Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma City Thunder’

Waiters agrees to deal with Miami

For those casual NBA critics you run into occasionally – particularly the ones who finally have come off their hackneyed “no one plays defense” or “the regular season means nothing” salvos, only to replace them this summer by grumbling about the flood of TV money and overpaid mediocre players – we offer: Dion Waiters.

Waiters, a shooting guard who already was an object of bemusement for some NBA reporters on social media, appears to be adding another chapter. The Miami Heat have signed Waiters, who most recently played for Oklahoma City, to a reported two-year contract worth around $6 million.

Mediocre? Overpaid? Not in this instance. If the reported salary is correct, Waiters will play in 2016-17 for less than he was paid last season and not even half what he could have gotten by re-signing with the Thunder. But Waiters’ inconsistent play, and the gap between his skills and his perception of those skills, apparently meant less of a market for a guy who was the No. 4 pick overall in 2012. Waiters averaged a career-worst 9.8 points while shooting 39.9 percent and continuing a career-long trend as a minus player in net rating (99/108 in 2015-16).

Here is some context from Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman, including details on why the Thunder pulled their qualifying offer to Waiters:

The number is eye-popping. Waiters is a 24-year-old shooting guard who, despite his flaws, showed decent ability on both ends of the floor deep into the playoffs this past season. Many speculated that Waiters would get $10 million or more per year in this seller’s market.

But his restricted free [agency] dragged on deep into July. The Victor Oladipo trade last month, combined with the Kevin Durant departure, allowed the Thunder to take a new direction. After signing Alex Abrines, OKC had little interest in bringing Waiters back. So the Thunder rescinded a qualifying offer last week that, if Waiters accepted it, would’ve made him $6.8 million next season.

He then became an unrestricted free agent and, apparently, there wasn’t much interest out there despite available money from teams like the Nets and Sixers. So Waiters has agreed to a short-term, bet-on-yourself, pay-cut deal with the Heat.

Morning shootaround — July 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Iguodala says OKC should have won title | Lakers’ Nance Jr. injures handConley builds a legacy in Memphis

No. 1: Iguodala says Thunder should have won 2016 title — It will likely be a long time before any NBA fan forgets the epic seven-game series the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder waged in the Western Conference finals. From the storylines to the impact the Warriors’ rally to win the series had on both franchises, this playoff matchup will live on in NBA lore for years. One of the key performers in that series, Golden State forward Andre Iguodala, had some praise for the Thunder after the Warriors’ loss in The Finals has settled. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has more on what Iguodala told Power 105.1 radio in New York:

More than a week later, Kevin Durant‘s stunning departure still stings Thunder fans for a variety of reasons. Andre Iguodala just added another one.

Appearing on a recent New York City radio show, Iguodala told the hosts that the Thunder, not the 73-win Warriors or NBA champion Cavaliers, was the best team in the playoffs and should’ve won the title.

Quite infamously, OKC blew a 3-1 series lead and a double-digit second half cushion in Game 6, melting away its title hopes to the same Warriors who snagged away the face of the franchise a month later.

“Now that we got KD, I can say it: They were the best team last year in the league in the playoffs,” Iguodala said. “They were better than us. They were better than Cleveland. They were the best team in the playoffs. They should’ve won a championship.”

Why didn’t they?

“I mean, we just hawked them down,” Iguodala said. “But they were better than us. They played us better than anyone. They played us better than Cleveland. Some of the stuff they was doing, it’s like…oh, man. We gotta play perfect.”

***

(more…)

Blogtable: More surprising move — Durant to Warriors or Wade to Bulls?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: More surprising move: Durant’s or Wade’s? | Your lasting memory of Duncan? | Assessing Duncan’s meaning to Spurs?


