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NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Cracks Appear In LeBron James’ Cavaliers

After cruising through the Eastern Conference, what happened in the NBA Finals was hard on everybody with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Maybe it was inevitable that cracks would start to appear in what had been a very successful organization on the court since LeBron James’ return.

It didn’t take long before the rumors LeBron James might leave next season if big improvements to the roster couldn’t be made. Then rumors of Kevin Love being shopped for Pacers star Paul George, Bulls star Jimmy Butler, Knicks Carmelo Anthony and there should be no doubt more rumors were on the way.

Sort of lost in the noise was the Cavs general manager David Griffin still didn’t have a contract for next season. If something didn’t get done, he wasn’t even going to be around when free agency opened.

Well something didn’t get done.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was this move was all on Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. Apparently James was advocating to keep Griffin around and it makes sense. Griffin had done a good job of surrounding James with talent, talent that wasn’t there when James first agreed to return to Cleveland.

Griffin spent freely via big trades and re-signing free agents, ignoring the financial implications. It was just what James wanted and the rumored trades would have significantly increased the team’s financial commitment to winning.

It leaves one to wonder if Gilbert didn’t consult with James because he already knew what the response would be. Losing big bucks year after year eventually has to take it’s toll, even on a billionaire.

He should be concerned. Other teams were already concerned about trying to cut a deal with a Cavs GM that didn’t have a contract for next month and that concern isn’t going to go away until Gilbert hires Griffin’s replacement.

Gilbert might think he can act as the team’s GM, but no one likes dealing with team owners directly on basketball decisions. There’s just too much that can go wrong or get flaky when dealing with unfiltered inexperienced decision-makers.

And not just Griffin, assistant general manager Trent Redden is also gone. Talk about leaving a team in limbo right in the middle of trade discussions ahead of the NBA draft.

As disappointing as the situation is for James, it’s worse for Gilbert. There were GM jobs out there to go for and he would have been a leading candidate – a month ago.

Griffin has a right to be upset by the situation even if he’s taking the high road on the way out the door. If Gilbert didn’t like the way Griffin built this team with his cash, he could have let him know after Game Five of the NBA Finals.

It looks like Gilbert has a candidate to lead his organization and, hopefully, hire a respected general manager to pick up the pieces of this potential disaster. He better get on that soon, real soon.

Nothing like putting your high priced team in the hands of someone who has never been in senior management before. But maybe the very business savvy James hasn’t noticed? Cracks, cracks everywhere.

Maybe Gilbert is trying to create hope in Boston, Washington and Toronto?

 

 

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

So What LeBron James Turns The Ball Over

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James is feeling some heat for turning the ball over eight times in Game One of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, but so what? It’s not like this is anything all that unusual for the oft described “best player in the NBA.”

If it seems like the ball goes thru James’ hands on almost every Cavs play that’s because it does. He’s one of the most used players to handle the ball for their team every year and, not surprisingly, that also puts him up near the top in turnovers as well.

This year he averaged 4.1 turnovers per game. 32 times he turned it over five or more times, 16 times it was six or more, but his team was still a respectable 20-12 in those games. Thrice he turned it over eight times with a 1-2 record, proving even the Cavs can get in trouble eventually.

But to put it in perspective, James still had a better than respectable 2.1:1 assist to turnover ratio during the regular season. So again, so what about all those turnovers.

Up until the Finals, James’ turnovers weren’t costing his team too much of anything in the postseason. He turned the ball over eight times in a first round Game Two win over the Pacers. The Cavs won Games Three and Four in Toronto with James handing the ball back five and six times respectively. Then he was turned over six and five times in Games Three and Four against Boston. All those turnovers cost the Cavs was one game they could’ve/should’ve won against the Celtics.

During the regular season against Golden State the Cavs split the series 1-1 and James turned the ball over five times in a one-point win and six times in a blowout loss. No one should be suggesting turning the ball over to the high powered Warriors offense is a good thing, but if James turns it over even four or five times, it shouldn’t be a determining factor.

James could be more cautious with his passes, take fewer risks on the fast break and limit his drives to wide open opportunities and his turnovers will drop to insignificant, but that’s not how the Cavaliers play and it’s definitely not how James plays.

