Report: Fearing LeBron James leaving, Cavaliers prioritizing young star in Kyrie Irving trade

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The Cavaliers are reportedly prioritizing youth in a Kyrie Irving trade.

Make no mistake what that means about LeBron James.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Cleveland is determined to get an elite young player for Irving, which means this: The trade plan the Cavaliers would have prioritized, with James committed for the long term — veterans to surround James and draft picks — isn’t in motion.

The process of building out the franchise’s roster long term has accelerated with Irving’s trade request. The Cavaliers have witnessed James’ exit strategy twice — once to leave Cleveland and once to return — and the Irving trade request has left them unwilling to squander the opportunity to replenish young assets on a roster that could be crippled in a post-James Cavaliers era that is stocked with high-priced veterans.

The Cavaliers find themselves far more fixated on a young star, including New York’s Kristaps Porzingis, Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Phoenix’s Josh Jackson and Denver’s Jamal Murray, league sources told ESPN.

This is not the strategy I’d take.

The Cavaliers are as much on the cusp of a title as any other team can be while these Warriors exist. It’s so hard to reach that point, I wouldn’t downgrade even a faint chance at a championship this year for a boost in rebuilding back to this point in some vague future. The Cavs, without shame, could go the entire career of whatever player they get for Irving without contending for a title. They know the opportunity is in front of them right now.

If LeBron committed to Cleveland long-term, I’d prioritize players who could help the next 2-3 years. If he won’t commit long-term, I’d push all-in for this season – one last chance to win a championship with LeBron. That means targeting players whose value is mostly derived from the upcoming season – players on expiring contracts and older players. (The Cavs already missed on the player who, by far, best fits that mold: Paul George.)

LeBron might be less likely to return to a team ravaged by 2018 free agency and aging, but a title this season would last forever. It also might be harder for him to leave a defending champion.

The Cavaliers’ actual strategy seemingly has a clearer effect. If LeBron hasn’t made up his mind, this could push him out. He might even be leaning toward re-signing with the Cavs. But that becomes far less appealing if the team stocks up on young players not ready to win.

Ultimately, LeBron must bear the weight of Cleveland going down this path. He allows rumors about the Lakers to linger unchecked – even feeding into them. If he wanted the Cavaliers to build around him, he could signal his commitment. Instead, he has only expressed his dismay – directly and indirectly – with their offseason.

I think this is largely about power – LeBron wanting the Cavs to commit to him without him committing to them. They do all the heavy lifting of building a roster for him, and he might return, or he might not. It’s a game they’ve played before, and one I’d play again. They seem tired of it.

It’s technically not too late for LeBron to privately pledge loyalty and send the organization on a different trade route. This report might even be from Cleveland, trying to light a fire under him. But it seems extremely unlikely for LeBron to become suddenly committal.

And then there’s Irving. The Cavaliers want a young star? Good luck finding someone better than Irving. Porzingis, Tatum, Jackson and Murray all offer more team control – and that’s extremely important, especially if Irving is unhappy in Cleveland. But the Cavs would be surrendering talent in all deals besides Porzingis – plus the chance Irving rescinds his trade request in a post-LeBron world.

Maybe the Cavaliers should just keep Irving another year and hope the distractions remain mild enough that the team can still compete for a title. If LeBron returns and/or Irving still wants out, they could always trade Irving next summer.

Right now, Cleveland has a shot at the 2018 championship and a 25-year-old four-time All-Star. It seems the Cavs are fine losing both.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.