Rumors of Kyrie Irving wanting to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers were quite prevalent several years ago, although the rumblings disappeared for the most part in 2014. That’s when the Cavaliers managed to sign LeBron James and trade for Kevin Love, while also inking Irving to a five-year extension worth $90 million.
The ‘Irving-wants-out’ narrative vanished once it was clear that Cleveland was a legitimate championship contender and Irving was one of the squad’s most important players.
And just in case the lucrative extension and star-studded roster weren’t enough, the Cavaliers also parted ways with Dion Waiters, who butted heads with Irving and reportedly even had a physical confrontation with him. The Cavs’ brass was determined to get rid of any behind-the-scenes drama surrounding the team, which is also one reason why David Blatt was replaced at head coach by Ty Lue.
Everything seemed to be fine in Cleveland; they were coming off of an NBA Finals trip, their star players re-signed over the summer to remove any free agency distractions and the team once again sits atop the Eastern Conference standings this season with a 41-17 as of this writing.
However, rumors of Irving being disgruntled have returned. This morning, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith stated on First Take that he has heard Irving would still like to get out of Cleveland.
“Dating back to last year, I’ve been told that Kyrie Irving ain’t too happy being in Cleveland,” Smith said on First Take. “The situation is not ideal for him. I don’t know the particulars, I haven’t spoken to him personally. It’s something that I’ve been hearing for months; that under ideal circumstances he would prefer to be someplace other than Cleveland.”
Take this with a grain of salt since Smith stated that he hasn’t talked to Irving personally and admits it’s just something he has heard (without elaborating on how his sources have knowledge of Irving’s thinking). But it is worth noting that Smith has gotten some big NBA stories right before. For example, he was one of the first people to predict that LeBron James and Chris Bosh would be joining Dwyane Wade in Miami back in 2010.
Smith has been wrong before (anyone who works in the business of sharing rumors has) and he is known for his hyperbole and hot takes. But some of his reports contain elements of truth, which is why this particular comment is so interesting.
Given Irving’s past of being disgruntled with the Cavaliers, it’s not a stretch to believe he could be eyeing greener pastures. Also, some comments that have come out of Cleveland this season paint a picture of a team that isn’t having much fun even as they dominate in the East.
Just recently, Anderson Varejao praised the Golden State Warriors for their excellent chemistry and how much fun they have as a group. This was largely viewed as a shot at the Cavaliers, who had just traded Varejao several days earlier.
“I’m glad I came here, because I can tell they love each other,” Varejao told CSN Bay Area. “That’s what it’s about. When you want to win, you have to be like they are. Friends that have fun out there, have fun in the locker room. I’ve been here for a couple hours, but I can tell. I can tell this group, they love each other.”
James seemed bothered by the quote, firing back at Varejao: “I would hope if you’re 50-5 that everyone loves each other, I mean, s—. What else do you want at that point? Duh.”
Some of the most interesting comments on Cleveland’s culture came from general manager David Griffin during the team’s press conference to announce that Blatt had been fired.
Griffin said that with the Cavaliers “there’s a lack of spirit and connectedness” and pulled the curtain back on a team that seems pretty dysfunctional. Check out these quotes from Griffin:
Sources close to the situation have described the Cavaliers’ locker room as “miserable” at times, even when the team is having success. Part of the problem, according to sources, is that James is an extremely demanding leader and has a strong sense of urgency since he’s 31 years old, in his 13th season and has a ton of basketball miles on his body.
This intensity can be a good thing, as he has led his teammates to work harder and play to their full potential. However, it has also led to some issues, especially since James is at a different stage of his career than many of Cleveland’s other key contributors. Remember, players like Irving (23 years old), Love (27 years old) and Tristan Thompson (24 years old) among others are much younger and they can afford to be a bit more patient when it comes to winning a ring. Each of these players just got their first taste of the postseason last year, so it’s hard for them be as driven as James in his quest to bring the Larry O’Brien trophy to Cleveland.