The Cavs need to score to beat the Warriors in Oracle Arena and they aren’t going score by becoming a passive grind it out team. Where eight turnovers was too many for James, two or three probably means he isn’t playing like the force he needs to be if he’s going to give his team a chance to win Game Two.

 

 

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

Can The Cavs Afford To Keep Buying Championships?

LeBron James came home to Cleveland as much because the Miami Heat wouldn’t spend to win as much as Dan Gilbert and the Cavs promised they would. However, buying a championship caliber roster doesn’t come cheap and at some point, the question of affordability has to be asked. That was the whole point of the dramatically higher luxury tax rates the NBA instituted in the previous CBA.

As Kurt Badenhausen wrote in Forbes:

The reality is that owner Dan Gilbert has spent money at almost an unprecedented level. Last season’s $115 million payroll triggered a $54 million luxury tax bill. Add in benefits, (etc) and Gilbert spent roughly $185 million last season on his roster.

Gilbert’s massive commitment to spend whatever’s necessary to win a title led to a loss of $40 million last season

Gilbert spent the second most in NBA history (to the Nets) to put together his NBA Champion Cavs last season and he upped the amount committed to players’ salaries this year and next.

Thanks to another rise in the NBA’s Luxury Tax line, last year’s $169 million in player’s salaries plus tax is expected to drop by about $5 million this year even with the dreaded repeater tax of an extra dollar per dollar over the tax line added in. But if Gilbert lost $40 million last season, he could easily lose that much or more again this year.

Not much is going change in 2017-18. The Cavs are already committed to $126 million in players salaries for next year and that’s estimated to be $5 million into the tax with up to seven open roster spots to fill.

James isn’t about to let Gilbert cheap out either. He has a player option for 2018-19 and can keep the pressure on Gilbert to re-sign the team’s free agents and use the team’s exceptions to keep/add the talent James believes is necessary to get back to the NBA Finals again.

Keeping James happy is expensive and that, by the way, was the whole point of changing the luxury tax rules. It’s supposed to be hard to keep “super teams” together.

It isn’t hard to imagine Gilbert’s loses exceeding $100 million over a three year period with no end in sight and even a billionaire notices when that much cash disappears.

To all those finding the inevitability of a Cavaliers/Warriors NBA Final unfulfilling, how long this billionaire can afford to keep buying championship contending rosters is a important issue.

 

 

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

Why Cavs LeBron James Has Been Unstoppable This Postseason

The Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James has been unstoppable in thru the first two rounds of the postseason and what he has been doing different has make it impossible for opposing defenses to adjust.

Why the Cavs perennial MVP candidate has stepped up yet again in the playoffs isn’t a mystery to head coach Tyronn Lue, we just weren’t paying attention during the second half of the season.

“Since the second half of the season (James) really went to another level,” Lue said. “Starting the second half of the regular season and carried over to the playoffs and we’re just riding him right now. The way he has been playing is phenomenal. He is carrying this team.”

Coach Lue wasn’t blowing smoke about his best player’s improving performance.

In the first half of the season the Cavs went 30-11, but King James was a pedestrian (for him) 25.5 points on 51.5 percent shooting, 7.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists. However as his team struggled in the second half, James stepped up his game significantly.

The Cavs slumped to 21-20 over the final 41 contests, but James upped his game to 27.3 points on 58.2 percent shooting, 9.6 rebounds and 9.2 assists. If you weren’t facing him night-to-night, his impact may have gone unnoticed, but once the postseason kicked in, he took things up another notch. Saying James is carrying his team isn’t an overstatement.

The way to guard James has always been to turn him into a shooter, preferably from beyond the three-point line where he shot a more manageable 35.4 percent over the Cavs final 41 regular season games.

Unfortunately, that strategy hasn’t worked in the postseason.

“When LeBron is shooting the three-ball the way he is, at the rate he is shooting it, the average he’s shooting it, (the Cavs) are difficult,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “They are very difficult to beat when he’s shooting the ball like (that).”

James ripped into the seventh-place Pacers averaging 32.8 points on 54.3 percent shooting, 9.8 rebounds and 9 assists in the four game sweep. He upped his three-point attempts from 4.6 in the regular season to 5.0 and he shot like a three-point specialist by hitting 45 percent of them.  He also abused the Pacers with 3 steals and 2 blocks per game, more than double his regular season averages of 1.2 and 0.6 respectively.

