Kyle Korver
Associated Press

Three things we learned on Thursday: Cavaliers land Korver, here’s how he makes them better

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The biggest news in the NBA Thursday was off the court. Which on a night when Harden and Westbrook faced off is saying something. Time to break it all down.

1) Kyle Korver is headed to Cleveland, upping the arms race with Golden State. We’ve seen this in other sports — the 49ers and Cowboys back in the day, the Yankees and Red Sox more recently. Teams making moves that are mostly about one rival. In the NBA we saw it clearly in the 1980s — the Lakers and Celtics would make roster additions (Bill Walton, Mychal Thompson, etc.) aimed at the other and NBA Finals matchups. Sure, those guys helped against the Chicago’s and Houston’s and whoever else, but the move was mostly thinking ahead to the NBA’s biggest stage.

That’s what Cleveland landing Kyle Korver in a trade from the Hawks was. Cleveland only gave up the lightly-used Mike Dunleavy, a 2019 first-round pick (that very likely is in the mid to high 20s), and maybe a dead-weight contract like Mo Williams. That’s a steal. And make no mistake, that was aimed right at the heart of the Warriors. Korver is an upgrade for the Cavaliers, and let’s break down what he brings to the team that is already the defending champs.

• More three point shooting. The Cavaliers are already second in the NBA in three-pointers made per game and three-point shooting percentage as a team. That said, you can never have too much shooting — and of late the Cavs have needed it. With J.R. Smith out until sometime after the All-Star break (thumb surgery) and Kyrie Irving injured the last few games, the depth on the wing has been exposed. Korver helps solve that problem in the short-term and gives the team more versatility and matchup options come the playoffs.

• Korver is an upgrade over J.R. Smith. The Cavaliers are going to be without Smith until after the All-Star break (and maybe into March) following surgery on his thumb. Enter Korver, who can bring the catch-and-shoot that Smith has become deadly at, plus Korver brings other skills to the table: Few are better using screens than he. Korver is an underrated passer. Close out too fast on him and Kover will put the ball on the floor and get into the lane (where he has a surprisingly good floater). He’s going to fit in beautifully, and even Korver acknowledged it.

• Korver has slowed a little the last couple of seasons, but he’s still very dangerous. The combination of some knee/ankle injuries and the fact he is 35 have slowed Korver a little the past couple seasons. It’s particularly noticeable on the defensive end — Korver is not quite the player he was just a couple of seasons ago. That said, he’s still solid team defender, still shooting 40 percent from three overall, still a very high IQ player, and is still a significant talent upgrade.

• Korver’s already impressive shooting numbers are going to go up. We have seen this with Kevin Durant this season: An already amazing shooter goes to a team with more weapons, he gets better looks, and his shooting efficiency improves. Korver is going to feel the same thing as he slides to open spaces on the arc while Kyrie Irving and LeBron James drive the lane. Korver already is shooting 60.8 percent eFG% on catch-and-shoots this season, that number will improve. Also, he has it hit 49 percent of his uncontested threes this season — he’s going to see a lot more of those looks.

• I see your small-ball “death lineup” and call. If he wants in the NBA Finals — and let’s be honest, that’s what we’re talking about with this move, a Warriors/Cavs rematch — Tyronn Lue can roll out a lineup of Kyrie Irving, Kyle Korver, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Channing Frye. When they run a pick-and-roll with that group, Golden State can try to switch, but LeBron’s a matchup nightmare who can drive/post up somebody, and who you going to leave to help out? I don’t know if that lineup defends as well as the Warriors death lineup — that’s the advantage of Draymond Green — but it will be interesting.

• Cavaliers GM David Griffin deserves some credit. He’s been amazing at securing pieces to go around his big three core the past couple years. Other teams had called about Korver, he came through with the first round pick the Hawks wanted and got the deal done.

• Is Korver a rental for Cleveland? Does it matter? They didn’t give up much, and this was a move about a ring this season. He’s a free agent this summer. But the question of Korver’s future in Cleveland is going to have to wait until July, because they need to see how he helps them in June before making a decision.

