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Cavaliers Newest Trio Welcomed To Cleveland

Basketball Insiders was in attendance for the Cleveland Cavaliers introductory press conference for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Ante Zizic.

Spencer Davies

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Basketball Insiders was in attendance for the Cleveland Cavaliers introductory press conference for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Ante Zizic.

Here are the main elements in review.

NOT TALKING ABOUT HIPS

In his second straight public appearance as Cavaliers general manager, Koby Altman did not want to speak about the negatives. Instead of focusing on a “proud day for the organization” as he prefaced before things got started, everybody’s eyes were on the condition of Isaiah Thomas. The media contingent was persistent in asking for an update and a timetable for his return, but Altman refused to budge.

“I don’t want this to be the Isaiah Thomas hip press conference,” Altman said adamantly. “If we want to talk about Isaiah, let’s talk about Isaiah the All-Star. Let’s talk about Isaiah, the guy that averaged 29 points a game last year.

“Let’s talk about him as a leader and what he’s going to bring to this franchise in terms of his performance on the floor when we get him back.”

The Cavaliers are keeping mum on the situation at hand, which raises the question: Do they even know when that will be? Since Altman went with the “no comment” approach, it seems as if the reports about Thomas’ torn labrum potentially holding him out for an extended period of time aren’t an exaggeration.

So what course of action is Cleveland taking to ensure the 28-year-old returns to full strength to help compete for another championship run?

“Our responsibility is to get him back to a hundred percent,” Altman said. “Our performance team has mapped out a great plan, a multi-faceted plan, to really attack this thing. Isaiah is deeply committed to that, so day-by-day as he gets better, I think we’ll have a better grasp of it. We’ll let you guys know when those thresholds are crossed, but that’s sort of all I’ll comment on that for now.”

Altman did squeak out one detail about the recovery, though.

“Our plan is a non-surgical plan.”

Thomas followed up with a tongue-in-cheek comment after being further pressed.

“Y’all hear that,” he said to the group of reporters. “Everybody want to be doctors now, damn.”

As for what he’s able to do at this point right now, Thomas relayed that he’s been getting treatment and hitting the weights.

“Like Koby said, we have a plan and we’re just going to attack that plan and get me back to 100 percent as soon as possible.”

IN THE MEANTIME

Before the blockbuster trade went down, Cleveland announced the signing of multiple veteran players to help bolster the depth of their roster.

Luckily for Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, waiting on Thomas to rehab won’t hurt too much because one of those additions is former MVP Derrick Rose, who will be counted on to hold things down for the team at point guard for the time being.

“D. Rose, who averaged 10 points in the paint last year In New York and averaged 18, 5 and 4, getting to the basket, playing with our team and the way we space the floor and the shooters we have, he will be living in the paint and be able to do that.”

Thomas is confident in his new teammate’s abilities to do so as well.

“Derrick Rose is really good,” he said. “He’s still really good and I think his peers know that more than anything.”

Jose Calderon will assume second unit duties. The soon-to-be 36-year-old has been tirelessly working in the gym since his arrival. Whether or not he’ll be able to keep up with today’s fast-paced style remains to be seen, but Lue knows the experience he brings is valuable.

“Calderon is a steady guy who is a backup, who comes in and is not going to turn the basketball over,” he said. “Great shooter, great passer.”

Whenever Thomas does return, he’ll need to be integrated into the coach’s system rather quickly as the wine-and-gold prepares for the postseason. For somebody completely new to pick up the scheme in basically a month or two, it should be demanding on both parties. Lue accepts the challenge.

“I want him to be Isaiah,” Lue said. “Don’t come in and defer and look to try to fit in. And LeBron, Kevin and those guys, they don’t want that. Come in, play his game, be aggressive, be the scorer that he is that we know can score the basketball. We’re just very excited we can get a guy that averaged 29 points a game and gets to the free-throw line, makes big shots and is not afraid of the moment. It’s big for us.

