It's far too early to declare whether the 2018-19 Los Angeles Lakers are good, bad or anywhere in between.
But it's not too soon to say this is the Association's most interesting team.
Between LeBron James' offseason arrival, the development of the youngsters, the free-agent signings that followed the King and the evolving job description for head coach Luke Walton, there's no shortage of intriguing storylines around this squad.
The latest news out of the City of Angles hammers that point home.
David Stern Explains 2011 Trade Veto
Nearly seven years before James rocked purple and gold, the Lakers almost had a different heir apparent to Kobe Bryant's throne.
Chris Paul, then a 26-year-old four-time All-Star, had requested a trade away from the then-New Orleans Hornets. The Lakers reached an agreement on a three-team deal that would have landed him, only for the league office—which owned the franchise at the time—to veto the transaction.
Former NBA Commissioner David Stern recently explained what went down to Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard.
"There was a trade that [New Orleans general manager] Dell Demps wanted us to approve, and I said heck no," Stern said, "but he had told [Rockets GM] Daryl Morey and [then Lakers GM] Mitch Kupchak he had authority to do it, and he didn't. I said no. We just settled a lockout, and you want me to approve a basketball trade?"
Stern explained he felt the return package—Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a 2012 first-rounder—wasn't enough for a player of Paul's caliber.
"I did it because I was protecting the then-Hornets," Stern said. "... To this day everyone always asks me, 'Well why did you keep Chris Paul from going to the Lakers?' I didn't keep him. I didn't approve the trade. No team sells or trades a future Hall of Famer without the owner signing off, and I was the owner's rep."
Even with the benefit of hindsight, there's no telling how the trade would have impacted all parties involved.
But one would think it should have widened L.A.'s championship window. Bryant had nearly two more seasons of superstar-caliber play before a ruptured Achilles forced him out of the elite ranks. Paul, of course, wound up with the Los Angeles Clippers, whom he helped guide to six consecutive playoff trips, though none went beyond the second round.
This will always rank among the league's fascinating what-if scenarios, but at least there's more transparency with Stern's decision.
Walton Could Be Endearing Himself to LeBron
While Walton had obvious reasons to celebrate James' signing this summer, it still put the skipper in an awkward spot. Just two years removed from his hiring, Walton faced dramatically heightened expectations without the security of working for the front office responsible for bringing him on board.
The Walton-James dynamic has been under the microscope from almost the second LeBron put pen to paper, and without getting inside either's heads, there's no way of knowing how it's progressing.
That said, one reporter feels Walton may have helped himself by stomaching a $15,000 fine for publicly criticizing the way James was officiated.
"Watch the play where I got a technical foul," Walton told reporters following the Lakers' 143-142 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday. "Watch what happened to LeBron James' arm. It's the same thing that James Harden and Chris Paul [drew fouls on and] shot 30 free throws on us the night before."
"Complaining about the officiating is a way for Walton to endear himself to James at a time when the coach could use his star player in his corner," Vardon opined.
By virtue of James' build, athleticism, strength and skills, he's perhaps the league's trickiest player to officiate. When he attacks off the dribble and draws contact around the rim, his body doesn't have the same reaction as a smaller, slashing guard's would, which can sometimes lead to referees' whistles staying quiet.
"This drives him crazy," Vardon wrote, "and he likes it when he gets aerial cover from his coach."
Walton's first order of business this season is fostering his relationship with James, and if this aided that process in any way, this could be $15,000 well spent.
Kobe Bryant Reveals Surprising Training Method
As part of his promotional tour for his new book, Mamba Mentality, Kobe Bryant appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Tuesday and added another chapter to his legendary commitment to his craft.
His phenomenal footwork was unsurprisingly no accident, but one method to develop it doesn't come from any training manual we've ever read.
Just soak in the following exchange (h/t For The Win's Michelle R. Martinelli), and you'll see what we mean:
- Kimmel: In order to protect your ankles, you learned to tap dance.
- Kobe: I did.
- Kimmel: Why didn't we know this?
- Kobe: Uh, well it's kept secret for obvious reasons.
- Kimmel: Do they make tap shoes in your size?
- Kobe: Had to get them made. I can't go to the store and be like, 'Yeah, I'll take those size 14s."
As Bryant added, somehow the story grew even more incredible.
"My first class, though, I walked into the studio, and it's all these six-year-olds, seven-year-olds," Bryant said. "Straight up, man. Studio (in) Santa Monica. And these kids are looking at me like, 'What in the world are you—is this grown ass man doing in here learning to tap dance?"
While Bryant said he's no longer tap dancing, he said there was a year when "I could tell my feet to do this and they could actually do that."
Let this be a word of advice to all aspiring athletes out there. If you ever think your training is finished, just remember—there might be a budding baller out there tapping his way into the hoops Hall of Fame.