Kurt Helin

2015 NBA Finals - Game Five

LeBron James posts photo with Tristan Thompson, sends message to Cavs

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Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.

Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.

But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.

Get it done!!!! Straight up. #MissMyBrother @realtristan13

A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.

LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.

However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.

For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.

Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.

 

51 Questions: Can the Golden State Warriors stay hungry?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Can the Golden State Warriors stay hungry?

After the Spurs had won their most recent title, coach Gregg Popovich was not shy about saying he was concerned about a drop-off in focus from his charges — it’s human nature for players to take a deep breath after winning a title, he said. That can be a setback the next season when good habits need to be rebuilt by a team.

Plus there are more distractions. Succeed on basketball’s biggest stage and suddenly other opportunities open up — you are golfing with the presidentgoing on late-night talk shows, being on the cover of a video game, and traveling through Asia to promote your shoe brand. All of that can cause a guy to lose some focus.

It is one of the big questions facing the Warriors drive to repeat as champions — will they have the same hunger?

Last season guys put their egos aside — Andre Iguodala came off the bench, to use the obvious example — to chase that ring. Will that continue, or will guys get a little more selfish (Pat Riley called it “the disease of more”)? 

Stephen Curry is not worried about it.

“That’s going to be easy,” Curry told PBT this summer. “We’re all competitors, we’re all proud of what we did last season, but once you enter a new year, we’ll get our rings on opening night, and that’s the end of the celebrating of what happened and you look forward to the next journey, the next goal, which is to win another one.

“I’m hopefully going to lead that charge, and we have such a great core of guys that are young and hungry and want to relive that intoxicating feeling of winning a championship. You look at the history of the league, you understand how hard it is to win one, but the challenge of winning multiple is something that I’m happy to be gunning for now that I’ve got one under my belt. But that’s the mission.”

Curry is saying the right things. Doing it will prove to be the challenge.

The good news is they got the band back together — Golden State re-signed Draymond Green and the only guy who played meaningful minutes in the Finals who is gone is David Lee. The versatile core of Golden State remains intact. (The issue of a Harrison Barnes contract extension still looms, that said he’s not going anywhere in the short term.)

That includes the coach. Last season coach Steve Kerr pushed all the right buttons with this team, and he has experience his players do not in this new chase. Remember, he was on a team that three-peated (it helps to have Michael Jordan on your roster). Kerr understands and has lived the challenges ahead for the Warriors. He’s the perfect coach to guide them — as soon as he gets healthy and returns to the squad. He could be back on the sidelines in time to get his ring opening night, but there is no timetable for his return from multiple back surgeries this summer. If he misses part of the season, it would be another challenge the Warriors would need to overcome.

Under Kerr’s direction, the Warriors were the first team to win it all with a small-ball lineup and lots of three-point shooting. They are the poster children for a modern NBA roster and style of play, taking what Mike D’Antoni started in Phoenix with Steve Nash and evolving it into a system that can win a ring. That’s not going to change.

“Who we are is who we are, we’ve just got to be better at it, more consistent at it,” Curry said.

He’s not going to get caught up in the labels of what they accomplished last season — he just wants to do it again.

“It’s playing good basketball but it’s playing our way and not really getting caught up in defining it,” Curry said. “We have our strengths with our team and versatility is what we rely on — guys playing multiple positions — and just being gamers and competitors. We obviously shoot a lot of jumpers and we play fast, but we also play defense at a high level and that’s why we’re world champs right now.

“We’ve just got to embrace that style of play and be more consistent and be better at it — we’re going to get everybody’s best shot this year, even more than we did last year, but we’ll be ready for it.”

Curry and his Warrior teammates are saying all the right things.

Now they just have to do them. Again.

Mark Cuban understands if Tyson Chandler is “salty” with Mavericks

Tyson Chandler
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When July 1 rolled around and Tyson Chandler became a free agent, the Dallas Mavericks focused their attention on a center — DeAndre Jordan.

It was the second time Dallas seemed to undervalue Chandler. The first was not long after he anchored the defense on their 2011 title team, but by next December was shipped to New York as the Mavs remade their roster. When they got him back before last season, owner Mark Cuban said they had learned their lesson.

Not so much, they did it again. While Dallas was in its dalliance with Jordan (we don’t need to rehash that again, do we?), Chandler signed with the Phoenix Suns. Mark Cuban understands if after all that Chandler is ticked at Dallas, something he told “Dennis and Friedo” Friday on 103.3 FM ESPN Dallas (as transcribed by Tim MacMahon of ESPN).

