Morning Shootaround

Morning shootaround — June 20


VIDEO: Curry addresses fans at Warriors victory parade

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sixers court doctor ‘Dream Team’ for Embiid | Lakers face limited choice at No. 2 | Did Warriors’ exuberance trump league memo? | Avery coulda been a contendah

No. 1: Sixers court doctor ‘Dream Team’ for Embiid — The Philadelphia 76ers have done so ding-dong-dandy well at drafting a basketball team with all their high picks lately that they apparently are branching into another field: medicine. The team’s front office is sparing no expense in rounding up the best possible sports physicians and orthopedists to examine the right foot of untested 7-foot center Joel Embiid. Keith Pompey of the Philadephia Inquirer wrote about the latest in Embiid’s unnerving foot plight:

76ers CEO Scott O’Neil said on the Breakfast on Broad show Friday that three more doctors will evaluate the latest setback in the healing of Joel Embiid’s right foot.

“We’re still waiting,” O’Neil said. “We have another three doctors to come see him. The nice thing about jobs like these – you can literally get the best experts in the world. All you have to do is call and they love to see us.”

He added that the franchise could get an answer about the 7-foot center’s future in “a couple of weeks.”

The team announced last Saturday night that Embiid had a setback in his recuperation. The 2014 first-round draft pick from Kansas missed what would have been his rookie season after undergoing surgery last June to repair a stress fracture in the navicular bone in his right foot.

It is unknown if Embiid, 21, will have to undergo another surgery, which could sideline him for part of next season. The team is still gathering information, and nothing has been ruled out.

The Cameroonian big man is not expected to participate in the two NBA summers leagues the Sixers will participate in next month although O’Neil said his status is not known. It’s also not known how long he will be sidelined.

O’Neil confirmed that Embiid has been shut down from working out.

There’s a chance this injury will hinder Embiid’s career the way it has for other 7-footers. Like Embiid, Yao Ming suffered a stress fracture in a navicular bone in 2008 and again in 2009. That injury forced Yao to retire in 2011.

***

No. 2: Lakers face limited choice at No. 2 — The Los Angeles Lakers appear to want no part of any “We’re No. 2! We’re No. 2!” chant, whether it pertains to their status as basketball tenants at Staples Center or to the spot in which they’re sitting for Thursday’s NBA Draft. They’re in the semi-awkward position of having to wait for the Minnesota Timberwolves to choose their man – most likely between Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns or Duke’s Jahlil Okafor – before getting their five minutes on the clock. And while 28 other teams would be more than accommodating to welcome Okafor into their fold, the sense that he’s being forced on them – the way a cheap magician forces a certain playing card when doing his parlor tricks – has the Lakers already feeling a little snubbed. After all, they’re the Lakers and Minnesota is the Timberwolves. And yet… As Mark Medina writes for the Los Angeles Daily News:

In less than a week, the Lakers will embark on an NBA draft that could significantly influence the pace of their massive rebuilding project. So with six days remaining before that date on June 25, the Lakers have scheduled numerous workouts in hopes for more clarity involving their No. 2, 27 and 34th picks.

The Lakers [were scheduled to] host a private workout for Duke center Jahlil Okafor on Friday afternoon at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo, marking the second individual workout Okafor has had wearing a purple and gold practice jersey. The Lakers also plan to host a private workout on Saturday both for Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell and for prospects that might be available at the No. 27 and 34th draft slots. The Lakers will then have private workouts next Monday and Wednesday just for prospects they would consider with the 27th and 34h picks.

The Lakers also held a second workout on Thursday for point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, though his session entailed training with prospects slated for the second round. On Monday, the Lakers invited Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis for an individual workout after seeing him train last weekend in Las Vegas.

The Lakers have also become increasingly doubtful they will have a workout for Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns. The Lakers believe their lack of progress with those efforts stem from most NBA mock drafts predicting the Minnesota Timberwolves will select with their No. 1 pick. But the Lakers will accommodate their workout schedule should Towns and his representatives express interest in a workout.

