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Three things we learned Tuesday: Toronto makes its play, while Cleveland just wins games

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Most of the news around the NBA Tuesday happened off the court, but we’ve got your back there too, breaking down the big trade of the day. Plus giving you highlights. Just because we care.

1) The Raptors make a play, but Orlando gets win too with trade. Tuesday we had our first big trade — very possibly the only big trade — in the run-up to the Feb. 23 trade deadline: Serge Ibaka went to the Raptors in exchange for Terrence Ross and a first-round pick (the worse of the Raptors’ own pick or the Clippers’ pick, which the Raptors control).

The goal with any trade is a win-win scenario — and this comes pretty close to that.

For Orlando, they get a first round pick, which never hurts. In Ross, they get a guy that fits their needs and helps uncork the logjam up front. Ross was frustrating to Raptors fans because he never quite fit in or lived up to expectations, but for Orlando the fit is better — Ross is a swingman who could start at the three and allow Frank Vogel to slide Aaron Gordon back to his more natural spot at the four. Or, if Vogel insists on the Gordon at the three experiment, Ross could be a sixth man who would provide some scoring punch off the bench. Either way he fits better with what they want to do than Ibaka had.

Most of the talk about this trade, however, is what it means for Toronto: Will this snap them out of their recent funk? More importantly, where does this put them in the pecking order in the East? Are they contenders and a threat to Cleveland? I wouldn’t go that far (assuming the playoff Cavaliers are healthy), but this move does make them better. On offense, Ibaka is shooting 38.8 from three this season and hits his midrange jumpers, he can space the floor and give them a quality four next to Jonas Valanciunas (one who can defend and cover some of Valanciunas’ flaws), and once Patrick Patterson returns healthy it allows the Raptors to go a little smaller with Ibaka and Patterson up front — a lineup that seems better suited to taking on Cleveland. In the short term, it fills a real need until Patterson does get healthy. I’m not as high on this move as some because of Ibaka’s reduced athleticism and movement (he’s not the player he was three seasons ago) and what it will cost them to keep this summer (the Raptors are going deep into the tax). But this trade makes the Raptors better. It may push them back up to being the second best team in the East, it certainly makes a second-round matchup with Boston interesting (if the Raptors can climb past the Wizards and get the three seed). But I still don’t think Toronto threatens Cleveland if the Cavs have all their players healthy.

2) Cavaliers pick up win without Kevin Love. The news that Kevin Love is going to miss about 30 games following knee surgery (if he’s back on schedule) raised this question about the banged-up Cavaliers: Can they hold on to the top seed in the East? Not are they the best team in the East, when healthy they certainly are (even after the Ibaka trade by Toronto), but Boston is hot and entered Tuesday night just two games back of Cleveland for the top spot in the East.

Without Love, and for the next few weeks at least also no J.R. Smith, are the Cavaliers in danger of dropping out of that top spot? LeBron James says not to worry, he’s got this. And on Tuesday night against the Timberwolves he did. First off, LeBron did this to poor Andrew Wiggins.

LeBron also scored 25 points and led the Cavaliers to the 116-108 win. The Cavs are going to need a lot more nights like this from LeBron for the next six weeks — so much for tapering his minutes and getting him some rest.

3) DeMarcus Cousins 40-point, 12-board night leads Kings to win in Los Angeles. Kings ownership still is hell-bent on making a push for the playoffs this season — new building, new attitude, they want to snap a 10-year playoff drought. The Kings are just 1.5 games back of the Nuggets for the eighth seed, and with a road win over the Lakers Tuesday Sacramento has won four in a row.

The reason they won? DeMarcus Cousins. Well, that and the Lakers deciding to single-cover Cousins most of the night, rather than daring any other King player to beat them. Cousins had 40 points, 16 of those in the fourth quarter, plus pulled down 12 boards, and looked every bit the best big man in the game. Lou Williams put up a fight for the Lakers scoring 29, but it wasn’t enough.

