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.
It will be the biggest off-court topic of the NBA season: Will LeBron James stay with the Cavaliers after this season?
Right now, LeBron doesn’t know the answer to that question for sure. I’m sure he has ideas, but he wisely leaves all his options open, then can make a call next summer when the time comes.
When that time does come, does he owe his hometown Cleveland anything? LeBron answered that question in the latest issue of GQ, and he answered with an emphatic no.
“LeBron James owes nobody anything. Nobody,” he said. “When my mother told me I don’t owe her anything, from that point in time, I don’t owe anybody anything. But what I will give to the city of Cleveland is passion, commitment, and inspiration. As long as I put that jersey on, that’s what I represent. That’s why I’m there — to inspire that city. But I don’t owe anybody anything.”
That’s not what Cavs fans may want to hear, but it’s also spot on. LeBron has given this franchise everything he has, he has brought them the first title the team has had in 50 years, and nobody sane can question his passion or how hard he plays.
LeBron could well get to his eighth straight NBA Finals, feel he’s on a team that can push the Warriors, then look at his options — the Lakers and a young core that doesn’t defend well, for example — and think maybe he’s best where he’s at. Perhaps he teams up with another star in Los Angeles or somewhere else. If LeBron called up 28 teams and said “I want to come there” those teams would make whatever moves they needed to for the deal to happen. (I say 28 because the Warriors wouldn’t, and even they’d think about it.)
LeBron has the leverage, and he is always a guy who keeps his options open. He will be asked about his future in every road stop, he will dodge the questions, and we’ll try to read the tea leaves, but as of right now LeBron doesn’t know for sure what LeBron will do next summer. Neither do we.
Spurs big LaMarcus Aldridge, who will earn $21,461,010 this season, agreed to exercise his $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19 in conjunction with signing a two-year, $50 million contract extension.
As usual, the devil is in the details.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
Guaranteeing Aldridge just $7 million in 2020-21, when he’ll be 35, is obviously to San Antonio’s advantage relative to fully guaranteeing his extension. But it sets up an uneasy choice for the Spurs. Their three options for Aldridge will be:
- Pay him $24 million in 2020-21 to play for them
- Pay him $7 million in 2020-21 not to play for them
- Pay him $2,333,333 in each 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 not to play for them
There’s a solid chance that none of those are appealing.
Some speculated San Antonio extended Aldridge to facilitate a trade, removing uncertainty stemming from Aldridge’s player option. Though the Spurs now can’t trade him before the deadline, they could move him in the offseason.
But that 15% trade kicker is a significant inhibitor. His salary is already lofty for his age. An increase would only dissuade teams.
The simplest explanation is probably correct: The Spurs value the stability of their core, no matter how old it is, over flexibility.
The Thunder signed P.J. Dozier, who went undrafted out of South Carolina, to a seemingly innocuous two-way contract.
Then, they let him pick No. 35 – previously worn by Kevin Durant.
Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:
Honoring Reggie Lewis seems like a valid reason for Dozier, who probably didn’t want to get swept into what has become a minor controversy.
Personally, I don’t mind a player wearing any unretired number. Even numbers that will clearly be retired can be fair game until the jersey goes into the rafters. This is a non-issue to me.
But people care about this stuff. Many see it as a sign of disrespect to Durant, who left Oklahoma City on bad terms when signing with the Warriors. The Thunder lose deniability about not caring, considering they told Dion Waiters he couldn’t wear No. 13, which was previously worn by James Harden.
Will Oklahoma City eventually retire Durant’s No. 35? He spent a fantastic eight years there (and another season with the Seattle SuperSonics before they moved). Time will ease the bitterness of his exit. It’s certainly possible he’s honored that way.
In the meantime, let Dozier wear No. 35 in peace. It should have nothing to do with Durant.
76ers center Joel Embiid made clear yesterday he disliked the minute restriction placed on him, which Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said would keep Embiid below 20 minutes per game.
Today, sporting a new hairstyle, Embiid upped the rhetoric.
Embiid, via Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia:
“That’s f—ing BS,” he said after practice Tuesday. “I wish I was playing more minutes. I think I’m ready for more than I don’t know whatever number they have.”
“I think the concept of minute restrictions is kind of complicated,” Embiid said. “I don’t think there should ever be minute restrictions. I think it should always be about how my body feels and how it’s reacting.”
“They know that I’m frustrated, but once again you’ve got to trust the doctors,” Embiid said. “They care about me. It’s all about the long-term view.”
“Like I always say,” he said, “you’ve got to trust the process.”
We’ve been here before – an injury-prone Philadelphia center rocking cornrows (at least Embiid went all the way with them) and Embiid lashing out at his minute limit.
Embiid is incredibly competitive, and he can’t just turn it off. It’s an attribute that contributes to his on-court excellence.
Embiid appears to have just enough trust-the-process perspective here, but Brown will also likely have his hands full keeping Embiid from getting too frustrated throughout the season.
At least Embiid has his contract extension and isn’t restless to get on the court and earn his big payday.