It isn’t likely this sort of stuff will buoy the Lakers’ hopes, a sighting by the Twins beat writer for MLB.com:

***

No. 3: Did Warriors’ exuberance trump league memo? — A league directive is a league directive, right? When the NBA sends out an advisory to all its member teams to tread lightly when talking about restricted free agents – as ESPN and other outlets have reported – you’d expect that to be taken seriously and heeded. After all, there has been and can be a chilling effect to RFA players’ market value if prospective bidders are convinced their time is being wasted, thanks to the players’ most recent teams going big with the we’re-gonna-match rhetoric. The National Basketball Players Association doesn’t think that’s right and is said to be monitoring such talk, with the possibility of legal action against teams that engage in it. It’s not just some made-up problem, either, according to CBSSports.com‘s Matt Moore:

It’s a smart move by the NBPA. The comments generally fall inside two categories. One, to make a player feel loved and let fans know that they’re not going to let a key member of a team go, and two, to discourage teams from putting a bid in on a player knowing they’ll only be tying up their cap space while setting the bar of an offer for the player’s team to match.

In a broader sense, this speaks to a larger problem of the general lowdown underhandedness implicit with the restricted free agency device. A player is granted free agency at the end of his rookie contract, but he’s not actually free in the agent sense — he can negotiate with other teams, can sign offer sheets, but doesn’t actually control where he goes. New Orleans guard Eric Gordon very badly wanted to go to Phoenix several years ago, and the Suns’ training staff might have done wonders for his unreliable body. Despite public angst over the deal and a plea for the Pelicans to not match, New Orleans decided to keep the player they in essence traded Chris Paul for.

A more nefarious situation occurred without such a public stance in 2009. Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks –before he was the reclamation project that was waived by the Pistons and became an unlikely playoff contributor for Houston — was a restricted free agent in 2009. Teams knew that the Hawks would match any offer, though, and Smith just sat there on the free agency pile before eventually signing an offer sheet with the Grizzlies in the hopes Atlanta would let him go. They did not, and instead got Smith back on a bargain. Meanwhile, last summer the Suns pulled the same trick with Eric Bledsoe, forcing a nasty holdout that stretched on until August. Bledsoe eventually got the kind of big-money deal he was after, but it took the threat of the qualifying offer in order to force the Suns to move.

Banning public comments about a team’s determination to keep their restricted free agency star won’t stop word of a team’s intentions from getting around and impacting value. But it at least keeps it in the behind-curtains world of league rumors and provides a few more percentage points of leverage for a player as he and his agent negotiate a better position.

So then we get to Friday and the Golden State Warriors’ championship parade in downtown Oakland. Looks like somebody forgot about the memo:

***

No. 4: Avery coulda been a contendah — Because Avery Johnson, former NBA point guard, one-time NBA champion (1999) and two-time head coach (Mavericks and Nets), is a pretty good self-promoter, one’s first response is to chalk his comments up to bluster. When he says he likely would have landed one of the four recent open coaching jobs if only he’d held off on moving into the college ranks to coach Alabama, it’s easy to think, “Yeah, and my Uncle Fred can say the same thing now that the jobs are all filled.” But Johnson, a New Orleans native who interviewed with that team before it hired Monty Williams in 2010, sounded pretty convincing when he talked with John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

”I know without a shadow of a doubt, that if I had waited, there would have been a high probabiliity I would have got an NBA job based upon the conversations my agent was having with some people,” Johnson said by telephone Thursday. ”But the main thing is that there is no turning back. I’m here at the University of Alabama and this is the right situation.”

Jonnson, 50, would not disclose what NBA teams his agent had exploratory conversations with.
The Pelicans were one of four teams, which included the Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls and the Denver Nuggets, that had coaching vacancies last month. However, all of those jobs have been filled now.

The Pelicans hired Alvin Gentry on May 30 to replace Monty Williams, who was fired after five seasons. Gentry will be formally introduced by the Pelicans on Monday afternoon. He took part in the Warriors’ parade celebration in Oakland, Calif., on Friday. The Warriors won their first NBA championship in 40 years on Tuesday night after beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games in the NBA Finals.

Johnson is close friends with Pelicans executive vice president Mickey Loomis and he is a longtime friend of Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson.

”Sometimes change is hard,” Johnson said. ”But from what I’ve heard, Alvin did a nice job interviewing for the job. I think his experiences with the different head coaching jobs that he has had and assistant coaching jobs, he brings a wealth of experience to the franchise.”

