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NBA San Antonio Spurs Kawhi Leonard

Beware The Spurs In Trade Talks For Kawhi Leonard

The rest of the NBA should know by now to beware of the San Antonio Spurs in trade talks and that includes Kawhi Leonard. When you are dealing with the Spurs, just accept the fact that somehow, someway you’re going to look bad afterwards.

There is perhaps nothing that gets NBA teams, their fans and the media more excited and willing to accept huge risks than the possibility of landing a true superstar talent and Leonard fits the description. No one is talking about this superstar’s injury history and it’s an annual event. (See Rotoworld)

Leonard was drafted in the lockout shortened 2011-12 season and missed the Rising Stars Challenge game with a minor injury, but he played in 64 of the 66 games and that was the first and last time he got close to playing an entire season.

Over the next five years Leonard missed an average of 15 regular season games and the Spurs had every reason to believe last year shouldn’t have been any different as their doctors said he could play, but he didn’t and “choose” to sit out 73 contests.

Quad (thigh), calf, ankle, shoulder, both hands, right eye, jumper’s knee, a disturbing number of games due to illness and rest have all impacted on Leonard’s availability over his seven seasons in the NBA as he’s missed over 150 games – so far. However, the big concern has got to be that right thigh as Leonard missed a month in November/December 2012 due to that one and it’s his right thigh that was was hurt in March 2016 and was the primary issue during all of last season.

The battle lines appear to be drawn around the Spurs team doctors who reportedly thought Leonard could play last year and Leonard’s own advisers suggesting he needed rest and recovery. When you’ve missed as many games as Leonard does each season, maybe Leonard was right? Then again, maybe the Spurs are starting to believe Leonard’s pain tolerance isn’t very high?

Suddenly an organization that never lets a star player escape is filling the rumor mill with trade proposals for a true franchise changing level talent. Not very Spurs-like and to the cynically minded, a huge warning sign.

Supposedly the trade offers for Leonard have been underwhelming so far, but maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how many games he played last season. Another superstar, DeMarcus Cousins, pretty much had to beg teams to make him an offer in free agency coming off an injury and Leonard’s injury situation isn’t nearly as straightforward as Cousins.

The end game in any trade for Leonard is to sign him to a new $200 million contract next summer, but if his past injury history is predictive of his future, the Spurs could be the big winners no mater what they get back in a trade.

Buyer beware.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Confidently took vacation during the 2018 NBA Draft believing the Raptors weren’t about to do anything.

 

 

NBA Celtics Raptors Cavaliers coaches

An NBA Must Win Sunday?

Except for the Spurs, every other NBA team playing this Sunday will live to play another day, but that doesn’t mean these aren’t must win games and the teams that need to win might surprise you.

Celtics (2-1) at Bucks

The Bucks finally won a game when they got back home, but it shouldn’t matter. Even a depleted Celtics roster should take this team of under-performers out in five, so the pressure is on, on the Celtics that is.

Celtics were full value for their 55 win season and losing in the first round would be a major embarrassment, even missing some key players. This is a must win game to put the Bucks in their place and wrap this series up at home on Tuesday.

Warriors (3-0) at Spurs

Not a must win for either team, but it’d be nice if the Dubs could end the Spurs suffering quickly.

Raptors (2-1) at Wizards

The Wizards “talent” showed up in Game Three just the way it does for any team that still has some element of pride left, but the 59 win Raptors weren’t just the NBA’s best team at home this season, they also had the East’s second best road record.

The Wizards might feel bad about their season if they lose Game Four, but the first-place Raptors, who have a history of going seven games deep against lesser competition, are the team that will feel all the pressure if they can’t pull this one out.

Cavs at Pacers (2-1)

Is there a more fragile team in the playoffs than the Cavs? The Pacers have an opportunity to break Cleveland’s spirit and put the most feared team (okay player) in the East out in the first round. All the Pacers have to do is win Game Four at home. There’s no way Indiana can afford to give a LeBron James led team hope.

The “must win” teams on Sunday are the Celtics, Raptors and Pacers and they should all be favored.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors assistant coach Jerry Stackhouse

NBA Coach Firing Season Opens Doors For Raptors Jerry Stackhouse

By Frank McLean

In the NFL they call it Black Monday. The day after the regular season ends and head coaches who have had a bad year don’t want to answer their cell phones, check their texts or emails because they are going to get fired. The NBA coach firing season starts on Black Thursday and this year it got underway before the sun even had a chance to rise in the eastern time zone.

In what was one of the worst kept secrets in the league the New York Knicks fired Jeff Hornacek early Thursday as their plane landed in New York City after they finished the season knocking off the Cavaliers in Cleveland.

Hornacek probably knew the noose was coming when all three of his bosses, president Steve Mills, general manager Scott Perry and player development director Craig Robinson, came along for the trip. They weren’t there to do a team evaluation, they know the Knicks stink and the job was to hand out a pink slip.

So since 2001 the Knicks will now be hiring their 11th coach since Jeff Van Gundy resigned in 2001.

11 coaches in 17 years, now if that is not the definition of a poorly run franchise, what is?

Also fired was assistant coach Kurt Rambis. Hornacek and Rambis are the last remaining pieces of the Phil Jackson era, so now, finally, the new management team can hire their own people.

Meanwhile in Orlando president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond fired head coach Frank Vogel after two years on the job.

Vogel was a hire of previous management and it’s not because he had a 54-110 record with the Magic. They know he is a good coach and he had 250-184 record with the Indiana Pacers before Larry Bird fired him for reasons no could figure out after the Raptors eliminated them in a tough seven game first round playoff series.

It’s a case of Weltman and Hammond wanting to bring in their own coach.

In an article in Thursday mornings New York Post, Knicks beat writer Marc Berman listed names of possible candidates like ESPN commentator Mark Jackson, former and current head coaches David Fizdale, Jason Kidd, David Blatt, Doc Rivers if the Clippers release him and Raptors 905 G League head coach Jerry Stackhouse.

ESPN is already reporting that the Knicks have heavy interest in the Raptors 905 coach, but Orlando could also be a landing place for him and Stackhouse hinted he’s just waiting for his phone to ring.

“For a (NBA) team that needs a coaching change and we don’t know which teams those are, hopefully I get an opportunity to interview,” Stackhouse said after his loss in the G League Finals. “I hate speaking about other people’s jobs that haven’t even been taken yet. As those dominos fall, hopefully I get an opportunity to sit down and talk about what I’ve been able to witness being a part of the Raptors organization.”

Weltman is the former number two man to Raptors president Masai Ujiri and he would be crazy not to go after Stackhouse or Raptors assistant coach Nick Nurse who is another hot candidate likely to get a shot at coaching an NBA team.

Probably, by the time this day is through, it shouldn’t be a surprise if more coaches are fired. It is Black Thursday.

Here’s a hint. If you are an NBA coach and you finished with a record below .500, don’t answer the phone. You may be unemployed before it’s time for dinner.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Khem Birch

Montreal’s Khem Birch Is Finishing His NBA Rookie Season Strong

It hasn’t been easy for Montreal’s Khem Birch to find minutes as an NBA rookie on an Orlando Magic team that features Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic at center, but as the season winds down, he has been getting his opportunities and he has looked especially strong over the past five games.

“He’s been playing great,” Magic head coach Frank Vogel said prior to the team’s game in Toronto. “Every opportunity that he’s gotten to play this year he’s nailed it, just with great energy, great feel for the game offensively even though he’s not a big shooter.

