Jamal Murray starts to find his footing in NBA, just in time to help lift Nuggets

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Consistency. Defensive game plan discipline. Physicality.

That is what Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone is preaching to his young stars coming out of the All-Star break. He and the team are making no bones about it, they want the eighth seed in the playoffs (the Nuggets currently hold that spot, with Portland and others three games back). Denver wants to get invited to the dance.

“(Getting the eighth seed) is talked about a lot, that’s our main goal right now, just stay consistent and make the playoffs,” Nuggets rookie Jamal Murray told NBCSports All-Star weekend while signing Panini trading cards. “We’re just trying to play consistent right now and it’s tough, there are a lot of good teams in the West.”

Murray is a big part of that push — Malone is giving him more and more responsibility on the court as Emmanuel Mudiay’s role fades. So far, Murray has been up to everything asked of him, which is why his name is coming up in the Rookie of the Year discussion. (With Joel Embiid playing just 31 games, Murray and the Bucks Malcolm Brogdon have emerged as the primary alternatives.)

“I enjoy playing the point, I enjoy running the team, reading the play, leading the team, I just try to make sure coach trusts me and can go to me down the stretch,” Murray said. “I do everything at the point. I like to score, but I like to get assists, I like when my team does good and plays for each other.”

It’s a lot asked of him, which is why All-Star weekend was a break in what has been a whirlwind rookie season for Murray. Although that weekend in New Orleans was a bit of a whirlwind in and of itself.

Murray was the MVP of the All-Star weekend Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night dropping 36, plus he spent the weekend connecting with fans and being at things such as a Panini trading card signing. Murray is just one of a select handful of rookies Panini is working with, and he was signing cards his new cards just about to hit the market, and helping promote the soon-to-be launched Panini Instant mobile app, which will feature mobile e-cards for fans.

“It’s a chance to connect with the fans, put on a show at the gae, and I had a lot of fun with fans all weekend,” Murray said.

Murray is at ease in these settings, comfortable with the fanfare that comes with being a rising NBA star.

The adjustment to the NBA was not that simple.

Murray — who set a record at Kentucky for most made threes in a season — started his career 0-of-17 from the floor for the Nuggets. He didn’t knock down his first field goal until Nov. 5. When asked who he leaned on through a rough start in the NBA, he points to his father, standing about 12 feet away.

“Once I made my first shot it was all fine,” Murray said. “It was a struggle to make that first one, just thinking too much, and your confidence goes down when you’re not making them and you’re expected to score…

“Everyone was just telling me shoot the ball, it will fall. They knew I was going to make shots at some point so (my teammates and coaches) weren’t mad about it or anything.”

A lot of players struggle to adjust at first to the speed and athleticism of the NBA game, and Murray has been no exception. He continues to have his ups and downs.

“Just getting used to the physicality, guys are more athletic and stronger and they’re grown men,” Murray said. “You’ve just got to adjust to it and work on your body, get used to everything.”

Murray’s dad, Roger Murray, agreed that getting his son stronger to handle the contact and the punishment that comes with driving the lane in the league needs to be at the heart of his off-season program. Roger is a father, mentor, and coach who set his son on this path long ago. For the Murrays it was always about basketball — even when Roger signed Jamal up for martial arts classes as a kid he said it was about hoops.

“I was thinking basketball. I wanted him to put everything together, the mental and the physical, I knew it would help him,” Roger said.

That path has landed Jamal in a good NBA place — Denver has a quality young core with Murray, Gary Harris, Juan Hernangomez, and the emerging star that is Nikola Jokic (who has had back-to-back triple-doubles since the All-Star break).

“He’s so unselfish, and he doesn’t just find one person, he finds everybody, and he picks his spots (to score),” Murray said of Jokic.

As a team, the young Nuggets are focused right now on making the playoffs. That will start with playing better team defense, which Murray said is really about them staying focused on the game plan and knowing their opponents better — which guys do you go under the pick on, which guys get iced off the pick-and-roll, just a lot of decisions that require the kind of focus young players often struggle to do consistently.

Beyond that, Murray has dreams of playing in the Tokyo Olympics for Canada.

“That’s one of my big goals, to play in the Olympics and make some noise there as well, but whatever opportunity is given me I will take,” Murray said.

But for now the focus for Murray is on the court — it’s always about basketball.

Report: Kyrie Irving believes LeBron James leaked trade request

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Kyrie Irving reportedly requested a trade from the Cavaliers, noting his desire to leave Cleveland was based on parting ways with LeBron James.

That all remained under wraps for a couple weeks.

