Dan Feldman

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.

Report: Rockets opening season on back-to-back

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The NBA will reportedly reduce the number of back-to-backs – especially around nationally televised games.

That won’t help the help the Rockets, who open with a nationally televised game at the Warriors on Oct. 17 then will reportedly play at the Kings the next night.

Carmichael Dave of KHTK Sports 1140:

It was unclear whether the NBA was prioritizing rest days on both sides of nationally televised games or just before. If the latter, teams might still rest players during nationally televised games to save the players for the following night. (New rest rules will create complications, though we’ll have to see precisely what those are.)

Houston obviously won’t rest anyone the first game of the season. And it’s probably too early to sit anyone in Sacramento. Even if the Rockets gave someone a night off against the Kings – even if it’s James Harden or Chris Paul – at least that game isn’t nationally televised.

But this provides a clue of how the schedule, which will be released at 6 tonight, will be crafted.

On the bright side for Houston, the Rockets (and Warriors, Cavaliers and Celtics) will fit 82 games in 177 days. Nearly everyone else will cram 82 games into 176 days – or fewer. That’s a small difference, but those add up.

Stan Van Gundy: Luxury tax won’t keep Pistons from re-signing Avery Bradley

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Before last season, Pistons owner Tom Gores said he was willing to pay the luxury tax to re-sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Of course, Detroit had a disappointing year, falling out of the playoffs. And when push came to shove, the Pistons traded for the cheaper Avery Bradley and let Caldwell-Pope walk. They’ll avoid the luxury tax this season.

What about next summer, when Bradley will be an unrestricted free agent? Detroit projects to have just $13 million to pay him while staying below the tax, and he’ll likely command a much higher salary.

Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy, via Pistons.com:

“We’ve got other strategies,” Van Gundy said. “The finances will not inhibit our ability to re-sign Avery at whatever it takes. If we’re in a situation where we want Avery back and Avery wants to be here, we’ll be able to bring him back.”

“In the right situation for the right people, Tom’s more than willing to pay the tax,” Van Gundy said. “I think about half the league’s going to be paying the tax this year. Tom’s not opposed to that.”

Many owners say they’re willing to pay the luxury tax. Fewer actually do it.

Maybe the Pistons would pay the tax to keep Bradley. Maybe they’d dump other players so they can re-sign him and dodge the tax. Maybe they’ll lose him.

But it’s hard to look at Detroit’s payroll and Bradley’s status and assume this is a simple issue that will solve itself.

Kevin Durant gifted Warriors an absurdly good offseason

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I’m grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Warriors’ 2016 offseason sent shockwaves through the league, sparking questions about competitive balance and whether the entire system required reform. Think about that for a moment. The Warriors’ summer of 2016 was so incredible, it became a referendum on the NBA itself.

We didn’t even fully understand how incredible it was until this summer.

Forget the attention and pressure. Ignore industry-specific factors, like who beat whom in the playoffs. The Warriors wooed Kevin Durant with many of the same reasons we choose jobs – pay, work environment, location. Durant picked a max salary from one of the NBA’s most successful teams in the trendy Bay Area. It was a reasonable decision.

Golden State followed that with an unreasonably good 2017 offseason.

The Warriors impressed Durant so much, they didn’t even need to pay the max to keep him.

Everything fell into place from there for Golden State, which secured its place as a budding dynasty. The defending champions enter next season even stronger.

Durant’s discount from his max salary ($34,682,550) to the Non-Bird Exception ($31,848,120) allowed the Warriors to retain Andre Iguodala‘s and Shaun Livingston‘s Bird Rights. Durant’s discount from the Non-Bird Exception to his actual salary ($25 million) effectively serves as a wealth transfer from the millionaire player to the team’s billionaire owners. His $6,848,120 concession, based on the current roster, will save Golden State more than $30 million in salary and luxury tax.

So, now the Warriors are more equipped to win and turn a bigger profit.

Stephen Curry re-signed on a five-year super-max deal, and he didn’t even get a player option. Golden Sate signed the NBA’s two best free agents, and the only drama was over just how team-friendly their contracts would be. At least Curry got every last dollar.

The Warriors also signed Nick Young (taxpayer mid-level exception) and Omri Casspi (minimum) – luxuries for a team already running circles around the rest of the league. Young has become a 3-point specialist who tries defensively, and he’ll provide excessive firepower in limited minutes behind Klay Thompson. A combo forward, Casspi fits well in the small-ball lineups Golden State has popularized.

Zaza Pachulia (Non-Bird Exception), David West (minimum) and JaVale McGee (minimum) re-signed. A formidable big-man rotation for less than most teams spend on a single moderately helpful center. The Warriors are just operating in a different world than everyone else.

Case in point, Jordan Bell. The Warriors paid the Bulls a record $3.5 million for the No. 38 pick to get Bell, a versatile defender who’s perfectly cast as Draymond Green‘s understudy. But because drafted players can count less toward the tax, signing a rookie free agent to a minimum deal instead of acquiring Bell would’ve cost Golden State $2,131,243 more in luxury tax. Deduct that from the $3.5 million and consider Bell’s talent, and it’s a clear win for Golden State.

The Warriors just keep getting all those moves, big and small, right.

The repeater tax and raises for Thompson and Green loom. Guaranteeing the 33-year-old Iguodala $48 million and 31-year-old Livingston $18 million limits flexibility. Teams don’t remain elite forever.

But Golden State is riding its wave – on and off the court – higher than maybe any team ever.

Offseason grade: A

LeBron James tweets Lakers president Magic Johnson happy birthday: ‘One of the few that’s always showed love from day 1 to me!’

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
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As rumors swirl about him leaving the Cavaliers for the Lakers next summer, LeBron James – who has not been shy about using social media to send messages – tweeted at Lakers president Magic Johnson on Johnson’s 58th birthday.

LeBron:

Obviously, this doesn’t make LeBron Los Angeles-bound – or even mean he’s alluding to the idea. But I do believe LeBron wants the thought of him leaving Cleveland again out there, maybe if only to keep pressure on the Cavs. For what it’s worth, LeBron never tweeted Johnson a birthday message until Johnson took over the Lakers.

As Johnson would say, wink.