“A post player, he has a little bit limited offensive game, but he hasn’t been a liability because of how well he plays with the pass. He’s very good in a short roll making a target pass, extra pass to the weak side, good decisions. Our bigs become quarterbacks and decision-makers when they get the ball in the pocket like that and he’s done a great job with that.

“He is active all over the court defensively with his hands, deflections, blocked shots and offensively keeping balls alive.

“Him playing overseas the last couple of years was invaluable to his development.”

Birch put up a line of 12 points and 12 rebounds in front of his friends and family in Toronto and has averaged 11 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 22.4 minutes over his last five games. His Mom was in the crowd at the Air Canada Centre.

“My Mom, my Dad, his wife, my brothers, my aunts, uncles, 11, 15 probably,” Birch said would be in Toronto to support him.

“(My Mom) already told me to make matching shirts and stuff.  I’m not really a fan of that, but what can you do. You can’t get mad people trying to support you. In the future I’ll look back and just be like wow, people really supported me. Now I’m just going to be embarrassed.”

He had nothing to be embarrassed about on that night.

Birch was in Toronto a couple of years ago for a predraft workout with the Raptors, but even after averaging a double-double at UNLV and blocking 124 shots that season, he wasn’t ready to make the jump to the NBA.

“I was kind of immature back then,” Birch explained. “Now I’m more mature. I’ve been thru a lot since then. These past two years I’ve been thru so much. If I had the same mindset now back then, I probably would have made it (to the NBA).

“A lot of guys take this for granted. I’ve been thru so much, now I know what it takes to make it. Not to take it for granted and to go hard.

“It’s a great experience, it’s a lifelong dream and it’s something on my bucket list (to play) in the NBA. Unfortunately we didn’t get a lot of wins this year, but I’m blessed to be here.”

If Orlando can figure out their mess of a roster, Birch should be back with the Magic again next season. The 25-year-old rookie has shown himself to be a prospect worth developing.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Can Cavs Hold Onto Third In The East?

The battle for third place in the NBA East is tighter than anyone could have imagined. The Cavaliers, 76ers, and Pacers are crowded together with just one game separating third from fifth. So, can the Cavs hold on?

Cleveland 45-30, 7-3 in their last 10 games

7 games remaining:

At home: Pelicans 43-32, Mavs 23-52, Raptors 55-20, Wizards 41-33, Knicks 27-49

On the road: @Philly 44-30, @NY 27-49

Philadelphia 44-30, 9-1 in their last 10 games

8 games remaining:

At home: Hawks 21-54, Nets 24-51, Cavs 45-30, Mavs 23-52, Bucks 39-35

On the road: @Charlotte 34-42, @Detroit 34-40,  @Atlanta 21-54

Indiana 44-31, 7-3 in their last 10 games

7 games remaining:

At home: Warriors 54-20, Hornets 34-42

On the road: @Sacramento 24-51, @Clippers 41-34, @Denver 40-35, @Toronto 55-20, @Charlotte 34-42,

It’s obvious the Pacers have the toughest schedule and should be more worried about holding off the Wizards …. unless they want to slip into sixth place to avoid the 4/5 matchup in the first round of the playoffs which might not be all that bad of an idea.

Washington (41-33) still has to face the Rockets, Cavs and Celtics, so their road isn’t all that easy either.

Between the Cavs and 76ers, who each have 30 losses to this point, the 76ers have the significantly easier schedule and they’ve been red hot since losing to the Pacers two weeks ago. However, it wouldn’t come as that big of a surprise if the winner of their game vs the Cavs at Philips Arena decides who gets third.

The overhanging question about Cleveland’s season will probably be answered by the games against New Orleans, Toronto and Washington immediately before the big game against Philly. If the Cavs don’t take at least two of these three, the game at Philips might just be being played for pride.

If you have to speculate on who will finish third thru fifth in the East, right now it looks like 76ers, Cavs and Pacers in that order. Raptors and Celtics should plan accordingly.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Cavs LeBron James Has Already “Flipped The Switch”

There remains, albeit in diminishing numbers, those who insist the Cavs and LeBron James will simply “Flip The Switch” when the playoffs arrive and make yet another appearance in the NBA Finals. The issue being James had to flip that switch way back on February 7th just to slow a Cavs slide into oblivion.

On February 6th Cleveland rolled into Orlando only to be blown out 116-98 by a really bad Magic team. The loss punctuated a 7 win 14 loss slide that looked like it had no end and if not stopped, would put in question any chance at home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs or, gasp, worse. In reality, home court in the first round remains at risk even now.

Fortunately Cleveland has one of the best players to ever play the game and he put those woefully inept Cavs on his shoulders and stopped the bleeding.

In the next game James put up 37 points on 72.7 percent shooting, 10 rebounds, and 15 assists to help the Cavs steal an overtime game 140-138 from Minnesota and start a four game winning streak where he was 30/9.5/13 and hitting 45.5 percent from three. Now that’s “flipping the switch.”

Ignore that big 10 player multi-team trade the Cavs reshuffled their roster with on February 8th. LeBron flipped that switch all on his own and it’s still turned on just to keep the in jury riddled Cavs from losing any more ground in the standings.

The four game winning streak ended with a loss at home to Washington, a team the Cavs needed to beat and are only clinging to a one game advantage over as of March 20, and James has had to average 30.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 9.4 assists just to keep the Cavs at a .500 pace, 7 wins and 7 losses.

Those past 14 games weren’t exactly against the best in the NBA either. Cleveland has only managed wins against Memphis (19-51), Brooklyn (23-48), Detroit (32-39), Denver (38-33), Phoenix (19-53), Chicago (24-46) and Milwaukee (37-33). (No they haven’t played any of Houston, Golden State, Toronto or Boston in this stretch – yet.)

The Cavs continue to cling to third place in the East, 11.5 games back of Toronto and 5 games behind Boston, but except for the two games against the Raptors at The Q their remaining schedule is soft enough for a James that has “flipped the switch” to protect his team’s precarious playoff seeding, a half game better than Indiana.

The Raptors likely don’t need to win either game in Cleveland to remain in first place, but they’d undoubtedly like to build on that 34 point beat-down they laid on the Cavs in January. The Cavs, on the other hand, need James to flip that switch up another level (assuming their is one) or risk going into the postseason looking like an also-ran for the first time since James’ return.

Raptors face the Cavs on March 21st and again on April 3rd.

Imagine if James slips back to those (very good) pre-flipped-the-switch averages of 24 points, 7.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists during the Cavs 7-14 run?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and Charlotte Hornets Dwight Howard

Are The Hornets Throwing Shade At Dwight Howard?

So maybe things haven’t quite worked out in Charlotte the way they had hoped this season and Dwight Howard, the $23.5 million man they acquired in the summer to shore up the middle, hasn’t made any noticeable difference to winning more games. So as the season winds down to its inevitable conclusion, have the Hornets starting throwing shade in his direction?

As politely as head coach Steve Clifford could say it, getting 16 points and 12 rebounds from Howard this season hasn’t made a difference and, you know, the NBA is full of players that put up stats that don’t mean much on losing teams.

 
“So much of numbers is going to be, you are going to be evaluated first and foremost by your impact on winning,” Clifford said.

By the way, the 28-36 Hornets are in 10th place in the East, 5.5 games out of eighth place with only 18 games left in the season. Miami would have to implode to give the Hornets a remote shot at making the playoffs as a sub-.500 team at this point. It’s all over but the crying.

“The nature of this game is this is that you have to try and play in a way that is good for you and your team is successful. Whether that’s fair or not, that’s the way it starts and that’s the way basketball should work. It always has and it always will.

