Kurt Helin

Cleveland Cavaliers V Atlanta Hawks - Game Four

PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ improved defense helps them to Finals

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are not in the Finals without LeBron James playing like the best player on the planet. They are not there without J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson stepping up, or without Kyrie Irving playing through pain.

But they are also playing good defense, and that’s what Jenna Corrado and I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.

The Cavaliers are allowing 98.5 points per 100 possesions in the playoffs, the best of the four teams to reach the Conference Finals. Opponents are shooting just 41.2 percent against them through three rounds.

The question to be answered in the Finals: Was that just because they were in a soft East? The Celtics were not a very good team, Pau Gasol was injured in the Bulls series, and the Hawks were a mess on offense. How much of that was good Cavaliers defense and how much was bad opponent offense?

This much is for sure: Golden State (or maybe Houston, but probably Golden State) will provide an entirely different level of challenge.

Reports: Bulls getting closer to firing Tom Thibodeau

Cleveland at Chicago, Game 6
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There are so many agendas at play and so many leaks in the Tom Thibodeau/Chicago Bulls feud that any kernels of truth are hard to spot in the cesspool of spin.

We know the relationship between the Bulls’ front office,and Tom Thibodeau’s is bad — like headed for divorce bad. The Bulls want to ease their pain in letting him go, by finding a team that might want to hire him and getting them fork over some draft-pick compensation. Nobody wants to play that game. The Magic are serious about Scott Skiles (ownership loves him) and the Pelicans’ GM Dell Demps is leaning Alvin Gentry. Which led to the rumors the Bulls were willing to hold on to Thibodeau until all the jobs were filled then fire him. Just out of spite. Which makes little sense because then the Bulls then have to pay his salary (there is an off-set in his contract, if another team hires him the Bulls save that money). Plus, the Bulls miss out on hiring some potentially good coaches snatched up by other teams.

If the Bulls want out, they are just likely going to have to fire him — and they are leaning that way reports Marc Stein at ESPN.

The Chicago Bulls are giving increasing consideration to firing coach Tom Thibodeau and absorbing the corresponding financial hit, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com that the prospect of Chicago simply terminating its highly successful but often contentious relationship with Thibodeau, as the days pass, is growing in likelihood, even with nearly $9 million left on the coach’s contract over the next two seasons.

That seems more likely than the other alternative, proposed by Ken Berger at CBSSports.com.

While the belief among knowledgeable people in the coaching business has grown that Thibodeau could actually wind up coaching the Bulls next season, ESPN reported Wednesday that the team’s front office is increasingly considering the surest way to prevent that from happening: firing him.

My sense is the Bulls thought they could land a draft pick as compensation — even a second rounder — and that someone would hire Thibs so the Bulls didn’t have to pay as much (if anything). But nobody around the league is going to help them out.

If the Bulls want him gone, they just have to pull the trigger on the firing. Otherwise, bring him back. Either way, they are reaching the time to act.

PBT Extra: Despite ending, Hawks had season worth celebrating

Atlanta Hawks Media Day
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The Atlanta Hawks had never won more than 57 games in a season. They had never made it past the second round of the playoffs.

This season the franchise won 60 games and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Once there, the banged-up Hawks got swept by a banged-up Cavaliers team. That led some narrow-minded people to say they didn’t accomplish anything. I pity fans who view the world thinking if you don’t have the ultimate victory then it was a waste; they miss out on the joys of building, growing, the small victories of life. The Hawks had an exciting season, they filled an arena that in past years felt like a mausoleum, they played beautiful basketball for months at a time.

It’s something to build on.

The Hawks are not like the Cavaliers — they can’t luck out and have the best player on the planet decide to come home and change their fortunes. Kevin Love isn’t going to push for a trade to go there. Superstars will not fall into their lap. They need to lay out a system and get the right people to fill the slots in it. It’s the only way they can build. They have taken huge step in the right direction, one they can build on. To dismiss that as empty is shortsighted and just plain wrong.

Bucks’ Jared Dudley: “Most guys don’t want to play with Kobe”

Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles Clippers
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When Jared Dudley is done as a player, he’s going to have a great career as a broadcaster. That playing career is not over — you think Doc Rivers could have used him in the playoffs, rather than forcing him out the door? — but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a guy media members will go to faster for a quote and some insight.

Plus he’s honest. He tells you what he thinks, no matter what.

Dudley was making the rounds at ESPN’s campus Wednesday, and that included a stop by Collin Cowherd’s radio show, where he was incredibly honest about Kobe Bryant and the Lakers (via the Sportsgrid).

“Most guys don’t want to play with Kobe. He gets in this thing where he doesn’t pass and then overpasses and then tries to get triple doubles every night…that’s why I think it will be a while for the Lakers to get good because they’ve got no stars. I would be surprised if (Kevin) Love goes there.”

When Henry Abbott wrote this at ESPN before the start of last season, he was vilified. Kobe’s vocal and vociferous defenders came out of the woodwork to shout him down online. Other players came out publicly saying “of course I’d play with Kobe,” although what else did you expect them to say.

But what Dudley says has some truth to it. Kobe is one of the game’s greats and an icon, but these are not the only voices saying playing with him is an issue for many around the league. Few are willing to say it publicly.

Free agents will still come to the Lakers, but their pool may be smaller than some other teams.

The first rule of free agency is to go where they pay you the most money, and if that’s the Lakers guys will go there.

However, players with options can take other factors into consideration. Do they like the city? Endorsement opportunities. Weather. Taxes. Family.

And how things will be on the court. Not everyone likes playing with Kobe, and that’s not simply a matter of “they can’t handle the truth” or whatever version of that his defenders want to bring.

One reason is the ball sharing and flow of the offense that Dudley mentions. Go to the Lakers and the question is how you fit in Kobe’s offense, how you play in his shadow. That’s not for everyone.

The other is Kobe’s old-school, “Whiplash” school of being hard on teammates isn’t the only way to win. Look at Golden State under Steve Kerr, where the players talk all the time about how much they enjoy playing for Kerr, how he is fun and positive with the team. Heck, even Phil Jackson was far more honey than vinegar. Guys with options may well look at Kobe and say “why do I want to put up with that?”

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak will say “if they can’t play with Kobe we don’t want them” but the reality is his team needs talent, and if one of the players on his team is keeping some of that talent away, it’s going to slow the rebuilding process.

Dwyane Wade congratulates LeBron James on fifth straight NBA Finals apperance

Cleveland Cavaliers at Miami Heat
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With the Cavaliers’ win Tuesday night, LeBron James has made to five straight NBA Finals. The last people to do that? Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, K.C. Jones, Bill Sharman and other members of the 1966 Boston Celtics. LeBron, Russell and Cousy are the only three players to play in five straight All-Star Games and Finals, reports the Ellias Sports Bureau.

It’s another impressive feat from the game’s best player, and the congratulatory mentions rained down on LeBron after the game. Including one from one of his best friends — Dwyane Wade.

Wade had a hand in that — he was central to the Miami team that made four straight Finals, winning two.

But the Eastern Conference is the domain of LeBron — when he moved back home to Cleveland the Cavaliers became instant contenders with a real shot at the Finals. Despite injuries to Kevin Love (out for the playoffs) and Kyrie Irving (dragging around a sore left leg), LeBron found a way to lift this team to the NBA’s biggest stage.

Wade appreciates that.