Against the Raptors defensive pressure, James launched an unexpected 6.8 three-point attempts per game and he filled the net at a 48.1 percent clip. There is no defense for that. While his stats for rebounds (8.3) and assists (5.3) where below his regular season averages and his steals (1.3) and blocks (1.0) came back down to earth, he upped his scoring to 36 points per game in another four game sweep.

Even Kyle Korver has been impressed, “LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin have been playing so good, especially LeBron knocking down shots.”

“No matter who I’ve faced over the last few years, myself, my teammates and the coaching staff have always just tried to raise our ability, raise our (intensity), raise our game plan, raise our attention span to go out and compete every single night no matter who the competition was,” James said.

If James can fire three-balls at the rate and efficiency that he has so far in this postseason, he just has to many options for any defense to contain. Right now, he is unstoppable.

 

 

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 DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Can The Raptors Win A Game Without Kyle Lowry?

By Frank McLean

As we head to Game Three of this Eastern Conference semifinal between the Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers with a banged up Kyle Lowry questionable to play, why does it seem that the next two games of this series are going to be the last two games this season for the Raptors? Maybe the answer is obvious.

First LeBron James has stepped up his game. He has been an obsessed individual.

74-points and 16-rebounds is what James has combined for in the first two games. He has made this series look like a handicap match where the Raptors have five players on the floor and the Cavaliers have just one guy… James.

He is the best player in basketball hands down. He can take a team in money games, and the playoffs are money games, put them on his back and just win.

In last year`s fifth and six games of the conference finals, after the Cavaliers let a two game lead slip away by losing Games Three and Four in Toronto, he took control of things and made sure that there would be no Game Seven.

He carried that over to the first two games of this year`s series.

And let`s not forget he led that comeback in the NBA Finals where they were down 3-1 to Golden State and they won the next three to give the city of Cleveland their first sports championship since the 1964 NFL Browns.

Just ask DeMar DeRozan about James in the first two games if this series.

“He is a lot more aggressive, you just see a different fire, hunger in him this time around, as it should be,” DeRozan said comparing this year`s version of James over last year`s.

The other reason why it looks like this is going to be a short series is the possible absence of Kyle Lowry who injured his ankle pretty bad Wednesday night.

Lowry is listed as questionable which pretty well means if this was January he would not be playing at all.

“Kyle is our driving force, our point guard, our leader,” DeRozan was saying at Thursday`s practice. “So for us not to have him anything close to 100%, it would be difficult on us. But next guy, everybody else gotta do something a little bit more to fill whatever void it is he can’t fully do out there on the court.”

Next man up has always been the Raptors mantra during Dwane Casey`s time as the Raptors head coach and he emphasized that on Thursday.

If Lowry can`t answer the bell for Game Three, Pickering, Ontario`s favorite son Cory Joseph would get the start and at least he is playoff tested from his days as a San Antonio Spur where he did get a championship ring.

Casey is hoping for that.

“I thought Cory Joseph was a bright spot Wednesday night, the confidence he played with, the force he played with, the way he shot the three ball,” Casey said. “It’s huge. Because we need every one of ’em. But with (Lowry) questionable, that’s why you have 15 on the roster. All year long, we’ve always had the next man up mentality. So I have all the trust and confidence in the world. Cory, of all the people on our team, has won a championship. So he’s been there, he knows how hard it is.”

Regardless if Lowry plays or not, the 64-thousand dollar question is can the Raptors pull off a pair of wins at home like they did last year against the Cavaliers where they were in the exact same two-games to nothing hole.

First DeMar DeRozan can`t have another five point game like he did in Game Three. Last year in Game Three and Four in Toronto he had a pair of 32-point games to lead the Raptors to wins.

But other Raptors on Wednesday missed good looks as well and Casey talked about that matter.

“The blitzing on DeMar, there are opportunities there where we have to score, and we got to make sure we take advantage of them, be shot-ready and be prepared when it hits your hands to be ready to shoot it and take it. It’s pretty simple. It’s nothing different than we have done all year.”

On playing better defense Casey said, “We got to take away something. Right now they are doing what they want to do to our defense and that is unacceptable and we can do better. There is a level of defensive focus and intensity and physicality that we got to get to and can get to and will get to.”

