Windhorst: Cavs extremely active in trade talks

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UPDATE 1:16 AM: ESPN.com’s Marc Stein: “Yes: Brendan Haywood is potential S-and-T piece for Mavs. But Mavs sources insist there is ‘no chance’ he moves in sign-and-trade for Shaq.”
Just after 12 AM Eastern on Thursday morning, Brian Windhorst’s twitter feed absolutely blew up with Cavalier-related rumors. The Cavaliers are obviously waiting on LeBron James’ free agency decision with bated breath, but they’re not just sitting around while they wait for his decision. Cleveland knows that it will have to make some real changes to its roster if they want to keep LeBron, and they don’t seem to be wasting any time in trying to improve. 
According to Windhorst, the Cavalier front office has been speaking to other teams about making the following moves:
-After watching Shaquille O’Neal struggle to keep up on defense during the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Cavs are reportedly discussing a “double-sign-and-trade” that would send O’Neal to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for center Brendan Haywood. 
O’Neal’s post scoring was supposed to give the Cavaliers a new dimension, but more often than not he stopped the ball on offense. Defensively, Shaq struggled to keep the faster players in the league in front of him, particularly when he was put in the pick-and-roll. If the Cavs move Shaq for Haywood, it would be a step towards the defense-first/drive-and-kick mentality that Cleveland had during the 2008-09 season. 
-The Cavs are also looking for an upgrade at the two; according to Windhorst, the Cavs are looking at Ray Allen, John Salmons, and Mike Miller in free agency. Allen would likely be their #1 choice, but with Doc Rivers returning it seems unlikely that Allen will leave Boston. 
Delonte West was a revelation at the two-guard position during the 08/09 season. Unfortunately, he never returned to his 08/09 form last season, and Anthony Parker was merely passable as a starting two-guard. Parker was a solid defender and made open threes, but the Cavs are clearly looking for more scoring punch in their backcourt. 
-Cleveland has interest in Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire, but it is unlikely that either would come to Cleveland if LeBron doesn’t re-sign with the team. Since LeBron may leave Cleveland unless the Cavaliers get a player like Bosh or Stoudemire, this could become something of a Catch-22. 
-The Cavaliers have also reportedly shown some interest in contacting Al Harrington. I can’t think of a very compelling explanation for that one. 
These rumors help to confirm what most NBA fans suspected: The Cavs are looking to make moves, and everything can be made available for the right price. That’s what can happen when a team finds itself in an all-or-nothing situation. 

76ers coach Brett Brown says he doesn’t expect rookie Zhaire Smith to play in NBA this season

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Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons.

Zhaire Smith?

A few recent 76ers first-round picks missed their entire first professional season due to injury. Smith, the No. 16 pick in last year’s draft could join them.

Smith has missed the entire season so far with a broken foot then allergic reaction. He just returned to practicing with the 76ers, but maybe not in time to play for them this season.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

If the 76ers clinch their playoff seed before the regular season ends, I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith plays for them. But meaningful minutes seem unlikely.

Philadelphia is trying to win now, and a rookie who entered the NBA relatively raw then missed so much time is unlikely to help.

That said, backup wings James Ennis and Jonathon Simmons aren’t exactly reliable options. If everything breaks right for Smith – essentially the opposite of his season to date – maybe, just maybe, he plays for the 76ers this season.

Warriors vs. Bucks or Raptors betting favorite to be NBA Finals matchup

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Who will we see in the NBA Finals come June?

The West looks cut and dried — if the Warriors are healthy, it’s hard to imagine any other team in that conference giving them too much trouble.

The East? That’s wide open. A good case can be made for Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee finding their way in. (For a more detailed breakdown, listen to the latest PBT Podcast where Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports and myself break down the East in more detail.)

The bookmakers over at BetOnline put together these odds on potential Finals matchups, and after the first four options the odds get pretty long.

Milwaukee Bucks vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Toronto Raptors vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Boston Celtics vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Indiana Pacers vs Golden State Warriors 28/1
Brooklyn Nets vs Golden State Warriors 33/1
Boston Celtics vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Toronto Raptors vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Charlotte Hornets vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Detroit Pistons vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Miami Heat vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Orlando Magic vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Washington Wizards vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Boston Celtics vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Toronto Raptors vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1

A few quick thoughts on that list:

• Interesting that the Sixers and Celtics are just a little behind the Bucks and Raptors in the minds of the bookmakers.

• I don’t know that I’d have Houston in front of Oklahoma City as the second-best option in the West. Not this season. The Thunder have the defense and star power to do playoff damage.

• If you’re thinking about putting money on Washington or Orlando to make the Finals — against anyone — just donate that money to charity instead. That way it will do some good.

Likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson leaves Duke-North Carolina game with knee injury

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Zion Williamson will probably be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

He’s a generationally good prospect. The rest of this draft also looks relatively weak.

In fact, Williamson has such a stranglehold on the top pick, some have suggested he sit out the rest of his freshman season.

His injury during Duke’s game against North Carolina tonight will only heighten those calls.

Duke:

Hopefully, Williamson is OK.

And hopefully, the system changes. The NCAA is a cartel in which schools conspire to cap compensation for athletes at a scholarship plus some expenses. In a free market, Williamson would earn far more.

Unfortunately, it probably can’t be both. If Williamson escapes this without major injury, the status quo will likely endure.

But, if this injury even allows him to play again this season, it might be a warning shot that causes him to sit until he can enter the NBA draft.

Again, I hope he’s healthy enough to make that decision for himself.

Jayson Tatum guarantees Celtics will win 2019 NBA championship

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Friday morning, Jayson Tatum guaranteed the U.S. team would beat the World team in the Rising Stars game that night. The U.S. team won.

So, Tatum was asked Saturday morning whether he wanted to guarantee anything for that night. He guaranteed he’d win the Skills Challenge. He won.

So, then ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Tatum whether he wants to guarantee anything else. And he really let it ride.

Tatum:

We’re going to win the Finals this year. February 16th, mark it. Jayson Tatum says we’re going to win the Finals this year.

Obviously, Tatum wasn’t going to pick against Boston. But this wasn’t that. He could have easily avoided such a grand proclamation.

Instead, even if he were just caught up in the emotion of an All-Star Saturday Night victory and taking the interview especially seriously, Tatum put a little more attention and pressure on the Celtics.

I’m not convinced that’s what this team needs.