J.J. Hickson is at the center of everything

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The Cleveland Cavaliers, as is, are among the best teams in basketball. That much is undeniable. And with how they’ve started the new year, they’re playing at a higher level than any other team in the league.

So naturally, Cleveland has been linked in all kinds of trade rumors, with targets ranging from Antawn Jamison to Troy Murphy to Andre Iguodala. Such is the nature of the trade deadline beast; the NBA’s artificially created evaluation point inspires the rich to get richer and the poor to clear cap and step out of the way.

But none of this is too much of a surprise. The Cavaliers were considered to at least be in contention for the Eastern Conference crown when the season began, and a few months later, they’re doing just that.

The Cavs’ rumored trade targets? Also not much of a surprise. Cleveland’s “need” for a stretch four is well-documented, and natural when you consider the Cavs’ other frontcourt pairings.

But the fact that the key to Cleveland going from a great team to a truly incredible one is J.J. Hickson? Can’t say I saw that one coming. Hickson has been a contributor since early in the season, but only in recent weeks has he made the evolution from athlete to basketball player. There’s always been potential, but it looks as though Hickson is making a legitimate breakthrough in his game. I wouldn’t say that the J.J. Hickson Era has begun just yet, but that’s apparently not a concern to other GMs in the league looking to deal with the Cavs. From Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

League executives who have been speaking with the Cavs and other sources also involved in talks say that whether or not the Cavs make a deal may come down to J.J. Hickson. Simply, several teams want Hickson included in any trade package and, to this point, the Cavs have been balking at many of them. Hickson is not untouchable, but the team has made it clear in talks that it would take a special offer to get him.

The Cavs had hoped to force some teams to make a decision on offers by this week, prior to the All-Star Game. But right now, executives say, the market is frozen as everyone is waiting for the first move. The Cavs, however, have stood firm to the position that they are willing to take on money past this season but unwilling to offer up their talented young forward.

Deals are supposedly in the works for the likes of a Jamison, a Murphy, an Iguodala, and it’s Hickson that’s gumming up the machinery. On paper, it’s a no-brainer, but what we have here is a savvy front office in Cleveland keen on capitalizing on Hickson’s production and potential. Or, perhaps even more preferably, Cavs GM Danny Ferry could end up with one of those players and Hickson; most of Cleveland’s trade partners are more desperate to move salary than the Cavs are to improve, giving Ferry quite the booster seat at the negotiating table.

Kobe Bryant gave a 30-minute pep talk to the Eagles before Rams game (VIDEO)

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Kobe Bryant is just about everywhere during retirement. We’ve talked before about how his post-playing career revisionism is one of the greatest works of sports marketing currently underway.

Of course, Ol’ Bean has to take some days off from being a “storyteller” and that includes cheering on his hometown Philadelphia Eagles. Bryant was born in Philly and lived there for various parts of his childhood, of course going pro directly from Lower Merion High School, located in a nearby suburb.

So despite the return of the Los Angeles Rams, it appears that Kobe is still an Eagles fan through and through. He apparently even spoke to the Eagles for half an hour before the team practiced in California on Friday.

Bryant also gave the world a little video message.

Via Twitter:

The bummer news for Eagles fans, of course, was that it was Philadelphia QB and MVP candidate Carson Wentz who was hit high and low on Sunday, and the team fears that he has torn his ACL.

Kobe is looking pretty thick in that jersey. Maybe they should work him out and see if he can’t beat out Nick Foles for the starting job the rest of the season?

Watch Victor Oladipo score a career-high 47 points vs. Nuggets (VIDEO)

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Victor Oladipo was sent from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Indiana Pacers along with Domantas Sabonis as part of a major trade for Paul George.

Boy, Pacers fans have got to be glad things have turned out the way they have.

Oladipo is having a career season in terms of scoring, rebounding, blocks, 3-point shooting and field goal percentage. His advanced stats look good too, as Oladipo’s efficiency per-100 possessions in many offensive categories have seen a rise to go along with his box score bump.

On Sunday, Oladipo scored a career-high 47 points in an overtime win against the Denver Nuggets, 126-116.

Oladipo’s performance was incredible, adding seven rebounds, six assists, two steals, and a block to go along with his 47 points. Oladipo shot 15-28 from the field, including 6-of-12 from 3-point range, and added 11 points from the free-throw line.

Watch the full highlights of Oladipo’s performance in the video above.

Rumor: NBA executives think Rockets have shot at signing LeBron James

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LeBron James is now rumored to be headed to about 29 NBA teams this summer when he can opt out of his current contract and become a free agent. Earlier this week, we heard rumblings that LeBron could be interested in sharing a Los Angeles Lakers roster with Dallas Mavericks center-at-large Nerlens Noel.

Now we’re hearing that NBA executives think the Houston Rockets have a chance of nabbing The King in the summer of 2018.

All aboard the Banana Boat.

According to USA Today’s Sam Amick, both the Rockets themselves and rival execs think Houston is a real landing spot for James thanks in part to how well they are playing this season. James Harden is having another MVP-caliber year, and Chris Paul has played beautifully in his return.

Via USA Today:

While James has made it clear that he won’t deliberate his uncertain future until the Cavs’ season is complete, there is strong belief in Rockets circles that they’ll have a legitimate shot at landing the four-time MVP this summer. Rival executives also believe the Rockets will have a real chance. And once you really look at it, when you get past all the noise about the Lakers and even the compelling case for the up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers, it makes all sorts of sense.

The only team we haven’t heard connecting rumors about is the Cleveland Cavaliers themselves. LeBron — whose family lives in LA — recently bought a new house there and all signs point to James heading to the Western Conference. Well, unless he goes to the Philadelphia 76ers, of course.

Then again it felt like a certainty that LeBron would head to the New York Knicks nearly a decade ago, an idea that seems hilarious in retrospect. The NBA is weird, and if LeBron dips from Cleveland expect it to get even weirder.

Sixers’ Robert Covington to miss at least one game after crashing into stands

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NBA fans love hustle from their players, but sometimes things go awry.

That’s what happened on Saturday night after Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington dove into the stands to try to save a loose ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The play came in the fourth quarter with under two minutes left and the Sixers down by just one point. Covington leapt into the far sideline just near the Cavaliers bench. He appeared to turn his ankle and land awkwardly on his back. The Cleveland floor has a small lip after the first row of seats that may have played a part in the injury.

Cleveland would go on to score on the play, and Covington had to be helped off the floor. The Cavaliers went on to win, 105-98.

Meanwhile, the 76ers will play Sunday in New Orleans against the Pelicans. According to NBC Sports Philadelphia, Covington will miss the game with a lower back contusion.

Via NBCSN Philadelphia:

X-rays and a CT scan came back negative. Covington is with the team in New Orleans and is doubtful for Tuesday’s game in Minnesota.

Covington tumbled out of bounds and over courtside seats while he tried to save a possession during a Sixers comeback attempt. There is an approximate four-to-five inch drop between the court and the area where Covington landed. Many of his teammates were unaware of Covington’s injury at first because it was out of their vision.

“It’s scary to see your teammate like that,” guard JJ Redick said. “They said he fell on his back. I wanted to make sure he’s walking and not in too much pain. But I just wish the best for him and hope he’s OK.”

Back injuries can be a complete hassle to recover from, especially when you’re deep in the middle of the season. Let’s hope the Sixers get Covington back soon.