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Cavaliers wing it through offseason until monumental trade

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The Cavaliers seemingly spent most of the offseason not knowing what they’d do at point guard.

They rushed to sign Jose Calderon, learned Kyrie Irving wanted to be traded, saw Derrick Rose left disregarded, signed Rose to a minimum deal, agreed to trade Irving to the Celtics, determined Isaiah Thomas‘ injury was more severe than anticipated then finalized the deal with Boston.

Not bad for a team that appeared to be operating without a fully formed plan. But not as good as it could have been, either.

The Cavs started the summer on the wrong foot by dumping general manager David Griffin just three days before the draft. That might have cost them Jimmy Butler and/or Paul George.

But new general manager Koby Altman still handled a star trade with Irving and came out well ahead – if Thomas is healthy, if Cleveland is willing to trade the Nets’ unprotected first-round pick.

A healthy Thomas is nearly as good as Irving right now, and the present matters so much for Cleveland with LeBron James propping its title window open. Jae Crowder – a versatile defender who shoots 3s will be essential against the Warriors – more than makes up the difference between the point guards this season. Again, if Thomas is healthy, and it’s a major question when that will be.

The Brooklyn pick is more valuable than any player in this trade, and the Cavaliers could use it to kick start a post-LeBron rebuild or trade it to improve their title odds this year. They can wait to decide, but both options should be on the table.

It’s so hard to build a team capable of winning a championship, and the Cavs are there. They shouldn’t waste any chance to maximize this opportunity. A better shot at the title would justify a longer post-LeBron rebuild, whenever that comes.

But which player worthy of that pick is available? Teams tend to hoard good players. Cleveland could always keep the pick and delay its decision into the offseason.

These are major questions – How healthy will Thomas be? What would the Cavaliers do with the Nets pick? – that make evaluating this offseason so difficult.

At best, Thomas is soaring by the playoffs, and the Cavs are even better than they were last year. They’d still have the Brooklyn pick in their back pocket to load up even more against Golden State or draft someone who’d infuse talent as this team ages. This could be the type of package that entices LeBron to stay in Cleveland.

At worst, Thomas never gets right. The Cavaliers, fearing LeBron leaving, refuse to trade the Nets pick then lose LeBron because of it.

With the specter of LeBron departing and the lackluster offseason that preceded it, the Irving trade is an all-timer. I think the Cavs came out ahead, but it’s tough to tell without knowing more about Thomas’ status, and they’re keeping that closely guarded. I am giving them full credit for the Brooklyn pick, because, whether or not they’re actually willing to trade it, they’re in position to.

Don’t overlook Crowder, an underrated player on one of the NBA’s most team-friendly contracts (three years, $21,917,475 remaining). He’s a significant part of the package. The third player acquired from Boston, rookie Ante Zizic, isn’t nothing.

Neither is Cedi Osman, a 2015 second-rounder signed this year. Signing Kyle Korver to a three-year, $22 million contract (though just $3.44 million of $7.5 million guaranteed the final season) is probably an overpay considering he’s 36. I like Rose much more as instant offense during LeBron’s short rests rather than a starter who neither defends nor shoots 3s well. Calderon doesn’t have a place on this team if Thomas and Rose are healthy, and I’m not sure Calderon would have been signed if Cleveland knew the latter two would later be acquired. Jeff Green has continuously disappointed, so maybe a minimum contract is finally the right salary for him – though if the Cavaliers are expecting a versatile and effective defender, they too might be left unsatisfied.

That amounts to several minor moves until one huge move. The Cavaliers might have aced the big one, but uncertainty about Thomas’ health has me docking them a full letter. If he’s healthy long enough before the playoffs to establish chemistry with his new teammates, bump them up a full letter. If he’s diminished all season, dock them another letter.

Offseason grade: B

Kevin Durant no fan of one-and-done, says he would have come straight to NBA

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With the money funneled to future NBA players through agents in the spotlight thanks to a FBI investigation (one that doesn’t even get into the money from boosters and shoe companies), the one-and-done rule the NBA has for players sending them to college for a semester of cakewalk classes one year has come back in the spotlight.

The league and players’ union are discussing changing the rule — with some input from the NCAA. If they want Kevin Durant‘s advice, scrap the whole thing — he would have come straight to the NBA if he could have.

“You want these players to go out there and play on the biggest stage. The Final Four is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, in sports, and they don’t get a dime for it. I don’t think it’s right

“If they want to come out of high school, it should be on them. You know what I mean? You can’t control everything. So if they feel as though they’re ready, that’s on them. They want to make a decision on their life, that’s on them. If they don’t get drafted, it’s on them. You can try to control it, but you’re still not really doing anything.”

Would Durant have come out from high school rather than spend a season at Texas?

“Yeah, probably. I needed the money.”

The NBA is discussing changes, and they want to see the recommendations from Condoleezza Rice’s NCAA commission. But the league’s owners are not all on the same page.