“The NBA is made of a number of guys that put up good numbers and your not going to win because of the nature of how they play.

“I think that he has played well, but obviously we’ve been inconsistent.”

It wouldn’t be fair to lay all the blame for a poor season in Charlotte at the feet of Howard and his coach doesn’t do that, unfortunately for this 32-year-old eight time All-Star, his good personal numbers haven’t made a difference to team that was 36-46 last year. They are on track to hit that same disappointing mark all over again and Howard is under contract at $23.8 million next season.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and Boston Celtics Kyrie Irving

Celtics Vs Raptors Battle For Best In The East

With the Cavaliers in utter turmoil the two best teams in the Eastern Conference are the Boston Celtics (39-15) and the Toronto Raptors (36-16) and they headline a week in the NBA that could establish who will claim the top spot in the East this season when they face off in Toronto on Tuesday.

An ESPN panel ranks Boston 3rd overall in the NBA and the Raptors in 4th while the Cavs have slipped to 11th. In ESPN’s math based NBA Basketball Power Index those rankings are reversed with Toronto in 3rd (BPI 6.0) and the Celtics in 4th (BPI 4.5). The Cavs have slipped to an irrelevant 15th (BPI 0.4).

John Schuhmann’s NBA Power Rankings provide more detail and have the Raptors (3rd) ranked just ahead of the Celtics (4th). He has the Cavs in 13th.

3. Toronto Raptors
Record: 36-16 
Pace: 100.5 (11) OffRtg: 110.1 (4) DefRtg: 103.1 (3) NetRtg: +7.0 (3)
Though the Raptors have been a little inconsistent themselves over the last few weeks, the Warriors’ defensive slippage has left Toronto as the only team that ranks in the top five on both ends of the floor. The offense (118 points scored per 100 possessions) has been better than the defense as they’ve won four of their last five games. The only game in that stretch that they lost in the one (at Washington on Thursday) that they played without Fred VanVleet, who has averaged 16 points off the bench in the other four. With the Cavs continuing to flounder, the two best teams in the East will meet (for the first time since early November) in Toronto on Tuesday, though it’s not clear if Kyrie Irving (bruised quad) will be available for the Celtics.
Week 17: vs. BOS, vs. NYK, @ CHA
4. Boston Celtics
Record: 39-15
Pace: 98.2 (22) OffRtg: 104.8 (17) DefRtg: 99.9 (1) NetRtg: +5.0 (4)
Al Horford assisted on Jaylen Brown’s game winner in Denver on Monday and hit the game-winner himself as the Celtics pulled off another comeback from a double-digit deficit on Sunday. But the middle of the week belonged to Terry Rozier. In his first two career starts, Rozier recorded a triple-double against New York on Wednesday and dropped a career-high 31 points on the Hawks on Friday, helping the Celtics enjoy some rare offensive success without Kyrie Irving. Daniel Theis has given them some good minutes as they’ve won five of their last six games (with the only loss coming by four points at Golden State), but may be replaced in the rotation by Greg Monroe.
Week 17: @ TOR, @ WAS, vs. IND, vs. CLE

Both teams rely on top-ranked defenses and guard the three-point line better than anyone else. The Raptors are ranked first for the fewest opponent three-point shots made per game (8.8). The Celtics ranked first for opponent’s three-point field goal percentage (33.3%).

The differences come with the Celtics slow pace (22nd) and league average scoring (13th) versus much faster than previous seasons Raptors pace (11th ranked) and an ability to put up an Eastern Conference best 111.4 points per game.

In their first meeting Boston did what they’ve been doing all season, steal a game at the end as their opponent missed shots that normally would have dropped and the Celtics won in Boston 95-94 over the Raptors.

Those wins look like luck, but Boston has the most wins in the NBA (9) in games decided by three points or less this year and grinding out low scoring affairs is how they do it. The Raptors on the other hand regularly put up 120 points plus and are an Eastern Conference best 20-3 in games decided by 10 or more points.

It’s to Boston’s advantage to hold Toronto under a 100 points while the Raptors will be trying to ramp up the pace. The contrast in styles should make for a great game.

For some unknown reason TNT has chosen not to show the battle for first in the East on Tuesday night and have opted for the fourth place Wizards (30-22) versus the eighth place 76ers (25-25).
 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Cavs Suck

It hasn’t been a fun season for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and it’s only gotten worse since the Christmas Day loss in Golden State. To put it bluntly, with a record of 6 wins and 12 losses since the end of an 18-1 streak against the NBA’s also-rans, the Cavs suck.

It’s become the norm to see James hide his face in his hands after passing the ball to one of the Cavs brick-layers. He can’t hide his frustration and he’s stopped trying to. It’s affected his own play as well. Since when has it been normal for LeBron to get stripped or dribble the ball into the hands of an opponent?

Cleveland is not by any means out of contention. At 30-21 they are still seventh overall in the NBA and the only real risk they face is ending up in the unthinkable position of not having home court in the first round of the playoffs.

As bad as things look, and they look bad, the teams Cleveland is most likely to face in an opening playoff series aren’t giving them much trouble – except the Pacers who’ve taken three of four from the Cavs. Cleveland doesn’t want anything to do with Lance Stephenson (half joking) and the over-achieving Pacers in a first round match-up.

It’s the second round level of talent that’s concerning.

Since the 99-92 loss to the Dubs on December 25th, the Cavs have lost to:

  • @Celtics 102-88
  • @Raptors 133-99
  • Warriors 118-108
  • OKC 148-128
  • @Spurs 114-102
  • Rockets 120-88

The Cavs aren’t just losing to the better teams in the NBA, they aren’t even competing. This season, in games decided by 10 points or more, Cleveland has a losing 8-13 record and are the only team in the league’s top 11 teams with a losing record in games decided by double-digits.

It’s bad enough getting blown out on the road in Toronto by over 30 points, but losing by over 20 points in front of the now booing home crowd has to be especially disheartening.

Obviously something has to change and the easiest and usually cheapest way to give an under-achieving team a kick in the butt is to fire the coach. At this point, it couldn’t hurt.

The alternative is to trade away a rotation player or two, but with the way the Cavs have been playing, the guys they’d like to trade couldn’t have a lower value and no one should blame the organization for wanting to hang on to both of their first round draft picks. Unless James is willing to pick up his player option for next season, trading away draft picks would be border-line insanity.

With an estimated luxury tax bill of over $40 million, no team has committed more dollars to this season than the Cavs, so something has to give. The Cavs suck just isn’t acceptable.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers Tyronn Lue

Will The Cavaliers Make A January Panic Move?

The slip-sliding Bucks have panicked and fired head coach Jason Kidd. The Hornets are trying to trade everybody in an attempt to dump bad deals. Are the Cavaliers next to make a January panic move?

The Cavs have lost 10 of their last 13 games. That they don’t defend was only emphasized by giving up an incredible 148 points to the Thunder in front of their home crowd at The Q. So is firing head coach Tyronn Lue the solution to waking up this group of highly talented but bickering and aging veterans? Or is a big trade on the horizon?

The Cavs have issues.

  • Lue doesn’t have much rebounding and his team is a net -2.5 boards per game.
  • Starter J.R. Smith is shooting 37.3 percent from the field and the Cavs are no longer dominating from the three-point line.
  • Isaiah Thomas is just getting back from injury, is rusty on offense (they hope) and never was a good defender

It’d be nice to get someone that could rebound and defend the rim plus maybe a guard that could score and isn’t a huge liability on defense.

