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Paul Millsap returns to Denver Nuggets on 1-year deal, agent says

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Free agent Paul Millsap has agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal to return to the Denver Nuggets, his agent, DeAngelo Simmons, told The Athletic.

Millsap’s return helps shore up Denver’s rotation, which took a hit with Jerami Grant‘s departure to Detroit.

Millsap spent the past three seasons helping shepherd a young Nuggets team to the next level. He joined the team as a marquee free agent, signing a three-year, $90 million deal in 2017.

While Millsap provided the Nuggets his typical stalwart defense last season, he saw his numbers hit career lows across the board as his playing time was cut down to just over 24 minutes per game.

Millsap did shoot a career high from 3-point range (43.5%), although that shooting crashed down to earth in the playoffs.

The 35-year-old made four straight All-Star teams as a member of the Atlanta Hawks after spending the first seven years of his career in Utah.

Millsap holds career averages of 14 points and 7.3 rebounds.

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Calm and confident, LeBron James says Los Angeles Lakers can ‘absolutely’ repeat in 2021

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LeBron James is confident that the Los Angeles Lakers‘ offseason moves will put them in position to defend their NBA championship.

“We can [repeat]. I mean, it’s that simple,” James said on an episode of “Road Trippin’,” hosted by Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye and Allie Clifton, that aired Tuesday on Spectrum SportsNet. “We absolutely can. … First of all, it all starts with health. You have to have some luck. You have to have health. If we can stay healthy.”

James, participating in his first extended interview since the Lakers left the bubble in Orlando, Florida, with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in tow, then rattled off a few of L.A.’s offseason acquisitions — namely Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol — as a source of confidence when considering a title defense.

“We did get younger,” said James, appearing relaxed in a tie-dyed shirt and sipping on a glass of tequila during the episode. “We have a 27-year-old point guard [in Schroder]. We got the 27-year-old Sixth Man of the Year award [winner] in Trezz. We got younger. We got Marc, who is a Defensive Player of the Year and his IQ, not only playing against him in the NBA, but also playing against him versus Spain with the national team.”

James had well-wishes for his former teammates who are no longer with the Lakers, too: Danny Green and Dwight Howard in Philadelphia; Rajon Rondo in Atlanta; JaVale McGee in Cleveland; and free-agent guard Quinn Cook. “Being a part of a championship ballclub, no matter if you play zero minutes or you’re at 30-40 minutes, that s— all ties into one, because we all challenge each other every day,” he said.

Sometimes scrutinized for having a heavy hand when it comes to personnel decisions on the teams he has played for throughout his career, James hinted at some future roster possibilities for the Lakers, who will begin training camp on Thursday.

“Quinn, he’s a pro, he’s definitely going to get a look,” James said. “Hopefully back with us. … Hopefully we may bring him back.”

He also did not close the door on Marc Gasol’s older brother, Pau Gasol, potentially making a return to the franchise where he teamed with Kobe Bryant to win two championships.

“We’ll see,” James said when asked if he thought the 40-year-old Gasol could return to L.A. “We’ll see, I mean, maybe. We’ll see. We’ll see.”

It sounds like there won’t be much to see from James, who is embarking on his 18th season, during L.A.’s four-game preseason slate starting Dec. 11 with two games against the LA Clippers, followed by two against the Phoenix Suns.

“Preseason, I’m not quite worried about,” he said. “I am rounding 36. … Don’t worry about me in the preseason.”

The exhibition schedule will be the first time the league hosts games in NBA arenas after putting the 2019-20 season on hiatus in March because of the pandemic. James and the Lakers emerged victorious from the 22-team bubble, which required daily COVID-19 testing, but there is skepticism about the NBA’s plan for the 2020-21 season.

“I’m very intrigued on seeing what the protocols are going to be,” James said. “There’s been discussions, there’s been talks. They wanted to make sure that we can get the season going. Obviously for a lot of different reasons.”

Jefferson interrupted James’ thoughts to suggest “money” being a primary motivator for the NBA, which James agreed with.

“The biggest reason,” James said.

League owners believed the NBA could lose anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion by not starting this season by Christmas, according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “But the safety of our players and the safety of our owners and the safety of our GMs and the safety of our coaches and training staff and things, that’s more important than anything,” James said. “I’m very intrigued in seeing how they deal with this because we all know COVID is still very active. And they actually told us that in the winter, it’s going to be more active than anytime and that’s what we’re in right now — either if you’re seeing snow or not, this is the wintertime and it’s picking up steam. So, I just want to see how we tackle this.”

While James recently shared photos of an on-court workout with his 16-year-old son, Bronny, he revealed on the podcast he has only “touched a basketball twice,” during the truncated offseason. Of course, the last time he had the rock in his hands, things went quite well for James. He won his fourth NBA title while being named Finals MVP for a fourth time after beating the Miami Heat 4-2 in the championship round.

But not before enduring the challenge of relocating to Florida for more than three months.

“It’s almost the same feeling as the first time you go to a haunted house,” James said. “You get excited with your friends. Your friends are telling you how great it is. And you get juiced up, juiced up and juiced up and juiced up — you really don’t realize how scary that s— is until you get inside of that haunted house. And that’s what I compare to the bubble.

“We were all excited to get back. We were excited to be playing basketball again. I mean, we stopped play in March, so we were all excited, but you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into until you get inside of the bubble and they tell you, ‘That right there, you cannot go outside that gate.'”

James also reflected on the moment when the Milwaukee Bucks led a wildcat strike during the first round of the playoffs in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. James said the Bucks’ unilateral decision caused uncertainty for the rest of the league.

