The newest member of the Cleveland Cavaliers joked with reporters prior to making his debut last night that he’d have to play a game with a Cavaliers jersey on before he’d believe the trade officially happened. By his own standards, Kyle Korver is now officially a member of the Cavaliers’ roster. Now, comes the hard part.
As the Cavaliers attempt to repeat as NBA champions this season, the team felt as though adding some additional firepower was necessary. J.R. Smith has been sidelined since December 21 after undergoing surgery to repair a complex fracture in his right thumb. Smith is expected to miss at least three months as he recovers from surgery, thus creating a need at the shooting guard position.
Acquiring Korver from the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams and a future first-round draft pick seemed to be an easy decision to make. By doing so, the Cavaliers added one of the most accomplished three-point shooters in league history and a savvy veteran in Korver.
Korver is eighth in NBA history with 1,952 career made three-pointers and is eighth all-time in three-point percentage at 42.9 percent. He is the only player in history to lead the league in three-point percentage three times. While Korver is 36 years old and in his 14th season in the league, the Cavaliers won’t be asking him to do anything he isn’t familiar with.
“The first thing I told him when he walked into the locker room the other day is, ‘If you want to fit in, shoot the ball every time you get it,’” LeBron James said. “Shoot the ball as soon as it touches your hands. Shoot it. We don’t care. We have about four guys that have the ultra green light. It’s J.R. [Smith], Kevin [Love], now Kyle, Channing [Frye] and Champ [James Jones]. Then you have green lights in Kyrie [Irving] and you got like a flashing light in myself. I got to make sure I get everybody involved so I can decide if I want to stop at the light or if I want to kind of just cruise through there. The fluorescent-light guys, they can do whatever they want; they have no other responsibilities besides let it go.”
Korver is up to the task set by James.
“I think that’s what you want to hear from the best player; the guy who has got the ball a lot and making a lot of decisions,” Korver said. “I’ll be ready. I usually had to work pretty hard for my shots [so] maybe there will be a few easier ones. He just said, ‘Catch it. If you’re open, let it fly.’ That shouldn’t be a problem.”
Korver made his debut last night for the Cavaliers against the Utah Jazz. He recorded just two points and three rebounds in 18 minutes off of the bench. The hard part for Korver and the Cavaliers now is trying to get him up to speed with the team’s schemes, sets and different plays.
As he mentioned prior to yesterday’s game, he hasn’t had any time to go through practice or shootaround with the team. Teams typically don’t get a lot of practice time together while on the road, and while the Cavaliers are in the middle of a six-game road trip, it may be a little while before Korver and the rest of the team gets a substantial amount of time together to get acclimated.
For Korver especially, it might take him a little bit of time before he fully gets into the swing of things with the Cavaliers. He said after the game last night that it felt like it had been a little while since he last played. He last appeared in a game with the Hawks last Wednesday against the Orlando Magic and then was held out of the Hawks’ next game the following night as the trade with the Cavaliers started to materialize. The two teams announced the trade on Saturday and Korver joined the Cavaliers while on the road trip. As he sets off with a new team, he looked back on his four-plus seasons with the Hawks.
“[I had] a lot of great relationships on and off of the floor,” Korver said. “I feel like I’ve been through a lot with the organization; a total overhaul of who they were and what they were doing. There are definitely connections in that. I put my heart into it for a bunch of years. I know this is an incredible opportunity for me. I’ve always felt like the better the players are around me, the better I can be. This is the most talented team that I’ve ever been on for sure. There are a lot of things to figure out. I haven’t practiced with the team. I haven’t done shootaround. I don’t really know what I’m doing [while I’m playing] but whatever time I get, I’m going to try to do whatever is asked of me.”
Korver departs the Hawks organization having left quite the mark during his time there. He averaged 10.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 332 games in Atlanta and was named an All-Star in 2015. He finished as the Hawks’ all-time leader in free-throw percentage and is third on the club’s all-time three-pointer made list with 818. While Korver now joins a different team, his former Hawks teammates are happy for him.
“It shocked me; it shocked everyone,” Kent Bazemore told Basketball Insiders. “Everyone on this team and the city of Atlanta knows how much he meant to this organization. But it’s the business of it. The Hawks are definitely trying to move in different direction. He’s with the Cavs; that is a team that there is a little bad blood in between. I’m happy for him and I wish him well down the road.”
Korver could potentially end up being a rental player for the Cavaliers, as he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season and it’s unclear at this time whether he’ll re-sign with Cleveland in July. It’s likely something he hasn’t thought much about yet as he’s making the transition to his new team.
Many around the league view this move as one that will strengthen the Cavaliers’ chances of repeating as champions. With James, Irving and Love often demanding so much attention from defenders, a player like Korver could benefit with easy looks. Head coach Ty Lue said last night after the game against the Jazz that he already saw how having Korver on the floor opens things up for other players too.
