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.

DeMar DeRozan scores 36, Raptors top Magic 131-112 for 6th in row

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan scored 36 points and Cory Joseph had 15 points and 13 assists as the Toronto Raptors defeated the Orlando Magic 131-112 on Monday night for their sixth straight victory.

DeRozan, selected the Eastern Conference player of the week earlier in the day, set the pace early by scoring 18 in the first quarter. Joseph added six rebounds and Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors (45-29).

Elfrid Payton had 22 points and nine assists for Orlando (27-47). Evan Fournier added 20 points, and Nikola Vucevic had 12 points and 15 assists.

It was the first game between the teams since the Raptors traded Terrence Ross to the Magic for Serge Ibaka in February. Ross finished with 17 points and two rebounds, while Ibaka had 16 points and seven rebounds.

The Raptors took a 99-89 lead into the fourth quarter.

DeRozan’s basket gave Toronto a 19-point lead with 8:15 to go in the third. But the Magic, winners of seven games this season after falling behind by double digits, fought back.

Bismack Biyombo made a pair of free throws to cut Toronto’s lead to five with 12 seconds left in the period.

But after DeRozan hit a jumper to widen the lead to seven, Delon Wright stole the inbounds pass and hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Toronto its double-digit lead back going into the fourth.

Payton paced the Magic surge, hitting all four field goals he attempted in the quarter. He led all scorers with 10 points in the period, as Orlando outscored Toronto 32-26.

After four ties and seven lead changes in the game’s first 15 minutes, the Raptors took charge over the final nine minutes of the second quarter to take a 73-57 lead into halftime.

The Raptors hit all four 3s they attempted in the quarter, three by Norman Powell, who led all scorers with 11 points in the period.

Eight different Toronto players scored in the quarter as the Raptors outscored the Magic 33-17 over that nine-minute stretch and led by as many as 18 points.

The Magic cooled off from a torrid shooting pace in the first quarter to a still-respectable 48 percent in the second. Fournier led the way with nine points in the period.

Toronto led 35-34 after a first quarter that featured terrific shooting by both teams.

The Magic led by seven points early as Ross hit four of his first five shots and Aaron Gordon poured in 10 points. Orlando shot 13 for 29 (62 percent) from the field in the period.

DeRozan was 7 for 10 from the field in the opening quarter and hit his only 3-point attempt.

Toronto shot 15 for 24 (63 percent) as each starter had at least one field goal in the first period.

TIP-INS

Magic: Ross received a standing ovation after a tribute commemorating his 4 1/2 seasons in Toronto was played on the scoreboard during the first timeout. . Orlando has hit a 3 in 812 consecutive games, the fifth-longest active streak in the NBA. . The Magic had a 66-58 edge on points in the paint.

Raptors: DeRozan’s conference player of the week award was his fourth of the season. He averaged a league-best 33.3 points in three games last week. . Valanciunas pulled down the 3,000th rebound of his career in the second quarter, second to Chris Bosh (4,776) on Toronto’s all-time list. . The 73 points were the most the Raptors have scored in the first half this season.

 

Kawhi Leonard scores 25 as Spurs dismantle ailing Cavaliers, 103-74

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the ailing Cleveland Cavaliers 103-74 on Monday night in a showdown that turned into a major letdown for the defending NBA champions.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol added 14 points apiece for the Spurs, who won their fifth straight.

Cleveland (47-26) dropped its second in a row, set a season low for points and fell a half-game behind Boston (48-26) for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Cavaliers star LeBron James was injured late in the third quarter after taking an elbow to the base of his neck. He remained on the bench for a while receiving medical attention, then headed toward the locker room and didn’t return to the game.

His status was not immediately known.

Cleveland has been out of sync recently, losing three of five, and those struggles only got worse against San Antonio. The Spurs led by as many as 33 points to the delight of the sold-out crowd.

San Antonio (57-16) is two games behind Golden State (59-14) for the league’s best record entering a home showdown with the Warriors on Wednesday.

