Lonzo Ball, Ben Simmons (NBA) Rookie of the Year NBA Rookie Season wins.

Lakers

Lakers

A ballyhooed NBA rookie class has caused disagreement among Las Vegas oddsmakers.

William Hill’s Nevada sportsbook on Wednesday opened Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball as the favorite to win Rookie of the Year at 9-5. The next day, the Westgate SuperBook went with Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons as the favorite at 5-2.

Dallas Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr. and 76ers guard Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick, are next at 4-1 and 13-2, respectively. Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox and Boston Celtics small forward Jayson Tatum are each listed at 8-1, rounding out the players with odds in the single digits at William Hill.

Simmons sat out last season, recovering from foot surgery, but is expected to make his debut this year and spearhead a Sixers squad with playoff aspirations.

“We expect Philadelphia to exceed the Lakers in wins and make the playoffs in the East, with Simmons having better stats [than Ball],” Jeff Sherman, assistant manager at the Westgate, told ESPN in a text message. “Had Simmons come out in this loaded class, he still would have been the No 1 pick in the draft.”

Simmons and the 76ers are currently favorites to make the playoffs at the Westgate. Ball and the Lakers are 6-1 underdogs to reach the postseason in the rugged Western Conference.

This will be the first season that Nevada sportsbooks will offer betting on the NBA Rookie of the Year and regular-season MVP. William Hill made the request to gaming control and, upon approval, opened betting on the awards Wednesday.

“With so much attention on the rookie class and the stars of the league, this is a fantastic year to start offering them,” Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill U.S., said in a release.

Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook opened as the favorite to win the regular-season MVP. Westbrook, who averaged a triple-double last season on his way to winning the MVP, is listed at 5-2 at William Hill.

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant is next at 4-1, followed by Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James at 6-1 and San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard at 13-2. Houston Rockets guard James Harden is 15-2.

Released the NBA schedule, including the main free agent for the first time to visit the old team.

Jimmy Butler and Gordon Hayward will have to wait until 2018 to return to their old stomping grounds, but Paul George will see the Pacers before Christmas.

The NBA released its schedule Monday, and the ESPN and ABC television schedules include Butler’s return to Chicago, Hayward’s reunion with Utah and George’s first trip to Indiana after all three stars moved during the offseason.

George was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder after he made it clear that he would not re-sign with the Pacers when he becomes a free agent next summer. George and MVP teammate Russell Westbrook will visit the Pacers on Dec. 13 in a game that will air on ESPN.

Chicago and Utah will have to wait longer to welcome back their former stars. It will be one big former Bulls reunion on ESPN in Chicago on Feb. 9 when Butler, Taj Gibson and coach Tom Thibodeau face the Bulls. Chicago traded Butler and the 16th overall pick (Justin Patton) to Minnesota for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick (Lauri Markkanen).

Jazz fans will see Hayward, who signed with the Boston Celtics, on March 28 in a game on ESPN.

Chris Paul will be back in Los Angeles to visit his former team, the Clippers, for the first time as a member of the Houston Rockets on Jan. 15.

Excluding the opening-week and Christmas games that were revealed last week, here are some other notable matchups that were revealed for next season:

On Oct. 26, New Orleans Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins gets his wish to return to Sacramento and play against his former team. Cousins has been looking forward to this game since he was traded by the Kings on All-Star Sunday.

The Rockets play the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 1 (ESPN). If Carmelo Anthony is still in New York, he will face the team that he was willing to waive his no-trade clause for, only to see the Knicks hold out for a better deal.

The Brooklyn Nets visit the Lakers in D’Angelo Russell’s return to Los Angeles on Nov. 3. The Lakers traded Russell to Brooklyn — in a deal involving Brook Lopez — to make room for Lonzo Ball.

Joel Embiid will face Ball for the first time when the Philadelphia 76ers visit the Lakers on Nov. 15 (ESPN). Embiid and LaVar Ball, Lonzo’s outspoken father, traded social media jabs during the summer. Also, No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz faces Ball, the No. 2 pick, for the first time in the NBA.

The Lakers are on ESPN 11 times this season, including on Nov. 22 when they visit the Sacramento Kings for a budding rivalry showdown between Ball and fifth overall pick De’Aaron Fox. Fox was disappointed when Ball was held out of a highly anticipated showdown at the Las Vegas Summer League in July.

On Jan. 3, the Thunder visit the Lakers (ESPN). Considering that George made it no secret that he originally wanted to become a Laker before being traded, this game will have plenty of buzz. The Lakers and Magic Johnson are gearing toward a big free-agency summer in 2018. George will be a free agent, and Westbrook could be too if he opts not to sign a supermax extension. Both are from Southern California.