Johnson said it is just a matter for the Pelicans to put the right pieces around star power forward Anthony Davis to win big in the Western Conference. [Davis] ended the season with the league’s highest player-efficiency rating at 30.8, which is the 11th highest for a single season in NBA history.

Davis also was a first-team All-NBA selection, finished fifth for the league’s MVP award and averaged 24.4 points and led the league in blocks with a 2.9 average during the regular season.
”I tell you what, his plays are going to work a whole lot better with Anthony Davis,” Johnson said.”I’m happy for Alvin.”

Johnson last coached in the NBA in 2012,when he was fired by the Brooklyn Nets after a 14-14 start.

Johnson was the NBA Coach of the Year in 2006 after leading the Dallas Mavericks to their first NBA Finals appearance but they lost to the Miami Heat. In almost seven seasons as an NBA coach, which included four seasons with the Mavericks starting in 2004, Johnson compiled a 440-254 record.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Melvin Hunt, the interim Denver Nuggets coach who won’t be returning under Mike Malone, has found a spot on Dallas coach Rick Carlisle‘s staff. … Portland guard Steve Blake has exercised his player option to stick with the team next season for a reported $2.1 million. Blazers fans still await decisions on Arron Afflalo (his, if he wants to be back for $7.3 million) and Chris Kaman (theirs, if they want him back for $5 million). … Taj Gibson‘s ankle surgery is going to sideline the Chicago Bulls backup big for an estimated four months. … If Steve Nash is a future Hall of Famer, so is Shawn Marion. Huh? That’s ESPN.com’s claim and they’re sticking to it. … Former GM Danny Ferry‘s buyout and exit from the Atlanta Hawks moved forward with approval of the team’s board. … J.R. Smith didn’t do enough for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals but he has done wonders for the “phunkeeduck.” Yes, the “phunkeeduck.”

Morning shootaround — June 18


VIDEO: Top 10 plays from the 2015 NBA Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Warriors working to help Lee find new team | Report: Suitors lining up for Raptors’ Williams | Duncan says he lost $25M due to investor fraud

No. 1: Report: Warriors to help Lee find new team — It became apparent early on in the season that just was to the Golden State Warriors that All-Star David Lee would not be a key component of the team. He suffered a hamstring injury in the first weeks of the season that sidelined him and in his absence, power forward Draymond Green stepped in and stepped up his game to a level where Lee never got his job back. Lee was a factor in the Warriors’ run to the title, providing some key minutes in Game 3 of The Finals, and couldn’t have been more professional about his role. Yet as the offseason begins, Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports the Warriors are ready to do all they can to help Lee move on to a place where he’ll play more:

David Lee, who is the second-longest tenured player for the Golden State Warriors and as close to Steph Curry as any member of the newly crowned NBA champions, has likely played his last game for the team, league sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

Sources said the Warriors have privately acknowledged to Lee and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, that it would be unfair to the former All-Star to ask him to continue to serve in a limited role next season after Lee accepted his diminished minutes without complaint all season.

Although discussions on this topic were essentially tabled by both sides until after the playoffs, sources said Wednesday that the Warriors and Bartelstein have resolved to work together to “come up with a good solution” to find a new home for Lee this offseason.

Scheduled to earn $15.4 million next season, Lee earned a measure of redemption in the midst of the NBA Finals when Warriors coach Steve Kerr suddenly embraced small-ball lineups after Golden State could only manage a split at home in the first two games. Lee served as the first big man off Kerr’s bench in Games 3, 4 and 5.

In the Game 3 loss to the Cavaliers, Lee had 11 points, four rebounds and two assists in 13 minutes. In a Game 4 victory, Lee totaled nine points, five rebounds and three assists in 15 minutes.

The Warriors are nonetheless expected to aggressively explore the trade market for Lee in conjunction with the NBA draft on June 25 and with free agency starting July 1. Sources say Golden State is determined to match any offer that comes for Green in restricted free agency and also intends to discuss a contract extension with forward Harrison Barnes, which only increases the likelihood that Lee moves on.

