No Kevin Love, no J.R. Smith to start, how much trouble is Cleveland in?

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This much is obvious: The Cleveland Cavaliers are simply not going to be as good. Take two starters off any NBA team and you weaken them. Maybe considerably.

That’s the Cavaliers right now. Kevin Love is out for the entire second round of the playoffs thanks to Boston’s Kelly Olynyk yanking his shoulder out of its socket. J.R. Smith is out for the next two Cavalier games because he punched Boston’s Jae Crowder in the face (Smith is lucky his suspension wasn’t longer).

Where does that leave the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Vulnerable.

However, is there any team in the East good enough to do anything about it?

On paper, the Chicago Bulls could be trouble for this shorthanded Cavaliers team. But on the court we’re talking about a Bulls team that hasn’t played the elite defense we expect of them this season, a team that can’t close out the improving but still young Milwaukee Bucks, a team that let those Bucks be the aggressors and knock the Bulls back on their heels. “Impressive” is not the word you’d use to describe these Bulls so far in the postseason, even with an improved and attacking Derrick Rose (well at least for the first four games, MCW owned him in Game 5).

That said, the Bulls remain the likely second round matchup for Cleveland.

And Cleveland is vulnerable. Anyone who is saying, “Love didn’t fit in with the Cavs they will be fine” didn’t actually watch Cleveland play. Love stumbled and struggled to find his comfort zone, but by the playoffs was giving them 18 points and nine boards a game, hitting 47 percent from three. This is still an All-Star level player, someone who became central to their offense.

Without Love and his ability to hit the three ball, the spacing in the Cavaliers offense falls apart faster than the plot in Spiderman 3. Substitute Thompson into the starting lineup in place of Love (Kyrie Irving, Smith, LeBron and Timofey Mozgov are the other four) and during the regular season the Cavs were 24.9 points worse per 48 minutes. Their offense isn’t the same as there isn’t the same space to drive and get buckets in the paint. When Love has been on the bench this season LeBron’s usage rate skyrockets — and his efficiency drops.

We saw that in the games the Cavaliers played the Bulls this season — Chicago blew out Cleveland in the game Love didn’t play because they could take their big men (Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic) and pack the paint, clogging up driving lanes for Irving and LeBron. The Cavaliers’ starting lineup (with Smith) was 5.8 points per 100 possessions worse just against the Bulls without Love.

Try to find line-ups featuring the other Cavaliers starters but without Smith and Love and you get into minutes so small you can’t really draw any conclusions. With Smith out, Iman Shumpert likely starts but we will see some Joe Harris, maybe some Matthew Dellavedova playing with Irving.

Which is to say, coach David Blatt is going to be experimenting a lot with new lineups, groupings of players he didn’t have to go to during the season.

One lineup he might go to more often — LeBron as the power forward. He is strong enough to defend Gasol (or Noah), and with this smaller lineup the Cavaliers will have some shooting and spacing.

The other concern: Cleveland isn’t that great a defensive team. After the trade deadline moves to pick up Mozgov and Iman Shumpert the Cavs were certainly improved — they went from terrible to a little above average. Post All-Star Game the Cavaliers allowed 102 points per 100 possessions, 13th best in the NBA. Make it just from March 1 through the end of the season and they allow 103.8 per 100, 18th best in the NBA. That’s not great. And the Bulls offense has been good come the playoffs — Rose is attacking again, Jimmy Butler is confident and making plays, and Pau Gasol remains incredibly skilled and smart. Yes, the Bucks have given the Bulls a challenge, because the Bucks are a long and good defensive team.

The Cavaliers will and should still be the favorites if they face the Bulls in the next round — when those teams step on the court for the opening tip, the two best players will still be playing for Cleveland. The Cavs still have the best player on the planet, a guy who can take over games at either end of the court. That’s a huge advantage. And the Bulls have not looked like world beaters of late.

But the Cavaliers are clearly a wounded, vulnerable team.

The second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs just got very, very interesting.

Mark Cuban’s plan for a restart, “I don’t think we can go the old tried and true way”

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Wild, fanciful ideas for restarting the NBA that would never fly in a typical year — 1-16 seeding, or maybe a soccer World Cup-style group stage — are getting an airing this season because everything is on the table. As the NBA moves closer to a restart plan, countless ideas are being floated.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has his own plan.

Shocking, I know. But it’s interesting.

“What I proposed is that we extend the playoff format to 10 teams from each conference, and play at least five games prior to going into playoffs,” Cuban said laying out is plan to NBC’s Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live.” And if we do that, every team in the Eastern Conference would have a chance to make the playoffs, and all but two in the Western Conference would do it [Ed. note: Golden State and Minnesota].

“Then, what I would do, once we got 10 and 10, I would reseed them, and 17 would play 20, and 18 would play 19, in a one-game series. The winner then would take on the eighth-place seed in a five-game series, while the No. 1 seed in each conference would get a bye. Then you go ahead normally from there.

“That gives us a chance to have more meaningful games, it gives almost every team a chance when we come back for whatever is left of our regular season. I think we’ve got to change it up some, I don’t think we can go the old tried and true way.”

Cuban later added, speaking to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, that he wants to see all 30 teams come to Orlando for regular season games, building excitement for the NBA’s return in every market. This dream, however, seems a long shot, and Damian Lillard spoke for a lot of players when he said he’s not playing if there is not a path to the playoffs for Portland.

Cuban’s point that this is the year to try something different, not to play it safe, has real validity. This season is already upside down due to the corona

Cuban’s plan is a long shot, but is it any longer a shot than any of the other ones out there?