> More surprising move: Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder to join the Warriors, or Dwyane Wade leaving the Heat to join the Bulls?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Wade leaving Miami after 13 years was the bigger surprise. Durant’s decision wasn’t entirely unexpected (although I was in the majority of folks who thought he would re-up with OKC on a short-term deal). But Wade taking his business with the Heat into the street struck me as a leverage ploy rather than an actual disintegrating relationship with Pat Riley & Co. Given the Bulls’ slide toward irrelevancy before they landed him, it makes sense that Chicago provided a comfortable landing spot for Wade and gave him the Kobe Bryant Golden Parachute contract for all he’d done … for a rival team?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Wade to Chicago, for sure. Because it just doesn’t make sense. I’m not talking about leaving Miami or anything to do with his legacy. I just don’t know what the hell they’re doing in Chicago and don’t see how this move makes the Bulls better. First time Wade’s legs act up, all the homecoming good feeling goes right out the window.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Wade leaving the Heat. Durant’s move is more rim shaking for the league, but was an option all along, even if what seemed to be a slight one at times. Wade taking a one-way ticket out of South Florida never seemed like a real possibility, though, maybe because he had been there about as long as the Everglades and maybe because there had been previous July staring contests with the Heat and everything worked out. They needed him there and he wanted to be there. The same thing would happen this time, right? Wrong.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Wade leaving the Heat isn’t as seismic as Duncan leaving the Spurs prior to retirement, but close. Few players identified more with a city than Wade with Miami, and I’ll even say Wade, three titles later, is the No. 1 athlete in South Florida history, ahead of former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. But he did the Heat a favor. Pat Riley didn’t want to tie up three years on an aging star. Riley’s allegiance is to owner Micky Arison, the guy who signs the checks, not Wade. So there are no bad guys here. Riley did what he had to do while Wade looked out for himself, even if he left Miami for just $3 million, the difference of his 2-year deal with Chicago and what Miami offered (no taxes in Florida).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As shocking as Kevin Durant’s move to Golden State might seem to some, the rumors of the two sides eying each other in free agency cranked up last summer. Dwayne Wade leaving the Miami Heat for his hometown Chicago Bulls was much more surprising, especially when you consider his final season in a Heat uniform. Wade was fantastic, vintage Wade even, as he guided the beat down Heat to the Eastern Conference semifinals. It’s hard to imagine either side wanting things to end the way it did. He’s one of those players you figured would finish his career with one team, a practice of yesteryear it appears in today’s free agent climate.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I always, always thought Wade would remain in Miami — that both sides would see the bigger picture and come to yet another contractual understanding for one another’s benefit. But it’s less and less that kind of world anymore. Which really puts Tim Duncan’s career with the Spurs into perspective.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Wade to Chicago. While I suspected Durant was likely to stay in Oklahoma City and was rather surprised to hear he was leaving, I don’t think most people even believed a Wade departure was anywhere near the table. In many ways, Wade *is* the Miami Heat, and his departure over a few million dollars is shocking. The Thunder haven’t even been in Oklahoma City all that long, but the Heat and Wade have won titles and made real history together in South Florida, a relationship which is now literally history.

Durant announces he’ll join Warriors

From NBA.com staff reports

The most sought-after free agent of the summer spent the weekend mulling a variety of offers.

Although Kevin Durant (and every other free agent on the market) cannot sign until the free agency moratorium is lifted on July 7, he penned a column on The Players’ Tribune in which he revealed he is joining the Golden State Warriors:

This has been by far the most challenging few weeks in my professional life. I understood cognitively that I was facing a crossroads in my evolution as a player and as a man, and that it came with exceptionally difficult choices. What I didn’t truly understand, however, was the range of emotions I would feel during this process.

The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction. But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.

I’m from Washington, D.C. originally, but Oklahoma City truly raised me. It taught me so much about family as well as what it means to be a man. There are no words to express what the organization and the community mean to me, and what they will represent in my life and in my heart forever. The memories and friendships are something that go far beyond the game. Those invaluable relationships are what made this deliberation so challenging.

It really pains me to know that I will disappoint so many people with this choice, but I believe I am doing what I feel is the right thing at this point in my life and my playing career.

I will miss Oklahoma City, and the role I have had in building this remarkable team. I will forever cherish the relationships within the organization — the friends and teammates that I went to war with on the court for nine years, and all the fans and people of the community. They have always had my back unconditionally, and I cannot be more grateful for what they have meant to my family and to me.

Thunder chairman Clay Bennett and general manager Sam Presti issued a statement Monday addressing Durant’s news:

Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett: 

“Kevin’s contributions to our organization during his nine years were profound, on and off the court. He helped the Thunder grow and succeed in immeasurable ways and impacted the community just the same. We thank him for his leadership, his play, and how he represented Oklahoma City and the entire state of Oklahoma.”

Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti:

“Kevin made an indelible mark on the Thunder organization and the state of Oklahoma as a founding father of this franchise. We can’t adequately articulate what he meant to the foundation of this franchise and our success. While clearly disappointing that he has chosen to move on, the core values that he helped establish only lead to us thanking him for the many tangible and intangible ways that he helped our program.”

 

Morning Shootaround — June 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Jazz seek depth | More straight talk, less Bull, please | Reputations sway Orlando-OKC trade reax

No. 1: Jazz seek depth  — The reported addition of George Hill allows the Utah Jazz to turn their focus to role players, according to Jody Genessy of the Deseret News, after a 2015-16 season in which injuries pulled back a curtain on a roster lacking depth:

Though Utah brass like their young core — including rehabbing Dante Exum and Alec Burks, both expected to be healthy by training camp — the organization has an offseason objective of fortifying the roster.

That means, if possible, acquiring more talent via free agency and/or trades.
Securing veteran playmaker George Hill — whom ESPN’s Zach Lowe described as “a really good point guard” — was a good start for this playoff-hungry franchise.

But Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey has even more in mind. He’s used words like “active” and “aggressive” in describing how his staff will approach the upcoming free-agency period.

In retrospect, Lindsey took responsibility for not having enough depth on the Jazz roster in 2015-16 to help Quin Snyder deal with the unexpected rash of injuries that the team experienced, including to Exum, Burks, Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.

“We’re not going to sit here and alibi. Every single sports team has injuries,” Lindsey said the day after the team’s 40-42 season ended a couple of wins shy of a playoff spot. “Ultimately, I’m the most responsible up here on the dais — not Quin, not the coaches, not the players — about roster construction.”

The Jazz’s plan last offseason seemed to make sense. The team had finished the 2014-15 season on a tear, winning 21 of their final 32 games led by a dominating defensive surge.

Instead of rolling the dice on acquiring experienced free agents to bolster the up-and-comers, Lindsey & Co. opted to gamble on youth. Injuries — and a late-season collapse — made that plan backfire on a team that came oh-so-close but not close enough.

“If we do this the right way with the right character — and Quin’s such a good communicator — we’ll be able to manage the season better,” Lindsey said. “The players are like everybody else. They saw what happened last season and they know that we know that we need some reinforcements. Come early July, we plan on being very active in the free-agent market.”

***

No. 2: More straight talk, less Bull, please — A year ago, it was the coach’s fault. This season, it was the players’ fault. At some point, it’s going to be management’s fault, even if the Chicago Bulls’ top-heavy down management style doesn’t acknowledge that. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has a reputation for backing the suits in his front-office, be it with the Bulls or the MLB White Sox. But sooner or later, general manager Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson are going to face some measure of scrutiny and have to ‘fess up for the team’s underperformance the same way former coach Tom Thibodeau did in 2015 and the way Derrick Rose did with his trade last week to New York. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune looked at the Bulls’ monolithic approach and the growing distrust from many of the teams’ fans:

The bigger issue that emerged is this: Will Bulls fans trust a rebuilding plan designed and executed by a man so many find hard to believe?

With Rose gone, Forman instantly becomes the most polarizing member of the organization, lacking Butler’s popularity while eliciting the most emotional reaction. Lately, it’s Grrrrrrr, Forman. Chicagoans can detect BS as easily as they can spot red-light cameras, and they dislike both.

Forman first sounded disingenuous when he insisted on saying the Bulls are retooling, not rebuilding. Then consider Forman’s muddled confirmation of the Bulls’ interest in Providence point guard Kris Dunn, selected fifth by the Timberwolves

“We liked him. … We had talks like we do about moving up,” Forman said.

Of course the Bulls did. On draft day, teams in flux as much as the Bulls weigh a variety of options, which is what made Forman’s flat denial of [Jimmy] Butler trade talks so implausible. How did the Bulls admittedly explore trading up for Dunn with the Celtics and Timberwolves without dangling Butler — whom both teams wanted?

