LeBron on Warriors: ”I need to sit down and figure this thing out… They’re going to be around for a while”

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Once he congratulated Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, LeBron James left the floor following Game 5 and found Kyrie Irving waiting for him.

Cleveland’s two stars embraced, and as they headed toward the locker room and Queen’s “We Are the Champions” played inside thundering Oakland’s Oracle Arena, James delivered a message to his teammate and the world.

“We’ll be back,” he said. “We’ll be back.”

They were fabulous and flawed defending NBA champs, their deficiencies in depth and defense exposed by a superior team in the Finals.

One year after their historic comeback, James and the Cavaliers couldn’t catch the Golden State Warriors.

Unable to defend their title despite the league’s highest payroll, rampaging through the Eastern Conference playoffs and James’ brilliance against the free-wheeling Warriors for five games, the Cavs are no longer the team to beat. They’re still championship caliber, but a step or two behind a glittering Golden State team that went 81-18 in Durant’s first season and built for the long haul.

At 32, and playing as well as ever in 14 seasons, James has a possible dynasty blocking his path.

“I need to sit down and figure this thing out,” said James, who averaged 33.6 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in his seventh consecutive Finals. “They’re going to be around for a while. Pretty much all their guys are in their 20s. Pretty much all their big-name guys are in their 20s, and they don’t show any signs of slowing down. … From my eyes, they’re built to last a few years.”

The Cavaliers aren’t constructed for the same longevity.

James is under contract for one more season, and there’s no guarantee the three-time champion and five-time Finals loser will sign a long-term deal in 2018 with Cleveland despite his deep devotion to Northeast Ohio. Last week, James said he didn’t know how many years he has left. It’s possible that his outside business interests, which include a desire to one day own an NBA team, could push him into retirement.

That’s down the road. A more pressing concern for the team is the status of general manager David Griffin, whose contract expires on June 30.

Aided by having James to build around and owner Dan Gilbert’s willingness to spend, Griffin has assembled and overseen a roster that has made three straight Finals and is positioned to stay atop the East.

Griffin has been with the club since 2010, taking over as GM when Chris Grant was fired in 2014. He’s the one who persuaded Irving to sign a long-term deal with Cleveland before it was known that James was coming back and Griffin pulled off the trade for Kevin Love. He acquired veterans J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in 2015, fired coach David Blatt and promoted Tyronn Lue midway through the ’16 season and added Kyle Korver, Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut this year.

Gilbert and Griffin are expected to meet again this week. Griffin has been linked to past openings in Orlando, Atlanta and Milwaukee, but his preference is to stay with Cleveland as he and his wife, Meredith, have immersed themselves in the community.

Once the front office situation is settled, the next priorities are addressing Cleveland’s weaknesses: defense, an aging bench and backup point guard.

The Cavaliers couldn’t stop the Warriors during critical stretches in the Finals, and there were warning signs long before Durant got free for dunks, Curry drained wide-open 3-pointers or Golden State averaged 121.6 points.

Cleveland’s defense was suspect all season, ranking among the worst in statistical efficiency. The Cavs often outscored their mistakes, but the lack of a rim protector (Bogut was injured in his first minute on the floor) and a defensive commitment proved costly. Both areas must be fixed.

Korver, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson and Deron Williams contributed during the regular season and earlier rounds against Indiana, Toronto and Boston, but with the exception of Jefferson, the seasoned vets were overmatched against the younger, quicker Warriors. Cleveland needs an infusion of young blood to fix a second unit that struggled from the opener.

Then there’s Love, who went just 2 of 8 in Game 5 and had 1-of-9 and 4-of-13 shooting performances earlier in the Finals. The All-Star forward has been the subject of trade rumblings in the past and his name is certain to surface this summer as contending teams look for that missing piece to close the gap on Golden State.

For James, second place is no consolation, not when success is measured by championship rings. There was no shame in falling for the second time in three years to the Warriors, a 73-win team that needed Durant to dethrone James.

His new challenge is to get back on top.

“Teams and franchises are going to be trying to figure out ways that they can put personnel together, the right group of guys together to be able to hopefully compete against this team,” he said. “They’re assembled as good as you can assemble, and I played against some really, really good teams that was assembled perfectly, and they’re right up there.”

