Isaiah Thomas making progress, could join Cavs earlier than expected

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Day by day, dribble by dribble , Isaiah Thomas looks a little more like an All-Star point guard – like himself.

And just maybe like one who can rescue the reeling Cavaliers.

Thomas has been increasing the intensity of his workouts and is making strong progress in his recovery from a serious hip injury that ended his 2016 season in Boston and delayed his debut with Cleveland.

As Cavs coach Tyronn Lue and a member of Cleveland’s medical staff kept an eye on him from an adjacent floor at Cleveland Clinic Courts, Thomas broke a healthy sweat during a workout Monday under the guidance of assistant coach Phil Handy, who fired him passes and praise. Thomas worked on his 3-pointer , man-to-man defense, conditioning, ball handling and free throws as he nears a return that may be coming sooner than imagined.

Although the team has not disclosed any change from its original timetable estimate of the end of December or early January, it’s apparent that Thomas is getting closer.

At 4-6, and lacking a second scorer to complement LeBron James, the Cavs might be tempted to rush Thomas along. But Lue said it’s imperative for the team to stick with its plan so as not to harm the 28-year-old.

“We have to make sure he’s 100 percent,” Lue said Monday as the Cavs regrouped following an embarrassing loss to the Atlanta Hawks. “We have to worry about him as a player and a person. If he’s not right, not healthy, we don’t want to rush him back to set him back even more.”

Thomas isn’t keeping his status any kind of secret. In the first few weeks of his rehab, he kept a lower profile as he worked out in the team’s facility away from reporters and cameras. Lately, he’s been front and center, giving everyone a glimpse of the strides he’s made in coming back from a torn labrum.

Lue credited Cleveland’s training staff with a slow, steady approach in bringing along Thomas, who came to the Cavs in the blockbuster trade last summer that sent Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics.

Irving and the Celtics have won nine straight and lead the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, Cleveland has remained patient, although it’s clear that Thomas can’t wait to get back onto the floor in meaningful games.

“I just wanna HOOP!!!!!” he tweeted Sunday night.

The Cavs need him. Without Irving, the Eastern Conference champions lack a proven scorer to take some pressure off James. Thomas won’t help Cleveland’s suspect defense. In fact, it might be a little worse with him on the court, but its offense would go to another level with Thomas.

He can drive. He can shoot. He can get to the line.

“We still have a 30-point scorer, All-Star point guard that’s coming soon,” James said recently. “So that’s exciting.”

Once he returns, Thomas is expected to move into the starting lineup, with Derrick Rose coming off the bench and running the Cavs’ second unit. It’s been dreadful starts by the Cavs’ first five that have been at the heart of their early struggles. Thomas could fix that, but until he’s ready, the Cavs have to come out with more energy and a greater sense of urgency.

Thomas should also help Cleveland’s woeful 3-point shooting. The Cavs enter Tuesday night’s game against Milwaukee 25th in the league in 3-point accuracy (33 percent) and tied for 16th in 3-pointers made per game. Thomas made a Celtics record 245 3-pointers last season and knocked down at least one in 57 straight games.

Against the Hawks, the Cavs started 3 of 25 from behind the arc and finished 10 of 36 – thanks mostly to Kyle Korver heating up during a fourth-quarter comeback.

“We have guys that can shoot the ball,” said Kevin Love, who was taken to the hospital Sunday after falling ill. “I don’t know what it says on pace, but last year we really pushed the ball with `Bron and Ky and really opened up the floor. But we’re just not shooting the ball well from 3, and that has to change.”

There need to be other changes, and Lue said it’s time for his team to begin making them.

“Just have to keep attacking it,” he said. “Have to keep showing film and continue to keep talking about it. I think guys are embarrassed and we should be embarrassed of how we’re getting beat. Teams that we’re playing, having guys out, key guys out and still not being able to win. We all have to continue to keep searching and continue to keep fighting and continue to play hard.”

