Kevin Love, even injured, still holds all the leverage over Cavaliers

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Kevin Love will miss the rest of the playoffs, and the high end of his recovery timeline could keep him out through the start of next season.

Does this put a dent on his possible pending free agency?

Nope – at least not as far as the Cavaliers are concerned.

Just as before Kelly Olynyk yanked out his shoulder, Love should still exercise his player option. He’s safe, because Cleveland has nowhere else to turn.

By opting out, Love stands to gain money, protection and flexibility.

He’s slated to earn $16,744,218 next season, but his max salary for next season projects to be $19,027,800. That’s true whether he re-signs or signs elsewhere, signs for one year or five. His max starting salary does not change.

So, even if Love believes having one season remaining on his contract with Cleveland – the scenario if he doesn’t opt out – is ideal, he could give himself a $2,283,582 raise by opting out and then re-signing on a new one-year deal.

Of course, if he’s going to do that, he might as well add a second season with a player option. That’d give him a little protection if, for whatever reason, he’s not primed for free agency in 2016 when the new national TV contracts kick in.

And if Love goes that route, he might as well listen to other offers while a free agent. Maybe he likes Cleveland, but what would it hurt to hear out other teams?

At that point, Love could decide between several options, including (based on the latest salary-cap projections):

  • Signing a five-year contract with the Cavaliers worth about $109.4 million
  • Signing a two-year contract with a player option with the Cavaliers worth about $39.5 million
  • Signing a four-year contract elsewhere worth about $81.2 million
  • Signing a two-year contract with a player option elsewhere worth about $38.9 million

If he takes the short-term deal and opts out in 2016, he could get:

  • About $145.1 million over five years by re-signing with the Cavaliers
  • About $107.8 million over four years by signing elsewhere

So, it’s clear why Love should opt out if he can generate a max offer. But can he still get the max considering his injury?

Yes – at minimum, surely from Cleveland. The Cavaliers would have nowhere else to turn in free agency if they lost Love.

Let’s make some assumptions (using data from Basketball Insiders):

  • The salary cap comes in at the projected $67.1 million.
  • Love opts out and signs elsewhere.
  • LeBron James opts out to re-sign a new two-year contract with a player option.
  • J.R. Smith opts in for $6,399,750.
  • Mike Miller opts in for $2,854,940.
  • Tristan Thompson re-signs at a starting salary at or above his free-agent amount ($12,846,075), so the Cavaliers hold off making it official until other business is done.
  • The Cavaliers exercise Timofey Mozgov’s $4,.95 million team option.
  • The Cavaliers waive Brenan Haywood’s fully unguaranteed contract.
  • The Cavaliers renounce free agents James Jones, Shawn Marion and Kendrick Perkins.
  • The Cavaliers don’t extend Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova qualifying offers and instead renounce them.

Only the last bullet goes against my predictions, but I’m trying to give Cleveland as much flexibility as reasonably possible.

Under that scenario, the Cavaliers would be $11,133,657 over the cap. So, they’d have only the $5,464,000 non-taxpayer mid-level exception to replace Love if they lost him. And that’s being optimistic. Depending how everything shakes out, they very well could have just the $3,376,000 taxpayer MLE.

Either way, that’s not nearly enough to secure a strong replacement for Love.

Cleveland could try moving other salary or trading for a new power forward rather than signing one, but that’s just going to expend assets and/or create new holes while likely leading to a power forward still considerably worse than Love.

So, the Cavaliers essentially must do whatever it takes to re-sign Love – giving him any contract he desires if he opts out.

Plus, if they re-sign Love, they can keep Haywood as a trade chip, re-sign Shumpert and Dellavedova without worrying about cap space and use the MLE on someone else.

Love might not get as many suitors outside Cleveland as he hoped due this injury, because any dollar another team doesn’t spend on Love is a dollar it can spend elsewhere. That isn’t true for the Cavaliers, who have his Bird Rights and can exceed the cap to re-sign him at any price up to a max contract.

And that’s just a sober assessment of the situation.

In reality, emotion and perception matter.

The Cavaliers traded Andrew Wiggins for Love. You think they want to suffer the indignity of losing Love after just one year?

Plus, they offered the best trade package for Love for a reason. Maybe something has changed, but I doubt that much has changed. Cleveland liked Love and still should.

He’s having a down year, but he’s still a borderline All-NBA forward, which speaks to just how good he is. His production – shooting, rebounding, passing – is elite. At 26, he should have several good years ahead of him once he heals.