But even accepting the Cavs have issues, this team is significantly under performing at 27-19. It’s hard to believe they won’t start playing better by the All-Star break if they can just stay the course. There is just too much talent here.

Fire the coach? Better check in with LeBron James first as everyone believes the King is the one that really determines what happens on the court. His own pleas to the contrary notwithstanding.

There are some good players being dangled in the trade market, but every GM can see what’s happening in Cleveland. The Cavs will be bargaining from a position of weakness and the players they are likely to be wanting to off load have questionable trade value at the moment to say the least.

So what do the Cavs have to trade?

The Brooklyn Nets unprotected 2018 first round draft pick has significant value. They also have their own first round pick, but can’t package them together as they traded their 2019 pick (top-10 protected) to the Hawks.

A couple of players on somewhat valuable expiring contracts:

  • Channing Frye $7.4 million, who barely plays anymore
  • Isaiah Thomas $6.3 million, do you really believe his leg is healed 100 percent and is he even the right fit on the defenseless Cavs?

Players they’d love to dump off themselves, but will undoubtedly have to include a draft pick just to start the conversation:

  • A slumping J.R. Smith $13.8 million, + 1 more year guaranteed +1 non-guaranteed
  • An injured Iman Shumpert $10.3 million + player option remaining

A couple of rookies that should attract some interest:

  • Cedi Osman $2.6 million
  • Ante Zizc $1.6 million

Reality is, anyone not named LeBron James could be available if the move has the potential to stop the bleeding.

A James’ favorite, Tristan Thompson $16.4 million + 2 more years, might have to go.

Even Kevin Love $22.6 million +1 more year + a player option is an unlikely possibility.

There may be no better target than the Charlotte Hornets who will part with Kemba Walker and he’s really good. Unfortunately the price will be taking on a player with a big contract few teams will be able to stomach.

As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski points out:

Overloaded with bad contracts and untradable assets, the Charlotte Hornets have made All-Star point guard Kemba Walker available in trade discussions

The Hornets had already made available Nicolas Batum (four years, $100 million), Dwight Howard (two years, $47 million), Marvin Williams (three years, $42 million) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (three years, $39 million), league sources said, but those players and their contracts are largely unattractive in the marketplace.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has gone deep into luxury tax territory and even deeper into the red from a financial standpoint to get LeBron James into the NBA Finals for three straight years and if he wants to have any hope of keeping the King around past this season, he’ll have to commit to keep losing money and getting back to the Finals year-after-year.

The opportunity to land a player like Walker should look like a godsend.

Walker is earning  a bargain $12 million salary with another year left on his deal, but the Hornets will be pushing the Cavs would take on the nearly $100 million still owing to the under performing Nicolas Batum.

Batum hasn’t lived up to his promise, so he’s a big gamble, but Gilbert hasn’t exactly been afraid to gamble. However, Batum isn’t going to solve the Cavs rebounding woes and there is another player the Hornets would consider packaging with Walker.

The oft maligned Dwight Howard ($23.5 million + 1 year remaining) is  averaging a double-double with 15.5 points and a top five 12.6 rebounds. He’s also in the top 10 for blocks at 1.6. Maybe he’s “soft” but Howard is a true center and at the moment, he’s a big missing piece in the Cavs roster.

The Cavs should be working hard to land Walker before some other team snaps him up. A healthy 2017 All-Star point guard averaging over 20 points, 5 assists, 3 boards and shooting 35 percent from three isn’t that easy to find.

The Cavs have also been linked to the Clippers Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan. That pair could make a huge difference in Cleveland. The only issue being, unlike the Hornets, the Clips are just a half game out of a playoff spot. They shouldn’t be all that interested in tanking for what the Cavs can send back.

The rumor mill has suggested George Hill ($20 million + 1 year + 1 year not guaranteed) could help Cleveland and he’d be a solid veteran add, especially if the Kings will take back some of Cleveland’s junk. To be determined.

As much as the Cavaliers, and a lot of other NBA teams, go through a January funk and feel pushed into to doing something, anything to get out of it, the question in Cleveland really is, will they make a panic move?

Gilbert could be losing money and not getting to the NBA Finals for years if he gambles. If he doesn’t gamble, he could lose LeBron James.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors And Bucks Should Make This Trade

The Toronto has what the Bucks need and although there is some debate about whether or not the Raptors should just stand pat heading into the NBA trade deadline, if they could pry the right player out of Milwaukee, most people would up their chances of making it to their first NBA Finals.

The premise is simple. The Bucks are dead last in rebounding and going no where this postseason, if they can even hang onto a playoff spot sitting just a game and a half out of ninth in mid-January, and the Raptors have been shopping one of the league’s perennial top 10 rebounders (on a percentage of available boards) since last summer.

The Bucks have been linked to high priced potentially available centers like DeAndre Jordan, but it’s hard to imagine how they can come up with enough assets to match a $22 million salary without decimating their roster. At $15.5 million, the Raptors Jonas Valanciunas is at least a possibility.

In Toronto the Raptors have depth at center and power forward and with the emergence of second year center Jakob Poeltl, the continuing move to play more small ball and the stated desire by Serge Ibaka to play more minutes at the five spot, Valanciunas has become a luxury that head coach Dwane Casey struggles to find minutes for.

As the starting center Valanciunas is playing just over 20 minutes per game despite averaging a team second best 19.3 points per 36 minutes and cleaning the glass at a team best rate of 13.7 boards. He is the player the Bucks lineup is missing.

Also, Valanciunas has played like a man among boys versus Milwaukee in two games this season, averaging 13 points and 9 boards in just 16.9 minutes.

In a case of its going to cost you to get what you want, the Bucks player that can help the Raptors is small forward Kris Middleton.

The contracts of the two players are close enough in salary and duration for a straight one-for-one swap and although Middleton is putting up a career best 19.9 points per game, he’s doing it taking a a career-high 15.8 shots as his three-point shooting has fallen off a cliff to 34 percent.

The Raptors would want the Middleton of the past four seasons that averaged 14.5 points and shot 40.8 percent from three and playing on a team with more offensive talent, they can probably be convinced that is the player they’d be getting.

The trade should begin and end here, but if the Bucks want to add a two-way player with the potential to replace what Middleton provided, Toronto can probably be convinced to send another piece that Casey is having trouble finding minutes for in the Raptors deep roster.

In the playoffs last April Milwaukee had Toronto on the ropes until Casey brought Norman Powell from a DNP-CD in Game Two into an increased role over the next four games. Powell averaged 14.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 28.5 minutes while shooting 90 percent from three in those games and helped turn the series around. That isn’t something a coach or GM can easily forget.

This year Powell has lost his spot in the rotation to rookie OG Anunoby (a swing and a miss by the Bucks who drafted the 6’10 D.J. Wilson six spots ahead of him) and is pretty much just finding minutes as an injury-reserve, but the potential as an over-achieving tough defender and offensive threat is still there.

The Raptors signed the second round pick Powell to a four-year $42 million extension this past summer and under the current circumstances, could undoubtedly be convinced to move him for another prospect, say Wilson, who the Raptors could develop in their G League franchise.

Moving Powell doesn’t help the Raptors and would be a risk if Casey needs a reliable player to cover injuries or even just foul trouble, but to make a deal for Middleton, president Masai Ujiri would have to consider it. The Bucks would probably want Anunoby, but that demand would instantly kill discussions.

As the calendar quickly moves towards the NBA trade deadline on February 8th, the Bucks will increasingly feel the pressure to do something meaningful about their inability to rebound the ball and signing two-way centers like Marshall Plumlee only smacks of desperation. They can either take a chance or accept the fact that, even with Giannis Antetokounmpo, they are still a one-and-done team in April at best.

