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.
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.