Forman comes across to those of us who know him as likable and funny, but you never will hear the words candid or transparent used to describe the Bulls GM. With a return to respectability the most realistic goal for 2016-17, the Bulls could use a little candor and a lot of transparency. Anything less threatens to turn people off. A team likely to struggle on the court need not give fans another reason to look away.

The Bulls have no worries related to attendance — the United Center regularly sells out — but the Rose deal reminds us that this is the wrong week to ignore how perception can shape reality in Chicago sports. No metric accurately measures civic confidence, but experience tells me the Bulls rank lower in that category than any other professional sports team in town, at least rivaling the lack of faith in the White Sox. Since the day the Bulls replaced coach Tom Thibodeau with Fred Hoiberg — Forman’s hand-picked candidate — skepticism has surrounded a team whose dysfunctional decline only intensified the scrutiny

Everybody understood how badly Rose needed a change of scenery because of his incompatibility with Butler. But isn’t it fair to wonder how Hoiberg’s arrival exacerbated the problems that hastened Rose’s departure? And who is most responsible for Hoiberg coaching the Bulls? The same executive who just added “I Traded Derrick Rose” to his legacy.

Yet the Bulls have left no doubt whom they want associated most with their latest plan to get past LeBron James. To articulate the Bulls’ biggest transaction of the post-Jordan era, Forman appeared alone to face questions. To discuss drafting Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine, an excellent pick that created a positive ripple, Forman again sat solo behind the microphone.

***

No. 3: Reputations sway Orlando-OKC trade reax — Reputations matter. So do resumes. So when a successful team completes a trade with an unsuccessful team, there might be some bias involved when folks on the outside evaluate the deal, tilting its apparent merits ever so slightly. That’s what Orlando Sentinel columnist Brian Schmitz sees in the reactions to the Magic-Thunder trade in which veteran power forward Serge Ibaka was shipped to central Florida in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the draft pick that became Domantas Sabonis. What allegedly looks so lopsided to some doesn’t appear that way to Schmitz:

This is what happens when you lose as much as Orlando has the past four seasons: You lose credibility locally and nationally.

A lot of what you do will be panned by the public – no matter if essentially trading Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka makes sense for the Magic.

The Magic had, as [GM Rob] Hennigan called it, a “logjam” of wing players, thus making Oladipo expendable. The Thunder had a stable of big men, thus making Ibaka expendable. The underlying theme in both scenarios is that Oladipo and Ibaka will be looking for new contracts after next season. Neither player was particularly happy at times with their role last season.

So instead of the trade being portrayed more as good for both teams – ESPN’s Chad Ford did call it that — it is being hailed as a win for the Thunder.

“We need to call the cops — OKC robbed Orlando,” tweeted HBO Sports’ Bill Simmons.

“I don’t bet against [Thunder GM] Sam Presti when it comes to picking players. Trading Ibaka for Sabonis/Oladipo/Ilyasova? Advantage, OKC,” tweeted Skip Bayless of Fox Sports.

After I lauded Hennigan’s move, I received an-email from a ticked-off Magic fan that echoed others: “That’s a bad trade and a bad column. Let’s face it. This Magic GM is just as bad as the last one.”

Perception is a funny thing.

The trade made by the Thunder is largely considered genius because they’re contenders. The deal made by the Magic is largely considered wrong-headed because they’re bottom-dwellers.

Orlando also is perceived as a somewhat dysfunctional franchise, and it’s not without merit. They couldn’t keep Dwight Howard or — most recently — Scott Skiles from walking out.

I get it: OKC earns the benefit of the doubt.

But when you have All Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, any move the Thunder make tends to look brilliant. They skew the evaluation system.

Why, all of a sudden, Oladipo has morphed into Dwyane Wade and Ibaka is viewed as a spare part. An ESPN.com article even suggests that this trade moves OKC ahead of Golden State in the West. Wow, if Oladipo had that kind of impact, the Magic should have won more games.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With Kyrie Irving and Harrison Barnes on board, Team USA’s roster finally looks set. … There is a Minnesota media crush on Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio that might not be shared by new coach Tom Thibodeau and it has some in the Twin Cities fretting. … What is life like for Knicks’ prospect Kristaps Porzingis back home in Latvia? Esquire magazine with the answer to everyone’s most pressing question.

