Getty Images

Mike Brown returns to Cleveland, this time with Warriors

1 Comment

CLEVELAND (AP) — Mike Brown happily slid into his normal seat to coach Steve Kerr’s left for Game 2 of the NBA Finals. For the first time in weeks the Warriors were whole again.

Brown has moved before – not always so willingly – and over the next few days he’ll return to a familiar place.

Golden State’s well-liked top assistant, whose first two stints as a head coach were to nurture a young LeBron James and then pamper Kobe Bryant, is heading to Cleveland, the city that shaped him more than any other.

It’s where he was hired twice and fired twice by the Cavaliers, who are paying him until 2020. It’s where he raised his two sons. It’s where he rooted himself in the community and stayed after losing his job in 2014. And it’s where he still has a home and keeps one of his Harleys, which he took for cruises along Lake Erie to clear his mind.

“He loves those Harleys,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green. “That just means he has `em in every city he goes to. That’s an addiction.”

When Game 3 tips off Wednesday night with the Warriors holding a 2-0 lead that feels insurmountable, Brown will be back in a building where he and James appeared in their first Finals together 10 years ago.

In 2007, the Cavs were no match for the powerful San Antonio Spurs, who overwhelmed Cleveland and swept the series. Brown can surely appreciate the irony in coming back as part of a juggernaut.

“Circle of life,” Brown said last week. “Like the `Lion King,’ everything comes back around, I guess.”

Brown’s Finals debut must seem like a lifetime ago for the 47-year-old, who guided the Warriors to an 11-0 mark in this postseason while Kerr battled intense pain stemming from back surgeries.

“My guy did OK while I was gone,” Kerr said after the Warriors won Sunday night.

During last year’s Finals in Cleveland, Brown met with Kerr about joining the Warriors staff and replacing Luke Walton, who was bound for the Los Angeles Lakers. The interview came before the Cavs rallied from a 3-1 deficit, and before Kevin Durant announced he was headed to the Bay Area.

After he was fired for the second time by the Cavs, Brown had stepped outside the coaching circle, choosing instead to watch oldest son Elijah play hoops at New Mexico and filming his other son Cameron’s Friday night high school football games. All the while, he stayed connected by talking with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, his mentor and former boss.

Popovich urged him to join Kerr.

Brown’s willingness to accept an assistant’s job despite 563 career regular-season wins and 47 in the playoffs underscores his humility. But that’s Brown: unassuming, ego-less, the consummate teammate.

And while he hasn’t strayed from preparation and the attention he learned growing up in a military family, Brown has shown a willingness to change. He has loosened up. With the Warriors, he had no choice.

Borrowing philosophies from other coaches, Kerr has created a loose atmosphere, believing a less-structured environment allows players to perform more freely and effectively. Kickball games are not uncommon and yoga is practiced regularly. Warriors practices typically begin with loud music booming through loudspeakers.

It can be jarring to outsiders.

“I remember the first few practices, me and Mike, we were new guys and we were looking at each other like: `This is how it goes down here?”‘ Durant said. “So it was an adjustment for both of us. It was great for me to have Mike to kind of like go through the season with me, and kind of help me out and help me get adjusted. It was different for both of us.”

If things had gone differently, Brown might still be Cleveland’s coach. Given only one season on his return, he was dismissed despite a nine-win improvement and a colossal jump defensively. He still had four years left on his contract, and unfinished plans.

Last week, Cavs All-Star guard Kyrie Irving said he wished his time with Brown had gone better.

“I was a 21-year-old kid, just trying to lead a franchise, and he was a new head coach that I had to get introduced to a new offense, new players, as well as a new system,” Irving said. “I kind of regret being part of that because he was just trying to teach me a lot of things that I didn’t necessarily understand as a 21-year-old. So, he definitely had some great things and the knowledge of the game that’s up there with some great coaches.”

Brown could be in demand again. Kerr’s health may prompt a reshuffling at Golden State, and there are certain to be other vacancies next season.

Brown though, isn’t in any hurry to pack up, and he’s not viewing his trip to Cleveland as anything more than business.

“I’m not looking at this as Cleveland fired me twice, this is the time to get back at them or is there any extra incentive?” he said. “I just want to win. I just want to be a part of a winning program and be the last team, quote/unquote, standing.”