“Just come in, play your game, be who you are, and that’s what our team is all about from a team level,” he continued. “They want guys to come in and be themselves – Kyle Korver and all the new additions we’ve had over the years – they all come in and fit in well. Just be who you are and we’ll be able to adjust.”

Lue knows losing Irving is going to change things for the team, especially on the offensive end of the floor, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a step back.

“We’re going to be different, but when you add an All-Star, a guy that was up for MVP, fifth in MVP votes, and you add LeBron James, who can play with anybody in the world, it’s not going to take long for those guys to click.

“Our main goal, our main focus is being healthy when the playoffs start,” he continued. “We talk about that every season, taking our time, not rushing situations, taking time off when we need time off and getting guys healthy and get the guys 100 percent because we know once we hit the playoffs, if we’re healthy, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”

According to Thomas, the transition shouldn’t be so difficult. With the stars already there and the new talent joining them, it will make things easier on everybody involved.

“Like coach said, once we gel and figure things out that this is a team where I’ve watched from afar, no matter if there’s new guys on the team midway through the season, a guy like LeBron makes it that much easier for everybody else just because of how good he is and how good everybody else is.

“You can see as a team it’s really a team having fun and they’re excited about everybody’s success, you don’t get that a lot.”

ABOUT THE OTHERS

Believe it or not, there were other pieces to this deal.

Surprisingly, not one question about the 2018 unprotected first-round pick via the Brooklyn Nets arose. Nobody was inclined enough to ask Altman to assess the impressive Euroleague play of Turkish forward Cedi Osman, either.

However, Jae Crowder did get plenty of encouraging words in about his new opportunity in Northeast Ohio, especially in regards to getting the chance to play together with one of his former rivals, “The King” himself.

“Well, trying to slow him down is very tough obviously,” Crowder said of limiting LeBron as an opponent. “I tried to study him. I studied play calls, as coach knows. It’s tough.

“You have to do your homework for sure and I learned that the hard way early in my career and from that point on I took it very serious, my match ups with him because he’s an incredible player and you learn to expect this by the way he approaches the game and for me to play alongside him will be pretty scary for opponents.”

As a guy who can play almost every position on the floor, Crowder will allow James to wreak havoc in those passing lanes to force turnovers, so needless to say Lue can’t wait to see the two side-by-side locking down their competition.

“Jae can always guard the tougher opponent which allows LeBron to roam, which he loves to do on defense, pick off steals and passes and anchor our defense by talking and communicating, so it’s going to be a great duo defensively and I’m excited for it.”

Croatian big man Ante Zizic was the under-the-radar portion of the move. He only took the microphone once to talk about his success overseas and basically describe what he brings to the table.

“There’s a big difference between Euro style of basketball and NBA style of basketball,” he said. ‘I’d say I need just a little bit of time to acclimate this type of game. My style of game is a big guy who runs well, good defense, good rebounder. Set good screens for my teammates, making shots and layups. That’s my game.”

Altman raved over his potential.

“Ante Zizic we know pretty well through the draft process and then also scouting him this past year,” he said. “He’s a 20-year old that’s played at the highest level of the Euroleague. He’s also tough. He plays with motor and we’re excited about his growth as a young big for this franchise.”

TAKEAWAYS

1) Isaiah Thomas won’t be back for quite some time. It seems that it’s inevitable, but Derrick Rose and Jose Calderon will have to temporarily lead the team in their respective roles. That’s not what the fans want to hear, but it is what it is.

Call me crazy, but having Rose as the starting point guard isn’t exactly a bad thing. He can still play at a high level and contribute. Surrounding him with the talent that Cleveland has will only make him better.

2) Jae Crowder will immediately help the Cavaliers. On the floor, he’ll be a force that brings versatility and physicality to a team that has desperately needed it for years.

He’s gotten better as a shooter as his career has progressed and will only get better as he becomes a key piece to a championship-caliber squad. Crowder’s toughness should rub off on the others right away.

3) Iso ball will fade away in Cleveland. It was a staple of the Kyrie Irving skill set. The one-on-one dazzling handles and ability to finish were fun to watch, but now without him, Lue knows there will have to be more ball movement to succeed as an offense.