Morning shootaround — June 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Trade talks for Butler fizzle out | Celtics stand pat on Draft night | Magic, Thunder both benefit from trade

No. 1: Reports: Trade talks for Butler fizzle on Draft night — On Wednesday, the Chicago Bulls dealt former MVP and hometown hero Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks. On Thursday night, the Bulls held the No. 14 pick in the NBA Draft and as the night unfolded, rumors began to circulate that the Bulls were looking to trade their lone remaining star, Jimmy Butler, to perhaps the Minnesota Timberwolves. Ultimately, Butler wasn’t dealt and remains in Chicago, but K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune details why that’s the case (and some of the deals Chicago was offered):

The Bulls held advanced discussions with the Celtics centered on Butler and the No. 3 pick. One proposal featured Avery Bradley, a source said. Another involved Jae Crowder, a second source said. Other pieces would have been included.

But the Celtics have a reputation around the league of trying to win trades, and the overall package kept changing and never met the Bulls’ liking, sources said. Management understands the talent and value of Butler. And the Bulls ultimately liked the package they received from the Knicks for Rose more than the package offered for Butler.

Butler is on a favorable deal in the age of the rising salary cap. And the Bulls appreciate his two-way talents and hard work ethic, which is why the internal debate proved so engaging. Talks with the Timberwolves, who selected Dunn at No. 5 after the Celtics passed on him, stalled when they offered Ricky Rubio and the No. 5 pick, sources said.

“We like Jimmy Butler,” Forman said. “We didn’t shop Jimmy Butler.”

In a scene reminiscent of Elton Brand visiting the Berto Center in 2001 after Jerry Krause traded him to the Clippers for the draft rights to Tyson Chandler, Butler stopped by the Advocate Center for a workout. He was in an area off limits to reporters.

Timberwolves coach and President Tom Thibodeau told reporters in Minnesota he drafted Dunn to keep him.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has more on how the Wolves angle of the trade sputtered out and how Forman tried to recover after it:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Timberwolves drafted Dunn, after the Providence guard unexpectedly lasted until the fifth pick, then pushed hard to see whether they could hammer out a trade with the Bulls, who are also known to be big fans of Dunn.

But the Bulls, sources say, ultimately decided not to go ahead with a deal in which they’d be forced to surrender Butler just one day after completing a blockbuster trade with New York that sent Derrick Rose to the Knicks.

Butler was actually spotted at the Bulls’ facility Thursday evening, a source told ESPN.com, but Bulls general manager Gar Forman said after the draft that he didn’t even know Butler was in the building and tried to cool off trade speculation regarding the two-time All-Star.

“Jimmy’s in and out of the building all the time when he’s in town,” Forman said, “During the draft, we started getting some texts and saw something on TV that we were in heated talks with somebody. I don’t know what it was saying. We were in no talks with anybody. There was no discussion during the entire draft this evening as far as Jimmy Butler was concerned.”

Butler rubbed teammates and front-office personnel the wrong way last season when he tried to take a more vocal leadership role within the locker room. But Forman, in a display of semantic gymnastics, held to the fact that the Bulls weren’t actively shopping Butler.

“We have never made a call in regards to Jimmy Butler,” Forman said. “We’ve talked about, we value Jimmy Butler, we’re very happy to have Jimmy Butler. We’ve got a phenomenal basketball player who was an All-Star and All-NBA defender, is still young. Obviously we’ve got him under contract long-term, those are all positive. He, again, is what we want to be. We’ve said this all along. We like Jimmy Butler, we did not shop Jimmy Butler. Did we receive calls? Of course we did, and that’s our job to listen to calls. We get calls on a lot of our players, and that’s stuff that happens all throughout the league.”

“You’ve got to keep an open mind,” Forman said in regard to a potential future Butler deal. “I think [Bulls executive vice president] John Paxson said it best when we met [with the media] in [April]. He was only around one guy in an 11-year career that was untradable, and that was Michael Jordan. I mean, you’re always going to listen, but we value — and I’ve said this — we value Jimmy. We appreciate Jimmy. We think Jimmy is a heck of a basketball player. We love his work ethic. And for us to ever consider anything, it would have to be something that just absolutely knocked our socks off.”