And at some point, they might get some help.

 

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.

Cavaliers reportedly extend Dean Wade for three years, $18.5 million

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This could be a steal for the Cavaliers — Dean Wade could be the starting three for the Cavaliers by the end of this season and he’s got a genuine upside.

The Cavaliers have extended Wade for three years, $18.5 million, a story where multiple sources were on top of it, including Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Wade’s counting stats aren’t eye-popping — 5.3 points a game and shooting 35.7% from 3 — but he is a quality wing defender who has improved as a floor spacer (sometimes setting picks and popping out). He’s a two-way player who has put in the work and could pass Isaac Okoro on the depth chart this season.

The Cavaliers have four All-Stars who will undoubtedly be starting for them — Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley up front — and the looming question is at the three. Wade has a chance this season to step into that role.

Which makes extending him at a little over $6 million a season a potential steal for the Cavaliers.

 

Warriors GM Myers reiterates he would like to extend Green, Poole, Wiggins

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Andrew Wiggins is entering the final year of his contract and the Warriors want to extend him. Jordan Poole is up for a contract extension and if it isn’t worked out by the start of the season he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Draymond Green is eligible — and wants — a four years, $138.4 million extension (the max they can give him).

Bob Myers said again this week that he wants to keep all three of those players — all critical parts of the Warriors run to a title last season — but financial reality could intrude upon that dream. Here’s what Myers said Thursday, via Kendra Andrews of ESPN:

“We want all of those guys,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said at a news conference Thursday. “Can we get all of them? I don’t know.

“It depends on what the money ends up being. What the ask is what we can end up doing. We’re not at a point to make those decisions yet. Some of these decisions may be made in the next two weeks, some might be made in the next seven, eight months.”

The Warriors turned heads around the league paying more than $350 million in player salaries and luxury tax last season — and this season they will be in the same ballpark. Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has said even with the cash cow that is the new Chase Center, this is not a team that can spend $400 million. Some expenses are locked in, such as Stephen Curry and his $215.4 max contract extension. Klay Thompson is at the max for a couple of more years.

Poole is part of the future in Golden State — along with Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and maybe Jonathan Wiseman — and they can’t let him go. Wiggins was the Warriors’ second-best player in the postseason last year. That has led to some speculation Green could be the odd man out — something Myers has denied. Green will make $25.8 million this season but is  expected to opt out of the $27.6 million player option he has next season. It leaves the Warriors and Green with a choice.

Something’s got to give, but the Myers and the Warriors seem ready to kick that financial can down the road until next summer, and for this season get the band back together and chase another ring.

Poole would be the first up (there is an Oct. 17 deadline to extend him). Whatever happens, this will be an undercurrent of a story all season long in the Bay Area.

C.J. McCollum inks two-year, $64 million extension with Pelicans

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After helping New Orleans return to the playoffs for the first time since Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers, C.J. McCollum earned a two-year, $64 million extension with the Pelicans. He will remain under contract with the team through the 2025-26 season, and there isn’t a player or team option in the deal. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news Saturday afternoon.

New Orleans traded Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, a 2022 protected first-round pick (turns into 2025 first-round pick that is top-4 protected), and two future second-round picks for McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell.

New Orleans now has their core of McCollum, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram under contract for the next three seasons.

The expectations will be high for the Pelicans for the next few years. After starting last season 1-12, first-year head coach Willie Green helped turn the team around, and they finished 36-46 before beating the Spurs and Clippers in the play-in tournament. Their season ended after losing to the Suns 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs.

McCollum averaged 24.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.7 triples per game after the trade to New Orleans.

The return of Zion this season, along with the success of last year’s team, has the team expecting a return to the playoffs. Locking up their star guard in McCollum emphasizes that their rebuild is over. After missing the playoffs during their first three seasons in the post-AD era, they don’t expect to return to the lottery for a long time. The big question surrounding their potential success will be Zion’s health.