The Kings’ four-game win streak likely ends Wednesday against Golden State (the team the Kings are hoping to get the chance to get swept by face in the first round of the playoffs).

Magic sending Raptors draft pick as compensation for hiring Jeff Weltman

AP Photo/John Raoux
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The Raptors promoted Jeff Weltman, still working under Masai Ujiri, to general manager last year.

That paid off for Toronto when the Magic hired Weltman as their new president.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic have their own and the Lakers’ second-round picks next year. Even the lower of those two selections could be somewhat value.

In other words, Weltman’s already-difficult job is getting even harder simply by Orlando hiring him.

LeBron James still striving to surpass Michael Jordan

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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LeBron James has discussed chasing Michael Jordan’s “ghost,” motivating himself by trying surpass Jordan as the greatest player in NBA history.

Just 27 points behind Jordan for the all-time playoff scoring lead – a record he could break in Cavaliers-Celtics Game 5 tonight – LeBron is again discussing that pursuit.

LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“It’s just a personal goal of mine,” James said Thursday before Cavs shootaround in preparation of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. “It has nothing to do with passing the rings, passing the points, passing MVPs. It’s just my personal goal to keep me motivated — that’s all.”

“You guys are going to have the conversations about who is greatest of all time and things of that nature,” James said. “It doesn’t matter to me. At the end of the day, it’s so funny that the conversation is always talked about in the NBA about who is the greatest but it’s never talked about in the NFL about who is the greatest quarterback. It’s just like: [Dan] Marino, [John] Elway, [Peyton] Manning and [Tom] Brady. All great quarterbacks, you know — and it should be the same for us.

Jordan or LeBron? Save your hot takes. LeBron just burnt them all.

The greatest quarterback of all time is never debated? Claiming that is now the hottest take in the entire realm of the Jordan-LeBron debate.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Kyrie Irving feeling ‘good’ after ankle injury

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BOSTON (AP) — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue says that Kyrie Irving‘s left ankle is feeling “good” in advance of Cleveland’s Game 5 matchup Thursday night with the Celtics.

Irving was moving around and putting up shots during the Cavs’ morning shootaround.

The All-Star rolled his ankle in the third quarter of Game 4 when he stepped on Terry Rozier‘s foot. Irving was able to stay on the floor and finish the game, scoring a career playoff-high 42 points.

Cleveland leads Boston 3-1 and can wrap up its third straight Eastern Conference title Thursday night.

Several Celtics are also fighting injuries as they try to stave off elimination.

Jaylen Brown is listed as questionable with a right hip pointer. Jae Crowder is probable with a left groin strain, and Amir Johnson is probable with a right shoulder sprain.

Danny Ainge: Lonzo Ball declined to work out for Celtics, who hold No. 1 pick

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LaVar Ball said his son, highly touted draft prospect Lonzo Ball, would work out for only the Lakers.

You thought he was bluffing?

Celtics president Danny Ainge, whose team holds the No. 1 pick, on 98.5 the Sports Hub:

We just tried to get him in for a workout, and they politely said no.

It’s not ideal.

Listen, we’ve drafted guys that wouldn’t come in for workouts before. I mean, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve watched them play a ton. We have a lot of information on them.

Good for Ball. Professional sports teams already hold inordinate power over players entering the workforce. In no other industry are top young employees assigned to a particular company, the worst-performing companies typically getting priority, with no ability to bargain with competitors.

Ball wants to play for the Lakers, who offer proximity to his family and hold the No. 2 pick. He can’t force Boston to pass on him or Los Angeles to pick him. But he can influence decision-making.

It seemed likely the Celtics would draft Markelle Fultz, and though they could still pick Ball, him declining a workout with Boston makes that only less likely. The Lakers will probably draft Ball, but this plan carries risk. If they pass, he could fall once he gets to teams less familiar with him.

Still, Ball deserves to decide for himself how to manage his career – especially in such a closed job market. Not working out for the Celtics is probably his best path to getting where he wans to go.