Kurt Helin

LeBron James, other Cavaliers react to Anderson Varejao joining Warriors

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There was a segment of Cavaliers fans (maybe a small segment) who were angry with Anderson Varejao for signing with “the enemy” — the Golden State Warriors. The team in Cleveland’s path to a ring. They felt betrayed — although why anyone thinks Varejao should be loyal to Cleveland after they shipped him out the door for Channing Frye is beyond me. Loyalty is a two-way street, don’t show it and you don’t get it.

The Cavaliers players didn’t love the idea of their friend on a team they could meet in the Finals, but they understood the business side of it. Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer collected the quotes from key Cavaliers on Varejao wearing blue and gold in California now.

LeBron James said he didn’t have a problem with it.

“Not at all,” James said. “The man has to work. He’s got to work.”

Kevin Love joked around but understood.

“They’re going to get all of our intel now,” Love joked. “Nah, but seriously, I’m happy for him. He goes to obviously a very good team. It’s tough losing a brother like that and what he meant to this city, this organization. He was beloved here…. Yeah, it’s bittersweet,” he said. “I wish him the best in his career and I want him to play well. Just not against us.”

Tristan Thompson wants his friend to be happy.

“It’s a business,” Thompson said. “He wants to keep playing ball, so whatever is the best fit for him and whatever he’s looking for, you have to be happy for him. Andy was more than just a teammate, he was a friend, a big brother, and so wherever he can go to keep playing, I’m happy for him, even with him being with the Warriors.”

If/when the Cavaliers and Warriors meet in the NBA Finals, it’s unlikely Varejao will play a big role in that series for the Warriors. He’s needed more now with Festus Ezeli out for another month following an injury and Andrew Bogut not able to take on too heavy a load. This gives the Warriors options now, and even more versatility going forward.

But if Varejao gets a ring at the expense of the Cavaliers, that’s going to sting.

 

 

 

Kobe Bryant tells Antetokounmpo he needs to choose to be great

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Kobe Bryant has dismissed the idea that the younger generation doesn’t have the work ethic that he and Kevin Garnett and others of his generation had.

“The elder statesmen always say this younger generation has no idea what they’re doing, they’re going to absolutely kill the game,” Bryant said recently. “‘The game, when we played, was pure and all this kind of stuff.’ Hey, man, that’s always the case. When we came in, we were just young kids that wanted to play.”

He said it’s about mentors and about the drive of that individual player (and noted college is far from assuring a player a good mentor). Kobe’s mentorship style is old-school — challenge the guy, test him, and see if he’ll rise up to meet it.

He’s not sure young Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo is doing that. Bryant and Antetokounmpo spoke for a while after the Bucks and Lakers played Monday, and Kobe said he challenged the athletic Greek star, via Matt Velazquez of the Journal Sentinel.

“I talked to him for quite a bit. I was in there with Jason [Kidd] and we were just kind of talking a little bit. Jason was saying the biggest thing for him is to decide what he wants to be — does he want to be a great player or not? I said, ‘Listen, that’s just a choice you’re going to have to make. If you want to be that great player, you have to make certain sacrifices and you’ve got to go after it.’ He has the potential to do it. He has the physical tools, the intelligence. Now it’s just a matter of believing in himself and going after it. He has the talent to be a great player.

“I told him, ‘Listen, if you want to get to that level, this is what you have to do: you have to work on your jump shot. The first time I played him, I backed off of him. Today, I backed off of him again. I didn’t see any improvement. I like testing young guys to see that. I said, ‘The summertime is the time when you have to make that leap.’ I was making 1,000 shots a day, so that’s what it takes.”

Antetokounmpo’s confidence — and the Bucks’ offense — has looked better in recent weeks as they have started using him as a point forward who runs the offense. But he has a long way to go. And Kobe is right about the jumper. If you want proof, here is Antetokounmpo’s shot chart for the season.

Antetokounmpo shot chart

We’ll see if Kobe’s challenge pays off next season for the Bucks.

Report: Some in Golden State front office not sold on breaking up bench for Kevin Durant

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Golden State is the defending NBA champion. They have done that in part due to a deep and versatile roster filled with high IQ players who can adapt on the fly to what other teams throw at them. This season that has worked well enough to have the team at 50-5 — they are the fastest team to 50 wins in NBA history and are on pace to break the 1996 Chicago Bulls record of 72 wins. Golden State is the clear favorite to win another NBA title.

Why would you break that roster up?

Two words: Kevin Durant.

We don’t know what Durant is going to do as a free agent this summer — safe bet that even Durant doesn’t know — but there’s a lot of speculation around the league about him bolting OKC to head to Golden State. The Warriors can pull it off and keep their stars, but it would mess with their depth. That has some in the Warriors camp hesitant, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN.

