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Kyrie Irving on Cleveland: “I’m happy to be here”

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You knew Kyrie Irving was going to say something like this.

Thursday afternoon a report leaked that Kyrie Irving was telling people around him he wanted out of Cleveland, a fan base still a little sensitive to stars being unhappy and bolting them. So you knew Irving was going to get asked about it.

And what did you expect him to say? He had to downplay the report.

He said he’s “happy” in Cleveland, reports Brian Windhorst at ESPN.

“I’m in Cleveland. I enjoy myself. I enjoy going out and competing at the highest level for the Cleveland Cavaliers,” Irving said…

“It’s not about me and it’s not about this controversy — ‘Do I privately want out when my contract is up?’ I’m still in my rookie contract and I’m happy to be here. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to be here for a long time,” Irving said….

“I’m not saying anything to tell the future, but I’m pretty sure the relationship I have with (owner) Dan Gilbert and management extends off the court. I enjoy being here,” Irving said. “I’m still trying to get through this season. Everybody is trying to antagonize this team and put it on me to ‘privately he wants out.’ I’m here for my teammates, I’m here for Coach (Mike) Brown and the coaching staff and I’m going to play my heart out every single night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.”

If you want to parse the words and say that’s not exactly the most ringing endorsement of his stay in Cleveland, go ahead. You might well be right — the team stinks and the organization has made a series of bad draft picks, I’d be more worried if he thought everything was great.

It doesn’t really matter. Irving isn’t going anywhere for a while because he wants to get paid.

As he noted, he is in his rookie deal and as of this summer the Cavaliers will offer him a max contract extension (which kicks in for his fifth season). He very well may have two All-Star Games under his belt meaning he will be eligible for a “Rose rule” max contract — in excess of $80 million over five years.

Every elite player takes the rookie deal extension and stays for a second contract. Not that the $7 million he is making next season has him hurting, but that first major contract after a rookie deal is “I can set my family up for generations” money. He would have to take the rookie scale deal for two more seasons (rather than one) to get out of Cleveland and risk injury or something else costing him that first massive payday. That’s not smart business.

LeBron James spent seven years in Cleveland before he left. Carmelo Anthony seven and a half in Denver. Chris Bosh seven in Toronto. Dwight Howard eight in Orlando. I could go on but you get the idea.

Is Irving unhappy being part of a team that is losing and where the front office has had a wealth of high draft picks who, beside Irving, have not panned out? I’d be more worried about him if he wasn’t. The organization is a mess. He should be unhappy.

That doesn’t mean he is leaving anytime soon.

Zaza Pachulia lays out Russell Westbrook, stands over him (video)

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Kevin Durant playing the Thunder invites extra emotions.

Russell Westbrook felt them – in the form of a flagrant foul by Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who stood over Westbrook for emphasis.

Pachulia is really embracing his role doing the dirty work for star-studded Golden State.

Report: 76ers’ Ben Simmons sitting entire season still on table

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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That rumor No. 1 pick Ben Simmons won’t play this season?

It just won’t die.

Even after Simmons tried to quash it, even after the 76ers’ CEO outright denied it, even after Simmons returned to practice, even in an otherwise optimistic report.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

76ers rookie forward Ben Simmons could make his much-anticipated NBA debut shortly after the All-Star break, league sources told ESPN.

Barring a setback in his recovery, sources say the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft has a chance to take the hardwood near March. There still remains the possibility Simmons sits the entire season, sources said, but his situation will continue to be thoroughly evaluated throughout his comeback quest.

76ers coach Brett Brown said there’s “no chance” Simmons plays in Philadelphia’s nationally televised game against the Rockets next week. Other than that, there isn’t much clarity.

It mostly sounds as if Simmons is still too far from returning to say something definitive.

Roy Hibbert passes ball into hoop, reacts with perfect facial expression (video)

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The Hornets did so much right in their 107-85 win over the Trail Blazers, even a bad pass went through the hoop.

Roy Hibbert reacted fantastically to blunder/basket (blasket?).

Dario Saric blocks back-to-back Raptors dunk attempts (video)

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Norman Powell – get out of here.

Jared Sullinger – get out of here.

Dario Saric blocked consecutive dunk attempts in the 76ers’ 94-89 win over the Raptors. Philadelphia has won seven of nine and looks suddenly revitalized.

The best part of all this? Saric’s teammates’ reactions – though the actual blocks were pretty great themselves.