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NEWS OF THE MORNING:
Time for Dan Gilbert to step in? | Kawhi Leonard wants rings, not acclaim | Lillard ready to lead his team | Jabari Parker needs more time
No. 1: Time for Dan Gilbert to step in? — The ongoing negotiations, if that’s what you still want to call the state of stalled talks, involving the Cavaliers and holdout forward Tristan Thompson might require the pulling of an emergency cord. With the regular season just a week away, should Cavs owner Dan Gilbert get more involved in the talks in order to reach a solution? According to Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio News Group, it may come to that:
In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency from either side in reaching an agreement. And that means Thompson’s stalemate will continue to hover over the organization like a black cloud, a cloud LeBron James considers “a distraction.”
It may be time to signal to the dugout for Cavs owner Dan Gilbert.
Thompson’s presence on and off the court is sorely being missed. Internally, members of the Cavaliers have expressed to each other how it would be such an unnecessary hurdle to try to contend for a title without their best offensive rebounder and most versatile big defender.
James has been in constant contact with Thompson throughout the negotiations. He has made it clear the importance of ending the impasse as soon as possible.
A championship run is at stake.
“I try not to get involved in that, as far as what the team is speaking on or talking about,” James said about the stalled negotiations. “It’s basically more on a personal level, asking him how he’s doing and if his mind is right and things of that nature. There’s a lot of things that’s much bigger than basketball, even though I know he would love to be here right now and we would love to have him here, but I kind of stray away from that.”
No. 2: Kawhi Leonard wants rings, not acclaim — Some players say they don’t care about fame, applause, blah, blah, but when Kawhi Leonard says it, you tend to believe him. His previous pattern of being soft-spoken and staying in the shadows plays to his personality. And yet this season, Leonard will probably make the All-Star team for the first time if he takes another leap forward in production. Here’s Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News with a discussion with Leonard on this topic:
“I just want (another) one of those up there,” Leonard said, referring to one of the championship banners hanging from the Spurs’ practice facility.
Leonard, 24, has little concern with individual accolades.
“In 2014 I wasn’t an All-Star or Defensive Player of the Year,” Leonard told the Express-News. “If I can get back and win a championship, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich wasn’t surprised Leonard’s motivation stems from pursuing a championship.
“That sounds like him,” Popovich said. “ … He really is more interested in winning than he is with (individual awards). He’s a really selfless kind of guy. … It’s not about him in any way, shape, or form. It’s always been about the group.”
It’s this type of attitude that supports the notion Popovich will be around for a few years after the Big Three dismantle. With Leonard, and now LaMarcus Aldridge added to the mix, Popovich doesn’t worry about character issues, just basketball.
“I’ve always said I’ve been fortunate with the guys I’ve had come through here,” said Popovich. “My job is pretty easy when people have that character and you don’t have to convince them to get over themselves, convince them to be happy for their teammate’s success, or to feel responsible to each other. (Leonard) already feels all that. He understands it when we talk about it. It makes it easier to have a team that enjoys playing together.”
But who could doubt Leonard if he did have MVP aspirations, or if making an All-Star team was a goal?
“I’m not one of the guys in the league for the fame,” Leonard said. “I’m here so I can take of my family, my mom, my friends and take care of myself. I love the game of basketball and as long as I can do that, keep playing and try to get some more championships with the organization, I’ll be happy. I don’t care about winning an MVP – the MVP doesn’t mean you’re the best player in the league.”
No. 3: Lillard ready to lead his team — It’s difficult to imagine the Trail Blazers finishing anywhere close to what they did last season, when they turned a 51-win season into yet another playoff berth. But then the mass exodus began and the lone returning starter is Damian Lillard, who’s hardly backing down from the challenge of spearheading the transition, painful as it might be. Lillard spoke about it with Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune:
If you’re counting, that’s four of five starters from the reigning Northwest Division champions. The rubble is clear, and Lillard is the only mainstay remaining. He’s the one being counted on to guide a bunch of young and unproven players, a gaggle of free agent signings and draft picks looking to make their mark.
Lillard says he’s up for the challenge.
“I have a lot of belief in myself,” Lillard told the Tribune. “I give a lot of credit to my upbringing, and I’ve already done more in this game than I ever thought I would. So I’m prepared for what’s to come. This year will be similar to what I went through at Weber State, except on a higher level.”
When the Jazz face the Blazers on Sunday at the Moda Center, the preseason will be almost over for both teams. When the regular season starts, Lillard will be counted on for more than just the 21 points, six rebounds and almost five assists per game that he provided last year.
He’ll be looked to for additional leadership. He’ll no longer have Matthews around to guard premier opposing backcourt players. He’ll have to take full ownership in clutch moments, instead of splitting them with Aldridge.
Most importantly, he’ll be the unquestioned top option, which means he’ll be at the top of opposing scouting reports nightly. Now in his fourth season, and armed with a new long-term contract, Lillard is prepared to be the face of the Blazers on and off the floor.
No. 4: Jabari Parker needs more time — Despite rehabbing well from the knee injury that ended his rookie season after a little more than a month, Jabari Parker will require a bit more time before he returns to the court. How much time is anyone’s guess right now, but the Bucks and Parker are playing it carefully and sense that there’s no need to rush. All they know is Parker will play at some point this season. Here’s Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with details:
Parker is making steady progress in his comeback from major knee surgery in January and is practicing with his teammates.
Right now, that’s enough for the 6-foot-8 forward and the Bucks.
“I’m feeling my legs getting underneath me,” Parker said after going through practice Thursday. “It’s going to be a grind.
“I’m looking long-term. I really don’t want to risk going back and lingering on if I’m not ready. I just want to be as productive as possible.
“There’s no use in me playing if I know I can’t contribute the way I want to.”
Parker suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament Dec. 15 in Phoenix, an injury that shortened his rookie season to 25 games.
But he said he doesn’t feel cheated by missing so much time.
“My No. 1 goal was to make the playoffs,” Parker said. “A lot of people looked at me like I was crazy.
“It’s all about the team; that’s where it starts. We all contributed at the end of the day.”
The Bucks did make the playoffs as the sixth-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, even without Parker. Now they have Parker returning and the addition of 6-foot-11 center Greg Monroe, raising hopes even higher for this season.
Coach Jason Kidd said no target date has been established for Parker to play in a game. Milwaukee has five preseason games left and opens the regular season Oct. 28 at home against the New York Knicks.
“For us it’s day by day, but at the end of the week we’ll see how he feels,” Kidd said. “We’ll continue with the game plan of loading and giving him more things to do and we’ll see how his body responds to it.
“So far his body has been great.”
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