Report: LeBron James upset that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert not spending enough

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When I wrote that LeBron James – who has been sounding off about the Cavaliers’ roster – held frustrations with the Heat’s roster that contributed to him leaving Miami, I didn’t elaborate on all the circumstances. It wasn’t just that the Heat failed to build a supporting cast that satisfied LeBron. It was that they didn’t spend as much as LeBron desired.

But maybe there is no distinction between that situation and Cleveland’s.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Tension between LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ leadership is centered around payroll spending, multiple sources told ESPN.

James and team owner Dan Gilbert have different viewpoints on the issue and it has been straining the relationship, sources said.

When James was considering returning to the Cavs in 2014, James pressed Gilbert on if he’d be willing to spend unconditionally on talent regardless of the luxury tax cost, sources said. Over the course of several meetings with James and his representatives, Gilbert agreed and James subsequently signed with the team.

The Cavaliers have the NBA’s highest payroll. They’re on track to spend $154,616,543 – $127,519,873 in player salaries and $27,096,670 in luxury tax – this season. They also had the NBA’s highest payroll last year. In LeBron’s first season back, they ranked second in payroll and paid the luxury tax, no small feat considering they dipped far below the salary cap the prior offseason to sign him and the system is designed to limit a quick escalation of team salary.

By any reasonable standard, Gilbert is spending abundantly.

But LeBron is under no obligation to hold reasonable standards.

Many believed it was unreasonable for LeBron to play again for Gilbert, who attacked the superstar personally and with racist undertones in his infamous letter. If LeBron demanded limitless financial commitment from Gilbert to return, it was up to Gilbert to agree or not. And if Gilbert did, LeBron can hold him to that standard.

Even with Cleveland’s monstrous payroll, there’s room for more spending.

Despite LeBron’s repeated pleas for another point guard, the Cavs have held an open roster spot for weeks. There aren’t great options available – Norris Cole, Ray McCallum, Will Bynum, Kirk Hinrich, Kendall Marshall, Andre Miller – but it seems LeBron just wants someone who can eat up a few minutes per game. While Cleveland waits, Ronnie Price, Chasson Randle and Pierre Jackson have been taken off the market by 10-day contracts. The Cavaliers will probably eventually sign someone, but why the delay? They save about $20,000 in salary and luxury tax each day the roster spot goes unfilled.

Meanwhile, the Cavs continues to carry Chris Andersen, who’s on a one-year contract and out for the season. Waiving him would allow them to sign a second player who can help the team now – but would also mean double-dipping in cost, as they’d have to eat Andersen’s salary. It’s always possible they can trade him to another team that would pay him. The same went for Mo Williams, who filled a roster spot despite being de facto retired until Cleveland unloaded him in the Kyle Korver trade – another deal that saved money. Taking Williams was a burden on the Hawks, and if they didn’t have to do that, perhaps they would have accepted less-favorable protections on the draft pick they received.

The Cavaliers also have two trade exceptions worth more than $4 million each. Packaging one with a draft pick could land a helpful player, though such a trade would also add substantially to the Cavs’ luxury tax. It’s worth noting that, in the Korver trade, Cleveland essentially chose to have these two trade exceptions that would last into next season rather than a single trade exception that could add a much-pricier player but only this season.

So, I see why this would upset LeBron, who has little to no margin for error against the star-studded Warriors. With the Cavaliers’ lackluster depth, he’s playing an NBA-high 37.6 minutes per game – hardly ideal playoff preparation for the 32-year-old. Cleveland has also lost six of eight, exacerbating any problems.

But LeBron mistimed his complaints. If Gilbert is inclined to appease his franchise player, LeBron could have affected much more in the offseason. LeBron signed off on the Cavs not matching the Bucks’ offer sheet for Matthew Dellavedova, who is exactly the type of player – an effective backup point guard for the long haul of the regular season – Cleveland needs right now. If he really wanted to push Gilbert, LeBron could’ve demanded the Cavaliers beat the Lakers’ lucrative offer to Timofey Mozgov. Though Mozgov was an unrestricted free agent and left for a starting job, money and sentimentality probably could’ve kept him with the Cavs.

Mozgov would’ve been an incredible luxury (-tax burden) coming off the bench in Cleveland, but the cost wouldn’t have been LeBron’s problem. Failing to match on Dellavedova seems like a mistake given everything that has transpired. That LeBron lacked the foresight to demand Dellavedova be kept at the time matters only so much. LeBron holds the power, and nothing can stop him from citing the Dellavedova and Mozgov cases in a list of grievances when he becomes a free agent next year.

The best way for Gilbert to prevent that? Grit his teeth and spend as much as possible before then.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.