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NBA AM: Cavs Struggles About Breaking Old Habits

The Cleveland Cavaliers are struggling to find their way. Are they digging themselves into a hole?… K.J. McDaniels’ contract gamble seems to be paying off… A D-League title sponsor?

Steve Kyler



Systemic Revolt:  A 1-3 record to start the season isn’t exactly what Cleveland Cavalier fans signed up for. When LeBron James opted to return to Cleveland and the team made moves to change the team from a youngster laden roster to a veteran filled squad, the idea was to dominate and contend for a title. A 1-3 start wasn’t part of that plan.

Four games does not make a season, but how the Cavaliers are playing has to be concerning.

After the loss to Portland, the storyline was that James was being somewhat passive and letting the young guys learn some hard lessons. The first lesson being that James wasn’t there to save the day, that they would have to work together to be a great team.

Last night James donned the super hero cape and knocked in 31 points and was a perfect 12-of-12 from the foul line. However, his squad still lost to a Utah Jazz team that had four players in double figures and shot better than 50 percent from the field and better than 33 percent from the three point line.

This isn’t exactly what they signed up for, but 1-3 is exactly what they have earned on the floor.

It’s clear that the Cavaliers are going to need more time to figure out how to play a winning brand of basketball, and while James seems to be letting his team figure some things out, the Cavs are digging a hole that may come back to haunt them at the end of the season when playoff seeding is decided by just a small handful of games.

Four games does not a season make, but things are not wine and roses with the Cavaliers.

After their loss in Portland, James blamed his team’s struggles on “bad habits” clearly pointing at the remaining young guys on the team.

“There’s a lot of bad habits; a lot of bad habits have been built up over the last couple of years, and when you play that style of basketball it takes a lot to get it up out of you,” James said to Dave McMenamin of

Last night he praised Kyrie Irving’s aggressiveness but pointed to his team’s six total assists as another part of the problem.

“He made all the shots we needed to keep us in the game. He made some great plays down the stretch, finished above the rim. It was great,” James said.

The assists were still an issue.

“There’s no way you’re going to win a basketball game like that, just having six assists,” James said. “We had two in the first half, we had four in the second half and we had actually four [total] until the last minute and a half of the game. We just can’t win like that, and we got to figure out a way to help each other and not make it so tough.”

Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson was a bit more direct after his team’s consecutive loss.

“Our energy level was terrible the whole game,” Thompson told Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group. “We didn’t start picking it up until the last eight minutes probably. So we have to live with the results.

“I can’t put my finger on it but we got to figure it out collectively as a group. It can’t just be one or two guys. It has to be all of us collectively as a group, figuring out what it takes to play 48 minutes of hard basketball, playing with some heart, some balls and being ready to fight.”

The Cavaliers get an off day today, and will face the 1-3 Denver Nuggets on Friday.

KJ McDaniels’ Gamble Looks Smart:  Most second round picks negotiate the terms of their rookie deal settling in on something that gives them some level of guaranteed money, but often ties up their rights in a deal that is usually very team-friendly. Second round picks usually don’t have a ton of leverage and more and more teams are crafting four-year deals with lots of team options that usually favor the team a lot more than the player.

For K.J. McDaniels of the Philadelphia 76ers, that’s exactly what the team was offering. A deal that would have locked him into a minimum NBA wage for likely the next four years, but under the 76ers’ terms, with very little guaranteed beyond his first year.

Some might see a four-year deal as favorable, but McDaniels and his agents knew that he was more of a first round talent that slid in the draft than your typical second rounder. McDaniels rolled the dice that he could have a solid season in Philly and force a better deal next summer and accepted the 76ers’ tender offer, which is basically a minimum deal with no guarantees.

McDaniels, by virtue of taking the offer, will be a restricted free agent next summer. It’s unlikely that a team throws crazy money at McDaniels, but he is in a position to receive an offer that likely will be significantly greater than what the 76ers had on the table. More importantly it will likely include guarantees that McDaniels’ agent crafts and will shift not only the monatry parts of the deal more in his favor, but also the control over his future.

