Remember how bad the Cavaliers were just a few months ago? No NBA champion was worse

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The Cavaliers have been historically bad in the years preceding their run to the NBA Finals.

But even this season – once they had LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – they got off to to a tumultuous start.

David Blatt ripped the team after an opening loss to the Knicks. As Cleveland continued to struggle, LeBron blamed others. He blamed himself. Blatt criticized LeBron. Outsiders criticized Blatt. The Cavs hit rock bottom. Questions emerged about Blatt’s job security.

It appeared unlikely Cleveland, which sunk to 19-20, could get on track quickly enough to do serious damage this season.

As late as Jan. 23, when they were 23-20, the Cavaliers had a worse record than any NBA champion through so many games.

Here’s how Cleveland’s win total (wine) compares with the worst record by an NBA champion through each game (gold):

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Here are the NBA champions with the worst record through each game:

Through games Team Record
82 1978 Washington Bullets 44-38
81 1978 Washington Bullets 43-38
80 1978 Washington Bullets 43-37
79 1978 Washington Bullets 42-37
78 1978 Washington Bullets 41-37
77 1978 Washington Bullets 41-36
76 1978 Washington Bullets 41-35
75 1978 Washington Bullets 40-35
74 1978 Washington Bullets 40-34
73 1978 Washington Bullets 40-33
72 1978 Washington Bullets 39-33
71 1978 Washington Bullets 38-33
70 1978 Washington Bullets 37-33
69 1978 Washington Bullets 36-33
68 1978 Washington Bullets 36-32
67 1978 Washington Bullets 36-31
66 1978 Washington Bullets 36-30
65 1978 Washington Bullets 35-30
64 1978 Washington Bullets 35-29
63 1978 Washington Bullets 34-29
62 1978 Washington Bullets 33-29
61 1978 Washington Bullets 32-29
60 1978 Washington Bullets 31-29
59 1978 Washington Bullets 31-28
58 1978 Washington Bullets 30-28
57 1978 Washington Bullets 29-28
56 1978 Washington Bullets 29-27
55 1978 Washington Bullets 28-27
54 1978 Washington Bullets 28-26
53 1978 Washington Bullets 27-26
52 1978 Washington Bullets 27-25
51 1978 Washington Bullets 27-24
50 1978 Washington Bullets 26-24
49 1955 Syracuse Nationals 26-23
49 1978 Washington Bullets 26-23
48 1955 Syracuse Nationals 25-23
47 1955 Syracuse Nationals 25-22
46 1955 Syracuse Nationals 25-21
45 1978 Washington Bullets 25-20
45 1955 Syracuse Nationals 25-20
44 1978 Washington Bullets 24-20
43 1955 Syracuse Nationals 24-19
43 1948 Baltimore Bullets 24-19
43 1978 Washington Bullets 24-19
42 1955 Syracuse Nationals 23-19
42 1948 Baltimore Bullets 23-19
41 1948 Baltimore Bullets 23-18
41 1955 Syracuse Nationals 23-18
40 1948 Baltimore Bullets 22-18
39 1948 Baltimore Bullets 21-18
38 1955 Syracuse Nationals 21-17
38 1948 Baltimore Bullets 21-17
37 1955 Syracuse Nationals 20-17
36 1955 Syracuse Nationals 19-17
35 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 19-16
35 1955 Syracuse Nationals 19-16
34 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 18-16
33 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 18-15
33 1955 Syracuse Nationals 18-15
33 1948 Baltimore Bullets 18-15
32 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 17-15
31 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 16-15
30 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 16-14
30 1948 Baltimore Bullets 16-14
29 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 15-14
28 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 15-13
28 1948 Baltimore Bullets 15-13
27 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 14-13
26 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 14-12
25 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 14-11
25 2006 Miami Heat 14-11
25 1955 Syracuse Nationals 14-11
24 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 13-11
23 2006 Miami Heat 13-10
23 1951 Rochester Royals 13-10
23 1990 Detroit Pistons 13-10
23 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 13-10
22 2006 Miami Heat 12-10
22 1951 Rochester Royals 12-10
21 2006 Miami Heat 11-10
20 2006 Miami Heat 10-10
19 2006 Miami Heat 10-9
18 1999 San Antonio Spurs 10-8
18 1951 Rochester Royals 10-8
18 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 10-8
18 2006 Miami Heat 10-8
17 1999 San Antonio Spurs 9-8
17 1951 Rochester Royals 9-8
17 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 9-8
16 1999 San Antonio Spurs 8-8
16 1951 Rochester Royals 8-8
15 1999 San Antonio Spurs 7-8
15 1951 Rochester Royals 7-8
14 1999 San Antonio Spurs 6-8
13 1999 San Antonio Spurs 6-7
13 1951 Rochester Royals 6-7
12 1999 San Antonio Spurs 6-6
12 1991 Chicago Bulls 6-6
12 1978 Washington Bullets 6-6
12 1951 Rochester Royals 6-6
11 1978 Washington Bullets 5-6
11 1951 Rochester Royals 5-6
11 1999 San Antonio Spurs 5-6
11 1991 Chicago Bulls 5-6
10 1951 Rochester Royals 4-6
10 1978 Washington Bullets 4-6
9 1951 Rochester Royals 3-6
8 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 3-5
8 1978 Washington Bullets 3-5
8 1951 Rochester Royals 3-5
7 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 3-4
7 1978 Washington Bullets 3-4
7 1955 Syracuse Nationals 3-4
7 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 3-4
7 1951 Rochester Royals 3-4
7 1949 Minneapolis Lakers 3-4
7 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 3-4
6 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 2-4
6 1978 Washington Bullets 2-4
6 1955 Syracuse Nationals 2-4
5 1991 Chicago Bulls 2-3
5 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 2-3
5 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 2-3
5 1978 Washington Bullets 2-3
5 1958 St. Louis Hawks 2-3
5 2006 Miami Heat 2-3
5 1999 San Antonio Spurs 2-3
5 1966 Boston Celtics 2-3
5 1959 Boston Celtics 2-3
5 1955 Syracuse Nationals 2-3
5 1952 Minneapolis Lakers 2-3
4 1991 Chicago Bulls 1-3
4 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 1-3
4 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 1-3
4 1978 Washington Bullets 1-3
4 1958 St. Louis Hawks 1-3
3 1991 Chicago Bulls 0-3
2 1991 Chicago Bulls 0-2
2 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 0-2
2 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 0-2
2 1958 St. Louis Hawks 0-2
2 1955 Syracuse Nationals 0-2
2 1954 Minneapolis Lakers 0-2
1 2004 Detroit Pistons 0-1
1 1998 Chicago Bulls 0-1
1 1991 Chicago Bulls 0-1
1 1987 Los Angeles Lakers 0-1
1 1986 Boston Celtics 0-1
1 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 0-1
1 1984 Boston Celtics 0-1
1 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 0-1
1 1975 Golden State Warriors 0-1
1 1959 Boston Celtics 0-1
1 1958 St. Louis Hawks 0-1
1 1956 Philadelphia Warriors 0-1
1 1955 Syracuse Nationals 0-1
1 1954 Minneapolis Lakers 0-1
1 1948 Baltimore Bullets 0-1