The second of two regular-season matchups between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will be played Jan. 15 in Cleveland. The first game is set for Christmas Day.

On Jan. 20, the Thunder visit the Cavaliers in an ABC game.

On March 11, LeBron James makes his annual trip to play the Lakers in Los Angeles (ESPN). There will be plenty of hype surrounding James’ future and the possibility of him becoming a Laker next summer. James can opt out of his contract after this season, and he has been the subject of speculation with the Lakers preparing for their big superstar shopping spree.

For the first time in league history, the schedule does not have any team playing four games in five nights. This is part of the NBA’s effort to cut down on injuries and reduce the number of games in which teams rest healthy players.

Back-to-back slates also have been reduced to an average of 14.4 per team, down from 16.3 per team last season. No team has more than 16 back-to-backs this season.

The network faces the Thunder in Mexico City.

Mexico City

Mexico City

Russell Westbrook will have the chance to collect a triple-double on foreign soil when the Oklahoma City Thunder play the Brooklyn Nets in Mexico this season.

The NBA Mexico City games will feature the Nets playing regular-season games against the Thunder and the Miami Heat.

The Thunder’s Westbrook — the reigning Most Valuable Player — and his new All-Star teammate Paul George face the Nets on Dec. 7. The Nets, featuring Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell, then play the Heat and Hassan Whiteside on Dec. 9. ESPN and Televisa in Mexico will televise the game, which will also be available to watch on NBA League Pass.

“We are thrilled to be able to participate in the NBA Mexico City games,” Heat president Pat Riley said in a statement. “The game of basketball is truly a global game and we are proud to be a part of its return to Mexico City. We look forward to our first-ever regular season game there and bringing the HEAT experience to our fans in Mexico.”

The games in Mexico City, hosted by events company Zignia Live, are part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the first NBA game in Mexico. In January, the NBA held two games in Mexico, with Phoenix playing against Dallas and San Antonio.

The Nets’ games against Oklahoma City and Miami will be the 25th and 26th games in Mexico since 1992, the most held in any country outside the United States and Canada.

“They will also mark the 25th anniversary of our first game in Mexico City, a milestone in our relationship with our Mexican fans and a further indication of our desire to strengthen our ties to Mexico and Latin America,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.

Michael Jordan: You can beat the LaVar Ball with one leg

Michael Jordan is quite sure he’d beat LaVar Ball in a game of one-on-one … even “if I was one-legged.”

Months after Ball made headlines by saying he “would kill” Jordan “back in my heyday,” the Hall of Famer finally discussed Ball’s comments.

“You got to understand the source. I think he played college, maybe?” Jordan told campers at his Flight School basketball camp Monday. “He averaged 2.2 points a game. Really?

“It doesn’t deserve a response, but I’m [going to] give it to you because you asked the question. I don’t think he could beat me if I was one-legged.”

Ball, the father of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball, fired the first shot in March.

“I would just back [Jordan] in and lift him off the ground and call a foul every time he fouls me when I do a jump hook to the right or the left,” Ball told USA Today Sports as to how he’d beat Jordan. “He cannot stop me one-on-one. He better make every shot ’cause he can’t go around me. He’s not fast enough. And he can only make so many shots outside before I make every bucket under the rim.”

Ball responded to Jordan’s assertion Tuesday as mere “entertainment.”

“Look at everybody, man. Everybody used to say, ‘You know, I think Wilt Chamberlain is better than Shaq; I think Oscar Robertson is better than LeBron.’ Now the story is LaVar is better than Michael Jordan,” Ball told The Really Big Show on ESPN 850 WKNR in Cleveland.

“C’mon, I didn’t even play basketball in the pros and they’re talking about me and Michael Jordan. That’s what I’m talking about. He tells me he can beat me with one leg. Well, guess what: I can beat him with one hand. Now we both look like we out there like we can’t play.”

His Big Baller Brand also chimed in:

Ball averaged 2.2 points and 2.3 rebounds a game in the 1987-88 season at Washington State before he transferred to a smaller school seeking more playing time. That same season, Jordan averaged an NBA-leading 35 points for the Chicago Bulls.

LeBron James will not give up the knight’s non-trading terms

No matter the reconstruction of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster, no matter the potential for heightened inner turmoil, no matter the win-loss record, and with or without Kyrie Irving, LeBron James will not waive his no-trade clause for any teams at any point during the 2017-18 season, league sources tell ESPN.

James, Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony are the only players equipped with no-trade clauses. James holds a $35.6 million player option for the 2018-19 campaign, which means he could elect to test unrestricted free agency next summer.