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — June 17


VIDEO: Top 5 plays from Game 6 of The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron, Cavs face bevvy of decisions| Report: Butler to pursue short-term deals | Report: Gordon likely staying with Pelicans | Nowitzki ‘guessing’ Ellis opts out

No. 1: What’s next for LeBron, Cavs? — The Cleveland Cavaliers put up a mostly valiant fight in The NBA Finals, but ultimately were short on firepower and succumbed to the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 to lose the series. LeBron James was great all series and was arguably the MVP of these Finals, too, but that’s all over for now. James and the Cavs must ponder the offseason and some choices lie in wait for LeBron himself, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:

James’ foreseeable future is in Cleveland. With the ability to opt out of the two-year deal he signed with the Cavaliers last offseason, James must now decide just how much he wants to influence the Cavs as they enter a summer full of uncertainty and potentially massive spending.

The Cavs prefer he give a lot of input. In past similar situations, James has skewed toward passive-aggressiveness from the shadows. Taking such a position now would only add to the anxiety the franchise is sure to feel.

As if the Golden State Warriors’ championship celebration on the Cavs’ floor Tuesday night wasn’t bad enough, the Cavs’ immediate future is troublesome: James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova could all be free agents by July 1.

James, Love and Smith have player options for next season and all are expected to decline them. Thompson, Shumpert and Dellavedova are expected to receive qualifying offers from the Cavs and they will become restricted free agents, giving the team the right to match any offer they receive. And the extensions Kyrie Irving (five years, $90 million) and Anderson Varejao (two years, $20.3 million) signed last year are also set to kick in.

Internally, the Cavs have discussed their payroll needing to balloon to between $100 million and $110 million for next season, according to sources.

When James does re-sign with the Cavs this summer, it’s probable it will be to another one-year contract plus a player option. Even if this route makes financial sense for James with the salary cap expected to surge following the 2016-17 season, it will keep the Cavs uncomfortable going forward.

But that’s the point: He doesn’t want his organization to be comfortable.

Welcome to the modern NBA, where James doesn’t just control every facet of the game, he controls every facet of the organization.


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Cavs’ Game 6 defeat

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — June 16


VIDEO: Should the Cavs go to their big men more in Game 6?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant motivated by Curry, LeBron in Finals | Malone gets his chance in Denver | More moves ahead for Clippers? | Report: Embiid could miss all of 2015-16

No. 1: Durant motivated by Curry, LeBron in Finals — For five games through these NBA Finals, reigning MVP Stephen Curry and four-time former MVP LeBron James have keyed an epic series. Yet as the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers ready for Game 6 tonight (9 ET, ABC), one former MVP is keeping an eye on things as he recovers from injury. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant tells ESPN.com’s Royce Young he can’t wait to get back on the court and have a shot at the 2016 Finals:

Once upon a time — as in a little more than a year ago — Kevin Durant was probably the only player worthy of being included in any discussion alongside LeBron James for title of best player in the game.

But after three surgeries to repair a fracture in his right foot that caused him to miss 55 games this past season, the 2014 MVP understands why his name has slipped from a lot of minds as fans marvel at James’ and Stephen Curry’s electrifying performances in the NBA Finals.

“It used to piss me off, but I love it now,” Durant told ESPN.com. “Just gotta show and prove. I don’t deserve to be up there with them this year. Next year is a different story.”

In ESPN.com’s 2014 NBA Rank project, Durant finished a stunning eighth overall, after coming in No. 2 overall in 2012 and 2013. With his season clouded by foot surgery, the reason for the drop was obvious. But that doesn’t mean Durant isn’t using being overlooked as motivation.

“Sometimes you gotta remind people what you do,” Durant said last season. “They tend to forget.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — June 15


VIDEO: Check out the Top 5 plays from Game 5 of The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Is David Blatt erring by shrinking Mozgov?  | Curry suffers from dehydration after Game 5Friend of Wade says Heat star isn’t happy with contract status | Ilyasova looks to fuel the PistonsMillsap reunion in Utah?

