LeBron James carrying Cavaliers like he never left

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Before the playoffs began, Cavaliers coach David Blatt said, “This all can’t be on LeBron. This is a team and a team effort and everyone here has to do his part.”

Yesterday, when Blatt drew up a play for someone else to attempt the game-winner, LeBron James said, “Just give me the ball.”

Blatt, of course, listened.

This is how it has always been for LeBron with Cleveland. It’s his show, his way, his time.

LeBron has claimed a level of control he never had with the Heat. Whether this is an intentional power grab, the mere byproduct of the NBA’s biggest megastar picking a small market or an injury-created necessity, it hasn’t been more evident on the court than in the playoffs.

LeBron has attempted a field goal or free throw, turned the ball over or assisted a basket on 39.0 percent of Cleveland’s possessions this postseason. We’ll call this number Adjusted Usage Percentage. It differs from usage percentage in two ways:

1. It includes assists.

2. It includes all a team’s estimated possessions, even when the player is on the bench. (Possessions are estimated because some free-throw attempts are and-ones or technicals, not part of their own possession. Possessions ending in a team turnover are not counted.)

LeBron’s 38.8 Adjusted Usage Percentage ranks first among all players in the last decade – giving him the top four marks in this era:

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Players have exceeded an Adjusted Usage Percentage of 30.0 in the playoffs 51 times in the last 10 years, including LeBron each year. But LeBron’s five highest Adjusted Usage Percentages have come with the Cavaliers and three lowest with the Heat.

Wasn’t LeBron supposed to learn how to win and Miami and bring back those lessons, not just repeat his old Cleveland problems?

Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, this could be Cleveland’s best available strategy.

LeBron knew Kevin Love is out for the rest of the season and presumably knew Kyrie Irving is battling a foot injury when he said he needed to be more aggressive. The short-handed Cavs might have no recourse but to let LeBron dictate everything.

And that’s no so bad.

LeBron can take the Cavaliers pretty far playing this way. He’s one of the best players – if not the best player – in the world, and he hit the game-winner yesterday after demanding the ball. (In a fitting celebration, teammates literally jumped on his back.)

But Cleveland is also seeing the downside of this approach. LeBron has shot 8-of-25 and 10-of-30 with seven and eight turnovers in his last two games.

It seems there’s a cap with this style of play. LeBron can carry the Cavs and win a round or three, but eventually, opponents begin to solve the one-dimensional offense. Then, soon enough, he runs into a team capable of actually doing something about it – a task made easier as LeBron gets worn down by this heavy load.

LeBron doing everything probably gives the Cavaliers a higher floor but a lower ceiling. It’s not the worst tradeoff, though if the goal is a championship, it’s concerning.

One of the main reasons LeBron left Cleveland in the first place seemed to be the Cavaliers’ inability to build a quality supporting cast, and the decline of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh probably contributed to his defection from Miami.

It was supposed to be different in Cleveland this time with Love, Irving and and a more-well-rounded LeBron. But Love is out. Irving is hobbled.

And LeBron is putting the Cavs on his back, just like old times – and we all remember how those seasons ended.

Arizona State leading scoring Remy Martin declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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Arizona State junior Remy Martin has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft:

The six-foot point guard took on more of scoring role in his third season with the Sun Devils than he had in his first two seasons. Martin averaged 19.1 points per game on 43.2% shooting from the field. Martin also dished out 4.1 assists per game, after averaging 5.0 assists as a sophomore.

Arizona State’s leading scoring may just be testing the waters, as he’s expected to go undrafted. NBA scouts have concerns over Martin’s size at the NBA level. One concern is his ability to hold up defensively, as NBA point guards are trending bigger and bigger in recent years.

As a smaller guard, Martin was one of the players who could have benefited from the traditional pre-draft process. With in-person workouts on hold, and potentially cancelled entirely, players have limited opportunities to improve their draft stock. Teams may be drafting off previous in-person scouting and off of tape.