“They had made a decision to boycott the game because of what happened in their backyard back in Milwaukee, with another innocent Black man being gunned down,” James recalled. “So I got on the phone with Chris Paul, because their game was next, and I called him and Russ [Westbrook] and I told them straight up, ‘There’s no way that we can go out on the floor as the Lakers and play our game with what just transpired. What are you guys going to do?’ And they felt the same way. … We would look stupid if we went out and played and Milwaukee decided to sit down and we’ve been preaching this solidarity thing as a brotherhood. Because we are a brotherhood. Even when you get blindsided from your brother.”

James used a military analogy to try to get his point across.

“When we’re all together as an army, if we’re an army and we’re going out for battle and we say we’re here in solidarity and someone in the front decides to go before we say, ‘Charge!’ Now we’re all caught off guard,” he said. “So that’s what happened. And to be honest, I was ready to walk away. I was ready to walk away. I had called my wife and called my mom and told them that I was probably headed home.”

He also explained his reasoning for walking out of an all-hands-on-deck meeting in the aftermath of the Bucks’ boycott, when several members of the Lakers and Clippers joined him, leaving many in the room thinking those teams would abandon the season.

“When I walked out, we sat there and talked for two, three, four hours and there was still no plan. So I walked out. Because my time is very valuable. And I knew what could help the change,” James said. “But when you’re dealing with a group with a lot of emotional [people], a lot of ego, a lot of guys that are passionate about themselves and what they believe in, then it’s hard to figure out a plan at that very moment. So it was best for me to step out.”

It ended up being a critical juncture in NBA history and one of the many stories from the bubble that will surely be rehashed for years to come.

“Ninety-six days, 95 nights,” James said of his time in the bubble. “I will never forget it.”

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Active LA Clippers secure veteran depth as training camp opens, sign forward Nicolas Batum

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The LA Clippers added some needed veteran depth at forward by signing Nicolas Batum on Tuesday.

Batum joins the Clippers after the Charlotte Hornets waived the forward and stretched the remaining $27 million on his five-year, $120-million contract on Sunday. Batum, who turns 32 later in December, gives the Clippers depth behind Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

The Clippers also announced the signings of veteran point guard Reggie Jackson, guard Ky Bowman, forward Malik Fitts, guard Jordan Ford and guard Rayjon Tucker on Tuesday night, as training camps opened throughout the league.

With Batum, the Clippers hope the 12-year veteran has plenty left in his tank to help offset the loss of Montrezl Harrell and JaMychal Green — key front court players last season — via free agency.

Batum averaged 11.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists over his career with the Portland Trail Blazers and Hornets. However, the 6-9 forward played in just 22 games last season, averaging 3.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists.

Starting center Ivica Zubac said the Clippers are motivated to prove people wrong and wipe the bad taste left in their mouths from their 3-1 series collapse in the second round to Denver last season.

“I think this year we’re coming in, some people don’t even put us in the conversation about contending for a championship,” Zubac said on Tuesday. “We like that. We like all that negative talk and everything that’s around us. We like that challenge. We want to prove that we’re that team, that we can do it.

“I think that’s going to be the mood all season. Guys are ready, guys been working out since we were out of the bubble and guys are as motivated as ever and we’re ready to work. We’re ready to step out on the court and compete.”

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Dallas Mavericks-Los Angeles Lakers to highlight Christmas Day slate

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Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic will make his Christmas Day debut against the world champion Los Angeles Lakers as part of a blockbuster slate of tentative holiday games, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The NBA is tentatively scheduled to open its 2020-21 season on Dec. 22. But Christmas Day will again feature the NBA’s marquee games to get the season jump-started.

In addition to Doncic playing for the first time on Christmas against LeBron James and the defending champs in Los Angeles (8 p.m. ET), Zion Williamson is slated to make his Christmas debut when the New Orleans Pelicans kick off the star-powered holiday games with a visit to Miami to play the reigning Eastern Conference champion Heat (noon ET). The Pelicans played on Christmas last year, but an injured Williamson missed that contest against Denver.

After that game, Stephen Curry makes his return to the Christmas stage when the Golden State Warriors visit Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks (2:30 p.m. ET). Curry missed almost all of last season following hand surgery. While he will have to play this season without teammate Klay Thompson (out for the season after Achilles surgery), Curry will have his new big man, second overall pick James Wiseman, to help battle Antetokounmpo, the two-time MVP.

The Nets‘ star tandem of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving also is in line to make its Christmas Day debut when Brooklyn faces the Boston Celtics (5 p.m. ET). The Nets enter the season with massive expectations with Durant and Irving finally playing together while being led by rookie head coach Steve Nash. Durant sat out all of last season while recovering from a ruptured right Achilles suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals. It will be Irving’s first game back to Boston since joining the Nets in free agency in July 2019.

The NBA certainly will be hoping that Doncic and James will face each other in the showcase game of the day, but James, 35, will be just over 10 weeks removed from helping the Lakers win the championship in Game 6 of the Finals over the Heat on Oct. 11. The Lakers, who added Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder in free agency, could opt to ease James back into the season.

The LA Clippers will close out the night by traveling to Denver to face the Nuggets (10:30 p.m. ET). When those two teams last faced each other in the bubble in Orlando, Florida, in September, the Nuggets shocked the Clippers by erasing a 3-1 series deficit and beating the popular pick to win it all in the second round of the playoffs. That stunning collapse led Clippers owner Steve Ballmer to part ways with coach Doc Rivers and replace him with Ty Lue. Lue and a new coaching staff hope to unlock the Clippers’ chemistry and incorporate free-agent addition Serge Ibaka alongside Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Ibaka and Leonard won a championship together in Toronto in 2019.

Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic will look to take the next step and compete for a championship after leading the Nuggets to the Western Conference finals.

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