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — June 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Love likely to play, be reserve in Game 4 | Thompson trying to snap out of funk | Report: Durant not considering Rockets | Terry plans to play 2 more seasons

No. 1: Report: Love likely to come off bench in Game 4 Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love practiced with the team yesterday as it prepares for Game 4 of The Finals tonight (9 ET, ABC). Love has not yet been cleared medically to play after the concussion he suffered in Game 2 ultimately kept him out of Game 3 on Wednesday night. According to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, Love is not only expected to play tonight but will do so in a reserve role:

Kevin Love is expected to play Friday and it’s likely he will come off the bench in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, league sources told the Beacon Journal.

Love still has another medical examination he must pass on Friday before he is cleared from the league’s concussion protocol, but he took part in some on-court shooting drills Thursday and the team is privately confident he will be available to play.

Coach Tyronn Lue would not discuss Love’s role on Thursday, insisting he hadn’t given it much thought. While one source stressed no final decision has been made yet, it’s likely at this point Love will be a reserve for the first time since April 14, 2010 – the final game of his second year in the league.

When asked generally about how he handles lineup changes, Lue said it’s important to be honest.

“They might not like it at the time, but I’ve always learned in this business if you tell the truth, guys understand and they know what the truth is,” Lue said. “They might be mad for a second, but they can always get back to understanding and realize that’s the right thing. And if you tell the truth, guys can respect that.”

The Cavs beat the Warriors 120-90 in Game 3 Wednesday for their first win in this series while Love sat. Lue inserted Richard Jefferson into the starting lineup, moved LeBron James to power forward and the Cavs flourished with their best game of the series.

The Cavs have privately been concerned for months how Love would match up defensively in a Finals rematch against the Warriors, with one team executive offering during the regular season that Love may have to become the Cavs’ version of David Lee – the high-priced, high-scoring forward who came off the bench last year to help spark the Warriors to a championship.

The Warriors shot 42 percent in Game 3 when both Klay Thompson and Steph Curry struggled to find a rhythm and James neutralized Draymond Green. The always outspoken Green said he didn’t see any difference with James at power forward instead of Love.

“There ain’t no Xs and Os adjustment they made (that) worked. They punked us. That was the gist of it,” Green said. “I continually try to figure out, what adjustment can they make? I didn’t think there was an adjustment they can make other than to play harder than us. And that’s what they did.”

Hard to be a contender if hiding weak defenders

CLEVELAND – Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have, between them, a half dozen appearances in the NBA All-Star Game. But none on the league’s annual All-Defensive squads.

J.R. Smith is one of the streakiest and most dangerous 3-point shooters in the game, but by his own admission, he only made a commitment to the other side of the ball, as it’s called, within the last few months. He’s been in the NBA for 12 years.

Even LeBron James, who twice finished second for the Defensive Player of the Year award and strung together six top-10 finishes from 2009-2014, has slipped back in the balloting since his return to Cleveland. In the first two games of the 2016 Finals, James has been caught napping, neglecting his man or needlessly switching to create a liability in the Cavaliers’ attempts to stop (or slow down) Golden State.

Which leads to this question: Shouldn’t All-Star caliber offensive players be able to play good, if not stellar defense?

Physically, you’d think that any player who has the necessary quickness, instincts and elevation to score proficiently ought to be able to mirror some or most of that at the other end. But it isn’t always so, and in Cleveland’s case, the starting lineup is carrying two or three guys who seem overmatched defensively.

“Some of the skill sets, kids pick up when they’re younger,” Golden State assistant coach Ron Adams said over the weekend. “Some kids are two-way players – they enjoy it, they see the value of it. Some guys come up as one-way players. Having said that, everyone has different gifts. There are some guys who never commit to defense who maybe could be better.”

Adams, it should be noted, was speaking generically about NBA players. He wasn’t talking about any Cleveland players specifically, so this is a non-starter as bulletin board material heading into Game 3 Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena.

But as a longtime defensive guru wherever he has worked, Adams has seen players who come up as AAU darlings, expected only to flash their dazzling ball skills, as often or more than he’s seen real knee-bending, shorts-tugging defensive diggers who also happen to shoot lights out.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t change.

