NBA Season Preview: The Cleveland Cavaliers

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bscott.jpgLast season: 61-21, best record in the NBA, but an early exit in the second round of the playoffs after they ran into a deeper and more defensive-minded Boston team. Unless you’re from Cleveland, in which case LeBron quit. Obviously.

Head Coach: Byron Scott takes over the helm of a rebuilding project, looking to bring an up-tempo offense that really would have been handy with last year’s roster.

Key Departures: LeBron James and… does the rest of it matter? Does anyone care Shaq left? Big Z will be missed on an emotional level, but not on the court.

Key Additions: Ramon Sessions, a $14.5 million trade exception. Not much to write home about.

Best case scenario: Prove that this team was more than just LeBron by being respectable. (There are Clevelanders who have dreams of the playoffs, ignoring the realities of the new East or the needs of this team to rebuild.)

For that to happen: Scott’s system is going to have to get the Cavs role players to be just as efficient while having to take on more of the offense (and getting a lot more attention from defenses). The players on the Cavaliers roster may struggle to create their own shots. That makes the running offense a good option to get some easy buckets

The three-headed guard situation of Mo Williams, Sessions and Daniel Gibson will have to come together. Williams does not fear shooting but now he will be one of the few guys on this team capable of creating his own offense whenever he wants. He is going to have to both shoot and set up guys efficiently. Sessions is going to need to be the pure point guard, and when Gibson is in he is going to have to keep knocking down more than 40 percent of his threes.

JJ Hickson will start at the four and needs to emerge — he shot 80.9 percent in transition last season, so you know he has to like the new system. Hickson is just a better shooter on the move and when he can crash the offensive glass, and that’s what should happen now. Last season during he playoffs LeBron and every sane person at home was wondering why he was not getting more run — now he needs to prove he deserves it.

Antawn Jamison will be 34 by the end of the season but he will likely be the team’s leading scorer, and over the seasons his scoring efficiency has not dropped. However, he shot a little less last year and now he has to step back into the primary role, which will be hard.

The key to this team running — and playing good enough defense to run — may be Anderson Varejao being the energy and spark plug guy night after night. He has to defend the rim. He played that role before, but it is more crucial now.

More likely the Cavaliers will: Struggle as these guys find it hard to be as efficient in their new roles.

If you want to run, that starts on defense. You need the stops and turnovers to really make it work. Scott knows this as coach, but does he have the players to execute it? Last season the Cavaliers were seventh in the leuage in defense, and they had a premier perimeter defender in LeBron and bigger guys guarding the rim.

Jamison will have good nights ad some flubs. Same with Williams. This is a Cavaliers team that could struggle now on the boards — we shall see — but they will need to work hard there on both

Prediction: 32 wins. The Cavaliers will not be last year’s Nets.

But now is not the time to prove that you actually had a good team around LeBron, now is time to rip this thing to the core and start a rebuilding process. There are good young pieces like Hickson to start with. There is a massive trade exemption which likely will not land the Cavaliers a star but more likely will e broken up to take on some ugly mid-sized contracts that will expire. For that the Cavs will want draft picks and young players. Start from the ground up again. Rebuild. This year the wins don’t matter.

Stephen Curry, Warriors lead league merchandise sales. Again.

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A few years ago, the Warriors were everybody’s darlings — they were the Brazilian soccer team of the NBA, everybody’s second-favorite squad because they play the beautiful game and did it with flair. However, sustained success in today’s world means people are going to turn on them — how dare they go and add a great player — and it’s become trendier to root against the Warriors and for the next hot thing. The Warriors didn’t change. That’s just the cycle of fame.

However, the trend has not slowed Warriors merchandise sales — they are still the top-selling team in the league, the NBA announced Tuesday. Stephen Curry is on top of the individual jersey sales. Both led the list last season, and Curry has been on top for a few years now.

Those next hot things — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kristaps Porzingis, and Joel Embiid — are fast climbing the list. Those three rank behind the expected big three of Curry, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant.

