NBA Playoffs, Cavs v. Celtics Game 6: Shaq identifies the elephant in the room, but that doesn't make it disappear

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rondo cavs layup.pngLeBron James blew it big time on Tuesday, and tonight will be his chance to redeem himself. That wasn’t the only storyline from Game 5 though, as the Cavs struggled in just about every way possible to keep pace with an awfully impressive Celtics team. The problem with James’ particularly woeful performance was that in the scramble to figure out what went wrong with LeBron, some of the other poor aspects of the Cavaliers’ play went unscrutinized.

Could LeBron have played better in such a significant game? Of course. But as J.E. Skeets of the Basketball Jones wisely put it, James could have played a great game and still lost to Boston. The Celtics were just too effective against a revered Cavaliers defense. That includes LeBron, who looked as passive and disinterested on the defensive end as he did on the offensive end, but it extends to each and every Cav that hit the floor in Game 5.

Shaquille O’Neal, to his credit, seems to understand that although LeBron’s performance certainly didn’t help Cleveland’s cause on Tuesday, the Cavs’ bigger problems are on the defensive end. From Ken Berger of CBS Sports:

Though much of the focus has been on LeBron’s 3-for-14 shooting night
— his third sub-par offensive performance in the series — Shaq
remained focused on the aspect of the game that has put the Cavs in the
hole they’re in.

“Our problem is not offense,” Shaq said. “Our
problem is, you can’t let guys get historical triple-doubles and you
can’t let five guys get into double figures. So our problem is not
offense…”

I wouldn’t say Shaq is completely right. O’Neal may have played pretty well offensively in Game 5 (21 points on 11 shots), but the team as a whole performed well below the norm. Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison combined for 18 points on 7-of-18 shooting with five turnovers, which isn’t quite what the Cavs need on one of LeBron’s off-nights, even if no one but James is to blame for his own performance. As a result, the Cavs scored at a rate of 95.7 points per 100 possessions in Game 5, a far cry from their 108.8 mark in the regular season.

The more pressing issues, as Shaq notes, are on the defensive end. The previously strong Cavs defense has broken down against not only match-up problems like Rajon Rondo, but even the aging and limited Kevin Garnett. KG isn’t supposed to be the scorer that he was five years ago, but with Antawn Jamison failing to provide any defensive pressure on Garnett, he’s averaging 18.2 points per game on 50.6% shooting in this series.

Limiting Garnett could be as simple as matching him up with Anderson Varejao rather than Jamison, which would be an offensive concession but a defensive boon. However, Mike Brown and his staff will have to be pretty creative in their
defensive adjustments for Game 6. The Cavs’ guards — be it Anthony Parker, Delonte West, or the defense-less Mo Williams — have all failed to hamper Rondo’s ability to get into the lane. The impact of that isn’t just Rondo’s 20.6 points per game in this series, but also his 11.8 assists, as Rajon’s penetration is opening up all kinds of opportunities for his teammates.

It’s one thing to acknowledge the problem, and another to solve it. Garnett’s offense may not be that difficult to counter, but the Cavaliers are going to have a rough Game 6 if they can’t at least make Rondo’s job difficult. LeBron will have to show up for Cleveland to stay alive, but so will the Cavs’ defense.   

Report: Derrick Rose meeting with Lakers

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Derrick Rose is suddenly in demand – once the market was set at a minimum salary or so.

Not only are the Cavaliers pursuing the former MVP/overhyped role player, so are the Lakers.

ESPN:

Rose is also meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, sources told ESPN’s Chris Haynes and Ramona Shelburne. The Lakers are trying to entice Rose to sign with them, suggesting they can offer more playing time and money in a better environment after Rose’s tumultuous season in New York, sources said.

Rose’s tumultuous season was due in part to Rose. No matter where he signs, he can’t escape himself. And Los Angeles is even further from his native Chicago.

But the Lakers can offer more money. They still have the $4,328,000 room exception. Rose would earn just $2,116,955 on a minimum salary from Cleveland, and the Cavs can bump that offer to only about $2.5 million. (That’d come with exponential additional costs, so they probably wouldn’t do that, anyway.)

