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NBA AM: Kyrie Irving’s Uncertain Future

Kyrie Irving quickly addresses report of his unhappiness in Cleveland. Pacers react to Lance Stephenson All-Star snub

Lang Greene

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Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving addresses report that he wants out of Cleveland

NBA Circles were abuzz on Thursday when ESPN’s Chad Ford stated in his weekly hoops chat that Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star guard Kyrie Irving has been privately telling folks he wants out of the franchise. Of course about as soon as the rumor started spreading, Irving was able to establish a bit of damage control in the situation.

“There’s been so much so-called reports coming out that I don’t want to be here,” Irving told Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal. “That’s what you guys get paid to do, but that’s just so much negative attention. I know we’re struggling, but it’s not about me. It’s about our team. It’s about us fighting every day for each other and me fighting for my teammates.

“Yes, I’m in Cleveland. I enjoy myself. I enjoy going out and competing at the highest level for the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about me and it’s not about this controversy, ‘Do I privately want out when my contract is up?’ I’m still in my rookie contract and I’m happy to be here. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to be here for a long time. I’m not saying anything to tell the future, but I’m pretty sure the relationship I have with Dan Gilbert and management extends off the court. I enjoy being here.”

The truth in this situation is probably somewhere in the middle.

Subtract out the multi-million dollar contracts and what you will find is that NBA players view their employment to their respective organization much like everyone else in society. A corporate accountant may become frustrated with their direct manager, a few employees in another department and having to take on a role that they feel doesn’t maximize their talents. Naturally, this worker will tell people close to them about those frustrations. But this doesn’t mean the accountant wants to work for another firm.

Depending on the day of the week you catch a NBA player you will notice some of those same frustrations playing out in their profession. Instead of the frustration with coworkers the accountant faced, the player is upset with a few of his teammates.  The accountant has an issue with their direct boss, while the NBA player may have a blow up with his coaching staff. The accountant is asked to handle a project they feel is inferior to their skills, while a NBA player may scoff at being relegated to a sixth man role or less minutes in the rotation.

The mere process of voicing frustration with an ongoing situation does not mean you want out of it. It means it is an area which needs to be tightened. Much like the rest of society, all players in the league  will be able to name a few frustrating aspects of their job. This is life. Irving being in a losing environment, at the moment, will cause frustration. This is natural and doesn’t mean an exodus awaits.

But until Irving inks a long term deal in Cleveland these types of situations will continue to be placed under the magnifying glass, especially in the aftermath of LeBron James’ free agency departure from the team to join Miami in 2010.

Irving is set to hit free agency after the 2016 campaign, but could sign a lucrative long term deal with the Cavaliers this summer, an option the guard is fully aware of but not committed to disclosing his thoughts.

“It’s still too early to say,” Irving said of the extension talk. “I’m still trying to get through this season. Everybody is trying to antagonize this team and put it on me. I’m here for my teammates, I’m here for Coach Brown and the coaching staff and I’m going to play my heart out every single night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.”

Pacers React To Lance Stephenson ‘Snub’ From All-Star Team

The Indiana Pacers (35-10) have raced out to a strong start and have been fixtures among the league’s top three teams in regards to overall win percentage. While the star players, in this case forward Paul George, get most of the mainstream headlines a team having this amount of success typically has multiple guys playing at an extremely high level.

The Pacers are no different. Behind George in the rotation, Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson have all served as catalysts for the team this season. But when All-Star reserves were announced on Thursday, Stephenson’s name was absent much to the dismay of his supportive teammates.

“I just think it’s unfortunate that Lance didn’t make it,” Forward David West said according to Mark Montieth of NBA.com. “It’s a slap in the face. He has to use it as motivation.”The fact that he’s beat (the other coaches’ teams) and he’s had great games against the majority of the coaches … he’s a major reason we’ve been able to get (35) wins.

“For me it’s not a big deal. But for a guy like Lance, who’s carried us at times with his energy … he’s won games for us single-handedly this year. It’s unfortunate he didn’t make it. He can go out and prove these guys wrong. For some of the guys who made it, this will be the highlight of their year. The highlight of our year will be after April. I just hope Lance uses that to fuel him down the stretch this year.”

Stephenson, who leads the league in triple-doubles this season with four, is averaging 14.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game.

ICYMI: All-Star Reserves Announced

The 2014 All-Star rosters are set.

The Eastern Conference reserves are John Wall (Washington Wizards), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors), Joe Johnson (Brooklyn Nets), Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers), Joakim Noah (Indiana Pacers), Paul Millsap (Atlanta Hawks) and Chris Bosh (Miami HEAT).

Basketball Insiders senior writer Joel Brigham takes a look at Eastern Conference All-Star Snubs

The Western Conference reserves are Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs), James Harden (Houston Rockets), Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets), LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trail Blazers) and Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks).

Basketball Insiders senior writer Bill Ingram takes a look at Western Conference All-Star Snubs

Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers), Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers and Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves) will be the starters for the Western Conference. Bryant will miss the game due to injury, so the NBA will choose a replacement player to take his spot.

Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers), Dwyane Wade (Miami HEAT), Paul George (Indiana Pacers), Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks) and LeBron James (Miami HEAT) will be the starters for the Eastern Conference.

The 2014 NBA All-Star game is Sunday, February 16th in New Orleans.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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