The Cavaliers transformed themselves by trading for Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.

Whether or not they win the title, it’s already been a heck of a turnaround.

As expected, Khris Middleton to decline his $13 million option with Bucks

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Khris Middleton doesn’t want to leave Milwaukee, but the man does want to get paid.

Which has led to the expected: The All-Star forward is opting out of the $13 million his is owed next season and will negotiate a new contract with the Bucks, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Milwaukee Bucks All-Star forward Khris Middleton is declining his $13 million player option and will become an unrestricted free agent, his agent told ESPN on Wednesday…

Middleton and the Bucks are planning to work together toward a new long-term deal, league sources said. Middleton is expected to command a max contract with Milwaukee or elsewhere. He is eligible to sign a five-year, $190 million deal to stay with the Bucks, or a four-year, $141 million contract with another team.

Middleton is the Bucks’ top priority in a free-agent class that includes Malcolm Brogdon, Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic.

The Bucks want to keep the band together, they like the group they have around Giannis Antetokounmpo. Middleton was the second best player on a team that won 60 games and made it to the conference finals before falling to the eventual champion Raptors. This team is a contender and, while it will take them into the luxury tax, ownership wants to bring most of the roster back (Mirotic may be the odd man out).

Middleton averaged 18.3 points and 6 rebounds a game, shot 37.8 percent from three, and had a true shooting percentage of 55.8. He also plays good defense. He’s the ultimate glue guy who can do everything well, which is why a lot of teams will make calls and try to lure him out of Milwaukee this summer.

The Bucks are expected to offer the fifth year (Middleton will be 28 at the start of next season, so not a huge risk) and the max or very close to it. Middleton is expected to take it. But the Bucks need to move Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova to make all the pieces fit, something they are trying to do.