The Raptors on a franchise record setting pace of 29-12 at the halfway point in the season are probably feeling pretty good about where they are, but the shadow of the King in Cleveland still looms and even with the Cavs current slide, Ujiri won’t be fooling himself into thinking the Raptors would be favored in a playoff series against LeBron James by standing pat.

It isn’t easy trading meaningful players with a potential playoff rival, but this is a deal the Raptors and Bucks should make happen.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Lakers Lonzo Ball

Are The Lakers Regretting The Lonzo Ball Draft Pick Yet?

By Frank McLean

When an NBA team, and for that matter any team in pro sports, is preparing for their respective drafts, a lot of work goes into who they are going to pick. Will they be able to fit in the way their team plays? Will they be able to fit in the locker room with their teammates? Even how much of a pain in the butt their agent could be?

In the case of the Los Angeles Lakers when they drafted Lonzo Ball they knew a unique problem came with the pick and that’s his father LaVar who is shall we say is outspoken!

This past weekend in Lithuania, where Ball has his two other sons playing pro ball in that country’s league, he ripped into Lakers head coach Luke Walton saying in an interview with ESPN.com that, “You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more. Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.’’

This isn’t the first time that Ball has ran his mouth off, he has been a constant critic of the way the Lakers use his son.

When you listen to him he comes across like boxing promoter Don King without the bad hairdoo.

This has not just got the Lakers upset but other coaches current and past have come out and shown they have got Walton’s back like Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle who also is the head of the NBA’s coaches association. He is upset that ESPN being a major television partner with the NBA should not be writing about comments that are not true.

“ESPN is an NBA partner, and they’ve been a great one. But part of that partnership is that the coaches do a lot of things to help them with access, interviews. In exchange for that, they should back up the coaches. Printing an article where the father of an NBA player has an opinion that is printed as anything like legitimate erodes trust that we built with ESPN.”

“Our coaches are upset because Luke Walton does not deserve that,” Carlisle added. “Two years ago, he took a veteran team (the Warriors) and led them to 24-wins in a row, which is an amazing accomplishment. Off of that he earned the Laker job. To have to deal with these kinds of ignorant distractions is deplorable.”

Former NBA coach and current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy now went against his employers on giving a big mouth like Ball the time of day.

“You guys want the cheap shots,” Van Gundy said on Sirius XM NBA Radio. “You want the hits. You want these like you said, clicks, whatever that means. It is part of the business, and it’s also a reason why this does lack journalistic integrity. It is a reason for coaches to unite and say, ‘No no, forget it, if we have to take this, then why are we giving of our time?’ It’s not like they’re going to violate any rule if they don’t participate with ESPN.”

I’m sure Van Gundy will hear about this from his bosses.

Some teams in the league have said they are considering revoking credentials of ESPN reporters who interview Ball. And here lies the problem. Ball is a big mouth publicity hound who thinks he is smarter than everyone else and he is a control freak who thinks he should run everything. The current ESPN way of presenting sports news is they love controversy, it fuels their talk shows like First Take and Pardon the Interruption and this is what has gotten the coaches association upset.

Lakers GM Rob Pelinka along with President Magic Johnson and owner Jeanne Buss did their due diligence before they drafted Lonzo Ball. They got assurances from his father that he would not cause trouble for the team if they drafted his son.

He did not keep his mouth shut.

The team asked him in late November to please tone it down. He said he would. But his actions this weekend show he did not listen.

The Lakers are a rebuilding team. After a good start they had dropped nine of their last 10 games and that was expected, no one saw them as a playoff team this year.

Luke Walton is an excellent young coach. Rick Carlisle was right, his work with the Warriors filling in for Steve Kerr during his illness a few years ago showed that he can coach in the NBA. The Lakers don’t need this distraction from a family member. It may come to a point if his father won’t shut up they will try to trade him, but what GM would want to take on the headache of the dysfunctional Ball’s father?

I do have a problem with the coaches association trying to tell ESPN how to do their job. To me it’s like Donald Trump calling CNN, MSNBC and others fake news because they don’t report on his administration the way he thinks they should. That’s an attack on freedom of the press.

My take is some people, and myself included, are just fed up of hearing from Ball. But our opinion doesn’t matter because people still watch and read whenever Ball has an opinion and as long as they do ESPN and others will give him a platform.

I’m sure if you managed to get Rob Pelinka alone having a beer he’d tell you, I should never have drafted Lonzo Ball. No team needs this.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Phoenix Suns Devin Booker

Will The Phoenix Suns Trust The Process?

By Frank McLean

The Phoenix Suns are this year’s mess in the NBA, a team which has become the salvage project of a once great franchise that has gone into the toilet and will have to “trust the process” to get back to where they once were.

You remember the Suns? The team that had Steve Nash, the mad bomber Dan Marjerle and Kevin Johnson. Then the must-see-TV offense coached by Mike D’Antoni with weapons like Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion.

Well dysfunction has set into this once proud franchise which looks a lot like the New York Knicks of the last few years or the New York Football Giants the way they have treated their superstar quarterback Eli manning the last couple of weeks.

The season started with Suns losing their first three games. Then point guard Eric Bledsoe started with the “get me out of this mess right now” plea and demanded a trade. The result of that was the firing of head coach Earl Watson after the third game by general manager Ryan McDonough.

McDonough felt the heat and rightfully so. The question was being asked if you didn’t like the job the coach was doing why didn’t you fire him in the off season? Why didn’t you bring in a new guy over the summer?

Talking to people who cover the Suns on a regular basis, they could not answer that question. Their response was that you think they would have made the coaching change in the off season.

Plus another question that no one could answer is, why would you hire a coach, like Watson, with zero NBA head coaching experience?

Watson was replaced by his assistant coach and former Raptors head coach Jay Triano. Triano has been in this position before. He is getting another shot as an NBA head coach because the situation here in Phoenix is the same as when he got the Raptors job where he was an assistant coach to Sam Mitchell and was tapped to replace him by then general manager Bryan Colangelo. Triano has also coached the Canadian National Men’s team.

Head Coach Jay Triano close upMcDonough was lucky to have someone like Triano on his staff to take over on an interim basis and help in the development of their young talent.

Long time Suns radio play man Al McCoy, who has seen his share of Suns coaches in his over 40 years behind the microphone, was gushing about Triano as a coach and person.

“He’s a great guy,” McCoy said. “More importantly he is a basketball guy, just loves the game and he is great with our young talent.”

Triano came back to Toronto Tuesday night with a Suns team sporting a 9-16 record and coming off a come-from-behind 115-101 win in Philadelphia.

The Suns now are in the major rebuild mode and have taken a page from the team they beat Monday night in the 76ers.

They have become a tanking rebuilding team trying to grab as many high lottery draft picks they can and develop young players.

In an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News Triano said that that the comparison with the Sixers is bang on.

“We are in the same boat. Our young players have the same goals and I have the same aspirations for our young team to keep playing. Find the right way, play hard all the time and eventually we’ll get this thing turned around.”

They picked fourth overall in this past June’s draft and grabbed Josh Jackson and they already have from their first pick in 2015 guard Devin Booker out of the University of Kentucky.

Booker put the Suns on his back Monday night in their comeback win scoring 46 points after hitting a terrible two-of his first 11-shots but then hitting nine-of his next-16 and scoring 32 of his 42 points in the second half.

He is a special talent and this is the guy the Suns are building around.

