Report: LeBron James to meet with Pat Riley Wednesday in Las Vegas

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Maybe, finally, this will lead to a little clarity.

NBA free agency has been bottlenecked waiting for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to make their decisions, which will open up the secondary markets and after that the dominos will start to fall quickly.

LeBron James is set to meet with Pat Riley and talk about his future with the Heat on Wednesday, reports Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

Riley will be able to point to the signings of Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger. Not exactly huge stars, but Miami’s big three of LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade aren’t leaving so much money on the table as to allow Riley to go after the big, more expensive names. Those two are signs of a deeper bench Riley plans to build with the money he does have (whatever it ends up being exactly). Miami’s front office remains confident LeBron will return.

There has been a lot of momentum toward LeBron returning to Cleveland as the prodigal son. There are certainly basketball reasons to do so — Kyrie Irving is better than anyone on the Heat and with Andrew Wiggins and a host of recent and future high picks they can put together an interesting, albeit young team. Part of the momentum and rumors also have been fueled by LeBron’s agent suggesting that the Cavaliers can pull this off. There are also a lot of people close to LeBron who miss what they had in Cleveland — LeBron and his crew had full run of everything in the Cleveland organization, Miami is not that way at all. Miami is Pat Riley and a very solid structure. Some around LeBron miss the old days, the power.

The question is: Does LeBron?

He’s a far more mature person at 29 than he was at 25 when he left Cleveland — he’s married, far more stable, and he has a couple of rings and four trips to the Finals. He’s been through a lot and has grown from it.

He makes his own decisions, he sees both what Miami has given and can do for him and potential in Cleveland.

The question is what does LeBron want.

Damian Lillard says he expects to miss 3-4 games, at least, with groin injury

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Portland comes out of the All-Star break four games behind eight-seed Memphis for the final playoff slot in the West. The Trail Blazers’ first game is Friday night against New Orleans, one of the other teams in the mix chasing the Grizzlies.

Portland will be without Damian Lillard to start their late-season chase.

Lillard told reporters Thursday he expects to miss 3-4 games, with the possibility it could be more.

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts joined Dan & Nigel in the Mornings on Rip City Radio 620, (if you live in the Portland area, watch simulcast on NBC Sports Northwest) and said this when asked about Lillard’s injury.

With groins, you just don’t know. It could be a week, it could be a month. Who knows?

Portland can’t afford for him to be out long.

Lillard is an All-NBA level guard leading the team with 29.5 points and 7.9 assists a game. Portland has a -9.1 net rating when Lillard is off the court this season (and they basically play teams even when he is on the court).

The injury was just an unfortunate fluke. With less than four minutes to go before the All-Star break, Damian Lillard drove the lane against Memphis Grizzlies big man Jonas Valanciunas, landed and was in instant pain, grabbing his groin. He soon fouled to stop play and went straight to the locker room. The next day an MRI confirmed the groin strain.

That moment could cost Portland a chance to come back and make the playoffs.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob: We won’t tank

Former Warriors forward Harrison Barnes
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The Warriors are an NBA-worst 12-43. Stephen Curry will eventually get healthy. Klay Thompson will eventually get healthy.

This is Golden State’s best opportunity to secure a prime draft pick.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob, via Mark Medina of USA Today:

By the way, we’ll try to win every game. I’m not really about, ‘Let’s lose every game so we can get the best pick.’ You try to do that, you’re messing with the basketball gods. So we don’t believe in that.

Former Warriors executive Travis Schlenk (now Hawks general manager) admitted to tanking in 2012. Golden State had to convey its first-round pick if it didn’t land in the top seven. So, the Warriors traded their consensus top player, Monta Ellis, for an injured Andrew Bogut. Golden State lost 17 of its last 20 games, kept its pick and drafted Harrison Barnes.

The basketball gods were so mad, the Warriors went to the playoffs the next seven seasons and won three championships and two other conference titles.

Of course, Golden State will tank, which I define as any decision made – at least in part – to improve draft position through losing.

