LeBron on Cavaliers’ off-season: “It’s been good so far, but we have a lot of work to do”

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LeBron James used his free agency to leverage the Cleveland Cavaliers management to improve the team this off-season. Whether he needed to put on that show or not (he didn’t), owner Dan Gilbert is going to break out the checkbook. The Cavaliers will have the highest payroll in the land next season — 0ne that includes a hefty luxury tax bill that will push the Cavs’ up to $200 million or so spent on players.

So what does LeBron think of the efforts to re-sign Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert (and himself), plus get Mo Williams?

It’s a good start, but he wants to see more, he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN at an Akron premiere of his movie “Trainwreck.”

“It’s been good so far, but we have a lot of work to do,” said James, who co-stars in the movie, when asked about the Cavs’ offseason. “We still got to re-sign Tristan [Thompson]. Hopefully we can bring back J.R. [Smith] as well and see if there’s some other free agents out there that’d love to come here and play if we’re able to do that.

“We definitely don’t want to come back the same team. We want to come back better. But right now, we’ve been doing so far, so good.”

The Tristan Thompson deal will likely get done. Eventually. There’s a gap between the two sides — Thompson reportedly wants Draymond Green level money (five years, $85 million), while the Cavaliers realize he isn’t worth that much. Thompson and LeBron share an agent, so LeBron can lean on the Cavs to get a deal done, while Thompson has to know there are few teams left with the cap space to make him an offer sheet in the ballpark he wants. The sides will figure it out.

J.R. Smith could be a different story. The Cavaliers have a great trade chip in the expiring $10.5 million contract of Brendan Haywood, and they are shopping it around looking for wing depth. If they find a deal for a player less erratic than Smith, then they may not be as eager to re-sign him. At least at a price that Smith would like.

The biggest advantage the Cavaliers have going into next season is continuity — a second year with the core playing together, a second year working with coach David Blatt. The second half of last season the Cavaliers started to figure it out, they were an offensive juggernaut, and they might have won it all if not for playoff injuries to Love and Kyrie Irving. Next season they will be better just for having had those experiences and time together.

But the roster will be deeper, too. LeBron should be happy.

Watch Jerry West’s emotional memories of trading for/his relationship with Kobe Bryant

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Jerry West has never understood why people thought he was brilliant for recognizing the talent of a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant coming out of high school. To him it was obvious.

If it had been obvious (and if that era had not frowned on the development that came with drafting high school players), Kobe wouldn’t have been a Laker, and NBA history might be very different.

For West, Kobe was not just another player, he was like a son. West talked about it on the well done TNT special commemorating Kobe Tuesday night.

What those neatly packaged TNT clip does not show is just how difficult and emotional it was for West to talk about Kobe.

West has had a life of incredible highs, but also more lows and pain than many — abused by his father and battling depression his entire life — and this is another emotional tax on the NBA legend.

Joel Embiid returns to Philadelphia rotation after nine-game absence

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When you saw the image of Joel Embiid‘s dislocated ring finger facing a direction no finger should face, you knew he was going to miss some time (even though he had it taped up and returned to that game). Embiid had surgery to repair a torn radial collateral ligament on the ring finger of his left hand. Ultimately he missed nine games while he recovered.

Tuesday night against the Warriors, Embiid will be back.

He will have a soft wrap on his left hand that has been cleared by the league.

Philadelphia went 6-3 while Embiid was out.

Ben Simmons stepped up — in his last five games (before Tuesday) he averaged 24 points a game on 70.6 percent shooting, plus 10 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game. Without Embiid in the paint or taking up touches, Simmons took over the offense and looked much more comfortable in his role.

However, the Sixers’ offensive rating in those nine Embiid-less games was 104.9, 29th in the NBA (even in the last five it was 103.2, still 29th in the league). Simmons may have been playing better but the offense was not.

When Simmons and Embiid share the court this season, their offensive rating is 106.7 — not great, but better than without Embiid playing.

Victor Oladipo returns to Pacers Wednesday, likely off bench with minutes limit

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Indiana has gone 30-17 this season and sits as the five seed in the Eastern Conference — and Wednesday they get their best player back.

Victor Oladipo — the former Most Improved Player and All-NBA team member who has been out for most of a year with a right quad tendon rupture — practiced with the Pacers on Tuesday and, as expected, will make his return to the court Wednesday night against the Bulls.

Coach Nate McMillan would not say how he planned to use Oladipo but, considering the minutes limit, off the bench seems the most likely move. McMillan said the team would revisit the minutes and role after the All-Star break.

While Milwaukee has separated itself atop the East, the next five teams — Miami, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Indiana — are all within 2.5 games of each other and could end up in any order. If Oladipo can return close to the All-NBA form he was in prior to his injury, the Pacers become a big threat to break out of that group. If nothing else, they become a much tougher out in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Wizards (shoulder)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is on track to repeat as Most Valuable Player.

So, any game he misses is notable.

Bucks:

Expect to see more Ersan Ilyasova and D.J. Wilson. With the trade deadline approaching, this could even be a showcase game for Wilson.

Milwaukee is still favored over the Wizards. The Bucks have outscored opponents by 7.8 points per possession without Antetokounmpo this season. They’re deep.

Of course, anything can happen. It’s only one game in a long NBA regular season.

Which might something to do with Antetokounmpo sitting. Even if he plays in Milwaukee’s next game, vs. the Nuggets on Friday, he’ll get six straight days off. That’s a nice break.