What’s Next For the Cavaliers?
For the better part of the last four years, the idea of LeBron James returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers was farfetched – borderline laughable. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s scathing letter published after James’ departure seemed to have burned that bridge completely; and, while the Cavaliers were one of the worst teams in the league, James’ Miami HEAT ran off four straight trips to the NBA Finals and were being talked about as a dynasty.
Little did we all know, returning to Cleveland was the plan all along.
“I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there,” James wrote in his essay on Sports Illustrated. “I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.”
Even with his heart still in Cleveland, James wouldn’t have committed four of the prime years of his career to a franchise that he didn’t think could contend for a championship. He came off very modest and humble about the expectations for the team next year, saying that they’re not ready to compete for a championship yet, but anything less will be viewed as a disappointment. The Eastern Conference is wide open and with James on board, the Cavaliers become the instant favorite. The only team with the hope of uprooting them from that spot is the Chicago Bulls if they land Carmelo Anthony, who is expected to decide on Saturday where he will be playing next. He’s deciding between the Bulls and Knicks.
Quite possibly more important than the Cavaliers putting together a formidable team was Gilbert rebuilding his relationships with James. Many thought Gilbert’s presence would forever prevent James’ return, but it actually didn’t take long for the two to get past it.
“We had five great years together and one terrible night,” Gilbert told James, according to Yahoo! Sports. “I told him how sorry I was, expressed regret for how that night went and how I let all the emotion and passion for the situation carry me away. I told him I wish I had never done it, that I wish I could take it back.”
Getting James back goes a long way in restoring Gilbert’s public image and basically makes the letter nothing more than an afterthought. There will be no more negativity stemming from it. In fact, when it comes up now, it may actually be something that both he and James laugh about.
Landing James automatically makes the Cavaliers one of the winners of free agency. However, what they do next is just as important.
Before the signing can become official, the Cavaliers have to complete a series of cap cutting moves in order to free up the rest of the money they need for James’ max contract. They’re in the process of shipping Alonzo Gee to the New Orleans Pelicans and have already traded Jarrett Jack to the Brooklyn Nets in a three-team trade with the Boston Celtics.
Somewhat lost in all of this is that the Cavaliers’ latest No. 1 overall pick (they have four now), Andrew Wiggins, is going to make his professional debut tonight at the Las Vegas Summer League against Jabari Paker and the Milwaukee Bucks. Wiggins’ camp has received assurances from the Cavaliers that they are not going to trade him, but obviously their world has changed a lot in the last few hours.
Less than 15 minutes after James’ Sports Illustrated essay ran, reports started to surface that Minnesota Timberwolves disgruntled All-Star forward Kevin Love, who reportedly killed a deal to the Cavaliers earlier this summer by refusing to give any long-term commitment to them, is now intrigued by the idea of joining the team and willing to commit beyond this season. The question becomes are the Timberwolves still interested, and will the Cavaliers give up Wiggins?
The ideal scenario for them of course is to ship off multiple first round picks, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett and acquire Love while keeping Wiggins. However, it’s highly unlikely that the Timberwolves are going to accept that. They’d be foolish not to demand Wiggins, and given where they are at now – the Cavaliers may eventually budge. Wiggins is a phenomenal talent with immense potential, but if he’s what it costs to get one of the best power forwards in the league, the deal has to be done. They’re in win-now mode. They don’t have time to wait for Wiggins. Even if he is ready to make a big impact from day one, it’s hard to imagine that can come close to what Love would provide.
The Cavaliers aren’t the only team interested in Love, though. The Golden State Warriors have long been involved in discussions with the Cavaliers and have all of the pieces (Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson and David Lee) to pull off a deal that would push the Timberwolves closer to the playoffs right away than a Wiggins-centric package would. After missing out on the playoffs for 10 straight years, the Warriors’ package could be more appealing to the Timberwolves even with Wiggins on the table. The Celtics are also aggressively trying to find a way to pry Love away from Minnesota. With Anthony soon to come off of the board, the Love trade offers should start to improve to the point where the Timberwovles are seriously willing to consider them.
