Getty Images

Kyrie Irving returns, Cavaliers rock lowly 76ers 108-86

Leave a comment

CLEVELAND (AP) — As Kyrie Irving dressed following his first game in six months, LeBron James popped on some music.

With Chris Brown’s “Picture Me Rollin”‘ filling the locker room, Irving, James and Iman Shumpert bobbed their heads in unison and did some small dance moves.

Close to full strength, the Cavaliers are grooving again.

Irving scored 12 points and played 17 minutes in his season debut and James had 23, leading Cleveland to a 108-86 victory Sunday over the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, who lost their 10th straight and fell to 1-28.

Back on the floor for the first time since breaking his left kneecap in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Irving showed some rust but that didn’t matter.

“Kind of been a long, long road, but finally getting out there with my teammates was a pleasure,” Irving said.

The Cavs managed to open the season 17-7 without Irving. But Cleveland is more complete with the All-Star point guard running its offense and being a headache for opposing defenses. Now that Irving’s back, the Cavs are as healthy as they’ve been since early in the playoffs last season.

“We’re almost there,” James said.

Matthew Dellavedova made four 3-pointers and added 20 points for the Cavs, who improved to 12-1 at home and are eyeing a Christmas Day game against Golden State. James didn’t play in the fourth quarter, logging a season-low 25 minutes.

Nerlens Noel had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the brutal Sixers, now 0-17 on the road and on their second double-digit losing streak.

The losing is taking its toll.

“Everybody’s human,” Noel said. “Everybody has their own frustrations, but you stay positive and do your best to keep working through it.”

Irving received a warm ovation from the crowd during pregame introductions. He waved in appreciation and was cheered again as he dribbled up the floor for the first time, a sight Cleveland fans have been waiting months to see.

The Cavs ran a set play for him on their first possession, but Irving missed the layup.

“I didn’t know I was going to be that open at the rim,” Irving said before James reminded him of his gaffe.

“He tanked the layup!” James shouted.

Irving smiled at the playful ribbing.

“As you can hear, I did trick the first layup but it’s OK, I’m not worried,” he said. “It feels good, just getting this one out of the way.”

Irving missed his first five shots before scoring on an uncontested layup after James made a steal near mid-court and fed his teammate. Following the assist, James walked over to Irving patted him on the head and said, “Welcome back.”

“I was on my way to the rim and I saw Ky,” James said. “He had missed his first couple shots and I was like the best way to come back is to get a layup, get an easy one and it was only right I was able to find him, welcoming him back the best way I know how.”

The Cavs plan to ease Irving into the rotation, building up his stamina before extending his minutes. After he was taken out in the first quarter, Irving rode a stationary bike to stay loose.

Irving scored just two points in the first half, but had seven in the third quarter when he showed a couple moves that have made him one of the league’s premier backcourt players. He made a signature crossover dribble and scored on a twisting layup before dropping a 3-pointer to give the Cavs a 62-40 lead.

 

TIP-INS

76ers: Brown coached Irving’s father, Drederick, in Australia and has known the 23-year-old since “he was two days old.” Brown unsuccessfully tried to recruit Irving for the Australian national team. … Newly hired associate coach Mike D’Antoni will join the team on Philly’s upcoming trip that starts Dec. 26 in Phoenix.

Cavaliers: The crowd roared when Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel’s touchdown pass against Seattle was shown on the arena scoreboard. Fans gathered around TVs at halftime to catch up on the action. … G Mo Williams missed his second straight game with a sprained right thumb. … G Iman Shumpert returned after sitting out one game with a strained groin. He had three points in 15 minutes.

 

Evan Fournier says that Frank Ntilikina just ‘needs a real opportunity’

Getty
Leave a comment

New York Knicks fans haven’t had a lot to cheer for recently. The team traded away Kristaps Porzingis, who is thought to be the franchise cornerstone. Now they move forward with a young core, RJ Barrett, and tons of cap space.

So what does that mean for players who have been around in the Big Apple like Frank Ntilikina?

Based on how Ntilikina played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for France this year, things might be looking up.

Ntilikina’s statistics weren’t eye-popping, but he was seen as a very solid player in a backcourt that helped propel France to the bronze medal in China.

To that end, fellow countrymen Evan Fournier thinks that all Ntilikina needs is a chance to shine.

Via Twitter:

Ntilikina’s season last year was marred by injuries, and he played in just 43 games. Still, he has the physical tools to be a useful NBA player, and he’s just 21 years old. With the surprisingly low-pressure situation in New York, it’s possible that extended time playing in the World Cup could help aid what Ntilikina is able to produce next season for the Knicks.

Report: Lakers receive DeMarcus Cousins disabled-player exception

Stacy Revere/BIG3 via Getty Images
1 Comment

A chance at a championship. LeBron James. Anthony Davis. The Los Angeles market. Great weather.

The Lakers can offer plenty to anyone who gets bought out this season.