2) Korver is just the first domino to fall in Atlanta. Coach/GM Mike Budenholzer has clearly realized that with Al Horford bolting this summer his Hawks are a third-tier team in the East at best — they may have won five in a row right now, but they certainly don’t match up with Cleveland (before the trade) and weren’t going to beat Toronto or Boston either in the playoffs. Horford already scarred this team when he left last summer, and they decided not to get burned in free agency again.

Korver is gone. Thabo Sefolosha will be gone. But the big one — the All-Star player bringing real returns — is Paul Millsap and all reports are now out of Atlanta that he will be on the move as well. It’s going to take a big package to get him, and the Hawks can play different teams off each other — just some of the teams mentioned are Sacramento, Philadelphia, Denver, Portland, New Orleans, but the big gun is Toronto — and get a quality package in return. But those dominos are going to start to fall.

Enjoying that homecoming, Dwight Howard?

3) Russell Westbrook and James Harden put on a show. Oklahoma City tried their best to take James Harden away — he was 6-of-16 shooting, although he did get to the line enough for 26 points — but the key to the Rockets win is that Harden has some real help and trusts those guys. You saw it on the final play: OKC is not going to let Harden beat them, Steven Adams doubled him, so Hard found Nene wide open, and he was fouled by Jerami Grant and Nene iced the game at the line.

(Was he fouled by Grant? Thunder fans will tell you no. Grant certainly got some ball, and I don’t see a lot of contact, but I’m curious what the Two-Minute Report will say, those guys have all the camera angles.)

The bottom line is this: Westbrook had 49, and he is all the OKC offense — you may not love all his pull-up three choices, but he hits those plenty (think Celtics game) and he’s their best option. Harden has more help 12 dimes and more help — Eric Gordon had 22, Nene 18, and the Rockets had five players not named Harden in double figures. The Rockets know how to play off each other and get shots — for example, notice that sometimes Gordon/Ryan Anderson/Trevor Ariza spot up about three feet (a full step) behind the arc, because they know Harden will find them and it makes the close-out by the defender harder. The Rockets have figured out how to make this all work.

But man, what a show. I would love this as a playoff matchup.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.

Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Doncic: Mavericks tap brakes on inevitable comparisons

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DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic didn’t get compared to Larry Bird when he was introduced a day after the Dallas Mavericks traded up to get the third overall pick in the NBA draft.

For president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, that’s progress based on his last experience of getting a tender-aged European in hopes of lifting the Mavericks out of the doldrums.

Twenty years later, Dirk Nowitzki is the highest-scoring foreign-born player in league history. Back then, the big German wasn’t remotely comparable to Larry Legend – and his rough first two years proved it.

So ask Nelson about a player the Mavericks clearly coveted heading into the draft in Doncic, and he’ll choose his words carefully regarding the 19-year-old from Slovenia. Doncic won’t turn 20 until after the All-Star break of his rookie season, which is expected to be Nowitzki’s record 21st with one franchise.

“Dirk and I had a long talk coming in,” Nelson said about the player Dallas drafted days after his 20th birthday in 1998.

“We’re obviously very excited to have (Doncic) but he’s got a very tough road ahead of him. Dirk wasn’t done any favors in his first two years. We are going to steer away from any of those comparisons. Luka is his own guy. He’s got his own challenges.”

Coach Rick Carlisle dropped a few international names in trying to describe the versatility Dallas thinks is offered by the 6-foot-7 Doncic, who won Euroleague MVP and Final Four MVP honors while helping Real Madrid win the title just days before the draft.

After offering comparisons to the late Drazen Petrovic, three-time champion Toni Kukoc and longtime San Antonio star Manu Ginobili, Carlisle stopped.

“I really feel it’s important that we shouldn’t try to compare this guy to anybody,” Carlisle said Friday during an introductory news conference that included Doncic and second-round pick Jalen Brunson, who won two NCAA titles in three years at Villanova. “Let him be himself. Let his game takes its own form.”

