Toronto Raptors Andrea Bargnani reacts after hitting a shot during their NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City

Report: Andrea Bargnani “a lock to be moved”

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It sounds like the Toronto Raptors are finally ready to give up on Andrea Bargnani. The first pick of the 2006 draft has displayed tantalizing potential and has put together short bursts of production throughout his seven seasons in Toronto, but his deficiencies as a defender and a rebounder have become increasingly more difficult to overlook.

You can see why Toronto has stuck with Bargnani, even as he became the scapegoat for many of Toronto’s  recent failings. There are very few 7-footers in the world that possess the shooting stroke Bargnani has, and even though he made virtually no strides in other areas of the game, he did make marginal improvements as a scorer almost every season.

But that’s the problem with a one-dimensional talent like Bargnani. If that one thing abandons you, what are you left with? Bargnani’s connecting on just 39.8 percent of his shots this year — a dreadful number no matter how tall or small you are. Perhaps predictably, Toronto has become noticeably better defensively while Bargnani has sat out with an elbow injury, putting together a 6-2 record without him in the lineup.

Add everything up and Marc Stein’s report makes an awful lot of sense:

“One source close to the situation said Friday that Bargnani remains “a lock to be moved.” That naturally depends on finding a taker for the underachieving Italian forward, but (Kyle) Lowry’s contract shouldn’t be too hard to attach to a trade, valued at $5.8 million this season and with only $1 million guaranteed of the $6.2 million he’s owed next season.”

Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Bargnani has two years and $23 millions dollars left on his contract after this season. That’s a tough pill to swallow for any team, especially for a guy not playing at all right now, but getting Kyle Lowry or Jose Calderon as a reward for taking on Bargnani’s contract might be enticing enough for some team out there.

Toronto, meanwhile, is in a weird spot. A glance at their roster would lead you to believe they’re primed for a rebuilding period if they could shed Bargnani’s contract, but Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo recently decided to pay the uninspiring wing combination of DeMar DeRozan and Landry Fields a combined $15 million dollars a year going forward. Add in that the Raptors likely won’t have their 2013 first round pick (the pick is top-3 protected) because of the Lowry deal with Houston, and it would seem that Colangelo clearly has no interest in rebuilding.

That’s what makes the Bargnani decision even more critical. The Raptors need a real player in any deal for Bargnani in order to contend, but they probably don’t want to lose Lowry for their future, or Calderon for their present. Selecting Bargnani number one overall instead of LaMarcus Aldridge set the franchise back, but forfeiting a valuable asset just to get rid of him would only seem to compound the mistake.

Toronto needs to look in the mirror more than anything else. Are they contending or rebuilding? Are they skewing young or rolling with veterans? Are they planning on improving in free agency or through the draft? Bargnani isn’t the star you can dream on, but trading him may provide Toronto the direction they so desperately need.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 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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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 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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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.