The NBA releases the jersey rankings based on NBAStore.com sales from last October through the end of 2017 (that’s not a perfect measure, but it’s representative). Here are the top 15 player jersey sales from NBA.com:

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
3. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
5. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
6. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
7. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
8. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
9. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
10. James Harden, Houston Rockets
11. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers
12. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
13. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
14. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
15. Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves

Antetokounmpo has steadily climbed the list the past couple seasons, but this is the first time Porzingis or Embiid appeared in the top 15. Same with Lonzo Ball at 11 (he’s sold more gear than Kyrie Irving or Klay Thompson, which feels wrong).

As for team merchandise sales from NBA.com:

1. Golden State Warriors
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
3. Philadelphia 76ers
4. Los Angeles Lakers
5. New York Knicks
6. Milwaukee Bucks
7. Boston Celtics
8. San Antonio Spurs
9. Chicago Bulls
10. Oklahoma City Thunder

Jazz make it official: Thabo Sefolosha to have knee surgery, done for season

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This report had been out there for a few days, but on Tuesday the Utah Jazz made it official:

Swingman Thabo Sefolosha is going to have knee surgery. From the official release:

After further evaluation, Sefolosha (6-7, 220, Switzerland) has elected to undergo right knee surgery to repair an avulsion of the medial collateral ligament (MCL) which he suffered against Charlotte on Jan. 12. 

While the team would not put a timeline on this, he is done for this season.

Which is a blow to a Utah team that has battled injuries all season, most notably a couple of knee injuries to center Rudy Gobert. Sefolosha has been solid for the Jazz this season, averaging 8.2 points per game primarily off the bench, shooting 38 percent from three and playing solid defense in 21 minutes a night.

Joe Johnson will get more run, but this does not help the slim hopes of the Jazz to climb back into the playoff race.

Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan fined $15,000 for criticizing referees

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The Raptors lost to the Warriors on Saturday, and DeMar DeRozan – despite his own brilliant performance – was irked.

The Toronto guard seemed particularly upset about a review of an out-of-bounds call in the final seconds. After initially giving the ball to the Raptors, officials said it touched DeRozan while he was out of bounds and granted Golden State possession:

The NBA’s replay guidelines say (emphasis mine): “Referees can only initiate a review on a called out-of-bounds play (for example, not one where an out-of-bounds might have occurred) and only those involving doubt as to which player caused the ball to go out (not those, for example, where a player stepped on the line).”

DeRozan

I mean, it’s frustrating being out there feeling like you playing 5-on-8. It’s just what it feel like, period. Some of them calls was terrible, period.

I thought you couldn’t even do that. I’m not even a referee, and I know that rule. So, somebody correct me if I’m wrong.

The NBA corrected him in the two-minute report, saying “After communicating with the Replay Center, the ruling on the floor of Raptors possession is overturned and the Warriors are awarded possession because the ball touches DeRozan’s (TOR) leg while his body is out of bounds before Curry (GSW) knocks the ball out. Referees were able to review two aspects of this out-of-bounds play since they were part of the same sequence.”

Then, the league fined him.

NBA release:

Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan has been fined $15,000 for public criticism of the officiating, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The comments were made following the Raptors’ 127-125 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, Jan. 13

Saying “5-on-8” seems to be a secret code word for getting fined. I’m not sure whether the rest of DeRozan’s comments would have gotten him fined, but that phrase almost certainly did him in.

Kyle Lowry on plan to meet Ben Simmons after ejections: ‘Put it this way, I was back there’

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As Kyle Lowry and Ben Simmons were ejected late in the 76ers’ win over the Raptors yesterday, the players appeared to challenge each other to meet in back.

Lowry eagerly left the court and headed through the tunnel. Simmons appeared much more reluctant at that point.

Despite a report of a confrontation in the hallway, Simmons said nothing escalated, as he went to his locker room.

Michael Grange of Sportsnet

TKO.