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LeBron’s Lakers missing the playoffs could be just what the NBA needs

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We have that and more in Tuesday’s NBA newsletter.

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2018 NBA Summer League - Las Vegas - Detroit Pistons v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

NBA league officials don’t believe open playoff seeding -- that is, seeding the top 16 teams in the playoffs regardless of conference -- is important enough to offset the added travel it would create for Eastern Conference teams. (Along those lines, be sure to check out some really interesting research from Sebastian Pycior at Nylon Calculus on how adopting the 2-3-2 format would counteract those travel impacts. You may remember that I recently called for using 2-3-2 for this purpose -- I had no idea it would save that much travel.)

There’s no question the NBA could figure out how to switch to open seeding with minimal impact if the league wanted to do it. The problem is that the league doesn’t want to do it. Something could change Adam Silver and his staff’s mind, though. Something that could happen this year.

What if LeBron James and the Lakers miss the NBA playoffs because of a stacked Western Conference while one or more markedly worse teams make the playoffs out of the East? What then?

This is clearly on the table. The Denver Nuggets missed the playoffs with 46 wins last season, while three East teams made the playoffs with 44 or fewer wins. In 14 of the past 18 seasons, the East No. 8 seed had a worse record than the ninth team in the West. It’s a persistent issue.

With a wobbly roster around LeBron, the Lakers aren’t expected to immediately leap into the tippy top of the West (though all things are possible through LeBron). No West playoff chase teams from last season got substantially worse, and the Grizzlies and potentially Mavericks could rise up the standings along with the Lakers.

L.A. could absolutely be in a dogfight for a playoff spot with 46, 47, 48 wins ... while the Pistons or Knicks or Hornets or Cavaliers sneak into the East bracket with 39, 40, 41 wins.

If the NBA misses out on the goldmine that is LeBron’s first playoff run with the Lakers because of conference imbalance, the ol’ tune may change in Manhattan.

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Dirk (Literally) Forever

Dirk Nowitzki signed a 1-year, $5 million with the Mavericks, as expected. This will be Nowitzki’s 21st season with Dallas, setting a new NBA record for most seasons with a single franchise. Dirk and Kobe Bryant currently share the record at 20 seasons, with John Stockton and Tim Duncan at 19 years.

The active leader besides Dirk is Manu Ginobili, who is entering Season No. 17 with San Antonio. There are only three other active players with streaks of 10 or more: Mike Conley with 11 and Russell Westbrook and Marc Gasol with 10 going into next season. That all indicates that Dirk’s record is likely to stand quite a while ... unless Manu decides to play until he’s 45. (Maybe Nowitzki will, too?)

Needless to say, Dirk is the greatest Maverick ever, the best European basketball player ever, and one of the best players in NBA history. Much has been made of his willingness to take steep pay cuts late in his career -- something he continues into 2018-19. That is true, and stands in contrast to at least one major contemporary (Kobe).

But it’s not like Dirk will ever be short of money: a Business Insider analysis found that Nowitzki is the fourth highest-paid NBA player ever. This contract will put him over $250 million in NBA earnings. Verdammt, Dirk!

Links Galore

Phenomenal Seerat Sohi piece on the Raptors trading for Kawhi Leonard knowing that everyone falls in love with Toronto.

Ricky O’Donnell talked to LaVar Ball, who explains why his league is better for pro prospects than college.

I wrote about why star players seem to be switching teams so frequently these days. It’s a mix of shorter contracts and player empowerment.

Paul Flannery on how the Celtics won free agency without really doing anything. Meanwhile, Gordon Hayward is still teasing us with rehab updates.

Carmelo Anthony to the Rockets is really happening. Eventually. (Everything with Melo takes so long to develop. Remember the initial trade to the Knicks, which legitimately took like eight months and for which I still have not forgiven Masai Ujiri and Donnie Walsh?)

Foremost no-trade clause scholar (and giant of the industry) Marc Stein reports that no one in the league might actually have a full-on no-trade clause next season. There will be plenty of players -- like Dirk -- with de-facto no-trade clauses due to being on 1-year deals, though.

Why the Spurs will never do a full rebuild.

Mammoth piece of superb intrigue from Ethan Strauss on how Joe Lacob and Peter Guber beat out Larry Ellison to buy the Warriors.

Isaiah Thomas has long been an open book, and he really laid it all out with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. I.T. even admits he expressed a willingness to sign with the Celtics this summer -- even after telling the world he felt betrayed by Danny Ainge a year ago.

Remember when LeBron spoke to Lonzo Ball on-court with his mouth covered last season? Here’s a sensible theory that he was testing Lonzo’s discretion.

Alex Wong on the rise of OG Anunoby.

Really cool Curbed New York piece on the basketball courts of NYC.

We linked the start of the Women of SB Nation NBA project last week. Here’s the full stream.

The Ringer crew assesses the league in the wake of the Kawhi Leonard trade.

David Robinson says he reached out to Kawhi multiple times and ... never heard back.

Gregg Popovich starts his official duties with USA Basketball this week, as if he doesn’t have enough already going on. You know how important this job is to him.

On Kawhi, DeMar DeRozan, and the misplaced notion of loyalty.

The Atlanta Dream are surprisingly good. Are they legit?

Courtney Vandersloot made the All-Star Game as a rookie ... and hasn’t done it again since. What’s with that?

Gods bless Jabari Parker for being honest about his total disinterest in playing defense.

Michael Grange on the cost of Masai Ujiri’s Toronto title ambitions.

Sue Bird capped off an AMAZING week in WNBA with her record 500th game.

Great piece from NetsDaily on the inspiring story of Nets radio Chris Carrino.

A Lakers death lineup starring LeBron at center, which is something he has always been totally open to doing on the Bizarro World where Lakers coaches apparently reside.

The excellent Rob Mahoney fears the Spurs offense could become clogged because DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge like the same spots.

James Dator’s comprehensive Sesame Street athlete appearance ranking is gold.

The Lakers have a 20-year-old international scout who still lives at home. Legend.

And finally: Dwight Howard had an absolute clanker of a cringeworthy line about his past NBA stops at his Wizards press conference. It reminded me of Michael Scott’s business school lecture, and that reminds me that good dude and basketball writer Shea Serrano has a collection of essays about The Office out now!

Be excellent to each other.