In regards to that scenario, a decision has not been made.

The four-time MVP winner, according to sources, is focused solely on competing for a championship as a member of the Cavs and will fulfill his contractual obligations, whatever unexpected circumstances may arise.

Irving’s request for a trade has put the franchise in a distressing position considering it has gone to three straight NBA Finals and has captured one title in that span. The Cavaliers are very much in win-now mode, but they face the arduous task of seeking to obtain close to equal value if they trade Irving.

If the Cavs find the most profitable suitor, the process of developing and sustaining continuity begins, and it automatically puts the likes of Golden State and San Antonio laps ahead in that area from the onset of the season. Furthermore, Boston, Toronto and Washington continue to knock on the door of Eastern Conference supremacy.

ESPN reported that James is disappointed with the Irving development, and Cleveland.com reported that he was frustrated by owner Dan Gilbert sabotaging the front office and the lack of offseason moves. However, sources are adamant that James is committed to leading the team with the personnel the organization imports to training camp in September.

His primary focus is next season, an entire season with the Cavs in pursuit of another championship.

Introducing Miss Dennis Smith Jr., Future Mavericks franchise

LAS VEGAS — Dennis Smith Jr. didn’t play cards with his teammates, put on a pair of Beats by Dre headphones or catch a nap during the first team flight of his NBA career. He wanted to work, not that he had much choice in the matter.

Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. is off to a strong start at Las Vegas Summer League.

 
Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle sat side by side with Smith and spent the two and a half hours it took to fly to Las Vegas putting the No. 9 pick in the draft through a video tutorial. They watched a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, with Carlisle particularly emphasizing details of the Dallas point guards’ defense against MVP Russell Westbrook.

They studied some of the Mavs’ offensive sets and discussed Smith’s responsibilities, how he’d fit and situations he should expect to see, the rookie impressing Carlisle with his intellectual curiosity for the game.

“His eyes light up when you turn on NBA film,” Carlisle said proudly a couple of days later, fresh off watching Smith light up the Phoenix Suns’ summer league team for 25 efficient points in 27 minutes, driving and finishing in electrifying fashion for several buckets.

“I like your point guard,” a Western Conference coach told Carlisle as they greeted each other after the game.

The Mavs, whose draft room erupted with glee when the New York Knicks selected Frank Ntilikina with the previous pick and left Smith on the board for Dallas, really like their point guard. So much so that Carlisle, without prompting, declared on draft night that he projected Smith as an instant starter and impact player.

“I appreciated it,” Smith said. “That’s one of the great minds in basketball. He’s one of the best coaches in the league, if not the best. When he said that, it’s high praise, but that means I’ve got to come in and put in the work, if he’s got that much faith in me.”

There is a buzz around the Mavs, who haven’t had a draft pick develop into a long-term starter in Dallas for more than a decade, that the 19-year-old Smith might be the franchise player they so desperately need with Dirk Nowitzki (the No. 9 pick in 1998) entering his 20th season and in the midst of his twilight.

“I think that he has amazing ability that needs to be brought along the right way,” Carlisle said. “That’s on all of us. That’s on Mark [Cuban], on me, on our coaching staff, our training staff, our strength and conditioning staff. You don’t just declare a guy a franchise cornerstone player. You help put him in the position to get there. That’s going to be our plan.”

Smith says he sees the glass as half full when asked about slipping to No. 9 in the draft, stressing that he’s ecstatic with his situation, landing with a franchise that features one of the NBA’s premier coaches and respected, unselfish veterans to help groom him. However, he can’t deny that he felt it was a slap in the face to see eight players picked before him, including four point guards.

“You could say that, because I believe that I’m the best player, as should everybody else,” Smith said. “They do their work, but I definitely took it as an insult.”

It’s never wise to come to grand conclusions during the first week of summer league, but Smith certainly looked like a Rookie of the Year candidate while leading the Mavs to wins in the first two games, averaging 19.5 points on 50 percent shooting, 7.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists. Everyone in the league knew that Smith, whose vertical leap measured at 48 inches, possessed elite athleticism. He has impressed in Vegas with a rare blend of aggressiveness, poise and discipline.

“He’s strong, plays with force, but he also plays with great vision and good discipline,” Carlisle said. “That’s a really unusual thing for a young guy like that.”

The Mavs, who have had 14 players start at point guard in the five seasons since Jason Kidd’s Dallas departure, identified the position as their primary need early in the draft preparation process. Carlisle, who started studying for the draft in March with the Mavs out of playoff contention, instantly fell in love with Smith’s game.

