NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Blatt airs out Cavs! — One of the best things about the first week of the NBA season is that it’s followed quickly by the second week of the NBA season. Contrary to what we’ve just seen over the past four or five days – hands wringing, teeth gnashing, exaggerated expectations of all sorts and an overall whoop-de-doo-ness that no one possibly can sustain – life in and around The Association eventually settles into a less frenetic, more manageable pace. Here’s a perfect example: Just about every team will have some rugged, behind-closed-doors meetings between now and mid-April. But because the Cleveland Cavaliers had theirs Friday, after their Opening Night embarrassment on TNT 12 hours earlier (they celebrated LeBron James‘ return to Cleveland in every way except beating the Knicks), this qualifies as a big deal and a “Eureka!” moment for coach David Blatt and his troops. As you take a peek at Dave McMenamin’s report for ESPN.com, notice how ordinary it all sounds, as far as a new coach and his new team – check out, for instance, Anderson Varejao‘s blistering comment. It’s just that everyone’s sample size is small right now, so everything is bigger!
“He just got on us,” James said when asked about Blatt’s message. “He got on us from the time we started our meeting to the time we left. And it’s great. For a team like us, we need that. I love constructive criticism. I never took it personal. It’s just an opportunity for us to get better, and it definitely put a fire into us.”
After turning the ball over 19 times against the Knicks led to 26 points for New York — turnovers Blatt called “irresponsible” and “borderline inexcusable” — the Cavs cut that number to just 12 against Chicago.
Blatt also told the team he wanted more ball movement, as well as player movement, on offense going forward.
“Fiery and to the point,” one source told ESPN.com when asked to characterize the meeting. “[Blatt] was very direct with the group about the expectations and what we need to do day in and day out.”
The Cavs showed a greater team resolve while playing for the second consecutive night, this time on the road, and outrebounded the Bulls 52-42 after New York had controlled the glass 35-33 the night before.
“Today in our meeting, we said we have to play better than the way we played last night,” Anderson Varejao said. “We have to play harder, tougher, and that’s what we did tonight.”
No. 2: Thunder’s Jackson seeks pay and play — Many folks assume that the Oct. 31 deadline for contract extensions for players entering their fourth seasons is all about the money. While that’s often the case, it isn’t an absolute. Consider Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson, who didn’t get an extension Friday but could be better off because of it. Jackson and his reps perceive his value to be much higher than he’s been able to show playing behind Russell Westbrook in the Thunder backcourt. Now, with Westbrook hurt and a long season of opportunity in front of him – along with some teams’ opinions already about Jackson’s potential – the Boston College product and No. 24 pick in 2011 might be able to turn restricted free agency next summer not just into a big payday but into freedom to seize a bigger role with his own team. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports peeled back some curtain on Jackson’s situation in OKC:
As rival teams evaluate restricted free-agency candidates next July, league executives believe Jackson holds a distinct advantage among his peers: The Thunder’s investment into their star players may limit how far the franchise can go to match a rich offer sheet and make Jackson an ideal target to change teams.
“Bottom line,” one NBA general manager told Yahoo Sports, “how much are they willing to pay for Westbrook’s backup?”
The loss of Westbrook to a fractured hand on Thursday night – possibly for a month – will give Jackson a chance to showcase his skills in the near future, a platform that could make Jackson’s case for a free-agent deal. Some teams believe Jackson could command a deal in the $13 million-$14 million-plus annual range – especially because of a belief that investing more into an offer sheet could cripple the Thunder’s chances of matching it.
The Thunder’s past inability to re-sign two key players to rookie extensions – James Harden and Jeff Green – led to the organization trading both players. Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti has insisted the Thunder would match any offer sheet for Jackson next summer, but skepticism exists throughout the league.
Jackson, 24, is sitting out with a sore ankle, and it is still unclear how soon he’ll be able to return to Oklahoma City’s lineup. Next summer, Jackson would pursue a three-year deal with a player option on a third year that would allow him to move into unrestricted free agency in 2017.