It’s unclear if Irving is actually unhappy or – if he is – why exactly he wants out. But his history of disliking the city of Cleveland, the fact that he’s playing in James’ shadow to some extent and the comments made by people like Varejao and Griffin do lend credence to Smith’s rumor.
Irving is under contract with the Cavaliers through at least the 2018-19 season, with a player option for the 2019-20 campaign. That means Irving has little leverage if he does indeed want to leave Cleveland, with his only real option being to demand a trade (although the Cavs can refuse to comply).
Still, this is an intriguing rumor and one that will likely be talked about quite a bit moving forward. Basketball Insiders will keep you updated with the latest information surrounding Irving’s future and what the All-Star point guard has to say in response to Smith’s report.
UPDATE: Following last night’s game, Kyrie Irving responded to Stephen A. Smith’s report.
“There’s nothing to really address,” Irving said, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “Obviously there’s going to be some misunderstandings; it’s part of being on a team. For me, as a maturing young player in this league, I know what we have and the opportunity we have in order to be something special. My communication is open with all of my teammates, just knowing what’s going on and how I feel about things.
“For me, all that other stuff, what everyone is going to say, they’re going to pick one player, it’s going to change every single week. When they think that we’re down and out, they’re going to choose one player, so, for me, it has no effect on my life or what’s going on. It’s all about winning and winning a championship for Cleveland.”
NBA Daily: Playoff Implications In Week One
Douglas Farmer takes a quick look at a few matchups this NBA opening week that could have notable implications in playoff seeding, or lack thereof, many months from now.
When the Los Angeles Clippers lost to the New Orleans Pelicans in last season’s first week, they had no way of knowing how costly the defeat would be. Flipping that 116-109 defeat, or any single one of the Clippers’ other 33 losses, would have kept Los Angeles from the buzzsaw of the Golden State Warriors in last spring’s first round.
That seems obvious now when every game feels important because it has been so long since any game has happened. But in no time, this week’s games will be diminished with “early season” qualifiers. They should not be. An October win has the same worth as an April victory. Losing before Halloween is as costly as falling after St. Patrick’s Day.
Some nights heighten those stakes even further. Facing the closest competition in the standings can have double the effect. With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at a few matchups this opening week that could have notable implications in playoff seeding, or lack thereof, many months from now.
Tuesday: Los Angeles Lakers at Los Angeles Clippers, 10:30 p.m. ET – TNT.
To err on the side of obvious, as this is arguably the most-hyped game of the week, more than inane home-court advantage could be on the line in the second game of the league year. Neither Los Angeles team will have its full arsenal at its disposal, but that is part of the importance to the game: Both the Lakers and the Clippers have distinct hopes of managing their workloads this season. Getting off to a strong start is crucial to those intentions.
Consider last year’s Houston Rockets: If they had not struggled so mightily in October and November (not getting above .500 until Dec. 17), they would not have had to go pedal to the metal throughout the spring just to get home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Better seeding or fresher legs may have spelled better postseason fortune.
Wednesday: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers – 7:30 ET p.m. – ESPN.
The Eastern Conference pecking order is expected to separate these two, the Celtics among the also-rans while the 76ers chase the Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 1 seed. For both, though, each game will matter. Boston will have the Toronto Raptors, the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat all looking to slip by it, while the Bucks will inevitably rattle off enough wins to make Philadelphia’s pursuit a difficult one.
On top of that, studying how the wings of the Celtics fare against the size of the 76ers could be informative for both seasons.
Wednesday: Denver Nuggets at Portland Blazers, 10 p.m. ET – ESPN.
Perhaps only out of deference to continuity, both the Nuggets and the Blazers are trendy picks to finish among the top-four of the West. A year ago, they finished a game apart, only one game separating second-seeded Denver from falling to fourth in place of Houston.
Putting too much emphasis on one game the second night of the season may sound absurd, but the head-to-head matchups in this series will very likely determine playoff seeding among the league’s best. That is as true on Oct. 23 as it is on April 9.
Friday: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics – 7 p.m. ET.