“The one thing that I remember thinking to myself right off the bat is, there’s no way this guy’s going to be there at No. 9,” Carlisle said, chuckling at the Mavs’ luck. “I thought he was a top-five talent for sure.”

Some questions about Smith’s character might have contributed to the Mavs’ good fortune. North Carolina State went 15-17 in Smith’s lone season, with coach Mark Gottfried getting fired in February, and frustration was frequently evident in Smith’s body language. He got a bad rap for being a lazy, unwilling defender and there were whispers about him being a bad teammate.

Smith never fell out of the top five on Dallas’ board, and the Mavs did extensive homework on his character when it appeared that he could be available when they picked. Their findings reinforced that he was a player they wanted, according to Mavs owner Mark Cuban.

Cuban had Don Kalkstein, the Mavs’ sports psychologist, interview Smith and expected to get a mixed review afterward. Kalkstein instead told Cuban that Smith was one of the best interviews he had ever done.

Smith never visited Dallas before the draft, but Carlisle, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson and team executive Michael Finley asked him several pointed questions during a 30-minute FaceTime conversation days before the draft. Smith struck them as “a kid that was very confident but had an appropriate level of humility,” as Carlisle put it.

“It was perception over reality,” Cuban said. “We talked to people around him, talked to people he had played with, people who had worked with him. None of those [negative] things came out. It was the exact opposite — great teammate, tough situation with the coach getting [fired late in the season]. The perception wasn’t reality. We just had to find out for ourselves.”

A perception of Carlisle is that the coach is particularly tough on rookies and on point guards.

“I’m both,” Smith said with a big smile. “It’s cool, though.”

Carlisle scoffs at his reputation regarding point guards and rookies: “I think if you ask Yogi Ferrell, he’d say that it was a pretty good situation meeting up with me.” Ferrell, a midseason call-up from the D-League, was a second-team All-Rookie selection last season.

Smith says he’s fine with being coached hard, pointing to his background as a football player, a cornerback who had a scholarship offer from Wake Forest and interest from many other programs before deciding to focus on basketball after his sophomore year of high school. He’s eager to learn and is grateful that Carlisle’s commitment to him is strong enough that they’ve had individual sessions in the gym every day that Smith has been in Dallas.

Smith also readily admits that he needs to be taught how to play defense. He believes that. He also understands that orchestrating the offense to make sure that established players like Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews are getting the ball when and where they want it is the key on-court factor in determining how impactful he can be as a rookie.

“I don’t have to hunt for buckets,” Smith said, figuring he’ll score plenty within the flow of Carlisle’s pick-and-roll-intensive system. “They’re going to come naturally. I’m going to get to the rack. That’s a given.”

Carlisle has butted heads with point guards over playcalling in the past, most notably Rajon Rondo, and has perhaps the thickest playbook in the league. But, as he did for Ferrell, Carlisle plans to scale things back significantly this season. He wants Smith to operate within a simple structure that allows him to focus more on making plays than running plays.

If Smith coasts, Carlisle won’t hesitate to start Ferrell or veteran J.J. Barea at point guard and make the rookie earn the job. But the reality is that the Mavs are in the early stages of a rebuilding process, and the development of their prized lottery pick is as important as anything this season. Carlisle insists he can deal with Smith’s anticipated rookie growing pains because the potential short- and long-term gains are so promising.

“He’s got a unique skill set and unique ability level athletically that we haven’t had at that position in my nine years,” Carlisle said. “Fans are going to see a different element to our game because of him. There’s no question about that. It’s a different kind of force that he brings to the game at the point guard position. We’re excited.

“This is great for our franchise. I’m a loyal franchise guy, and this is something that we desperately need.”

The Celtics signed Aron Baynes a year contract

The Boston Celtics plan to sign free-agent center Aron Baynes to a one-year, $4.3 million contract, according to a league source.

The 6-foot-10 Baynes, born in New Zealand but an Australia national, averaged 4.9 points and 4.4 rebounds over 15.5 minutes per game last season in Detroit. Baynes provides much-needed help on the defensive glass, grabbing 21.6 percent of all defensive caroms when he was on the floor last season.

The Celtics can’t officially sign Baynes until a sequence of moves that will include first signing Gordon Hayward. Boston traded Avery Bradley to Detroit last week in order to generate the necessary cap space to sign Hayward to a maximum-contract salary that starts at $29.7 million for the 2017-18 season.

The Vertical first reported Baynes’ signing.

The Celtics were thin up front with the recent departures of Kelly Olynyk (4 years, $50 million with Miami) and Amir Johnson (1 year, $11 million with Philadelphia). Baynes adds a bruiser to a big-man depth chart in which the only other veteran is Al Horford.