 

Thompson’s playmaking a steadying force for defending champs

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Klay Thompson danced unabashedly in China after winning another NBA championship, and it got shared all over social media. He smoked a stogie on the rooftop, letting loose to reveal another side of himself.

“I didn’t plan for that video to go viral,” Thompson said matter-of-factly. “I was just having fun. I’ve always been myself and having fun while doing it and learning to enjoy every day, because it goes by so fast.”

Coming to that mindset, however, has been a process for the seventh-year Golden State guard, who acknowledges for so long he put extreme pressure on himself to be the best.

The quiet, more under-the-radar Warriors All-Star of the bunch, Thompson has provided a steadying hand early on for the reigning NBA champions who are favored to capture a third title in four years.

“I used to stress a lot more at the beginning of my career about my performance,” Thompson recalled. “Now, it’s not like I don’t stress, but I play more carefree and I’m more able, if I play as hard as I can I’m satisfied with the results. … I used to compare myself with all players and want to be the best so badly, but now it’s all about winning and having fun and realizing basketball is more of a team sport than anything.”

After a recent practice, Thompson dazzled right alongside a couple of visiting Harlem Globetrotters, spinning the ball on his finger, rolling it up and down his arms, off his knee and then a foot soccer-style before swishing a short jumper.

“I should’ve been a Globetrotter!” he yelled.

It’s a new look for this hang-loose, beach-loving Splash Brother.

The approach is working for the Warriors.

“He still carries the threat. You have to honor him,” Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s great at making the right play. Their whole team is. I think he’s trying to fit in with their whole buy-in that ball movement and passing is greater than any one man carrying the bulk of it.”

Still, his numbers are stellar. Thompson has had a fast start this season, which previously hasn’t been the case.

Thompson credits the familiarity with teammates and a comfort in coach Steve Kerr’s offense.

“He’s taken another step in his game. Just the experience that he’s had in his career, every year he’s gotten better and I think this year he’s shown how at the end of the season he carried it over to the beginning of this year,” backcourt mate Stephen Curry said. “Historically he hadn’t started seasons well but this year he’s locked in. He’s obviously shooting the ball well and playing great defense, but I think the biggest thing is his playmaking in situations where he’s drawing a crowd. He’s making great decisions setting guys up and just playing under control for the most part this entire season.”

Life off the court is great for Thompson, too, and that helps him be stress-free on it.

Look closely, and it’s easy to see he has come out of his shell.

On a day off last week, he golfed a popular public course close to Oracle Arena. Thompson signed someone’s toaster last spring, and it became a superstition.

In July, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Oakland Athletics game, then drove an IndyCar in September while serving as Grand Marshal of a series stop in Sonoma.

Thompson shares his training tricks on social media and posts photos with his bulldog, Rocco.

He recently donated $75,000 to relief efforts in the aftermath of the devastating Northern California wildfires, committing $1,000 per point for a three-game stretch during which he scored 69 points – but added to that total.

He is a spokesman for chocolate milk and an obscure – in the U.S. anyway – Chinese shoe company. He signed an $80 million, 10-year extension to wear the sneakers.

“Life’s good,” Thompson said. “I never thought I’d get paid millions of dollars to wear shoes and apparel. I’m very proud to be a part of Anta. … It’s so cool that I’m big in China. I never thought I’d be on billboards and posters in China.”

Thompson has found a balance during the offseason to stay sharp, mixing up his workouts with outdoor activities he enjoys.

“It took years for me to figure out how to prepare the best I can for the season. I finally learned in my sixth year,” he said. “You’ve got to stay in shape almost year-round because as you get older it’s harder to get back into shape. It’s easier to get out of shape than it is to get back into shape. I do other things besides basketball to stay in shape in the offseason. I think that just keeps my mind fresh.”

He hopes to do a formal swim from Alcatraz, or even a triathlon. He swims in the ocean – “my favorite place in the world” – whenever he can. Freestyle is his strength, butterfly not so much. He plays hours of beach volleyball or just throws the football around and runs routes through the sand.

At work, he has been a model of consistency. Thompson is determined to be a better passer, creating for teammates whenever possible. He also usually guards the opponent’s top perimeter scorer.

