Shaq's injury not so bad for the Cavs


In rolling past the Celtics in the second half last night, the Cavs unveiled something that has become a favorite of many a hardcore basketball fan this season: the small-ball lineup. The fact that LeBron James defies the very concept of position gives Cleveland incredible flexibility in assembling their on-court rotations, and the added versatility of Antawn Jamison gives them more options than ever before.

So maybe, just maybe, it’s not such a bad thing that Shaquille O’Neal might miss a few games with injury.

The terrific Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer argues against the idea (to an extent), claiming that “it is a not a way to play all the time…It is more effective when used
to throw off opponents, especially when they are not prepared for it.” I couldn’t agree more with the latter; teams will almost certainly struggle against the small-ball look if they’re prepared for a more conventional Cavalier lineup. But I don’t think that means it can’t be effective on a full-time basis, especially when, as Windhorst concedes, Anderson Varejao is one of the best pick-and-roll defenders in basketball.

That’s a huge advantage to have, and while having a giant of a center that can get some easy buckets down low is quite the advantage as well, a stretch of small-ball could actually allow the Cavs to improve on their fourth-ranked offense (in points per 100 possessions) without any drop-off in their seventh-ranked defense. There’s no need to worry about whether or not O’Neal will show on the pick and get back to his man in time, because Varejao’s already been there and back.

Rebounding is certainly a concern, but if the frontcourt consists of LeBron James, Antawn Jamison, and Anderson Varejao — two forwards that rebound pretty well relative to their position and a center that’s top-20 in rebounding rate — I don’t think the sacrifice on the boards would be particularly significant. And as an added bonus, the low-maintenance Varejao would be logging major minutes alongside Jamison, allowing Antawn not only the playing time necessary to get acclimated to the new sets and his teammates, but also the touches.

The problem comes in relying too heavily on J.J. Hickson, Jawad Williams, and Darnell Jackson. None of the above is particularly accomplished as a defender or rebounder, and though each brings something to the table (be it energy, shooting, etc.), playing those three for extended minutes could poke some holes in Cleveland’s plan. The real victim of Shaq’s injury is Cleveland’s depth; these three role players could find themselves in more prominent roles over the next few weeks, and though Hickson has been effective this year, that’s not necessarily a great thing for the team.

Not having Shaq in the mix does hurt in terms of establishing consistency heading into the playoffs, but supposing O’Neal’s thumb didn’t just fall off in the middle of the night, small-ball can be a short term fix. And it can be a brutally effective one, if Mike Brown isn’t afraid to let his imagination run wild.  

Thabo Sefolosha’s lawyer: White police officer targeted black Hawks forward

Thabo Sefolosha
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NEW YORK (AP) — A lawyer representing a professional basketball player arrested outside a New York City nightclub has told a jury his client was targeted because he’s black.

Attorney Alex Spiro said Tuesday in Manhattan Criminal Court that a white police officer saw a black man in a hoodie when he confronted the Atlanta Hawks’ Thabo Sefolosha on April 8.

Sefolosha was arrested while leaving a Manhattan nightclub following a stabbing. He subsequently suffered a season-ending leg fracture after a confrontation with police.

A prosecutor said in opening statements that Sefolosha called an officer who repeatedly told him and others to leave a “midget.”

Sefolosha pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges. The Swiss citizen declined a plea deal from prosecutors.


DeMar DeRozan says he hates talking about free agency, takes pride in Raptors longevity

DeMar DeRozan
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DeMar DeRozan has a $10,050,000 player option for 2016-17. Given the rapidly escalating salary cap, it’s a practical certainty DeRozan will opt out and get a major raise.

But he says he doesn’t want to talk about it.

DeRozan, via Eric Koreen of the National Post:

“I hate that, honestly,” DeRozan said in a one-on-one interview. “I never speak about it. With me, I’ve always been that one player: I’ve been loyal. I’ve been every single thing you can think of here. I think people don’t understand how much pride I take in playing (in Toronto). A lot of times when I do get asked that, it kind of frustrates me.

“Everyday I wake up, I take pride in being the longest Raptor here. People bring up third or whatever in franchise scoring — there is so much stuff like that.”

This sounds awfully similar to LaMarcus Aldridge, who stated his desire last year to become the great Trail Blazer ever and then signed with the Spurs this summer.

Things change, and the impracticality of an extension ensures DeRozan will hit free agency. I believe he’s devoted to the Raptors right now, but his loyalty might change in the next nine months – especially once he sees contract offers from other suitors.

Toronto’s interest in DeRozan might fluctuate, too. He’s a nice player, but the Raptors haven’t won a playoff series with him despite winning the division the last two years. Depending how this season goes, Masai Ujiri might want to rework the roster significantly next summer, and letting DeRozan walk could create major cap space.

I believe DeRozan wants to return to the Raptors, and I believe they want to keep him. But so much can change between now and when both sides must make that call.