The Inbounds: The Warriors become tank-proof

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The Warriors won’t be able to tank next year if they try. Well, OK, if they try they will. But it’s going to be a lot harder, because all of a sudden, their ten-man rotation isn’t just decent, it’s downright pretty good.

Watching the Warriors’ moves over the past year has been an exercise in intelligent reformation, if not championship recalibration. But at a very basic level, they’ve managed to establish control over what plagued them last year, the disaster when injury was not available, and a lack of acceptable defensive presence. It’s one thing to have the injury issues the Warriors had last year, those are hard to plan for. But it’s another to have those injury issues and have no depth to cover when those players go down. After the Warrior’s moves, though, they have moved into a strong position even in the constantly-strong Western Conference.

Again, they’re a long way from title contention, but they have bolstered the roster enough to make a huge step forward.

The new second line after Monday’s signings includes Jarrett Jack, Richard Jefferson, Carl Landry, Brandon Rush,  Andris Biedrins, Charles Jenkins and rookies Festus Ezili and Draymond Green. There’s nothing prolific about that lineup, but Jack, Jefferson, and Landry are capable starters playing in bench roles, and Rush and Biedrins can play well in limited minutes. Their second line is considerably better than the tank-fest they put together at the end of last year. If Ezili makes any noticeable splash whatsoever, everything is there for a playoff run.

So is that a good thing?

The Warriors are kind of an oddity, a team that hasn’t been very good in a very long while in a big market with an adoring fanbase. They’re not on Boston, New York, or L.A.’s level, but they’re located in a large California metropolitan area. Oakland or San Francisco, their location is a better attraction to players than almost any of the Midwest cities, save for Chicago. So the secret here is that while fans can express consternation at a roster that is at the cap, but under the luxury tax, that’s playoff worthy but not playoff-series-win worthy team, the Warriors have the luxury of paying for this team now, and still being able to make moves down the line.

The Warriors haven’t gone Pistons ’09 on us, throwing long-term, huge contracts for players that won’t deliver a title. Even the acquisition of Andrew Bogut and his freak injury concerns (seriously, if Greg Oden has his injuries described as freak injuries, Bogut’s are from some other planet) could be considered an overall liability, which they’re not, considering if healthy Bogut is likely the third best center in the league, his contract only runs two more years. The only toxic asset the Warriors have is David Lee’s deal which has $57 million left over four year. One problem with that, David Lee’s actually good. He’s a power forward who can actually produce and while he’s overpaid, especially given the new financial reality of the CBA (man was amnestying Charlie Bell a mistake on so many levels), he’s still a productive member of basketball society.

Stephen Curry’s a free agent after this season, and so he’ll need the big long-term extension. But it’s clear the Warriors are hedging their bets with Curry to see if he’ll ever get healthy. Having one big deal on a four-year extension isn’t terrible, and while that combined with Lee’s could be bad for their future mobilization, the Warriors’ ownership group and market situation allow for them to get around those issues if they play their hand right. And there are promising signs. Don’t pay the luxury tax if you’re not going to contend. If you can get the big fish, like Dwight Howard, stay in the talks. Eventually, one will come your way and when it does, you’ll have the pieces to immediately move forward. There’s a lot to like about the approach.

But for now, the Warriors just have a good team. Not a fast team, or a quirky team, or even a necessarily interesting team. Truth be told, outside of the Klay Thompson-Harrison Barnes combo, there’s not a lot to get juiced up about this team, because every legitimate possibility of compelling play is tempered by injury concerns. Those players making a leap would change things, Curry and/or Bogut staying healthy would change things. But in the end, they’re just a good team with no chance of being great and almost no chance of being terrible. The Warriors may not be as lovable next year, but they also in all likelihood won’t be losers. There’s something to be said for fielding a professional team, and not every team is in a “tank for No.1” or “overspend to contend” mode. The Warriors have the luxury of short-term success with a longer-term goal. And if this current construct is a disaster?

Well, they’ll cross that bridge when they get to it. But tanking out with this team would be exceptionally difficult.