The Suns lost 126-113 against the Raptors, but the young team didn’t quit. You can see they don’t have the talent to compete on a night to night basis with the top teams in the league right now.

Worst with less than three minutes left in the game, Booker strained his abductor muscle in a bizarre accident where he could not move any part of his body and had to be carried off the floor by teammates and the training staff.

Booker will be gone for the next two to three weeks and without him the Suns will be lost and it will be harder for to the Suns to, as Triano put it, “turn this thing around.” Not that it should matter.

The Suns are copying the Sixers plan of how to rebuild and the hope is they can soon be a force in the Western Conference.

One thing I wonder? Will Suns fans be willing to “trust the process.”

Time will tell.

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA New York Knicks Kristaps Porzingis

Kristaps Porzingis NBA MVP?

By Frank McLean

NBA Draft night in 2015 at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn the arena was full of New York Knicks fans waiting to see who then President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson was going to choose with the team’s first round draft pick. When it came time to name their selection the Knicks picked a seven-foot-three forward from Latvia named Kristaps Porzingis.

As David Stern announced his name at the podium the boos raining down from the gallery was deafening. The fans wanted someone who played in the NCAA not some European stiff who no one on this side of the Atlantic Ocean ever heard of.

Jackson is gone now after running the Knicks into the ground and making them the most dysfunctional franchise in the NBA, but it’s starting to look like the drafting of Porzingis is going to be one of the few things he got right.

After 13 games the Knicks are sitting at 7-6 which is about as a good of a start the team has enjoyed in a long time. They have been as big a surprise as any team in the NBA and the reason they are off to that start has to do with Porzingis.

Recently he scored a career high 40-points in a 108-101 win over the Indiana Pacers where he had a big 17-point fourth quarter.
Two days before that he dropped 37 in a win against Phoenix. He has now scored 30-plus points in eight games already this season.

Teammate Enes Kanter has started beating the drums for Porzingis to be the league’s MVP which his coach Jeff Hornacek is also a believer.

 

“Why not?” Hornacek said in an interview with the New York Post. “When you’re seven-three and have the skills that he has and doing it on both sides of the ball, you’re going to be put up as one of the best players in the league. KP has that drive. Not a lot of guys have that drive. If they do, they don’t want to put the effort in there to get there. He does. He’s worked hard in the summer. He’s so young, he’s going to get better and better.”

It’s hard to imagine he can get any better. He’s third in scoring in the NBA and his 29.5 points a game average is 11 points better than last season so the evidence is there that he is on his way to a career year.

Now Knicks fans, who have never been known to be completely sane, were ready for their team to tank this season so that they could get a shot at another top four lottery pick in the draft. And now winning games goes against that plan. Like I said sane and Knicks fan are not usually spoken in the same sentence.

Ask Porzingis if he thinks the Knicks can make the playoffs and if it would be better for the development of the team to play meaningful games in April?

“That’s not how I look at it,” Porzingis said when asked if it’s better to get a high lottery pick. “We want to win as many games as we can. That’s not how I think is right. I think we have a good enough team to make the playoffs. I didn’t make the playoffs my first two years. This year, if we can do it, it would be a step forward. We want to keep building. That step forward will draw more attention to the team and we can keep building also. I said before the season the goal for me would be to make the playoffs and get that playoff taste. That would be a good experience.”

It’s early, but Kristaps Porzingis has made watching Knicks basketball fun again.

The numbers he has put up so far this season are starting to prove Phil Jackson was right in drafting him.

Is he an early season candidate for league MVP? Yes, but there is a lot of basketball left.

Can Porzingis get the Knicks into the playoffs? Okay let’s not get crazy… let’s see how this all plays out. But, thanks to the improved play of Porzingis, the Knicks are not guaranteed win night for opponents anymore.

 

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

Cavs King James for Halloween 2017

NBA Halloween Hangovers

Perhaps it isn’t reasonable to expect young men to give up an excuse to party when the opportunity presents itself, but as is often the case, there is a price to paid for having too much fun and maybe a bit of a Halloween hangover contributed to some of the NBA blowouts the next night.

 

LeBron James was feeling good after a team meeting Joe Vardon reported on Cleveland.com ahead of Wednesday night’s disaster at home against the Pacers.

“It was needed and we’re receptive, and the best thing about it is guys got out everything that they wanted to, even with it being early in the season,” James said. “It was good, so, see how it translates on the floor too.”

It didn’t as the Cavs were embarrassed 124-107, but at least they had some Halloween fun.

As Vardon illustrated after the loss, the Cavs have now sunk to depths no one saw coming.

Here’s where the Cavs stand defensively this morning:

30th (worst) in the NBA in defensive rating (111.3), the primary statistic most use to give an overall grade.
30th in 3-pointers allowed (14.0 per game).
30th in 3-point field goal percentage (.418).
27th in opponent’s field-goal percentage (.470).
27th in opponent’s points per game (111.9).
22nd in opponent’s points off turnovers (18.6).

Head coach Tyronn Lue assuming the role of Captain Obvious summed things up.

“Lately we just haven’t been really good defensively,” Lue said.

No one is going to suggest the Cavs season is going down the tubes because of a Halloween party, but maybe, if only for appearance sake, everyone could have taken the night off to study film instead?

King James hasn’t released his claim as the scariest player in the NBA, it’s just the Cavs who haven’t been nearly as scary as they should be to start the season.

Lost in a 12 game Wednesday night slate of games were a couple of other teams looking like they were also suffering from a Halloween hangover.

The Toronto Raptors were on a two game road winning streak when they rolled into Denver after having Halloween night off and laid an egg losing 129-111. Even the preview by SB Nation Denver Stiffs Daniel Lewis had the Raptors winning this one. To put it mildly, Toronto’s veteran starting unit stunk looking exactly like a group that hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before.

The Wizards had even less of an excuse than the Raptors as they dropped a 122-116 game to the rebuilding Suns at home.

Maybe the Wizards should have hit the sack a little earlier on Halloween night as well?

Well here’s hoping everyone had a fun Halloween and the Cavs and Raptors don’t eat to much turkey on Thanksgiving as they both have to play the next day.

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Fred VanVleet and Philadelphia 76ers Markelle Fultz

How Long Can 76ers Markelle Fultz Hide Behind Ben Simmons?

The Philadelphia 76ers give up a lot to draft Markelle Fultz first overall in this year’s draft, but so far he’s been almost invisible playing in the shadow of last year’s first overall pick Ben Simmons who, by the way, is still a rookie.  In three games off the bench it would be hard to describe Fultz’s play as as anything more than uninspiring begging the question, how much longer can he hide behind Simmons’ success in a city that isn’t exactly known for being patient or understanding?

“Surprisingly you could be right and it’s hard to say that in our city. There’s not much forgiveness or wiggle-room (in Philly) and I say that with affection,” said 76ers head coach Brett Brown about Fultz ahead of his team’s blowout loss in Toronto. “Last night Markelle steps to the free throw line and makes two free throws and the fans recognize him, reward him. I think Markelle’s growth might not be as under the microscope perhaps if he didn’t have some of these other things with Joel (Embiid) and Ben (Simmons) especially, but we all pay attention and I think that he’s handled it with a certain amount of grace. Like he doesn’t get too rattled, he’s a gamer. He’s aware of all the things and we are trying to get his shoulder right with the shot and all that, but we’ve seen some good things with him getting to the rim and making plays. We can see why he was the first player chosen.”

As of now, from the outside looking in, it really isn’t all that easy to see why Fultz was chosen first, but that’s after a very small sample size.

