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LeBron Has Shown No Quit In Cleveland

It hasn’t been pretty, but LeBron has given Cleveland his best when the stakes have been at its highest, which couldn’t always be said about him.

Matt John

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Uncertainty. An issue that no team ever wants to have, but every single one of them goes through at one point or another. Uncertainty comes in many different forms. Whether it’s from a player suffering an injury, taking a raw prospect in the draft or waiting for someone to decide if he’s staying or going, uncertainty is the one feeling that practically all teams in any sport dread but constantly have to endure.

If there’s one team that has been engulfed in uncertainty over this entire season, it’s been the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although the Cavs have made the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season, with this last one arguably being their most impressive of them all, they’ve had to endure this roller coaster of a year with one large elephant in the room: LeBron James’ upcoming free agency.

The Cavs have done all they can to keep their superstar happy since the King’s return in 2014, but despite the team’s success, it appears that LeBron’s upcoming free agency this summer is as up in the air as it has ever been, which has understandably petrified the Cavaliers.

If LeBron leaves again, the Cavaliers will be stuck with a roster full of questions with no easy answers. The team will owe Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, and Jordan Clarkson a combined $44 million next season, they have to make decisions about Rodney Hood this summer (and Larry Nance Jr. next summer), and the team will have to decide whether to keep Head Coach Tyronn Lue around.

The saddest part about this gargantuan uncertainty that has surrounded Cleveland since last summer is that this feeling is all too familiar for them. So much so that you could practically say this season has been déjà vu for the Cavs, because they went through this exact same excruciating process in 2010.

Everyone remembers what happened in the summer of 2010 from “The Decision” to the “Not one, not two, not three, etc…” quote that LeBron not so humbly promised. What most forget are the circumstances that surrounded both James and the Cavs leading up to the infamous summer of 2010.

Let’s re-visit the post-season that year. The Cavaliers were the number one team in the East for the second straight season, LeBron had won his second consecutive MVP award, and the Cavaliers were heavily favored to come out of the east. While the Cavs made mincemeat out of the Chicago Bulls in the first round, they were surprisingly stopped in their tracks by the upstart Boston Celtics in the conference semifinals, as they lost in six games.

Plenty were shocked to see such an upset and tried to figure out what exactly went wrong for the Cavs. Many pointed to Mike Brown’s inadequate coaching, or Cleveland not having the strongest supporting cast around LeBron, or Boston perhaps having a better team than most had originally perceived.

But there was one theory that was popularized among all the others: LeBron quit on his team.

Many had speculated that LeBron looked disinterested in the series, particularly in Game 5, in which the King posted a stat line of 15 points, seven assists, and six rebounds while shooting 3/14 from the field in 42 minutes of action in a 32-point blowout loss at home. LeBron played much better in the following game, but as the Cavaliers were eliminated in six, many still wondered if he truly gave it his all.

This theory gained more traction shortly after LeBron had announced he was leaving Cleveland for the Miami Heat, when Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert publicly stated that he too believed that the King had quit on the team. Not just in Game 5, but in multiple games throughout the series. The belief that James had quit along with him deserting Cleveland to be with his friends in Miami left a very bitter taste in Cleveland’s mouth.

It’s been eight years since then, and LeBron has returned to Cleveland, leading them to the most fruitful playoff runs the franchise has ever seen. The difference between LeBron’s departure in 2010 and his very possible departure this summer is that this time, no one is going to question LeBron’s effort in his second go-round as a Cavalier.

When all will be said and done, LeBron has given it all for Cleveland Cavaliers the past four seasons, no matter how much the odds have been stacked against him, which has pretty much been the case every year since he returned to his home state.

In 2015, LeBron had every conceivable reason to give up. While he guided the Cavaliers to the team’s first Finals appearance since 2007, the team lost Kevin Love at the end of the first round then lost Kyrie Irving in game one of the Finals, forcing James to rely on the likes of JR Smith and Timofey Mozgov against the seemingly superior Golden State Warriors. Instead, LeBron fought like crazy, averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists a game as the Cavaliers lost in six.

