Cavaliers head into important summer with cloud over GM’s future

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Dethroned last week as NBA champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers are stepping into a summer already off to a strange start.

With the draft just days away, and major roster decisions – maybe even a blockbuster trade for Paul George – needing to be made, the Cavaliers aren’t certain who will be calling the shots going forward as they attempt to close the gap on the Golden State Warriors.

General manager David Griffin’s contract expires June 30, and it remains unclear if he will stay with the organization he guided to its first championship and three straight NBA Finals. Griffin has been Cleveland’s full-time GM for three years, promoted from vice president of basketball operations in May 2014 after serving on an interim basis for three months when Chris Grant was fired.

Under Griffin, and since LeBron James returned, the Cavaliers have enjoyed the best run in franchise history.

There’s no guarantee it will continue.

While owner Dan Gilbert values Griffin and his leadership, the billionaire businessman is hands-on with his basketball team and has shown a willingness to keep his line of executives moving. Griffin is the fourth GM to work for Gilbert since 2005.

Griffin and Gilbert met last week – after the Cavaliers were beaten in five games by the Warriors – to review the season and discuss their future together. And at this point, there is no indication their partnership will last.

During the playoffs, Griffin drew interest from other teams, but Atlanta, Orlando and Milwaukee have filled GM vacancies. Those jobs had presented other opportunities for Griffin, and now that they’re gone, he doesn’t have as much leverage in negotiations with Gilbert.

However, Griffin does have a strong resume, which includes the trade with Minnesota that brought Kevin Love to Cleveland in the summer of 2014. Griffin has also maneuvered around some restrictions – the Cavaliers currently are without a pick in this year’s draft – to re-shape Cleveland’s roster, which needs tweaking again after the Warriors exposed an aging bench in their third Finals matchup with the Cavs.

Adding to the uncertainty, Trent Redden, the club’s senior vice president and Griffin’s likely successor, also has a contract that expires at the end of the month.

There is urgency to get some clarity on Griffin’s situation as the Cavaliers could be a player in the sweepstakes for George, who told the Indiana Pacers on Sunday that he has no intention to re-sign with them after next season.

The four-time All-Star has become good friends with James. The two have battled back to James’ days in Miami, and he has been inspired by George’s comeback from a horrific leg injury in 2014 while playing for the U.S. national team.

“We’ve got a really good friendship. I’m going to leave it at that,” James said after a matchup against George in April.

The Pacers have reportedly reached out to the Cavaliers to gauge their interest in George. Cleveland doesn’t have many future assets to offer Indiana, but the Cavs might be willing to strike a deal for Love, the talented power forward coming off his best season with Cleveland. The 28-year-old has two years left on his contract, and the Pacers could view him as a cornerstone piece to rebuild on and run down the Cavs.

George has spoken in the past about a preference to play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, and it would be risky for the Cavaliers to acquire him without a promise he would sign beyond the 2018 season. Then again, a one-year rental may be intriguing to the Cavs if it would guarantee a fourth shot at the Warriors and a chance to even their rivalry.

Also, if James and George clicked, and it would be hard to imagine that not happening, they may stay in Cleveland. Like George, James has one year left on his contract, and at 32 his window for adding titles is shrinking. James has said he intends to end his career with Cleveland, but another loss in what would be his eighth straight Finals – and that he already owns a home in Los Angeles – could push him away.

But before any of those decisions are made, the Cavaliers must figure out who is making the next one.

Twins Marcus, Markieff Morris each fined by league for separate instances

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Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have a special bond, one that includes doing so much together on the basketball court — playing at the same high school, the same AAU team, then going to college together at Kansas, and even playing together in the NBA for a while together with the Suns (they are now on separate teams).

That includes them both getting fined Saturday by the NBA for recent actions during the playoffs.

Washington’s Markieff Morris picked up a $25,000 fine for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official,” the league announced. Here is the play in question, just minutes into Game 3.

Toronto’s OG Anunoby draws a foul knocking Morris to the ground, but Morris starts the incident with an elbow to Anunoby’s back, and he does push referee Kenny Mauer. Considering all that, a $25,000 fine is not that severe.

His twin Marcus Morris picked up a $15,000 for “public criticism of the officiating,” which he certainly did following the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to the Bucks. Here are his comments, and they are NSFW.

That $15,000 fine is pretty much the going rate for ripping the referees after the game.

Markieff outdid his brother on this one… if you consider getting the larger fine the “win.”

As expected, likely top-three pick Luka Doncic files to enter NBA draft

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Luka Doncic — the 6’8″ point forward who is putting up impressive numbers against men at the highest levels of European basketball — is bringing is game to the NBA. As expected.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the expected is now official.

Doncic, 19, submitted draft paperwork this week to formally enter his name, league sources said. Doncic is arguably the most decorated European player to make a jump to the NBA, a wunderkind who’s been playing in the EuroLeague since 2015. He is currently leading Real Madrid in the EuroLeague playoffs, averaging 14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists this season.

