luol deng

Will Cavaliers make the playoffs after trading for Luol Deng?

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The deal between the Bulls and the Cavaliers that went down Monday night was all about the long-term for Chicago, and more about this season in Cleveland.

Luol Deng will be a free agent this summer, and after reportedly turning down a contract extension worth $30 million over three years, it was clear he was going to seek more than the Bulls would offer. So, rather than lose him without compensation and pay an exorbitant amount in payroll and luxury taxes for what is essentially a lost season, the Bulls traded him for a future draft pick and a player in Andrew Bynum who they will waive to get under the tax line this season.

Cleveland, though, has other ideas. The franchise is hoping to make the playoffs, partly to impress upon Kyrie Irving that it is indeed committed to winning in the immediate future so that Irving doesn’t try to bolt the city when he has the chance at the end of the 2015 season (if the sides don’t agree to an extension he would be a restricted free agent, other teams could make offers but the Cavaliers would have the right to match it). Cleveland wants to keep its star and face of the franchise happy.

That was the reason for taking the chance on Bynum in the offseason, and adding players like Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark in free agency, both of whom were coming off of above average seasons. It is also the reason for acquiring Deng, who may be no more than a half-season rental since it’s unclear if the team will want to pay him his open market value once the summer is upon us.

But does simply adding Deng get Cleveland to the playoffs?

There are too many teams ahead of the Cavaliers in the standings right now to say that it’s likely, but it improves the squad enough to where they have a very legitimate chance.

Cleveland sits just three games out of eighth in the dreadful Eastern Conference, but its looking up at New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Brooklyn right now before we even get to Detroit, who currently occupies that eighth spot. The Cavs could certainly acquire enough wins to get there with Deng in the fold, but it will take more consistent efforts from Irving, some maturation in the game of Dion Waiters, and an improvement in team defense that’s essentially been middle-of-the-road this season, which is unacceptable given the low level of competition in the East.

But teams ahead of Cleveland aren’t going to go down without a fight. Despite the starts that have been far below expectations, the Knicks and Nets are both likely to see a spike in wins once they can get some lineup consistency in place. The Sixers are coming together and are proving they can beat good teams, but it’s possible they trade Thaddeus Young or Evan Turner in deadline deals to continue the rebuilding process. The Celtics will add Rajon Rondo to their squad soon, and Boston has been better than expected, as well.

Teams like Detroit, Charlotte, and now Chicago are vulnerable, however, and one or more could easily fall out of playoff contention. If the Cavaliers come together quickly with Deng in place, a playoff spot — the team’s short-term goal for this season — can certainly be realized.

Spurs honor Kobe Bryant in his last game in San Antonio (VIDEO)

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 30:  Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 30, 2006 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Spurs won 96-85. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.

So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:

Report: Clippers’ Austin Rivers has broken hand, out 4-6 weeks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Austin Rivers #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers scores on a layup past D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 105-93 win at Staples Center on January 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.

The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.

Warriors hold off late Thunder run to remain undefeated at home

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For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.

But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.

Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.

The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.

Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.

Kevin Durant brushes off free-agency speculation: “Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision”

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 05:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives on Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 5, 2015 in Oakland, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.

Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.

Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:

“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:

“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?

“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”

On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.