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.
Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James is shooting 37.3 percent from 3-point range this season. That’s up a little more than six percent from last season, and three percent better than his career average. He doesn’t need much help there this season, but you know that LeBron is always looking for ways to improve.
Including, apparently, trying on UCLA star Lonzo Ball’s shooting form.
During warmups on Thursday before the Cavaliers took on the Chicago Bulls, LeBron messed around with Ball’s awkward shooting form. If you haven’t seen it, it’s an odd draw from right-to-left, with the right-handed Ball almost shooting from the left side of this face.
Ball was a 41.3 percent shooter from deep during his one season at UCLA and will be a top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, perhaps much to the chagrin of whichever team has to deal with his dad, LaVar.
Apparently, it’s not “be kind to your former boss month.”
Bulls legend and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was on ESPN’s “The Jump” — the Rachel Nichols hosted NBA show on each afternoon — and the topic turned to how much the Knicks stink. And why. Of course, there’s plenty of blame to go around for just about everyone on that front, but Pippen threw his former coach under the bus (transcription via the New York Daily News).
“To be honest with you, I’m going to have to go at my old coach Phil Jackson,” Pippen said on ESPN’s “The Jump.” “I think he just hasn’t put the right pieces on the floor. I give a lot of credit to Carmelo who is being very professional in getting through these 82 game season. And now he’s being benched to some degree, they’re taking a lot of his minutes away. But this team just hasn’t had it. They haven’t had it since Phil Jackson landed there. There hasn’t been any upside.”
After saying “fans would love to see Carmelo in New York and Phil out,” Pippen was asked by host Rachel Nichols if he believes Jackson “should be out.”
“Yes,” Pippen replied emphatically.
Most of Jackson’s former players have his back, most recently Shaquille O’Neal who laid blame at the feet of the Knicks’ players. The ones that Jackson assembled into a mismatched team.
Phil Jackson’s record may be 77-162 since taking over the Knicks, but reports are he isn’t going anywhere. While owner James Dolan can flip like a pancake on a griddle, the sense is that Jackson will keep collecting his $12 million annual salary and will keep trying to build a triangle-offense team. That means Carmelo Anthony likely gets moved this summer.
Jackson has seemingly fallen into the trap the Knicks have been unable to climb out of for years — since James Dolan took over as owner seemingly — of not just picking a system, sticking to it, being patient and avoiding quick fixes. Triangle, Rhombus, pick-and-roll heavy, whatever offense the Knicks use should be built around getting Kristaps Porzingis touches and playing to his strengths. Get younger players who fit that system to go around him and let it grow together. Be patient. Instead, it’s Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
Jackson deserves blame. A significant amount. So do the players. So does Jeff Hornacek as coach. But make sure Dolan gets a big slice too, this team has struggled since he was given control, and he is the one constant.
Since the All-Star break, the Cleveland Cavaliers have not looked like a championship team. They have been in a malaise going 8-10 with the second-worst defense in the NBA during that stretch. The Cavs like a team that is just waiting for the games to have meaning again in the playoffs. It makes one tempted to say this will come back to bite them in the postseason, but which team in the East is going to beat them?
The Cavaliers players are frustrated with their play of late, too. Kyrie Irving vented about it after practice, as reported by Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
“Obviously it was just a frustrating game and there have been a few frustrating games for all of us,” Irving said. “Just getting back to what we do, having fun with one another and being truthful with one another — we’ll be good…
And then Irving said: “You can’t rely on just thinking that one championship is enough. It’s natural for human beings to just get comfortable. To rely on just having won a championship. But if you a (competitor) you want two, you want three, you want four. And if you dedicate yourself more like you say you do, then you want more. And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”
Injuries have had key players, most recently Kevin Love and J.R. Smith out of the rotation of late, and working them back in has not gone smoothly. Still, this is the same core from the team that won the title last season, it shouldn’t be that difficult to get back into a groove.
Cleveland is acting like a team that thinks it can flip the switch.
Maybe they can, but there are some powerful teams out West who seemed to have flipped theirs long ago.
Predicting what the Chicago Bulls front office will do this summer is a game of roulette — the ball can land anywhere and it wouldn’t be a surprise. Is Dwyane Wade coming back? Is Nikola Mirotic part of the future? Fred Hoiberg? What kind of team are the Bulls trying to build, anyway?
Then there is the biggest one: Is Jimmy Butler still part of the long-term plan? Or is he going to be moved to facilitate a rebuilding process?
Last summer when the Bulls had the chance to trade him, they kept Butler to build around him… then made some interesting choices in trying to do that. They didn’t get enough shooting, players didn’t fit well, and others didn’t develop, and the Bulls are struggling to even make the postseason.
So what do the Bulls do this summer? One exec told Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer that the Bulls were going to move Butler.
“Paul George and Jimmy Butler were involved in trade rumors at the deadline, and all indications are that those conversations will resume this offseason. One front-office source told me recently that Butler is “as good as gone,” while George sounds like a player who wants out.”
Paul George wanting to contend (or if not, be in Los Angeles) is not news, but whether the Pacers decide to be serious about trading him this summer depends on a number of factors that we’re not going to get into here. This article is about Butler.
Do the Bulls want to trade Butler? Some in the front office do, some don’t. There were reports the Bulls wanted an All-Star level player for him so the team did not take a step back, but nobody was giving that up. Everyone in Chicago from ownership through management is not on the same page, which helps explain some of the stop-gap team building moves by the team. Chicago needs to decide if it wants to go for the full rebuild, which is what happens if they trade Butler. The playoffs are out of the questions for a few years if they do, but that’s not a bad thing if they draft well and commit to the plan. However, there is a sense that ownership thinks “this is Chicago, we don’t rebuild.”
All of which is to say, if the Bulls trade Butler it’s not a huge surprise. If they keep him, it’s not a huge surprise. But other teams — hello Boston — may be prepping for him to come back on the trade market around the draft.