Judging the Cavaliers’ Competition in the West
By Cody Taylor
The announcement that everyone was waiting for finally came on Saturday. That announcement of course was that Kevin Love was officially traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for number one overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins, last year’s number one pick Anthony Bennett and a first-round pick. A new detail emerged, as the Philadelphia 76ers were included as the third team in the deal, acquiring Luc Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved and a future first-round draft pick while sending Thaddeus Young to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The trade was perhaps the best option available to the Timberwolves, who risked losing Love next offseason for nothing. The deal will allow them to remain competitive next season and will also set them up for the future. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, are now in a position where it’s NBA Finals or bust. While the Eastern Conference has certainly improved during the last couple of seasons, the conference remains the Cavaliers’ for the taking. Some around the league have questioned whether the Cavaliers can jump in immediately and make a run to the Finals.
NBA Salary Cap Update
By Eric Pincus
Kevin Love has officially changed teams, now a Cleveland Cavalier, but restricted free agents Greg Monroe and Eric Bledsoe remain unsigned.
Spending power in the NBA has tightened up. Few of the teams with money to spend are willing to part with it.
Monroe is expected to take the Detroit Pistons’ $5.5 million qualifying offer, although Detroit will need to open a roster spot since they already have 15 guaranteed players.
The Phoenix Suns still hope to bring back Bledsoe on a long-term deal, but are reportedly open to a sign and trade. The athletic guard may also choose to take the Suns’ $3.7 million qualifying offer for a year.
Both Monroe and Bledsoe, if they return to their respective teams on one-year deals, can block any trade this coming season and would be unrestricted in 2015.
Five NBA Coaches on the Rise
By Joel Brigham
hey used to call it “The Coaching Carousel,” because every summer a third of the league’s head coaches would get fired, and then calliope music plays while all those eligible job-seekers basically swapped spots and found new NBA head coaching jobs all over again. Teams wanted head coaches with NBA head coaching experience, and it was seldom that any organization thought outside the box beyond just promoting a lead assistant once the former big fish retired.
Today, though, organizations scour the planet for good head coaches. Be it an international coaching sensation, a respected NCAA guy, a long-time assistant ready for his first shot at the big show or even a former player only months removed from wearing an actual uniform, teams are willing to try anything short of a “Survivor”-style reality show to find the next big thing in coaching.
The good news is that they—both the teams searching and the coaches they’re ultimately finding—are succeeding, as the following list shows. These five gentlemen all have a year or fewer experience as an NBA head coach, but all of them show how promising the future will be for their new employers.
Here’s a look at five coaches on the rise:
Thomas Discusses Decision to Join Phoenix Suns
By Alex Kennedy
As Isaiah Thomas walked into US Airways Center, he couldn’t help but smile. The Phoenix Suns went all-out during his free agency visit, putting pictures of him in a Suns jersey on the Jumbotron and all over the arena – inside and out. “The Phoenix Suns welcome Isaiah Thomas” read an electronic sign outside of the building. This is exactly what Thomas was looking for entering the offseason.
“I went on one visit, with the Phoenix Suns, and they just pulled out the red carpet for me and in the end I just felt wanted,” Thomas told Basketball Insiders. “That was the biggest thing for me, to go to a team that really wanted me for who I was and loved me for what I did – loved me for being a scoring point guard and being a 5’9 point guard. I felt Phoenix was the best destination for me with the style of play, with the coach and with the whole organization there. Everything feels like it’s going forward. I mean, they won 48 games last year, they were one game from the playoffs and it just seemed like the right fit for me.”
Thomas signed a four-year, $28 million deal with Phoenix shortly after his visit. He hadn’t always felt wanted in the past, as a member of the Sacramento Kings. Even though he put up impressive numbers and improved each year after being the 60th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Kings kept trying to bring in new point guards to take over the starting job – from Aaron Brooks to Greivis Vasquez. The Kings could’ve re-signed Thomas, since he was a restricted free agent, but they decided to let him go.
Can Ricky Rubio Be The Face Of A Franchise?
By Jabari Davis
Even though it was somewhat of a foregone conclusion that power forward Kevin Love would be traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers since just about the moment LeBron James returned to the franchise, there still had to be at least a hint of relief in Minnesota when the deal was finally completed over the weekend. No, not because the Timberwolves’ fan base was in any hurry to rush their franchise player out the door, but mainly because it had been made abundantly clear that Love desired a fresh start and what he deemed a better chance at immediate success.
After several years of rumors that involved Love’s displeasure with the direction of the organization as well as being linked to various destinations that were more desired locations, it came as no shock when point guard Ricky Rubio decided to openly question his leadership following last season. There’s a certain amount of personal accountability that comes into play, especially when it is coming from someone that has widely been considered one of the best at his position for several years. Generally, a strong desire to win and a natural frustration with perennial losing is understood and accepted around a locker room, but teammates are only going to listen to that for so long before they finally speak out.
LeBron James Helps Deliver Kevin Love
By Yannis Koutroupis
As Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin broke down how the acquisition of Kevin Love, which became official this weekend, really took a year and a half to complete, he didn’t leave any doubt over why they were finally able to make it happen: the presence of LeBron James.
Of course, there were a number of other factors that led to the Minnesota Timberwolves finally being able to let go of the three-time All-Star, who is regarded as one of the best power forwards in the league. He was coming up on free agency, Kyrie Irving signed a five-year contract extension, the Cavaliers’ offer improved to two number one overall picks and the Philadelphia 76ers were willing to help facilitate the deal by giving the Timberwolves Thaddeus Young for pennies on the dollar. However, without James, Love may not be a part of a team that is now the favorite to win the 2014-15 NBA championship.
