Irving stands with NBA Commissioner Stern after being selected by the Cavaliers as the first overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft in Newark

What the Cavs should do if the lockout ends

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It wasn’t the best year for the Cavaliers. After finishing with the best regular-season record in the NBA for the second consecutive season in 09-10, the Cavaliers had the longest losing streak in NBA history and finished with the league’s second-worst record in 2010-11. In between the two seasons, Decisions were made.

The Cavs’ 2010-11 season was an abomination, but there’s now a light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks to mid-season trade that sent Mo Williams to Los Angeles and forced the Cavs to eat the remainder of Baron Davis’ contract, the Cavs got the Clippers’ 1st-round pick, which turned into the #1 overall pick and Duke guard Kyrie Irving. The Cavs took Texas forward Tristan Thompson with the #4 pick, who they hope will become a Ben Wallace clone. Here’s what the Cavs can do to bounce back from last season:

1. Find an offensive identity:

The Cavs were bad at everything last season, but their offense was slightly more pathetic than their defense, so we’ll start there. The Cavaliers found out the hard way that Mo Williams is a lot worse at scoring when LeBron James isn’t setting him up with wide-open threes, and Ramon Sessions spent most of his time dribbling the air out of the basketball and recklessly driving to the rim for much of the season. Antawn Jamison got his usual empty stats by firing up long jumpers or twisting shots in the paint whenever he got the opportunity to, but he was neither an efficient scorer or willing passer. The team didn’t pass the ball well, they had no way of getting to the rim, and they were never able to score effectively in transition.

The team got noticeably better offensively when Baron Davis took over — for all the crap Baron takes, he is a true point guard and offensive leader, and he helped the Cavs end the season on a (relatively) high note. (Also, Baron made his threes at a stunningly high clip after being traded last season.) With Davis staying, #1 overall pick Kyrie Irving playing lead guard as well (I think they can co-exist on the court for stretches — Irving is more of a scorer, and Baron is really a passer at heart), and Anderson Varejao coming back to give them a player who can actually finish a pick-and-roll, the Cavs have a chance to build a real, live offense next season. Those help prevent record-long losing streaks.

2. Get Varejao and Thompson working together

Varejao was the Cavaliers’ best player before he got hurt last season. He doesn’t put up big numbers, but he moves relentlessly without the ball, is one of the best defensive power forwards in the league, and actually did a great job when asked to play out of position and guard centers last season. He was also stunningly competent making jumpers and drives from the high post, which may or not continue next season.

For reasons that are, frankly, beyond my comprehension, the Cavaliers chose Texas forward Tristan Thompson with the #4 pick instead of Lithuanian 7-footer Jonas Valanciunas, who seems very similar to Thompson, except that he is four inches taller, won’t be playing next season, and appears to be better at basketball than Thompson. In any case, the Cavaliers took Thompson and Varejao is one of their few untouchable players, so one hopes that the Cavaliers have some sort of plan in place for how a Thompson/Varejao frontcourt pairing is going to work on both ends of the floor. Both players are power forwards defensively who are capable of playing decent defense at the center position, and both are true centers offensively.

We’ll see if Byron Scott can make this work — if he can, it’ll provide a much-needed boost to a defense that was absolutely pathetic last season. If nothing else, maybe Thompson and Varejao’s blue-collar playstyle can encourage some of their teammates to start taking pride in the way they defend.

3. Be Patient.

It’s not going to happen overnight for the Cavs, even after the two top-5 picks. Cavalier fans are going to have to be patient. More importantly, the management is going to have to be patient. Look at the Sonics/Thunder, who drafted their franchise player, were very bad for a season, drafted another semi-franchise player, were very bad for another season, and then got another top-3 pick to build around. Once the Thunder made a few good trades and signings to stock their roster with quality role players, they instantly became a contender without needing to spend big money or pull off a blockbuster trade.

Likewise, the Bulls patiently built around Derrick Rose by bringing in a defensive wizard, a rotation filled with quality role players, and didn’t make a big-ticket free agency signing until they were sure they were ready to start contending. (And, to be honest, the Boozer signing hasn’t done nearly as much for the Bulls as the team’s defensive schemes or “bench mob” has.)

The Cavs want to get back to respectability, but they shouldn’t mortgage their future in order to chase a possible run at a 7th or 8th seed. They should bide their time, wait for the right draft prospects, no-brainer trades, and low-cost players to come along, and slowly but surely begin their run back to respectability. If the Cavs can stay patient and not try to force anything, they might return to being the Cavaliers and stop being The Team That Lost LeBron sooner than most people think.

Wesley Matthews: ‘I’m a whole different person’ further removed from injury

DENVER, CO - MARCH 06:  Wesley Matthews #23 of the Dallas Mavericks controls the ball against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 6, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Mavericks 116-114 in overtime. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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After Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles in March 2015, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle preached caution and suggested Matthews could be out until Christmas.

Matthews said he’d play opening night.

Matthews was right.

He played in Dallas’ first game and 77 others last season. The problem: He didn’t play that well. Matthews meandered through arguably his worst pro season.

Matthews, via Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com:

“I’m a whole different person,” the 29-year-old Matthews said. “I’m a whole different player, and I’m really just excited to get out there and show it, and just to be who I know I can be and just to continue to grow. Obviously, it was different coming off of an Achilles (injury) and not having four or five months to prepare and all that stuff, and jumping right into the season being physically able to play every single game and play heavy minutes. It took until about after the All-Star break for me to get my legs back, because I play both ends of the court. And I feel better than when I got hurt.

I’ll need to see it to believe it.