“In terms of the NBA, we’re conflicted, to be honest…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said All-Star weekend. “And from a league standpoint, on one hand, we think we have a better draft when we’ve had an opportunity to see these young players play an elite level before they come into the NBA.

“On the other hand, I think the question for the league is, in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger? Are we better off bringing them into the league when they’re 18 using our G League as it was designed to be as a Development League and getting them minutes on the court there? And there is also recognition that for some of these elite players, there is no question that they can perform in the NBA at 18 years old.”

There seems to be some momentum toward a “baseball rule” compromise — players can come to the NBA straight out of high school, but if they go to college they have to stay for at least two years. Unlike the last time high schoolers were rushing into the NBA, most teams are far better prepared to develop young players and be patient with them. There will still be busts — there are even with guys who spent years in college — but teams are in better positions to make it work.

The other thing I would want to see: If a player signs with an agent out of high school, does not get drafted, give him the chance to go to college still. Some young men are going to get terrible advice (from family, AAU coaches, friends, a whole lot of people) and they deserve a chance to choose a better path.

Report: Hawks near buyout with Ersan Ilyasova; Bucks, Raptors interested

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This is about as big a surprise as my wife crying during “This Is Us,” but it sounds like it’s about to go down.

The Hawks and Ersan Ilyasova are close to a buyout, reports Michael Cunningham at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Hawks and forward Ersan Ilyasova tentatively agreed to a buyout of the remainder of his contract, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. Once Ilyasova accepts a buyout and clears waivers, as expected, he will be free to sign with any other team for the rest of the season.

Ilyasova’s contract expires at the end of the season and he is eligible to become a free agent in the summer. Earlier this month, Ilyasova invoked his right to reject the trade offers the Hawks presented to him.

Where might he land on the buyout market?

A lot of teams could use a 6’10” guy who can space the floor as a shooter. Ilyasova signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Hawks this season. He’s averaged 10.9 points per game, shooting 35.9 percent from three this season, and missed some time with a shoulder injury.

Ilyasova is solid as a spot-up guy but is more dangerous as a screen setter where he can pop out and space the floor, or roll and use his size inside. He’s also good at cutting and working off the ball, plus will get a team a few offensive rebounds. He’s not a game changer, but in certain matchups, he could help teams a lot.

Report: Warriors, Timberwolves, Thunder interested in Joakim Noah if he is bought out by Knicks

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Hand me the salt shaker, I’m going to need some extra for this rumor.

My skepticism aside, let’s pass this rumor along: If Joakim Noah can reach a buyout with the Knicks, at least three playoff-bound teams have interest in him, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

According to league sources, several playoff-bound teams are closely monitoring Noah’s situation in New York and would push to sign him if Noah becomes a free agent.

The Warriors, Timberwolves and Thunder are three such teams that believe Noah, who turns 33 on Sunday, could bolster their respective rosters for the postseason.

A few thoughts.

First, I don’t question that the well-connected Isola got this from a reputable source.

My question is who leaked it? Or, better yet, who benefits from leaking it? That would be the Knicks — they want Noah to agree to a low enough buyout number that it’s a real benefit to them. The idea that playoff teams — and the leading title contender at that — interested in Noah’s services helps the Knicks make a case that he has good options where he gets on the court if he agrees to the buyout terms. Leaking this is a way to ramp up a little public pressure.

That doesn’t mean it’s not true, either. It’s not hard to picture these teams having interest: Tom Thibodeau loves bringing back former players, and both the Warriors (who started JaVale McGee Thursday) and Thunder could use help on the front line. Do any of them think Noah can provide that help at this point? He has been a shell of his former self in recent years. Would those teams actually sign Noah? Who knows, and for the Knicks they don’t care.

Noah is owed $36.5 million for the two seasons after this one, which is why trading him is next to impossible. In a somewhat similar situation in Atlanta Dikembe Mutombo took about $10 million off his salary in a buyout, would Noah do that to get on a contender? That’s what the Knicks are hoping.

Lonzo Ball on college basketball: ‘Everybody knows everybody’s getting paid. Might as well make it legal’

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The logs of payment by Andy Miller’s former agency to high school and college basketball players leaked today.

That has sparked discussions about the entire system, and Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball has a thought.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

Simply, I don’t believe Ball about not getting extra compensation at UCLA. That sounds like he caught himself going further then he wanted and attempting to backtrack.

I can see why Ball wouldn’t want to admit getting extra benefits. He still knows people at UCLA, and an NCAA inquiry based on his comments could hurt them – and his reputation at UCLA.

But NBA players should be outspoken on this issue. They have the power to apply pressure on the NCAA’s cartel system, in which schools collude to limit compensation to athletes. As long as that system remains, college players lose out, getting only under-the-table scraps, while coaches and administrators hoard the major money.

Good for Ball for pointing out the farce. It’s easy to stop caring once players reach the NBA and gets rich, but NBA players are uniquely equipped to shine a light on the NCAA’s problems.