Kurt Helin

Cavaliers Last Practice at Home Before Heading to the NBA Finals

Rick Barry: “LeBron is the greatest three to ever play the game”


Who is the greatest small forward in NBA history?

Larry Bird? Julius Erving? Dominque Wilkins? Scottie Pippen? Elgin Baylor? John Havlicek?

Rick Barry (who could be in that discussion as well) says we are seeing the greatest right now: LeBron James.

Here is what he told Scott Ferrall of CBS Sports Radio (hat tip to Ananth Pandian of Eye on Basketball)

“I think LeBron is the greatest three to ever play the game. And as great as he is, he still has room for improvement. If that was ever to happen and he really refined his game more, they may have to outlaw him, he’s so good. He’s an anomaly, I mean he really is. There’s never been anybody like him with his size, his athleticism, his feel for the game.”

I was on a Boston radio station Tuesday talking NBA Finals when Berry’s comments came up, and for obvious reasons they are partial to Larry Bird. Deservedly so — this is a guy who, along with Magic Johnson, helped change the trajectory of the NBA. LeBron is not the international star he is now without Bird.

But LeBron is the better player.

LeBron is not as good at trash talking, not as good a pure shooter, but in terms of the overall game he is better. If you want to argue that today Bird has a better legacy — three titles in particular — than LeBron, you can make that case. But when LeBron hangs them up that argument will be different.

Part of what makes these finals interesting is LeBron James is in legacy mode.

That’s part of why he is back in Cleveland — bringing the first professional sports title to Cleveland since the Lyndon B. Johnson administration helps that legacy. It’s why he is constantly compared to Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant — we need to measure LeBron against the other all-time greats, that’s where he is in his career.

That’s why Bird is in the conversation.

But Rick Barry is right.

Steve Kerr and David Blatt meet again, this time as rookie coaches in the NBA Finals

Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors
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When they first met last June (something set up by their shared agent), David Blatt and Steve Kerr found they had a common vision for how the game of basketball should be played — ball movement, spacing, player movement off the ball, playing uptempo. All of it designed to create just a little space, which is all the best players need to make the defense pay. The two became fast friends and got along so well that after a couple of meetings Kerr offered Blatt a seat next to him as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors.

But before Blatt accepted, his phone rang. That call ultimately became owner Dan Gilbert and the Cleveland Cavaliers offering Blatt their head coaching job.

Now Blatt and Kerr meet again, but this time as opposing head coaches in the NBA Finals — the first time rookie head coaches have met in the NBA Finals since 1947, the first season the league existed.

However, the pairs’ paths from when they first met to this point couldn’t be much different.

Kerr, patient in taking over for Mark Jackson, got his budding superstar Stephen Curry to buy into all those offensive philosophies he had discussed with Blatt. With the help of lead assistant Alvin Gentry (who will take over as the head coach in New Orleans after these Finals), Kerr built a thoroughly modern NBA offense around Curry and a variety of versatile weapons. The Warriors had the second best offense in the NBA, won 67 games and have been the best team in the Association since the season tipped off. Kerr was a serious candidate for Coach of the Year.

Blatt’s path changed dramatically just a couple weeks after he took the job when LeBron James decided to return to Cleveland — this went from a rebuilding project to a team that could win the title instantly (especially with the addition of Kevin Love). Blatt’s offensive system had to bend to the weight of the NBA’s star system — and that process was not fast and not always pretty. Blatt took criticism at every turn (deserved or not), it seemed everything that went wrong was on him, everything good was on LeBron. The offense struggled some early until the Cavaliers went with something more conventional and comfortable for LeBron and Kyrie Irving. After LeBron James’ mid-season sabbatical, the Cavaliers’ became an offensive force with those conventional looks. From the All-Star Game through the end of the season, the Cavs had the third best offense in the NBA scoring 108.9 points per 100 possessions (trailing only the Spurs and Warriors).

Both teams are in the Finals because of their defense. Again the Warriors have been phenomenal on that end all season. Meanwhile the Cavaliers have started to finally peak on that end in the playoffs (and especially since Tristan Thompson replaced the injured Kevin Love).

What will be most interesting these playoffs is how the two coaches — the two friends — will probe and test those defenses.

Kerr will use the depth and versatility of his offense to find weaknesses in that Cavalier defense. One matchup to watch early is whomever Kyrie Irving is guarding — Irving is not 100 percent, and there is nowhere to hide a player defensively against the Warriors. If he starts out on Stephen Curry, well, Curry will test him both off the dribble and keeping up with him off the ball. Same with Klay Thompson. Maybe the best bet is to hide Irving on Harrison Barnes, but he is another guy who moves incredibly well off the ball, and one who has the size and strength to score on Irving inside.