No. 1: Is David Blatt erring by shrinking Mozgov? — So the Cavs are one game away from elimination in the NBA Finals and everyone knows why. They’re missing Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, which isn’t the ideal way to beat a 67-win opponent that is healthy and has the league MVP. But apparently that isn’t a good enough excuse for some observers, who wonder if Cavs coach David Blatt is hurting his team’s meager chance by going to a smaller lineup. Blatt chose to keep center Timofey Mozgov on the bench for the most of the Game 5 loss mainly because the Warriors were going small and ditching their center, Andrew Bogut. On game earlier, Mozgov led the Cavs in scoring with 28 minutes and seemingly has enough agility to be productive against a small lineup, but at the same time could be exploited by Draymond Green. Anyway, count CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore in the camp that says Blatt is doing the Cavs no favors:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are outgunned in the NBA Finals. That much doesn’t take a basketball Ph.D to understand after the Cavaliers’ Game 5 104-91 loss Sunday night at Oracle Arena. They are short-handed, they are injured, they are tired, they are cramping, and they are not very talented, except for their brilliant do-it-all superstar LeBron James and their super athletic young big man, Tristan Thompson. (And Thompson isn’t prepared for a major role offensively.)

The Warriors, meanwhile, are stacked to the gills with shooters and versatile playmakers. Their smallball lineup has been successful all year. The Cavaliers knew that going in. They knew that from the get-go. In the first three games, Cleveland did a masterful job of mucking the game up, slowing the tempo down, controlling the pace, grinding out games, and punishing the Warriors with their big lineups.

The Warriors would go small, the Cavaliers would stay with what worked, keeping Timofey Mozgov, who has been incredible in this series, on the floor. The Cavaliers got out to a 2-1 series lead, with two more games to play in Quicken Loans arena in Cleveland.

Less than five days later, they trail 3-2 in this best-of-7 series, and in back-to-back games have been sucked into the Warriors’ style of play. The Warriors doubled down on their Game 4 gambit in Game 5, with Andrew Bogut not playing a single minute. Festus Ezeli played three minutes. David Lee played only nine. Steve Kerr went to a seven-man rotation, effectively, with Draymond Green playing almost all his minutes at center.

So naturally, the Cavaliers punished the Warriors for this, going big and pounding them into oblivion with size, right?

Nope. Instead, the Cavaliers allowed the Warriors to turn Game 5 into an offensively tilted affair and played Timofey Mozgov only nine minutes. The first question to David Blatt was about Mozgov and his absence. The reason for the Russian’s absence in Game 5?

“[That was] the way we needed to play tonight to give ourselves a chance to win.”

Reporters hammered Blatt about it toward the end of his press conference, with Blatt doubling down. Here’s an excerpt from the press conference, which got a little badgery from reporters and Blatt understandably became defensive:

Q. Steve Kerr just told us this is not a series for big guys. And going again to the Timofey Mozgov thing, are you going to stay playing not big basketball, or after the circumstances and the result of the game, are you trying to do something different? Because it didn’t pay much result tonight, if you think?

COACH BLATT: And how did it do the game before?

Q. He was the best scorer, but you didn’t use him tonight.

COACH BLATT: What was the score of the game?

Q. You guys lost the game again.

COACH BLATT: Yeah, by more.

Q. Can could you explain why you didn’t use him? 28 points last game, and no points tonight?

COACH BLATT: I thought I was pretty clear I thought that was our best chance to win the game, and we were definitely in the game with a chance to win. So that’s the way we played it. So I thought I was pretty clear with that.


VIDEO: David Blatt talks after the Game 5 loss

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — June 14


VIDEO: John Schuhmann and Sekou Smith preview Game 5 of The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Embiid suffers injury setback  | Warriors still waiting for Splashier Splash | LeBron not thinking about contract right nowLeBron’s workload is unreal according to experts | Report: Jefferson opting in with Hornets

No. 1: Embiid suffers injury setback — So what are we to make of the latest flash coming from Philly? Nothing good, that’s what. It appears the Sixers’ plan to wait on last year’s No. 1 pick Joel Embiid will result in more waiting. The club announced that Embiid’s surgically repaired foot is slow to heal and there is no timetable for his return. That’s a severe blow to the Sixers, who were counting on Embiid making his debut this season after missing all of last season when he had the surgery shortly after the draft. And because they secured the No. 3 overall pick in this month’s draft, they’ll likely miss out on the top two big men, Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns. Here’s a report from Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

General manager Sam Hinkie said in a statement that a recent CT scan, performed in Los Angeles, revealed less healing than anticipated at this point.

“Our priority remains providing Joel with every opportunity to ensure he has a long and successful NBA career,” Hinkie said. “And as such, these findings cause us to pause and reassess his current activities. Together with Joel and his representatives, we will continue to consult with the experienced team of doctors who have been an integral part of his evaluation, while also engaging in dialogue with a broader set of experts and specialists.”