LeBron James says this season has been “most challenging” one

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Kyrie Irving is gone. His replacement, Isaiah Thomas, missed the first couple months of the season and is still trying to get into game shape and find his groove on the court with a new team. Other players have missed games, the Cavaliers have looked older and slower — particularly on defense — and with that the cloud of LeBron James potentially leaving the team this summer gets darker and darker.

Throw in that LeBron — in his 15th NBA season — is eighth in the entire league in total minutes played, and his usage rate is 10th in the league when he is on the floor, and you can feel the burden on him.

LeBron has responded with an MVP-level season, but as the Cavaliers have struggled going 2-8 in their last 10 games, he admitted to Dave McMenamin of ESPN that this season has been very hard.

“It’s been very challenging,” James said after practice Wednesday. “Just from the simple fact of how many guys have been in and out. This is a difficult year for our team. Seems like I say that every year, but this one has been even more challenging.

“With everybody who has been out and coming back in, and the rotations, and things of that nature, it’s been very challenging on our team. But we have to figure it out. At the end of the day, we have a game every other day or every two days just like everybody else in the NBA. We have to go out and play.”

The shakeup without Irving — and with Thomas still trying to find his spots with this team after missing so much time — is hard to underestimate. This goes beyond the usual mid-season Cavaliers malaise, with this roster they don’t have the offense to cover up the glaring defensive issues that have plagued them since last season (they were 29th in the NBA in defense after the All-Star break last season).

Also, this seems to be part of the Cavaliers coming to the realization that they are not good enough to win a title with this team. In past years they believed if they got it together they could compete with anyone, after Monday’s loss to the Warriors they seem to realize that is not the case. Maybe that attitude changes come the playoffs — get out of the East, which they still have to be favorites to do, and they get a shot — but reality seems to have hit this roster.

Kings will shut down veterans for some games, rookie Harry Giles for rest of season

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The Kings foolishly strayed from rebuilding last summer by signing George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter to relatively expensive contracts. Those additions came despite Sacramento already having veterans Garrett Temple and Kosta Koufos.

The plan has predictably failed. The Kings have the NBA’s worst offense and worst defense and are 13-31.

That’s bad, but not quite bad enough. Not in the last year Sacramento has its own first-round pick before conveying its selection as a result of a ridiculous salary dump a few years ago.

So, in a transparent bid to break a tie with the Hawks and Magic for the NBA’s worst record and tank to the top seed in the lottery/develop young players already on the roster, the Kings are sitting those veterans on a rotating basis.

Sacramento is also shutting down No. 20 pick Harry Giles, who hasn’t played this season.

James Ham of NBC Sports California:

Both management and the coaching staff is on the same page with the decision, NBC Sports California has confirmed. Two or three players will sit each night as they team explores what they have in youngsters.

“Going forward, what I’m going to do is, we’re going to play a rotation where two of our five veterans are going to be out every night. It might be some times there’ll be three. It’s an opportunity for some other guys to get some minutes as we go throughout the course of the season. I’ve got it laid out…I’ve got about five or six games laid out, and every week I’ll go out again because you want to communicate with those guys when they’re not going to play. Other guys, they’ve got to be ready. If you’re in the first three years of your contract, you can expect to play a little, or a lot, or none, but you should be ready to play,” Joerger told the media after the Kings’ loss to the Thunder on Monday night.

This is smart, though it’s also an opportunity it would have been smarter not to sign Hill, Randolph and Carter in the first place. Though those veterans might not be thrilled with the direction of the franchise, at least they’re getting paid. And they should know their rest days far enough in advance to enjoy the reduced workloads.

Younger Kings – including De'Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Willie Cauley-Stein, Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere – should have a chance to spread their wings and grow. That could help down the road, when Sacramento has a chance to win meaningfully. This year, the difference between the fully operational Kings and tanking Kings is minimal on the court, but could make a huge difference in draft position.

As for Harry Giles, it’s strange how the Kings are touting him as fully healthy while shutting him down for the rest of the season. The best way to keep him his healthy is never play him. At some point, they must test him on the court. Perhaps, giving him even more time to strengthen his knee is the right approach. But if he needs this long, can really accurately be described as entirely healthy?

