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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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2018 NBA Draft Diary

Sources: Gregg Popovich, Kawhi Leonard Held Meeting on Tuesday

Basketball Insiders

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San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard met with coach Gregg Popovich on Tuesday in San Diego, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The meeting between the two faces of the Spurs’ franchise was done professionally and confidentially, league sources said.

Source: Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports

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NBA Daily: Lots Of NBA Draft Chatter

With the 2018 NBA Draft less than 50 hours away, Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler digs into the last from around the NBA.

Steve Kyler

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Lots Of NBA Draft Chatter

With the 2018 NBA Draft on Thursday, things in NBA circles are getting interesting, specifically on the trade front.

The final 2018 Consensus Mock Draft will drop tomorrow, just after the media availabilities in New York, from there we’ll be tracking the minute to minute news, trades and rumors in the 2018 NBA Draft Diary.

So, with that in mind, let’s dig into what we know some 50 hours until the draft gets underway.

Kawhi Watch In Full Swing

With the news last week that San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard may no longer want to be a Spur breaking, there is still a sense in NBA circles that the Spurs are not going to listen to trade offers until the hear from Kawhi directly.

If you know anything about the Spurs organization, you know that we won’t hear the details of this situation in a minute by minute way like we do from some organizations, especially considering the Spurs have never had to deal with a scenario quite like this.

The interesting part of this story is how split the “sourcing” is on what’s real. There have been reports from several different reporters suggesting that the situation isn’t as dire as initially reported and that the Spurs and Leonard have had dialogue, but not the face-to-face meeting the Spurs covet.

It’s unclear why there hasn’t been a meeting, and that is what has some in NBA circles believing the Spurs will open up the phones on Wednesday and see what they can extract for Leonard if only to do their due diligence.

One league source commented that it might be tough for the Spurs to get value out of Leonard mainly because of his injury situation and the idea that he’d only re-sign with the Lakers. The same source doubted that Leonard’s camp would fence themselves inmto just the Lakers because that would make getting him traded extremely difficult, especially if the Lakers wouldn’t offer value to San Antonio.

The sense today is the Spurs are standing their ground. The thing to know is that this situation still seems very fluid, and that face-to-face conversation (or lack of one) could swing this thing in either direction. It is clear several teams would have interest if the Spurs decide to listen to offers, even if it just a rental for the upcoming season.

Trades At The Top Still Viable

It a typical NBA draft there is chatter about top tier picks being traded, but usually, it dies off the week for the draft as teams look in on who they ultimately want to draft.

This year, and unlike previous years there is a sense that several of the picks at the top of the board could be had, especially if it returns draft picks later in the draft and solid veterans.

The Sacramento Kings seem to be leaning towards keeping their pick at number two, and it’s looking more and more likely that Marvin Bagley III is their guy. The Kings took a very long look at Michael Porter Jr, and as of this weekend there was a sense they were OK with where Porter Jr is at medically, but he may lose out to the less risky Bagley. League sources continue to doubt the Kings grab Euro sensation Luke Dončić, so we’ll see if that holds true as we get to draft day.

The Atlanta Hawks have had the third overall pick on the market from almost the moment they landed it. The Hawks seem ready to use the pick but are said to still be exploring their options. The prevailing thought this week is it’s down to Bagley, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young for the Hawks, with more and more league sources believing the Hawks will draft Young at three. While the notion of grabbing Young at three may seem high, the Hawks have had eyes on Young from the start of the process, and not much seems to have changed. The Hawks have made it clear they would take on contract money in exchange for additional draft assets, so it seems likely the Hawks will be active, even if it’s not moving the third pick.

Things start to get interesting with Memphis at number four. There have been numerous reports that the Grizzlies have dangled the fourth pick in an attempt to shed the contract of Chandler Parsons. Sources close to the situation say the Grizzlies have had some offers, and most of them involve the Grizz picking up expiring contracts and additional draft assets lower in the draft. It’s unclear if the Grizzlies will pull the trigger, but they seem to have deals if they want one.

The prevailing thought in NBA circles is the Grizzlies are the first real landing spot for Dončić. There is also talk of Wendell Carter Jr., and Mo Bamba landing at four.