Management won’t instruct players not to give full effort. But tanking will show up in numerous other ways. The Warriors will be cautious with Curry’s and Thompson’s returns. Young players will get more minutes. If necessary, Steve Kerr might “experiment” with odd lineups not conducive to winning. Players often see these approaches, realize where the team is headed and lose focus late in lost seasons. That leads to even more losing.

Don’t get mad at Golden State for tanking. Hate the system that rewards it.

Though feel free to send a little animosity toward the Warriors for acting holier than though while tanking like everyone else does in a similar position.

Report: Kyrie Irving likely to miss an ‘extended period’ after shoulder procedure

Kyrie Irving
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Kyrie Irving injured his shoulder earlier this season, opted against surgery, missed 26 games, returned, injured his knee then aggravated his shoulder.

It might be time for that shoulder surgery.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends Irving’s season. The Nets are looking forward to pairing Irving and injured Kevin Durant next season.

This latest setback raises questions about Irving’s ability to stay healthy and productive. We shouldn’t assume Durant will ever return to his elite form, either. But at least Brooklyn has major upside with such talented players.

Even they don’t get an opportunity to take advantage this season, the Nets (25-28) will likely still make the playoffs. Spencer Dinwiddie will take charge at point guard, just as he did with Irving previously sidelined.

Brooklyn will visit Boston on March 3. Celtics fans were salty about Irving missing the Nets’ previous trip to Boston. I doubt that changes if Irving doesn’t face his former team in a couple weeks.

But Irving and Brooklyn are looking at the bigger picture after a significant injury like this.

Is Brandon Ingram worth a max contract? Will he get one?

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Brandon Ingram has made the leap to become an All-Star player this season. His jumper has become a weapon — another success story for Pelicans’ assistant coach Fred Vinson — and his ability to get to the bucket was never in question. Now he’s averaging 24.9 points per game and is shooting 40 percent from three (up from 33 percent the first three years of his career).

Will that get him a max contract this summer? Does he deserve one?

It depends on who you ask. From Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

Most executives believe Ingram isn’t worth a max contract, which makes his future difficult to predict.

“I wonder if [Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin] will hardball [Ingram] and say, ‘Get an offer,'” one executive asked. “Where is he getting it from?”

Another exec went the other way, suggesting Griffin could offer Ingram a full max to ensure he couldn’t take a short-term deal elsewhere, cementing him as the No. 2 option alongside Zion Williamson.

“Securing the extra year and not allowing him to sign a two-plus-one with someone is worth it,” the executive said. “Is the few million less you might save really worth the extra year?”

There are a number of struggling teams in need of talent that could step in and try to poach Ingram with a two-year max offer this summer: The Hawks, Hornets, Knicks, and Pistons all have the cap space and a fit.

Whether they will make that offer — possibly tying their hands in the 2021 free agent market — remains to be seen. Ingram is an All-Star averaging an efficient 24.9 points per game this season, he has real value, but max contract value? I’ve had sources this season tell me they expect he’d get the max but he wasn’t quite on that level.

Do the Pelicans see him as a max player?

They didn’t last summer. After the trade from the Lakers (which sent Anthony Davis to L.A.), Ingram didn’t get a max contract extension offer from New Orleans and told NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman he would “absolutely not” have signed for less. The Pelicans were hesitant to extend Ingram because he was coming off a season-ending injury — blood clots in his arm — that could linger, plus how well would he pair with Zion Williamson. Ingram had no hard feelings about it.

“I understood everything that went on with the contract and everything, because they wanted to know if I was going to be extremely healthy, if something was going to come back,” Ingram told NBC Sports. “Once I figured out the reason why they didn’t want to do the extension, we didn’t go any further with it. I knew it was not going to be the number we wanted.”

Ingram has stayed healthy, and the Pelicans are +7.3 points per 100 possessions when Ingram and Williamson are on the court together (small sample size alert). Ingram has more value to the up-and-coming Pelicans than he does any team trying to sign him away, meaning the Pelicans likely match any offer.

The question remains, will that offer be a max? Ingram expects it to be, but the rest of the league is undecided.