While the Celtics have a bunch of players capable of playing as undersized 4s, the team is thin on pure centers. Boston’s frontcourt is likely to be filled out with first-year players in Ante Zizic (2016 first-round pick who played last year in Croatia and Turkey), Daniel Theis (undrafted, played last year in Germany), and Guerschon Yabusele (2016 first-round pick who played last year in China and the G-League).

Baynes playfully hinted at his Boston signing on social media on Sunday afternoon.

The Detroit Pistons owned a net rating of plus-5.2 with Baynes on the court last season, best among the team’s regulars. Detroit posted a defensive rating of 105.3 for the season but that number plummeted to 98.5 with Baynes on the court. Baynes’ overall rebound rate of 15.8 was third on the Pistons — trailing Andre Drummond and little-used Boban Marjanovic — but that number would have easily led the Celtics. Olynyk topped Boston regulars with a rebound rate of 13.1 last season.

The 30-year-old Baynes is a veteran of five NBA seasons. He began his NBA career with the San Antonio Spurs in 2013 and has averaged 5.2 points and 4.1 rebounds over 14.1 minutes per game for his career.

Serge Ibaka insisted on using the Raptors, agreed to three years $ 65 million in transactions

Serge Ibaka

 

Free-agent forward Serge Ibaka has agreed to a three-year, $65 million contract to stay with the Toronto Raptors, league sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Ibaka’s representation, ASM Sports, confirmed that a deal had been agreed to in a tweet Sunday.

Acquired from the Orlando Magic in a trade for Terrence Ross and a first-round pick, Ibaka averaged 14.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 23 games after the All-Star break deal. Brought in to give the Raptors’ All-Star backcourt some much-needed help inside, Ibaka helped Toronto eliminate the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round by averaging 12.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in the series.

However, Ibaka’s production on the glass dipped considerably to 3.8 rebounds per game during Cleveland’s sweep of Toronto in the second round. Ibaka averaged 16.5 points per game against the Cavaliers but shot 48.3 percent from the field in the series.

In 56 games with Orlando last season, Ibaka averaged 15.1 points and 6.8 rebounds.

Ibaka was ranked No. 16 on the list of top available free agents this offseason by ESPN’s Kevin Pelton.

Lonzo Ball said the Lakers had a plan, but he did not do that

NEW YORK — After seeing the Los Angeles Lakers trade D’Angelo Russell on Tuesday, Lonzo Ball says he believes Magic Johnson has “a plan.”

Whether that includes drafting Ball with the second overall pick in the NBA draft on Thursday night, Ball said he is making no assumptions despite the fact that most believe he will be a Laker.

“You know, the Lakers have a plan,” Ball said when asked whether he thought the Russell trade was to make room for him to play point guard. “So whatever that is, we will see whatever that is in the future.”

Speaking at media availability for draft prospects, Ball deftly handled every question that came his way with straightforward answers, in stark contrast to his father, LaVar, who has made headlines with many of his eye-catching comments.

Despite the fact that he said he has met with only the Lakers during the pre-draft process, the UCLA point guard stuck to the script that he does not know whether Johnson will make his dream come true of becoming a Los Angeles Laker.

“It will mean a lot to play for my hometown [team] and learn from the best point guard ever,” Ball said of Johnson, the team’s president of basketball operations. “Yeah that’s crazy to me [if it happens]. Magic Johnson is the best point guard ever. … Words [couldn't] describe that.”

Ball said the Lakers told him that they would embrace his outspoken father as well if they pick him.

“They were open-armed and said they loved my dad,” Ball said when asked whether the Lakers had any concerns about LaVar Ball. “So I left it at that.”

On Tuesday, the Lakers agreed to trade Russell, their second overall pick from the 2015 draft, and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick in Thursday’s draft. Russell, 21, averaged 15.6 points and 4.8 assists this past season.

The trade not only clears cap space for the Lakers to pursue at least one max free agent next summer but it would also appear to pave the way for Ball to come in and run point for coach Luke Walton.

Wearing his Big Baller Brand shirt, Ball said he has a “clean” suit picked out that does not have the “BBB” logo on it to wear for Thursday night. Ball said his Big Baller Brand shoes will be out in November.

Ball, who grew up a Lakers fan watching Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and recently met Bryant for a few minutes while the two were working with ESPN, hopes he will be adding a Lakers cap to his suit after the second pick is announced.

“I can’t tell the future,” Ball said of why he kept saying he isn’t sure who will draft him. “I don’t know where I am going.”

“I know he is going to be happy,” Ball added of his father’s reaction once he will be drafted. “He will be smiling, I will be smiling, get the hat and go from there.”