Most of the two-dozen or so team executives I polled over the past two weeks on the Durant-Warriors possibility described it as a no-brainer (“Bench smench,” texted one GM), but there is some division within the Warriors, and you can understand why. They might have the best basketball team ever assembled! How can you shake that up? They are obliterating victims by about 13 points per 100 possessions. Unless the league adds a 4-point shot or lengthens the game, it is almost literally impossible to get any better. And the Warriors have already been proven right choosing continuity over a sweet-shooting shiny object in Kevin Love.

Signing Durant would carry risk, especially with Festus Ezeli‘s future unclear after another knee surgery. Signing Durant with cap room would cost Golden State Harrison Barnes, and at least two of Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Andrew Bogut and Ezeli. The Warriors would have to offload two of those guys into someone else’s cap space, and they are privately worried they might have to attach one or even two future first-round picks to grease the wheels.

The Warriors would be sacrificing future flexibility and depth for a big four that likely would win them another ring. Or three.

That’s where the Warriors are — they are trying to win titles (and 73 games) to establish a legacy. They want to go down with the all-time great teams, the ones that dominated an era. They are as win now as it gets — and that’s why jumping at Durant makes sense. Add Durant to that roster, win a couple more titles after this season, and we will be talking about this era’s Warriors in the same breath as other great teams in their era. KD is a gamble, but he gets them closer to that legacy.

The question becomes, is this what Durant wants. He’d be in Curry’s shadow in terms of popularity with the fan base, and he would have to blend into the team play — not just trading isolation sets — that the Warriors rely on in critical moments. It would be better for his personal brand to head to a team he can lift to contender status (likely in the East) and challenge for a ring that way by getting past LeBron James and the Cavaliers (easier said than done).

But if KD is all about the rings, Golden State might be the only place closer to one than where he is right now. And in the end, he may choose to stay put, for at least one more year.

Marc Gasol has foot surgery, officially out for rest of season, playoffs

Associated Press
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When word came down that two-time All-Star and former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol had a fractured foot, it wasn’t expected he would return this season. But the Grizzlies tried to keep that door open, just in case.

It’s shut now.

The Grizzlies announced Tuesday that Gasol had surgery to repair a non-displaced Type II fracture of the navicular bone in his right foot — that means putting screws into the bone across the top of the foot just below the ankle. He is officially done for the season and the playoffs.

Gasol also likely will miss playing for Spain in the Rio Olympics this summer.

“It is frustrating to not be on the court with my teammates at this time,” Gasol said in a released statement, “but I understand that the focus of this process is on long-term health and stability. I look forward to the road ahead and a full and successful recovery.”

Some players bounce back from this surgery and are fine (Michael Jordan in 1985), others never get past it (Yao Ming).

Gasol is averaging 16.6 points and seven rebounds a game for the Grizzlies. He’s seemed a step slower this season, but he remains one of the best big men in the league.

At 32-23, the Grizzlies are the current five seed in the West, five games from falling out of the playoffs. With no Gasol and no Courtney Lee (traded to Charlotte at the deadline) it’s a very real possibility Memphis slides down the standings some before the playoffs start. Memphis has won two of three since Gasol injured his foot against Portland, but it will be a challenge to keep racking up the wins without two key players, including their defensive anchor.

 

Report: Lakers may shut Larry Nance Jr. down for rest of season

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When talking about the young core the Lakers are trying to build — D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle — all to often Larry Nance Jr. gets left out of the mix. Although, not by opposing coaches, who when asked about the young Lakers almost always go out of their way to bring Nance up and say they like what they see.

The rookie out of Wyoming has played solid defense, shot reasonably from three (33 percent), played within himself in the system, all of which is why Byron Scott started him when Russell and Randle came off the bench (a debate we got into on the latest PBT Podcast, but I don’t want to go down the Scott rabbit hole here).

But Nance has been battling knee issues, and when those flared up in Milwaukee on Monday limiting him to nine minutes, the Lakers started to think about shutting Nance down for the season to get it right, reports Baxter Holmes at ESPN.

However, Lakers coach Byron Scott said he and the team’s longtime trainer, Gary Vitti, have had discussions about sitting Nance out for the rest of the season to let his knee heal.

No decision has yet been made, Scott said, and for the moment Nance will receive treatment on his knee and be evaluated to play Wednesday against the Grizzlies in Memphis.

“We’ve talked about it, they’ve talked about it, but at the same time, at this point right now, it’s precautionary,” Nance said about being potentially shut down for the rest of the season.

The report says surgery is not required. He missed the six games prior to the All-Star break with pain in the same knee.

If there’s any question, why wouldn’t you shut him down? The Lakers are rebuilding, and Nance can be a rotation player in that future team (or be an asset used to trade down the line, if needed). Why risk anything now, so he can gain a little more experience on a losing team? Get him healthy in time to put in the work this summer on holes in his game, that matters more than a few more minutes now.