NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Report: Wolves working solely with Cavs on Love deal — The Denver Nuggets. The Boston Celtics. The Golden State Warriors. The Cleveland Cavaliers. At various points this offseason, those four teams — and perhaps others — have been involved in talks to acquire Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love. That list has apparently been narrowed to just Cleveland as a seemingly inevitable pairing of Love with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving grows closer. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, who first reported this bit of news, have more:
The Minnesota Timberwolves were engaged in serious Kevin Love trade talks with no teams other than the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, adding to the growing belief around the NBA that Love teaming up with LeBron James is inevitable, according to sources briefed on the situation.
After ESPN.com reported last week that the Cavaliers remain the front-runners to acquire Love in a trade co-headlined by No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins, sources this week have described the Cavs as the only team in contention for Love. Sources say the Chicago Bulls have become increasingly pessimistic about their chances of trumping Cleveland’s offer, while the Golden State Warriors remained unwilling to bend on their longstanding refusal to surrender Klay Thompson in a deal for Love.
Wiggins is not eligible to be dealt until Aug. 23 after signing his rookie contract last week, but numerous league insiders — some of whom are gathered in Las Vegas for this week’s Team USA training camp — have begun to describe a Love-to-Cleveland trade as a “when” transaction as opposed to an “if.”
The expectation remains that the Wolves will emerge from this saga with no less than Wiggins, 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and a future first-round pick from the Cavs in exchange for Love before August is out.
ESPN.com reported last week that the Bulls had re-emerged as a serious suitor for Love, despite the fact they had a few more trade assets to offer Minnesota before last month’s NBA draft. But sources said this week that Chicago essentially has conceded to the Cavs, knowing it can’t furnish a player with both Wiggins’ superstar potential and his favorable rookie-scale contract.
The Wolves also signed veteran guard Mo Williams this week, making fellow vet J.J. Barea — who sources say Minnesota is determined to offload as part of a Love deal — more available. It’s believed the Wolves hope to convince Cleveland to take Barea as part of a Love trade or find a third team to absorb Barea’s expiring contract.
The Warriors conceivably could still give Cleveland something to worry about if they suddenly put Thompson on the table while the Cavs are waiting for Wiggins to become trade eligible, but sources say Taylor prefers a package headlined by Wiggins to a Thompson-led haul for Love.
No. 2: George: Pacers should have won title — The Indiana Pacers were the class of the Eastern Conference for roughly the first half of last season, rolling up a 40-11 mark behind All-Star Paul George. But as most of us remember, Indiana fell apart as the season wore on and its hopes of winning the title ended when the Pacers lost to Miami in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. Months after that loss, George opened up to Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears and says he felt Indiana would have won the title if it had just stayed the course it started. He also opened up about super sub Lance Stephenson leaving Indiana for Charlotte this summer, too:
“If we had the same mentality that we had to start the year off, we would have won the championship,” George told Yahoo Sports. “We were playing the best ball of all of our careers and Pacers history in general. For us to not finish the year where we started is tough.”
The Pacers looked like NBA title contenders after starting the season 40-11. They struggled down the stretch and their poor play carried into the postseason. They needed the full seven games to beat the Atlanta Hawks in the first round and six games to beat the Washington Wizards in the second round. They ended up losing to the Miami Heat in the East finals.
Along the way, the Pacers didn’t lack for dysfunction. All-Star center Roy Hibbert oddly struggled mightily and was even benched in the playoffs and Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner got in a fight in practice. During the East finals, Stephenson made headlines for blowing in LeBron James‘ ear.
George thinks Indiana’s biggest problem was adapting to the bull’s-eye on them.
“Before, we were just jumping on teams and they were laying down. And then toward the end of the season, they [were ready],” George said. “When you play Miami, you’re going to get up for them. That’s how teams were playing against us. They were ready. They were amped for us. They didn’t win a game in two to three games, but against us they didn’t miss a shot.”
George believes Stephenson, who was miffed about not being named an All-Star last season, was attracted to a star role in Charlotte.
“He did that because he wants to come into his own,” George said. “That’s not to say he couldn’t do that in Indiana. But I think the fresh start gives him the ability to lead a team and take what he got from us to Charlotte. He is a player that wants to be an All-Star, wants to be a superstar in this league. So I think he made that move based on that.”
George plans on helping compensate for Stephenson’s loss by being much more aggressive offensively like Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady were in their primes.
“Coming into next season I need to be in the 25-30-point mark,” said George, who averaged 21.7 points last season. “I got to get back to that old Kobe, T-Mac, 25-shots-a-night kind of guy.”
No. 3: Bulls’ Rose drawing plenty of praise in Las Vegas — Team USA’s training camp out in Las Vegas is all about figuring out who will be on the official roster for the FIBA World Cup. But one of the biggest subplots within that is how Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose has looked in each practice after he played in just 10 games last season. Rose has been nothing short of impressive and his teammates and coaches in Vegas can’t help but talk about him. ESPN.com’s Nick Fridell reports that Team USA assistant John Calipari and teammate Paul George each had compliments for Rose:
Rose’s college coach at Memphis, John Calipari, said Wednesday that his former player told him he was on a “mission” to get back to the top of the basketball world.
