Report: LeBron James upset that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert not spending enough

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When I wrote that LeBron James – who has been sounding off about the Cavaliers’ roster – held frustrations with the Heat’s roster that contributed to him leaving Miami, I didn’t elaborate on all the circumstances. It wasn’t just that the Heat failed to build a supporting cast that satisfied LeBron. It was that they didn’t spend as much as LeBron desired.

But maybe there is no distinction between that situation and Cleveland’s.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Tension between LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ leadership is centered around payroll spending, multiple sources told ESPN.

James and team owner Dan Gilbert have different viewpoints on the issue and it has been straining the relationship, sources said.

When James was considering returning to the Cavs in 2014, James pressed Gilbert on if he’d be willing to spend unconditionally on talent regardless of the luxury tax cost, sources said. Over the course of several meetings with James and his representatives, Gilbert agreed and James subsequently signed with the team.

The Cavaliers have the NBA’s highest payroll. They’re on track to spend $154,616,543 – $127,519,873 in player salaries and $27,096,670 in luxury tax – this season. They also had the NBA’s highest payroll last year. In LeBron’s first season back, they ranked second in payroll and paid the luxury tax, no small feat considering they dipped far below the salary cap the prior offseason to sign him and the system is designed to limit a quick escalation of team salary.

By any reasonable standard, Gilbert is spending abundantly.

But LeBron is under no obligation to hold reasonable standards.

Many believed it was unreasonable for LeBron to play again for Gilbert, who attacked the superstar personally and with racist undertones in his infamous letter. If LeBron demanded limitless financial commitment from Gilbert to return, it was up to Gilbert to agree or not. And if Gilbert did, LeBron can hold him to that standard.

Even with Cleveland’s monstrous payroll, there’s room for more spending.

Despite LeBron’s repeated pleas for another point guard, the Cavs have held an open roster spot for weeks. There aren’t great options available – Norris Cole, Ray McCallum, Will Bynum, Kirk Hinrich, Kendall Marshall, Andre Miller – but it seems LeBron just wants someone who can eat up a few minutes per game. While Cleveland waits, Ronnie Price, Chasson Randle and Pierre Jackson have been taken off the market by 10-day contracts. The Cavaliers will probably eventually sign someone, but why the delay? They save about $20,000 in salary and luxury tax each day the roster spot goes unfilled.

Meanwhile, the Cavs continues to carry Chris Andersen, who’s on a one-year contract and out for the season. Waiving him would allow them to sign a second player who can help the team now – but would also mean double-dipping in cost, as they’d have to eat Andersen’s salary. It’s always possible they can trade him to another team that would pay him. The same went for Mo Williams, who filled a roster spot despite being de facto retired until Cleveland unloaded him in the Kyle Korver trade – another deal that saved money. Taking Williams was a burden on the Hawks, and if they didn’t have to do that, perhaps they would have accepted less-favorable protections on the draft pick they received.

The Cavaliers also have two trade exceptions worth more than $4 million each. Packaging one with a draft pick could land a helpful player, though such a trade would also add substantially to the Cavs’ luxury tax. It’s worth noting that, in the Korver trade, Cleveland essentially chose to have these two trade exceptions that would last into next season rather than a single trade exception that could add a much-pricier player but only this season.

So, I see why this would upset LeBron, who has little to no margin for error against the star-studded Warriors. With the Cavaliers’ lackluster depth, he’s playing an NBA-high 37.6 minutes per game – hardly ideal playoff preparation for the 32-year-old. Cleveland has also lost six of eight, exacerbating any problems.

But LeBron mistimed his complaints. If Gilbert is inclined to appease his franchise player, LeBron could have affected much more in the offseason. LeBron signed off on the Cavs not matching the Bucks’ offer sheet for Matthew Dellavedova, who is exactly the type of player – an effective backup point guard for the long haul of the regular season – Cleveland needs right now. If he really wanted to push Gilbert, LeBron could’ve demanded the Cavaliers beat the Lakers’ lucrative offer to Timofey Mozgov. Though Mozgov was an unrestricted free agent and left for a starting job, money and sentimentality probably could’ve kept him with the Cavs.

Mozgov would’ve been an incredible luxury (-tax burden) coming off the bench in Cleveland, but the cost wouldn’t have been LeBron’s problem. Failing to match on Dellavedova seems like a mistake given everything that has transpired. That LeBron lacked the foresight to demand Dellavedova be kept at the time matters only so much. LeBron holds the power, and nothing can stop him from citing the Dellavedova and Mozgov cases in a list of grievances when he becomes a free agent next year.

The best way for Gilbert to prevent that? Grit his teeth and spend as much as possible before then.

Report: Celtics “most likely” offer Jayson Tatum a max contract after season

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This should not be a surprise.

Jayson Tatum is a cornerstone of the Celtics now and going forward: 23.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game, an efficient 56.2 true shooting percentage, a shot creator, an athletic finisher at the rim, and a guy who shot 39.8 percent from three. Tatum was an All-Star in his third season and will draw third-team All-NBA votes (whenever those votes happen).