In 2016, he again could have given up without anyone blaming him. The Cavaliers were able to make it to the Finals without any injury concerns, but the team found themselves down 3-1 as they faced the record-chasing Warriors for the second straight year. Instead, the King clawed his way back into the series, averaging 36.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 9.6 assists in the final three games as the Cavs forced one of the most improbable comebacks ever against a 73-win team. LeBron did not do this all himself, but when the chips were down, he still gave it his all.

In 2017, the odds were as against him as they had ever been as a pro, as he faced the Warriors again only this time with Kevin Durant. The Cavaliers were eliminated in five games, but LeBron did what he could, as he averaged 33.6 points, 12 rebounds, and ten assists a game. That was quite impressive given that he played arguably the most stacked team of all time.

This season among all the rest has been LeBron’s all-around performance as a Cavalier. This is not only because, statistically, this has been LeBron’s best outing both in the regular season and in the playoffs since his return, but because of the hardships that he and the Cavs have both gone through since last summer.

From Kyrie’s abrupt trade request to locker room turmoil to all the trade deadline pandemonium, the Cavaliers season has had all kinds of twists and turns. LeBron played a full 82 games this season, but the team’s inconsistency led to its worst record since his return, and things did not ease up in the playoffs.

Unlike previous seasons, the Cavs struggled mightily to get past the Eastern Conference. While Toronto folded in a quick sweep, both Indiana and Boston pushed the Cavs to the brink of elimination. LeBron could have caved and let either team beat him given the struggles of his supporting cast, but instead, he kept pushing his team forward.

Miraculously, through all the struggles that Cleveland has had, they have found their way to the Finals with LeBron obviously being center stage to their success. Since Game 2 of the Finals, LeBron has put up arguably the best statistics he’s ever put up in his playoff career, as he’s averaged 34.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, and nine assists in 20 games at the age of 33.

The Cavaliers’ odds of winning it all still are, well, slim to none, but that hasn’t stopped the King from making his presence felt on the court. From a talent standpoint, LeBron continues to exceed all expectations, but what makes his second go-round in Cleveland even more impressive is that, contrary to what many believed about him after his first, LeBron doesn’t seem to have the word “quit” in his vocabulary.

At least, not anymore.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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NBA Daily: Who Is Cam Reddish?

An underwhelming season at Duke casts a shadow over Cam Reddish, who oozes talent and potential. Shane Rhodes looks to answer the question: Who is Cam Reddish?

Shane Rhodes

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“I’m Cam Reddish.”

Cam Reddish gave the tongue-in-cheek response Thursday at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine when asked “who he is” as a basketball player.
But who is Reddish?

A former high school phenom, five-star recruit and projected top pick, Reddish was expected to flourish at Duke University under the watch of Mike Krzyzewski. When R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson later followed him to Durham, North Carolina, the three were expected to take the NCAA by storm.

Things didn’t quite go as planned.

While he is still a projected lottery pick, the jury is out on just who Reddish is and how his game will translate to the NBA. A dominant force in high school, the reserved 19-year-old took a backseat to Barrett and Williamson as the three tried but failed to capture a National Championship in their lone season together at Duke.

When compared to the sky-high expectations that were set for him, Reddish underwhelmed mightily as a Blue Devil, and that played a major part in their failure. Relegated to the role of a spot-up shooter and the third option on offense, Reddish averaged an okay, not good 13.5 points on just 12 attempts across 36 games. He managed a meager 35.6% from the field (33.3% from three) and dished out just 1.9 assists per game. When he had the ball, he often deferred to Barrett and Williamson, too often for some.

The focal point of his high school team at Westtown School, Reddish was lauded for the ability that made him a top recruit. He oozed (and still oozes) athleticism – Reddish, who weighed in at 208 pounds, was measured as 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot wingspan at the Combine – and is as versatile as they come. At Westtown, Reddish ran the point, while he spent most of his time at the two-guard or in the front-court at Duke. He was an aggressive, efficient scorer that had no problem getting what he wanted on the floor with the ball in his hands.

But at Duke, that player that Reddish was, the aggressiveness and ease at which he operated, seemed to disappear for long stretches. Those struggles have cast a large shadow over someone that had the look of a future superstar, and Reddish’s draft stock has taken a hit as a result. While some still stand behind him and his talent, plenty of others have faded Reddish in favor of other prospects.