“Look at Kyle Korver, who transformed in our [Chicago Bulls] program to be a good defensive player,” Adams said. “Before that, he was not considered an asset. Watching him in Atlanta the last couple of years, they’ll put him on guys that we never would have put him on. And he’s guarding them pretty well.

“I think it’s your mentality. Sometimes it’s how you’re raised as a basketball player. A coach you have who’s maybe more offensive- than defensive-oriented. Or maybe if he’s defensive-oriented, you’re stunted offensively and you make up for it at some point.”

Steph Curry, Golden State’s two-time Most Valuable Player winner, has taken home two of those trophies while lugging around a reputation as a willing but mediocre defender. Other Warriors – Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala – are considered to be excellent on defense.

“Ever since I was a kid, I just hated to be scored on,” Thompson said. “Playing 1-on-1 with my brothers growing up, I think I developed that instinct not to have my big brother or little brother score on me, and I just carried it over to the pros.

“The best players to ever play this game were two-way players, and that’s what makes our team so good – we’ve got so many two-way players. Guys who play both sides of the ball, both in our starters and off our bench. Why not take pride in defense? It’s 50 percent of the game.”

So your typical All-Star has the tools, at least, to play defense well?

“All of those guys have the ability,” Thompson said. “But a lot of guys have big workloads for their teams. So you’ve got to cut ’em some slack.”

Given that it’s rare for even the best teams to have five defensive craftsmen in the lineup, Adams was asked how many slackers a good team can hide or survive?

“It can’t be too many,” he said. “If you have three really good core defenders, hopefully at least one of them’s a perimeter player, then that’s not a bad formula.

“You try to weave in the weaker defenders. Hide them in certain cases. Help them, so they have confidence they’re not going to be exposed.”

Adams gave credit to Mark Jackson, Golden State’s coach before Steve Kerr took over in 2014-15, with laying a strong defensive foundation.

“We had good defensive receptivity when we came in,” Adams said. “But you have to have guys who have defensive chips in ’em. That’s really the key thing, I think. It’s very hard to play good team defense without some defenders who have that innate ability or that mindset toward playing defense – and are good at it.

“You take Oklahoma City, they have a lot of good defenders on their team and they have a defensive mindset. Then Kevin [Durant] really committed to defense in that last series and when he does that, they’re fantastic.”

Morning shootaround — June 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs looking for their defense | Turner: Mid-range shots are ‘the future’ | Presti confident about OKC’s offseason | Chandler says he’s ‘happy’ for now in Phoenix

No. 1: Cavs looking defenseless in these Finals The Cleveland Cavaliers rumbled through the Eastern Conference portion of the 2016 playoff bracket, shielding themselves from just about every blow the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors could throw at them. As Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com points out, Cavs star LeBron James took that shield metaphor literally early on, giving each of his teammates a literal shield to illustrate how the team must stand strong together to reach its title goal. Yet as Cleveland faces a 2-0 series deficit in The Finals, it is left at a loss for what to do next:

Golden State is up 2-0 following a 110-77 battering of the Cavs Sunday night at Oracle Arena. After cruising through the first three rounds with a 12-2 mark, Cleveland has been outscored in this series by a staggering 48 points.

“What we’ve done these last two games doesn’t put a damper or a cloud over how we got to this point,” James argued. “We’re still here…”

Cleveland won’t be here for long if this continues.

Right now the Cavaliers, who possess the second-highest payroll in league history, are defenseless and the outcomes have shown as much. They’re absent of a shield, but most significantly they’re absent of fight. They’re going up against a Western Conference predator who’s equipped with an abundance of ammo and all the Cavaliers have done is scurried for cover.

Is home court at The Q going to make that huge of a difference come Wednesday? Cleveland had two days to prepare for Game 2, and yet still rolled up in a ball when adversity came knocking.

Before Kevin Love exited the game with concussion symptoms, he suffered from Draymond Green symptoms. The Warriors’ forward was in his head and made it a point to stay attached to Love more than he did in Game 1.

Love was 2-of-7 from the field with three boards in 20 minutes of play. He looked intimidated. It looked like he didn’t want any part of that game. Green was so glued to him that Love gave him a little shove in the first half. Green just smiled, and got right back in Love’s personal space.

Kyrie Irving struggled the most, going 5-of-14 for 10 points in 33 minutes. He’s now shooting 33 percent for the series. But the team typically goes as the leader of the team goes.

