Reports: It’s LeBron, agent, Pat Riley alone in a room Wednesday afternoon In Vegas

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Everything else is just chatter.

There have moves to lay the foundations in Cleveland and Miami — trades to clear cap space, and mid-level exception signings — but those are just part of the storm swirling around the periphery, not the thing at the center. Then there are the rumors of what his agent wants or his wife wants, dream trade scenarios, superstars holding out fantasies of joining forces, and none of that really matters.

What matters is what’s in LeBron James’ head and he has been silent. Here’s what we do know — Pat Riley and LeBron James are meeting in Vegas today and it’s a small group.

That means no Dwyane Wade, no owner Micky Arison. Just the guys with the real power across the table from each other (and their right hand men). What does that mean? Nobody really knows. What you think it means really says more about what you want to come out of this meeting than it does the actual meeting itself.

Here are my thoughts as we wait for a meeting that may provide some clarity and be the first domino in free agency.

• What matters here is what LeBron wants — more than any other superstar (save maybe Kobe) LeBron runs his own show now. He listens to others, but this is a more mature LeBron than the one that left Cleveland four years ago. LeBron steers his own ship and this will be his call and his call alone.

• LeBron knows that Kyrie Irving is better than anyone on the Heat right now, but he also knows that the rest of that Cavs roster is young and untested (and Minnesota isn’t looking for picks or rookies in a Kevin Love deal). If he’s on Cleveland they are contenders, one of the best teams in the East, but is he closer to a title next season than he would be in Miami? Could they beat the best in the West? Is that move lateral on the court in the short term?

• Are Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger a big upgrade? No. It’s about the best Riley could do acting like a capped out team, but it’s not that impressive.

• In 2016 what is expected to be a much-increased new national television deal is going to kick in and flood the system with cash — the salary cap will jump, and as max salaries are a percentage of the cap they will jump also. Meaning a max contract in two years is worth a lot more than one today.

• A lot of people around LeBron want him to return to Cleveland. Remember when LeBron was in Cleveland before he and his posse had the complete run of the place, they had real power. Miami doesn’t work that way, it’s Pat Riley’s show (and the city is sloppy with celebrities). Some people would love that power and attention again. Question is does LeBron?

• Outside of the obvious Miami fans complaints (how many notice before the season starts next year?), if you want to know what the backlash to LeBron going to Cleveland looks like, it looks like what J.A. Adande wrote at ESPN. That he surrendered his leverage as league spokesman. It’s not just the Dan Gilbert letter, it’s Gilbert was a hard liner in the last CBA negotiations that LeBron railed against.

• For all those reasons — and what most around the league said — I used to think a return to the Cavs this summer was a long shot at best. It’s not anymore, it’s a very real possibility. LeBron himself may not be speaking but he apparently did reach out to veterans to see if they want to come to Cleveland. He is considering it. Seriously considering.

• Carmelo Anthony is waiting — if LeBron chooses Miami Chris Bosh is expected to return to South Beach too, but if LeBron goes to Miami and Bosh goes to Houston anyway Anthony might squeeze into Miami. Also, I might win the Powerball Lottery. Close to the same odds, but ‘Melo is holding on to his ticket.

• My guess (and that of others around the league) is LeBron re-signs for two max years in Miami, and we do this all again in 2016. And the Cavs very well could win then, although it’s hard to see that far into the future in an ever-shifting NBA landscape.

Pistons consider shutting down Reggie Jackson for rest of season

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The Pistons have started Reggie Jackson. They’ve brought him off the bench. They’ve sat him entirely.

No role seems right for the point guard as Detroit has lost four straight and seven of eight.

Now, it seems the Pistons might just shut down Jackson, who missed the start of the season with a knee injury. He’s at least doubtful for tonight’s key game against the Heat.

Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy, via Fox Sports Detroit:

We’ve been thinking about this, actually for a long time, OK? And he’s been playing at — it’s just hard to put a percentage — but probably at about 80 percent. And as we get into this stretch of games in March where we’re playing a lot, the fatigue is just making it worse.

It wasn’t really fair to him. We were running him out there, putting pressure on him. He’s seeing things he should be able to do, and he just can’t do. He’s not feeling pain, but he just can’t make the plays he wants to make. And we’re trying to put him out there.

We were really struggling, and we just need to have guys who are at full energy and the whole thing. And as much as he wants to, he can’t right now. It’s honestly amazing what he’s done.

To his credit, he fought me on it. He wanted to keep going.

He needs some rest. We don’t know how long it will be. But he needs some rest and to be able to try to get his energy back and see if we can get him at full strength.

He’s been a warrior. He’s tried to fight through it. He’s been frustrated, because he sees openings and things on the court that he just hasn’t been able to get to. I think part of it is a confidence thing.

And I think the thing that we really look forward to, and he looks forward to, is getting a fresh start in the offseason and being able to go through the preparation for a season like he did last year. And not only get right physically, but really get his confidence back to be able to attack and make the plays he’s had.

Jackson hasn’t looked right this season, showing only fleeting moments of quality production. It’s unclear whether that’s his knee, confidence, regression to the mean after a breakout season last year, bad luck or some combination.

But it has the Pistons in dire straights. They’re 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position with tonight’s game against eight-place Miami crucial.

Detroit’s offense and defense have hummed better with Ish Smith, but despite the better chemistry he affords, the talent drop from Jackson is also glaring. It’s not as if the Pistons have soared with Smith. And relying on Beno Udrih for backup minutes is its own risk.

Van Gundy is talking a lot about next season when it comes to Jackson, which seems telling. The coach’s compliments seem designed to soften the blow.

The odds are against Detroit making the playoffs, but they might be higher without Jackson. The fact that that’s even considerable is also telling about Jackson’s season.

Joakim Noah says he’s cleared to play, which will allow suspension to begin

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The NBA suspended Joakim Noah 20 games — effective once he’s “physically able to play.”

Noah underwent knee surgery about a month ago, and though it seemed he’d miss the rest of the season, the Knicks said at the time he’d be reevaluated in 3-4 weeks. That gave the team cover to claim his suspension should begin this season.

So, Noah rushed to practice today, and no matter how unlikely he would’ve been to follow this timeline sans suspension, that will seemingly be enough.

Fred Kerber of the New York Post:

New York has eight games remaining, which would leave 12 for Noah to serve at the beginning of next season.

Obviously, the more of his suspension Noah serves during this lost season, the better. The Knicks might be a wreck next season too, but at least there’s a chance they’re ready to win (and a chance Noah can contribute). This year is confirmed hopeless.

 

After fun back-to-back wins, Kings deemphasizing veterans

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Break up the Kings.

No, really.

After consecutive thrilling wins — a historic comeback against the Clippers on Sunday and another one-point win over the Grizzlies, Sacramento coach Dave Joerger’s former team, yesterday — the Kings announced a changing of the guard.

Joerger, via CSN California:

This was maybe our last stand for the year, as far as you’re probably not going to see all those veterans play together the rest of the season.

Darren Collison, Garrett Temple, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver and Ty Lawson played major roles against Memphis. Expect their minutes to be cut down the stretch.

The Kings have “fallen” to the NBA’s eight-worst record. It’s unlikely, but a late-game surge could “drop” them to the league’s 10th-worst record.

That’s unviable for a team that put itself on the tanking track and loses its first-round pick (to the Bulls) if it falls outside the top 10. Sacramento must protect itself from bad lottery luck.

It might not require going full Suns, but the Kings should and will emphasize developing their young players — who, not at all incidentally, are less equipped to help the team win.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.