Report: LeBron James wins overall All-Star fan vote

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For the first time in a dozen years, a player has won the All-Star fan vote for consecutive years.

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett have all taken turns as leader since Yao Ming claimed the vote lead in 2005 and 2006. Apparently, LeBron will retain the top spot he held last year.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

The fan vote means less than ever, with media and players also playing a role in who starts the All-Star game and a draft assigning players to teams. But the leading fan-vote-getter in each conference still matters, as those will be the captains for the draft.

LeBron will be one. Warriors Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry were neck-and-neck for the other captaincy.

Last I heard, the NBA was leaning toward giving the top overall fan-vote-getter the first pick in the All-Star draft, but that hadn’t been formally decided. So, it’ll probably be on LeBron to select his top choice among the other eight starters, who will be announced tonight. (All starters must be drafted first, so each team still has five starters.)

One more time: Let LeBron make that pick on television. He doesn’t mind.

Austin Rivers: Maybe I got a chance because Doc is my dad, but I know my swagger keeps me from succumbing to negativity

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Austin Rivers was the No. 10 pick out of Duke in 2012, and he struggled mightily his first few years in the NBA. His gaffes are so jolting, his teammates mock them. Yet, Rivers still carries himself as if he’s a star.

Chris Paul reportedly despised Doc Rivers over the Clippers coach’s favoritism toward his son. Former Clipper Glen Davis said Austin got paid because of his dad. Jamal Crawford reportedly chafed at the Clippers’ initial offer to him a couple years ago because it was lower than Austin’s.

These are issues Austin has been hearing about and handling for years.

Monday’s Clippers-Rockets game – Paul’s return to L.A. – was a breaking point, though.

An injured Austin stood on the sidelines talking trashing during the game, sparking a confrontation that got Trevor Ariza and Blake Griffin ejected. After the game, Austin reportedly continued jawing with Ariza as the Houston forward charged toward the Clippers’ locker room (drawing a two-game suspension).

Again in the crosshairs, Austin is opening up.

Rivers, via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

“People can say whatever they want about me and my father [LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers],” the guard told ESPN during a lengthy interview Wednesday night. “I get it. I can even put my ego aside and understand why people don’t like the situation. When I was growing up and I’d see the coach’s son, you’d be like, ‘He sucks. He’s only on the team because of his dad.’ So I get it.”

“People are like, ‘Well, his dad gave him his chance.’ Is that true or not? I don’t know. It might be,” Rivers said. “[But] could it be that my pops knew how good I could be because he’s my pops?

“I know what the narrative is on me,” Rivers said. “It’s because I come from money and I have a swagger and confidence about me.

“[But] if I didn’t have this confidence or swagger in myself, I wouldn’t be built to handle the negativity that I’ve gotten. I would’ve already broken down years ago because I’ve gotten this since high school. I’ve turned it into a fuel and it’s helped me. I go into each away arena and it’s rough, because of the s— I hear. This chip on my shoulder, this swagger and confidence, it helps me. If I didn’t have it, I would not be in the NBA.”

“I’m not saying poor me. There’s people that have real problems,” Rivers said. “So don’t feel bad for me. I don’t need anybody’s sympathy. I’m having my best year yet. I’m trying to get back and healthy so I can help our team.

This is more relatable than Austin has ever sounded, and I applaud him for sharing a more authentic point of view rather than maintaining the facade of an aloof superstar. He deserves better treatment from the public than he has gotten, though he’s responsible for the much-maligned persona he has displayed.

Austin hasn’t received nearly enough credit for how much he has improved. Part of that is due to just how bad he was when he entered the NBA, but he has gotten steadily better. That shows how hard he works.

Some of the criticism of Austin and Doc is fair. Some is not. They probably should have better-anticipated what Doc trading for then re-signing Austin would be perceived, inside and outside the Clippers. But it’s too late to undo those deals, so they’re trying to manage the situation the best they can.

Austin’s interview here is a good step.