The Dallas Mavericks at five seem open to taking on contract dollars and could be the landing spot for the fourth pick and Chandler Parsons, but league sources say the Mavericks would not give up the fifth pick unless it returned an All-Star or would-be All-Star.

There are a few other situations to watch as several teams have expressed interest in moving up. The Clippers hold two pretty solid selections and 12 and 13 and seem willing to combine them to move into the top 5. The Denver Nuggets have also expressed some interest in moving to the top five.

The Lakers and Celtics have expressed similar interest at points in the process, but both seem reluctant at this point to part with future assets to pay the price to jump to the top of the draft.

Porter Still A Possibility

The Michael Porter Jr. situation is murky. After two visits from NBA teams, the word on Porter is mixed. NBA teams have seen his MRIs and his medical, and select teams were allowed to bring their doctors and trainers to his most recent “workout.”

The worst case from one team that’s not considering him is that he may require an additional surgery down the line. This same team said their doctors didn’t think anything going on with Porter would jeopardize his career, but they felt like he’d have to be on a program and has a ways to go before they’d deem him a 100 percent.

The upside case, from a team with Porter squarely on their board, is that there wasn’t anything going on they didn’t expect and that their staff felt fairly positive they could not only manage his situation, but they felt they could get him right fairly quickly.

Amusingly, the narrative around Porter is that he could be the next Kevin Durant-type scorer in the NBA (Porter clearly isn’t as long and lanky as Durant) – but he does possess the ability to get his offense against almost anyone.

As one executive whose team wasn’t considering Porter joked, you could get Durant or you could get Greg Oden, hinting at the injury-riddled career of the former top pick back in 2007.

Where Does Luka Go?

There isn’t a more polarizing NBA Draft prospect than Real Madrid’s Luke Dončić. You would be hard-pressed to find an NBA executive who didn’t think Dončić could be special in the NBA. But you might also be hard-pressed to find one willing to bet their job on it.

Throughout this process, more than a couple of executives have expressed they are hopeful Dončić goes high, mainly because it would give them cover in future drafts to do the same thing, which is draft what appears to be the most NBA ready player in the class, despite his flaws.

The problem is if Dončić isn’t special or struggles like some have concerns he might, not only would a team leave a potential franchise cornerstone on the board to in passing on uber-talented collegiate prospects, it might cost the lead executive their jobs.

While that seems somewhat short-sighted, think about the executives drafting in the top six. How many are not under pressure to turn their franchises around? And would a huge draft miss seal their fate?

Atlanta’s Travis Schlenk at three seems pretty secure. Dallas’ Donnie Nelson at five seems pretty secure. Orlando’s Jeff Weltman and John Hammond at six seem fairly secure, but it gets dicey elsewhere in the top 10.

As we’ve seen in previous drafts, NBA executives can and often do outthink themselves, which why every draft has quality impact guys falling later in the process.

There is little doubt Dončić is going in the top 10; it would be pretty surprising if he got past Dallas at five.

Sexton Over Young?

The Orlando Magic seems to be dialing in on what’s there for them at six, assuming they don’t trade up, which they have explored with both Atlanta and Memphis. The prevailing thought among fans is that if Trae Young is there at six, the Magic will pounce.

Early on in the process, though, the Magic seemed to be seriously interested in Collin Sexton, and word is that be might the Magic’s guy at six. The Magic ultimately will catch what falls to them, and if Dončić, Bagley or Jackson are there, things get interesting. However, if the draft goes as scripted, Orlando seems more likely to go, Sexton, Bamba, Carter or Knox than Young – at least at this point.

The draft is a fluid domino effect process, so at six the Magic have to cover a lot of bases, and it seems they have with their individual workouts.

The Magic desperately covet an impact player, so don’t be surprised if the Magic pull the trigger on a move-up deal, especially as we get closer and closer to the moment of truth.

Bamba Could Slide

You won’t find many NBA executives who don’t find Texas big man Mo Bamba intriguing. The problem for Bamba if there are some many super talented bigs in the 2018 NBA draft he is caught in a numbers game.