It will be interesting to see how he meshes in this new talent with what’s already there. Expect Kevin Love to have a monster season as the secondary scoring option while LeBron James will once again put the Cavaliers on his back as they try to figure things out with this turnover on the roster.

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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NBA

Life After Philadelphia is Just Fine For Turner

Evan Turner goes 1-on-1 with Basketball Insiders to explain how life in Philadelphia shaped the rest of his career.

Dennis Chambers

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Once upon a time, Evan Turner was the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and the next man in line to save the Philadelphia 76ers.

After finishing his junior year at Ohio State University, Turner declared for the draft and eventually was taken directly after John Wall by the Sixers. Turner joined a team that won just 27 games the year before, but had more than a few promising young pieces.

Andre Iguodala, a former Sixers top-10 pick in his own right, was the oldest of the core bunch, at just 27. After him, the likes of Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes were all under the age of 24. All in all, adding a No. 2 pick to that mix looked to set up the Sixers for years to come.

For the most part, the beginning of Turner’s career was successful. After making the playoffs his rookie season and losing in the first round to the Miami HEAT four games to one, the Sixers pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals during the 2011-12 season.

Turner started 12 of those 13 playoff games during his second season, averaging 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 points per game.

Just as Turner seemed to be coming into his own, though, the tides in Philadelphia began to turn, and turn quickly.

His third year in the league, and first year as a full-time starter, came and went for Turner. He posted decent numbers. His 13.6 points per game were second only to Holiday. He was third on the team in assists and sixth in rebounds. In the midst of his fourth season, while averaging a career-high 17.4 points, Turner was traded to the Indiana Pacers.

Newly hired president of basketball operations, Sam Hinkie, had a plan in place that didn’t include Turner. It didn’t include Holiday either, as he was shipped off during the 2013 draft for Nerlens Noel and future first-round pick.

Just as the Sixers were becoming “his” team, Turner was sent packing to a new zip code. In his mind, he never got a fair shake at trying to the be the guy he was drafted to be in Philadelphia.

“I don’t think I really ever had a chance to shoulder it, to tell you the truth,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t start my first two years, but numbers wise I thought I did well. Nobody averaged more than 13 or 14. We were a great unit. My third year, my first year starting, I thought I did pretty well for a first-year starter. We missed the playoffs, which is always tough. Within the next year, it got blown up.”

Turner reiterated that in his mind, he wasn’t allowed the leash to become a franchise guy. But it wasn’t all for naught in Philadelphia.

“Honest opinion, I don’t think I ever fully got the chance,” Turner said. “But I got the chance to do a lot of great things. Learn how to win, learn how to defend, learn how to prepare.”

Since leaving Philly, Turner’s role in the NBA has shifted from a potential franchise player to a serviceable role man on a playoff caliber team.

Last summer, Turner inked a four-year, $70 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers after his stint with Indiana, and then two years with the Boston Celtics. Beyond the years in Philly, Turner’s life in the Association has been kind to him.

“It’s been fine,” Turner said. “On the up and up, I was fortunate to make the playoffs every year since leaving Philly. I made the playoffs two out of three, or three out of the four years that I was here. It’s cool, it’s a blessing. Healthy, stable, and living the dream.”

On Wednesday night, Turner returned to Philadelphia and the Wells Fargo Center to square off against his old team. Nowadays, this version of the Sixers is much different than the one he left behind. A process that nearly began with jettisoning Turner to the Pacers feels near completion, and the energy Turner once felt on the court in a Sixers uniform is returning in full force.

When walking around the building, this time as a visitor, Turner takes appreciation in seeing some old faces. The guys “behind the scenes” as he put it, always are welcoming. Brett Brown, Turner’s former coach, never fails to show him love, and the arena in South Philly, Turner says, is always a great reminder of where he came from.

Turner thinks the process that was kicked off with getting rid of him and his core teammates is promising, though.

