Extra Pass: Cleveland Cavaliers built playoff-caliber team, but that won’t mean enough

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are a playoff-caliber team that is extremely unlikely to make the playoffs.

With a 114-104 win Wednesday, the Cavaliers extended Oklahoma City Thunder’s losing streak to a season-high three games. Unlike the previous two teams to defeat the Thunder, the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers, Cleveland is fancied by nobody as a title contender.

Really, the Cavaliers are a longshot to even make the postseason. But maybe we should stop considering Cleveland such a pushover.

The Cavaliers have gone 12-13 since acquiring Luol Deng, definitely the winning percentage of a playoff team in this year’s Eastern Conference. But their 11-23 start ties them down like Kyrie Irving’s contract keeps him in Cleveland.

They just can’t go anywhere.

At 23-36, the Cavaliers are four games out of playoff position. That might not seem like an impossible deficit – and it’s not. But at this stage of the season, it’s further out than most people realize.

The eighth-place Hawks are on pace to win 37 games. To best that – Atlanta has already clinched the tiebreaker over Cleveland – the Cavaliers would need to finish 14-9.

Cleveland hasn’t started a 23-game stretch with a record of 14-9 since LeBron played for the team.

It’s a shame the Cavaliers waited so long to trade for Deng and then Spencer Hawes, because they’re starting to get intriguing – by the standards of this Eastern Conference, at least.

Since Hawes joined the Cavaliers, their most used lineup has been Kyrie Irving-Jarrett Jack-Luol Deng-Tristan-Thompson-Hawes. Despite going 1-3 in their four games with Hawes, that lineup has really excelled:

  • Offensive rating: 112.8
  • Defensive rating: 102.8
  • Net rating: +10.0

By comparison, Cleveland second-most-used lineup in that span has featured Zeller in place of Hawes, and the results have been dismal:

  • Offensive rating: 85.6
  • Defensive rating: 115.6
  • Net rating: -30.0

To be fair, the lineup with Zeller has largely been positive over the full season (105.6/98.7/+6.9). The point isn’t that Hawes is the answer. Hawes is a different type of player – more skilled, more finesse – who helps the Cavaliers match up against a wider array of opponents.

This is what a playoff team, the team Dan Gilbert wanted all along, looks like. He, and his organization, just took too long to build it.

Before beating Oklahoma City, the Cavaliers lost three straight – two to the Raptors and one to the Wizards. The Raptors (trading Rudy Gay) and Wizards (trading for Marcin Gortat) will almost definitely make the playoffs, because they made their big moves sooner. Not only have those two teams won more because they’d had their improved rosters a longer portion of the season, they’ve developed chemistry for longer.

Cleveland is still finding its way, learning how its pieces fit together best. Already, the results are promising. By the end of the season, I’m really interested to see how good these Cavaliers can be.

But it’s almost definitely too late for them to translate that success into a playoff berth. Merely playing like a postseason team, when you start 11-23, is not enough.

After the season, Deng and Hawes will become free agents. Cleveland will be back at square one – likely not content with building the Eastern Conference’s best playoff team that wasn’t.

Report: Mavericks awaiting potential NBA punishment due to predatory work environment

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The Mavericks’ investigation into their predatory work environment is progressing more slowly than some expected.

The latest holdup?

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News:

The investigation into the Mavericks’ front-office scandal remains in idle, awaiting input and possible sanctions from the NBA as well as ensuring that details in the investigators’ report are double-checked, sources said Monday.

The hope is that the results can be made public next week. But there is no firm timetable.

Hopefully, the Mavericks identify and fix problems in their organization. No employees should be subject to sexual harassment. That’s most important.

But there will also be a close eye on how the league responds, specifically whether penalties affect the team on the court. NBA fans won’t see the most significant changes in Dallas. Most Mavericks employees are out of sight, out of mind. But fans will watch the players perform, and forfeited draft picks or anything like that will draw more attention.

Report: Nets’ Kenneth Faried charged with marijuana possession

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The Nuggets traded Kenneth Faried to the Nets this summer.

Now, Faried is feeling the consequences of moving from Colorado – where recreational marijuana is legal – to New York.

Valerie Gordon of 27East:

Southampton Town Police said Kenneth Bernard Faried Lewis, 29, known as Kenneth Faried, of Denver, Colorado, was arrested on Montauk Highway at 1:30 a.m. and charged with fourth-degree criminal possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor.

