Boston Celtics v Orlando Magic, Game 2

Otis Smith will not consider trading Dwight Howard, no matter what

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Otis Smith talked to the Orlando Sentinel Friday night and gave what could commonly be considered the GM’s equivalent of “famous last words.” Dwight Howard’s  a free agent in 2012. He’s made it pretty clear he’s going to enter free agency, while playing the oh-so-tactful play of “I love Orlando, I just want to win a championship” which is code for “I’m simultaneously playing to the fans while giving myself an easy out.” The reason we know this is he’s about the fiftieth guy to take that approach towards their exit out of town. But Smith’s not worried, and won’t be taking calls about a trade for the best center in the league. And he has gotten calls. But why won’t he even listen to offers (assuming he’s being honest)?  From the Sentinel:

Smith wouldn’t divulge the teams who have made a run at Howard — or the fellow GMs who tried to hoodwink him during Dwight’s raw, formative years, he said.

Smith expects clubs to come calling before the trade deadline, thinking the Magic would rather receive compensation instead of letting Howard walk as a free agent.

Smith made it clear: He’s willing to take the risk.

“Sure,” he said.

There’s a reason he feels that way.

He reiterates that teams dealing superstars never get fair value, which is true, but there’s something more.

Smith believes — and this is obviously encouraging news for Magic fans — that Howard will stay in Orlando when all is said and done, texted and tweeted.

“That’s my sense,” he said.

via Orlando Magic: Orlando Magic expect to field trade offers for Dwight Howard – OrlandoSentinel.com.

I’m not trying to be a jerk here. Orlando fans have already started reacting to talk of Howard’s departure from the media as if we take some exquisite glee in the idea of Howard leaving the fans hanging just as Shaq did over a decade earlier. It’s not that at all. It’s that those Orlando fans need to ask fans in Cleveland, in Toronto, in Utah, in Denver.  This is what is happening. And for someone as attention starved as Howard, all the attention being showered on these stars by big name clubs in big name cities is attractive.

As Blogger-in-Chief Kurt Helin pointed out to me, what else is Smith supposed to do here? “Oh, yeah, we’ll totally explore trading him. He’s got us in a tough position and we have no leverage because of his free agency. So please, send over a great offer now that I’ve said that?”

Or, “Well, he’s probably gone. I know that I’ve made about fifteen trades trying to build around him, and spent a huge amount of money for a small-market franchise to try and put a contender around him, and helped him get to the Finals, but in reality, look at the guy’s behavior. Does that look like a guy who’s going to stick around in Orlando?”

Of course not. Smith can’t do either of those things. He has to stick to the script. Which puts confidence and strength in the organization and its fans. But if Smith’s actually not taking calls, he’s not doing his job. He needs to prepare for the future. Denver and Utah have shown that your entire contention doesn’t have to be destroyed by trading your best player. Utah fell off the map at the end of this season, but Utah also has set themselves up well for the future. They have potential and a stronger sense of depth. Denver on the other hand is wrecking ball right now. Those who did not pursue such a trade? Cleveland and Toronto are just sad.

Howard represents the Magic’s best chance at a title, at multiple titles, and Smith knows that. But at some point next season, he’s going to have to get as clear an answer from Howard as he can about his intentions, judge the positioning of teams like Boston, Los Angeles, and New York, and decide whether he’s going to have the pull to retain his star. Howard says he just wants to win a title. But the commercials, the media appearances, his entire approach has been to increase his exposure, including a movie in China. The biggest problem is those bigger markets have proven they have a leg up in the ability to win championships and to get him greater exposure. That’s the reality of the league, and something David Stern needs to take a good long look at while his owners continue to hardball negotiations and refusing to discuss revenue sharing. But that’s a whole other discussion.

Maybe Howard will surprise us all. Maybe he’ll re-sign this summer. Maybe the Magic will shock everyone and make a Finals run that nets them a championship and convinces Howard to stay with the one who brought him. Maybe he’ll see the pain that would be on the faces of Magic fans if he abandoned them and that will be enough to convince him to stay.

I’m not trying to be a jerk. I’m just looking at history.

 

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.

Drake congratulated LeBron James in hallway after game

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Drake is a Toronto native and a huge Raptors’ fan. He’s officially the team’s “global ambassador,” although nobody knows what that actually means.

Drake is also tight with LeBron James.

As LeBron is running down the hall to get to the locker room and celebrate making a sixth straight trip to the Finals Drake stops him to congratulate him. And Drake is one of the handful of guys LeBron will stop and talk to.

Nothing wrong with this, either. Drake has walked a line the whole series — he’s a Raptors fan, he’s trolled LeBron and Kyrie Irving on social media after Toronto wins, but he’s close with Cleveland’s players and has been seen in the Cavaliers locker room plenty the past few seasons.

Some fan bases (we’re looking at you, Philly) would flip out over this kind of divided loyalty, but not Canadians who will just forgive and move on.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.