From late-arriving to a LeBron James favorite, Kevin Love comes full circle

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Kevin Love didn’t immediately trust LeBron James.

Repeatedly during the 2012 Olympics, LeBron sat near Love and praised the then-Timberwolves forward. Love didn’t know whether to take the compliments at face value or… Really, he didn’t know what to do.

So, Love brushed it off.

At the All-Star Game the next season, which Love missed due to injury, the pair spoke again in greater depth. Finally, Love was convinced – LeBron appreciated his game, and a real bond formed.

Now, Love and LeBron are teammates in Cleveland.

“It just goes to show you that things come full circle,” Love said today at his introductory press conference with the Cavaliers.

LeBron couldn’t have known in 2012 he’d ever have the chance to play with Love two years later, but the players developed a mutual respect for each other in London. By this summer, Love was unhappy in Minnesota, and LeBron was a free agent. By signing in Cleveland, LeBron set into motion Love joining him.

“I was the first call that he made after he signed,” Love said, “and I’m very happy about that.”

“LeBron had signed to come back with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Just a few hours post, he called me, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m in.’ That had a lot do with my decision.”

It’s a little funny – if you don’t understand how much power NBA superstars wield – to hear Love call this arrangement “his decision.” After all, Love is under contract for next season and technically had no control where the Timberwolves trade him. His main realistic influence was the ability to opt in as a condition of a deal, but it doesn’t seem that happened here.

However, there was a report Love promised to opt out and re-sign for five years next summer. Given that such a scheme would violate NBA rules, Love – sitting next to Cavaliers general manager David Griffin –  of course gave no details when asked how long he’d stay in Cleveland.

“That is something that hasn’t been talked about, but like I told Griff in our meetings and Dan Gilbert as well and the powers that be in the front office and all the way down that I’m committed to this team,” Love said. “Committed long term to that end goal, and that’s to win championships and to win a championship here in Ohio.”

Winning a championship is something the Cavaliers have never done and something any major pro team in Cleveland hasn’t done since 1964.

Love, a student of the game, is mindful of that history. It showed when he discussed his change to No. 0.

His number in Minnesota, 42, has been retired by the Cavaliers for Nate Thurmond. Love praised Thurmond and appreciated his willingness to let Love wear the number, but ultimately, Love wanted a fresh start.

His Olympic number, 11, was also retired – for Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Love’s third choice – 7, which his mom considered lucky for him – was retired for Bingo Smith.

That left one other option.

Love told a story of joining a new team growing up in Oregon, and he was the last to arrive for a tournament. Nearly every jersey had been taken.

“There was the 0 for me,” said Love, likely the last major domino to fall this offseason.

“It really brings me back to Portland, which is Oregon, the O,” Love said. “And then as Griff told me later in a text too, when I told him what number I was going to choose, he also said can’t forget Ohio, too. And he’s right.”

Full circle indeed.

Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, probable top-10 pick, declares for NBA draft

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Jonathan Isaac explored bursting through a loophole to declare for the 2016 NBA draft straight out of high school.

Instead, he went to Florida State. Now, he’ll enter the 2017 draft.

Isaac:

If he doesn’t hire an agent, Isaac can maintain college eligibility, but this message seems pretty final. Expect Isaac to remain in the draft, and expect him to go in the top 10.

What I like most about the 6-foot-11 forward: Despite being so lanky, he was an elite defensive rebounder. That shows an underlying technical proficiency and physicality that should serve him well.

And then there are the drool-inducing flashes – his ability to go up and get alley-oops above the rim and a sweet-looking jumper.

He’s still a work in progress, and he deferred a lot at Florida State. But he’s just 19, and he has the tools to do more. I’d love to get him on my team as he learns to assert himself.

Report: Clippers sort of resent Austin Rivers’ favored status

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The Clippers faced a potential crisis this summer.

They had already agreed to re-sign Austin Rivers to a three-year contract worth more than $35 million, and Jamal Crawford was threatening to leave. Losing the then-36-year-old Crawford would’ve been costly, but it wouldn’t have been devastating. The bigger issue would have been the image: keeping the coach’s son over the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.

Clippers president/coach Doc Rivers calmed the brewing storm by giving Crawford a three-year, $42 million deal.

But apparently the underlying tension hasn’t completely dissipated.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

The in-house resentment toward Austin Rivers being favored as Doc’s son, according to team sources, still very much exists, but it isn’t out of control.

Know what the Clippers truly resent? Losing. They’ve gone 8-9 since the All-Star break, and they’re clearly feeling the slump.

That brings lingering issues, like Austin’s place on the team, to the surface.

And other Clippers are reasonable to show suspicion about the dynamic, a complication Doc should have considered when he traded for Austin.

Austin has explained his never-that-warm relationship with Doc, who was busy coaching while Austin was growing up. These two claim this is far more a coach-player than father-son relationship, and I believe they believe that. I also believe it’s mostly true, though their familial ties probably intrude more than they realize.

That said, Austin has worked himself into a legitimate backup guard after a horrendous start to his NBA career. It’s worth a reminder just how bad he was in New Orleans because that shows how even his modest role now is a sign of tremendous growth. Austin has improved his shot, and his 6-foot-4 frame is an asset in some defensive matchups (probably not as many as Doc believes, judging by Austin’s assignments).

Does Austin deserve 28 minutes per game? Probably not, though he also handles garbage-time minutes so older teammates don’t have to. Does Austin deserve his $11 million+ annual salary? Probably not, though the capped-out Clippers had no recourse beyond minimum contracts to replace him, so he had leverage (ditto Crawford). Does he deserve to so often speak for the team? Probably not, though bigger stars Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan might not mind the occasional break.

Austin’s biggest problem is that, despite his improvement, his gaffes are still so blatant. That makes it more difficult to take him seriously, even when the totality of evidence says we should.

And for all the examples of Doc’s Clippers favoring Doc’s son, Austin was still the player who got left in the game with a concussion. That’s just dangerous, not nepotism.

There isn’t out-of-control resentment for Austin, because there’s isn’t out-of-control favoritism for him.

But there is some favoritism, and the more the Clippers struggle, the more they’ll look for a place to point the finger and occasionally land on Austin.

Report: Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, determined to become NBA head coach, offered Florida women’s job

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Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is the NBA’s first female full-time coach.

She could also become the next Florida women’s basketball coach.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is considering a lucrative offer to leave the NBA and become the University of Florida women’s basketball coach, league sources told The Vertical.

The financial offer would be a considerable raise, especially considering that she’s still a young, behind-the-bench assistant on Gregg Popovich’s staff. Nevertheless, Hammon is grappling with the decision, because she has been determined to stay on course to become the NBA’s first female head coach, league sources said.

Hammon is blazing a trail in the NBA and might eventually become a head coach in the league. She has Gregg Popovich’s endorsement, praise from San Antonio players and success in limited opportunities.

But the path for a woman coach in men’s basketball is extremely narrow. It’s not fair, but Hammon faces hurdles others wouldn’t.

And the glass ceiling becomes exponentially thicker for a woman in women’s basketball who’s trying to jump to men’s basketball. Women’s college basketball is not a pipeline to the NBA, especially not for a woman. If Hammon goes to Florida, the paradigm changes. It would renew questions about her playing experience coming only in women’s basketball and her limited time with the Spurs.

Hammon wouldn’t be blackballed from the NBA, but she’d be setting up more obstacles for herself to clear to become a head coach in the league.

In one respect, I don’t envy her decision. However, she has positioned herself to choose between a promising path and an excellent job. Even if deciding is difficult, she’ll wind up in a good place.

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.