All the right things were being said on Thursday and you expect that of a professional basketball team. Can the Raptors rally together and win a game against the Cavaliers is something we won`t find out until sometime after 7pm on Friday.

 

 

   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 Cleveland Cavaliers JR Smith LeBron James Kyle Korver

The Cavaliers Got Real Old Real Fast This Year

Not old as in old news, the Cleveland Cavaliers were built as a veteran team and their age is finally catching up to them. LeBron James (32), J.R. Smith (31), Kyle Korver (35), Richard Jefferson (36), Deron Williams (32), Channing Frye (33), and James Jones (36) literally make up half of head coach Tyronn Lue’s available roster. Throw in a few injuries and no one should be surprised if the Cavs are looking more than just a little fatigued heading done the stretch.

Coaches (and James) love to play with veterans and they should. You know what you are going to get, but the older the veteran, the higher the risk of injury, the more careful you have to be about preserving them for the postseason, and the bigger the risk their natural physical abilities fade.

There is a reason why the NBA is often called a young man’s game. 82 games plus playoffs is a grind. It wears you down and the Cavaliers look like they are on their last legs. It’s a lot to ask of older players, especially defensively.

Losing four of their last five games and 11 of 19 since the All-Star break, the Cavs are backing into the playoffs. Once a sure-thing to finish first in the Conference, now even home court in the second round of the postseason seems to be in doubt. The Cavs have been a suspect team on defense all season and the longer it goes, the worse they’ve looked as recently discussed on the NBA.com blogtable.

David Aldridge: they haven’t been good for weeks now. This is a pretty large sample size. It can’t just all be that they’re bored or that the injuries have hurt their continuity.

Steve Aschburner: this looks more like an issue of fatigue, effort and focus.

Shaun Powell: aside from LeBron James, nobody is stellar. JR Smith and Iman Shumpert are older and mostly living on reputation these days.

Ian Thomsen: They shouldn’t be this bad defensively. What appears to be ailing them more than anything is exhaustion.

Smith is just recently back from a thumb injury and no one should be surprised that the oft-injured Kevin Love missed a few weeks (again). Love’s body is older and more fragile than might be expected from a 28-year-old.

Now it’s the aging key defensive cog Jefferson with knee tendinitis and the sharp shooter Korver with sore feet. If you count on guys over 30, you better have solid backups for when they go down.

The really big piece of this conversation remains James. Playing a team high 37.5 minutes a game because he has to, the seemingly indestructible King is only human and he’s not as young as he was before starting his run of six consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. Asking James at 32-years-old plus to carry a team playing big minutes thru the regular season will eventually mean he runs out of gas in the 20+ postseason games it takes to play in the Finals. No one at any age plays this many games for this many seasons.

“As far as rest goes, I think mentally it’s good for players just to get away,” Durant said. “Not even worrying about having to go through shootaround or mentally preparing for their matchup or playing the game. I think mentally it does help when you get a day not to worry about basketball because we’re so consumed with the game 24/7.

“… But most guys do want to play, love to play and want to be out there. So I understand both sides. It’s not like I’m taking sides at all. I understand both of them, but sometimes you may need a mental break from it, especially when you’re that top-level player like LeBron” – Chris Haynes, ESPN Staff Writer

This is what the Celtics, Wizards and Raptors have been waiting for. A crack in the Cavaliers juggernaut they can exploit. Right now the Cavs look old and slow on defense and injuries to key players make their offense much less formidable.

There is no cure for old tired legs except rest. Some people might suggest swallowing one’s pride, giving James a couple of weeks off and limiting the minutes of Love, Frye, Smith and company until the games matter and just let the regular season chips fall where they may. The Cavaliers are just playing for the postseason? Right?

 

 

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 Cavs LeBron James

There’s Some Whine And Gold From Cavs LeBron James

Every NBA player tries to sell they’ve been fouled on every play and conversely no one seems to believe they’ve ever fouled anybody, but usually the constant complaining about calls stays on the court as it’s universally acknowledged the NBA game is very hard to officiate with all of the overt acting going on. But, not this time, there was some classic whine and gold as LeBron James felt the need to complain about not getting enough calls going his way after the Cavs had a couple of tough road games in the West.