Now, the Lakers – who lost DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL – get a mechanism to offer post-buyout players more money.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The exception holds little value presently. It’s worth less than a full-season minimum salary for anyone with more than four years experience.

But minimum-salary and mid-level exceptions decline throughout the season. This exception does not.

So, on March 1, a team with only a minimum slot available can offer a free agent just between $233,459 and $666,546 (depending on the player’s experience level). The Lakers can offer $1.75 million.

This means an NBA-appointed doctor ruled Cousins is “substantially more likely than not” to be out through June 15. Given that prognosis, the Lakers could open a roster spot by waiving Cousins, who’s on a one-year deal and facing a domestic-violence charge. They’d still keep the exception.

If Cousins can return more quickly than expected, he’d be eligible to play, whether or not the Lakers use the exception.

Damian Lillard says he plans to play for Team USA in 2020 Olympics

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
2 Comments

Stephen Curry said he wants to play for Team USA in the 2020 Olympics.

He isn’t the only star point guard eager for Tokyo.

Damian Lillard, via James McKern of news.com.au:

“I plan on being a part of that. I plan on playing,” Lillard said

Though neither Curry nor Lillard played for Team USA in this year’s World Cup, there’s a potentially large difference: Curry never agreed to play. Lillard did then withdrew. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo indicated particular scorn for players who decommitted.

Of course, Colangelo also wants to win. That might require swallowing his pride and accepting players who withdrew this year. He has talked tough in the past about players who didn’t show his desired devotion to USA Basketball. Lillard got cut in 2014 then missed the 2016 Olympics citing injury. It can be difficult to determine which absences Colangelo forgives.

One factor working against Lillard: The Americans’ point guard pool is deep. Curry rates higher. Kemba Walker earned respect by playing in the World Cup. James Harden (who also withdrew from the World Cup) and Kyrie Irving also factor.

I expect Colangelo to operate on a sliding scale: The better the player, the less prior commitment to USA Basketball necessary. Lillard is an excellent player. We’ll see how far that gets him.

And whether he’ll even want to play next year. The reasons for playing – pride of representing your country, prestige marketing opportunities – are more obvious now. The reasons not to play – injury, fatigue, personal commitments – are more likely to emerge closer to the Games.

Losing Kemba Walker would always sting. Hornets made it nearly as painful as possible

Lance King/Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hornets faced a miserable choice this summer:

  • Lose not only their by far best player, but the greatest player in franchise and someone with a deep connection to the community
  • Sign a point guard to an expensive contract that will further inhibit an already-strapped team from competing at even a moderate level

Charlotte’s choice? Both.

The Hornets let Kemba Walker leave via free agency and replaced him with Terry Rozier (three years, $56.7 million). That’s a failure, not one of solely this offseason, but a failure nonetheless.

At 29, Walker would’ve likely become a negative value on a long-term deal. But at least he would’ve kept Charlotte more firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff race in the near term – not that on the fringes of that competition is a great place to be. There were reasonable arguments for and against keeping Walker.

But if the Hornets were willing to offer him only $160 million (about $62 million less than his super max), they should have traded him before it got this far. Why did they keep him past last season’s trade deadline? To have him represent Charlotte in the All-Star game there? To make a longshot run at the No. 8 seed? Without knowing exactly what other teams offered, that seems highly likely a mistake.

The Hornets weren’t good enough to make the playoffs with Walker. What makes them think they’ll be good enough with Rozier?

Losing Walker always would’ve invited a year of pain. Charlotte is too capped out, too veteran-laden to pivot in a meaningful way. But at least Bismack Biyombo‘s, Marvin Williams‘ and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s contracts will expire next summer. Nicolas Batum‘s and Cody Zeller‘s will expire the following year.

Now, Rozier is on the books another year after that.

Maybe Rozier, 25, will become a key part of the Hornets’ next successful era. He has the requisite athleticism and has shown flashes of being a good starting point guard. But he’s coming off a down year. That counts, too.

It’s easy to pin Rozier’s struggles on a tough situation behind Kyrie Irving. That surely factored. Still, most players on a starting track would’ve fared better in those circumstances.

Credit Charlotte for creativity. By signing-and-trading Walker to the Celtics for a signed-and-traded Rozier, the Hornets got more spending power. But they probably would’ve been better off with a point guard in the mid-level-exception range like Tomas Satoransky, Delon Wright or Tyus Jones. It’ll take a major jump for Rozier to justify his near-$19 million-per-year salary.

Charlotte isn’t giving him much help. Jeremy Lamb left in free agency. Even though they have enough breathing room under the tax line to use the rest, the Hornets haven’t used their mid-level exception other than sliver for No. 36 pick Cody Martin.

Internal prospects look limited. Charlotte didn’t place anyone on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years. No. 12 pick P.J. Washington probably won’t change the franchise’s arc.

The Hornets didn’t reach this dismal point in one offseason. But this summer worsened the predicament.

Offseason grade: D-