Golden State also is a team that makes opponents pay for ball watching — and key Cavaliers will do that. Specifically J.R. Smith and LeBron, both of whom could end up trying to track Klay Thompson at times — lose him and the result will be three Warriors points.

Finally, in the regular season the Cavaliers defense — even after the additions of Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert — struggled to move laterally well if the ball switched sides quickly. Good passing would lead to good shots against Cleveland. However, no team has exploited that in the postseason — the Celtics and Bulls were not really built to do so, and the Hawks team that shared the ball to 60 wins didn’t show up for the postseason. Golden State will be a real test of how far Cavaliers defense has come.

On the other sideline, Blatt’s European roots have shown at times in these playoffs, both in good and bad ways.

The most talked about instance led to criticism. In Europe it is common on key late-game possessions to have your best passer — even if it’s your best player — take the ball out of bounds, finding the open man. With the score tied 84-84 in Game 4 against Chicago, and just 1.1 seconds on the clock, Blatt called for LeBron to take the ball out of bounds. LeBron overruled him. LeBron called his own number, which ended up being a step-back corner three to win it for the Cavaliers. After the game, it was LeBron who told the media how that play came to be, reinforcing the idea in the minds of some that he was the real guy in charge. He may well be.

But Blatt has also made decisions — ones influenced by his European roots — that have worked brilliantly for Atlanta. Because there is no real star system in Europe coaches will simply go with the player they think is best, regardless of contract, which is how James Jones has been on the court and playing well instead of guys like Mike Miller in the postseason.

Blatt also has had strong defensive game plans. He looked at a star-less Atlanta team — one that had shot the three ball well most of the season but was not the same by the time of the Eastern Conference Finals — and decided to dare Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, and basically any Hawk not named Kyle Korver to beat them from three. The Cavaliers went under picks and stayed back. The January Hawks would have carved up that defensive strategy, but these were not the same Hawks. They couldn’t take advantage.

Blatt will need a different defensive strategy this round (I don’t recommend going under picks against Curry), but he has his team peaking at the right time. And he has LeBron’s endorsement (at least publicly). Kerr’s advantage is he has more pieces on the chess board, more and more versatile players he can use to find matchups that work — and he has done that with adjustments each round that the opposing coach simply could not counter.

However the series ends, Blatt and Kerr will hug it out as friends. That hasn’t changed since they first met last June. It’s just everything else since then that has been different.

Iman Shumpert sees “San Andreas,” now not thrilled about games in California

Dwayne Johnson

The movie “San Andreas” is as based in reality as “Guardians of the Galaxy.” I know, it’s shocking because most movies with The Rock are virtually documentaries. Still, for those of us Californians who live near the fault, there is one upside to this movie: Somebody may see it and decide not to move to California.

Such as Iman Shumpert.

The Cavaliers’ guard will be spending some time in California — specifically in the Bay Area, near the San Andreas fault — the next couple weeks during the NBA Finals. He went and saw “San Andreas” and then took to Twitter.

The Warriors handled this perfectly.

One more time, just for the record, earthquakes are scary and you should in no way move to California.


PBT Extra: Will Kevin Love, Dwyane Wade be moving on?

Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Four

The summertime NBA rumor season is here. Even if there are a few games left to play (just a little thing like the NBA Finals with LeBron James and Stephen Curry).

Kevin Love says he will stay in Cleveland, but does he mean it?

Are the Nets going to try and move Deron Williams and Joe Johnson?

Could the Dwyane Wade posturing with Miami lead to him skipping town?

Jenna Corrado and I get into all of it in this PBT Extra.

Warriors’ Klay Thompson cleared to play in Game 1

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors - Game Five

The first quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals is going to be rusty after both teams have been off for more than a week. It’s just another reason the league will regret that start date.

However, Warriors are fine with that start date — they got Kay Thompson back.

He was officially cleared to play in Game 1 Thursday after passing the NBA’s concussion protocol.

Thompson suffered a concussion in Game 5 against the Rockets after an inadvertent knee to his head from Trevor Ariza. If the Warriors had continued on in that series he would have missed time, but the length break in the schedule paid off for him.

This was expected, Thompson went through a three-hour practice and workout Monday and reportedly showed no ill effects.

Having him in the lineup is huge for the Warriors. First, the Warriors were +18.2 points per 48 minutes when Thompson and Curry were paired in the regular season, and they are +10.5 in the postseason. Thompson is a quality perimeter defender (who will likely draw considerable time on Kyrie Irving this series). Plus, he and Curry make it difficult to match up with the Warriors for the Cavs if Irving isn’t 100 percent — either of them will be able to create space and get looks.

Plus, when Curry sits, Thompson can take over, remember he had a 37-point quarter this season.