Will Cavaliers make the playoffs after trading for Luol Deng?

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The deal between the Bulls and the Cavaliers that went down Monday night was all about the long-term for Chicago, and more about this season in Cleveland.

Luol Deng will be a free agent this summer, and after reportedly turning down a contract extension worth $30 million over three years, it was clear he was going to seek more than the Bulls would offer. So, rather than lose him without compensation and pay an exorbitant amount in payroll and luxury taxes for what is essentially a lost season, the Bulls traded him for a future draft pick and a player in Andrew Bynum who they will waive to get under the tax line this season.

Cleveland, though, has other ideas. The franchise is hoping to make the playoffs, partly to impress upon Kyrie Irving that it is indeed committed to winning in the immediate future so that Irving doesn’t try to bolt the city when he has the chance at the end of the 2015 season (if the sides don’t agree to an extension he would be a restricted free agent, other teams could make offers but the Cavaliers would have the right to match it). Cleveland wants to keep its star and face of the franchise happy.

That was the reason for taking the chance on Bynum in the offseason, and adding players like Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark in free agency, both of whom were coming off of above average seasons. It is also the reason for acquiring Deng, who may be no more than a half-season rental since it’s unclear if the team will want to pay him his open market value once the summer is upon us.

But does simply adding Deng get Cleveland to the playoffs?

There are too many teams ahead of the Cavaliers in the standings right now to say that it’s likely, but it improves the squad enough to where they have a very legitimate chance.

Cleveland sits just three games out of eighth in the dreadful Eastern Conference, but its looking up at New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Brooklyn right now before we even get to Detroit, who currently occupies that eighth spot. The Cavs could certainly acquire enough wins to get there with Deng in the fold, but it will take more consistent efforts from Irving, some maturation in the game of Dion Waiters, and an improvement in team defense that’s essentially been middle-of-the-road this season, which is unacceptable given the low level of competition in the East.

But teams ahead of Cleveland aren’t going to go down without a fight. Despite the starts that have been far below expectations, the Knicks and Nets are both likely to see a spike in wins once they can get some lineup consistency in place. The Sixers are coming together and are proving they can beat good teams, but it’s possible they trade Thaddeus Young or Evan Turner in deadline deals to continue the rebuilding process. The Celtics will add Rajon Rondo to their squad soon, and Boston has been better than expected, as well.

Teams like Detroit, Charlotte, and now Chicago are vulnerable, however, and one or more could easily fall out of playoff contention. If the Cavaliers come together quickly with Deng in place, a playoff spot — the team’s short-term goal for this season — can certainly be realized.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.

Watch Russell Westbrook drain two buzzer-beaters against Blazers

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The Portland Trail Blazers had to know it was not their night when Russell Westbrook knocked down a buzzer-beating step-back 3-pointer just before the half.

Westbrook wasn’t done, he had one more buzzer-beater in him at the end of the third.

Westbrook wasn’t the only guy in the building draining half-courters — for the second-straight game a Laker fan knocked down a half-court shot, this time to win $25,000.

It was a good night all around for the Lakers and their fans at home against the shorthanded Trail Blazers. They got 31 points from LeBron James, plus 27 points and 12 boards from Anthony Davis. Austin Reaves added in 22, and the Lakers took control in the third and cruised in for a needed win.