PBT’s Sunday Night NBA Winners/Losers: Cavaliers shouldn’t hit panic button, may want to locate it

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Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while you were detained after trying to bring a midevil war hammer on a plane….

source:  Cleveland Cavaliers. ”Right now we are not very good. In every aspect of the game.” That would be LeBron James assessment of the Cavaliers right now, and they looked every bit that bad in a humiliating, 23-point blowout loss at home to the lowly Pistons Sunday. Yes, the Cavaliers were without Kyrie Irving, but the bigger issue is the defense is struggling and Anderson Varejao is not walking through that door. Kevin Love was never much of a defender but LeBron is not hustling back consistently in transition defense and the rest of the team is following his lead. Coach David Blatt can’t get this team to buy in on defense, rather they are a team of bad habits. Still, this is a six-win Pistons team… well, make that seven wins, but the point is this is the kind of team the Cavaliers should be able to beat with LeBron and Love on the court together. That they can’t speaks volumes to where they stand. Their problems are bigger than ones that can be solved with some magical trade (that may not happen anyway). It’s still just more than a third of the way into the season, there’s time to turn it around and become the team many feared. But a lot of things need to change.

source:  Detroit Pistons. Yes, the Cavaliers have issues, but let’s give the Pistons credit — that was their best game of the young season. Is it a coincidence their two best games of the season (beating the Pacers Friday) came after Josh Smith was cut loose? Probably. First off, they hit 17-of-31 from three, that’s a one-off. Also, Brandon Jennings has these kinds of night a couple times a season — 25 points (13 in the third quarter), and almost all of it on jump shots, as he was 5-of-6 shooting from the midrange and 5-of-9 from three. Jennings also has six assists. (To be fair, he’s played well in three of the last four, maybe he’s finding a groove.) That said, it’s two big wins in a row for Detroit. We’ll be watching to see if this continues.

source:  Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams. The Raptors 1-2 punch at the guard spot put up 61 points on the Nuggets. Kyle Lowry continues to be one of the best players in the Eastern Conference this season — he had 30 points (on 20 shots), 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Then Lou Williams comes in off the bench and put up 31 points on 18 shots including going 4-of-7 from three. When those guys re hitting like that the Raptors can beat anybody. It is the play from these guys that has Toronto having won eight of nine without DeMar DeRozan.

source:  Dallas Mavericks. In what was a really entertaining game against Oklahoma City, Dallas may not have won the big individual battles but they won the war and got a quality victory. This one may have been a toss-up: Dirk Nowitzki had 30 points (10 in the fourth) on 13 shots, while Serge Ibaka had 26 points on 14 shots, plus 10 rebounds. At the point guard spot Rajon Rondo had 15 points, seven assists, and six rebounds, while Russell Westbrook flirted with a triple-double scoring 18 points, with nine assists and nine rebounds. Still, without Kevin Durant that’s not enough from Westbrook. But you knew it was going to be a good night for Dallas when Greg Smith was doing this.

source:  San Antonio Spurs. Speaking of teams getting quality wins, the Spurs are still without Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard yet were able to beat the Rockets 110-106. This was another great game for the fans — it was close the entire way (if a bit sloppy, the teams combined for 43 turnovers), but as they do when it got to the end the Spurs simply executed at a higher level than their opponents. The Spurs got 24 from Danny Green, plus the usual strong nights from Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

Report: Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward caused chemistry issues with Celtics

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Things are not all well in Boston. The Celtics are already in a free fall when it comes to free agency, and it’s not yet July. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are reportedly poised not to return to TD Garden next year. Now, a team that was aiming for the NBA Finals next year could be in serious trouble.

Things have quickly fallen apart for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, who are left with a team that also has an apparent enemy in one of the biggest agencies in Klutch Sports. Boston reportedly backed out of serious offers in trade negotiations with the New Orleans Pelicans in part because they felt as though Klutch client Anthony Davis would not re-sign after one year.

Basketball is a game of chemistry, and the Celtics seemed to lose theirs over the course of the year. At least externally, it appeared Boston was disintegrating. Now, according to a report from Jackie MacMullan, we have some confirmation of this rift.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“You hate to pick on Gordon Hayward because he was coming back from injury and he was doing the best he could, but I really think that’s where it started,” she said. “They were force feeding him on his teammates, Brad [Stevens] knew Gordon well, he wanted to get his confidence back.

“I would contend that Brad Stevens would have done that for any player on that roster that had a catastrophic injury, he would want to fill him with that same confidence, but that’s not what happened,” MacMullan continued. “He gave the benefit of the doubt over and over to a player that wasn’t ready, to a guy who had history with him, and it rankled that locker room, and it bothered that locker room.”