Activate your League Pass subscription. While the defending champions may have lost a lot this summer, they still have playoff aspirations. By no means do those expectations equate to slipping in among the Eastern Conference’s barely-competent middle class. The Raptors anticipate fighting for home-court advantage. The Celtics hung on to such by one game last season. There is no reason to expect that gap to be bigger this year.
Friday: Dallas Mavericks at New Orleans Pelicans, 8 p.m. ET – ESPN.
The legitimacy of these playoff hopes may as much hinge on fall-off elsewhere in the West as the progress of these upstarts, but the odds of both the Mavericks and the Pelicans reaching the playoffs are slim. With or without Zion Williamson this week – and it’ll be without – New Orleans will need to boost its record while knocking Dallas’ early if it wants to find the postseason at the dawn of the Zion Era.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, are looking to prove the viability of the Luka Dončić and Kirstaps Porzingis pairing. Floundering into the draft lottery will not do much in the eyes of prospective free agents.
Friday: Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Clippers, 10:30 p.m. ET – ESPN.
Much akin to the Nuggets and Blazers, the Jazz have stayed in the contention conversation because of continuity more than anything else, while the Clippers jumped into it via their active offseason. At some point, some of these teams have to end up in the bottom half of the Western Conference playoffs. That’s just math.
Last season, two games separated the fifth seed from the eighth. Los Angeles may be without Paul George right now, but how it does without him will thus directly impact what awaits George in the spring.
When the Clippers lost to the Pelicans 12 months ago, their leading scorer was Tobias Harris, who tallied 26 points yet was still a minus-3 while on the court. By the playoffs, Harris was working for the 76ers, but his showing in October still altered Los Angeles’ spring.
The same can be said of many games this week, early season or not.
NBA Daily: Five Breakout Players To Watch — Pacific Division
Shane Rhodes takes a look at players in the Pacific Division that have a great chance to take a significant leap in the upcoming season.
Anything can happen in the NBA.
Every season, there are so many things that seem to come out of the blue, whether it be a team that was or wasn’t expected to be competitive or big trade that no one saw coming. There is just too much randomness involved in the day-to-day to be certain about anything.
But, if there is one thing consistent in the NBA, it’s that there are always a few breakouts every season.
Pascal Siakam, Montrezl Harrell, Victor Oladipo, Nikola Jokić are a few that have made stepped out from behind the curtain and made their way to the NBA’s center stage over the last few seasons.
Landry Shamet, Los Angeles Clippers
After the Philadelphia 76ers traded him to the Los Angeles Clippers, Landry Shamet shined in a primary role. And now, after the Clippers’ serious roster improvement, the game should come even easier to Shamet in his sophomore season.
In 25 games with Los Angeles, Shamet averaged 10.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists while he shot 41.4% from the floor and 45% from three-point range with relatively little room to operate. On the season, he shot 42.2% from three, good for 11th-best in the NBA.
Now with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard expected to draw much of the defensive attention, Shamet – and the entire Clippers’ roster on the whole – should have plenty of room to operate.
Given weapons of George’s and Leonard’s caliber, opposing defenses should be stretched quite thin against Los Angeles; although he proved he was a plus-shooter, Shamet may find that other teams pay him relatively little mind when he has the ball. And, because of that, a jump in efficiency is firmly in Shamet’s range of possible outcomes in 2019, however hard that is to believe.
The Clippers won’t need Shamet to be a world-beater, just good enough to keep defenses honest when faced with George, Leonard and others. So, he may not see a meteoric rise in his total touches or field goal attempts per game, but it would be a surprise if there wasn’t a leap in his counting stats, namely points and assists.
If Shamet can take that boost and maintain a spot near the top of the league in three-point percentage, expect the NBA to take notice.
Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Deandre Ayton had quite the impressive rookie season for the Phoenix Suns. Unfortunately, it went unnoticed by most because of the hype machine that was Luka Dončić.
Now in his second season, his first with a capable point guard on the roster, the NBA may not be ready for him.
