Kyrie Irving, Cavs young players are an optimistic group

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When the microphones were turned off at one media session this week, one All-Star player (not from the East) wanted to talk about Kyrie Irving. He said he and other players were talking and think in three years he’ll be the best point guard in the NBA.

It’s hard to argue — his game has grown this year and he showed Saturday night he has range on his shot, winning the Three Point Shooting contest.

That is at the heart of what Cavaliers players have been saying all weekend in Phoenix — they’re young but they like what is being built.

“It’s exciting,” said forward Tristan Thompson. “We’re all around the same age, we’ve built through the draft. Look at the (Rising Stars game Friday night), we have four guys in our starting lineup who are in this game. It shows how much time and effort we are putting in to get better as a team.”

Those guys are Irving, Thompson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller.

“We’re really young, we’re figuring out things,” Irving said. “I mean our starting five, we probably have 10 years of experience, all five of us combined.”

But you’re not going to grow into an elite team in the NBA without an elite player, and that is Irving. His timing coming to Cleveland was unfortunate in that it was easy to see him as the guy replacing LeBron James. That’s not fair to Irving, who is a very different kind of player and leader.

“It’s just me trying to be myself, I wasn’t trying to replace anybody,” Irving said. “I am trying to turn a new page in Cleveland, get the fans excited again, to show the fans we have a lot of hope and are optimistic about this team.”

Irving, after returning from injury, has been very impressive, having made leaps since his rookie season — when he was Rookie of the Year.

“The pace of the game slowed down for me,” Irving said. “Just understanding who else is on the floor, understanding defenses.”

Irving also had added a little muscle in the offseason to help with the physicality he has started to face, but that didn’t exactly go according to plan.

“At the beginning of the season I came in feeling like I had a lot of armor on me,” Irving said. “Then I had my wisdom teeth taken out, lost 10 pounds. I got sick, I lost five pounds. So now I’m back to where I started.”

Cavaliers players all talked about seeing more young players come in through the draft. Irving seemed interested in maybe seeing if some free agents can be brought in as well. The Cavaliers have what free agents covet most — cap space.

But whatever direction that goes, the young guns of the Cavaliers think they are building something special. And they may be.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas undergoes surgery on dislocated thumb, out a month

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It was clear it was bad when it happened. Not because of the violence of the play by Draymond Green — no foul was called, and the hand is part of the ball by rule in these cases — but because of Jonas Valanciunas‘ reaction. The man was in a lot of pain.

With 8 minutes to go in the second quarter of the Raptors win Wednesday night, Valanciunas got the ball with Green on him and decided to back down the smaller player, Green reached in and swiped down knocking the ball away but getting Valanciunas’ hand in the process.

Thursday the Raptors announced that Valanciunas had surgery on his dislocated left thumb and will be out at least a month.

This is a blow to the Raptors’ frontline depth, although they still have plenty of talent up front. Serge Ibaka starts most nights at center, and at times the Raptors go small and put breakout player Pascal Siakam at the five. However, Valanciunas is their matchup for other bigger, more traditional centers, or sometimes coach Nick Nurse tries him to force a mismatch. Valanciunas is averaging 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds a night playing nearly 19 minutes a night, the Raptors defense is 3 points per 100 possessions better, and the Raptors outscore opponents by 5.4 per 100 when he is on the court. It will not be easy to fill his minutes.

The Raptors are 23-7 and the team in first place in the East having just knocked off the Clippers and Warriors in back-to-back nights on the road. They look like contenders, but they could use Valanciunas to help them get through the regular season (he’s harder to play in the postseason, but we’re not there yet).

 

Hornets owner Michael Jordan: Smacking Malik Monk was ‘tap of endearment’

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Hornets owner Michael Jordan smacked guard Malik Monk on the back head of the head, because Monk prematurely ran on the court to celebrate Jeremy Lamb‘s game-winner against the Pistons last night. Charlotte received a technical foul for having too many men on the court, but held on for the victory.

Zach Aldridge of WCCB:

Some people took affront to Jordan putting his hands on Monk – to the point Jordan explained himself.

Associated Press:

Hornets owner Michael Jordan says lightly smacking the back of second-year guard Malik Monk’s head in closing seconds of Wednesday night’s win against the Pistons was a “tap of endearment.”

The Hornets owner, says “It was like a big brother and little brother tap. No negative intent. Only love!”

I doubt any other NBA owner could have gotten away with that.

But Jordan isn’t any other NBA owner.

He’s a former player, widely respected as the greatest of all-time. He’s black. He’s just 55, younger than most of his owner peers.

Jordan and Monk can relate in a way other owners and players can’t.

The power dynamic still isn’t balanced. Jordan is Monk’s boss. When initially watching the exchange, I worried Jordan crossed a line.

But both Jordan and Monk laughed it off. I believe this truly was acceptable in the context of their relationship.

LeBron James on consideration given to signing with Rockets: ‘Not much’

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For a while, it seemed LeBron Jamesfinalists in free agency last summer were the Lakers, Cavaliers, 76ers and Rockets.

LeBron obviously signed with the Lakers. Cleveland remains special to him. His agent met with Philadelphia.

And then there’s Houston.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

The Rockets – led by Chris Paul – reportedly recruited LeBron hard.

But LeBron reportedly previously said he didn’t like Houston as a city, and at this point, it’s impossible escape lifestyle as a key consideration for the superstar. He clearly enjoys Los Angeles.

I doubt LeBron regrets dropping the Rockets from consideration early. The main appeal would have been their direction path to championship contention, but they’ve been the NBA’s most disappointing team this season.

Which makes it even easier for LeBron to dismiss his Houston consideration.

2018 NBA playoff teams get new alternate jerseys (photos)

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Did your favorite team or player make the playoffs last season?

Well, someone thinks that might have you invested enough to buy yet another jersey.

Aaron Dodson of The Undefeated:

The Bucks jersey is the best – despite the advertisement patch intruding on the otherwise minimalist look. Milwaukee would be the runaway winner without the ad.

As is, I also really like the Pelicans, Pacers and Heat. I suspect Miami’s fuchsia Miami Vice edition will draw the most attention.

A few of these are rather plain, and that’s always disappointing in an alternate jersey. But I particularly dislike the Cavaliers and Spurs jerseys.