 

Russell Westbrook set to learn if his historic season was an MVP one

Leave a comment

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A year ago, uncertainty surrounded Russell Westbrook.

Kevin Durant stunned the league by leaving Oklahoma City for rival Golden State in free agency. The four-time scoring champion and former MVP had been the central piece in making the Thunder one of the league’s elite teams since the franchise’s move to Oklahoma City in 2008.

Westbrook had played his entire NBA career alongside Durant, so questions about how Westbrook would respond immediately cropped up.

He defiantly answered them with memorable performances.

Westbrook became the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62 to average a triple-double for a season and won his second scoring title. He broke Robertson’s single-season record with 42 triple-doubles and led the Thunder to the playoffs. Now, he will join Houston’s James Harden and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard as finalists for the league’s MVP award. The winner will be announced Monday at the inaugural NBA Awards show.

Westbrook gained satisfaction from the team’s success, which largely was fueled by his personal dominance.

“With everything happening last summer, people counted us out,” he said the day after Oklahoma City’s season ended. “They weren’t sure how many games we were going to win or how far we were going to go or whatever, but I think the group of guys, we never let that sink in our building. We stuck together, and that’s the thing I’m most proud about.”

Westbrook wasn’t just stat stuffing, either. The Thunder went 33-9 when he had a triple-double and 14-26 when he didn’t. He seemingly gained energy as the season progressed and was statistically better after the All-Star break than before. As for those late-game situations, he led the league with 10 points per game in the fourth quarter and was one of the most dynamic closers in the league.

Westbrook topped Robertson’s single-season, triple-double record on April 9 in Denver. His 36-foot game-winning dagger put the final touch on a 50-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist performance that eliminated the Nuggets from playoff contention.

Robertson himself showed up to the Thunder’s regular-season finale and endorsed Westbrook for the MVP award.

“What he has done has been historic in nature,” Robertson told the crowd that night. “He’s played with passion and pride and ability. It’s just outstanding what he has done and the way he did it.”

Durant might be the least surprised player in the league. Westbrook was dominant while Durant was out with a foot injury during the 2014-15 season and claimed his first scoring title, but it wasn’t clear if he could do it all – score, dominate the boards, consistently feed his teammates and come through in big moments – for an entire season.

Turns out, he could.

In the second game of the season, he had 51 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a victory over Phoenix, the first 50-point triple-double since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it in 1975. On March 27, he had 13 points in a 3-minute barrage to rally the Thunder past Dallas. Two days later in Orlando, he scored 57 points and posted the most points ever in a triple-double. He hit a deep 3-pointer to force overtime, and eventually helped the Thunder win. In one of his most memorable games, he scored 47 points in a loss to Durant’s Warriors.

Harden and Leonard also had MVP-caliber seasons:

—–

JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON

As stunning as Westbrook’s triple-double binge was this season, Harden’s was impressive, too.

He posted 22 triple-doubles and helped the Rockets finish with the league’s third-best record. Harden, known primarily as a scorer throughout his career, shifted from shooting guard to point guard and was nearly unstoppable in coach Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense.

Harden led the league with 11.2 assists per game and finished second with 29.1 points per contest. In perhaps his best performance, he had 53 points, 16 rebounds and 17 assists against the New York Knicks on New Year’s Eve.

KAWHI LEONARD, SAN ANTONIO

Leonard is the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s up for the honor again.

Yet, it was the 6-foot-7 forward’s offensive improvement that put him in the mix for the MVP award. He averaged 25.5 points this season after averaging 21.2 the previous year.

Leonard helped the Spurs finish with the league’s second-best record. He seemed to play as the stage got bigger.

He opened the season with a career-high 35 points in a blowout win over the Warriors. Leonard upped that career high with 41 points in a win over Cleveland on Jan. 21, and he dropped 39 points in a victory over Houston on March 6.

 

New Jordan brand ad asks: Could Kawhi score on Kawhi?

2 Comments

Kawhi Leonard is the NBA’s best perimeter defender right now.

Kawhi Leonard is the cornerstone of the seventh best offense in the NBA last season, averaging 25.5 points per game.

He’s a dominant force on both ends, which leads to the question from this fantastic new ad from the Jordan brand:

Could Kawhi score on Kawhi?