This wouldn’t be the first time that the Cavaliers benefited from a mid-season trade since they acquired J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the New York Knicks in similar fashion. They showed that they could get those players acclimated with some time, and it’s something they’ll try to duplicate this time around with Korver.
With Korver now in the mix, the Cavaliers just added another weapon and could become even more dangerous in the playoffs. Look out, Golden State Warriors.
Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal
Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.
Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.
So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.
You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.
With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.
He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.
But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.
Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.
Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.
These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.
Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.
The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.
Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.
The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.
NBA Daily: Zach LaVine Has Solid Debut With Bulls
Zach LaVine put together a solid performance for the Bulls in his first game back from injury.
The Chicago Bulls are turning a corner this season. Zach LaVine is healthy after completing a year of rehabilitation from an ACL injury. LaVine’s return comes at a critical moment. The team is 13-7 over the last twenty games. Many of the wins in this stretch are over current competitors for a potential spot in the playoffs. This includes wins against the Charlotte Hornets (in overtime), the Philadelphia 76ers and three wins (one in overtime) against the New York Knicks. The stretch of winning ties into the return of forwards Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic. Having these key players back and winning this many games recently has changed the dynamics of what had been shaping up to be a losing season.
LaVine played in his first game of the season on Saturday and hit three of four three-point baskets while scoring 14 points in 19 minutes played. LaVine described how he felt physically and about the team’s recent run.
“I thought I did pretty good. I was tired as hell at first. But, we got the win,” LaVine said. “We’re going to keep this thing going.”
The team went into this season having parted ways with their franchise player, Jimmy Butler, in a trade that was derided by many for being lopsided. The trade netted the Bulls LaVine, point guard Kris Dunn and the sixth pick in the 2017 draft in exchange for Butler and the number 16 pick. The trade also allowed Butler to be reunited with coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota. For the Bulls, Dunn has greatly improved from the poor play of his rookie season in Minnesota. In addition, the Bulls selected Lauri Markkanen, whom has already displayed some serious talent and potential. Now with LaVine in the lineup, the Bulls can see the total value of the trade on the court.
So, where do the Bulls now stand? According to FiveThirtyEight, as of January 14, the Bulls are projected as having a three percent chance of making the playoffs with a projected record of 32-50. This is a jump from less than one percent (essentially zero percent) back on December 11, 2017. Still, three percent is not the most reassuring projection.
In addition, the recent shift to winning basketball also puts Chicago’s 2018 draft pick in a more precarious position. On December 6, 2017, the Bulls were 3-20 and were on pace to have one of the worst records in the league, if not the worst. Now every win moves the pick further away from a likely top three or even a potential number one pick and moves it closer to a top-10 selection or even middle of the first-round pick.
At the moment, the team is 16-27, good enough for 12th place in the Eastern Conference behind the Hornets, Knicks, 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. Being 6.5 games back and having seven more losses than the Bucks means the Bulls will need to continue winning at a high rate to make up the difference in the time left in the season.
LaVine didn’t hold back when it came to expressing his optimism regarding the team’s potential.
“I think we can make a push for this thing,” LaVine said. “That’s our job to do. That’s our job to do that,”
LaVine isn’t paying much attention to skeptics who still don’t believe the Bulls have much change to win anything meaningful this season.
“You know, we can’t control outside thoughts or anything,” LaVine said. “We’re ball players, we go out there and try to win every competition. You know, I think we’re good. I think we’re going to be good.”
In LaVine’s absence, Mirotic and Portis (despite their offseason scuffle) have emerged as two of the team’s best players. In addition, center Robin Lopez has done an admirable job keeping up his effort all season long while fulfilling his role as a veteran leader for the team. Lopez described the atmosphere on the team as positive recently in an interview with Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders.
Despite the reason for optimism, it must be noted that the franchise might make another big trade that would diminish the team’s ability to be competitive this season. Despite his recent on-court success, reports are that Mirotic would like to be traded and that the Bulls asking price is a first-round pick.
Until such a move occurs, the Bulls appear poised to maintain their recent rate of success. Every win could cost the Bulls what could be a top overall pick in 2018. Regardless, the Bulls are surely feeling better about the results of the Butler trade, especially after LaVine’s impressive Chicago debut.
NBA Daily: Lopez’s Enjoys “Old Guy” Role on Young Team
Robin Lopez is the old man on a very young Chicago Bulls team, but he says the camaraderie is a big reason why he’s happy there, and why the team is overachieving so much this year.
When the Chicago Bulls started the season 3-20, nobody was surprised that they stunk. Everything was fine. They were supposed to stink. That was the entire reason they traded away Jimmy Butler for younger players in the first place. They wanted got their rebuild underway in earnest. (more…)