Tatum is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract after this season. Is he worth a full max contract? Yes, especially considering he is 22 and still improving by leaps each season.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on SportsCenter the Celtics are expected to offer Tatum the max (hat tip Bleacher Report).

“If Jayson Tatum is the superstar that they envisioned when they began this whole rebuilding process when they traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for all of those draft picks hoping to land a player like this, we could see ‘Glory Days’ for the Celtics again. But it’s very much up in the air, and I’m gonna tell ya, they’re gonna have to pay him like it because after this season ends, he is going to get most likely a max contract. They’re going to bet that he becomes that player.”

It’s fair to argue that max contracts should be reserved for true alphas, true No. 1s and maybe a few No. 2 players on a team, and that Tatum has yet to prove he is one of those. Boston would be betting he becomes that player — but right now that looks like a good bet. More importantly, last summer the Celtics locked up Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown on four-year contracts, sign Tatum and the Celtics have a core that will have them at or near the top of the East for years.

Exactly what a max contract will look like this coming off-season after the coronavirus hit to the league’s finances is another question, one nobody has an answer to right now. Under the old cap, it would have been $181 million over five years (and if he made All-NBA teams it could jump to $218 million), but those numbers don’t apply to the new reality. Even if Tatum signs the max offer this summer, he will make his $9.9 million next season then be paid whatever the max is for him starting in the 2021-22 season (and again, it’s impossible to say what the league’s finances will be at that point).

Pay the man his money.  Expect Boston to make the offer whenever the offseason arrives.

Zion Williamson’s attorneys work to avoid him answering questions about improper benefits at Duke

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MIAMI (AP) — Attorneys for NBA rookie Zion Williamson seek to block his former marketing agent’s effort to have the ex-Duke star answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils.

In a Florida court filing last week, Williamson’s attorneys say those questions are “nothing more than a fishing expedition aimed at tarnishing Williamson’s reputation” and designed to “maximize potential embarrassment and media coverage in an attempt to improperly gain settlement leverage.”

“Plaintiffs’ irrelevant and invasive requests are designed to harass and not calculated to lead to discovery of relevant evidence,” Friday’s filing states.

It is the latest exchange in the fight over the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick’s endorsement potential.

Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford filed her lawsuit last summer in Florida, accusing Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. Williamson filed his own lawsuit a week earlier in North Carolina to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.

Ford’s attorneys had submitted questions this month asking whether the New Orleans Pelicans rookie or anyone on his behalf sought or accepted “money, benefits, favors or things of value” to sign with Duke. Those filings – offering no evidence of wrongdoing by Williamson or his family – sought answers within 30 days to establish facts under oath in the pretrial discovery process.

Williamson’s attorneys seek a stay while appealing the December denial of their motion to dismiss the Florida case based on lack of jurisdiction, or a protective order as an alternative.

At the heart of the dueling lawsuits over Williamson’s marketing rights is this: Williamson says the contract he signed with Prime Sports is illegal under North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agent Act (UAAA) because Ford was not registered with North Carolina to negotiate with amateur athletes (which Zion was at the time, having just played for Duke). Ford and Prime dispute that, saying this was a legal and binding negotiation.

One key reason NBA may return with 22 teams: Players want regular-season games

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Nothing is set in stone about an NBA return — at least not until next Thursday — but momentum seems to be building behind a plan that would bring 22 teams to the Orlando bubble.

That plan brings every team within six games of the playoffs when the season was halted into the competition, a total of 22 teams (13 from the West and nine from the East, the playoff teams plus Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Washington). There would be some regular-season games played, likely five to eight, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff seeds, then the playoffs with full seven-game series each round. Exactly what that play-in tournament would look and if the NBA would stick with the conference playoff alignment or seed 1-16 is up in the air (although the conference alignment seems to have more backing).

Why that plan? For one, it gets more cities and more fan bases involved — and it happens to bring Zion Williamson and the Pelicans into the mix, a big television draw. It also could help a few teams reach a 70-game broadcast threshold with local broadcasters.

Mostly, however, the players want it because they get some games under them before the playoffs start, something Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported on at ESPN.

Regardless of how many teams are ultimately included in the playoffs, the National Basketball Players Association has consistently stressed that it wants several regular-season games to be played prior to the start of the playoffs, sources said. That has been a prevailing sentiment among several contending teams that prefer a tuneup before beginning the postseason, sources said.

A lot of players — influential players — have pushed for some regular season or meaningful games before the playoffs start. It’s about health, as trainers told us at NBC Sports, go from zero to 100 jumping straight into the playoffs and teams are asking for injuries. Players understand that.

Maybe only 20 teams end up in Orlando, that plan is on the table as well, but either way expect some regular-season games before the playoffs start. If the powerful players want it to happen, it will.

PBT Podcast: 2020 NBA Mock Draft crossover podcast, Part Deux

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We’re back at it… and not just drinking beer during a podcast. Although we do that, too.

For the third consecutive season, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk and I collaborated for a first-round mock draft. Rob knows the prospects better than anyone; I provide some knowledge about what the teams might be looking for. The result is a unique listening experience breaking down who will be picked where based on fit.

The first ten picks can be found over on the College Basketball Talk feed.

Here we finish off the lottery and run through the entire rest of the first round.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.