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Stick a fork in them: The Cleveland Cavaliers

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This is the first in our new ongoing series here at PBT: Stick a fork in them.  As we feel teams are done, toast, dead to the playoffs, we will give them a sendoff and obit. We’re not talking mathematically eliminated, we mean when their playoff chances really give up the ghost. John Krolik starts it with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but your team is coming. Probably sooner than you think.

This should not come as news: The Cleveland Cavaliers are horrible. I mean, really horrible. The team has won one game since November 27th, and that win came in overtime. They have won no games since December 18th. They have lost 20 straight games, are four losses away from tying their own record for consecutive losses, and will have to beat the Heat in Miami today to avoid going winless in January. They are 0-26 in games decided by 10 points or more. No other team has more than 18 double-digit losses, and no other team has failed to win less than two games by a double-digit margin. Not only are they the worst team in the NBA; they are one of the worst teams in basketball history.

Here are a few things you should know about the Cavaliers:

1. They were the worst team in basketball when they were healthy. It’s easy to point to injuries as the root cause of the Cavaliers’ futility, and the loss of starting center Anderson Varejao, as well as various other injuries, have certainly made the team even worse. However, the team lost 16 of the last 17 games that Varejao played in. That’s not a very small sample size, and that is a very bad record. The team’s 7-9 stretch to open the season is often pointed to as evidence that the team was competing when they were healthy and hadn’t been embarrassed at home by the Heat, but those wins came against the Nets, the Wizards, the Bucks, and the Grizzlies.

The team certainly felt the tangible loss of Anderson Varejao and were never quite the same again mentally after getting beaten down at home by the Heat, but the team’s early “success” was more the product of a weak schedule and everybody playing with early-season uncertainty than anything the Cavaliers were doing particularly well.

2. The players who were supposed to thrive in LeBron’s absence have been huge disappointments. Ramon Sessions was supposed to give the team some of the playmaking it lost and help get the team running, but he has spent almost all of his time on the floor making reckless drives to the rim and almost none of it being a facilitator. J.J. Hickson was supposed to have a breakout year, but lost confidence in his perimeter game, has far too many mistakes with the ball in his hands, and is still an atrocious defensive player.

Antawn Jamison is playing the worst defense I have ever seen an NBA forward play, and his offense consists of running to a spot on the floor and firing up a shot as soon as he touches the ball. Mo Williams has improved as a playmaker, but is completely incapable of creating high-percentage shots and plays horrible defense. Varejao is a great defensive player, but could not create offense from the high post. Because of all that, the team has no way of scoring points with any consistency or stopping opponents from scoring at will. That is a bad combination.

3. The team’s short-term rebuilding plan was fatally flawed. The Cavaliers lost Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Shaquille O’Neal, and Delonte West along with LeBron. On a pure talent level, those players should have been easily replaceable. All three players missed a lot of games in 2009-10, and none of them played at a particularly high level when they did. In fact, a full season of Jamison, the trade for Sessions, Hickson moving into the starting lineup, and Daniel Gibson’s career year probably should have offset the loss of those three role players on paper. However, the three players the Cavaliers lost were often responsible for guarding the rim and the other team’s best scorer.

Instead of trying to replace their defensive value, Byron Scott and new GM Chris Grant traded for Ramon Sessions, promoted J.J. Hickson, and promised a high-octane team that would utilize its athleticism by pushing the break and running the Princeton offense. However, it quickly became apparent that the Cavaliers lacked the skill to out-score teams, and their off-season maneuvers left them with no player outside of Varejao capable of making a significant defensive impact. The Cavaliers came into the season with an offensive gameplan that their personnel had little chance of executing with success and no defensive gameplan to speak of. The team is now 8-39.

4. Yes, the team was built around LeBron, and many of the players they signed or traded for in his seven years with the team are significantly worse (Williams, Moon), or completely useless (Moon, Jamario) without him feeding them easy shots and covering for their defensive mistakes. However, the bigger issue is that the Cavaliers failed to accumulate any significant talent with the draft picks they had after LeBron. They used their one post-LeBron lottery pick on Luke Jackson, effectively gave away their other post-LeBron lottery pick for a Jiri Welsch rental, and used their biggest chunk of cap space on Larry Hughes. (For a full breakdown of what the Cavs did with their post-LeBron draft picks, click here. Full disclosure: I also wrote that.)

5. Yes, LeBron was that good. Statistically speaking, he added an estimated 30 wins to the Cavaliers last year. I don’t dispute that number: he had one of the best statistical regular seasons ever. He was also the backbone of a top-10 defense, and made players like Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao far, far better offensively than they would have been without him. Losing a player like that, having a fatally flawed rebuilding plan, and suffering injuries to the only decent players remaining on the roster is how a 61-win team becomes one of the worst teams in NBA history over the course of an offseason.

Tyronn Lue says he plans to keep minutes down for LeBron, Love, Irving

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 10:  Head coach Tyronn Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers talks to LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 10, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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There have been studies that have shown this, or you can just take the Gregg Popovich eye test, but we know this:

Rested players perform better and are less likely to be injured.

Which is why the trend toward resting players in the NBA is not going away. Enter Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, via Cleveland play-by-play man Fred McLeod.

LeBron James may not like it, but this is the right move by Lue, both in terms of trying to repeat and for future years. The Cavaliers are going to need a healthy LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love if they are going to pass the test the Warriors present again.