Why did it become public now?

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

According to my sources, they believe LeBron James had everything to do with news getting out that Kyrie Irving wants to be traded, because Kyrie Irving and his representation and others met with the Cavaliers a couple weeks ago, and not a word got out until recently. They believe that LeBron James got word of it and was put off by it and leaked it. I’m not going to accuse LeBron of such a thing. I don’t know that to be true at all. But I know that’s what Kyrie Irving believes.

To reemphasize, Smith is not reporting that LeBron leaked Irving’s trade request, just that Irving believes LeBron did. That alone speaks to their disconnect.

Why would LeBron leak it?

Just speculating, but maybe to ruin Irving’s chance at a smooth exit. Irving is trying to bail on LeBron, and LeBron might take that personally. Leaking the trade request would be in character for LeBron as a passive-aggressive response.

But the trade request becoming public also hinders Irving’s trade value – which hurts LeBron’s team. However, people don’t always act logically when they’re upset. And maybe the Cavs won’t be LeBron’s team long enough for it to matter.

Again, though, nobody is reporting LeBron actually leaked it. Irving’s reported accusation means enough in itself.

Cavaliers really lamenting non-trade for Paul George

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The Cavaliers were reportedly close to trading for Paul George before the Pacers sent him to the Thunder.

Just how close?

Ramona Shelburne, Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

a text message from Indiana Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard undid an agreement on a blockbuster deal for George the Cavs were just starting to celebrate, a moment that now lives in infamy within the organization.

On draft night, as the Chicago Bulls were finalizing a deal with the Wolves to move Butler, the Cavs were feverishly trying to assemble a three-team trade with the Pacers. The Denver Nuggets had a strong desire to acquire Kevin Love and became a legitimate trade partner with Indiana. The Nuggets were willing to include wing Gary Harris and the No. 13 pick in that night’s draft to get Love, and the Cavs would reroute the assets to Indy for George, sources said.

But they couldn’t complete the deal. Indiana was working on another option with the Portland Trail Blazers, sources said, as they were offering a package with three first-round picks for George. Eventually, everyone moved on and the Nuggets traded the No. 13 pick to Utah in a package for Trey Lyles.

On the afternoon of June 30, the sides thought they had a deal. On a conference call between the teams, everyone tentatively agreed. George to the Cavs, Love to the Nuggets, Harris and other pieces to the Pacers, sources said.

Plans were put in place for a call to be arranged between George and Gilbert, an important step before the trade would become final, sources said. The front office began making other plans to complement George as free agency was about to begin.

But then Pritchard, who had been on the conference call when the deal was tentatively agreed to, sent the message that his team was backing out, sources said. There was no deal.

The teams tried to save it, but shortly thereafter, news broke that George was being traded to Oklahoma City.

I’m always skeptical of reports that a trade that never happened was close. Just because one team – or two teams in a three-team trade – thought the deal was close doesn’t mean the other team was actually close.

Heck, just because one team thought the trade was agreed upon doesn’t even mean the other team actually agreed.  According to this report, Pritchard “tentatively agreed.” What does that mean? The Cavaliers and Nuggets might think that was purely a procedural delay. Pritchard might have considered it contingent on other factors. A simple misunderstanding could easily be painted as something more nefarious – one team backing out of an agreed-upon trade.

But there are a lot of details here, lending credence to the notion a deal was actually close. So, let’s break down each team’s involvement:

The Trail Blazers entered the draft with three first-rounders – Nos. 15, 20 and 26. But they lacked cap room for George, so they would have had to send salary to Indiana. With Portland’s numerous bad contracts, maybe that offer wasn’t as good for the Pacers as it appears here.

The Nuggets wound up signing a star power forward (Paul Millsap) without losing Gary Harris, so they came out ahead by not completing this deal. Given how much of free agency is decided before July 1, did Denver really not know it’d land Millsap or just prefer Love that much?

The Pacers probably missed out. I’d prefer Harris (younger, cheaper and arguably better) to Victor Oladipo, and I’d prefer the No. 13 pick to Domantas Sabonis.

And then there are the Cavs, who have been thrown into disarray since this trade fell through. Would Kyrie Irving still have requested a trade with George in Cleveland? The Cavaliers would have had a better chance of winning a title, but Irving would have been further overshadowed – a key component of  his trade request. Would LeBron have been more likely to re-sign next summer? There was so much on the line.

Whether or not Pritchard actually agreed then backed out, it’s easy to see how the Cavs are having a hard time letting this one go.