As things stand today McDaniels leads the rookie class in PER (14.42) and is third in scoring with 9.6 points per game, trailing top picks Jabari Parker (10.0) and Andrew Wiggins (9.8).

In 2010 undrafted rookie Wesley Mathews landed a five-year, $33.4 million contract from the Portland Trail Blazers after a strong rookie campaign with the Utah Jazz. Former Sixer Lavoy Allen landed a two-year, $6 million extension in 2012 with the 76ers after agreeing to a one-year minimum deal similar to McDaniels.

Those are the scenarios McDaniels’ camp was betting on when they agreed to his current deal.

The 76ers will have the right and the cap space to match anything McDaniels is offered next summer, so there is little risk of losing him. The question is what is his value going to be and will a home run contract in July change how aggressive future second round picks are when it comes to signing some of these very one-sided second round contracts.

Naming Rights For The D-League?:  The NBA Development League has a few things going for it. The new television deal the NBA struck with its media partners includes a lot more D-League coverage, which will help the league generate more attention and ultimately more revenue and sponsorships.

That’s a key and important component to the league’s growth and its ability to compensate players. As things stand there are three tiers of compensation for players playing in the D-League. “A” tier players earn roughly $25,000 per season, while “B” tier players earn roughly $19,000 per season with “C” tier players earning just $13,000 per season.

The now completed D-League Draft featured ten “A” tier players including the likes of Joonas Caven, Robert Covington, Andre Emmett, Carrick Felix and Erik Murphy. The ten “B” tier players included names like Kevin Anderson, Michael Dunigan and Robert Vaden. The remaining 155 draft eligible players were all “C” tier players, scheduled to earn in a season what a lot of players earn in a single day. To be fair, most of those “C” tier players will likely never play in the NBA. However, the number of low-wage D-League guys is far greater than those making the top end of the pay scale.

A key to changing that might be the next big experiment the NBA is looking at, and that’s a naming rights deal for the league, much like NASACR has done with its various levels of racing.

According to NBA commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA is exploring opportunities in which a single brand sponsor could own the title sponsor rights to the league, much as Nationwide Insurance has sponsored NASCAR’s second-tier racing circuit.

“For the D-League to go to the next level, one of the top items on our agenda is potentially selling a naming-rights deal for the league,” Silver told Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY Sports.

The D-League currently features 18-teams, with 17 of those teams having a direct one-to-one relationship with their parent NBA team either by way of outright ownership or by way of what’s called “hybrid” relationships where the associated NBA team pays for and controls the basketball operations side, while a private owner handles selling the product in their respective markets.

NBA sources say teams that own their own teams spend just under $2 million a season operating a team, which in the grand scheme of things is relatively a small amount of money considering how much comes out of those teams not just in developing players, but in developing staff and potential coaches, scouts and front office personnel.

The ultimate goal for the D-League is a direct one-to-one relationship with all 30 NBA teams. There is no shortage of interest on the NBA side, however the NBA and the D-League are being careful and strategic in expanding the league to insure there is not over saturation too quickly and that the product they are crafting can grow and develop.

With more money flowing into the NBA and into the D-League specifically, the ability increase compensation will help the league field better players who are opting for international markets that pay better.

A title sponsor deal will help, as will the D-League’s expanded presence on television by way of the new right deal.

Sources close to the process peg the D-League as the compromise the NBA will put on the table to secure Commissioner Silver’s desire for an increased age limit to enter the NBA, with increased funding for the D-League as a potential carrot to get the Players’ Association to agree to the change.

A 30-team league, offering wages comparable to the average International wage, featuring games that are nationally televised with major brand sponsorships is the end goal.

Time will tell how fast all of that actually happens, but a naming rights deal would be a huge step in that direction.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.


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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

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