“He does have the right to be salty,” Cuban said…

“I didn’t think it would get to that point,” Cuban said of the 33-year-old Chandler’s departure from Dallas. “We actually tried to have discussions right at the start of the year about an extension and it kind of just died on the vine. His agent didn’t really take it anywhere, and I was the first to say ‘If you don’t want to take it right now, we’ll try to figure something out at the end of the year,’ because I realized that by waiting that gave Tyson an extra year.

“Then the opportunity for DeAndre came along and we were pretty straightforward. Tyson or his agent gave us the ultimatum before the decision was made. He said he wouldn’t wait. That’s his decision. It is what it is. He does have a right to be salty, because I really did suggest to him — and it’s exactly the way I thought — that he’d be here for a long time.”

Everyone played their roles here, it’s just business. Chandler is solid, but Jordan would have been an upgrade, I don’t blame Cuban and the Mavs for going after him. Nor do I blame Chandler for not wanting to wait around to be the Mavs fallback option.

That said, if you have Tyson Chandler on your fantasy team, you may want to make sure he’s active when the Suns first face the Mavericks in the season opener Oct. 28. (If you have Chandler on your fantasy team, we really need to talk about how you construct a team.)

Josh Smith with one-handed slam in Clips preseason opener (VIDEO)

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Josh Smith is part of the Clippers improved bench, a guy filling a role on a contender.

And he’s a guy who can still dunk, which he showed off Friday night

The Clippers beat the Nuggets 106-93 in the first preseason game of the fall, and Smith had 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting. DeAndre Jordan led the Clippers with 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.

Joffrey Lauvergne led the Nuggets with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting.

Hornets have big expectations for G Nicolas Batum

Nicolas Batum
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Coach Steve Clifford is intrigued with what he’s seen in training camp from guard Nicolas Batum and expects the seven-year NBA veteran to play a major role with the Charlotte Hornets this season.

Clifford anticipates that Batum’s scoring output will increase noticeably, and expects him to be one of the team’s top three scorers along with center Al Jefferson and point guard Kemba Walker.

“Why not? I know I can,” Batum said with a simple shrug of the shoulders.

Batum has often been the fourth option in Portland.

The Hornets acquired Batum in an offseason trade from the Trail Blazers for Gerald Henderson and 2014 first-round draft pick Noah Vonleh. He’s scheduled to open the season at the No. 2 spot for Charlotte because Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be starting at small forward.

Clifford has been looking for a consistent third scorer who can shoot from the outside. Batum is a 36.3 percent career 3-point shooter, although he had down season in 2014-15.

They swung and missed last season with free agent signee Lance Stephenson, a bad fit who was jettisoned after just one season.

Judging from practice, Clifford thinks Batum will fare better.

“For his career he has always been around 13 or 14 points per game, but I think he will get more play calls here,” Clifford said. “The big thing isn’t necessarily the number but how efficient he is – and I think he will play very efficiently.”

Batum played in 481 games in seven seasons with the Trail Blazers, averaging 11.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists and shot 44.6 percent from the field.

He also brings added playoff experience having appeared in 34 postseason games for Portland and averaging 10.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

Batum’s numbers fell off slightly last season while he battled through injuries, but the 6-foot-7 Frenchman still managed to play 71 games and average 9.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists.

“He’s a creator,” Clifford said. “To me he does all of the things you can’t teach. He knows where the ball should go. He’s a terrific passer who can play off the dribble. When you watch him play he already knows this guy can do this, this guy can do that. His feel for the game is just so good.”

That comes from a lot of film study.

On the first day of practice, Batum walked into Clifford’s office and asked him about a particular defensive concept. Clifford looked at him puzzled, knowing the team had yet to talk about it, let alone begin to install it in practice.

“I was like, `Where did you see that?” Clifford said. “And he said, `Oh, I was just going through the playbook.”‘

Batum said he likes to be prepared.

He’s spent two months watching tape of his teammates so he could get to know their tendencies.

And he likes what he’s seen.

The Hornets made the playoffs two seasons ago with a 43-39 record, but were left out of the postseason last season.

“I am so excited to play here,” Batum said. “I don’t think people realize how good we can be…. I’m not saying we’re going to win 55 games this year, but it’s going to be different.”