ESPN’s Dave Menamin reports,

James is actually 10th in the league in free throw attempts per game. James also averages more minutes than everyone above him in the top 10.

Much of James’ detest comes from the fact that the vast majority of his shots come from within the paint … he feels contact is ignored.

“Yeah, I got fouled,” James said after the game, when asked about his outburst in Salt Lake City.

“It is, it is. It is. But I know what the main thing is — the main thing is to win — but it is. It is. It is.”

James is hard to officiate for a few reasons. One, he is bigger and stronger than some of today’s centers. Two, he’ll play like a guard, a wing or a power forward in the same sequence, so he isn’t doing what other players do and that makes it hard to anticipate plays for the referees. And three, he gets treated like a superstar at the defensive end so his opponents have a right to complain about getting frequently whacked by James with no call.

Funny, you never hear James talk about what he gets away with and it’s a lot. James, the ever active and very physical defender, fouls at the unbelievably low rate of just 2.1 fouls per 100 possessions. Only the Lakers Luol Deng and Lou Williams foul less (2.0). James gets the “kid-glove” treatment from the referees on defense like no one else does, so maybe he should be expecting the referees are getting an earful every night about calling the game the same way at both ends?

It’s not like James is getting no calls. He is 15th in the NBA for fouls drawn per 100 possessions at 7.2. The leaders being Joel Embiid (12.9), DeMarcus Cousins (12), Anthony Davis (10), Isaiah Thomas (9.9) and Russell Westbrook (9.3). All of these players play a very different style of game from James.

James isn’t a post-up player like Embiid (6 post touches per game). James (2.3 post touches) makes his living starting on the perimeter and is one of the game’s best facilitators, so like the seemingly numerous guards who get to the line more often, James is better known for his drives. But James doesn’t drive to the basket as often as you (he?) thinks.

Top five in drives to the basket include Thomas (13.5), Westbrook (11.6) and Harden (11.3). James (9.5) is way back at 16th and he should know, no one gets a call on every drive even when there is some contact.

So, no one should pretend James spends the same amount of time fighting for space as the league’s centers and power forwards under the basket where claw marks on your arms and shoulders after games is the norm. He’s far too valuable getting other players easy buckets to be “wasting” energy in those battles, so he shouldn’t be expecting to get the calls other big men draw over the course of a game either.

You don’t get a call every time you are whacked fighting in the paint with another big man. The game has never been called that way and the NBA isn’t about to change that for James. Big men are expected to man up and expect physical contact under the basket without complaining.

James mini-rant was pure gold and he probably did it in the hope he’d get some more calls on this road trip. It doesn’t always work and it shouldn’t, but history shows us that sometimes it does and that only encourages more whine and gold from the league’s stars.

Maybe he’d be happier getting called for all those whack-down “great” defensive plays and drawing more fouls at the other end? Probably not.

 

 

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 LeBron James

Is The NBA East Waiting On LeBron James To Get Old?

Father-time remains undefeated and in the NBA East that may be the only thing that can stop the reign of King James. Soon to be 32-years-old, LeBron has taken his team to the NBA Finals six times in a row and he is the overwhelming favorite to carry his Cleveland Cavaliers there again this season. With many of the Cavs so called rivals choosing to hold onto draft picks and young developing talent, no Eastern Conference team even looks like they have made a serious attempt to dethrone the King this summer. Almost everyone in the East seems to be waiting on James to get old and/or injured for now.

The Cavs aren’t going to make it easy to compete either. They’ll be a luxury tax team again this this season – expected to be the only tax team in the East. The sole remaining outstanding question is how deep into the tax will re-signing J.R. Smith push them? Can Smith extract the $15 million per year out of Cleveland he’s looking for before training camp opens? The Cavs aren’t losing to anyone because of money.

While there were a number of outlandish contracts handed out this summer and a lot of good players got paid, there were some cheap head scratching deals done by players that would have helped any Eastern Conference team that actually thought they had a shot this season and some veterans who could help a team’s depth that are still available, such as:

David Lee – 2 years, $3.1 million, Spurs
Zaza Pachulia – 1 year, $2.9 million, Warriors
Marreese Speights – 2 years, $2.8 million, Clippers
Brandon Bass – 1 year, $1.5 million, Clippers
Terrence Jones – 1 year, $980,000, Pelicans

Still available:
Lance Stephenson
Norris Cole
Tyler Hansbrough
Josh Smith
Jason Thompson

There are a lot more names that could be added to either list who would be better than just about anyone’s 11-15th player.

