Cavaliers head into important summer with cloud over GM’s future

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Dethroned last week as NBA champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers are stepping into a summer already off to a strange start.

With the draft just days away, and major roster decisions – maybe even a blockbuster trade for Paul George – needing to be made, the Cavaliers aren’t certain who will be calling the shots going forward as they attempt to close the gap on the Golden State Warriors.

General manager David Griffin’s contract expires June 30, and it remains unclear if he will stay with the organization he guided to its first championship and three straight NBA Finals. Griffin has been Cleveland’s full-time GM for three years, promoted from vice president of basketball operations in May 2014 after serving on an interim basis for three months when Chris Grant was fired.

Under Griffin, and since LeBron James returned, the Cavaliers have enjoyed the best run in franchise history.

There’s no guarantee it will continue.

While owner Dan Gilbert values Griffin and his leadership, the billionaire businessman is hands-on with his basketball team and has shown a willingness to keep his line of executives moving. Griffin is the fourth GM to work for Gilbert since 2005.

Griffin and Gilbert met last week – after the Cavaliers were beaten in five games by the Warriors – to review the season and discuss their future together. And at this point, there is no indication their partnership will last.

During the playoffs, Griffin drew interest from other teams, but Atlanta, Orlando and Milwaukee have filled GM vacancies. Those jobs had presented other opportunities for Griffin, and now that they’re gone, he doesn’t have as much leverage in negotiations with Gilbert.

However, Griffin does have a strong resume, which includes the trade with Minnesota that brought Kevin Love to Cleveland in the summer of 2014. Griffin has also maneuvered around some restrictions – the Cavaliers currently are without a pick in this year’s draft – to re-shape Cleveland’s roster, which needs tweaking again after the Warriors exposed an aging bench in their third Finals matchup with the Cavs.

Adding to the uncertainty, Trent Redden, the club’s senior vice president and Griffin’s likely successor, also has a contract that expires at the end of the month.

There is urgency to get some clarity on Griffin’s situation as the Cavaliers could be a player in the sweepstakes for George, who told the Indiana Pacers on Sunday that he has no intention to re-sign with them after next season.

The four-time All-Star has become good friends with James. The two have battled back to James’ days in Miami, and he has been inspired by George’s comeback from a horrific leg injury in 2014 while playing for the U.S. national team.

“We’ve got a really good friendship. I’m going to leave it at that,” James said after a matchup against George in April.

The Pacers have reportedly reached out to the Cavaliers to gauge their interest in George. Cleveland doesn’t have many future assets to offer Indiana, but the Cavs might be willing to strike a deal for Love, the talented power forward coming off his best season with Cleveland. The 28-year-old has two years left on his contract, and the Pacers could view him as a cornerstone piece to rebuild on and run down the Cavs.

George has spoken in the past about a preference to play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, and it would be risky for the Cavaliers to acquire him without a promise he would sign beyond the 2018 season. Then again, a one-year rental may be intriguing to the Cavs if it would guarantee a fourth shot at the Warriors and a chance to even their rivalry.

Also, if James and George clicked, and it would be hard to imagine that not happening, they may stay in Cleveland. Like George, James has one year left on his contract, and at 32 his window for adding titles is shrinking. James has said he intends to end his career with Cleveland, but another loss in what would be his eighth straight Finals – and that he already owns a home in Los Angeles – could push him away.

But before any of those decisions are made, the Cavaliers must figure out who is making the next one.

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.