Still, it’s possible this shoulder injury scares off teams. I doubt it and, without knowing specific medical information, would lean toward it being a mistake. But it’s possible.

It’s essentially impossible, though, the Cavaliers could adequately replace Love if he leaves this summer. They can’t afford to be scared off.

So, he should opt out.

He’ll have at least one – probably more – max-contract offers to choose from. And they’ll pay more than he would have made by opting in.

The injury doesn’t change that.

Clippers guard Landry Shamet tests positive for coronavirus

Landry Shamet coronavirus
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Clippers’ guard Landry Shamet just a few days ago talking to the media: “There’s no option with no risk at this point.”

Saturday we learned that Shamet has tested positive for the coronavirus. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news.

This comes a couple of days after a positive test for one member of the Clippers traveling party caused the team to shut down its training facility (that may have been Shamet, it may not have been, the Clippers are not saying).

Shamet has to go through a 14-day quarantine and two negative tests 24 hours apart before he can join his teammates in Orlando, which he still plans to do. If there are no setbacks, he will be in Orlando and cleared well before the Clippers take on the Lakers on opening night.

The second-year shooting guard is an important role player for the Clippers, scoring 9.7 points per game but shooting 39.2% from three — he is critical to their floor spacing in certain lineups. He is exactly the kind of player that will need to have a couple of big playoff games — when defenses collapse on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — if Los Angeles is going to be a threat to win it all. As they believe they are.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert ‘in a good place,’ trying to move forward

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There were the tweets from strangers.

“I hate you.”

“You ruined the whole world.”

“You deserve it.”

And there was the scorn from inside his own locker room, the presumption that he infected a teammate with coronavirus, the suggestion that his recklessness somehow caused the entire sporting world to come to an absolute standstill.

Utah center Rudy Gobert is still standing tall, after all that and more.

Plenty of eyes will be on Gobert when the NBA season, the one that shut down March 11 when he became the first player in the league to be diagnosed with the coronavirus, takes a giant step toward returning by having teams gather at the Disney complex in Central Florida over the next few days. The Jazz will be a fascinating case study during this restart, particularly regarding whether or not Gobert and Donovan Mitchell — a fellow All-Star who was diagnosed with the virus shortly after the shutdown began and did not hide his anger with Gobert about it all — can coexist peacefully again.

“I’m happy now. I’m in a good place, you know,” Gobert told reporters Friday. “And I’m happy that I get the joy back from playing basketball with my team and the competitiveness is back. I’m ready to try to go out there and try to win the championship. That’s the goal. And to be honest, after everything we’ve been through as a team and as human beings, it would be a great comeback.”

Gobert answered questions for about 11 minutes. He talked about the relationship with Mitchell. (“It’s never going to be perfect,” he said, acknowledging strains that have been no secret.) He talked about the potential of signing a lucrative extension — he’s supermax-eligible — with the Jazz, which could happen before next season. (“I don’t plan on leaving right now,” he said.) He talked about his recovery from the virus, which is ongoing, at least in how his sense of smell hasn’t totally recovered. (“Smelling, I took that for granted too. It’s back now, it’s back at 80%, I’m not worried,” he said.)

He spoke softly, calmly, thoughtfully. And even though he is the two-time reigning NBA defensive player of the year, he didn’t swat any question away.

“Obviously, when you have the whole world judging you and threatening you or sending you a lot of negative energy and stuff like that, it’s something that I would say is not easy as a human being,” Gobert said. “But at the same time, people just judge you on the perception they have and the perception they get. Sometimes it can be one picture, one video, one interview, one action.”

In this case, that’s pretty much exactly what happened.

A picture, a video, an interview, an action. It was the start of the downfall.

It was the morning of March 9: Before leaving a media session at shoot-around in Salt Lake City on Monday in advance of a game against Detroit, Gobert touched all the tape recorders that were placed before him on a table, devices that reporters who cover the Jazz were using. He meant it as a joke. When he tested positive two days later, it was no laughing matter.

The Jazz were in Oklahoma City, just moments away from starting a game against the Thunder, when word came that Gobert tested positive. The game was called off. The season was suspended that same night.

Just like that, Gobert was a center of negative attention.