Cleveland opted to play its stars rather than sit them for rest, but the trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sat out the fourth quarter of its second rout in the past two weeks.

James exited with 25 seconds remaining in the third after taking an elbow to his neck from David Lee on a rebound. James continually rubbed the area before collapsing after he crossed midcourt and remained on the floor for about a minute before walking unassisted to the bench. He left for the locker room early in the fourth quarter during a timeout.

James finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes.

The Spurs held the Cavaliers scoreless for three minutes after San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was issued a technical foul during a timeout with 6:38 remaining in the first half.

Leonard hit a right-handed runner as the second quarter closed to give the Spurs a 64-40 lead.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Cleveland completed its schedule against the West, finishing 16-14. In addition to losing to the Spurs by 29 points, the Cavaliers lost by 35 to Golden State and 30 to the Los Angeles Clippers. . Cleveland F Kyle Korver missed his third straight game with a sore left foot, and the team plans to sit him for several games to see if rest and treatment helps. Korver will sit out Thursday in Chicago and Friday at home against Philadelphia before being re-evaluated, a team spokesman said. The shooting specialist missed seven games earlier this month with an inflamed tendon in his foot. . G Iman Shumpert missed his second consecutive game with a sore right knee. . James needs 24 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal for seventh overall in career scoring. O’Neal has 28,596 career points. . The Cavaliers averaged 116.3 points in their previous four games.

Spurs: San Antonio is holding its opponents to an average of less than 100 points for the 22nd straight season. . Danny Green tied his season high with four blocked shots. . Leonard has scored in double figures in 100 straight games.

 

Russell Westbrook dominates final minutes, hits game winner for Thunder (VIDEO)

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This game looked over. The Dallas Mavericks were up 13 with 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Oklahoma City Thunder were going to take the loss.

Then Russell Westbrook happened.

He scored 12 points in a 14-0 Thunder run to close out the game, then capped it off hitting the game winner for the Thunder (video above). For the game-winner, the Thunder almost went 1-4 flat and just let Westbrook work in isolation on his defender, a smart play when you have a guy this talented.

It was the kind of game that the Westbrook for MVP crowd will point to — he had 37 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, and he absolutely dominated the final minutes of the game (he shot 5-of-9 down the stretch).

This was Westbrook’s 37th triple-double of the season, and the Thunder are 30-7 when he does reaches that mark. Westbrook takes heat in some quarters for “empty stats” or trying to pad his numbers, but the fact is the Thunder are 11-24 when he doesn’t put up the huge numbers and carry the offense. If you’re going to define “MVP” by value to his team, it’s hard not to choose Westbrook this season, this team is toast without him.

Paul Millsap out at least three more games with knee issue, Hawks 0-8 without him

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The Atlanta Hawks have come apart at the worst time. They have lost seven in a row and have fallen from comfortably in the playoffs to tied for the 5-6-7 seed in the East, just 2.5 games out of falling out of the playoffs altogether.

It has all happened with Paul Millsap out, and that is going to continue for about a week more the team announced Monday.

Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap has been diagnosed with left knee synovitis and has undergone a non-surgical procedure at Emory (Orthopaedics & Spine Center in Atlanta). He will be listed as out for the next three games and his status will be updated as appropriate.

Synovitis is when the synovial membrane — which encases joints and helps lubricate them with synovial fluid — becomes inflamed. It’s usually a sign of another issue causing the inflammation.

The Hawks problem is they are 0-8 this season when Millsap is out.

It still feels unlikely Atlanta will fall all the way out of the playoffs (they have a slightly easier schedule than everyone they’re competing against for the slot), but they are more likely than Indiana or Milwaukee to slip. Also, the odds of them finishing with the seven or eight seed seem high, and that likely means a quick one-and-done visit to the postseason.

After that would come some real questions in Atlanta about how much they want to pay Millsap to keep him as a free agent (it’s going to have to be near max money and for five years, or he will look hard at his other options).