In three games coming off the bench, playing against other teams’ second and dare it be mentioned, third string, Fultz hasn’t shone. He’s averaging 7.3 points on 34.8 percent shooting, 2.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in just under 20 minutes per game and he’s struggled where he was expected to do well.

In Toronto against the second string his offense was stifled and the Raptors ran up the score, but in fairness fans should be able to live with that from a rookie for a while.

However, what happened when he was facing the Raptors undrafted diminutive second year point guard Fred VanVleet who played most of last season in the D-League isn’t so easy to look past. In 11 minutes, a lot of it in garbage time with Toronto’s third string unit on the court, Fultz shot 0-2, was blocked once, had just a single rebound and a single assist matched up against his very unheralded counterpart. The Raptors like VanVleet, but watching him hold this year’s first overall pick to a -1 head-to-head is a little more than they have any right to expect.

Once again Fultz wasn’t the story on this night as Simmons absorbed all of the available sunlight in a 34 point beat down in his team’s third straight loss by putting up 18 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. But how much longer can he hide behind Simmons positive vibe?

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer suggests Philly fans are ready to start panicking and he blames things on a sore shoulder affecting Fultz’s ability to shoot the three-ball.

Right now, the injury is taking on a life of its own. One that has a portion of Sixers fans panicking and second-guessing the team’s decision to trade up two spots to select him first overall in June’s NBA draft.

“It’s not to the point where it’s affecting other parts of his game,” coach Brett Brown said.

“It’s not an excuse for me,” Fultz said of the new (free throw) release. “I just go out there and do what I got to do.”

Free throws and jump shots should be the least of his worries. Maybe the concern about the 76ers guard should be about getting blocked six times in three games this year. This rookie has a lot to learn before he’ll look like the future star he was projected to be at the draft.

The theme from the 76ers in Toronto was they were looking forward to an easier opponent in Detroit on Monday night after facing the Wizards, Celtics and Raptors in their first three games. (Who was the idiot that thought a team as young as the 76ers would be in fourth place at the end of the season?)

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic and Cleveland Cavaliers Jae Crowder and Washington Wizards Otto Porter

Early Favorites For The NBA Most Improved Player Race

Like every other award handed out to NBA players after the season is over, the Most Improved Player isn’t going to be a completely fair race. To even be an early favorite, several things pretty much have to be in the players favor right from the start.

First off an MIP has to be on a team that garners some attention. If you’re not in the playoffs or at least in contention for the postseason, it’s going to be pretty hard to win … anything.

Also, it would really help if the player could average over 20 points per game and that average is up from the prior season by over 5 points per game – the bigger the increase the better. Sure the other stats matter, but nothing captures attention in the NBA more than scoring.

Over the last five years, the MIP race ended like this:

Last year the next four top vote getters were Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Otto Potter and Isaiah Thomas and three of them should be early favorites this year.

It’s worth noting that Antetokounmpo was 3rd in voting in 2016 and top 10 the year before that, so he was a guy everyone should have (did) see coming.

In no particular order, our early favorites for the MIP in 2018 are:

Denver Nuggets, Nikola Jokic

When the Nuggets landed Paul Millsap in free agency they solidified their hold on a playoff spot and gave Jokic his chance to turn last year’s second place MIP votes into a spot at the top if he can continue to improve.

He’ll need to average well over 20 points per game, but don’t count him out.

Portland Trail Blazers, Jusuf Nurkic

Nurkic exploded after the trade from Denver to Portland going from 8 points per game playing limited minutes behind Jokic to over 15 points as a starter. The Trail Blazers exploded with him in the lineup as well, winning 14 of the 20 games he appeared in.

On the season Nurkic only averaged 10.2 points per game, so if can improve even a little on his first 20 games with the Blazers and his team gets back to the postseason, he’s going to get a lot of votes.

Utah Jazz, Rudy Gobert

After losing Hayward to the Celtics, the Jazz need Gobert to be in contention again for the MIP award if they are to get back to the postseason. After a 4.9 point improvement in scoring last year, there will be opportunities for Gobert to up his offensive production yet again in Hayward’s absence.

Someone has to carry the scoring load on this defensive-minded club and it seems pretty clear Gobert is now their best player.

Washington Wizards, Otto Porter

Porter is developing into an elite two-way player with deadly outside range and the only thing that appears to be holding him back is greater utilization. Porter only got 10 shots per game last season and had his team’s (ugh!) 12th highest utilization rate.

Unless the Wizards coaching staff has been living under a rock this summer, they’ll be working on ways to get their most effective scorer more involved with the offense. Look for a big jump in scoring from Porter next season on a team that should win over 50 games for the first time in four decades.

Cleveland Cavaliers, Jae Crowder

The only knock on the Cavaliers in recent years has been the roster was old and wasn’t winning as many regular season games as expected. This was a team that needed what an energetic two-way 27-year-old forward with three-point range could bring to the table.

Twice before Crowder has gotten votes for MIP, but this could be his year.

Crowder fills a need on a Cavs team that wants LeBron James to play fewer minutes and take more time off during the regular season. He will get his opportunity to shine on a team that loves to hoist the three-ball and needs his younger legs to soak up minutes. Don’t be surprised if Crowder has a career year.

Toronto Raptors, Serge Ibaka

The Toronto Raptors have been looking for a third impact player to support Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and they believe they’ve found him in the three-time All-Defensive First Team big man Serge Ibaka.

However, the Raptors will be looking for a lot more than just defense from Ibaka in a lot bigger role than he has been limited to in the past. Ibaka has evolved into a 40 percent three-point stretch-four/five and he’ll get his chance to show off all of his offensive range this season.

If the Raptors can get back to the 56-win pace they ran at for a season and a half up until mid-January last year and Ibaka gets the offensive opportunities his new three-year $65 million contract suggests he will, then he could be a surprise contender in this year’s MIP race.

There are other interesting candidates like the Pacers Miles Turner and the Knicks Kristaps Porzingis, but neither of these teams are likely to generate the buzz necessary to grab the attention of the voters.

The last time a player from a non-playoff team won the award was when Kevin Love became an All-Star for the first time in 2011. So, it’s not impossible, it’s just a very high bar.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Jae Crowder

Is Jae Crowder The Jewel Of the Cavs – Celtics Trade?

Jae Crowder had to be included in the Celtics trade for Cavs star Kyrie Irving. Isaiah Thomas is on a bargain contract and they needed Crowder’s salary to make the trade math work, but before next season is over, he could be seen as the jewel of deal.

Crowder produced for the Celtics last year. Second in points scored during the regular season with 999, ahead of Al Horford’s 952 points and the best three-point shooter on the team averaging 39.8 percent on 5.5 attempts. Crowder was a two-way player who could hit the three and in today’s NBA that’s one valuable guy.

He was seen as a throw in when Boston got him in a trade with Dallas in 2014, but he became so much more than that as described by Basketball Insiders Jesse Blancarte. 

At the time, Crowder was 24 years old and his career-statistics up to that point didn’t give much reason to believe he would become such a valuable contributor down the road. However, Crowder became exactly that in his time in Boston and now takes his talents to the Cavaliers – a team that is still looking for ways to bridge the gap with the Golden State Warriors.

Crowder has been seen by some as a throw in again this time around, but he could be the difference-maker the Cavaliers need to challenge the best in the West in the Finals.

With so many cutters and relentless passing, the Warriors exploited every one of LeBron and his teammates’ mistakes on defense during the Finals. Injecting a versatile defender like Crowder could have made a significant difference in that Finals matchup.

The Cavaliers could now use a lineup including J.R. Smith, Crowder, James and Tristan Thompson, which should be formidable and could maybe make up for the defensive shortcomings of point guards Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose.

