<span class="vcard">Kurt Helin</span>

Chicago Bulls v New York Knicks

J.R. Smith hints Knicks quit vs. Bulls, Phil Jackson says team not ready for “Showtime”

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The reviews are coming in on the Knicks opening night loss to the Bulls and if this were a Broadway show it could be closed within a week.

The Bulls routed the Knicks Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, showing the difference between a contender and where New York is right now. The Bulls took control of the game when the teams went to their benches near the end of the first quarter (a 25-10 Chicago run) and sealed it by pulling away in the third.

It took the fight out of the Knicks, something J.R. Smith owned up to after the game, as reported by Ian Begley at ESPNNewYork.com. Iman Shumpert concurred.

“When we stopped competing the end of the third quarter, fourth quarter, we could all tell,” Smith said. “I think they looked at it as if they felt they smelled blood in the water. We just couldn’t do anything about it. We put our heads down and tucked our tails. We can’t do that at home.”

“We never recovered,” Iman Shumpert said. “We can’t die like that. I think our energy died and we can’t do that.”

Phil Jackson put it this way.

“Not ready for showtime, were we guys?” the Knicks president said to reporters before getting into the passenger seat of his SUV.

Things are not going to be better Thursday night when the Knicks are the sacrificial offering for LeBron James’ homecoming in Cleveland.

It’s going to be a rough transition in New York. Phil Jackson is trying to bring a system and a way of doing things to the organization and the current roster is a terrible fit for that system (save for Carmelo Anthony and a couple others). Plus the triangle itself really takes teams a season to really start to use properly even when they have the right style of players.

It’s going to take time (like a couple seasons), but New Yorkers have to be patient (not always their strong suit) and trust Jackson. Just having a direction for this team and everyone rowing in the same direction is a good first step, but results on the court remain a ways away.

Report: Cavaliers, Anderson Varejao near three-year, $30 million extension

Chicago Bulls v Cleveland Cavaliers
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Anderson Varejao has been the bridge — he was there when LeBron was leading the Cavaliers to the Finals before, he is still there as LeBron returns home Thursday night. He wants to stay long term, and maybe more importantly LeBron wants him to stay.

We knew that the Cavaliers and Varejao were talking extension. Now we hear the two sides are closing in on a deal, via Marc Stein of ESPN.

Sources said the Cavaliers and Varejao — one of LeBron James’ most beloved teammates — are closing in on a new three-year deal worth an estimated $30 million that would kick in starting with the 2015-16 season.

Varejao has spent his entire NBA career with the Cavaliers after Cleveland acquired his rights on draft night in 2004. The Cavaliers and Varejao, sources said, have been eager to finalize terms on a new pact before the start of the new season.

That’s a fair price for a quality big man (especially considering the new TV money coming in), and Varejao certainly is one. The Brazilian center is a strong rebounder on both ends of the floor, and he’s a good man defender, is a good passer and plays a smart game. He’s not a real rim protector — I think the Cavs will still need to go get one of those — but he is the kind of glue guy you see on championship teams.

This is also a sign owner Dan Gilbert is willing to spend. Next season he has $53 million already committed to LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (and that’s before Love opts out and signs a larger free agent deal). The Cavaliers also are negotiating an extension with Tristan Thompson.

With all those big salaries it’s not going to be easy to put quality guys around that core, but no doubt the core will have the Cavaliers contending for the foreseeable future.

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Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard cleared by doctors, will play Friday vs. Suns

Kawhi Leonard
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The San Antonio Spurs just got better.

The rest of the league is shaking its head, but the Spurs — who opened the season with a dramatic win over the Mavericks at home — are now getting their best perimeter defender, the Finals MVP, back in the rotation.

Kawhi Leonard has been cleared by doctors and will suit up for the Spurs Friday night in Phoenix, something first said by coach Gregg Popovich to reporters after practice Thursday and later confirmed by the team itself.

Announcement: Pro Basketball Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $100,000 Fantasy Basketball league forThursday’s NBA games. It’s $25 to join and first prize is $10,000. Starts at 7pm ET on ThursdayHere’s the FanDuel link.

Leonard had an eye infection that caused him to miss five of the Spurs preseason games as well as the opener against the Mavs.

Leonard is exactly what you want in a wing player in today’s NBA. At age 23. He is a very good defender, both on ball and in the team system, he’s long and athletic, and he can shoot the three (especially from the corner). He’s an efficient offensive player.

And he wants a max contract extension that the Spurs have yet to offer him. But that’s another issue.

Ray Allen enjoying retirement, not decided on return to NBA yet

2014 NBA Finals - Game One
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Ray Allen is being a soccer dad. He’s golfing with the president. He’s relaxing a little.

He has a job waiting if he wants it. Allen has plenty of suitors but is in no rush to return to the NBA.

The general vibe around the league is that sometime between Christmas and Valentine’s Day Allen will decide whether he thinks his presence can help one contender over the top — we’re almost certainly talking Cavaliers here — and if he wants to put his body through that.

Right now he’s just staying in shape and staying out of the limelight, he told Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant up in Connecticut.

“I’ve just been home, taking my kids to school,” said Allen, who has been contemplating whether to retire after 18 seasons in the NBA. “I’m working out, taking care of my body. I’m in great shape. I’ll just watch how the season progresses, and if I do feel the desire to continue to play, then I’ll decide what situation is viable for me….

“I still feel certain aches and pains; that’s definitely old age,” he said. “To be able to run, and back off a little bit, lift, and back off a little bit instead of going at it 100 percent all the time like I’ve been doing has helped.”

No doubt Allen is staying in shape, he was always one of the best conditioned athletes in the league.

Rumors were out there this summer that Allen was hesitant to leave his family and the lifestyle in Miami to chase another ring for a year in the cold of Cleveland. No matter who went home and changed that team. But doing that for only half a season…

We’ll see. Eventually. Whenever Allen is ready to decide on his own terms.

LeBron makes emotional return to Cleveland tonight, new Nike ad shows city standing together (VIDEO)

Miami Heat v Cleveland Cavaliers
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LeBron James met with the media at shootaround Thursday, hours before his official return home and the team’s first game of the Cavaliers season, and he tried to tamp down the hype. He wasn’t emotional, just said, “Obviously, it is an exciting time for our city” but said he was going through his regular game day routine. He talked about process. He talked about taking a nap.

Good luck with keeping the emotions of Cleveland in check today.

The season is about process for the Cavaliers, but tonight is about celebration of home.

That city is ready to return to the top of the NBA. It is hungry for a championship. They know tonight starts that ride.

Cleveland is throwing a party for the return of their prodigal son and everyone is excited. I’m not sure if the killed the fatted calf but… actually, Michael Symon probably did, then slowly braised it and served it with morels, fava beans, cipollini onions, and fingerling potatoes. This is an event — TNT sent Charles Barkley to help with the broadcast, ESPN sent the Sports Center set and crew. Clevelanders are partying in the streets, which basically is what they have done since LeBron’s letter announcing his return. You can’t blame them. But it will reach new heights tonight.

Even Nike has a new add out, a well done show of how LeBron and Cleveland are standing together.

LeBron knows it’s just one of 82. He learned in Miami it is about the process, that where the Cavaliers start on Thursday night can’t be who they are come mid-April and beyond when the playoffs start. He knows the work ahead.

But he can’t deny this moment.

Tonight is huge for Cleveland, it’s a celebration of the city and the Knicks are the sacrifice.

The best news for Cavs fans? The best parts of this reunion are still to come.