Kurt Helin

LeBron James: ‘We’ve got a long way to go’


Last week, the Cleveland Cavaliers couldn’t match the Spurs’ level of execution in the fourth quarter and lost. Monday, it wasn’t even that close when the Golden State Warriors came to Cleveland and made the last three games of the 2015 Finals look competitive.

Games in January do not give us 100 percent clarity on games in June. Teams evolve. Rosters change. Things happen.

But while preaching calm after Monday’s ugly loss, LeBron James also admitted his Cleveland Cavaliers have a long way to go if they are going to win an NBA title this season. Here are his quotes, via Jeff Zillgit of the USA Today.

“Against the top teams you want to play well, and we haven’t done that,” James said. “We’re 0-3 versus the top two teams in the West. We’re 0-1 against the Bulls so far. We’ve got to play better basketball.

“We’ve got a long way to go. Tonight was an example of how far we’ve got to go to get to a championship level, and we’ve just got to continue to get better.”

These January games are just benchmarks — albeit very sobering ones for the Cavaliers. LeBron is doing the right thing to preach calm.

“It’s never as bad and it’s never as good as it may seem when you’re going through it,” James said. “Obviously, you want to play well and especially on a stage like this versus the defending champions. But for me as a leader of this ball club over the last six or seven years, I’ve always been even-keeled about wins and losses, especially at this juncture of the season.”

The Cavaliers are the third or fourth best team in the NBA (the latest PBT Power Rankings have them third, but if you have the Thunder ahead of them I can see that argument). They win games against the East because they are more talented — there is no team in the East that has shown an ability to challenge or push the Cavaliers. Teams such as Chicago and Toronto look good on paper but can’t stay healthy and can’t play well consistently enough to be a genuine threat.

Meaning the Cavaliers are destined for the NBA Finals (barring major injuries). If they’re in that dance, they have a chance. Yes, I’m telling you there’s a chance. But the past week showed it’s a slim one right now and unless the Cavaliers figure out how to better defend the pick-and-roll, put Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in better positions to succeed, improve their bench play, and a few other things, it’s hard to be optimistic about Cleveland getting a title this year. In terms of system and execution, the Warriors and Spurs are far ahead of the Cavs.

LeBron is right, the Cavaliers have work to do.

NBA new “hands” ads — where a high-five from a player changes everything

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It’s another well-done set of ads from the NBA.

They are promoting the new NBA Saturday Primetime games on ABC — which this weekend features the Bulls at the Cavaliers, 8:30 ET. Those games will feature some marquee teams and run through the rest of the season. (Remember this is the slot FOX was pitching to get in the last television deal negotiations, taking over a prime sports slot after college football ended, but Disney/ABC/ESPN ponied up to make sure they got the goods.)

The one above with Andre Iguodala — and “(You’ve Got) The Magic Touch” by The Platters — is my favorite. Because I would totally have been that kid.

Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist cleared for contact, will return soon

Charlotte Hornets v Chicago Bulls
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The Charlotte Hornets need a boost. They have dropped 12 of their last 16 games, are without Al Jefferson, and have slid out of the playoffs in the East and are now 2.5 games back of eight-seed Boston.

How about the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?

The Hornets best wing has been out all season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder which required surgery, but he is back and has been cleared for full-contact practice, the team announced Tuesday. Officially there is no timetable for his return, but it likely will be soon.

With MKG out, Marvin Williams has started all 41 Hornets games and has averaged 9.7 points per game, shot 38 percent from three, and the Hornets are +2.6 per 100 possessions when he is on the court. But Kidd-Gilchrist is an upgrade. MKG averaged 10.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game last season, and, more importantly, was the team’s best defender by far — the Hornets were 7.8 points per 100 possessions better defensively when he was on the court.

Picture Nicolas Batum and MKG together as the starting wings, and suddenly the Hornets defense looks far more formidable. Maybe good enough to get back in the playoff picture.

Report: Sixers unlikely to make trade at deadline


The Philadelphia 76ers are not good, but a couple of moves have made them respectable — they are 4-8 since Ish Smith was brought in as the starting point guard, and those losses include forcing the Knicks to double overtime on Monday.

The Sixers don’t want to get much better this season — they still have their own draft pick and would love to have the best lottery odds to land Ben Simmons in June. But they don’t want to get worse, either. Which is why you probably shouldn’t expect them to make any trades in the run-up to the trade deadline in February, something reported by Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The 76ers will listen to trade offers, but chances are they won’t make any moves by the Feb. 18 trade deadline.

“We will continue to look for opportunities if there are things that we can do to add players for now and the future,” general manager Sam Hinkie said Monday. “We will look, but I’m not sure it will happen.”

The past couple trade deadlines GM Sam Hinkie sent talent out. Two seasons ago it was Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes shipped out at the deadline, last season it was Michael Carter-Williams (which was a smart move, he has struggled and the Sixers got the Lakers top-three protected pick this draft or next, a great asset).

Bringing in Jerry Colangelo was never going to change the core of the plan long-term in Philly — they have quality young players such as Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, but they need to add a lot more. Even without any moves they likely have three first round picks this season, four if the Lakers’ pick falls to fourth or worse. They have Dario Saric coming over in the next few years and — knocking on wood — Joel Embiid. Nail the draft and they can have something special.

They are not going to mess with that at the deadline unless someone blows them away with an offer.

John Wall’s agent change about empowering his friends, speaks to changes in agent landscape

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John Wall‘s decision to change agents — he recently left Relativity Sports, where he had been for five seasons, and soon will join Rich Paul’s agency — speaks to the landscape for agents.

It’s not simply a question of an agent getting guys the largest contracts anymore — Wall is in the middle of a max deal and will likely get another one after this. It’s about marketing opportunities, it’s about shoe deals, and it’s about the players’ friends having real power. It’s the model LeBron James set up (Rich Paul is his agent) and Wall told David Aldridge of NBA.com that “his team” of friends was at the heart of his decision to move on.

“Just a decision that I made, just thinking about it with my team,” Wall said earlier in the week. “The people I was with have been a great partnership the five years I was with them. They did a lot of positive things for me. It was just a situation where I felt me and my team wanted to go in different ways with how I wanted to build my team.”

Wall wants what LeBron James — and, a generation before both of them, Gary Payton — achieved: representation that will empower those closest to him in meaningful positions…

“That’s the way,” Wall said Saturday night, without naming any names. “That’s what I want to do.”

Wall will soon make his best friend, Ty Williams — “my brother,” Wall says — his manager.

Wall denied that him being a shoe contract free agent right now factored into that decision. I’d take that with a grain of salt. Wall’s negotiations with Adidas are reportedly going slowly; I find it hard to believe that didn’t play a factor, especially considering Paul’s connections with Nike. But it was not the only motivation.

Players switch agents all the time. Most players will have multiple agents over the course of their careers. It’s part of the game. And recently, with the powerful Arn Tellem leaving the Wasserman Media Group to become an executive with the Pistons, there has been a bigger shakeup than normal. It feels like half the league is on the move.

But what is being asked of agents is shifting, to a degree. Keeping a players’ posse happy was always part of the job, but now more and more players want their friends to have some real power. They trust those guys, and they want to help out their friends. An agent needs to find a way to make that happen, and put together an excellent marketing platform for the player as well.

And even then, the agent is going to get dumped at some point. It’s the game.