“It’s turning around,” Turner said.  “Just off the first eye glance, I know Coach Brown can coach his butt off. Even the fact that they’re getting up a real practice facility says a lot. Obviously on the court, the energy. You see on tv before, it’s more sold out. When you see the Sixers sometimes it would be a joke, in regards to how many games they lost, or whatever. But now it’s kind of like you’re going to see some great highlights, you’re watching a lot of energy from the crowd and things. I’m happy for them. It seems like it’s trending in the right direction.”

It wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine for Turner in Philadelphia; he would be reminded of that as he was greeted with boo’s from the crowd when he checked into the game for the first time Wednesday night. The city of brotherly love has a reputation that doesn’t necessarily precede its name.

“Much is given, much is expected,” he said. “One thing is, when you get kind of labeled as whatever, you kind of get tagged for the most critical stuff. I saw how sometimes Iguodala would get blamed for everything, and then I kind of moved into that. I went from the cute little kid, to moving into that responsibility. Then MCW (Michael Carter-Williams) went from that position. It’s just kind of, you know, part of the game.”

The harshness of the city, and Turner’s situation particularly, helped guide him through his career after Philadelphia. In Turner’s words, “The only way to go from here, in a certain sense, is up.”

Portland’s sixth man has lived a long, lucrative life in the NBA, even if it didn’t go exactly how it was initially planned to. Turner was quick to point out that any time he heard someone complain during his travels around the league, at least they weren’t facing the wrath of Philadelphia.

“Going into new situations, people are like, ‘Hey they do this or they do that,’ and I’m like are y’all serious,” Turner said with a smile. “Go to Philly and see what they’ll do to y’all.”

Maybe his time spent in Philadelphia didn’t turn out the way fans had hoped, but Turner found out quickly there was a spot for him in the league as a former second overall pick, and that his career has gone just the way it was supposed to.

“I’m a firm believer in everything is supposed to happen how it’s supposed to happen,” Turner said. “Regardless of which, it’s a blessing.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA AM: The First 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

Steve Kyler

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The Thanksgiving 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

So with that in mind here is my first Mock Draft of the 2018 Season, look for more of these are we march on (and hopefully you like the new Mock Draft table design.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this summer.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would convey.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out our Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA

NBA PM: Lopez Leading On And Off The Court

Brook Lopez has been a valuable addition to the Los Angeles Lakers, both on and off the court.

Ben Nadeau

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In spite of the ongoing media circus, an inherently tougher conference and a roster that features just five players with more than three years of NBA experience, the Los Angeles Lakers are 8-10. Naturally, that won’t be good enough to reach the postseason in the West, but it’s better than most expected the young Lakers to fare. Their early season successes can be chalked up to their glut of budding talent — Julius Randle, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, among others — but there’s one other major driving force at hand here and his name is Brook Lopez.

Following years of will-they, won’t-they rumors, Lopez was acquired in a shocking blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets just prior to this year’s draft. The Lakers were eager to get out from under Timofey Mozgov’s lengthy, albatross-sized contract, so they packaged him with the once-troubled D’Angelo Russell, shipping the pair off for Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick. The deal was largely made with financial implications in mind, but the initial returns on Lopez have been a massive win for the Lakers as well.

Although Lopez is currently logging a career-low in minutes (24.3), he still often leads the way for Los Angeles — like the night he effortlessly dropped 34 points and 10 rebounds on 6-for-9 from three-point range against his former franchise. Through 18 games, Lopez is averaging just 14.8 points and 5.1 rebounds — a scoring mark that ranks only above his rookie season with the New Jersey Nets in 2008-09 — but his statistical impact is key on this inconsistent roster nonetheless.

But beyond that, it seems as if some of Lopez’s biggest contributions this season have come off the court — just ask Kyle Kuzma and Ivica Zubac.

“[Lopez] has taught me how to be a professional,” Kuzma told Basketball Insiders prior to their game against the Boston Celtics earlier this month. “He’s one of the first guys in the gym, one of the last ones to leave.”