Toronto Raptors

The 56 win second place Toronto Raptors seemed to be in the best position to make a bold move by cashing in their two first round draft picks and some young talent to go for it in the upcoming season, but the mantra in Toronto continues to be “we’re not a finished product.” That Toronto isn’t a finished product is true, but with two returning All-Star guards, a breakout playoff performance by center Jonas Valanciunas before he got hurt and the anticipated return of a healthy ‘3-and-d’ stopper in DeMarre Carroll, president and general manager Masai Ujiri didn’t seem to even try to fill out his roster with veterans like the Cavs have done. After deeming other teams trade demands were too high, he ignored the numerous playoff proven veterans that were available on the cheap and in the East, he wasn’t alone.

With 8/10ths of last season’s rotation returning, the Raptors will be a 50+ win team again this season with a shot a first in the Conference, but they know the Cavaliers don’t really care about that and with good reason. It’s hard to identify any possibly available player or combination of players that would tip the scales in Toronto’s favor in a seven game series with the Cavs especially without Ujiri giving up the best of his young talent. So the Raptors doubled down on developing talent and kept their youth and their picks and signed four prospects to training camp invites to see if they could find another player to develop.

Boston Celtics

If the 48 win Celtics could have found a way to add another star player after picking up Al Horford in free agency, then maybe, just maybe, they’d be considered a threat to the King. The Celtics had more draft picks than any team could possibly add in one season, so when the trade market wasn’t any friendlier to them than it was to Toronto, they went about stashing what they could in Europe and jumping back on the player development bandwagon.

Boston should be a 50+ win team this year and challenge Toronto’s claim on the Atlantic Division , but with so many young players deserving and needing playing time to develop, it’ll be another interesting season for head coach Brad Stevens as he tries to balance between winning now and finding out what he’s got for a couple of years down the road when the James led Cavs might finally be gettable.

Indiana Pacers

Then there’s the Pacers. Indiana is betting on the resurgence of superstar Paul George to carry a veteran laden team to the next level. Respected head coach Frank Vogel was replaced by Nate McMillan and the team waived good-bye to Ty Lawson, Solomon Hill and Ian Mahinmi. George Hill was traded for Jeff Teague, they traded a draft pick for Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson was picked up in free agency. Where Toronto and Boston brought back essentially the same rotation with tweaks they hope will fit in seamlessly for the better and are loaded with young prospects, Indiana used a wrecking ball and added veterans.

The Pacers won 45 games last year and should, if everything comes together as hoped, be better this year and no one can say they are waiting for James to get old. On the other hand, no one seems to believe the changes will put Indiana ahead of Boston or Toronto either.

Myles Turner is a player to watch for the future, but after that, the Pacers are a win now team that aren’t being given much of a chance of advancing beyond the second round of the playoffs.

Realistically, the East is treading water waiting on King James to let them back in the game. Not that anyone would (should) admit to that, but waiting on LeBron to get old isn’t such a bad idea. He’ll be 33-years-old in another year.

 

 

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 LeBron James

LeBron James Promise To Cleveland Becomes A Reality

By Frank McLean

Back in 2010 LeBron James was considered “persona non grata” in Cleveland and all of Northeast Ohio. He had made the dumbest decision in his life by holding his own one hour television special on ESPN called “THE DECISION” where he told the world that as a free agent he was taking his talents to South Beach and the Miami Heat.

Two years ago he came home with the mission to bring a professional sporting championship to Cleveland. A city which last had a championship winner in the original Cleveland Browns who won an NFL championship in 1964, which was so long ago this Championship was three years before the merger with the AFL created the Super Bowl.

In sporting terms, this was the “stone age”.

Down three games to one in this year’s NBA Finals James literally willed his team to the title.

He scored 41 points in Games Five and Six, and in Sunday night’s clincher he pulled off a triple double of 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

In no uncertain terms he pulled a Michael Jordan, he refused to lose. As a result he also won the Finals MVP for a third time.

