Kawhi Leonard becoming the LeBron stopper the Spurs knew they’d need


In 2011, a 22-year-old Derrick Rose became the youngest Most Valuable Player in NBA history. Dwight Howard, then just 25, finished second in the voting. Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks to the championship.

The NBA can be a reactionary league, and some teams set out that offseason searching for the next Rose, Howard or Nowitzki or a player who could stop one of those three. A point guard, center and power forward.

The Spurs didn’t become the NBA’s top team in the last 15 years by being reactionary, though, and they eyed a different type of player, one who could help them in 2012, 2013 and beyond – not 2011, a season that had already ended. That meant they needed someone to guard LeBron James and Kevin Durant, small forwards.

So, the Spurs shopped George Hill, a player they had developed into a borderline starter/Sixth Man of the Year candidate. To a degree, San Antonio got lucky Kawhi Leonard – ranked No. 6 on ESPN’s big board – fell all the way to the No. 15 pick in the 2011 draft, where the Pacers picked and were willing to trade for Hill.

The Spurs’ calculation was dead on. LeBron and Durant finished 1-2 in MVP voting and led their team to a combined three Finals in the two years since San Antonio drafted Leonard. Meanwhile, Leonard has developed into one of the NBA’s best defenders of those two.

That ability was on full display during the Spurs’ 113-77 Game 3 win over the Heat last night. In addition to posting 14 points and 12 rebounds, Leonard became the youngest player since at least 1985 to get four steals in a Finals game and helped hold LeBron to 7-of-21 shooting and, for the first time since 2009, no free throws .

LeBron has never averaged fewer points per game in a series than the 16.7 he’s scoring in these Finals, and his series field-goal percentage (38.9) is his lowest in the last five years. Of course, Leonard doesn’t deserve all the credit, but he’s the primary piece of San Antonio’s defense of LeBron.

Leonard showed this type of defensive potential against Durant in the Western Conference Finals last year, but ultimately, Leonard was still a rookie and wasn’t ready for the matchup. That was a key reason the Thunder beat the Spurs to reach the Finals.

But Leonard, even though he’s four years younger than any other starter in this series, sure looks ready now. Especially impressively, Leonard has grabbed two, eight and three offensive rebounds in the Finals. He’s not just guarding LeBron, he has enough energy to make all the hustle plays on offense, too.

Leonard is at the perfect crossroads, young enough to play hard for major minutes and savvy enough to play well on the biggest stage – just as the Spurs envisioned two years ago.

Legend: LeBron James gained seven pounds during game

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Remember when LeBron James was getting back injections and missing weeks?

Now, at age 33 and in his 15th season, LeBron might play all 82 games for the first time in his career. And that’s while playing 37 minutes per game at a superstar level.

How did LeBron reverse what appeared to be declining athleticism and durability? Brian Windhorst of ESPN has a fantastically detailed article, focusing on LeBron’s personal biomechanist, Donnie Raimon, a former Navy SEAL.


James is known to personally spend seven figures a year caring for his body, and Raimon is part of that tab. So are personal chefs and masseuses. He also gets private treatments with liquid nitrogen to help reduce inflammation. James’ home facilities rival those of professional teams. In his home in Akron, James has a fully outfitted workout gym, hot and cold tubs and a hyperbaric chamber.

LeBron views that as investment. He’s earning $33,285,709 from the Cavaliers this season, and even at his age, he can command any contract from any team next summer. The path to LeBron maximizing his earnings is playing elite basketball as long as possible. The expenses incurred are a kick in the bucket.

In this excellent article – worth reading in full – Windhorst goes on an unbelievable tangent.


And the topper: the time James gained seven pounds during an Eastern Conference finals game.

Some Miami Heat teammates saw the scale and attest to it in amazement. James himself just shrugs and calls it “weird as hell.” The truly wild part is that it was from 271 pounds to 278 pounds, though James is much lighter these days.

Was LeBron wearing different clothes for each weigh-in? Did the scale malfunction during one?

It’s hard enough to come up with plausible explanations for the reading to increase by seven pounds. It’s far more difficult to believe LeBron actually gained seven pounds during a game.

But this story still contributes to the idea of LeBron’s body as otherworldly.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue taking leave of absence

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Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue left Cleveland’s win over the Bulls yesterday due to illness. He has also missed time in other games, shootarounds and practice due to the illness.

Apparently, he reached a breaking point.

Cavaliers release:

From Tyronn Lue:

“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.

I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is.

While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team. I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards.

I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”

From Koby Altman:

“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues.”

Hopefully, Lue gets through these issues and returns to the bench. My thoughts are with him.

This has been a trying season for Lue and the Cavs. Rumors have swirled about his job security, as Cleveland (40-29) has stumbled to third in the Eastern Conference. He was part of a shouting match with LeBron James on the bench (though an assistant coach might be have been LeBron’s target). Lue has had public disputes with Isaiah Thomas and J.R. Smith. And many took Kyrie Irving‘s praise of Celtics coach Brad Stevens as a shot at Lue.

All that stress does Lue’s health no favors.

Him stepping away is evidently for the best. A competitor like him wouldn’t have done so unless that was absolutely clear.

But this also leaves the Cavaliers in a tough place. They’re already trying to change so much on the fly after a busy trade-deadline day upended the roster. Adjusting to a new coach – associate head coach Larry Drew – only adds to the chaos.

Drew has previous head-coaching experience, with the Bucks and Hawks. So, that should help.

But Cleveland needs major work defensively and developing cohesion before the playoffs. The goal is beating the Warriors, but even winning the East looks dicey, especially given the Raptors’ emergence.

Lue’s health comes first, and hopefully time off helps him. Unfortunately, this situation also exacerbates other issues in Cleveland.

NBA, referees argue on Twitter

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As tension rises, players and coaches are taking it out on the officials. The NBA releases daily two-minute reports assessing calls late in close games. The referees’ union keeps complaining about that practice.

It all boiled over to a rare show of the league publicly calling a National Basketball Referees Association claim “not accurate:”

The NBRA is doing its members no favors with all these attempts to defend the process behind incorrect calls. People want correct calls and calls that favor their team. There’s nothing referees can do about the latter. They should focus on the former.

The inbound took longer than five seconds. It should have been a violation. The end.

Want to curry favor? Advocate for the NBA adopting the technology necessary to get these calls right. There’s no reason, in the year 2018, five-second calls should be determined by a referee tracking time with arm waves while watching for other calls. Nobody expects refs to count out the shot clock. Other timed calls – including three-second violations – should be handled with digital timers.

Instead, the referees union picks these lame public fights. The league’s response only increases the off-putting pettiness all around.

Nobody wants to root for referees. This is not going to turn mass opinion.

Watch Justin Timberlake drain half-court shot, a couple of three pointers

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Justin Timberlake is filthy.

At least in this NBA video he is.

Maybe the world’s biggest performer right now — and part owner of the Memphis Grizzlies — swung by the Washington Wizards practice facility and drained a few shots like it was nothing. The man can’t stop the feeling.

We see you, JT 👀 (repost @justintimberlake & @washwizards)

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