We all knew intellectually there would be growing pains when LeBron James and Kevin Love joined Kyrie Irving in Cleveland.
But this has been uglier than we expected.
The Cavaliers have lost four in a row now, are 5-7 and the cracks are showing — Love wants more touches in the post, Irving is pounding the ball into the ground with his dribble and not really adapting to being the point guard in a motion offense, and LeBron is visibly frustrated with his teammates at times. Which is impacting his effort on defense as he coasts back after bad turnovers — and they need his effort on defense because this is not a good defensive team right now. At all.
LeBron’s willing to shoulder the blame for this as the team’s leader, he told the Associated Press.
“We got a four-game losing streak, so I stink,” he said. “I’m not doing my job….
“Me being the leader of the team, if I start hanging my head low then it’s going to start going to everyone else,” he said. “They look up to me. They look to me to make a difference and I’ve got to stay positive even through the rough times. As I’ve said before, this is not the darkest point that we’ll see this year. I’ve seen dark and this is very light to me.”
Obviously this is not all on LeBron, but what is becoming clear is the sacrifices that it took for the Heat to come together are going to be slower in materializing in Cleveland. In South Beach you had Dwyane Wade, who already had a ring, and a more seasoned Chris Bosh, both of whom (along with the other veterans on the roster) understood the sacrifices needed to win. And it still took more than a season for them to really find their identity.
Love and Irving and the rest of the Cavaliers are not there yet. These kinds of sacrifices come harder to younger players looking to get theirs.
Until they do LeBron will stink. Sort of.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Kristaps Porzingis will sign long-term with Dallas this summer, and Porzingis he was on the same page.
But he will be a free agent. Restricted, but a free agent, nonetheless.
Porzingis’ exit from the Knicks provided a clue about where he’d want to go if he explores leaving the Mavericks.
Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:
The four teams Porzingis had on his wish list of trade destinations were the Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, according to two people with knowledge of the list who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Porzingis had little leverage to get to any of these teams. Because he’ll be a restricted free agent, the Knicks or any team acquiring him would retain immense team control over him.
The Nets and Clippers project to have cap space this summer. The Heat and Raptors don’t.
But even if Porzingis signs an offer sheet elsewhere, Dallas will will likely match it.
Still, Porzingis will become an unrestricted free agent someday – 2020 in the unlikely event he accepts his qualifying offer or a future year if he signs a multi-year deal this summer. It’s probably best to file away this list until then.