Considering Matthews age, time might not be enough to return his production to pre-injury levels. He did improve after the All-Star break, but not enough to put concern behind him.

The stakes are high for the Mavericks, who still owe Matthews $53,652,528 over the next three years. Not only could Matthews’ decline hinder their ability to win a reasonable amount in Dirk Nowitzki‘s final years, it could limit their inevitable post-Nowitzki rebuild.

Hopefully, Matthews feels as good as he says, but players tend to be overly optimistic in these situations. On the other hand, Matthews backed up his similarly daunting declaration last year.

Report: Nets paid record $3 million to move up 13 spots in draft for Isaiah Whitehead

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Isaiah Whitehead #15 of the Brooklyn Nets poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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In 2010, the Thunder paid the Hawks $3 million for the draft rights to No. 31 pick Tibor Pleiss. That, according to Bryan Fonseca of Nets Daily, is the most ever paid for a player’s draft rights.

The Nets matched it this year – and they didn’t even get a fresh pick. They just paid to move up 13 spots in the second round.

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders:

Nets sent $3 million and the 55th pick (Marcus Paige) to the Utah Jazz for the 42nd pick (Isiah Whitehead)

That’s a sizable commitment to get Whitehead, who has the size and raw skills to thrive at guard in the NBA. He was just so inefficient at Seton Hall, I have major doubts about his approach to the game. It will be up to Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson to refine Whitehead’s style.

If owner Mikhail Prokhorov is willing to pay for that opportunity, good for the Nets. Brooklyn has bought several extra draft picks over the last few years. The Nets don’t have an exceptionally high hit rate on those selections, but every extra swing increases their odds of finding quality contributors – especially important because they dealt away control of so many of their own first-rounders in doomed trades with the Celtics and Hawks.

51Q: Is there any reason the Jazz won’t be really good?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 25:  Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz celebrates his three point during a timeout with Derrick Favors #15 and the bench at Staples Center on November 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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In the non-Warriors category, it’s hard to argue that very many teams had better offseasons than the Jazz when it comes to filling holes on their roster without giving up any core pieces. Utah’s weakest position last season was point guard — with Dante Exum out for the year rehabbing a torn ACL, things got so bad that a midseason trade for career backup Shelvin Mack was considered a major upgrade. This summer, they flipped a lottery pick they didn’t really want to Atlanta in a three-team deal that got them George Hill, as solid a starting-caliber point guard as would realistically be available for them. Hill’s playmaking and outside shooting immediately improve Utah’s offense and gives Snyder a rock-solid veteran to take pressure off Exum coming back from missing a full year of action. Even if the Jazz view Exum as their long-term answer at point guard, it’s going to take him a full year to get back up to speed, and having Hill means he has to do less right away.

The Jazz’ other major upgrade came with the signing of seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson to a two-year, $22 million deal. Johnson isn’t a first or second option on offense anymore at this point in his career, but as a veteran scorer off the bench, he can still be effective and should be a great fit in the offense. Taking on Boris Diaw‘s contract could prove savvy, too, if he’s as engaged as he was in San Antonio.

Beyond the roster upgrades, the driving force of all the Jazz optimism this summer is how well all of their young pieces fit together, and the potential for improvement from all of them. Nobody knows what Exum will be, but even if Utah gets nothing out of him, they have an enviable core just entering its prime. Rudy Gobert is one of the most lethal rim protectors in the league at 24 years old. Derrick Favors has developed into an excellent all-around power forward. Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood provide a potent scoring combo on the perimeter, and if Alec Burks is healthy, he can help there too.

Report: Incentive bonuses in Yi Jianlian’s Lakers contract would septuple his salary if he plays 59 games

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Jianlian Yi #11 of China controls the ball as Nikola Kalinic #10 of Serbia defends during the preliminary round game at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Yi Jianlian’s unconventional contract terms with the Lakers had slowly emerged. He’ll earn somewhere between $250,000 and $8 million next season, $1,139,123 just for remaining on the roster through Jan. 10.

But that left a huge sum to unknown incentive bonuses.

Now, they’re known.

Yi can trigger $2,286,959 bonuses for hitting three benchmarks based on games played, according to Basketball Insiders. Here’s the running total for those incentives:

  • 20-39 games played: $2,286,959
  • 40-58 games played: $4,573,918
  • 59+ games played:$6,860,877

Whether or not he plays or is even active, Yi will earn $6,701 each day he’s on the roster from Oct. 25 until Jan. 10 (with a guaranteed minimum of $250,000 in total income). Then, if he’s still on the roster Jan. 10, Yi will lock in another $623,167. That’s his base compensation.

But the bonuses – for actually playing in games – are far more lucrative.

Here’s how Yi’s salary would increase throughout the season, which begins Oct. 25 and ends April 12, if he plays every Lakers game:

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Of course, Yi might not play every game.* So, those three big jumps can be slid back accordingly. The Lakers did well to build Yi’s contract around incentives they have complete control over.

*If Yi doesn’t trigger his first games-played bonus so quickly, his base salary ($6,701 per day) would pass his guaranteed minimum ($250,000) Dec. 1.

The NBA Constitution calls for the trade deadline to be the 17th Thursday of the regular season, which would be Feb. 16 this year – before Yi can earn his third bonus and maybe before he earns one or two. This makes him an intriguing trade chip. Because his cap number will be $8 million throughout the season, he could help fetch a higher-priced player in a trade. Then, the team that acquires him could waive him and pay only what he had earned to date.

But before it gets to that point, Yi will try to fight his way into the rotation.

There’s a lot on the line.