The 6-foot-7 Doncic has the ability to play multiple positions, from being a primary ball-handler to shooting and playmaking off the ball. His season in Europe could continue into late May or June. NBA executives have long been intrigued by Doncic’s potential stardom, and several are continuing to make scouting trips for him.

Doncic is expected to go in the top three (likely the top two) come this June’s draft.

If you’re about to bring up Darko Milicic or some other European bust, just stop. This Slovenian has proven he can play — in 54 games this season between Liga ACB (Spain’s league, second best in the NBA) and the Euroleague, Doncic is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. He has shown a gift for passing that should blossom in the more open play of the NBA, plus he just knows how to run a team and make plays. He can score when called upon and has three-point range, can shoot off the bounce, and if you switch a smaller guy onto him, Doncic can just post him up.

He’s not going to be a bust.

However, what his ceiling is remains the debate. He’s not an elite athlete by NBA standards who has struggled at points for Real Madrid when guarded by borderline-NBA level Americans in Europe. Can he defend at the NBA level? Can he be consistent with his jumper? He may be elite, but it’s no given.

He’s going to be good, and his floor is higher than a lot of the other top prospects in this draft class. However, if a GM thinks that Marvin Bagley III or Mohamed Bamba both have a higher ceiling and can reach it, they may go with the Americans. Doncic is going to put some GMs in an interesting position.

Ben Simmons earns triple-double, Sixers own fourth to win Game 4 vs. Heat, take 3-1 lead

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Joel Embiid’s biggest battle in Game 4 was with his mask — he hates that thing. A couple of times Saturday he tried to sneak into the game with it off, only to force Brett Brown to be the parent and threaten to bench him if he didn’t put it on immediately (winning Game 4 is not worth risking permanent eye/vision damage). Embiid was also battling his offensive game at times, still looking a little rusty.

More importantly, Embiid was also battling the Heat in the paint — when he was in the game Miami struggled to get good looks inside, allowing Sixers defenders to more aggressively challenge shooters on the wings.

That — and Ben Simmons’ triple-double — sparked a comeback from 12 late in the third as the Sixers held on to take Game 4 106-102, and that gives Philly a commanding 3-1 series lead heading back to the City of Brotherly Love for Game 5.

Simmons is the first rookie since Magic Johnson in 1980 to post a triple-double in the playoffs, with 17 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

This was the nail in the coffin of the Heat’s season — if the Sixers turn the ball over 26 times, shoot 7-of-31 from three and still win on the road, the Heat are overmatched.

For much of the game, Miami did not look overmatched in the least and this looked like a game they could win.

Miami brought the defense in this game, and they did it by getting physical and using their length to force turnovers — through three quarters the Sixers had turned the ball over on 28.2 percent of their possessions, more than one in four trips down the court. Miami also did a better job contesting threes in this game, and the Sixers struggled from there all game (22.6 percent from deep).

The physicality led to a chippy game.

These two teams don’t like each other. 😅

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Miami led by a dozen late in the third, but Philadelphia closed the third on a run and carried over to the fourth, a 14-0 run that put the Heat in front as they found their defense. Ersan Ilyasova was key in that stretch with a driving and-one and the next time down the court a three, two plays that changed the momentum of the game.

All series long, the Sixers have been the better team down the stretch — which is unexpected for a young team taking on a more veteran squad. Now that we’re four games in, this is a thing.

In Game 4, the Sixers kept running “horns” sets and the Heat seemed to have no answers. Then late with the game on the line Miami had a couple of terrible defensive breakdowns, one allowing Simmons a clear path to the basket without help rotations that led to a dunk, and the other was Hassan Whiteside not going out to challenge J.J. Redick in the corner and letting him have a clean look (Redick’s foot was on the line so the expected three was a two, but still).

Meanwhile, Joel Embiid owned the paint on defense. When he sat for a little fourth quarter rest, Brett Brown went to the “Ben Simmons and shooters” lineup that was so effective through the final eight games of the season for them when Embiid was out, and that worked. The Sixers kept executing and getting the shots they wanted, the Heat kept hoping Dwyane Wade would bail them out again. He couldn’t, despite a strong 25 point game. Miami also shot itself in the foot going 13-of-25 from the free throw line for the game.

Redick had 24 for the Sixers, while Embiid had 14 points and 12 rebounds. Goran Dragic had 20 points for Miami, and James Johnson added 15.

Tempers flare in chippy Game 4 between Heat, Sixers

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Miami is a physical defensive team, and in Game 4 at home Saturday they cranked that up. The Heat also are a handsy team they clutch, grab, hold, and get away with what they can (that isn’t new to this playoff series).

The Sixers are getting weary of it, and in a game with plenty of double technicals thanks to the referees trying to keep control. The game bubbled over a little midway through the second quarter when Robert Covington made sure Goran Dragic didn’t get off a shot after a foul.

These two teams don’t like each other. 😅

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Ben Simmons also leaned into Wade on a screen and pancaked him. But drew a foul.

😅

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Miami had the lead after three, but the Sixers have owned the games late this series. It’s going to go down to the wire.