Outside of another major splash like that, the Cavaliers seem poised to fill out their roster with veteran talent with championship experience, specifically Mike Miller and Ray Allen . Miller was in advanced discussions with the Denver Nuggets, but has halted those talks with hopes of landing in Cleveland. Allen is contemplating retirement, but could be persuaded to play one more year with how attractive the Cavaliers have become.
What’s Next for the HEAT?
No one with HEAT president Pat Riley’s experience level and track record would go into free agency without preparing contingency plans for every possible outcome. He was extremely confident that he was going to be able to keep James, though, and was reportedly blindsided by his decision today. James did call Riley and HEAT owner Micky Arison to let him know his decision before the Sports Illustrated story went live.
With James gone, the HEAT are now facing the very serious prospect of losing Chris Bosh as well. The Rockets are on the verge of having enough space free to offer him a four-year contract worth very close to the max. However, the HEAT have countered with a five-year max contract. Bosh is expected to decide sometime before the end of the day due to the timetable the Rockets are working on. They’re well into day one of the three they have to match the Chandler Parsons offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks.
Believe it or not, Dwyane Wade is drawing interest from other teams as well. The Chicago Bulls have reportedly gauged interest in Wade. It’s believed to be a foregone conclusion that the HEAT were going to give him a new deal that would give him at least the $42 million that he passed on in order to give the HEAT maximum financial flexibility to keep the team together this offseason. That obviously hasn’t worked out, but the HEAT are still very likely, out of loyalty more than anything, to give Wade more than he can get anywhere else, especially Chicago. The Bulls’ interest is more about seeing if he wants to return home too, albeit at a serious discount, but to compete for a championship.
Depending on Bosh’s decision, the HEAT could look to engage the Rockets in a sign-and-trade discussion. As of right now, with both teams feeling like they have a chance at him, no such discussions have taken place.
No matter what happens – there’s no sugarcoating it: the HEAT took a big step backward today with the loss of James that will be hard to recover from. They have a lot of cap space, and could still have Wade and Bosh, but the days of being the favorite in the Eastern Conference are now gone. Riley has to pull off a quick, effective contingency plan just to keep them in the playoffs.
(UPDATE: Bosh has decided to re-sign with the HEAT on a five-year max deal).
PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.
NBA Daily: The Cleveland Cavaliers Need Tyronn Lue
The Cleveland Cavaliers have faced injury adversity and a roster shakeup, and now face uncertainty regarding coach Tyronn Lue’s health.
The most enduring image of Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue came moments after his team sealed the 2016 NBA Finals with a third consecutive win after trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1. As the team celebrated its historic comeback and readied to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, one camera focused on Lue, who sat on the bench with his face buried in his hands.
— Buddy Grizzard (@BuddyGrizzard) June 20, 2016
The image tells a thousand words about the pressure Lue was under as Cleveland teetered on the brink of elimination for three games. Rather than sharing the euphoria of his players, it seemed that Lue’s emotions centered around the massive weight that had been lifted from his shoulders. Almost two years later, it appears that burden has caught back up with Lue, whose leave of absence for health reasons complicates things for Cleveland with the playoffs just around the corner.
“It’s like losing one of your best players,” said Cavaliers forward LeBron James after Cleveland’s 124-117 win at home over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.
Kevin Love returned from a six-week injury absence to post 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Bucks. James likened Lue’s absence to the burden of trying to replace Love’s output while he was unavailable.
“We’ve got to have guys step up, just like guys trying to step up in Kev’s absence,” said James. “We have to do the same as a collective group as long as Ty needs to get himself back healthy.”
There’s optimism that Lue could return before the playoffs, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty given the seriousness of his symptoms, which reportedly included coughing up blood. Lead assistant Larry Drew, a former head coach with the Bucks and Hawks, will handle head coaching responsibilities until Lue is ready to return.