But, at the Combine, Reddish isn’t dwelling on what was or what could have been at Duke. He just trying to learn and get back to being that do-it-all force that he was.

“I’m just trying to learn about the NBA process,” Reddish said. “I’m just trying to get back to who I can be, who I am.”

But that begs the question: who, exactly, is Reddish, and what could he do at the NBA level?

“I feel like I can do everything,” Reddish said. “I was more of a shooter this year – I don’t want to classify myself as just a shooter. I feel like if I just go out there and play my game, I can do a variety of things.”

“Once I show that, I should definitely move up [draft boards].”

There were plenty of flashes of that player during his short stint at Duke. Reddish, at times, seemed to will the ball into the basket, while his shooting stroke appeared to be as good as advertised. He had a knack for performing in the clutch, with multiple shots to win or tie the game for Duke, or keep them in it down the stretch when the others started to fade. The wing managed double-digit points in 23 games, 15 of which he posted 15 or more points (with 20 or more points in eight of those). Reddish managed 18 multi-steal performances and recorded a block or more in 16 games as well.

Wrap all of that up with his plus-defensive ability, and Reddish could very well prove the type of player that could do a little bit of everything for an NBA squad. But he can bring more than that, not only on the court, but off the court as well.

While some may perceive his passiveness alongside Barrett and Williamson as a negative, a lack of “mamba-mentality” or killer instinct that many teams hope for in their top draft picks, Reddish could (and probably should) just as easily be applauded for his willingness to share the ball and step into an ancillary role on a team loaded with talent. As we saw this season with the Boston Celtics, who were projected by many to go challenge the Golden State Warriors for the Larry O’Brien trophy but flamed out against the Milwaukee Bucks after a season fraught with discontent, that can be hard to do on the biggest stage.

And, while he is the quiet type, Reddish made it a point to say that evaluators shouldn’t confuse that for laziness or lack of effort.

“I’m kind of reserved – my personality is kind of reserved – some people might take that as lazy or too laid back. But that’s not just who I am, I’m just a naturally reserved, calm guy.”

There were certainly issues, however.

Despite flashes, Reddish wasn’t the player he could be on anywhere near a consistent basis, even in a smaller role. His time at Duke revealed some major deficiencies in his game and presented some serious causes for concern; a penchant for bad shots, struggles close to the basket and the inability to maximize his athletic gifts. On more than one occasion, he looked to have turned the corner, only to drop another underwhelming performance soon after.

All of that doesn’t exactly bode well for Reddish’s transition to the NBA, regardless of the team that picks him on draft night.

But, the potential is there for him to be great. Now it’s on Reddish to capitalize on that potential.

Reddish could very well prove the most polarizing prospect in the 2019 Draft Class. His ability to maximize his natural talent and recapture the aggressiveness that pushed him to the top of his recruiting class could prove the difference between him becoming the next Jeff Green or the next Paul George

Or, should he really find himself at the next level, he could become the first Cam Reddish.

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NBA Daily: Grant Williams: Household Name In The Making

On Friday, Tennessee’s Grant Williams announced that he would stay in the NBA Draft — but this is just the beginning for the collegiate standout, writes Ben Nadeau.

Ben Nadeau

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On Friday, Grant Williams made the most important decision of his young career.

After a strong three-year stint at Tennessee, Williams has elected to remain in the selection pool, a choice that will undoubtedly culminate in celebration next month at the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7, Williams effortlessly presents the type of well-rounded skillset that has had scouts drooling all week at the NBA Draft Combine. As Tennesse climbed the NCAA’s power rankings this past collegiate campaign — even standing as Division-I’s No. 1 team for four weeks — Williams’ name and stature deservedly rose too. The Volunteers eventually suffered a heart-breaking overtime loss to Purdue in the Sweet 16 this springtime but by then the damage had been done: Williams was somebody worth watching.

In that late March Madness loss to the Boilermakers, Williams racked up 21 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks on 56.3 percent. A few days prior, during the Round of 32, the high-intensity junior stuffed the box score for 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three blocks and four steals. And if those numbers seem impressive — and don’t worry, they are — that’s because Williams practically averaged a similar line all season en route to his second consecutive SEC Player of the Year award.