Draymond Green adds attention to Conor McGregor’s gag about Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s domestic violence

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Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr. are showing nearly no limits in their effort to promote their upcoming fight.

McGregor has repeatedly stoked the flames of racism, making himself a villain to some and a hero to others – but, more importantly, drawing attention from both sides. He also wore a No. 23 Warriors jersey.

Hey, I wear No. 23 for the Warriors, Draymond Green apparently thought to himself. So, Green posted on Instagram to inform everyone he was supporting Mayweather:

We rocking with Floyd bro not you… take that off bruh @thenotoriousmma

A post shared by Draymond Green (@money23green) on

McGregor responded in the comments:

screenshot-imgur.com-2017-07-23-15-11-32

C.J. Watson previously wore No. 23 for the Warriors, and this isn’t the first time McGregor has referenced the guard in relation to Mayweather:

Why does McGregor keep bring up Watson?

Martin Rogers of Yahoo Sports in a 2013 article on Mayweather domestic-violence victim Josie Harris:

The altercation happened when Mayweather returned to Harris’ property at 5 a.m. on September 9. Police had already been summoned following a verbal dispute hours earlier, but Mayweather came back. Harris says she was asleep on the living room couch when she woke up to Mayweather, holding her cell phone, yelling at her about text messages from NBA guard C.J. Watson.

Mayweather and Harris were no longer together; the boxer had by then installed Jackson in his home and as his main love interest. But, according to Harris, it was not acceptable to Mayweather for her to see other men while living in a house he owned.

“Are you having sex with C.J.?” Mayweather yelled at Harris, according to the arrest report.

“Yes, that is who I am seeing now,” she replied.

Mayweather then grabbed her by the hair and punched her in the back of the head “with a closed fist several times,” according to the report. He then pulled her off the couch by her hair and twisted her left arm.

“All I heard is, ‘Who is C.J. Watson, C.J. Watson the basketball player?’ ” Harris says. “From there it was just … bad. I was powerless. He was holding me down. I couldn’t fight back. The kids were screaming and crying, ‘You’re hurting my Mom.’ ”

At one point, Mayweather yelled, “I’m going to kill you and the man you are messing around with,” Harris told police. “I’m going to have you both disappear.”

According to the arrest report, when Harris screamed for her children to call for help, Mayweather turned to them and warned he would “beat their ass if they left the house and called police.”

I don’t think Green realized the context. He responded to McGregor in the comments by hyping his superiority to Watson and talking about boxing:

Knowingly or not, making light of domestic violence is on brand for the NBA.

What’s Kyrie Irving’s problem with LeBron James?

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Kyrie Irving reportedly requested a trade from the Cavaliers because he no longer wants to play with LeBron James.

But what does that actually mean?

Ramona Shelburne, Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Much of Irving’s disenchantment with James was rooted in game play, sources said. James, as a once-in-a-lifetime talent, controlled the ball more than any other forward perhaps in league history.

But there were ancillary issues that bothered Irving, too, such as how James’ good friend Randy Mims had a position on the Cavs’ staff and traveled on the team plane while none of Irving’s close friends were afforded the same opportunity.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

In registering his preference for a trade, league sources said, Irving divulged to Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert that he’s become increasingly uneasy about a future that includes a roster constructed to complement LeBron James — a roster that could be devoid of James come free agency in 2018.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Irving wants to take his show away from James so he can grow his career (his on-court acclaim and notoriety, his brand, his voice) outside of James’ shadow.

Numerous people who’ve talked to Irving over the past month have said to cleveland.com that he told them he wanted to leave to grow his career, and it was the message Irving sent to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert when he asked to be traded last week.

These can all simultaneously be true. There needn’t be one singular reason Irving wants a trade.

It can also be true that former general manager David Griffin might have soothed Irving’s discontent. It can also be true that the Warriors’ dominance influenced Irving, as he might have been more willing to remain in a secondary role if it were more likely to result in a championship.

But so much of this comes back to LeBron, a massive presence around whom everything in Cleveland revolves.

Being the top player on a team means so many things – dictating on-court action, having the supporting cast built around you, influencing team staff, building a larger sponsorship presence. Irving can’t get any of that while playing with LeBron.

Irving led the Cavs in shots and usage percentage last season, but that happened only because LeBron allowed it. LeBron obviously retook control in the playoffs. There’s no question whose team this is.

There is also no indication Irving is fighting that. He’s not trying to usurp LeBron’s power, and Irving has molded his game the last few years to fit with LeBron.

But now Irving his exercising his own power so he can get even more the only place possible – somewhere away from LeBron.