He fulfilled his promise to the people of Cleveland that he made in a letter published two years ago in Sports Illustrated. He came home to win a championship. He had said it would be “hard to deliver and would be a long process.”

Oh yes, it was a long two years.

James has been accused of being the team’s real General Manager. When the Cavaliers fired their head coach of a year and a half David Blatt midway through the season after they had already acquired 31 wins, it looked like James had his hands all over the change at the time. However, Blatt’s replacement Tyrone Lue proved that he was running the show in an incident when James tried to take over the huddle during a timeout in a game and Lue supposedly said “shut the bleep up.”

So I think the notion he was running the show was a little out of line.

The thing that amazes me about James is that when things go wrong for the teams he has played for, Cavaliers or Heat, he gets the blame for it even though he is putting up the numbers.

During this year’s Finals James was taking flack for being just 2-4 in previous NBA Finals and after the Cavaliers had lost the first two games of the series, the fact he was headed towards a 2-5 mark was being used to blame him for previous teams’ failures.

One person in the NBA who can’t understand this is current Warriors executive Jerry West. West in his playing days with the Los Angeles Lakers was 1-8 in the Finals, always losing to the Boston Celtics.

“With him, the negativity that surrounds him, honestly, to me, I think is so unjust and so unfair,” West said in interview during the Finals to ESPN. “Take him off of the team and see how these teams do. That’s all you have to do. Take him off. And it frustrates the heck out of me when I see some of these players who play this game at an enormously high level get criticized because their teams quote, ‘Can’t win the big one.’ The damn guy gets his teams there every year. He wins. For people to criticize him, I think that’s why he really resonates.”

And that in a nutshell is why the Cavaliers are the champions today.

The four years James was in Miami, the Cavaliers were a pitifully bad Lottery team, with him they are champions.

James fulfilled his promise to make the city of Cleveland a winner again. He also proved that maybe he is really the MVP of the league and the best player in the game.

 

 

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 Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

In Defense of The Cavs LeBron James

By Ethan Stern, FULL COURT PRESS RADIO

Listen to any radio show across America and you’ll likely hear some Hot Takes™ about how LeBron James is done, LeBron can’t play, it’s all LeBron’s fault, but just pause for a second. It’s absurd to think that this series is somehow LeBron James’ fault. It’s easy to fall back on the unreasonable yet fashionable argument that if LeBron was so great, the Cleveland Cavaliers should win the series against the Golden State Warriors easily.

Perhaps there is an argument to be made in that regard when you compare LeBron and the Cavaliers to last year’s finals, where Kevin Love missed the entire series and Kyrie Irving missed five of the six games, but Love has been ineffective at best, and so far the only game the Cavaliers have won was the game that Love was ruled out for. Irving is another defensive sieve, and there perhaps the Cavaliers strengths that carried them through their dominant run through the playoffs don’t work against the Warriors.

One of the more glaring criticisms of LeBron is that he has been settling too much for his jump shot. Of course, this was never mentioned before when he hit it more consistently, but there’s not much he can do against Golden State’s defense.

With Klay Thompson’s defensive improvement over last year, the Warriors now have four players who can guard LeBron on a consistent basis with Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who shouldered the load in last year’s finals. Most teams are lucky if they even have one player who can competently guard LeBron over the course of a game. Having so many versatile wing defenders is a total rarity in the modern NBA, as modern teams struggle to fine the coveted “3 and D” wing. Ignoring the Warriors defensive intelligence and knowledge of when to switch and when to help, this is a nightmare series for LeBron offensively.

Coaching the playoffs is a completely different beast from the regular season. What worked over 82 games may not be best for the playoffs, and adjustments over the course of a series are crucial. The Cavaliers’ rookie head coach Tyronn Lue was going to be overmatched against Steve Kerr and his superstar assistants, Ron Adams and Luke Walton, but to the extent that he has been is astounding.

The Cavs defense hasn’t struggled, so Lue can be credited for at least preventing the Warriors from reaching their season average of 114 points in all four games, but it’s the Cavs offense that had been firing on all cylinders prior to the finals that has been the issue. It’s good that Lue has tried so many different lineups, but each time the Cavs game plan was relatively similar, which ruins the point. The Cavs are sticking to their slow yet unmethodical offense, trying to ooh and ah the crowd with dribbles from a stagnant offense. Playing slow against the Warriors is a sound strategy to try and take them out of their rhythm, but if the offense you generate is so inefficient, it’s moot.

