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NBA AM: Irving Isn’t Alone In Cleveland

Kyrie Irving might be the most talked about player, but he’s not the only one unhappy in Cleveland… Phoenix has to pieces to get Pau Gasol, will the Lakers pull the trigger?

Steve Kyler



It’s Not Just Kyrie:  By now you have likely heard something about Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving being unhappy. Brian Windhorst of ESPN has written about it. Jason Lloyd of the Beacon Journal wrote about it. The ground has been covered.

The problem is that the story being cast is that Kyrie Irving is unhappy, as if to suggest that he is the only unhappy camper in Cleveland, when the truth is no one in Cleveland is happy with their 16-31 record and that includes ownership.

The Cavs are in the middle what’s best described as a systemic revolt. Last year the team had Byron Scott as their head coach and the lack of defensive intensity soured the locker room on the coach and a change was made. Out went the “player friendly” Scott and in came the tougher more disciplined Mike Brown. The problem is nothing has really changed in terms of harmony in the locker room.

»In Related: Kyrie Irving Talks About His Situation In Cleveland

Young guys that struggled with Scott are struggling with Mike Brown. A team that was all-offensive last year, is trying to be all-defense this year and it’s not working for anyone. Part of that is on the roster. Part of that is on management for bringing in too many duplicated players and that combination has created a selfish, unhappy and almost petulant environment of hot and cold and finger pointing.

Irving is the easy guy to point at because his body language on the court is far from ideal, but second year guard Dion Waiters has had his moments almost as much as anyone else.

First overall pick Anthony Bennett is logging one of the worst performances for a rookie in the modern era and clearly the worst season for a top overall pick.

Everyone involved in the process is trying to say the right things to the media, but the truth is this roster does not work and if change is not made, it is hard to imagine that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is going to allow another year of frustration to possibly ruin his relationship with his franchise player Kyrie Irving.

The Cavs have several fires brewing on several fronts. They had hoped that acquiring Luol Deng from the Chicago Bulls would calm the situation and introduce some veteran poise to the roster. That’s has not worked as planned and more and more people around the situation believe that unless the Cavaliers just unload with a max level contract offer that Deng’s stay in Cleveland will be short lived and he’ll be gone in July.

»In Related: The Cleveland Cavaliers Team Salary Page

The Cavs are not as worried about Irving, despite reports, mainly because the steps he would have to take to hit unrestricted free agency in July of 2016 have never been taken by a player of his caliber. The Cavs will try and extend Irving as soon as they can, but there doesn’t appear a need to make a rash move just to satisfy Irving.

The urgency to make changes are more tied to the hot seat management finds itself on and the pressure ownership is applying.

Sources near the situation said around the draft that ownership gave the front office the green light to draft and sign whatever players they wanted, however making the playoffs was the franchise goal understanding that the only way to get buy-in from the young guys was to let them taste the postseason.

At no point was an “or else” statement made, but everyone involved knew what was on the line.

It’s one of the reasons the Cavs took a shot at the risky Andrew Bynum. It’s one of the reasons they drafted the player most scouts thought was the most NBA ready player in Bennett. It’s one of the reasons the Cavaliers added Jarrett Jack, a proven locker room leader.

None of those things have worked out, in large part because of the dysfunction around the team.

The Cavs are expected to be active over the next 17 days, in the march up to the February 20 NBA Trade Deadline. It’s highly unlikely that the Cavs will explore anything involving Kyrie Irving, but it is clear that almost anyone else on the roster could be had especially if it can infuse the Cavs with the kinds of players that will buy into to the situation.

As bad as it’s been for the Cavs, they are still only four games out of the eight seed, so all is not lost by any leap of the imagination, but change is coming and that’s almost a certainty now that the Cavs locker room laundry has been aired publically.

It’s not just Irving that’s unhappy, it’s safe to say almost anyone wearing a Cavs jersey would like to see things change and it appears the front office is working to accomplish that.

»ICYMI: Susan Bible and Joel Brigham debate the big question, is Kevin Durant the NBA’s MVP?… Bill Ingram digs into Jeremy Lin’s recent outburst in Houston. Has Jeremy found his mojo again?… Jabari Davis digs into the idea of trading Pau Gasol to Phoenix and whether an Emeka Okafor deal works for the Lakers.

The Suns And Gasol:  ESPN’s Marc Stein is the most recent insider to report about the Phoenix Suns desire to flip the ending, insurance-paid contract of Emeka Okafor into a something for a playoff push. This time pointing to “sourced” information that the LA Lakers’ Pau Gasol is one of their targets.

This potential trade has been speculated on for almost a month, and it seems, at least according to the report, that Phoenix is stepping up their efforts to swap a player that won’t play, for someone who might help them.

The Suns are sitting on $5.6 million in possible salary cap space, which would allow them to take on Gasol and possible another Laker’s ending contract and get the Lakers under the luxury tax line.

As things sit today the Lakers would need to shed $7.238 million to get under the tax line, and while a deal for Okafor and Gasol would get them part of the way there – shaving off $4.8 million – a contract or combination of contracts worth at least $2.438 million more would have to be included to get the Lakers where they want to be.

The Suns are believed to be dangling Okafor’s contract, 80 percent of which is being paid by insurance and their least desirable first round draft pick in efforts to pry lose a contributing player.

The Lakers’ stance has been that they would not swap Gasol for simply financial relief, sticking to their guns on getting an asset for the future back for Gasol. It’s unclear how the Lakers would view a low-level first round pick, especially if they are giving up what would need to be at least two players.

The Suns hold their own draft pick in 2014 and have the rights to Minnesota’s pick, assuming it is outside the top 13. They also have the rights to Washington’s pick assuming it’s outside the top 12 and Indiana’s first round pick, assuming it’s outside the top 14.

Based on the standings today, the Minnesota pick may not come to Phoenix this year; however the Pacers’ pick or their own pick might be the least desirable of the bunch.

Lakers’ general manager Mitch Kupchak said recently that he doubted his club would trade Gasol, however with less than three weeks until the trade deadline, the Lakers may have to rethink their stand, simply because Phoenix is trying to make a deal and what they have to offer might be the best return the Lakers can get.

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, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

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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NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson

Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.

Ben Nadeau



Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?

Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.

“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”

Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.

While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.

Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.

“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”

Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.

“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.

Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.

Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.

But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.

“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”

When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.

And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.

“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”

One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.

“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”

And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.

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Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?

Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.

Shane Rhodes



The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.

With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.

It couldn’t get worse, could it?

Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.

In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.

The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.

Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.

The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.

Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.

Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?

If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.

Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.

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NBA Daily: Houston Has It All

Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.

Lang Greene



It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.

So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.

As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.

Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.

One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.

Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.

Floor Generalship

Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.

This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.

Small Ball Ready

Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.

At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.


When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.

Shooting, Versatility and Experience

All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.

Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.


Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.

With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.

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