There is a chance this injury could hinder Embiid’s career the way it has for other 7-footers. Like Embiid, Yao Ming suffered a stress fracture in the navicular bone, in 2008 and again in 2009. Yao eventually was forced to retire in 2011 because of the injury.

The news could influence the Sixers’ plans in the June 25 NBA draft. The team was expected to target Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell with the third overall pick to pair with power forward Nerlens Noel and Embiid. Now, the team could go after a post player for insurance if Embiid is unable to play at a high level.

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — June 12


VIDEO: The top 5 plays from Game 4 of The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Iguodala saves Warriors in Game 4 | Report: Hoiberg pursuing Spurs’ Boylen | Anthony ahead of schedule on rehabReport: Sixers meeting with Saric’s team

No. 1: Warriors wake up thanks to Iguodala — Heading into Thursday night’s Game 4 of The Finals, the Golden State Warriors had played 95 games. In every one of those, small forward Andre Iguodala did not start. But staring down a 2-1 series deficit, Golden State coach Steve Kerr decided to switch that up and gave Iguodala the nod. It paid off swimmingly for player, team and coach as Iguodala had 22 points and eight rebounds and the Warriors won 103-82. Our Shaun Powell was on the scene and details how ‘Iggy’ made this series pop again:

The return of The Team That Won 67 Games was quite a sock, if not a shock, to the system of LeBron James and the Cavaliers. It was combustible and complete what the Warriors did Thursday in Game 4, hitting shots and throwing booby traps and doing everything possible to avoid the dreaded 3-1 deficit and also seize momentum in a series that returns to Oakland.

And so the scenes to take away from a 21-point Warriors Game 4 shellacking of Cleveland is this: LeBron bleeding and wheezing from the challenge of carrying a team, and Andre Iguodala welcoming it.

Iguodala scored 22 points with eight rebounds and was the first line in a trapping Warriors defense that finally reduced LeBron’s shots, points and impact. It was the first blowout result of a series that, until Game 4, had a pair of overtime games and another game decided by two points. It was a thorough performance by the best and most consistent Warriors player in this series, and once again Iggy displayed his high value to the Warriors on both ends of the court. Of course, coach Steve Kerr’s decision to bench the sloth-like center Andrew Bogut for Iggy will be described as an Auerbachian move, except Iggy’s minutes were virtually identical as the previous three games, and Bogut was so ineffective to this point anyway that Kerr didn’t really have a choice.

The difference-maker for the Warriors, once again, was Iguodala, the only player immune from the NBA Finals fog that swallowed up most of his teammates. Not only is Iguodala taking up scoring slack with the inconsistency shown by Curry and Klay Thompson, but he also has the grinding task of checking LeBron. And while LeBron has had big scoring games, he hasn’t shot the ball exceptionally well (50-for-129 in the series) and Iguodala had a key stop of LeBron in the closing minutes of regulation in the Game 1 win.

“He’s one of the X-factors and he came to play,” said LeBron. “He was in attack. He was very, very good for them.”

The Warriors signed Iguodala three years ago for this very reason, to be a unifying force on a developing team and serve as an example of how to defend, which then was Golden State’s only weakness. Since he arrived the defense gradually improved.

Iguodala isn’t the same player now as he was then; his numbers have decreased with age, although Kerr never lost faith in him. Iguodala went to the bench mainly because Kerr wanted to feed the confidence of Harrison Barnes, not because Iguodala was suddenly a slug.

“I mean, he’s our most experienced player and he’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever been around,” said Kerr, a member of championship teams in Chicago and San Antonio. “He sees the game. He’s got a great basketball mind.”

When Iguodala took the new role in stride at the start of the season, his teammates took notice. It’s not often when a proven player buys into the idea of being replaced in the lineup by an understudy. Some players rebel. Iguodala adapted, as did David Lee when he took a seat for Green, which allowed Green to have a career year.

And guess what? Bogut fell in line when he took a seat in Game 4. It’s now contagious.