No. 3: Picking at that Chris Paul scab — Remember when the Los Angeles Lakers were above it all, that is, too successful and regal to engage in the “what if…” second-guessing common to lesser organizations? First, the Lakers rarely had much to second-guess, life tended to go so well for them. Second, the next great thing in Forum blue-and-gold always was just around the corner, so there was no great urgency to fret. But the Lakers have the time and the inclination now that they’ve dropped in status and in the standings – and let’s face it, Chris Paul plays in the same dang building. So Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times visited the topic of the Paul-to-the-Lakers trade that wasn’t, as the Lakers re-visited their close miss in landing the All-Star point guard:
Who could forget [former NBA commissioner David Stern] citing “basketball reasons” for vetoing the trade that was supposed to send Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom to New Orleans in December 2011?
The Lakers appeared to have acquired their most dynamic point guard since Magic Johnson, but then small-market owners raised a racket, Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert in particular calling the trade a “travesty” in a lengthy letter to the league.
David Stern said no. The deal was off.
“Sometimes you want to say, ‘Dammit, David Stern,'” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said before Friday’s game. “When they made the trade, before David kind of X’d it, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s going to be fantastic.'”
Then again, Scott might never have become the Lakers’ coach, the franchise going down a presumably more optimistic path with Paul than the one that took them through Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, not to mention Steve Nash, acquired from Phoenix in July 2012 for two first-round and two second-round picks.
Scott could only dream of Bryant and Paul in the same backcourt.
“Mmm-hmm. I could really imagine that,” he said Friday. “There would be a big smile on my face if that was the case.”
No. 4:Rubio gets (over)paid — There have been no David Kahn sightings around Target Center in Minneapolis in recent days, but some who closely watch the Minnesota Timberwolves might suspect that train-wreck of a basketball boss had returned. Kahn’s drafting of and presumed fixation on point guard Ricky Rubio led to Kevin Love‘s departure from that woebegone franchise (the Wolves refused to sign Love to a fifth year on his extension three years ago and instead traded him this offseason in advance of his freedom to leave). And now the Wolves – thanks to rapidly escalating player price tags, yes, but also their need to plant some personnel flags with someone besides youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine – have signed Rubio to a $56 million deal. Despite his troubles putting the ball through the hole. The Associated Press had more details:
About two hours before the midnight Eastern deadline, Rubio signed a four-year contract extension worth $55 million that includes another $1 million in incentives, bringing an end to a long and sometimes tense negotiation between the flashy Spanish point guard and the team that drafted him in 2009.
Rubio averaged 10.1 points, 8.1 assists and 2.3 steals but shot just 37 percent in his first three seasons. The shooting numbers led some to say the Timberwolves would have been better off waiting to see how Rubio performs this season before extending him an offer given that they would have had the ability to match any offer that he received on the open market next summer.
But owner Glen Taylor has long been big on loyalty, and he reached out directly to Rubio earlier this week to make one last push.
“I want to call Minnesota home for a long time,” Rubio said. “That’s why I signed the contract. My mom’s going to get mad at me, but I don’t leave home when I’m here. This is my second home. I really feel very welcome here.”
As salaries stand right now, Rubio’s $13.75 million average annual salary starting next season will be more than high profile point guards like Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Kyle Lowry and Ty Lawson. Rubio’s representatives targeted Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoe’s five-year, $70 million deal to eclipse, and ended up coming very close despite not having the leverage that Bledsoe had as a restricted free agent.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The ball’s not in Kyrie Irving‘s hands nearly as much these days, but the Cavaliers’ point guard sounds fine with that. … Three-a-days? former NBA forward Tyrus Thomas allegedly is putting in “at least” two workouts a day in the hopes of making a comeback. … Bulls fans will find out tonight in Minnesota just how “minor” Derrick Rose‘s latest injury (left ankle sprain suffered Friday vs. Clevelaned) really is. …