Game of the Night: Bulls get reminder Kevin Durant and friends are good

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Damn. This was so much more fun to watch than the slog that was Miami and Boston the night before. Wednesday night in Oklahoma City wasn’t perfect — it looked like an opener with some poor decisions because players are not used to the speed of the game — but it was exciting and athletic.

And by the way, the Thunder are really good. That’s why they won 106-95.

This game was fast — 11 more possessions per team than last night’s big dirge in Boston — and that means we had athletes in the open court. That is fun. It also was one of the problems Chicago faced on the night — they needed to run and get some easy transition offense with Boozer out, but they don’t really have the horses to run with the Thunder.

You can bet Tom Thibodeau will bring up the words “transition defense” in the next film session. And likely not in a nurturing and caring way. But it’s not that simple — did you see the late game break by the Thunder where three quick touch passes led to a Westbrook dunk-and-one? Few teams can do that. Fewer still can defend it.

That Westbrook flush was part of the last five minutes of a game where the Thunder just found another gear the Bulls did not have and went on a 9-0 run to pull away.

That last sentence — about the other gear in the closing minutes — is the kind of thing people have said about the Lakers for years. And the Celtics. And the Spurs. And all the great teams dating back to Magic and Bird, and probably before them. That closing kick, that’s what great teams have. That the Thunder broke it out opening night is a good sign of things to come. A very good sign.

The other thing the Thunder did right was attack the basket. Oklahoma City shot 25 more free throws on the night. (Somewhere in Chicago a fan is complaining about the call disparity, but this wasn’t the refs it was about who attacked and who tried to draw contact, and who shied away from it for the most part.) Foul shots were key to how Durant had 30 points and Westbrook added 28 (combined they shot 32 free throws on the night).

Chicago, looked good, but without Carlos Boozer in the lineup they have nobody who can create offense outside Derrick Rose. So the Bulls would run some flex action or whatever the offensive set called for was, then eventually Rose would call out a high pick and then off of it he’d attack. He had to create and score because nobody else on the team did it consistently.

Rose started 6-of-8 from the floor, but then hit 6 of his next 23. The Thunder are and active and long defensive team, they do that to a lot of people. You sense Rose will be able to do more once he has Boozer in the lineup — Noah and Deng are nice players, but they are not the roll men that Boozer is. Taj Gibson is quality but his midrange game is not.

Chicago is going to get better. They are going to get used to Thibodeau’s defense, they will get used to the pace. They will get Boozer back. If they can hold it until then they will be good.

The Thunder are already there. And they have the closing kick to do it.

Report: LeBron James being hands off, letting Cavaliers front office handle Irving trade

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Okay, Koby Altman — the Cavs interim general manager about to have the first part of that title removed — and Dan Gilbert, the ball is in your court.

Kyrie Irving has told the Cleveland Cavaliers he wants to be traded, and he’s given them a list of preferred landing spots. Normally in this kind of situation, the team’s biggest star would not only be informed but consulted and asked his opinion, however this time around LeBron James is going to be hands off, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

LeBron James intends to let the Cleveland Cavaliers front office and owner Dan Gilbert take the lead in dealing with Kyrie Irving’s trade demands, sources told ESPN.

As the Cavs consider their options, sources said James has expressed to the team that he is focused on his offseason workout regimen and is planning to report to training camp with the intention of leading his teammates to a fourth consecutive Finals — no matter who those teammates are.

Despite the perception — and some reality, the team did try to make him happy — LeBron has not wanted to play GM of the Cavaliers in recent years. He has wanted to be more hands off, but has let his feelings be known at times. Part of that was he grew to trust David Griffin to make decisions. With Griffin out of the way, a lot of things feel different in Cleveland.

Consider this part of the crumbling of the foundation in Cleveland. LeBron is acting like an employee, one who shows up to do his job and that’s it — which is what he is, but stars can take on a larger role in the franchise. LeBron has, and does still to a degree, but he has scaled it back after his experiences over the years. Things feel like they are closing in on the Cavaliers, the only question is how fast?

Report: Cavaliers unhappy Kyrie Irving news leaked because it hurts trade value

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The news Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland came as a bolt of lightning to a finally slowed NBA offseason. Speculation about the future of LeBron James had been rampant, but discussions of Kyrie Irving’s future were usually tied to LeBron (if he left the Cavs, Irving would go, too).

Cleveland wanted to keep it under wraps, because it’s easier to do business that way. Now the word is out — including that he prefers to be traded to San Antonio, Minnesota, Miami, or New York — and the Cavaliers are not happy, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

It means that there will be a lot more leaks — teams that want to look like they are trying to do something but have no real interest/assets will make a call then leak it so it looks like they are trying. It will mean a lot of distracting headlines.

However, unlike Carmelo Anthony with the Knicks, the Cavaliers have leverage here. Irving doesn’t have a no-trade clause so the Cavaliers can take the best offer. Irving is an All-Star level point guard, one of the five to eight best in the NBA (depending on how much you knock him for his defensive lapses, and who you classify as a point guard). He also has two seasons left on his contract, so teams that trade for him have a chance to win him over to stay.

That said, leaked info or not, they are not getting equal value back. It doesn’t work that way with stars generally. That said, everyone knowing he wants out doesn’t help the Cavaliers cause here.

Kyrie Irving’s reported preferred trade destinations: Knicks, Heat, Spurs, Timberwolves

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Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers.

He even apparently provided a list of teams he prefers to join.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

That’s quite an eclectic mix.

The Knicks play in a major market near Irving’s native New Jersey, but they’re lousy. The Heat have a merely good team, excellent basketball culture, beautiful weather and a state with no income tax. The Spurs also offer a great basketball culture and no state income tax – plus Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard. The Timberwolves are an up-and-comer with multiple players – Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler (a friend) – on Irving’s timeline (though one would likely have to be traded for him) and a coach in Tom Thibodeau who worked with Irving through USA Basketball.

But Irving doesn’t possess a no-trade clause. Cleveland can trade him anywhere – or not at all.

Teams that Irving greenlights might offer more than teams he doesn’t, believing he’d be more likely to re-sign when his contract expires. But his free agency is still two years away. It doesn’t seem that will play a huge factor.

For Irving to work his way to a team he prefers, it will take a little luck in which team offers the Cavs the best package – or impressive finagling by his agent.

Report: Spurs re-signing Pau Gasol to three-year contract

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Even after Pau Gasol opted out, there it nearly certain he’d stay with the Spurs.

Now, a deal is done.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m a little surprised San Antonio guaranteed Gasol’s salary next season. By rule, it must be within 5% of what he’ll earn this year.

The Spurs could have major flexibility to chase free agents next summer, making keeping the books clean a priority. Their only constraints with Gasol this year are paying him up to 120% of his prior salary (which comes out to $18.6 million), the hard cap ($125,266,000) and whatever expense ownership would endure. So, if Gasol were willing to play ball, San Antonio could have paid him a sizable salary this year and far less – the room exception or even the minimum – next year.

Instead, Gasol’s compensation will be more balanced between the seasons. We’ll see how much he’ll earn.

Gasol remains an effective scorer, in part because he increased his range beyond the 3-point arc. He rebounds well in his area, and his length and basketball intelligence make him a passable defender given his other skills. His immobility can be a major defensive liability in certain matchups, though.

He’s also 37, an age where players can drop off quickly – another reason a one-year deal would’ve been preferable. At least the partial guarantee in the third year will help San Antonio.