The Celtics have a roster on paper that should have been good enough to get them deep into the playoffs. But Hayward returned and never really looked like himself, and Stevens devoting his faith to his former Butler Bulldog was obviously misplaced.

Chemistry issues for Boston we’re not all to blame on Stevens and Hayward. Irving is perennially mercurial. Given a situation where he got his own team (whatever that means) he didn’t lead the way folks were expecting.

Unless something drastic can be done — and don’t put it past Danny Ainge to get wild — Boston could be taking a step back next season.

Their saving grace, ironically, could be a fully healthy Hayward who has more reign to do what he wants and an unrestricted role on offense. We’ll see how that goes.

Report: Kawhi Leonard focusing on Clippers in free agency

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Kawhi Leonard might not be with the Toronto Raptors next season. That much has been apparent ever since the Raptors traded for Leonard last year, but the team did just win the 2019 NBA Finals. You know what they say: winning fixes everything.

But we are now into the thick of the NBA offseason, and that means crazy rumors and a wild game of Free agency musical chairs. Leonard could end up in many places, including Toronto. But the talk all along has been how Leonard prefers to land in Los Angeles.

The only problem for fans in L.A. county? His landing spot is unlikely to be the Los Angeles Lakers.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard’s focused on Los Angeles but only with the Clippers. In Wojnarowski’s opinion, Leonard is not interested in joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis as a third wheel on a superstar, big three type of Team. Instead, Leonard wants to have his own team match the way he does in Toronto. That could easily be the case with the Clippers.

Via ESPN:

The Lakers are trying to open up enough cap space for a third max-level player, which Leonard obviously is. But if things stand how they are now, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers will need to go elsewhere to find a third star to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Obviously the Lakers would be better suited by using their cap space to fill out their roster around their two superstars, but they probably won’t do that. In the end, Leonard focusing on the Clippers seems like the right choice.

Report: Lakers trying to open max salary slot with Anthony Davis trade

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The Los Angeles Lakers have Anthony Davis, but they aren’t done tweaking the details of the deal yet. Depending on when Davis’ trade gets completed, Los Angeles will open up myriad financial options for their free agency extravaganza this summer. Now it appears the Lakers might be trying to get a third team involved to help them grab max cap space.

We’ve explained the cap ramifications as the deal stood with the New Orleans Pelicans already. On one end, Los Angeles could wait until July 30. After renouncing some free agents, this would leave L.A. with $32 million in cap space. If they complete the deal on July 6, and if Davis waives his $4 million trade kicker, they end up with somewhere between $24 — $28 million.

Now it appears the Lakers will go for the full max slot space.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers are looking to ship out some of its younger players — turning the Davis trade with New Orleans into a 3-team deal — to satisfy some CBA rules that allow them to get to that mark. The Lakers have made Mo Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, and Isaac Bonga available.

Via Twitter:

Los Angeles is also reportedly looking to grab some second round picks, which allow for cheap contracts that they can use to fill out its roster while going over the salary cap.

This is a bold endeavor.

No doubt the front office in L.A. looked at the trade the Toronto Raptors made for Kawhi Leonard this past season feel as though adding more stars to its roster cannot possibly hurt. The only problem is that the Raptors already had a team good team unit in place when they traded for Leonard. Los Angeles won’t have any players of note when they head into this season, even if they are able to sign a third star to go with LeBron James and Davis.

It’s really going to be difficult to see how Davis, James, and a third star will carry this team if there is a steep drop-off between the bench rotation. Even considering veteran minimum signings — which always happen for championship-contending teams — this team needs more role players.

This is an extremely Los Angeles thing to do, and this thing just keeps getting more complicated the farther we get into the NBA offseason. It’s not even July yet, and it’s already wild in the Association.

Report: Al Horford not returning to Boston, will sign elsewhere this summer

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Boston’s disastrous season — and off-season — just keeps getting worse. Anthony Davis is a Laker, Kyrie Irving is out the door and now this.

Al Horford opted out of the $30.1 million the Celtics owed him this summer, but that was expected. A lot of people around the league also assumed he would begin negotiating with Boston to return for a longer contract, worth more money overall but a little less per year, that would give him some security.

He is going to get that security elsewhere, reports Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

The buzz from around the league is this is more about Boston not wanting to pay him and do a retooling of their roster around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown than it is Horford wanting out. Either way, it puts an outstanding player on the market.

Horford is 33 years old and teams may be concerned about the final year of a four-year contract, but he is kind of glue big man who can do everything well that could fit a lot of places and lift teams up to the next level. Horford can play in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good defender and role player, and just seems to have no holes in his game. That versatility makes him incredibly valuable.

Horford is going to get paid this summer — not max money, but close enough to it to make him happy — and some team is going to get a lot better when they do it.