“LeBron is in a unique situation to where we all know how (bleeping) good he really is,” Channing Frye said. “The humility he has with us shows us, ‘Hey, I need you guys for all of us to succeed.’ We know he’s going to help us, but he needs everybody to be locked in.”

First and foremost, James needs to be locked in. In these two games, the four-time MVP is averaging 21.0 points on 42 percent shooting and has coughed the ball up 11 times. The Warriors have suddenly transformed into a scary defensive bunch.

The perimeter defensive mixture of Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson and Green has been a nightmare for James. Whether James wants to admit it or not, he is being contained. And if he’s contained, the Cavaliers will end up being ashamed when it’s all said and done. The series is far from over, but the poor body language and the disconnect in communication is in dire need of repair.

James and the Cavaliers are being exposed before our very eyes, and there’s no shield that can hide that.

Morning shootaround — June 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Health, experience key in 2016 Finals | Curry: ‘Face of NBA’ talk ‘annoying’ | Report: Knicks to hire Hornacek | Durant’s teammates await his decision

No. 1: Health, experience at center of these Finals The Cleveland Cavaliers rolled into The 2015 NBA Finals without power forward Kevin Love (shoulder) and only had star guard Kyrie Irving for one game before he suffered a series-ending knee injury. The Golden State Warriors entered The 2015 NBA Finals healthy, but green in terms of experience on the big stage. Oh, but how those storylines have changed as Game 1 of The 2016 NBA Finals (9 p.m. ET, ABC) looms. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle details how wellness and familiarity will be key in this Finals rematch:

“We’re a better team than we were last year, based on experience and what we’ve been through,” Stephen Curry said. “We’re better equipped to handle the scene of the Finals — all of that is kind of thrown at you when you get to the Finals the first time. Obviously, they have some guys healthy, and they’re playing really good basketball, rolling through the Eastern Conference.”

On the periphery, this looks like a rematch of last year’s Finals, which the Warriors won in six games to bring home a title for the first time in 40 years. But the Warriors and Cavaliers are far different teams than the ones that arrived at Oracle Arena a year ago.

The Warriors are champions, a team that felt that target on its back all season and extraordinarily dodged the arrows to complete the best regular season in NBA history.

They went into last season’s NBA Finals with no players who had been there and only one who had advanced as far as the conference finals. This season, they have 13 men with rings.

“I think we’re much better,” Klay Thompson said. “I think we know what to expect on this stage. I don’t think anyone is going to be nervous, like we were last year. Now, we know to expect that shots can be a little harder to come by and fouls can be a little harder.”

The Cavaliers are healthy again.

Point guard Kyrie Irving, who left Game 1 of last year’s Finals with a fractured kneecap, has been unstoppable at getting to the rim this postseason. Kevin Love, who was lost early in last year’s playoffs to a dislocated shoulder, has nine postseason double-doubles this year.

Cleveland made an under-the-radar acquisition of Channing Frye near the trade deadline, and the 6-foot-11 center has a playoff-best 82.1 true-shooting percentage — a number that includes free-throw shooting and both three-point and two-point field-goal shooting.

“I think they’re dramatically different,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said of the Cavs. “Obviously, they’re healthy, but not only are they healthy, they also changed their style. They tried to grind us to pulp last year, playing big. They were slowing the ball and the pace down. This year, they’ve added Channing Frye, and they’re not playing Timofey Mozgov. They’ve got shooting all over the place, so it’s a much different team.”

The Warriors are going to have to adjust, but Kerr wasn’t ready to reveal his plan just yet: “I won’t tell you what I’m going to do.”

Cleveland (12-2 this postseason) has outscored its opponents by 177 points in the first three rounds and opened by winning its first 10 games, the first East team to accomplish the feat.

That should be the narrative of the Finals, but this is a player-driven league, so it’ll come down to Stephen Curry against LeBron James — players who rarely will guard each other.

“I’m not in the business of ranking or debating who’s what,” Curry said. “At the end of the day, it’s about winning. The fact that we won the championship last year and were the last team standing obviously is what was most important to me. Us being back here against the Cavs again, there are obviously story lines that the basketball fans will think are pretty cool.”