Associated Press

As NBA playoffs approach, are Cavaliers showing cracks? Serious ones?

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The on-court issues have been obvious for weeks. The Cavaliers’ problems now extend to their locker room.

The champions are showing cracks – and weakness.

Instead of celebrating a 135-130 double-overtime win over an Indiana team fighting for a playoff spot on Sunday, the Cavs were in damage control.

LeBron James apologized to Tristan Thompson, who was still fuming after a screaming match during a timeout with his world-famous teammate. Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith both made quick exits before speaking with reporters, and coach Tyronn Lue did everything he could to re-direct pointed fingers at him.

“My fault,” Lue said. “Blame it on me.”

Unless the Cavs get it together in the next few weeks, Lue may have to accept greater culpability. Cleveland’s postseason run could be shorter than anyone expected.

As James iced his ankles and knees after battling Paul George for 52 draining minutes before putting away the Pacers, Thompson was having trouble cooling off. The hard-working power forward briefly spoke with a team media relations member and general manager David Griffin before addressing a small group of reporters while James was speaking to the larger media group surrounding him in his corner locker.

Thompson’s answers were curt, programmed.

“We’re family,” he said. “Move forward.”

Thompson was more animated during the second OT, when he and James screamed at each other after some defensive breakdowns allowed George to get free for a pair of 3-pointers. While Cleveland’s crowd stood and roared during a timeout, Thompson and James squared off and yelled at each other, awkwardly forcing Lue and their teammates to play peacemakers.

Truth be told, the Cavs’ defense has been a major issue all season. They struggle to stop simple pick and rolls; they lack a rim-protecting big man (a role Andrew Bogut was going to fill before breaking his leg); they have been disjointed for months because of injuries; and they’ve lacked focus at both ends of the floor, relying on 3-pointers to overcome defensive deficiencies.

James, who was guarding George, seemed to expect that Thompson was going to switch on screens. He didn’t and George made the Cavs pay, scoring 19 consecutive points during one stretch of the overtime sessions.

The three-time champion expressed remorse from showing up Thompson, saying he could have handled the situation with his younger better. There have been many times when James is speaking with reporters when Thompson will yell goodbye before leaving the locker room. There was none of that love Sunday, with the postgame vibe subdued and strange.

Just last week, James insisted the team’s recent slide – a 7-10 record in March – had not affected camaraderie.

Well, there may be some exposed nerves now.

Another glaring deficiency in Sunday’s win was the Cavs’ inability to execute inbounds plays in crucial situations. Twice, Kevin Love attempted to pass to James and both times George was able to get deflections.

James blamed the poor execution on a lack of practice. The Cavs played 12 road games in March, making it difficult for Lue to schedule workouts while making rest for his players a priority.

“We haven’t practiced anything, especially late-game situations,” James said. “I can’t remember the last time we had a late-game situation.”

There’s certain to be some big ones ahead, maybe as early as Wednesday, when the Cavs visit the Boston Celtics, who have overtaken Cleveland and currently lead the Eastern Conference.

James, who is trying to reach the NBA Finals for the seventh straight time, has seen it all during nearly 14 pro seasons. He’s had disagreements with teammates before, which is why he did all he could to diffuse tension afterward.

“I apologized,” he said. “It’s cool.”

James knows this isn’t the time for a family feud. The Cavs need to be united before setting off what promises to be a much tougher road through the East, where teams like the Celtics, Washington Wizards and even the Chicago Bulls, who went 4-0 against the Cavs this season, don’t fear James and Co.

That’s for the future. Right now, with six games left in the regular season, the Cavs need to worry about themselves.

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

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.