Lopez, who has carried his fair share of incredibly poor teams in the past — and often with a smile — is in the final year of the contract he signed back in 2015. His expiring deal worth $22.6 million made Lopez the perfect acquisition for a Lakers team hoping to shed cap space before the upcoming free agency period — where, allegedly, LeBron James and Paul George are both targets.

For a 7-foot center that just added a three-point shot to his game and knocked down 134 of them last season alone, Lopez may be one of the greatest trade afterthoughts in recent memory. The Lakers will likely finish in the lottery rather than the postseason, but Lopez — along with veterans Andrew Bogut, Corey Brewer and Luol Deng — have been a helpful presence for the slew of young Lakers as they adjust to professional basketball.

“They’re all great — they’ve been there, done that,” Kuzma said. “They have a lot of experience in this league, so it’s good to learn from those guys because they’ve played 10, 13 years and that’s what I want to do.”

Kuzma, of course, was selected with that No. 27 overall pick that the Nets sent to Los Angeles in the trade, and he’s been red-hot ever since. Following an impressive combine, summer league and preseason, Kuzma jumped into the starting lineup after Larry Nance Jr. fractured his hand just eight games into the campaign. Although the Rookie of the Year battle has been dominated by the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons so far, Kuzma — averaging 16.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game — has emerged as a strong runner-up candidate.

For Zubac, however, it’s been a slower start to his NBA career but with Lopez, he says, things have gotten easier.

“The whole summer, I worked on my three-point shot,” Zubac told Basketball Insiders. “But also [I worked on my] post offense too, that’s what [Lopez] is good at. I’m really focusing my game around the post, so that’s where I’m trying to learn.”

Last year, Zubac was a popular late-season member of head coach Luke Walton’s rotation and he finished his rookie year averaging 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 16 minutes per game. Unfortunately, the new arrivals and recent emergences have limited Zubac to just 10 total minutes over four appearances in 2017-18. Still, Lopez gives Zubac a mentor worth modeling his game after, even if it’s at the expense of real experience this season.

To get Zubac on the floor, the center has spent time with the South Bay Lakers, Los Angeles’ G-League affiliate, as of late. In two games, Zubac has averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds on 73 percent shooting from the field. Despite the lack of playing time, Zubac was more than happy to praise not only Lopez but the efforts of the other aforementioned veterans too.

“I can learn a lot from them and they help me play my game,” Zubac said. “Whoever’s on the court, whoever I’m playing with, I just try to learn as much as I can from them.”

Ultimately, though, it all comes back to Lopez.

Again, Lopez has averaged a career-low in minutes, but his contributions have been crucial in the Lakers’ overall standing thus far. In the games that Lopez has played less than 21 minutes, the Lakers are 0-5; but when he plays more than 30, the team is 3-1. On top of that, the Lakers are 5-1 when Lopez hits two or more three-pointers in a game as well. That sample size is still certainly small, but it’s nice indicator of Lopez’s inherent on-court impact, even when he’s not carrying the team on his shoulders.

“[He makes life] a lot easier for me,” Kuzma said. “He’s one of the most established scorers in the league and his career average is, like, 20 [points] a game. You can always count on him to be there every single night.”

While the Lakers can plan for a dream offseason haul involving James, George and others, they’ll have a tough decision facing them in July. Whether he’s efficiently stretching the floor, finishing off assists from Ball or setting the tone in an inexperienced locker room, Lopez has been quite the addition for Los Angeles.

This summer, Lopez enters unrestricted free agency and will likely garner offers outside of the Lakers’ pay range considering their big plans. If the Lakers decide to focus elsewhere, another team will reap the rewards. Until then, the youthful core in Los Angeles will benefit from having Lopez train and educate them each day.

“[Lopez] takes care of his body, he stays low-key and is never in trouble,” Kuzma said. “He’s the type of professional I want to be.”

Whether this is just a one-year detour in his extensively underrated career or the start of a great, new partnership, Lopez’s arrival in Los Angeles has been a huge success already. But as far as role models go for both Kuzma and Zubac, there are few choices better than Brook Lopez — both on and off the court.

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