But that’s not the only reason why Williams has first round-worthy plaudits either, showing promise as a flexible defender and hardcore challenger this week alone.

“Just the improvement that I had throughout my career, showing that I progressively got better — I think teams value good guys and value competitors, so then that really helped me over the course of my career,” Williams told Basketball Insiders on Thursday. “And coach Barnes, like I said, those guys that put me in the best position to help win as well as become a better player.”

As a capable three-point marksman (32.6 percent) and an underrated passer (3.2 assists), Williams fit flawlessly into that modern big man mold that every front office has chased in drafts for the last half-decade. The sample size is a tad small at just 1.2 attempts per game from deep in 2018-19, but many will see Williams as a two-way positive — a high-percentage offensive contributor with lockdown capacity on the opposite end.

During the combine, Williams was adept at switching in the pick-and-roll, a skillset that bodes well for defending multiple positions at the next level too. Even more impressive, back in January, he went 23-for-23 from the free throw line to propel Tennessee past Vanderbilt in overtime — aberration, it was not, as he hit at 81.9 percent for the entire season to boot. But Williams believes that his ability to draw fouls could offer a unique glimpse at more of his NBA-ready strengths.

“Maybe, [but] fouls are different in the league, I think it’s more physical of a game — so you might not get those certain calls,” Williams said. “But it’s just a matter of showing your toughness and being able to be that guy that isn’t pushed around and can hold his own.”

Ultimately, Williams is the complete package — all he’s missing now is the household name.

Soon that will change too.

Williams’ massive choice to remain in the draft likely reinforces that his first-round projections were too good to turn down. In Basketball Insiders’ latest Consensus Mock Draft, two writers sent Williams to the Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 26, while the other pair selected him one pick later at No. 27 for Brooklyn. Elsewhere, The Athletic recently plugged him in at No. 27 too and The Ringer went even higher at No. 17.

Yahoo! Sports, CBS and ESPN all have ranked Williams somewhere within that range too, while Andy Katz — longtime draft analyst — openly gushed about the Volunteer on national television.

Unsurprisingly, Williams’ list of honors is much longer than we can feasibly print but the highlights simply prove that the 20 -year-old has reigned atop Division-I for nearly a full year. NCAA Unanimous First Team All-American, 2019 and 2018’s SEC Player of the Year, All-SEC First Team — in both AP and coach-led versions — and plenty of conference-given Player of the Week awards decorate Williams’ budding trophy case. Today, the Volunteers’ Twitter account made the most succinct point of them all: “Plain and simple, one of the best to ever wear the Orange & White.”

And even though he believes that his day one performance wasn’t quite up to snuff, Williams is determined to prove that the best is yet to come.

“Just the defensive consistency as well as knocking down the shot,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t shoot the ball well [yesterday], I tested well, I think, I had 20 on the bench press and stuff like that before I played. I think that [today] is going to be a better day to show more.”

Of course, Williams could’ve been lured back for a final, year-long curtain call at Tennessee — but without Admiral Schofield and, potentially, Jordan Bone, that thought became a much more difficult torch to bare alone. Leaving that guaranteed money at the wayside, particularly so without his All-SEC teammates, would have been a tough ask — particularly so if Williams is now destined to hear his name called in the first round.

Still, Williams is built differently and watching him play for five minutes, whether in an NCAA Tournament game or combine scrimmages, quickly confirms that notion.

On Thursday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski joined the analyst’s desk to share a gem he’d picked up from Kendrick Perkins, one of the coaches working at the combine, noting that Williams, out of nowhere, naturally assumed a leadership role throughout the scrimmage portion of the afternoon.

“Williams came in with his team, started organizing the team right away, talking to guys about their strengths, how they could come out here and play well, play to each other’s strengths,” Wojnarowski mentioned. “[Perkins] said it’s kind of rare to see that leadership, that type of initiative in the combine process.”

For Tennessee and their fans, however, that’s just a normal day with Williams, their beloved three-year standout who is finally ready to make his jump to the professional level.

