Three Stars of the Night: Almost Perfect

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You never know when it’s going to be one of those nights. You know, when regardless of what you do the shots just fall. It doesn’t matter if it’s a twisting drive to the rim, a deep three pointer, or your standard pull up from the elbow. Some nights the rim just seems bigger. Tonight, we honor three guys who really had it going; three guys who whenever the ball left their hands, you thought the ball was going in. Let’s get to it…

Third Star: David West (29 points, 11-18 shooting, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks)

When we talk about all-star snubs, it’s a wonder David West’s name doesn’t come up more often. Maybe it’s because his numbers don’t jump out at you or the fact that he doesn’t play a flashy game. Or maybe it’s just because his consistency is just a bit…boring. Whatever the reason, we shouldn’t let it distract us from the fact that West is really very good. Against the Bulls, West showed why scoring from all over the floor with his patented arsenal of mid-range jumpers and power post ups. West’s presence became so forceful that the Bulls started to send a second defender his way and he ended up just passing to open teammates for assists (or making the pass that led to the pass that became the assist). Other Pacers may have had the more highlight worthy plays, but it was West that was the catalyst for their win over their division rival.

Second Star: LaMarcus Aldridge (25 points, 12-17 shooting, 13 rebounds, 5 assists)

Aldridge once again showed why he’s an all-star with a fantastic two way performance against the Timberwolves. He dazzled with his typical array of made jumpers, making minced meat of any defender that was tossed at him with either a face up shot or a post up that turned into a turnaround (that he sunk over either shoulder). At the end of the game, when the ‘Wolves made a fantastic run to get the game within a single point, it was Aldridge who sunk a deep two from the right wing to give the Blazers a 3 point cushion. On top of his shot making however, it was his defense that really saved the day. On back to back possessions, he snuffed out two Minnesota scoring chances, once contesting a Ricky Rubio short jumper that would have tied the game and again on the Wolves last possession by contesting a Dante Cunningham shot that would have tied the game at the buzzer.

First Star: LeBron James (31 points, 13-14 shooting, 8 rebounds, 8 assists)

What more can really be said about LeBron at this point? He truly is the most dominant force in the game today. Against a game Bobcats team, LeBron dominated the paint by relentlessly attacking the rim via post ups, drives, and in transition. No defender could stay between LeBron and the rim and continuously made the ‘Cats pay by not settling for anything less than a high percentage look. The best part about his game, though, was the fact that he dominated late in a game that was close down the stretch. LeBron scored 10 of his 31 points in the final period, while also dishing out 3 key assists when the defense tried to collapse on him. When it was winning time, it was LeBron that took over and made it so his team would leave the arena victorious.

Lamar Odom opens up about cocaine addiction

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Lamar Odom has discussed his cocaine addiction before – how it derailed his NBA career, marriage to Kim Kardashian, his life. Never detailed like this, though.

Odom in The Players’ Tribune:

With cocaine especially, there’s a high, and then an emotional low. So it’s like a roller coaster. You go high, and then you go low. High, low, high, low. After you do it, you feel shame. You think about all the reasons why you shouldn’t have done it. Then the cycle starts again.

That’s the thing people don’t understand. Anybody who’s lived a complicated, drug-infused life like I’ve lived knows the cycle — with women, cheating on my wife, shit like that. Nights when I should have been asleep. Nights when I stayed up sniffing coke. Lot of those nights. When your heart is beating fast. When you should know better. When you’re just riding that roller coaster, man.

You think I wasn’t feeling shame? You think I was blind to what I was doing?

Nah, I wasn’t blind to it. Shame … pain. It’s part of the whole cycle. My brain was broken. As the years went on, and I got into my 30s, my career was winding down, and things just got out of control.

When I was like 32, 33 … I just wanted to get high all the time. That’s it, just get high. And things got dark as hell.

One of the darkest places I’ve ever been was when I was in a motel room, getting high with this chick, and my wife (at the time) walked in. That probably was like rock bottom.

I recommend reading all of Odom’s powerful essay, in which he explains the personal struggles that contributed to his drug use.

