribe in March when he challenged management and said he had "not one lick" of patience for the Lakers to be built back into a championship contender.

"They're going for it," Bryant said of the Lakers' attempt to land both Anthony and James in free agency. "There's no ifs ands or buts about it; they're being extremely aggressive and they have solid concepts and plans to be able to get it done. They're pulling out all the stops to ensure that we put on a contender on the floor next year. That's all you can ask for. Same thing that they ask of me: When I step out on the court, they expect me to play my heart out. Right? To prepare and to give it my best shot. Sometimes it doesn't always work out the way you want it to, but at least the intention and the commitment was there."

Bryant has been part of the Lakers' recruitment process but has taken a more subtle approach.

"[Have] I read Og Mandino to get ready for this free-agency pitch?" Bryant joked, referring to the author of the best-selling book "The Greatest Salesman in the World." "Honestly, no. It's really just about what we have and the flexibility that we have and the market that we have. Because of rules and regulations, obviously the players would be leaving some financial stability on the table, but with that being said, you can only speak to the strengths that you have as an organization. And the strengths that we have are the flexibility, the market and the track record. A proven track record. So, that's what you stick to."

Bryant realizes the direction the Lakers chose to pursue -- waiting for the big fish to make up their minds -- came with the consequence of missing out on lower-profile free agents who reached agreements with competing teams in the past week and a half, but he said the approach was "worth the wait."

"We have several options," Bryant said. "Obviously depending on the timing of this process, it affects some of those. You have a plan that's flexible, but you have a Plan A and a Plan B. But some of the Plan B is affected by the timing of Plan A. So, you just kind of plan it out and wait and see what happens and respond from there."

If Plan A is Anthony or James or both, what is Plan B?

"Plan B is a solid plan," Bryant said. "You just have to play the waiting game a little bit and see how things shake out."

Bryant said landing Anthony certainly would improve the Lakers' chances of retaining Pau Gasol


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[+] EnlargeChris Bosh and LeBron James
Issac Baldizon/Getty ImagesSources say Chris Bosh's free-agency decision hinges on what LeBron James (right) decides to do.

LeBron James was in attendance again Thursday at his basketball camp in Las Vegas, but had yet to announce a decision about where he will play next season. 

James was joined at the LeBron James Skills Academy by his Heat teammate of four years, Dwyane Wade, who also is a free agent. The two were spotted chatting and watching a pickup game together.

There is no timetable for James' decision, but with him reportedly planning to attend the World Cup final Sunday in Brazil, a decision before then seems likely.

James and his agent, Rich Paul, met with Miami Heat officials for more than an hour Wednesday afternoon in Las Vegas, sources told ESPN.com.

James and Paul are done meeting with teams, according to sources close to the situation. James now will talk with his family and make his choice. 


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The Brooklyn Nets will pay a record $90.57 million in luxury taxes for the 2013-14 season, sources told ESPN.com.

The NBA released its audit to teams ahead of the start of the new fiscal year at midnight Wednesday and revealed the numbers, including the Nets' penalty for splurging after trading for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett last year. In all, the Nets paid more than $197 million in salaries and luxury taxes this past season. Only three other teams had paid more than $90 million in total tax since its inception in 2001.

As part of the memo, the new salary cap was set at $63.065 million, a 7.5 percent increase from last season. That is slightly less than the $63.2 million estimation teams had been using. Revenues were $4.5 billion, up 5.3 percent from last year. The NBA also made an early projection of $66 million for the 2015-16 salary cap.

The new luxury tax line will be $76.8 million, a 7.1 percent increase from last season's $71.7 million. The luxury tax was estimated to increase to $80 million for the 2015-16 season.

Maximum salaries have gone up, as well. The new values are $14.7 for players with 0-6 years of experience, $17.7 for players with 7-9 years experience and $20.6 for players with 10 or more years in the league. LeBron James' max would be $20.6 million under those terms.

Overall, there were five luxury tax payers. The New York Knicks


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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 9.7
AssistsK. Marshall 8.8
StealsJ. Meeks 1.4
BlocksP. Gasol 1.5