“Injuries, no one wants to go through that, but they do one of two things,” Calipari told ESPNChicago.com. “They make you stronger or they break you down, and it’s pretty obvious what it’s done to him. … I said (to him), ‘You look great. Your explosiveness is even maybe beyond where it was, which is scary.’ And I said, ‘You’re doing great.’
“He said: ‘I’m on a mission.’ ”
Rose’s progression has been the talk of Team USA’s camp with players and coaches raving about how well he has performed after being out for so long.
“He looks better,” Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George said. “He looks like he’s coming off the MVP year. He’s really been aggressive. He’s been flying across the court. We’ve seen him last year in the regular season; it still looked like he was holding back a little bit. It doesn’t look like that here.”
In George’s mind, the difference in Rose’s game is simple.
“I think he’s just healthy,” George said. “His body is feeling good. His legs is feeling good, and he’s healthy in camp.”
In addition to what Team USA officials have to say, the GM of the Bulls, Gar Forman, was equally complimentary of Rose. Bulls.com’s Sam Smith has more:
Forman was in Las Vegas along with fellow Bulls executive John Paxson to watch Derrick Rose’s return to high level competition in the USA Basketball training camp to select the 12-player team for the basketball World Cup in Spain starting in late August. Rose is expected to make the team. And while Forman said the Bulls encouraged Rose to participate and are hoping he plays in Spain, they also have been pleased with his performance with their own look toward the Bulls season.
“I think he has been terrific,” Forman said of Rose. “He looks strong. He looks confident. He looks explosive. He has been in a real good rhythm. He is playmaking for himself and others. It’s been really, really encouraging. Defensively, it has been incredible to watch him get after guys. Even this morning (in the scrimmages), he had four or five big time athletic plays, blocked shots, steals in the open court. He’s been really, really good.
“I think it’s a real positive that he gets an opportunity to do this and do it against the level of competition that he’s doing it against,” said Forman. “It’s great that he gets to play against this level of competition. And it’s just good to see him playing with so much confidence and just playing, reacting and playing. He has been playing five-on-five now for a couple of months. But to do it in this setting that is very structured and the level of competition that he’s doing it against is a real plus. I think it will be a plus for him going into camp in October and obviously a plus for our team.
“I don’t see him forcing anything,” Forman said in regard to any changes in Rose’s play. “I see him letting the game come to him. And then when he has opportunities to make plays, he makes them. He’s playing with what appears to me great confidence. And he’s getting others involved. I haven’t seen him back down to contact in any way. He has made plays in the key and at the rim on both ends of the floor. I haven’t seen any difference. When I say he’s playing with confidence, he is playing with a real nice pace to his game. Obviously, he is so athletic that he’s going to make explosive plays. But I don’t see him rushing in anything that he’s doing.”
No. 4: Johnson says Buss wanted Scott to replace Jackson — Remember back after the 2010-11 season when then-L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson retired? The thought at the time was that his then-assistant, Brian Shaw, would be next in line in Lakerland. As it turned out, the Lakers eventually hired Mike Brown, who coached the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season and six games of 2012-13 before being fired and replaced by Mike D’Antoni. Just two days ago the Lakers officially announced the hiring of Byron Scott as coach, who, according to Lakers legend Magic Johnson, was nearly L.A.’s coach back in 2011-12. Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times has more:
Magic Johnson was on hand on Monday when the Lakers welcomed his former teammate, Byron Scott, as the Lakers’ next head coach.
Had Scott not taken the Cleveland Cavaliers job in 2010, he might have been hired by then-owner Jerry Buss after Phil Jackson retired after the 2010-11 season.
“Dr. Buss was going to make Byron the coach when Phil didn’t know what he was going to do” in 2010, said Johnson. “Byron took the Cleveland job, and he took it too early. I called and said: ‘B., you took the job too early. Dr. Buss wanted you to be the coach.”
Meanwhile, Johnson also said he tried to convince Carmelo Anthony to leave the New York Knicks in an hourlong phone conversation. Ultimately the high-scoring forward chose to re-sign in New York.
Johnson noted that he spoke at length with Pau Gasol, who chose to leave for the Chicago Bulls instead of staying with the Lakers.
“We had a great conversation but I think the way he was treated last season, kind of hurt him,” said Johnson. “Here’s a guy 18 [points] and 10 [rebounds], shooting over 50% and you want to bench him? You want to mess with this guy? He could never get over that.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Is longtime NBA referee Dick Bavetta pondering retirement? … Rockets guard James Harden and Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons say they’ve patched things up between them … Thunder star and reigning MVP Kevin Durant recently told Pelicans star Anthony Davis he’s ‘next in line’ for the MVP … New Warriors coach Steve Kerr has picked the brains of both ex-NFL coach Bill Parcells and current Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll … Mavs coach Rick Carlisle views their signing of Al-Farouq Aminu as a replacement for Shawn Marion … Michael Beasley worked out for the Lakers, but there is a chance he could be back with the Heat, too … Ex-Thunder, Bobcats. Clippers and Sixers big man Byron Mullens is headed to China on a two-year deal … Ex-Montana star Will Cherry has reportedly signed a two-year deal with the Toronto Raptors … Speaking of the Raptors, their games could start at 7:30 this season instead of their usual 7 p.m. start time … Looks like a big year is on the horizon for Nuggets big man JaVale McGee