Milwaukee is close to a title, it will be interesting to see what moves GM Jon Horst makes this summer to try and put them over the top. Keeping Middleton is a no-brainer at the heart of that plan. The Bucks will pay up.

Utah get its point guard: Grizzlies reportedly trade Mike Conley Jr. to Jazz

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This deal had been rumored for a while, it’s something the Jazz really wanted to happen to put another high-level shot creator and shooter next to Donovan Mitchell. They got their man.

Mike Conley Jr. is going to be a member of the Utah Jazz.

Memphis reportedly is trading Conley to Utah for a package that includes Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, the 23rd pick in Thursday’s Draft and a future first-round pick. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the story, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN fleshed out the details.

Conley averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three and plays strong defense. Conley is maybe the most underrated player in the NBA, a borderline All-Star level point guard (he should have made it one year) and for Utah a healthy upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the point.

With the gate to winning the West having swung open, the Jazz believe they are ready to walk through it — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert, and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. Yet for two playoffs in a row, when Utah got bounced by Houston (4-1 in the first round this year), it was painfully clear what has kept the team from being truly elite: Another shot creator and shooter. Utah can run all the flex cuts, X cuts, Iverson cuts and everything else in its beautiful offense, but come the playoffs there is a point where a team just needs players who can just go get a bucket. Mitchell could do that, but the best teams can blanket one guy and take him away. The Jazz now have two, and a guy that fits the system.

It is expensive, however. Conley makes $32.5 million this season and has a player option he’s expected to pick up for next season at $34.5 million. This takes the Jazz out of the running in free agency. However, the Jazz have never faired all that well in free agency and this was a sure thing. Conley is expensive, but with only two years left on his contract a lot of teams (Indiana is at the front of that list) wanted to land him. Utah did.

The Grizzlies get building blocks for their rebuild with the picks and Grayson Allen. This is a team being built around Jaren Jackson Jr. and to-be-drafted Thursday Ja Morant, these other players will need to fit with them. The grit n’ grind era has been over for a while, this is just the final nail in the coffin. The Grizzlies face different challenges now.

Don’t be surprised to see Kover and Crowder are cut loose or traded to playoff teams looking for more help.

Report: Rockets want to target Jimmy Butler. Reality: Getting that cap space will be hard

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Rockets GM Daryl Morey is always thinking big. He deserves credit for that.

For the last couple of years, the Rockets have been the second best team in the West, and with the injuries (and maybe free agency) hitting the Warriors it should be Houston at the front of the line. However, Morey doesn’t want to stand pat, he wants to add another star to the roster that can put them over the top.

Such as Jimmy Butler, reports Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle.

Butler would be a good fit, although he would be another big ego in that locker room. Have fun with managing all that with a lame duck coach in Mike D’Antoni (he has yet to sign an extension to stay).

Reality, however, is going to make landing Butler tough to pull off.

The first challenge is Butler himself. Sources have told me the Sixers plan on keeping him and offering him a five-year max contract for $191 million. He’s expected to sign it. Butler will turn 30 before next season, plays a hard-charging style, and has started to rack up an injury history because of it. That guaranteed fifth season may matter a lot to him.

Next, even if Butler were willing to leave Philly and go to Houston (over, say, the Lakers, who have an interest and are trying to clear out cap space), there is still the issue of the salary cap. The Rockets are way over it. Chris Paul will make $38.5 million next season, James Harden $37.8 million, Clint Capela $16.4 and Eric Gordon $14.1. That’s $106.8 million in four players. The NBA salary cap is projected to be $109 million. Throw in P.J. Tucker and the 10 other players the need to have on the roster, cap holds and the like, and you can see the lack of cap space to sign a free agent.

Morey is reportedly willing to trade anyone on the roster not named Harden — although he and others in the organization have pushed back on the idea CP3 asked for a trade — but to do that to clear cap space means making the trade and not taking back salary that bleeds into the new season. Salaries have to be matched in a trade with teams over the cap, so the Rockets would need to convince a team with cap space to trade for Capela or Gordon and just send draft picks and non-guaranteed players back. That’s a really small market. If you’re thinking sign-and-trade, the new CBA took away the incentive of extra money for players that do it, so it just comes down to teams and the Sixers are not going to help him leave.

Expect the Rockets to make moves to shake up the roster this summer. Butler may be the ultimate dream, but getting there makes it nearly impossible to pull off.