League sources said recently that Bamba is in the mix at two to the Kings, four to Grizzlies, five to Mavericks, six to the Magic and seven to the Bulls. The problem is he doesn’t seem to be the first or second option to any of those teams at this point.

According to league sources there continues to be questions about how his offensive game fits into the modern NBA, and with more versatile guys sitting at the top of the draft, Bamba is looking more like the consolation prize later in the draft. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t think Bamba will be a monster defensively in the NBA, but the question remains which team is drafting defense at the top of the board?

If there is a player outside of the top five that could tumble a little, it might be Bamba, especially if the Mavericks pass at five.

Over the next few days, we’ll be posting all of the draft-related news, notes, rumors and trades in the 2018 NBA Draft Day Diary, so if you want a one-stop shop for all things NBA Draft, bookmark it.

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, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Kaiser Gates Determined To Silence His Doubters

He may not be listed on some draft boards or seen as an impact player by certain individuals, but Kaiser Gates knows what he’s made of.

Spencer Davies

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If you’re looking to further your career at the next level but coming out of college as a prospect on the fringe, you’d better be willing to work twice as hard to draw attention from the basketball world.

Attending the Preparation Pro Day in Miami with team representatives and scouts watching, Kaiser Gates wanted to show everybody who was there that the chip on his shoulder would drive him to silence his doubters.

“I feel like I have a lot to prove,” Gates said in Miami. “I feel like a lot of the guys in the draft this year, I’m just as good if not better than (them), so I gotta show that.”

After three years at Xavier University, the 22-year-old decided it was time to move on from the program and passed on his senior year to enter the NBA Draft. The news came as a surprise to many, considering he might’ve gotten the opportunity to earn an even more expanded role next season with the departure of Musketeer favorites Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura.

The numbers across the board weren’t exactly eye-catching. Primarily a wing, Gates knocked down 37.8 percent of his threes as a junior. He averaged 7.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in almost 24 minutes per game.

Looking at conference play in the Big East, those figures took a dip. Gates shot less than 30 percent from deep and really struggled to contribute offensively for Xavier against tougher opponents.

There was an incredible discrepancy in shot selection over his three-year collegiate career. Astoundingly enough, 300 of his 409 career attempts came outside of the arc. The other 109 tries were twos, which he converted at a 54.1 percent rate.

It’s hard to ignore statistical evidence when it comes to evaluating players, but misuse and fit could have been more prominent factors in this case. It’s something that happens quite a bit at school programs with prospects, and Gates believes that he could be added to that list of mishandled talent.

“I don’t think I’m inconsistent at all,” Gates said. “At Xavier, I know my stats showed that I was inconsistent. Playing at that school it was a great experience—great guys, great coaches.

“Just kinda like my situation and the way I was playing at that school didn’t really allow me to showcase my full talents, and with that being said, it’s kinda hard to stay consistent not doing something I’m used to doing.”

Furthering the point, it’s not easy to be judged off that information, which some use as the only indication of what you’ll bring to the pros. Gates plans on using that as motivation whenever he meets with different teams.

“I would come in and people would just assume like, ‘Oh he could shoot a little bit, play defense, a little athletic.’ But I know on the flip side, I know what I can really do and like, my full potential.

“So when I know that and see what teams already think, already have in their head, just now it’s up to me to prove to them what I can do and show them what I can do.”

So what does that exactly entail?

“My first few years or so, I’ll probably be more of a three-and-D guy—stretch the floor, play defense make hustle plays, rebound the ball, things like that,” Gates said. “But as I’mma grow, (I’ll) look to expand on my game. Maybe work out the pick-and-roll a little bit and expand from there.”

Thus far, the 6-foot-8, 228-pounder has reportedly worked out for multiple organizations, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. He is enjoying the draft process and his growth as a player since it started.

He may not be listed on some draft boards or seen as an impact player by certain individuals, but Gates knows what he’s made of. And if he can attract the right set of eyes, he’ll be in good shape.

“You could get 30 workouts and that one team could fall in love with you,” Gates said.

“That’s what [my agent] Aaron Turner’s always talking to me about. He’s always said, ‘It only takes one team.’”

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