“First of all, you make sure he’s OK,” said Orlando guard Evan Fournier, a fellow French national-team player, who reached out often to check on Gobert. “You know, you call him and once we’re on the phone or just talking, text, whatever, you just ask him a few questions. How is he feeling, blah, blah, blah. And then once he starts to open up and say things about how he sees the whole situation, then you just try to give your best judgment to him. And you know, that’s what I did.”

Gobert immediately started trying to show remorse. He donated $200,000 to a fund established to help those who work part-time at Jazz games, people who lost income because contests were canceled. More money — about $310,000 — went to families affected by the pandemic in Utah and Oklahoma City, plus in his native France. He taped a public-service announcement for the league.

“I won’t be able to control everyone’s perception of me, but I can control my actions,” Gobert said. “I can control, you know, the things I do for the people around me, for the community, the things I do for my teammates on the court, off the court. All that stuff, I can control and that’s what really matters to me.”

For his part, Mitchell said the relationship with Gobert has improved.

“Right now, we’re good,” Mitchell said Thursday. “We’re going out there ready to hoop.”

The Jazz have secured a playoff berth. They’ll be without the injured Bojan Bogdanovic for the remainder of the season, yet still have enough depth to be considered a contender in the Western Conference.

And Gobert expects he and Mitchell, on the court anyway, will be fine.

“As long as we respect one another and we both share the same goals and we both do what’s best for the team, that’s what matters,” Gobert said. “And, you know, I think over the last few years that’s what we’ve been doing and that’s what we plan on continuing doing.”

Celtics’ Gordon Hayward may leave bubble in September for birth of child

Celtics' Gordon Hayward
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The Celtics’ Gordon Hayward has been at his wife’s side for the birth of their three children, he’s not going to miss the fourth — even if that means leaving the bubble.

Hayward’s wife Robyn is due with their fourth child in September — very possibly while the team is still playing — and he said in a conference call with reporters that he will leave the bubble to be with her. Via Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

“There’ll be a time if and when we’re down there and she’s going to have the baby, I’m for sure going to be with her,” Hayward said of his wife, Robyn. “We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there…

“It’s a pretty easy decision for me on that,” Hayward said. “I’ve been at the birth of every one of my children, and I think there are more important things in life. So we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

“I know the NBA has a protocol for that type of thing, and hopefully I can do the quarantining and testing the appropriate amount of time and then be back with the boys.”

That protocol says that if Hayward notifies the team and league, is gone fewer than seven days, gets tested and is negative every day he is outside the bubble, then upon his return he will have a four-day quarantine (so long as he continues to have negative tests). This applies to all players who might need to leave the Walt Disney World campus for a family emergency or situation (Utah point guard Mike Conley‘s wife is due with their child in late August, for example).

If Hayward is gone longer or isn’t tested every day outside the bubble — or, if a player leaves the bubble without notifying teams — he has a 10-day quarantine upon his return.

The second round of the playoffs are set to begin Aug. 30 and will run as long as Sept. 13. The Eastern Conference Finals — which the Celtics have a good chance of making, but likely would need to beat out a strong Toronto squad — start Sept. 15 and run through the end of the month.

Hayward will be missed, and it’s not just his 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, or 4.1 assists per game, or the fact he shot 39.2% from three and is an important part of the Celtics’ floor spacing. It’s also that Brad Stevens uses Hayward in versatile lineups — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Hayward make a very switchable foursome — that can both defend and difficult for opponents to stop. Boston loses some of that versatility without him, Semi Ojeleye is not going to be able to give the Celtics the same quality minutes.

 

NBA releases scrimmage schedule for restart, games tip-off July 22

NBA scrimmage schedule
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We are 18 days away from NBA basketball.

Well, NBA scrimmages at least. On the Fourth of July, the NBA released the schedule of scrimmage games for teams, which begin July 22 and run for six days, leading up to the start of the season July 30.

Here is the full schedule, with each team having three scrimmage games, all against teams from the other conference or unlikely playoff matchups.

The details on the broadcasts of the NBA scrimmage schedule of games have not been released, but it’s safe to expect they will be available on the team’s regional networks at the least (with maybe a few games picked up nationally).

Teams arrive at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando starting next week. After players and team staff go through a 24-48 quarantine period (with two negative tests 24 hours apart), they will begin full team practices in the run-up to these scrimmages, and eventually the eight “seeding” games, which count as regular-season games.

Those seeding games start July 30 with a TNT double-header of Utah vs. New Orleans followed by the battle of Los Angeles, the Lakers vs. the Clippers (the top two seeds in the West heading into these games).