LeBron James: Viva Las Vegas for NBA expansion

LAS VEGAS — It wasn’t long ago that pro sports leagues avoided Sin City, lest they catch a whiff of impropriety.

That was before the NBA based its Summer League in Vegas, before it landed a WNBA franchise there (now the reigning champions), and before it made deals to monetize sports gambling which is rapidly become not only common in many states but legal.

Could the NBA follow in the NFL’s and NHL’s footsteps and put an expansion team on The Strip? If so, LeBron James wants to be at the front of the line as a prospective owner – he delivered a sound byte directed toward Commissioner Adam Silver on Wednesday night.

“It’s the best fanbase in the world, and I would love to bring a team here at some point,” James said following their preseason loss to the Phoenix Suns. “That would be amazing. I know Adam is in Abu Dhabi (for a preseason game) right now, I believe. … But he probably sees every single interview and transcript that comes through from NBA players. So, I want the team here, Adam. Thank you.”

While James might have hammed up his interest slightly in his host city for the week, he’s made no secret about his intentions before. In June, James made waves by saying he wanted to own a team in Vegas during an episode of his talk show, “The Shop”. James recently became the first active NBA player valued as a billionaire, according to Forbes, and he has a goal to join Michael Jordan in the ownership ranks.

It seems fitting that preseason games have been played in Seattle and Las Vegas over the past week – they might be the two most eligible expansion markets if the NBA ever decides to open those particular floodgates. Silver has downplayed the urgency of expansion, which is restricted in part by the NBA’s media rights agreements.

“We are not discussing that at this time,” Silver said in June. “As I said before, at some point, this league invariably will expand, but it’s not at this moment that we are discussing it.”

James, 37, can’t own a team as a player, and despite his net worth cannot buy a team on his own. Most recent team sales have hovered around $2 billion.

But as the league has gotten cozier with Las Vegas – especially during its annual Summer League, which attracts the entire NBA ecosystem as well as thousands of fans – it’s pretty easy to imagine a franchise perhaps calling T-Mobile Arena its home venue one day.

“I think it’s a great city, the natural organic energy that’s here built into the city, it goes hand in hand with the level of sports that have been considered to be placed here,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “It’s a no-brainer. Down the road. I don’t want to speak for the NBA or the commissioner, but I think at some point you’ll see a permanent NBA team here calling Las Vegas home.”

LONNIE WALKER IV DEBUTS; DENNIS SCHRÖDER EN ROUTE

After missing the first two games of the preseason, Lonnie Walker IV made his first appearance for the Lakers in their 114-99 preseason loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, scoring 10 points to go with five rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes.

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While not in the starting lineup, Walker showcased a little bit of the athleticism the Lakers hope will make them livelier on the wing this season than last.

“He’s an extremely high-level athlete, someone that’s going to be on the rim and constantly attacking the paint,” Ham said. “Great human being. Just another valuable asset that I’m happy will now get a chance to be a part of the group actively.”

There was some good news and some bad news on the availability front for the Lakers: The team learned Thursday that veteran guard Dennis Schröder, who has spent the past few weeks waiting for his visa from Germany to process, will be flying to join the team this weekend – though it is yet unclear if he’ll be on the team’s road trip to Golden State for a Sunday night game. However, in the third quarter against the Timberwolves, Juan Toscano-Anderson banged his knee and left for the locker room, later ruled out for the rest of the night with a right quadriceps bruise.