Kyle Korver played under Drew in Atlanta and said he’s confident in his ability to fill in.
“We’d love to have Ty here and healthy,” said Korver after the Bucks win. “Coach Drew has done this for a long time as well. He coached me for a full year in Atlanta. We know he’s fully capable.”
Korver also doubted Drew would introduce any major stylistic changes.
“I think LD’s been Ty’s top assistant for a reason,” said Korver. “They really think a lot alike. They coach very similarly. We miss Ty, but I think the style of what we do is going to be very similar.”
While style and approach should remain unchanged, what could an extended absence for Lue mean for the Cavaliers? Lue cemented his legacy as a leader by keeping the Cavaliers together as they fought back from a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors, but Drew hasn’t had that kind of success as a head coach.
In 2012, the Hawks had a real opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in Atlanta history. The Hawks faced an aging Boston Celtics squad in the first round. The eighth-seed Philadelphia 76ers awaited in the second round after defeating the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.
After splitting the first two games in Atlanta, the Hawks faced a pivotal Game 3 in Boston with the opportunity to retake home court advantage. Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Michael Cunningham used Synergy Sports to break down every offensive possession for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. His conclusion? For three quarters, Rondo did not score a single basket while guarded by Hawks combo guard Kirk Hinrich.
The Hawks traded a package that included a former and a future first-round pick to obtain Hinrich from the Wizards in 2011. But in Game 3, Hinrich failed to score a point despite his effective defense. Apparently feeling the need for an offensive spark, Drew left Hinrich on the bench in the fourth quarter and turned to career journeyman Jannero Pargo.
With Hinrich out of the game, Rondo’s offense came to life as he slashed to the basket at will. Boston opened the fourth with a 13-7 run before Pargo went to the bench and Atlanta closed on a 15-7 run to force overtime. The NBA did not publish net rating data at the time, but we can now see via historical data that the Hawks were outscored by nearly 52 points per 100 possessions in Pargo’s minutes in Game 3. Rather than entrust Atlanta’s season and his own legacy to a player the Hawks traded two first-round picks to obtain, Drew went with Pargo, a career end-of-bench player.
What does this mean for the Cavaliers? It means the team needs to get Lue back. Drew and Lue are both former NBA players who have received mixed reviews as head coaches. But when his legacy was on the line, Lue pushed the right buttons.
For Drew’s part, in his first postgame press conference since Lue’s absence was announced, he remained publicly deferential.
“Coach Lue is the one who makes that decision,” said Drew when asked about lineup combinations. “That’s not my call. We look at a lot of different combinations — whether guys are starting or whether they are coming off the bench — and we assess everything.”
On the critical question of how lineups will be fine-tuned as the Cavaliers prepare for the playoffs, Drew once again emphasized Lue’s active role even as he steps away from the bench.
“I’ll talk to Ty,” said Drew. “He’s got the final say-so. Whatever he wants, then that’s what we’re going to go with. But if he tells me to make a decision, then I’ll have to make the decision.”
With Lue suffering acute symptoms, there’s no way of knowing when he will be ready to step back into the pressure cooker of a leading role for a team with championship aspirations. But the Cavaliers need him and need his steadying influence and instincts. Cleveland is a team that has battled through injuries and a major roster overhaul at the trade deadline. It also faces the pressure of James’ impending free agency decision this summer.
Now, with the playoffs just around the corner, the Cavaliers must endure uncertainty about Lue’s ability to return and lead the team. James has emphasized that Lue’s health overshadows any basketball concerns, but gave his most terse remark when asked about learning that Lue would step away on the same day Cleveland finally got Love back.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” said James. “That was my reaction.”
A Breakout Season for Joe Harris
Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.
The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.
Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.
During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.
After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”
Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.
In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.
“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”
Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.
“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”
When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.
However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”