Cavaliers GM Chris Grant rips team for “lack of effort”

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I imagine Chris Grant’s seat is feeling a little warm.

He’s the general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team that has been awash in high draft picks in recent years — including last season’s No. 1, used on Anthony Bennett — who was told by his owner publicly it’s time to start making the playoffs.

And even in a putrid Eastern Conference, even after getting Luol Deng in a trade, the Cavaliers are 16-29 and three games out of the playoffs.

Wednesday Grant lit into his team’s effort speaking to the Akron Beacon Journal.

“The lack of effort is just not acceptable,” Grant said. “It’s not who we are and who we want to be. It’s got to be addressed head on. There’s no excuses for that, but we’ve seen our guys compete and execute consistently and that’s really what we’ve got to do a better job of….

“We’re in a tough stretch,” Grant said. “We came off that West Coast trip and that Denver game. We played good basketball. We played really good basketball and even in this tough stretch we’ve played a half or two of good basketball. Unfortunately, we haven’t played two full halves. All we can do is continue to stress and push that. We know it’s there because we’ve done it and we have to hold people accountable to it.”

That felt like a jab at coach Mike Brown — who Grant hired this off-season.

It’s also clearly a jab at the players, and again the roster is all about Grant’s choices (he’s been the GM since 2010). The Cavaliers have been flush with top draft picks in recent seasons and have All-Star Kyrie Irving to show for it (although the trajectory of his career feels different right now than it did a year ago, and the buzz is he is telling people he wants out, although he will end up taking a second contract there one way or another) and a whole lot of guys not living up to the hype — Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Bennett. Plus it was Grant that took a reasonable gamble on Andrew Bynum, but one that failed miserably.

There are clearly some locker room issues in Cleveland, with some of it centered around Waiters but clearly no veteran leaders who could clean that mess up.

There also seems to be some sense around the organization they really thought (or think) LeBron James could return this summer. Which borders on the kind of delusional thinking that usually lands one in a room with padded walls.

All of which is to say the issues in Cleveland run deeper than effort on the court, that is just a symptom.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.