Memphis has become something of a mythological team.
Beating them suddenly sounds like a task of Herculean proportions, where one must battle a seven-headed hydra and Zach Randolph. Nobody — not even the legendary Tim Duncan — could slay the beast.
But the Oklahoma City Thunder are supposed to have the tools. They are supposed to be the better team. And two things are going to have happen if they are going to even this series — and they had better even this series, because if they head to Memphis down 2-0 they might as well try to slay a hydra.
One is Kendrick Perkins simply must play better. He was brought in to be the defensive enforcer but he let Randolph get the position he wanted and the result was baskets no matter what he did. As Randolph likes to get the ball 15-to-18 feet from the basket denying him position and the ball is hard, but he must be pushed out and his preferred angles cut off. Both Perkins and Serge Ibaka need not let the Grizzlies bigs get comfortable. Send late doubles from guards looking for steals. Make Randolph and Gasol pass. Make the Memphis perimeter players take on more of the offense.
Randolph is not going to be stopped totally — he’s always been able to score, from his days in Portland on. What is different in Memphis is he is disciplined. He’s not just taking bad shot after bad shot now. Maybe the Thunder can lure him into some bad ones, but for the most part they need to make someone else bat them.
The other key for the Thunder is Russell Westbrook must be better. The Grizzlies were the best team in the NBA at forcing turnovers this season, but Westbrook had seven. And hit just 9-of-23 shots. He had patches like that during the season but often they were masked by wins against lesser opponents. He must be more efficient, he must be smarter with the ball. He is not Derrick Rose — he has help, he has Kevin Durant. Look to take what the defense gives you, do not force what you want.
What does Memphis need to do? Keep doing what they are doing. They have been smart about going to their strengths and exploiting it this season. Find what works and keep doing it. Defend hard. Just keep doing all that.
Look for Oklahoma City to try and establish themselves as the more physical team. Maybe that will throw the Grizzlies off their game. Because the Thunder need to find something fast.
“Congratulations, Koby. Here’s your new corner office with a view, meet your new executive assistant, and finally here are the keys to the Cavaliers franchise… oh, and by the way, Kyrie Irving wants to be traded. And LeBron James is a free agent next year. Good luck with all that, we’ll leave you to it.”
Since Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert inexplicably let go of David Griffin as the team’s general manager, assistant GM Kobe Altman has stepped into the lead role for the franchise. Now Gilbert is going to remove the interim tag from Altman’s title, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN was first.
Now that he has the job, all he has to do is find a new home for Irving, who has demanded a trade… or he doesn’t have to. Irving may be traded this summer, but he has two years left on his deal so Altman could just bring him back with LeBron and Kevin Love and make another run at it. Or he could sit back and listen to trade offers from a lot of teams, and if he sees one he likes pounce — Irving (unlike Carmelo Anthony) doesn’t have a no-trade clause, so he can go anywhere. Altman has leverage.
Altman respected around the league, but he took over a team up against the cap and tax, a team that needed to find a way to get more athletic to compete with the Warriors. Instead, the Cavs re-signed Kyle Korver (age 35), signed Jose Calderon (age 36), and re-signed Richard Jefferson (age 37). The Cavs have essentially treaded water this offseason, while Warriors, Celtics, and Rockets all got better. That’s not all on Altman, he was thrown into the job and with the team well into the tax his options were limited. He was handed a near impossible task.
Now Altman gets to own that task. Enjoy.
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?
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 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.