VIDEO: Relive the best moments from Andre Iguodala’s big Game 4

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — June 11


VIDEO: The Starters preview Game 4 of The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lee ready for his Finals opportunity | Green: Warriors need to play with more desperation in Finals | Why Kings, D’Alessandro parted ways

No. 1: Lee ready for his opportunity in Game 4 — There’s no doubt LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have taken control of the last two games of these NBA Finals. Yet even as the Cavs were wrapping up their Game 3 win on Tuesday, though, the opposing Golden State Warriors found a reason for some Game 4 hope in the person of David Lee. The little-used power forward sparked the Warriors’ mini-rally late in Game 3 and is due for a bigger role tonight, writes Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News:

Who else could pull this off so calmly? Who else could be this ready after being such a tiny part of the team’s rotation… until Game 3 of the NBA finals on Tuesday?

Who else could tie all of this together so surprisingly, neatly and completely—all while knowing he could be traded this summer?

Nobody except Lee, who has risen and fallen in his four seasons as a Warrior and now is rising out of nowhere again.

Yes, with the Warriors down 2-1 to Cleveland and Thursday’s Game 4 set up as a stand-or-fall championship moment, the biggest Warriors wild-card is none other than their former All-Star power forward.

Who was that playing center and working the pick-and-roll so effortlessly with Stephen Curry during the Warriors’ mad and ultimately failed fourth-quarter rally on Tuesday?

The same guy the Warriors are now counting on to keep triggering the pick-and-roll, to keep freeing up Curry and to help keep this season alive.

“I’d love to say this is some big comeback story or something like that,” Lee said Wednesday of his remarkable 13-minute stint in Game 2.

Steve Kerr has left little doubt that Lee has earned more playing time in this series, which comes after Lee didn’t play a single minute in Games 1 and 2 and only 12 total minutes in the five-game Western Conference finals.

And Lee’s teammates, who watched Lee gracefully accept losing his job to Draymond Green early this season, absolutely want to see what Lee can do with his last second chance.

“He’s a pro; he’s a true pro,” Green said. “To come in—haven’t played the entire series, I don’t think he’d played against Game 3 or 2 against Houston… to come in and have the impact on the game the way he did was huge.

“I’m sure he’ll continue to play now, because he gave us a huge spark.”

“Thankfully, he’s stayed professional, said the right things, done the right things, and was ready in a big moment for us,” general
manager Bob Myers said. “And probably will see some more time as a result of how he performed.

“It’s really a testament to him. A lot of times players can go in the other direction and he certainly didn’t.”

So, David, is this a nice way to wrap up such a mixed-up season—mostly sitting on the sidelines watching the greatest run the franchise has made in 40 years?

“We’ll see what happens,” Lee said. “All I can really do is bring the same attitude.

“With all I’ve been through this year, I really felt last night that if I got my opportunity, that good things were going to happen. And I had that confidence, and fortunately they did.

“We weren’t able to get a win, which is the most important thing, but hopefully some of the momentum we created last night can carry over into this next game and we can get one on the road here.”


VIDEO: Can David Lee change the direction of the NBA Finals?

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — June 10


VIDEO: Relive the Top 5 plays from Game 3 of The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs reaping benefits of Dellavedova gamble | LeBron, Cavs enjoying magical Finals ride | Report: Mavs, not Spurs, may land Aldridge

No. 1: Cavs’ gamble on Dellavedova paying off in spades — If there were an All-NBA Finals team, Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James would be leading the squad — and teammate Matthew Dellavedova wouldn’t be far behind. As great as James has been in this series with the Golden State Warriors, Dellavedova has amazed in his own right, especially when you consider his humble NBA beginnings. ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst has a must-read, lengthy piece on the “other” star of the 2015 Finals:

It was after midnight on draft night in 2013 and then-Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant was working hard to finish a deal.

Within a minute of the Memphis Grizzlies taking Janis Timma with the 60th and final pick, assistant general manager Trent Redden was on the phone going after a guy the Cavs were calling their “Mr. 61,” as in 61st pick. He was an undersized Australian from St. Mary’s who had slipped through the back end of the draft.

To say Matthew Dellavedova was unwanted isn’t true. Undrafted, yes, but he had several contract offers rolling in that night. One was from the New York Knicks. A little bidding war unfolded and the Cavs kept upping their offer. Finally, Grant reached the number agent Bill Duffy was looking for: $100,000 guaranteed on a two-year contract that was otherwise non-guaranteed.

This is now looking like one of the greatest moves in team history after the gritty little Aussie had yet another incredible Finals game, this one including 20 points and a vital flailing banker in the fourth quarter that was as improbable as this career path.