Ayton averaged 16.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and shot 58.3% from the floor as a rookie in an offense that lacked a floor general and, outside of Devin Booker, struggled to create space. While Ricky Rubio isn’t an elite guard, he is more than capable of injecting some life into a Suns offense that was one of the worst in the NBA, both in terms of scoring and turnovers.
What does that mean, exactly? Some cleaner looks underneath should allow for a few more field goals, while the added spacing from Rubio, Cameron Johnson, Dario Šarić and others should open things up even more down on the block.
While he isn’t a marquee addition, Aron Baynes could also play a pivotal role on the Suns if he can get Ayton to buy in on the defensive end.
If he can step up his game on that end of the court, and take the necessary steps that are expected of him on offense, Ayton could prove one of the best young players in the NBA this season.
Bogdan Bogdanovič, Sacramento Kings
Like Ayton, the Sacramento Kings’ Bogdan Bogdanovič had quite an excellent, if not under the radar, rookie season. The 6-foot-6 wing averaged 14.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists in his second season and played a major role in the Kings’ turnaround after years of poor results.
That may seem like a breakout in and of itself. But, unfortunately, Bogdanovič’s play went largely unnoticed on the national stage because of his teammate, De’Aaron Fox, who had a breakout season of his own a year ago.
That said, with another offseason in the books, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Bogdanovič elevate his game further.
Bogdanovič should spend much of his time with the second unit. And, as the leader of the bench, he certainly shouldn’t lack for touches. Likewise, against opposing second units, Bogdanovič should come into his fair share of open shots or easy plays.
With Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes clogging up space in the starting lineup, Bogdanovič may never see enough time to break out to a more national audience — barring a sixth-man role rise ala Lou Williams. That said, if he can maintain his efficiency, Bogdanovič’s play should prove competent enough to put him squarely in the conversation for Most Improved and, maybe, even Sixth Man of the Year.
And in his third season, if that isn’t a breakout for Bogdanovič then what is?
Avery Bradley, Los Angeles Lakers
It’s been an arduous journey for Avery Bradley.
In his last season with the Boston Celtics, Bradley was regarded as one of the NBA’s premier defenders and was more than capable on offense as he averaged 16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists.
But since? Bradley has bounced between three different teams while his stats have dropped off and his defense has worsened. In two seasons between the Clippers, Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies, Bradley managed a meager 11.8 points per game while he averaged a defensive rating of 113, by far the worst of his career.
That said, Bradley’s stint with the Los Angeles Lakers could see a return to form. While the “best shape of his life” story is a yearly cliché, Bradley may truly be in the best shape of his life, having lost 40 pounds between his trade from Los Angeles to Memphis and the start of free agency.
Alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, a healthy Bradley should prove more than capable as a secondary scorer, a role which would afford him enough energy to wreak havoc again on the defensive end.
He may not post a career year, but expect Bradley to once again look like the player he was for seven years in Boston as opposed to the question mark that has taken the court over the last two seasons.
Marquese Chriss, Golden State Warriors
Marquese Chriss, the No. 8 overall pick back in 2016, has been a flop to this point in his NBA career. But with the Golden State Warriors, Chriss may be in line for his best season as a pro and a potential breakout year.
There’s a reason the Suns regarded Chriss so highly as a prospect too — while at Washington, he showed he had the tools necessary to play the role of the NBA’s modern, floor-stretching big. He averaged 13.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and shot nearly 57% from the field and 35% from three-point range.
In Phoenix’s always dysfunctional system, Chriss struggled. After a production dip between rookie and sophomore seasons, the Suns cut bait and he bounced from the Houston Rockets to the Cleveland Cavaliers. There, Chriss showed some of that spark that made him a top pick, thought
Now with the Warriors, Chriss has impressed enough in training camp to push Alfonzo McKinnie from the roster. With little frontcourt depth beyond Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and Willie Cauley-Stein, there is a clear opportunity here and a role for Chriss to fill.
If he can take advantage, Chriss would certainly prove a worthwhile gamble for the Warriors and a nice surprise this season.