 

Wizards’ Bradley Beal: Thunder considered trading James Harden for me on draft day 2012

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The first three picks of the 2012 NBA Draft, which was held in June:

1. New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans): Anthony Davis

2. Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets): Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

3. Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal

That August, the Thunder reportedly offered to trade James Harden to Washington for Beal. Washington reportedly rejected the offer due to Harden’s desire for a max contract extension (which Wizards owner Ted Leonsis denied). The Rockets were more than willing to pay Harden, and Oklahoma City dealt him to Houston that October.

Apparently, Washington had a chance to land Harden earlier that offseason.

Beal on “All The Smoke:”

We’re sitting in the draft room. Sure enough, my agent is tapping me. He’s like, “It’s possible you might go to OKC.” I said, “Damn, how am I going to go there? I ain’t even worked out for OKC.” I only worked out for three teams – Washington, Cleveland and Charlotte.

So, the deal was to trade James to Washington, right? OKC gets the third pick. It was either the second or third pick. They were going to trade up to 2 or 3, get me, trade James to Washington.

I would have been in OKC with KD and Russ.

That was a last-minute decision. It was almost done.

I can’t tell whether Beal is also revealing a Harden-to-Charlotte offer or just got mixed up on which teams held the Nos. 2 and 3 picks. Obviously, if Beal was the main prize to the Thunder, they would’ve cared only minimally whether they got him with the No. 2 or No. 3 pick. So, there might have been trade talks with Charlotte, too.

But I’m not convinced Oklahoma City valued Beal that way.

The Thunder were a championship contender. They had just lost in the 2012 NBA Finals to the Heat. Oklahoma City couldn’t have depended on a rookie Beal to contribute on that level.

That’s why – in addition to picks/young player acquired from the Rockets for Harden – the Thunder also got Kevin Martin. The veteran Martin was much better than Beal in 2012-13. (Ironically, the open title window was also a strong argument for just keeping Harden, whatever his contract status).

But the 2012-13 season didn’t go as planned for Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook got hurt early in the playoffs, and the Thunder lost to the Grizzlies in the second round. Martin left for a lucrative contract with the Timberwolves the following summer.

Even with the long runway Kevin Durant and Westbrook provided, Oklahoma City never got back to the Finals. Beal could have grown into a third star whose shooting complemented the duo. The Thunder might have won a championship with this trade (or, again, just keeping Harden).

The Wizards almost certainly would have won more. Harden has perennially gotten the Rockets to the playoff. (They’ve gone further in years he has had more help.) Beal hasn’t singlehandedly carried Washington like that.

So, this is an interesting “what if?” – if you take it at face value.

Beal’s agent warning him of a trade possibility means something. But we don’t know which other pieces were involved.

The Thunder didn’t trade Harden until just before the rookie-scale-extension deadline, suggesting they wanted to give themselves time to extend him themselves before taking the drastic step of trading him. Would Beal have been enough of a return to give up in June (or even August) on keeping Harden? Maybe. Harden didn’t fully blossom until reaching Houston. But I’m skeptical. At minimum, Harden had already established himself as young and good. Beal was young, promising and under greater team control. There’s significant value in the certainty of a player being at least a near-star, and Harden – not Beal – had that.

Even in hindsight, we’re still revisiting the situation with only limited information.

Report: NBA games could resume in August, not July

Bucks center Brook Lopez and Raptors center Marc Gasol
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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A week ago, the NBA was looking to resume games in July at Disney World.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

In fact, there’s a possibility the first games played in Orlando could be in August, not July, sources said.

It’s good the NBA is being flexible on a start date. The coronavirus presents so much uncertainty.

The league is approaching its most lucrative time – the playoffs. The NBA should make every effort to play the postseason, whenever that can be done safely.

Everyone can figure out next season later, especially because there’s a willingness to delay the start.

Report: Pistons searching for new general manager

Pistons executive Ed Stefanski
Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Pistons hired Ed Stefanski as a senior advisor to owner Tom Gores in 2018. Among Stefanski’s duties: Assist in the ongoing search for a new head of basketball operations. But it quickly became clear Stefanski would just run the front office himself.

Now, two years later, Detroit is finally getting around to that general-manager search.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Detroit Pistons are opening a search to hire a general manager to work with senior advisor Ed Stefanski, sources tell ESPN.

Stefanski will be working with Pistons and Palace Sports Vice Chairman Arn Tellem on the process to hire a GM, sources said.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

If Stefanski is still running the front office, a new general manager would be the No. 2 – equivalent to assistant general manager on many teams.

After taking over an inflexible roster left by Stan Van Gundy, Stefanski couldn’t do much. Stefanski’s big move was trading Andre Drummond to the Cavaliers just before the trade deadline. That positioned Detroit to have major cap space next offseason, but it’s unclear how much will actually materialize. The salary cap could drop due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pistons must determine whether they’re still building around Blake Griffin, the 31-year-old due $36,810,996 and $38,957,028 the next two years. Last season, he returned to stardom and carried Detroit into the playoffs. This season, he missed most of the year due to injury.

If they’re trying to win now with Griffin, the Pistons are short on quality complementary players. If Detroit is ready to rebuild, its pool of young talent – Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya, Bruce Brown, impending free agent Christian Wood, its own first-round pick – is hardly assured of success.

After years of being stuck on a path charted under the Van Gundy regime, the Pistons can soon pick a new course. This is the time get the front office up to full staffing.