Report: Minnesota “intent” on trading Ricky Rubio to get more shooting

3 Comments

It’s easy to look at the trio of Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota now and think “that team will make the playoffs next season and be a contender in a few years.” They have set themselves up for that potential run.

But with those three on the floor, Minnesota needs shooters at the other two spots to provide spacing. Butler may have hit 36.7 percent of his threes last season, but he is far more dangerous as a slasher getting to the rim. Same with Wiggins (who shot 35 percent from three). Obviously, Towns operates around the basket. The defensive strategy against the Timberwolves is not hard to envision: Pack the paint and make them shoot over the top of you. Take away the inside.

Minnesota needs shooters. To get that they are dangling Ricky Rubio, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rubio should have value, and he makes a reasonable $14.3 million next season and $15 million the one after (a fair price for a point guard of his quality). He remains one of the best passers in the league, a guy with amazing court vision. He’s also one of the better defensive point guards in the NBA. He shot the ball well after the All-Star break last season (35.3 percent from three) and was more aggressive getting his shot, but Tom Thibodeau is clearly not sold that’s a permanent change.

Minnesota has some cap space and could chase a player like Patty Mills at the point or Kyle Korver as a free agent to give them shooting, plus try to trade Rubio. They have options, although they don’t have the money to chase the J.J. Redicks of the world.

If you hear of a shooter being available, know that Thibodeau is lurking, trying to land him.

Report: Cavaliers, Nuggets, Pacers three-way trade involving Paul George “very unlikely”

1 Comment

We knew back on the night of the draft that as the Cavaliers desperately looked for a way to pry Paul George out of Indiana, they started involving third teams in the talks (because Indy had no interest in Kevin Love for Paul George straight up, not should they). Phoenix was involved, but that fizzled. So did talks involving Denver.

But those latter ones didn’t die the night of the draft, according to reports that came out over the weekend. Denver, Cleveland, and Indiana were still talking about a three-team deal that would land Love in Denver and George in Cleveland. The challenge for Cleveland was finding the combination of young players and draft picks that Indiana wants in a deal — Indy is rumored to want a lottery pick (preferably high lottery) and a young player or players.

Now that Denver three-team is “very unlikely” to happen, according to Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

As first reported by ESPN, the Cavs engaged the Nuggets as a possible third team to facilitate a trade for the All-Star George on draft night, but a source said the discussion was “nothing serious” and “very unlikely” to happen now…

The Nuggets had the No. 13 pick in Thursday’s draft and traded it to Utah for Trey Lyles — obviously giving up on getting Love, at least for the time being.

Indiana would have wanted the No. 13 pick, because future Dever picks are likely to be outside of the lottery as this is a team poised to make a leap into the playoffs, with Nikola Jokic leading them. As for players, Denver had shot down all requests for Jamal Murray. Indiana likely asked for Gary Harris, but if Murray was off-limits then Harris likely was as well. Emmanuel Mudiay was available but that wasn’t going to get the job done.

Denver likes its roster and what it’s building. While Love could have been an upgrade over Danilo Gallinari‘s role, it wasn’t enough to get them to break up the team to make it happen. And that ultimately has been Cleveland’s challenge in getting a deal done — Love isn’t commanding as much as they hoped on the trade market.

In the same article, Varden has an update on Cleveland’s discussions with Chauncey Billups about becoming the president of basketball operations.

The Cavs are still in discussions with Chauncey Billups to lead Cleveland’s front office after the departure of David Griffin. They’re also remaining active in the trade market, with a host of remaining front-office personnel, including Koby Altman, an assistant GM under Griffin, working the phones.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, speaking on the Lowe Post podcast with Zach Lowe, said Billups is weighing a lot of things, on and off the court, in making a complex decision. He likes living in Denver (his hometown) as does his family, and with his television schedule, he can be home a lot. On the other hand, he knows the importance and need for more African-American executives in the NBA had how important it could be for him to be in that role. There’s no easy answer for Billups.

The lesson here should be one for Dan Gilbert (and other owners): If you are going to fire a GM right before the draft and the start of free agency, you must have a replacement ready to go. Plan B has to be set. To fire a guy not having that plan, then go searching right before a critical off-season for your team, is how long-struggling teams operate.