Let’s give a golf clap to Flip Saunders for handling Love trade well

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Flip Saunders couldn’t win.

You simply cannot trade a superstar, an elite talent and get equal value back.

Kevin Love is an elite talent (if you don’t see that it speaks to your hoops IQ) and he was forcing a trade — Love wasn’t coming back and everyone around the league knew it. That wasn’t Saunders’ fault — it was all the previous GM David Kahn who screwed up picks to put players around Love (drafting Jonny Flynn over Stephen Curry and Wesley Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins) then insulting Love by not giving him a five-year max rookie contract extension — but Saunders could not repair the relationship. It was too far gone.

By the time of the playoffs and Finals this summer Love’s agent was working hard to get his client out of Minnesota and to a destination of his choosing, using he hammer of where he would and would not re-sign after this current deal is up. That started the build up.

By the time of the draft in June there a buzz and the feeling of pressure — the naive on twitter and some talking heads said, “Saunders needs to trade Love right now, the market is never going to get better.” But teams were low-balling Minnesota, thinking there really was pressure and they wanted to get the deal done sooner rather than later.

So Saunders walked away. He was patient. He knew the low-ball offers would always be there, he could wait for better.

In any negotiation, the guy with the power is the guy more willing to walk away from the table. Saunders was that guy. He took a page out of Masai Ujiri’s book when he had the same situation with Carmelo Anthony in Denver — be patient, let a trade market really develop, wait for someone to give you something you really want.

Better offers did come in, slowly. Chicago came in with Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and future picks, but that was not enough. The Celtics had a nice package of potential picks and young players, but Minnesota wasn’t ready to go that route.

Then the Warriors came in with a tempting offer but Saunders held out for their most prized rookie contract — Klay Thompson. Golden State wouldn’t do it. A team who has great former shooting guards in key decision making positions — consultant/owner Jerry West and coach Steve Kerr — did not want to give up on Thompson and pairing him with Curry. So Saunders waited.

Eventually, Cleveland threw Andrew Wiggins in a package. Most likely because LeBron James told them to — part of the reason he returned to Cleveland is he and his guys have a lot more power in the organization there. Once Cleveland got LeBron back they became a win-now team and Love fits that better than the developing Wiggins. Credit LeBron for being a smart GM here.

Now the Wiggins for Love deal is set, it just can’t be executed until Aug. 23.

But that worked for Saunders. If not an outright win, it was as close to it as he would get.

Saunders got what he needed — a potential elite player back. We don’t know how good Wiggins is going to turn out to ultimately be — he is incredibly talented but has a long ways to go — but Saunders got a young player who at the very least will be part of the future core of this team. If not it’s leader and cornerstone. And he got a guy on a rookie deal that he can control for a while (Wiggins will eventually sign some kind of rookie contract extension in Minnesota and likely be there at least seven years, maybe more).

Saunders also got Anthony Bennett, a former No. 1 pick who will never live up to that billing but showed at Las Vegas Summer League this year he can become a solid rotation big in the NBA. And he got a future first round pick.

Combine that with the potential of Zach LaVine (athletic but a lot farther to go in terms of game feel than Wiggins), plus the still young Ricky Rubio and others you might have something to build on in Minnesota. Saunders will look to move players of some value for assets now — J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved and others — and start to build for the future. In the deep West there is no reason for them to get vets and try to get the eight seed, rebuild the right way. It’s about player development in Minnesota.

But the key part of rebuilding is getting the cornerstone piece, and Saunders got that.

Saunders couldn’t win, but he played this all about as well as one can. He deserves a nice golf clap for that.

Coach Tyronn Lue says not to expect LeBron James to have “rest” games

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LeBron James has not missed one Cleveland Cavaliers game this season. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is fourth in the league in total minutes played, third in the league in minutes per game at 37, and is top 10 in the NBA in usage rate.

Don’t expect that to change.

LeBron doesn’t want to take games off — he even dominated the All-Star Game — and do you really think Lue is going to force him to sit while the Cavaliers try to adapt to a radical roster shakeup at the trade deadline? From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I just think being the leader of this team, I don’t think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in,” Lue said before the Cavs’ 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. “So, I think he’s trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good.”

LeBron said this last month and things have not changed.

“I told you I want to play every game,” James said. “If my health continues as it is right now, then that’s what it is.”

While “load management” is a buzzword around the NBA — one ignored in Minnesota — LeBron has responded to his increased workload with an MVP level season. LeBron is averaging 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, is shooting 35.9 percent from three, and has the highest value over replacement player in the league. (His less energized play in January likely cost him any real shot at his fifth MVP.) With the league emphasizing not resting players — particularly in nationally televised games, which the Cavaliers have a lot of — LeBron is not getting much if any rest. He wants to play in a full 82.

The only concern is will he wear down. LeBron is going to have to dominate in the playoffs for the Cavaliers to come out of the East. How much gas will LeBron have in the tank come May? There’s a reason Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and a lot of other elite coaches give players a night off. That’s not going to happen with LeBron, at least not likely in a meaningful way.

Consider it something to file away and remember if the Cavaliers and LeBron look a step slower in the postseason.

Watch Kyrie Irving drop 31 on Knicks in Celtics’ win

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn’t win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.

 

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.