Doncic figures to shape the future of the Mavericks in some form with Dallas coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the second of Nowitzki’s two difficult years at the start of his career.

Those 1990s-era Mavericks had 10 straight losing seasons. Combine the drafting of Doncic with last year’s ninth overall pick in point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and a still-young leading scorer in Harrison Barnes, and Carlisle expects the losing to stop soon, if not this coming season.

“Last night was symbolic to me that it was kind of a defining moment in this rebuild,” said Carlisle, who had just one losing season as a coach before the current Dallas slide. “We’re going propel forward with the idea that we’ve got to start winning games.”

Just as he did last year with Smith, Carlisle is declaring Doncic a starter, which means the opening night lineup will have a teenager for the second straight year. Youth partly explains a two-year record of 57-107, including the 24-58 mark last season that landed Dallas the fifth pick before the draft-night trade with Atlanta on Thursday.

Another explanation was an unusually large number of undrafted players, including a young German in Maxi Kleber who grew up watching his countryman become the 2007 MVP and 2011 NBA Finals MVP.

The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series since taking their only title in 2011, and have missed the postseason three of the past six seasons coming off a 12-year playoff streak. Doncic might only get one chance to get Dallas back on track with Nowitzki, the 13-time All-Star who has hinted that 40 is a nice round number as a retirement age.

If this is it for Nowitzki, Nelson sees a trio in Barnes, Smith and Doncic that reminds him of Michael Finley mentoring Nowitzki and point guard Steve Nash and helping the Mavericks end a 10-year playoff drought in 2001.

“Michael Finley was our Harrison Barnes back in the day,” Nelson said. “We feel like we’ve got that here in a different form. There’s just some really cool elements to this that take me back and remind me about what it was like 20 years ago when we were watching these young guys.”

Just don’t remind Nelson about the Nowitzki-Bird comparisons.

 

Clippers’ Milos Teodosic opts into $6.3 million for next season

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It was a lot of fun to watch Milos Teodosic play last season…

When he was healthy. He only played in 45 games for the Clippers last season.

Teodosic will be back in the NBA next season, as he has told the Clippers he will opt into a $6.3 million next season, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Clippers can buy him out by July 15 for $2.1 million, and that likely will happen. The Clippers are deep at the point guard spot (Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jawun Evans) and with a lottery rookie in the fold they will want to get him run.

Expect the Clippers to try to trade him in the next three weeks. He would have value to a team looking for a backup point guard — when he did play he averaged 9.5 points per game, shot 37.9 percent from three. The fans will love his passing and play. The coach will like him too… when healthy.

Report: Suns to renounce rights to Alex Len, Elfrid Payton

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The Suns want to free up some cap space heading into July. They are not going big game hunting, but with $10 million to $15 million they could bring in some solid veterans to provide leadership to their young core — and win a few games along the way.

How they get there starts with not bringing back Alex Len or Elfrid Payton, reports Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic.

Expect them to renounce their rights to center Alex Len and point guard Elfrid Payton, making them both free agents. Ayton’s addition has made Len expendable, and while Phoenix still needs point-guard help, Payton’s inconsistent play last season and, more importantly, his $10 million cap hold figure, likely means he’s played his last game in a Suns uniform.

This was expected. In Len’s case, he was playing on a qualifying offer and didn’t anticipate being back with the team (especially after they drafted Deandre Ayton).

The Suns acquired Payton at the trade deadline for a second-round pick (which was just by Orlando to land Jarred Vanderbilt) and it was a good flier. The Suns need a point guard to go next to Devin Booker, Payton is a former lottery pick that had shown flashes in the past, so Phoenix rolled the dice on him. It didn’t work out, and the Suns can just move on.

Both Len and Payton probably find new homes in the NBA next season. Len is 7’1″ and can use that size to protect the paint, plus he can score around the rim. Teams can use that off the bench. Payton has shown enough in flashes, and he can get buckets, that some team will grab him, just probably as a reserve.