Report: Kyrie Irving not speaking with Cavaliers

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Former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin smoothed over Kyrie Irving‘s discontentment for years.

As new general manager Koby Altman tries to project stability, it seems there’s plenty of disarray behind the scenes in the wake of Irving’s trade request.

Jason Lloyd of The Athletic, via Chris Fillar of 92.3 The Fan:

Whatever are or aren’t the problems between Irving and LeBron James, this makes it far less likely they’ll reconcile. It already seemed LeBron wouldn’t be proactive in mending the relationship, and this saga has only generated more distrust.

Irving appears increasingly likely to get his wish, with Cleveland moving toward trading him. He’s just upping the odds by furthering the divide.

DeMar DeRozan: Talk of Raptors’ changes overblown

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Raptors president Masai Ujiri called for a “culture reset,” alluding to an offense less reliant on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan isolations.

DeMarre Carroll, traded from Toronto to the Nets, doubts the Raptors will change much.

Know who agrees with him? DeRozan.

DeRozan, via Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun:

“I think the media kind of blow it out of proportion like it’s going to be something dramatic, like a complete dramatic 180-degree change,” DeRozan said, who was back in Toronto helping out with the Raptors’ Basketball Academy at Humber College on Monday. “It’s not that at all. It’s just moreso locking in and understanding what it takes to win from every single position. Everyone just know from our failures, guys stepping up and being better leaders, not just me and Kyle but everybody. I think once we lock in and everyone holds themselves accountable, everything else will come around perfect. That’s all it is.”

DeRozan didn’t disagree when it was suggested more ball movement might be demanded this season, but he did say the anticipated level of change by many outside the team is completely out of whack with the reality. The offence is still going to run through himself and Kyle Lowry.

This is shaping up to be a problem. Ujiri made this grand proclamation then brought back the same core – Lowry, DeRozan and coach Dwane Casey. This was the danger, that they were too comfortable with the status quo.

We’ll see how it actually plays out. DeRozan has a strong track record of improvement, and the Raptors might be forcing him to see the game differently by playing him at point guard.

But there at least appears to be a disconnect somewhere between the front office and players.

Rumor: Cavaliers trying to dump salary in Kyrie Irving trade

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The Cavaliers are reportedly prioritizing youth in a Kyrie Irving trade.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Another stated goal is to dump off some salary and reduce the luxury tax bill.

The Cavs – who reportedly lost more than $40 million last season – are on track to become the first team in NBA history to pay the luxury-tax repeater rate. They’ve led the league in payroll, racking up big luxury-tax bills, the last two seasons. They even pulled the rare feat of carving out max cap space (used on LeBron James) then getting about the luxury-tax line in the same season three years ago, finishing second to the Nets in spending that season.

Cleveland now faces a luxury-tax bill north of $78 million – which would eclipse its 2015-16 mark ($54 million) as the second highest tax payment ever, trailing just 2013-14 Brooklyn (nearly $91 million).

Most teams would never spend as much as the Cavaliers have the previous three seasons. Most teams would never approach Cleveland’s costs this year, which include $142 million in player salaries.

But most teams don’t have LeBron.

Remember, the Heat cutting corners on spending contributed to LeBron leaving Miami. And Cavs owner Dan Gilbert reportedly promised to spend unconditionally when LeBron returned to Cleveland in 2014.

Is cutting costs the message the Cavaliers want to send as LeBron enters a contract year?

If so, they have a few candidates for shedding:

  • Tristan Thompson – three years, $52,408,695 remaining
  • J.R. Smith – three years, $44,160,000 remaining (just $3.87 million of $15.68 million guaranteed final year)
  • Iman Shumpert – two years, $21,348,313 remaining
  • Channing Frye – one year, $7,420,912 remaining

All those players, roughly in order of salary, contribute to winning.

The Cavs should have little trouble unloading those contracts in an Irving trade. He’s so valuable, teams will incur a lopsided financial deal to get him. They’ll just send Cleveland less talent to compensate.

It’s the classic dilemma – money vs. on-court success. Teams evaluate this tradeoff every day.

For the Cavaliers, there’s just the additional pressure of LeBron’s looming free agency.