2019 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Is Jarrett Culver’s upside worth being a top five pick?

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Over the course of the next two weeks, as the 2019 NBA Draft draws closer and closer, we at Pro Basketball Talk will be taking deep dives into some of the best and most intriguing prospects that will be making their way to the NBA.

Today, we are looking at Jarrett Culver.

Previous draft profiles:

Jarrett Culver is the second member of Chris Beard’s first real recruiting class at Texas Tech to go from totally under-the-radar to a guaranteed first round pick.

It started last year with Zhaire Smith, a sensational athlete and developing shooter that found his way into Tech’s starting lineup before eventually finding his way into being the No. 16 pick in the first round of last year’s draft. Most expected that Culver, who averaged 11.2 points and just 1.8 assists while shooting 38.2 percent from three, to soak up the role that Smith played for the Red Raiders, but that isn’t what happened.

Instead, Culver became what Keenan Evans — the 2018 Big 12 Player of the Year turned two-way player for the Detroit Pistons — was for the Red Raiders. He didn’t just become a better scorer and a talented wing prospect, he became their point guard.

And that is where the intrigue lies for Culver when it comes to his potential at the next level.

He has the size you want out of an off-guard and, at 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, is big enough to be able to guard small forwards in the NBA, but he doesn’t have the game of a typical 3-and-D player. As a sophomore, he averaged a team-high 3.7 assists for Texas Tech, but he wasn’t exactly what you would call a point guard. In fact, he was often essentially playing the four, with a trio of smaller guards on the floor around him. What Beard did was build an offense that was heavy with motion principles early in a possession, but as the shot clock wound down, the ball would end up in Culver’s hands, where he would be put into an isolation or a ball-screen action and allowed to create.

That is what he does best.

Shot creation.

Culver is excellent in triple-threat situations. His ability to shoot off the dribble consistently improved throughout his college career, and he’s generally at his best when he is allowed to get into a rhythm jumper off the bounce. He needs to quicken up his release in the NBA, but he has some wiggle room given the way that he gets his shot off. He’s not the most explosive athlete, but he can dunk on defenders when he gets a lane to the basket and his long strides and improving frame allowed him to be able to get to where he wanted to get to in the lane despite the fact that his first step is not all that quick.

But where Culver improved the most during the offseason was with his ability to operate ball-screens. He obsessively studied tape during the summer to learn the proper reads and proper passes to make when running a ball-screen, and the improvement showed. He forced teams to have to stop going under the screen against him because of his ability to step-back and make off-the-dribble threes. He can throw one-handed, live-dribble passes to shooters in either corner. He turned Tariq Owens into a serious threat on the offensive end of the floor with his ability to hit him on lobs while also knowing how to create the space and passing lane for a dump-off.

He’s grown into being a high-level, well-rounded offensive weapon, and there is quite a bit of value in a player that can be a secondary shot-creator without having to play as a point or off-guard.

Now, there are some limitations as well.

Culver has averaged more than four threes per game in his two-year career, and he’s shooting just 34.1 percent from beyond the arc. He’s better as an off-the-dribble shooter, which actually is not exactly ideal for a player that is going to be spending quite a few possessions playing off the ball. He’s added some muscle since last season — and a growth spurt in the last year makes it seem possible that his body is not done developing — but he is still pretty slender and is not great at dealing with physicality on either end of the floor. There are some real concerns offensively about how he will handle the athleticism NBA defenders have, and the 5-for-22 shooting performance he put together in the national title game against De'Andre Hunter doesn’t assuage those concerns.

There are also some question marks about his defense. Personally, I think he’ll be fine. He’s never going to be a total lockdown defender, but I don’t think that he will be a liability. He’s not going to be the guy opposing coaches target. He has spent the last two years playing within one of the best defensive systems in college basketball, but one that is built on exceptional game-planning and coaching as much as raw talent. So while it may have left Culver somewhat over-hyped on the defensive end, to me it is also proof that he can execute a game-plan and do a job on that end.

Put it all together, and what you have is a guy that can do a lot of things really well. You have a guy whose combination of skills should allow him to be a valuable piece in an NBA rotation. What you don’t have is a player that is likely to end up being an NBA superstar. These comparisons aren’t perfect — they never are — but I think he’s going to end up being somewhere between Caris LeVert pre-injury and Evan Turner.

He’s a safe-bet to be a rock-solid starter in the NBA, potentially as early as this season.

But I’m not sure just how much upside he has.