Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (July 23): Kyrie Irving learns from LeBron James in Cleveland

Plus, Lakers see bright future for Ingram, 'Melo reportedly still focused on Houston, and more

NBA.com Staff

This morning’s headlines:

How Kyrie learned from LeBron — So after the Draft ended and free agency slowed down and summer league shut down, it turns out the NBA offseason never ends. This weekend’s big story has been the trade request from Kyrie Irving, and as Adrian Wojnarowski writes for ESPN.com, Irving’s reported request for a trade sure seems informed by the way his teammate, LeBron James, has handled his own negotiations:

For rescuing his career from the depths of the draft lottery and delivering him into the championship chase, Kyrie Irving will be forever grateful to LeBron James. Together they made history in Cleveland. Titles last forever, but history shows that partnerships are temporary arrangements.

As much as anything, James has taught everyone — including Irving — that the best players on the planet can influence, shape and even control their fates and futures. James is responsible for the empowerment of the modern basketball superstar, which speaks to an important lesson that’s resonating with Irving: Dictate terms before they’re dictated to you.

Irving has watched the way James has leveraged the Cavaliers for commissions on the contracts of his agency’s clients, watched the way James’ signing of short-term contracts has bent the will of an organization. James inspires a perpetual state of unrest and uncertainty, and everyone — ownership and management, coaches and players — is left scrambling to satisfy him. This strategy has been profitable in important ways, including winning at the highest level.

In so many ways, James has created the template for modern free agency, deal-making and profit-taking. From Cleveland to Miami and back again, James has taught an NBA generation to share the ball, the wealth and, maybe most of all, the ownership of self in a billion-dollar industry.

This is why Irving’s declaration of independence isn’t a betrayal of LeBron James but an honoring of him. James isn’t committed to the Cavaliers’ future, and now neither is Irving. James has educated his starry peers: Never lose your leverage. And now Irving gathers his on the way to the door.

In registering his preference for a trade, league sources said, Irving divulged to Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert that he’s become increasingly uneasy about a future that includes a roster constructed to complement LeBron James — a roster that could be devoid of James come free agency in 2018.

With James refusing to commit to Cleveland beyond the coming season, and with the growing verdict that James is intrigued with pursuing a Los Angeles Lakers exit plan, Irving has become proactive in controlling his own career arc. The Cavaliers are constructed to play a slow, half-court game around James, personnel ill-suited to transition into an up-tempo style with Irving as the centerpiece. The Cavs are paying Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith, James’ Klutch Sports clients, for significant deals, and those contracts won’t easily leave the Cavaliers’ books.

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Why Ingram remains untouchable — With all the moves the Los Angeles Lakers have put together this offseason, one player they have reportedly refused to consider moving has been forward Brandon Ingram. As Mark Medina explains, the Lakers consider Ingram an integral part of their future:

The phones stayed attached to their hands or ears. Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka hoped one of their many calls would turn into a franchise-changing trade.

Instead, the Lakers often heard something that made them hang up. Johnson said “everybody” inquired about second-year forward Brandon Ingram.

“Anybody that called us wanted him,” Johnson said. “We said, ‘No thank you.’”

The Lakers have considered Ingram untouchable, as they have placed higher value in his long-term trajectory and work habits than his statistics.

After the Lakers drafted Ingram at No. 2 in 2016, he made the league’s all-rookie second team while finishing seventh in his class in points per game (9.4) and 21st in field-goal percentage (40.2). Still, Ingram started in 40 out of 79 appearances and logged a league-leading 28.8 minutes among rookies last season because of how he exerted his influence.

“When you work as hard as he does and he has the talent that he has, eventually you’re going to figure it out,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “We’ve been seeing that all year.”

The Lakers saw that in various ways.

Johnson praised Ingram for his positional versatility with his 6-foot-9, 190-pound frame, ball-handling, developing shot and defensive hustle. Johnson also credited Ingram for his persistent training even when “he was supposed to have days off.” Ingram inspired the Lakers with his dominance in one Summer League game before sitting out to rest a cramp. He impressed the Lakers with his subsequent off-court leadership and Johnson publicly thanked him in a recent press conference. Johnson later said, “those are the type of guys we have to keep.”

“The guy only cares about winning and basketball,” Johnson said. “He’s quiet and doesn’t do anything else. He is a very intelligent young man and is our hardest worker.”

As he sat down in a restaurant of the team hotel during Summer League, Ingram expressed appreciation for the Lakers’ unflinching commitment. He also seemed determined to ensure the Lakers do not regret their investment.

“It’s definitely a good compliment,” Ingram said. “I definitely want to show that I’m going to be a reliable guy to put in the work. I’ll do everything I can to reach my potential.”

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‘Melo focused on trade to Houston — Irving’s presence on the trade market means an All-Star might be available, for the right price. But according to Frank Isola at the New York Daily News, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony is focused on making a deal to Houston happen:

Irving reportedly has a wish list of four teams; the Knicks, Spurs, Timberwolves and Miami Heat. The latter is the one to watch because Wechsler, who represented Alonzo Mourning for years, has a close relationship with the Heat and Miami president Pat Riley.

And wouldn’t that be something for Riley to get back at LeBron by trading for his point guard and hurting Cleveland’s chances of winning an NBA title?

The Spurs make sense because it is a first-rate franchise with a winning pedigree. As for Minnesota, Irving sees a team on the rise with a coach, Tom Thibodeau, who coached him on the U.S. National team. The Knicks could have hired Thibodeau last summer but Phil Jackson couldn’t control him and force a proven coach to run the triangle so it never stood a chance

Meanwhile, Thibodeau traded for Jimmy Butler and signed Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford this summer. And Kyrie would go there if given the choice. Again, nice job Phil.

The Knicks will contact Cleveland and make a pitch. The obvious move would be to trade Carmelo Anthony and a few first round picks for a bona-fide superstar. However, a source close to Anthony said late Friday that the All Star forward is focused on getting a deal done with Houston.

Anthony would have to waive his no-trade and there is no guarantee that Anthony would do that to join a Cavs team that didn’t have Irving. Also, Anthony probably knows better than anyone that LeBron is leaving next July.

Carmelo could opt out of the final year of his contract next summer and become a free agent himself but he’d be giving up $25 million. If he were traded to Cleveland and stays for two years, his teammates would be J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert but not LeBron and Kyrie. Basically, he’d have the Knicks without the Manhattan lifestyle.

The other scenario is that the Knicks offer Kristaps Porzingis which is sure to get Cleveland’s attention. But then the Knicks would be building around Kyrie and trying to land a second and third star to play with him.

Still, the Knicks are in the conversation. They haven’t done anything to be in the conversation other than Madison Square Garden sits less than 20 miles from West Orange. That real estate on W. 33rd Street still means something even if the team has been a trainwreck.

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