Any player could find themselves on the fast track to NBA stardom. Fox, Harrell, Siakam and D’Angelo Russell represent a few prime examples from a year ago; players can come out of nowhere to make their mark on the NBA stage, and that could prove true again this season.
But these players, via a combination of opportunity and or talent, would seem to have a greater chance to do so – maybe more so than anyone else – in the Pacific Division. If they step up or show out, don’t be surprised – their respective teams certainly won’t be.
How Magical Can Orlando Be?
In an Eastern Conference full of unknowns, the Orlando Magic stand out as one of the most prominent in that category. Matt John takes a look at the three players who should play a role in their progress this season.
As it stands right now, the Eastern Conference is wide open.
It definitely has its favorites, like the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. But even they have their question marks.
There are teams who could be at that level, or possibly higher should things break their way, like the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers. But, that remains to be seen; how they do depends on if their previously injured stars are back to normal and how much their young talent progresses.
Then there are others like the Brooklyn Nets, who honestly may have to wait a year before they’re put in the conversation, and the Miami HEAT, who just got their biggest free agent since LeBron James and could sneak their way into the conversation if they make the right moves.
And then, there’s the Orlando Magic.
There’s a lot of optimism coming out of the Magic Kingdom. And why shouldn’t there be? Orlando made its first playoff appearance in seven years, they had one of the best records in the league following the trade deadline (18-8) and they brought pretty much everyone back and even some reinforcements.
And yet, of all the teams in the East, Orlando’s the one that has no consensus. Or, more specifically, no one knows where they will fall in the conference. They might just be the biggest wild card in an Eastern Conference that already has plenty of them.
If all their hopes and dreams come true this season, the Magic could very well be right up there with the Bucks and the Sixers. If it goes the opposite way, they could find themselves back in the lottery.
But this Orlando team is good. They can make the playoffs, but they should be wary of their other competitors. The Toronto Raptors may have lost Kawhi Leonard but, as of now, they’re not going anywhere. Same goes for the Detroit Pistons. There is also a lot of buzz around two particular and young up and coming teams- the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls.
If the Magic are to prove themselves better than those teams and as good as those aforementioned ones, they’ll need contributions from several particular players. They already know what they’re going to get out of Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Al-Farouq Aminu, Wes Iwundu and DJ Augustin, but for the following players, Orlando’s odds of getting to that next level depends on their individual progressions.
Aaron Gordon has already proven himself an above average player. He’s an excellent athlete, a hard-nosed defender, has improved his three-point shot over the years and, in this past year alone, has shown improved playmaking ability, as his assist percentage shot all the way up to 16.6.
But now, entering his sixth season in the NBA, he still has yet to prove that he’s a truly special talent. We’ve been waiting for a couple of years to see an explosion from Gordon, the transition from raw talent to the superstar we anticipated he’d be. It’s not entirely his fault; previous Orlando management forced Gordon to play out of position for too long, which may have hurt his growth as a player.
It didn’t ruin his career, but it didn’t help one bit. Two years later, Gordon has some playoff experience under his belt. His first go-round was honestly quite solid for a playoff rookie. 15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists while putting up 47/40/52 splits is promising, but those are satisfactory stats for a complementary player.
Gordon’s ceiling right now is still that of a future star. And, at 24-years-old, there is still plenty of time for him to reach that level. Last season, Steve Clifford wanted the young player to be more a defensive specialist, a role in which Gordon performed very well in. Now with higher expectations from the team, Gordon should be expected to take his game another step further.
We got an explosion from an athletic, defensively stout power forward who showed off the three-point range last season that we keep expecting from Gordon, but it came from Pascal Siakam. If Gordon is to take that next step, he should look at Siakam’s last season as an example to build his game on.
Jonathan Isaac is only 22-years-old. He’s 6-foot-10. He has a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He plays more like a wing but does things on the court that any big would be capable of doing. When people think of Isaac, they think of raw talent.