Police said that Mr. Faried was the rear passenger of a vehicle that was stopped during a sobriety checkpoint and was found to be in possession of more than two ounces of marijuana.

According to the police report, Mr. Faried’s money was seized and he was released on $500 bail.

We shouldn’t outlaw marijuana. That is getting fixed incrementally, but not quickly enough for Faried and many others who just happen to be in the wrong jurisdiction in the wrong year.

The forfeiture of Faried’s money is another evil that must be curbed. Why should he lose his money just because he possessed a small amount of marijuana? I doubt Faried – who will earn $13,764,045 next season – was carrying more cash than he can afford to lose. But police often seize money from people who can’t afford to lose it and who then face insurmountable legal hurdles to getting it returned – even if they’re never convicted of a crime. That is the egregious behavior that should be outlawed.

Speaking of fixes: Why does the NBA still punish players for marijuana? The first violation comes with a warning, the second with a $25,000 fine unannounced publicly and the third with a five-game suspension. If Faried is convicted of possession, that counts as a violation.

Faried is now caught in multiple backward systems.

With Dennis Schroder trade, Trae Young knows Hawks have bet big on him

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The Atlanta Hawks bet big on Trae Young — they traded away the rights to EuroLeague MVP Luka Doncic to land Young on draft night.

But that’s not the time it really sunk in on Young how much the club was banking on him. Instead, it came a month later, when the Hawks traded former starting point guard Dennis Schroder to Oklahoma City. Here is what Young told Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Obviously when they move the point guard they’ve had for a while, their starting point guard, it definitely opened my eyes,” Young told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from New Jersey, where he was taking part in the Rookie Transition Program. “It shows how much they are committed to me. Bringing Jeremy (Lin) in as well is a good fit for us. I know there is a lot on my plate. I’m looking forward to it.”

Young showed some of the potential Atlanta is betting on at Summer League. Certainly not in his first couple of games in Salt Lake City, where he struggled, but in how he grew and adapted. By the time the Hawks were playing in Las Vegas Young was putting up numbers, looking more comfortable with the athleticism and what he needed to do at the Summer League level.

For new Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce, those summer games were just a benchmark, and the fact Young improved fast was promising, but only a start.

“The conversation is, ‘There’s a lot of work to be done.’ For all of us, myself included,” Pierce told NBC Sports. “And then you got to perform 82 nights, so how do we help you get better? How do we help you understand what you’re going to need at this level? That’s the starting point that we have.

“The conversation is for (the rookies) to understand, and to hear it from me. I know what we’re trying to get across, I know it’s going to take a while, but we’ve got to start somewhere and that’s what I’m doing with this summer.”

It’s also what he’ll do this fall and winter. The Hawks are rebuilding, it’s not going to be about wins this season as much as steps forward. Particularly for Young, who will face a lot of scrutiny and comparisons because of the draft-night trade.

Young at least understands everything expected of him.

Kawhi Leonard’s “preference” reportedly still to sign in Los Angeles

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The Raptors are going to make a season-long pitch to Kawhi Leonard — they have already brought in a friend of his to the coaching staff, they have a passionate fan base, and they should win a lot and be a serious threat to make the Finals out of the East.

Right now, however, Leonard is still leaning toward Los Angeles, something reported by Adrian Wojnarowski in an Ian Begley story at ESPN.

The Raptors would be able to offer Leonard a five-year, $190 million contract next summer. If Leonard leaves the Raptors, he could sign a four-year, $141 million deal with a team with the available salary-cap space.

So far, Leonard’s preference is to sign in Los Angeles with either the Lakers or Clippers next season, sources told Wojnarowski.

This is not new news or a surprise, but here are few thoughts anyway:

• I know Lakers’ fans are convinced he is coming to join LeBron James at Staples Center, but there are legitimate reasons I’ve heard from sources as to why the Clippers must be included in that mix. The Lakers are still the favorite according to most, but the Clippers cannot be left off the list, it is possible he lands there.

• If the Raptors are going to win Leonard over, it won’t happen this quickly. It’s going to be a process.

• How much might the money factor into Leonard’s decision, if at all? What about winning?

• The biggest difference between Leonard and the Paul George situation in Oklahoma City — where his people let it be known before the trade he wanted to go to Los Angeles, but after a season in OKC he decided to stay — is George came in with an open mind. Convincing Leonard to stay is going to be more difficult.