The league schedulers have done an impressive job of reducing the four-games-in-five-nights on the road and back-to-backs. However, as long as the NBA plays 82 games, fatigue and rest will be issues — and we know the owners and players are not giving up the revenue to go to a more reasonable 60-game schedule. Which means what you get now is the new reality.

How Big Papi helped save Al Horford’s wedding day

BOSTON, MA - JULY 08:  Al Horford of the Boston Celtics, holding his son Ean, hugs David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox after throwing out the first pitch before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park on July 8, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Al Horford is big in his native Dominican Republic.

But he’s no David Ortiz.

The Red Sox throwback slugger is THE MAN in the Dominican — and when Horford needed to get something big done at the last minute on his wedding day, he reached out to Ortiz. Who was the fixer.

As told to Andrew Sharp at Sports Illustrated, Horford was getting married on Christmas Eve in the Dominican, and he needed assistance.

“We’re down there, and I realize I’m supposed to get a limo for [my wife], to pick her up and take her to where we’re getting married,” Horford says. “And then, obviously being in the Dominican Republic, things never go how they’re supposed to. So three hours before the wedding, we find out that there’s no limo….

Eventually he did what one does in the case of Dominican emergencies. He called David Ortiz: “I’m like, ‘Hey man, this is what’s going on. We’re getting married in a couple hours. I need a car. What am I going to do?’ ”

“Don’t worry,” Ortiz said. “I got you.”

Ortiz wasn’t even on the island at this point, but it didn’t matter. He told Horford to send a friend over to Ortiz’s house to pick up his Rolls-Royce Phantom. “I’ll have it there in 30 minutes,” Ortiz said. “I just gotta get it washed.”

Horford was amazed. “He didn’t even know my guy down there,” he laughs. “I sent a friend of mine. And he picks up the Phantom, brings it over to my wife. . . . And you know, that’s a very expensive car. But [Ortiz] tells me to keep it until I leave. So we’re there for a couple more days, and we have the car the whole time. It’s just one of those things, it shows he has a really big heart.”

Ortiz is going to be missed in Boston.

Horford is going to fit in brilliantly — on and off the court.

Heat’s Josh McRoberts says he broke foot in Game 6 vs. Raptors, remains out

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: A portrait of Josh McRoberts #4 of the Miami Heat on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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To call Josh McRoberts‘ time in Miami injury plagued might be the understatement of the decade.

Now with Chris Bosh out, the Heat could really use McRoberts at the four, but “shockingly” he is not healthy. Wednesday he finally admitted the reason he has been limited in training camp with foot issues.

McRoberts run of bad luck continues. And foot injuries — when your job involves running up and down a hardwood floor — are something that has to be taken seriously and allowed to fully heal, lest they become chronic. I’m not sure the Heat can bet on a lot out of McRoberts this season.

With no Bosh and McRoberts, expect Derrick Williams, Udonis Haslem, and maybe Luke Babbitt will get some run there. Coach Erik Spoelstra also likely will have some small lineups where Justise Winslow will play the four.

51Q: Will Larry Bird’s renovation of the Pacers pay off?

Larry Bird, Paul George
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.

There are two types of basketball analysts: Those who believe the Pacers improved by swapping George Hill for Jeff Teague and those who believe Indiana got worse in the trade.

Teague uses his superior quickness in the pick-and-roll to score and assist more. Hill defends better, commits fewer turnovers and shoots more efficiently.

I prefer Hill. Larry Bird opted for Teague.

I can’t wait to see who’s right.

Though I’m inclined to value Hill’s less-flashy contributions – and like his lead-guard skills if he were called upon for that role – I’m also not arrogant enough to believe I certainly know better than Bird. An all-time great who has excelled as a player, coach and executive deserves some benefit of the doubt.

Bird is leveraging it now.

Seemingly unsatisfied with the team that reached consecutive conference finals in 2013 and 2014, Bird has now fully torn down the roster to build a more dynamic offense around Paul George. The Pacers president has long talked about the change, and we’ll learn this season whether his vision will bear fruit.

In addition to trading Hill for Teague, Bird let Lance Stephenson leave in free agency, deemphasized and traded Roy Hibbert, offended David West into leaving and fired Frank Vogel. In came Monta Ellis, Rodney Stuckey, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Teague and Nate McMillian.

And Bird hasn’t stopped after jettisoning everyone who regularly started with George in those conference-finals runs. Indiana will miss Ian Mahinmi‘s defense – maybe more than Al Jefferson works as a change-of-pace in the low post. But Bird is fully embracing the course of trading defense for offense.

Debate how he addressed it, but the team’s identity was clear. In the last four years, the Pacers stunk offensively and thrived defensively. Their rank in points per possession:

  • Offense: 20th, 23rd, 23rd, 25th
  • Defense: 1st, 1st, 7th, 3rd

The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I see an excellent defense propping up an offense that could have been better. Bird saw a struggling offense and couldn’t look past it.

Indiana now has a deep squad of players who can break down opponents off the dribble. They will have matchup advantages – if they pass well enough to find the player in favorable position. The ball will move plenty between the hardwood and the dribbler’s hands. Between players? That’s a major question mark.

It’s one of numerous hitches in Bird’s plan.

He tried to fast-track the offense last year by moving George from small forward to power forward. Despite Bird’s demands, George resisted. The plan was largely scrapped early in the season.

McMillian was also a curious choice given Bird’s stated goals. McMillian’s Trail Blazers and SuperSonics teams usually played slow. Still, perhaps the coach can adapt his scheme to fit his players (and appease his boss). Bird chose McMillian for a reason, after all.

Bird chose it all.

This is the team he long desired – for better or worse.