The Cavs new forward isn’t a one season wonder either. He got his opportunity to play starter’s minutes in Boston and he produced across the board over the past two seasons. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens let him play and Crowder rewarded his confidence with offensive production and a rapidly improving jump shot.

Crowder should find his offensive opportunities improved in Cleveland playing with a superstar who likes to set up his teammates in LeBron James and other shooters opposing defenders can’t leave in Smith, Love, Korver and Frye. The high powered offense of the Cavs should give Crowder even more opportunities to show off his complete game.

Crowder is one of those players who makes his team better in a number areas that are hard to notice, which is why it’s easy to overlook how significant of an addition he is for Cleveland.

While he may become a jewel on the court, he’s an even more valuable addition to the money-losing Cavs in the front office.

Now on the team with the highest payroll in the NBA and an estimated luxury tax bill approaching $60 million for the upcoming season, Crowder will likely be the only player in Cleveland averaging double-digit scoring that doesn’t have an eight figure salary. He earns a bargain $6.8 million this year and $7.3 million and $7.8 million in the following two seasons. He may be the best bargain not on a rookie contract in the entire league.

With Thomas looking for $30+ million a season next year and Irving demanding a $200+ million max extension the year after that, it’s players like Crowder who make those kinds of deals work under a punitive luxury tax system.  A real jewel of an acquisition.

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and Boston Celtics Kyrie Irving and Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and Washington Wizards John Wall

The Best Big 3s In The NBA East

No one could say this summer in the NBA has been boring and it’s been big name players from the Eastern Conference making most of the noise. But the dust has settled, those big names have found new homes and the best Big 3s in the NBA East remain on the best teams from last season.

There was only four wins between the first place Celtics and the fourth place Wizards last year and in the 2017-18 regular season no one should be expecting it to have gotten any easier for the best in the East despite the player movement.

Your Big 3s for this season are:

Boston Celtics – last year 53 wins

Three current or former All-Stars: Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford.

Fourth? Marcus Morris averaged 14 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2 assists and shot 33.1 percent from three last season with a dysfunctional Pistons squad.

Last year the Celtics best 3 was Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Al Horford with Jae Crowder as a fourth, but as Horford is the only returning starter, chemistry could take quite a while to develop.

Cleveland Cavaliers – last year 51 wins

Three current All-Stars: Isaiah Thomas*, LeBron James and Kevin Love.

*If Thomas doesn’t start the season on time, one-time MVP Derrick Rose will fill in.

Fourth? Jae Crowder averaged 13.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and shot 39.8 percent from three last year with the first place Celtics.

Toronto Raptors – last year 51 wins

Two current All-Stars: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka.

Note: Ibaka was acquired at the trade deadline last season. Toronto has four of last year’s five starters since the All-Star break.

Fourth? C.J. Miles averaged 10.7 points and 3 rebounds in 23.4 minutes with the Pacers last season and was acquired for his three-point shooting of 41.3 percent.

Washington Wizards – last year 49 wins

One current All-Star: John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter.

Fourth? Markieff Morris averaged 14 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and shot 36.2 percent from three last season.

Note: The Wizards are the only team from last year’s top four in the East to return all five starters. They should look good right out of the gate.

The Best?

Based on the players individual stats from last season, the new Big 3s add up like this:

Best Scoring Big 3

1st: Cavs 74.3 points

2nd: Raptors 64.5 points

3rd: Celtics 61.1 points

4th: Wizards 59.6 points.

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 averages 10.9 fewer points based on last year’s production which would still be good for second best.

Best Rebounding Big 3

1st: Cavs 22.4 rebounds

2nd: Raptors 16.8 rebounds

3rd: Celtics 15.4 rebounds

4th: Wizards 13.7 rebounds

Note: The Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards all have above average rebounders outside of their top four players. The Celtics had the second worst rebounding differential in the East last season and have done nothing to improve the situation this summer.

Most Big 3 Assists

1st: Cavs 16.5 assists

2nd: Wizards 15.7 assists

3rd: Celtics 14.3 assists

4th: Raptors 11.8 assists

Best Big 3 Field Goal Percentage

1st: Cavs 48.2 percentage

2nd: Wizards 47.8 percent

3rd: Celtics 47.4 percent

4th Raptors 46.9 percent

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 field goal percentage would be better based on last season.

Best Big 3 Three-point Shooting

1st: Cavs 7.3 makes at 37.2 percent

2nd: Wizards 5.9 makes at 39.3 percent

3rd: Celtics 5.8 makes at 39.2 percent

4th: Raptors 5.2 makes at 38.5 percent

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 makes 3 fewer threes a game.

Wild Card

The Milwaukee Bucks have their own potential Big 3 in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Kris Middleton, except for the fact the 22-year-old Parker tore his ACL and may not be back until after January.

Conclusion

If Thomas doesn’t miss too many games, the Cavaliers Big 3 looks to maintain their level of dominance over the rest of the Eastern Conference, but even if he doesn’t return to his prior form, Cleveland still has a Big 3 that will compete with the rest of the best.

The East has four teams with Big 3s that should lead their respective clubs to over 50 wins next season. But has anything really changed?

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

 

Cavaliers and Celtics trade Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving

Cavs Cold Feet Could Be Good News For Raptors And Wizards

So the Cleveland Cavaliers are either getting a case of cold feet or just looking for an opportunity to extort another asset from the rival Celtics, but either way, this could be good news for the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards.

The Cavs rookie general manager Koby Altman had already fleeced the Celtics by nabbing both the 23rd pick of the 2016 NBA draft, rookie center Ante Zizic plus the the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first round pick in the Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving trade.

Altman only got that much because Thomas wasn’t ready to play when the trade was made. He had seen the medical reports before Friday’s physical. He knew Thomas and the Celtics had agreed on rest and rehabilitation instead of surgery. If he’s seen as having second thoughts now or even just asks for more assets, he may as well just call an already upset and potentially fragile Thomas a liar or a fool to his face.

Worse, backing out now, as is Altman’s right, means he’ll have to deal with an even bigger problem when he faces a very unhappy Irving whose trade value just crashed, doesn’t want to be there and likely believes, with cause, Altman just screwed with him.  This wouldn’t end well.

Joe Vardon on Cleveland.com reports,

The Cavaliers are indeed pausing to consider a “concern that we have” regarding Isaiah Thomas’ right hip

the team is conducting a “very deep and thorough review process” on Thomas

The Cavs’ options, ostensibly, would be to void the trade, which in Cleveland’s case would mean taking Irving back after a tumultuous breakup and sending away a potential lottery pick.

If the rookie GM was on the ball, he’d be out there squashing this speculation and assuring Thomas they want him in Cleveland – even if it wasn’t true.

Sometimes good business is making sure your assets aren’t going to be mad at you after you’re done.

Don’t believe for a minute NBA players aren’t influenced by the articles they read, ESPN talk show speculation and social media. Altman needs to get out ahead of this.

The biggest beneficiaries of Altman’s apparent indecision will be/ may already be/ the Raptors and Wizards who are both bringing back the cores from last season’s teams and if the Cavs and Celtics are in disarray, could find nothing to stop them from going on big early season runs in a weakened Eastern Conference that their rivals will not be able to overtake.

The only saving grace in all of this for Altman is if his medical team believes Thomas won’t be ready to play this season and the Celtics were trying to pawn off damaged goods on them. But if that’s the case, he should have just rescinded the trade on Friday.

Anyone missing David Griffin right about now?

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.