Lue’s lack of coaching acumen culminated in his game four post-game presser, where he was asked why he sat Tristan Thompson so much in the fourth quarter, to which he responded, “I’m not sure. I’ll have to look at the tape.” If Lue is unable to recall why he made a coaching decision less than an hour ago, it doesn’t reflect well on the Cavs’ chances to make a historic comeback.

Meanwhile, on the other bench, Warriors coach Steve Kerr has adjusted his rotations to account for the Cavaliers strengths, even inserting James Michael McAdoo, a “he don’t play” kind of guy, to gain some extra quickness at the big positions. Kerr has adjusted his offense to counter the Cavs different lineups, as the Cavs have tried taking away the three, taking away the rim, doubling Curry and Thompson, switching, not switching, and still exceeding 100 points in each of their wins.

This of course, is all completely overshadowed by the fact that the 2016 Golden State Warriors are one win away from being the greatest team of all time. Any argument that LeBron should magically show up and beat this team is so ill-conceived for this fact alone, though I’m not sure if it’s more disrespectful towards LeBron or towards this Warriors team. As great as LeBron is, how many players at any point of their career were on a team that could even challenge the Warriors? LeBron is a borderline top five all-time player, but just enjoy the Warriors; we may never see this again.

 

Ethan Stern writes for FULL COURT PRESS RADIO.

Check out more from Ethan here.
Reprinted with permission.

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

 

 

 


 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Losing Again Is Hitting Cavs LeBron James Hard

The Cavaliers LeBron James is not a dirty player. Sure he plays a physical style and it’s beyond obvious the referees give him a lot more latitude to bang on opponents without a foul call or yell in their (opponent or referee) face without a tech than anyone else in the NBA, but his usual response to being down in a game is to play harder. In Game Four at the Q against the Warriors with another loss almost in the books, James lost it and could have (should have?) been tossed.

 

 

With the Warriors up by 10 points and less than three minutes to go in the game, Draymond Green sets a moving screen on LeBron James to free up Stephen Curry. The two tangle and James tosses Green to the ground. No calls either way.

Then James deliberately steps over Green and Green lifts his back up between James legs and not surprisingly to two look like they are ready to throw punches, but play continues so they both run into the paint to challenge for the potential rebound. Again the referees turn a blind eye. The really sad part here is the ESPN analysts suggesting Green was hitting James in the “privates” and James needed to do this earlier – maybe they’d be happier watching watching the NHL Stanley Cup instead?

“I felt he stepped over me. You’re not just gonna step over me like that,” Green said on the NBA TV broadcast. “There’s many routes you can take, don’t just step over me like that. We had our words, it is what it is. I don’t care who you are, I’m not gonna back down from you.”

In the post Green tries to move James further under the basket and James responses with his arms up around Green’s head. The referees finally call a double foul, but as Green walks away, James has to be restrained by Channing Frye. He lost it and his excuse just doesn’t fly.

“Draymond said something that I don’t agree with,” James explained after the game. “I’m all cool with the competition, I’m all fine with that, but some of the words that came out of his mouth were a little bit overboard. Being a guy with pride, a guy with three kids and a family, things of that nature, just some things go overboard, and that’s where he took it.”

In fairness to how the NBA game is called, the referees know Green is two techs or one flagrant foul away from a one game suspension and James just doesn’t get tossed, so that fact this situation was allowed to escalate shouldn’t have been a surprise, but James losing his mind was.

At the end of the game James was covering Stephen Curry on a pretty meaningless inbounds play and while the never give up attitude and hustle is appreciated, trying to haul the much smaller and quicker Curry to the ground with a handful of jersey when he finally broke free was pure frustration. Of course the referees just ignored this too. Suggesting the in your face conversation with the referees looking on was just “competitive conversation” isn’t right. It was more like how is James still in this game with all the crap he’s been pulling in the last three minutes?

Once again James has been the best player in the NBA Finals and once again it isn’t going to be enough. Now down three games to one, the Cavaliers are in miracle territory as far as winning an NBA Championship this season and James knew it with three minutes to go in what is very likely his last home game of the season. Losing again is hitting James hard.

 

 

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