But when asked about what’s he’s getting out of the NBA Draft Combine, Williams offered up a refreshing slice of perspective.

“[I’m] enjoying it, just enjoying the process, as well as enjoying the opportunity because not many guys get this opportunity to be here,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “And that’s part of the reason why I played [in the scrimmages], I wanted to go through the full experience.”

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NBA Daily: Ja Morant Aims To Continue Rising

Not many people knew who Ja Morant was last year, but they do now – and the Murray State star believes it’s not going to end there, writes Matt John.

Matt John

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One year ago, not many in the basketball industry knew the name of Temetrius Jamel “Ja” Morant. Coming into his sophomore year at Murray State, the 19-year-old was slated to be the third option on a team that did not appear in the NCAA preseason rankings.

By garnering minimal attention at the season’s start, Ja Morant used it to his advantage to get to where he is now.

“It’s been a big motivation,” Morant said at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine. “Honestly, coming from under the radar, not being paid much attention to, I can say it made me play with this chip on my shoulder.”

Following a consensus first-team All-American performance and after putting on a spectacular one-man show in this year’s March Madness tournament, Morant’s efforts have skyrocketed his stock all the way up to the near-top. It is widely believed that Ja could be selected as high as second overall in this year’s upcoming draft.

With all the attention that’s been coming his way in the past 12 months, Ja is simply soaking it all in.

“It’s been crazy honestly,” Morant said. “To come from being under the radar to one of the most talked-about players now. Obviously, it’s been rough. It’s something I’m getting used to, but I’m happy for it.”

Even with all the newfound attention in recent months, that hasn’t stopped Morant from remembering how far he’s come and the people who have helped him get to where he is today.

“I feel like I just worked for it,” Morant said. “I never gave up (on) anything. I’ve obviously been under the radar where you probably have doubts. There was a time where I doubted myself, but my parents didn’t allow me to quit. I didn’t allow myself to quit.”

That doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods just yet. As any aspiring professional basketball player would know, transitioning from the college level to the professional is going to be difficult no matter how much hype he may have coming out. Morant clearly understands the tough road ahead and is preparing himself accordingly this summer.

“I have to get stronger to really be able to absorb contact in the league,” Morant said. “I’m in the weight room now actually. I’m working on my upper body. I’m pretty sure everybody knows I can jump, so legs (are) not really a factor, but I do leg workouts too.”

The obstacles ahead for Ja are going to be tough for him to get through. Even with that, he is confident that he will be prepared for whatever challenge he’ll have to face when he comes into the league.

“I think I’m ready,” Morant said. “This is something I’ve been training for all my life. It’s one of my goals, and now I’m in a position to accomplish that goal.”

There will be plenty of room for Ja to grow when he enters the NBA, but he believes his playmaking abilities will be ready enough to help the team that drafts him.

“I’m a pass-first point guard who just loves to get his teammates involved,” Morant said. “I feel like my IQ is the strongest part of my game, being able to make plays for me and my teammates.”

Ja’s passing abilities were very much on display during his sophomore season in college, as he averaged 10 assists per game. However, even though he averaged 24.6 points on 50/35/81 splits this past season, he believes that teams will be surprised most by his scoring abilities as a point guard.

“I really don’t try to focus on scoring,” Morant said. “I would rather take an assist over a bucket any day, but I really feel that I can score the basketball.”

Morant’s future may already be set for the next couple of years. Literally one day after winning the second overall pick in the NBA Draft Lottery, it appears that the Memphis Grizzlies have already decided that they will use the selection on Ja. Despite all the rumblings and the hype surrounding him, Morant’s opted to stay humble throughout the entire process.

“I would really be happy with any team that drafts me,” Morant said. “That means they see something in me. It’s just an honor to play this game at the highest level and to be in the position that I’m in right now.”

Morant’s explosion in the NCAA this season caught so much admiration that some believe Morant may actually be a better player than the anticipated number one pick in this draft, Zion Williamson. Even with all the praise and the higher expectations placed on himself, Ja refuses to use his status as one of the expected top picks to put himself above his fellow 2019 draftees.

“There’s a lot of talented guys in here,” Morant said. “Obviously, to be talked about one of the top players in this draft is just an honor.”

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