NBA players reportedly to take part in televised NBA 2K tournament Friday

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If we can’t watch NBA players on the court, at least we can watch them control their digital selves and teammates in a live basketball tournament.

ESPN plans to broadcast an NBA 2K tournament with only NBA players at the controllers, a story broken by Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports. The hope is to have it air Friday, with the players competing from their homes around the country.

The NBA is planning a players-only NBA 2K tournament that will feature the league’s sharpest video gamers and it will be broadcast on ESPN, league sources told Yahoo Sports…

Players competing against their peers in the comfort of their own homes could offer a distraction for fans who are missing the game and a little competition.

The league is still finalizing some details for the tournament, but each team is expected to have a representative, sources said.

Esports are incredibly popular and growing as a spectator sport, both in person and on Twitch and other platforms. With there being a pent-up demand for sports programming, this seems a smart attempt to draw eyeballs. Even people who are non-esports viewers could tune in just to check it out, because it’s that or rewatching Tiger King.

You can bet that if it works, we will see a lot more of it in the future.

(Inside baseball note: I would love to see the emails/texts flying around ESPN about Yahoo breaking a story about what is coming in their network.)

 

Shaquille O’Neal: I had no idea what was happening with Joe Exotic of Tiger King

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On a recent episode of “The Big Podcast with Shaq” former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal said that “he had no idea” what was happening at the zoo run by Joe Exotic. Joe Exotic was recently made famous through the popular Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”.

Footage of O’Neal appeared in the first episode of the show and was shown taking photographs with the animals.

The documentary also showed a cut of O’Neal on TNT saying “Shoutout to Exotic Joe. I got two more tigers.”

On his podcast, O’Neal explained:

“So we go in there, and it’s a beautiful place, and the character that was there was Exotic Joe. We’re there and I dropped some donations for the tigers’ foods and all that. We take pictures with (the) tigers. We went back a couple times. Then we go back another time and we found out that he’s involved with all the stuff, and then, actually, I stopped going.”

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, was sentenced to 22 years in prison after being found guilty of 19 different charges. Those charges included murder-for-hire plot, illegally selling endangered species and other animal-related offenses.

O’Neal clarified that he never bought any animals, but often donates to charities that help animals. He also made it clear that he’s not friends with Joe Exotic, nor anyone involved in the trade of endangered species.

“I don’t harm tigers,” O’Neal said. “I love tigers. I love white tigers. Do I put donations to these zoos to help these tigers out? I do it all the time. Do I own tigers personally at my house? No. But I love tigers. Listen, people are going to make their own opinions, but, again, I was just a visitor. I met this guy — not my friend. Don’t know him. Never had any business dealings with him, and I had no idea any of that stuff was going on.”

Report: Brooklyn Nets looking to hire a blue-chip head coach

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When the Brooklyn Nets and Kenny Atkinson parted ways in early-March, the team installed Jacque Vaughn as the interim head coach.

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that’s a short-term appointment. On his podcast “Brian Windhorst and The Hoop Collective”, the reporter said the Nets are looking to hire a coach with a track record of NBA success.

“One of the things that has been expressed sort of the grapevine, that’s the way I’m going to say it to protect myself from the aggregators, is that Durant and Irving would like a blue-chip coach. I don’t know what this says about the way they thought about Atkinson, but they want a big-name coach.”

Names linked to the Brooklyn opening are Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, and both Jeff and Stan Van Gundy.

Atkinson leaving Brooklyn was a surprise, considering he had led the Nets back to the playoffs in 2019. That success came after a three-year rebuild. That process was kicked off when general manager Sean Marks hired Atkinson to lead the on-court development. Under Marks and Atkinson, the Nets developed several players who had been given up on by other teams.

Brooklyn was 28-34 when Atkinson was let go. The Nets had gone 2-0 under Vaughn before the NBA suspended play in mid-March.