Reports: Dan Gilbert didn’t consult with LeBron before letting GM go, LeBron “disappointed”

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Let’s say you were the owner of a basketball team that happened to employ the best player on the planet, a hometown guy who brought your club its first title ever. This player is why the building sells out, why sponsors clamor — and pay big money — to be associated with your franchise, and why the value of said franchise has skyrocketed in two years.

Now let’s say you heard said player is not entirely happy and is considering leaving in a year to head West. Wouldn’t you — for your fans and your own financial self-interest — do everything you could to keep that player happy and wanting to stay with you? So, if you were going to make a major move that could impact the team, wouldn’t you at least consult with him?

Then you’re not Dan Gilbert of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Gilbert decided to let very successful Cleveland GM David Griffin go — he can say it was “mutual” or that there was just a difference of opinion, but we all know the code words — and did not consult LeBron James, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

Then LeBron James himself came to Griffin’s defense.

LeBron reportedly was “disappointed” and “concerned” with this decision — and he should be. Cavaliers fans should be as well. Griffin did as well as could be expected in the GM role: He traded for Kevin Love, he made low-cost moves that were smart (bringing in J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver, for example), he got Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson to re-sign, and in the end his teams won 65 percent of their games and went to three straight finals, winning one.

LeBron had backed Griffin publicly on multiple occasions, not just in this tweet. Maybe he didn’t go far enough lobbying for Griffin to Gilbert, but he may not have seen it coming because who fires their GM — who was working the phones trying to pull off a trade all Monday — just 11 days before the start of a crucial free agency period?

Griffin also was well-respected around the league for his ability to handle Gilbert, an owner thought of as one of the toughest to work for.

This could be a way for Gilbert to save money (Griffin made less than half of the going rate for an elite GM). But not spending to keep a title team relevant is the kind of thing that might make LeBron more likely to leave. Which is why you talk to him.

Maybe Gilbert is star struck. Chauncey Billups is who Gilbert is chasing to step into the big chair.

Billups is a smart man, but he has never worked in an NBA front office before and he’s being thrown into a very difficult spot: upgrade an older, capped-out roster so it can compete with the more athletic Warriors, and keep LeBron happy. He may have former Buck Assistant GM passed over for their head job Justin Zanik by his side, but that’s still a new front office trying to find it’s feet at a crucial time.

Griffin will only be unemployed as long as he wants to be, he’s highly respected around the league. Maybe he takes a year off and does television, maybe a team grabs him as a consultant, we shall see. But he will have options.

And whoever lands him will be getting an elite GM.

Ben Simmons targeting Friday vs. Hawks to return from calf strain

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Ben Simmons has missed the Nets’ last three games with knee pain tied to a left calf strain, and he will be out Wednesday, too, when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte.

However, he plans to return on Friday (Dec. 9) against the Hawks.

Simmons was adjusting to a new role in Brooklyn. In Philadelphia he was a point-forward with the ball in his hands playing off Joel Embiid (at least at first), but in Brooklyn the ball needed to be in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the halfcourt. Simmons is playing more small-ball five, and is asked to be aggressive and attack when he gets the ball — not shoot jumpers — and to push the rock in transition. It took a while for Simmons to settle into that space, but he seemed to in games against Philadelphia (11 points, 11 assists), Toronto (14 points, six assists) and Indiana (20 points). Then the injuries hit.

Brooklyn sits at 13-12, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense for the season. While there are doubts about the ceiling for this team, it has a talent level that should be better than this record, it’s just been beset by injuries, controversy causing Kyrie Irving to miss time, and a coaching change. The Nets have yet to hit their stride.

But they could have a clean injury report on Friday night, and maybe that can be the start of this team getting on a run.

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
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There was a time when it was thought Jonathan Isaac might be the Magic’s next big star.

However, he has not stepped on an NBA court since he was in the bubble (Feb. 8, 2020), then he tore his ACL in August of that year (which came on the heels of missing much of that season with an injury to the same knee). Last March he had a setback and another procedure, and at this point he has missed two full seasons plus the start of this one.

Isaac is still working toward recovery and the Magic have assigned him to the Lakeland Magic of the G-League to get in some practice.

Because NBA teams barely practice during the season — the schedule of games nearly every other day plus travel and recovery doesn’t permit more than film sessions and walk-throughs — these kinds of baseball-style minor league rehab assignments are more and more common.

The story from the Magic’s official website notes this will be the first time Isaac will play 5-on-5 with other players during his rehab, which is a significant step forward.

There is no timeline for his return, but the Magic have him under contract this season for $17.4 million and two more fully guaranteed years at the same price. There is no reason for the franchise to walk away, even if some around the league question if his knees will ever let him back on an NBA court again.

The Magic have found their next star in Paolo Banchero and have built a promising young core, something Isaac — an elite defender before his injuries — should fit in well with. If he can get healthy and back on the court.

Antetokounmpo talks about plans for his 28th birthday while holding Simpsons plush

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Happy birthday, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak turns 28 today.

After he dropped a casual (for him) 34-13-5 line in the Bucks’ win over the Magic last night, Antetokounmpo discussed his birthday plans. He’s not going out, maybe just dinner, playing with his kids, and once they are asleep… ya know.

I feel safe saying Antetokounmpo is the first NBA player to talk about birthday sex while holding a Homer J. Simpson plush doll.

If you’re asking, why the Simpson doll… why not? Bucks reserve forward Sandro Mamukelashvili won it at Universal Studios, brought it to the game, left it behind in the locker room and Antetokounmpo appropriated it.

In a world where most postgame press conferences are formulaic and filled with cliches it’s good to see a player willing just to be himself and have some fun behind the mic.