Dan Gilbert — one of the hardline owners in the last CBA negotiations, a guy who wanted an NFL-style franchise tag and taxes that would make it hard to build or maintain a super team team — has gone out and gotten himself a super team.
With the addition of Kevin Love to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers are contenders. Kevin Love’s outlet passes are going to get LeBron, Irving, Dion Waiters and others some easy transition buckets. LeBron is going to create space for Love he hasn’t seen in years. If they play uptempo and use some smart sets this is a team that is going to score a lot of points.
But they should not be title favorites. Not yet in my book. I can think of three things that could (and I think will) keep them from winning a title next season.
1) Defense. LeBron is an elite defender, Irving is solid, Shawn Marion can still defend multiple positions well, but Love has his flaws and needs to be paired with a rim-protecting big man — Anderson Varejao is not that. Cleveland has some questions about how they plan to protect the paint with this roster, and what style of defense they will play. I don’t think the Cavaliers are going to be a bad defensive team by any means, but can they be elite enough to win a title with what they have? It may take another move or two to shore up this side of the ball.
2) Experience. LeBron has led a team to four straight finals, Marion and Mike Miller both have rings, however neither Love nor Irving have ever even played in a playoff game. To ask these guys to go from their first playoff experience to being key cogs in a team going for a title. Plus guys like Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova are going to be asked to step up into bigger roles, then do that deep into the playoffs.
3) There are some other very good teams out there. There is no easy path for the Cavaliers, even if they are in the softer East. First, I’m in the camp that the Bulls are going to be very good (I’m betting on Derrick Rose’s knees to be healthy for most of the year). The Bulls right now have an identity as a team, something the Cavaliers will be searching for. If the Cavaliers do get to the Finals there are some very good teams waiting? Did you see the San Antonio Spurs dismantle the Heat in the Finals last year? Well they brought everybody back and are the team to beat. Oklahoma City will still have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Clippers will be improved. There are questions.
I think Cleveland is going to win a ring or three over the next five seasons, but it may take them a year to get it all together. Much like as it took LeBron’s Heat teams a full season to really figure out a style that worked for them. I expect something similar in Cleveland.
Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic have started eight of the Magic’s 14 games, including the last three.
But after Orlando dropped two straight, Scott Skiles hinted at lineup changes.
The Magic coach will deliver against the Knicks tonight, swapping Channing Frye for Oladipo.
Skiles, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:
“It’s nothing punitive,” Skiles said after the Magic’s shootaround.
“It’s just we feel like we’ve got to try to find a little bit better balance. I’d like Victor to have some more opportunities like he’s had a little bit in the past where he can be on top of the floor and attack and get a little bit more vertical and not only get to the rim but just be a little bit more on the attack but not necessarily start the game that way.”
Here are the offensive/defensive/net ratings for the
- Former starting lineup: 94.7/111.2/-16.5
- New starting lineup: 117.2/90.3/+26.8
The new unit has played just 33 minutes in two games, so major sample-size caveats apply. But I like idea of seeing more of what has worked.
I suspect Skiles also wants to keep his players from becoming content. At 6-8 and coming off three straight seasons outside the playoffs, they should have no reason to feel satisfied, but the hard-driving Skiles will be proactive.
If Oladipo – whose defense Skiles values – can get sent to the bench, anyone can.
At some point, the Magic must determine whether Oladipo and Payton – both below-average 3-point shooters – can share a backcourt. But it’s also worth knowing whether Oladipo can excel as a super sub leading bench players.
This switch might help the Magic win now, but at worse, it’ll give them more information for evaluating their young roster. Seems smart all around.
The 5-9 Houston Rockets need some wins.
The Houston Rockets have a back-to-back coming up, Sunday against the Knicks then Monday against the Pistons (both on the road). Two teams with quality big men.
Combine those things and you end up with Dwight Howard being re-evaluated by team doctors and getting the training wheels taken off, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
This, plus a mini training camp the past few days, is part of new coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s effort to turn Houston’s season around.
Houston’s defense is 1.9 points per 100 possessions better this season when Howard is on the court and the Rockets are stronger on the glass. The problem is the offense is 7.8 points per 100 worse with Howard on the court. How much of that can be changed with some roster tweaks — like limiting the time James Harden and Ty Lawson share the court — and how much is due to Howard demanding touches and not doing enough with them we will find out quickly.
The Lakers’ clear top priority for this season should be simple: develop their young stars.
Julius Randle is a beast with the ball in his hands, but a one-handed beast who needs to work on his right hand. D'Angelo Russell has shown flashes but is trying to adapt to the speed and style of the NBA game. Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. can be pieces on a good team, eventually. The Lakers need to build that foundation.
Which is why coach Byron Scott sitting Russell in the fourth quarter of games, even blowouts, is perplexing. As were his responses when asked about it after the Lakers’ lastest blowout loss, Tuesday night to the Golden state Warriors. So Scott, is there value in playing Russell in blowouts to get him more time on the court? Mark Medina of the LA Daily News had the answer.
“Nah. There’s really no reason to. At that particular time we’re down 30 [points],” Scott said. “I wanted to get Ryan [Kelly] some time and Marcelo [Huertas] as well and some other guys that haven’t played a lot.”
That would be 32-year-old Marcelo Huertas, who played the fourth quarter Tuesday while Russell sat.
This is not Gregg Popovich resting his stars to keep them fresh for the playoffs here. We are talking about a 19-year-old rookie point guard whose game is based on court vision, anticipation, and angles, a guy who has to learn how to apply those in a league where everybody is long and fast. He needs time on the court to adapt. Is he going to make mistakes? Yes. A lot of them. That’s what rookies do. If you coach them up, they learn from those mistakes and make fewer each time out. It’s a sometimes painful process, but it’s how rookies learn.
Except in Byron Scott’s world where they get benched. Because that will teach them. Meanwhile Kobe can do whatever he wants, because he was once great and that gives him carte blanche.
Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone was willing to get into it with just about anyone Tuesday night. He had a few words with Blake Griffin.
And he had a few words with his rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay — and Mudiay gave it right back. Then got benched. Later the rookie realized he should be a little more deferential to the guy who controls his minutes, and apologized. Malone played it down. Everything is fine in Denver (well, except for the four straight losses). Here are the quotes, via Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post.
Said Mudiay: “It’s just both of us being competitors. It probably was my fault, I could have been doing a lot more. So I kind of put the blame on myself. I’ve got nothing against Coach, I respect him. He’s a great person, and I have all the respect in the world for him.
“Me and him are both competitive. We want to win. We hate losing. We’re on a four-game losing streak, something like that. It’s just us trying to win. At the same time, it’s over with. It’s on to the next game. It’s been like that my whole life. He’s just trying to challenge me, which I accept.”
“There is frustration on our end, having lost four games in a row now,” Malone said. “Just trying to find way to get a win. Winning is a great cure-all for anybody, like it was for (the Clippers) tonight, coming in having lost three in a row. So this is a very competitive game, guys are out there working hard trying to do their best, and sometimes emotions get involved. By no means is there an issue with Emmanuel or anybody else on this team. We are together, we are unified and we’re going to continue to fight to stay together to get this thing turned around.”
These kinds of little flare-ups are a common part of the NBA season — if the Nuggets were not frustrated after losing four straight, it would be a bigger concern. That Mudiay pushed back is some fire I want to see from a rookie.
Mudiay is learning, his turnovers are down of late (although they flared up against Golden State). His shooting is still an issue, and his decision making has a ways to go, but there is progress. Which is all you can ask of a rookie. And it helps to have a coach who will push him. (And play him in the fourth quarter — Byron Scott, we’re looking at you.)