Thompson is off to his best shooting season ever, with career highs of 49.4 percent shooting from the field and 45.6 percent on 3-pointers.

“I think his playmaking has been the best it’s been in his career,” Kerr said. “He’s really doing a good job of putting the ball on the floor and moving it on, drive and kick game, finding the centers in the pocket for little floaters. … It’s been his best passing season so far.”

Thompson used to get teased for his lack of assists, and it remains a running joke.

“I got thick skin,” Thompson quipped, “honestly I don’t really care.”

That carefree approach has taken time, and the Warriors are better for it.

 

Report: Mark Cuban in process to buy Mavericks’ G-League team

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There will come a day, in the not too distant future, when every NBA team will have an owned and affiliated G-League team. It will be a place for them to develop young players — guys they drafted but need more run than they’d get in the NBA, guys on two-way contracts, and just players they like and want to give a chance. The NBA is more and more becoming a development league — and if the one-and-done rule is replaced with something akin to the baseball rule for players going to college, having a strong G-League team will matter even more.

Which is why the news that Mark Cuban is about to buy the G-League team already affiliated with the Mavericks makes sense. Marc Stein of The New York Times broke the news.

While the name of the guys signing the checks will change with the Texas Legends, little else will.

It’s just another sign of the future in the NBA.

Isaiah Thomas is up for a Cavaliers vs. Celtics playoff clash

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Isaiah Thomas says he has moved on from the trade this summer that caught him off guard, shipping him from Boston — where he was a fan favorite — to Cleveland.

Sort of. Like a lot of sudden relationship ends, Thomas says he’s moved on, but it doesn’t sound like he totally has yet. Look at what he told Sam Amick of the USA Today in an interesting Q&A.

“I’ve put it behind me, and I’ve continued to try to do that… But other than that, every day that I’m in the gym or that I’m on the court or in the weight room or doing whatever I have to do to get back to who I was, and get back to being 100 percent healthy, yes I do use it as motivation.”

Thomas has yet to set foot on the court as a Cavalier, spending the start of the season rehabbing a hip injury. He’s expected back next month.

It’s very early in the NBA season, we’re not at 20 games or even Thanksgiving yet, but it has become evident that the Cavaliers have some legitimate defensive concerns, and that the Boston Celtics are a legitimate threat to them.

That would set up a series between Thomas’ old team that he’s still a little angry at, and his new team in Cleveland. And Thomas is good with that.

“Oh, that would be lovely. That would be the story that God made, and it probably will work that way. It always does. It always works – I’m not going to say in my favor, but it seems to always work out no matter what the circumstance is. That would be a special moment. If they make it there, and we make it there, and then we clash, and then you never know what’s going to happen. But I’ll be ready for whatever happens.”

Not enough NBA players use the word “lovely” anymore.

But I’m with Thomas, I want to see that series, too.

Cavaliers’ Derrick Rose out two more weeks due to sprained ankle

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With Isaiah Thomas still rehabbing, the Cleveland Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, when he is available (he’s only played in half of Cleveland’s games). More Rose has not been good for Cleveland’s defense, and it’s forced Tyronn Lue to play Kevin Love more at center just to have enough shooting on the floor, so there are driving lanes for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Now we will have to see what Lue and the Cavaliers do without Rose for a couple more weeks. Rose will be out for a couple of weeks with his sprained left ankle, the team announced Friday afternoon.

“Due to continued symptoms, the ankle will be immobilized in a boot for the next week and he will also undergo an extended treatment process over the next two to three weeks.”

Rose has averaged 14.3 points on 47 percent shooting this season in Cleveland.

With Rose and Thomas out, Cleveland has gone with Iman Shumpert technically as the point, although LeBron handles the playmaking duties. He brings some size to the position, but he can’t defend quick point guards well (not that Rose could). This new lineup has won the Cavaliers a couple of games in a row, although that has been far more about their offense making runs rather than their struggling defense (last in the NBA) stepping up.

It’s been tough to get a feel for this Cavaliers team and what they really are this season, in part due to all the injuries. This simply adds to that mess.

The Cavaliers take on the slumping Clippers Friday night.