The Lakers can also offer a larger role. Lonzo Ball can’t play every minute at point guard, and Rose would fill in the rest. They’ll likely add a point guard, Rose or not. The Cavaliers might be set with Kyrie Irving, Jose Calderon and Kay Felder if they don’t get Rose.

I’m not sure how Rose would work as a veteran mentor, especially on a one-year contract as he eyes a bigger payday next summer. But – say whatever else you want about him, and there’s plenty to say – Rose has remained impressively focused on basketball amid untold chaos. Ball – with outsized attention given LaVar and his media market – can probably relate.

Rockets re-signing Bobby Brown, Troy Williams

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James Harden spearheaded the Rockets’ recruitment of Chris Paul, but the MVP runner-up didn’t work alone.

Paul’s former New Orleans teammates Trevor Ariza and Bobby Brown added appeal.

So, unsurprisingly, with Paul in a contract year, Houston is re-signing Brown. The Rockets are also re-signing Troy Williams.

Alykhan Bijani‏ of ESPN Houston:

Williams’ agency:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Brown is an undersized gunner who’s not nearly efficient enough to compensate for his defensive deficiencies, and he turns 33 before the season. But if he helps convince Paul to re-sign, it would be well worth keeping Brown on the roster all year.

The 22-year-old Williams, who went undrafted last year, is the far more intriguing player. A 6-foot-7 forward, he has the athleticism to stick in the NBA. His 3-point shot needs major development – though not quite as much if he becomes more adept at being a small-ball four, an easier task in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo system.

Report: Celtics signing Shane Larkin to guaranteed contract, still plan to sign Guerschon Yabusele

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The Celtics lost their third-string point guard (Demetrius Jackson) and plenty of big men (Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Tyler Zeller and Jordan Mickey)  in their quest for Gordon Hayward.

That paid off in a big way, but it’s time for Boston to restock its depth.

Enter Shane Larkin and, as previously expected, Guerschon Yabusele and Daniel Theis.

Jay King of MassLive:

The Boston Celtics have agreed to sign Shane Larkin for point guard depth, league sources confirmed to MassLive.com.

The one-year contract, which pulled Larkin away from bigger money in Europe, will be fully guaranteed for the coming season, a source indicated.

Despite adding another guaranteed contract in Larkin, the Celtics still plan to sign 2016 draft pick Guerschon Yabusele

Theis:

Theis signed a two-year deal with the first-year salary fully guaranteed, according to Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. Yabusele will be on a rookie-scale contract for a No. 16 pick.

They, with Larkin, give Boston 16 players on standard contracts – one more than the regular-season limit. All those deals apparently include guaranteed 2016-17 salaries, but the Celtics can always eat (or trade) a contract. It costs only money. This just increases the likelihood Boston fields the best possible roster after the preseason.

Larkin showed promise early in his career, opted out of a $1.5 million Nets contract then fell out of the NBA. He adds another viable point guard behind Isaiah Thomas, joining Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. Smart and Rozier can spend time off the ball, but the 5-foot-11 Larkin probably can’t. Fortunately for Larkin’s chances of making the regular-season roster, the Celtics likely need Smart and Rozier to spend time at shooting guard after trading Avery Bradley.

Report: Cavaliers offering Derrick Rose minimum contract

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The Cavaliers are reportedly in serious discussion to sign Derrick Rose.

They still have about $2.5 million of the taxpayer mid-level exception left, but don’t expect Rose to get it.

Brian Windhorst and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Cavs are believed to be offering Rose a minimum contract

A minimum salary for Rose is $2,116,955. More importantly for the Cavs, they’d have to pay him – and be taxed at – just $1,471,382. (The NBA covers the difference on one-year minimum deals for veterans.) Regardless of whether they sign Rose, they still have to fill out their roster with at least minimum players.

If they pay him more than the minimum, they’d be on the hook for his full salary and be taxed on it.

So, Rose could push for a little more. But Cleveland has much more incentive to set a hard line.