Following an injury-plagued rookie season, Isaac did okay offensively in his first full year, averaging 9.6 points on 43/32/81 splits while also averaging 5.5 rebounds. Defensively, there was a lot to be excited about, as Isaac averaged 1.3 blocks and 0.8 steals while also putting up a Defensive Real Plus-Minus of 1.13.
With his insane physical measurements, there’s a lot to like about Isaac’s game and potential. His body frame has garnered comparisons (albeit unfairly) to Kevin Durant, but the potential he has makes it hard not to see a great future for him.
He knows how to use his length to bother his opponents; there are just too many advantages he has physically to not already be a good defender. Offensively, he’s not at the same level. But, every so often, Isaac showed he was capable on that end. There were even times where he took over games last season.
As of now, Orlando already has Vooch, Fournier, and Ross to handle the scoring load. If they want to take that next step, Isaac’s offensive progression would not only vault them higher in the standings, but it would also add a whole new dimension to the team.
There’s no rush for him to become a star, but if Isaac can show even more improvement in year three, then the Magic should become a lot harder to stop.
Now this is where the Magic’s ceiling gets interesting.
Markelle Fultz was a project from the day it was announced that he was traded to Orlando. It was clear he no longer fit Philadelphia’s timeline and that he needed his own timetable to get his game back on track. That said, he’s a project worth investing in; Fultz was a top overall pick for a reason.
Unlike Anthony Bennett, whom Cleveland reached for back in 2013, Fultz has the tools to be something special. It’s only been injury and mental gymnastics that have held him back. Now he has a fresh start and a team that can afford to be patient with him.
Because of all the off the court drama that was going on with Fultz, there’s no concrete data to support anything that he could do this season. All we have now are just preseason videos to see what Fultz can do. But, in the few preseason games that we’ve seen, the returns look promising.
With or without a reliable jump shot, Fultz is definitely an NBA-caliber player. He has good court vision.
Nice assist from Markelle Fultz! pic.twitter.com/JSFSXE4Nss
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) October 10, 2019
He can attack the basket.
Markelle Fultz attacks the rim, makes the tough finish over Joel Embiid! pic.twitter.com/IMtT5iN6u4
— beyond the RK (@beyondtheRK) October 13, 2019
And he has shown good instincts on the defensive end of the floor.
Jump shot or not, Markelle Fultz can be a very productive player in the league. pic.twitter.com/0pf8hJmXw7
— Bryan Oringher (@ScoutWithBryan) October 14, 2019
Then there’s his jumper. His jump shot looks… better? It doesn’t look like it’s completely fixed, but when your jumper is so ugly that it would have made Shawn Marion grimace, you have nowhere to go but up.
We’ll have to see how his new and improved jump shot will fare when the real competition starts. If it’s for real, then Markelle becomes a much more lethal scoring threat. He’s already shown that he can be a useful tool in the offense. His abilities as a scorer would make him all the more dynamic.
The reason why Fultz’s potential could pay more dividends than Gordon or Isaac this season is that the one area where the Magic desperately need improvement is at the point guard spot. DJ Augustin had one of his most efficient seasons ever last season, but that didn’t exactly take Orlando that far. If Fultz is to show that he was worth the top pick – which, at this point, may be unrealistic – then Orlando becomes so much better.
Gordon’s and Isaac’s improvements would definitely take the Magic up a notch. Fultz could vault them up so much higher.
We’re not going to include Mo Bamba on this list because, as long as Vooch is around, Bamba won’t be relied on to do much besides be a back-up five. Even in that role, he has some competition.
Now say these guys all progress enough to stay promising, but not enough that the Magic would take a major leap forward. Then comes the possibility of trading some of their youth for an established star.
Orlando has the assets to acquire someone good. Players like Blake Griffin or Bradley Beal could be had if they have an offer sweet enough to entice their respective teams, but it all depends on the progress of the roster as a whole. They may have to decide whether to try and open a win-now window by pairing Vucevic and Fournier with an established star or to build for a more glorious future around Gordon, Isaac, Bamba and Fultz.
Either way, this Magic team should be up next. What is left to be determined is how “up next” they truly are.