Dunc’d On: USA 101-71 Slovenia
By Nate Duncan
All of the US exhibitions have been very encouraging so far, with nothing resembling a close call. Slovenia is a solid offensive team that can really bomb from the outside or get to the basket with Goran Dragic and his brother Zoran. The Slovenes recently dealt Lithuania, the projected U.S. opponent in the semifinals, its first loss of the exhibition season.* But the US defense was again outstanding, as it has been throughout the exhibition tour with the exception of a shaky first half against Puerto Rico. Slovenia managed only 71 points on 85 possessions (83.5 points per 100 possessions).
10 Questions to Answer This NBA Season
By Jessica Camerato
The NBA offseason is winding down and training camp is just over a month away. This summer has been filled with a highly anticipated draft, monumental return home, blockbuster trade, devastating injury, and that’s just scratching the surface. How will all the twists and turns play out this season? Take a look at 10 questions to be answered once NBA action gets underway.
The Gems Of The Second Round
By Steve Kyler
With training camp less than a month away for most NBA teams, young guys will get the chance to prove they belong. For second round draft picks, camp will be a brutal culture shock.
The 2014 NBA Draft produced some interesting wrinkles as many teams opted to spend first round picks on ‘draft and stash’ prospects or in Oklahoma City’s case with Josh Huestis to their D-League team.
This pushed a number of first round talents into the second round, and several of them could make an impact as a rookie, which would go a long way towards cementing their ability to have a NBA career.
Here are some of the most notable ones:
Five NBA Shooting Guards on the Rise in 2014-15
By John Zitzler
Most teams rely heavily on their shooting guard to produce points. A two-guard is expected to be one of the team’s better outside shooters and also have the ability to penetrate the lane, draw fouls and finish around the rim. Defensively, they are tasked with stopping some of the best athletes in the game. It’s a position that has produced some of the most talented and entertaining players the game has ever seen. Over the past 25 years, the NBA has been fortunate enough to witness some exceptional play from shooting guards. The late 80s and 90s were dominated by Michael Jordan, but he wasn’t the only great two-guard, as Clyde Drexler and Reggie Miller among others also excelled before passing the torch to Kobe Bryant and Co. Bryant, who will look to continue his successful career this year, went on to win five titles. More recently, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen have dominated the position, and both appear to be locks for the Hall of Fame.
The position continues to produce some of the top scorers in the game today. James Harden has excelled scoring the ball in Houston’s uptempo style of play. Harden, a two-time All-Star and a two-time All-NBA team member (first team in 2014 and third team in 2013), currently holds the title as the best shooting guard in the game. In Toronto, DeMar DeRozan has really come on strong, making his first All-Star appearance this past season. Both players have been recognized by the league for their strong play, but there are number of young two-guards attempting to catch them, eager to prove that they deserve the same type of respect.
Here are five shooting guards on the rise:
Five NBA Small Forwards on the Rise in 2014-15
By Jesse Blancarte
In the modern NBA, the small forward position has become one of the most important for teams. Small forwards need to be more versatile than ever before. They are often asked to guard some of the NBA’s biggest power forwards, and just as often asked to shut down some of the league’s elite point guards. Many of the better ball-handling forwards, such as LeBron James and Andre Iguodala, play “point-forward” and initiate their team’s offense intermittently with the full-time point guard.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the best two NBA players in the NBA, and by the far best small forwards. Behind them are players like Paul George (who may miss the upcoming season due to his recent leg injury) and Carmelo Anthony. However, behind these top small forwards is an exciting crop of young small forwards that are climbing the ranks and are ready to take the next step in their development. Some of them have been in the league for more than six years, some have yet to play their first NBA game.
Here is a look at some of the best up-and-coming small forwards in the league:
Anthony Morrow Fills Thunder’s Critical Need
By Susan Bible
After the Oklahoma City Thunder came up short again last season in their bid for a repeat NBA Finals appearance, there was no shortage of voices proclaiming what moves had to be made during the offseason. The glaring deficiencies were clear. To get past the elite teams (read: the San Antonio Spurs), the Thunder had to address their lack of bench depth, low-post offense and reliable outside shooting. The rumors started circulating rather quickly. With center Steven Adams developing at an unexpected rapid pace and big man Mitch McGary drafted, it appeared the Thunder were wisely concentrating on filling the gap in knockdown shooting. Players such as C.J. Miles, Arron Afflalo and Mike Miller were tossed around as possible offseason signings. Those names were put aside when suddenly the talented Pau Gasol emerged as a serious contender. The Thunder contingent collectively held their breath as Gasol weighed his options.
In mid-July, Gasol announced he was joining the Chicago Bulls; on the same day, free agent Anthony Morrow agreed to a three-year, $10 million deal with the Thunder. The Morrow signing didn’t generate much excitement; certainly, it wasn’t the big-name acquisition OKC followers were expecting in light of the Gasol rumors. However, this under-the-radar signing has the potential to turn into a critical piece the Thunder have been missing.
Players On The Rebound
By Lang Greene
Every season there are a group of players who, without warning, fall from the top level and experience disappointing campaigns. Some of these players will put it back into focus and bounce back, while others will continue their descent into realm of faded skills.
Last season was no different and produced a new batch of players looking to get their careers back on track. Was there performance in 2014 a sign of things to come or simply just an unfortunate outlier? Time will ultimately tell, but let’s took a look at some of the players in need of redemption heading into training camp.
NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise
The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.
He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.
He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.
Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.
The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.
“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.
“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.
So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.
As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.
In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.
But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.
So is Porzingis.
Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.
In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.
Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.
And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.
“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.
“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”
Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.
Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.
The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.
So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.
Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.
If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.
So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.
Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.
To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.
When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.
He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.
And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.
With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word.
It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.
For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.
In this town, that’s more than half the battle.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”