PBT’s Top 10 Stories of 2014, No. 1: LeBron James returns home

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The story had drama. It had behind the scenes intrigue. It had people tracking private plane flights online. In the end one party was left bewildered because they didn’t think it would really happen.

Another city rejoiced.

Nothing was a bigger story, nothing changed the balance of power in the NBA like LeBron James returning home to Cleveland.

Nothing could bolster the popularity of the greatest basketball player on the planet more than returning home like a prodigal son to the city where fans had burned his jersey years before. This move sold well for LeBron (polls showed his national popularity skyrocketed).

There certainly had been people around LeBron — specifically his friend and new agent Rich Paul — who had been working behind the scenes to grease the skids for a return for some time, but this was still a surprise.

How big a surprise? First, know that Miami up until the final week or so really thought LeBron would return — they had just been to four straight NBA Finals and won two, why leave that foundation? Why would LeBron return to an owner who thrashed him in a Comic Sans letter?

But LeBron and Dan Gilbert looked each other in the eye and made up.

Second, the Cavaliers were surprised — they didn’t have the cap room ready. They had to make quick moves and dump salary to have room to sign LeBron James to the max.

Once it happened, the other dominoes started to fall. Mike Miller and Shawn Marion became Cavaliers. Then came the big move when Kevin Love forced his way there in a trade that wasn’t bad for Minnesota — they got the last two No. 1 overall picks, including the much heralded Andrew Wiggins. (Wiggins was caught in the middle of this during Summer League and handled it about as well as one could. Credit to the kid.)

Know that this move was not all about coming home. It was also about upgrading the talent around him on the basketball court — LeBron saw having Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was not enough against the Spurs last season and the West was getting stronger. He needed an upgrade and more youth and athleticism around him. He’s got that with Love and Kyrie Irving.

This also was a power play — LeBron and the people around him have more influence and say in the Cavaliers organization than they did in the ship Pat Riley ran so tightly in Miami.

But that’s not the story that was sold — and that America ate up.

Despite all the early turmoil and drama around the Cavaliers — and as long as LeBron is there they will be under that microscope — this move was a huge, huge win for the Cavaliers.

Northeast Ohio is starved for a title and their own son from Akron is going to bring them some. Not one but multiple over the next five to seven years. It’s not going to happen in 2015, there is a lot of work left to do to round out that roster and get players who will buy into the system. But it will happen. The path to an NBA title will soon go through Cleveland.

Paul George on twins Marcus, Markieff Morris: “They’re different, but they’re the same”

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LOS ANGELES — Paul George has given us the quote of the day.

For some quick context, last season Paul George played with Markieff Morris in Oklahoma City. This season, George’s Clippers team traded for the other Morris twin, Marcus Morris, at the deadline. When asked about them, George admitted to mixing them up — and then had a classic description of twins.

“It was weird at first, ‘cuz I would call [Marcus] ‘Keiff.’ It actually took a good week. It’s crazy. ‘What’s up Marcus? Nice to meet you.’ Then instantly after, ‘Hey Keiff!’ It’s gonna take a second…

“They’re different, but they’re the same.”

Um… yes, they are.

Both Morris twins live in Los Angeles now (and are expected to move in together). Marcus was traded to the Clippers at the deadline, while Markieff was waived and became a free agent, choosing to sign with the Lakers.

George had high praise for both of them.

“Markieff and Marcus, they are great glue guys,” George said. “They just know how to play the game. They fit right in, they bring toughness, hecka [good] locker room guys, both of them just great people. Great dudes.”

They’re the same that way. But different.

Report: Terry Stotts to remain Trail Blazers coach next season

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts
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The Trail Blazers had big expectations after reaching the 2019 Western Conference finals and signing their top players, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, to lucrative contract extensions.

Instead, Portland (26-32) is in a dogfight with the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs, Suns and Kings for the No. 8 seed.

Often, teams underperforming like that fire their coach.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

A source with knowledge of coach Terry Stotts’ situation said there’s no reason to believe he’s in any danger this summer, regardless of how this turns out.

Stotts has a few things working in his favor:

So expect Stotts back next season. But also expect him to face a little more pressure. Even if a lot of what wrong this season wasn’t his fault, losing tends to increase scrutiny on the coach.

In his eighth season with the Trail Blazers, Stotts is the NBA’s fourth-longest-tenured coach (behind only the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, Heat’s Erick Spoelstra and Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle). It just becomes increasingly more difficult for Stotts to meet the high expectations he has helped set in Portland.

For now, though, Stotts appears to remain ahead of the curve.

Stephen Curry reportedly will return to Warriors lineup Sunday vs. Wizards

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After four months off, the Warriors were looking for a soft landing spot to ease Stephen Curry back into the rotation.

How about Sunday, vs. Washington and the worst defense in the NBA this season?

That’s the plan, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Curry has said for some time he was targeting March 1 for a return, this would be that exact date (to be fair to the Wizards, they have played better defense of late). After that, Golden State plays at Denver on the third, has a Finals rematch against Toronto at the Chase Center on March 5, then the 76ers visit the Warriors on the seventh.

Curry suffered a fractured hand just four games into the season when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him. Recovery required two surgeries, one to put pins in to stabilize the bone through the healing process, then a second one to remove those pins once the recovery was far enough along.

While some fans had called for Curry to sit out the season and tank, Warriors coach Steve Kerr emphatically shot that idea down. As he should.

For one thing, Kerr wants to build some familiarity and chemistry between Curry and newly acquired Andrew Wiggins this season. Having Curry back may mean the Warriors don’t finish with the worst record in the league this season (which they have right now) but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not as big an issue. Besides, this is not a deep draft. This is not a situation where the Warriors will get instant help — in our podcast recently, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons. The Warriors may ultimately try to trade their pick for a player who can help more next season.

Ben Simmons has nerve impingement in lower back, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

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The biggest concern with Ben Simmons back issue is not that it will have him out weeks, it’s that nobody is saying what exactly is causing it.

Simmons has a nerve impingement in his lower back that will have him getting treatment daily, and he will be re-evaluated in two weeks, something first reported  by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided some context, but nothing that is very encouraging.

A nerve impingement — what is commonly referred to as a pinched nerve — is exactly what it sounds like: Something is pressing on the nerve, “pinching” it and causing pain.

The big question: What is impinging on the nerve? That’s what Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes asked.

This does not sound like something that is going to be resolved in two weeks and Simmons will be back to normal.

Simmons injured his back last Wednesday in practice while grabbing a rebound, according to coach Brett Brown. Simmons sat out last Thursday’s Sixers game against the Nets, tried to play on Saturday vs. the Bucks but had to come out after one quarter, and has not set foot on the court since.

Simmons averages 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds a game, not to mention a league-best 2.2 steals a night. The All-Star is a core part of the Sixers rotation and will miss significant time they try to climb up into the top four in the East and get home court for the first round of the playoffs. Shake Milton started Monday in Simmons place.