The stories have grown in the two years since, but generally all agree Dellavedova was horrible from the first practice onward and only marginally improved over the two weeks in Las Vegas. The Cavs will never admit it, but they must have wondered if they’d flushed $100,000 down a dry hole with a player who didn’t look at first like he’d be able to cut it at the next level.

It didn’t get much better in the preseason, with it appearing at times that Dellavedova might be headed for the waiver wire. That included one dreadful night in Cincinnati against John Wall when Dellavedova had six turnovers in one quarter.

There were those in the organization that did want Dellavedova cut despite the moderate investment in him. But Grant believed in Dellavedova and his potential, he’d liked his temperament and that his constant aggression at the very least  would push young star Kyrie Irving in practices.

When they had to make the last cut, Grant made the call and decided to keep him.

“The fact that Chris believed in Delly to the level that he did is paying off for the organization in spades,” said Cavs general manager David Griffin, who was the team’s assistant GM before ascending last year. “Everyone benefits from everyone that comes before them.”

Grant ended up being like the starting pitcher who labored through seven innings with no stuff, dragging the Cavs through four generally miserable rebuilding years. Griffin has acted as the closer, coming in and firing fastballs to finish deals as LeBron James‘ grand slam return changed the game after Grant had been sent to the showers.

Now in the Finals, he’s morphed into the Cavs’ second-most important player to this point, which defies all kinds of realities. He’s been just as likely to make a clutch shot or free throw as he is to achieve a vital defensive stop or go crashing to the floor.


VIDEO: How has Matthew Dellavedova shaped these Finals?

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — June 9


VIDEO: What should we expect in Game 3 of The Finals?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Celtics’ interest in Love fading | Cleveland fans ready for these Finals games | How Cavs kept Splash Bros. under wraps

No. 1: Report: Celtics’ interest in Love fading — Since last summer, there have been talks that the Boston Celtics were interested in acquiring Kevin Love in some form or fashion. Although they ultimately lost out on acquiring Love via a trade last summer, the embers of that chatter were stoked anew after the Celtics’ first-round playoff series with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Love, of course, can opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent and Boston is flush with cash to spend. But according to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, the Celtics may not be as into Love as they used to be:

Last offseason we told you a Kevin Love-to-the-Celtics trade was a non-starter because the Timberwolves simply didn’t want what the C’s were offering. And Flip Saunders proved wise in waiting, extracting top overall pick Andrew Wiggins from Cleveland for his patience.

This year, even though Love’s path to Boston could seemingly be more clear — all he has to do is opt out of the final year of his contract, not wait out a trade — things have gotten significantly more problematic from a Celtics point of view.

According to all sources, Danny Ainge still has affection for Love, but it’s not nearly the borderline obsession that it was last summer.

The major difference is that last year Ainge was doing everything he could to avoid the deeper rebuild that came when he didn’t get Love and was fated to trade away Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green. (And as it turned out, the Celtics president of basketball operations was in many ways fortunate to be able to find palatable deals for those two.)

The idea last year was to try to pair Love with Rondo, giving the Celtics two All-Stars, a solid base around which to build, and presenting Rondo with a reason to stay when he reached free agency this summer. So, as we noted even before the Timberwolves got their deal, no Love meant no Rondo.

Had Ainge been able to whet the Minnesota president’s appetite and acquired Love, the Celts would have worked harder to fill in gaps with capable veterans, which would have meant a higher Eastern Conference seed and a longer stay at the postseason party than just four games.

That the C’s got to the playoffs anyway is to their everlasting credit — and Ainge’s chagrin. But their late-season roster reshuffle may actually have them further from contention.

Isaiah Thomas is an extremely nice addition, as is Jae Crowder. And Marcus Smart is young, improving and very much a gamer. But there is not an assists machine (Rondo) and explosive if maddeningly inconsistent wing scorer (Green) to put with Love.

And from all indications, Love is not seen as a foundational player upon whom to build. Further, sources say his knee issues are bound to have an impact on his basketball longevity and effectiveness.

“I think he wants to be in a good situation,” said one league exec from outside this area. “But I also think he’s concerned about his health, so he wants to get a good long-term contract. I still think he stays in Cleveland.”

*** (more…)