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Too early to panic, but banged-up Cavaliers unimpressive getting swept in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES — It’s way, way too early to hit the panic button in Cleveland. A month from now, when the playoffs start, this weekend of ugly losses in Los Angeles could be lost to the dustbin of history.

Kevin Love should be back in a week or so, providing an offensive boost and a passer out of the post/elbow in the half court the Cavaliers need. Tristan Thompson will be available again to bang with guys like the Lakers’ Brook Lopez or Julius Randle (that pair torched the Cavs to the tune of 58 points Sunday). Rodney Hood and Cedi Osman should be back and providing depth and shooting. Once guys are healthy, the rotations should stabilize and improve. Plus, with more time together for this revamped roster, the offensive sets and defensive communication should improve. Coach Tyronn Lue said pregame they were still in the “simplistic” phase of implementing what he wants this team to do on offense.

Still, Cavaliers fans might want to locate that panic button. Just in case.

Since the All-Star break the Cavaliers are 4-6, with the 13th ranked offense and 22nd ranked defense in the NBA. Cleveland just got swept in Los Angeles over the weekend where in consecutive games the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan and the Lakers’ Julius Randle bullied Cleveland’s small-ball lineups to the tune of 56 combined points.

With those two weekend losses, the Cavaliers have fallen back to the four seed in the East, half a game behind Indiana (which beat Boston Sunday). In Los Angeles, the Cavaliers did not look like the team Toronto and Boston have to go through to reach the Finals, rather it appeared to be the other way around.

Which tends to fuel the “LeBron is leaving Cleveland for X” rumors (which were alive and well in Los Angeles this weekend). All of those rumors are crap, LeBron hasn’t made a decision yet, his next decision a topic for July.

Right now, injuries are at the forefront of that in Cleveland.

“At the end of the day, you have to want the most out of whoever you have on the floor,” LeBron said Sunday night. “You want the most from whoever is playing, but sometimes you just can’t overcome this many injuries. We have pretty much five guys out of our top nine or 10 out of the of the rotation or not playing because of their injuries. In this next man up (mentality), sometimes you just fall short.”

However, injuries are not all of it.

Cleveland’s new, younger core is at least trying on defense — a step up from what the Cavs did in January — but this not a team of great individual defenders after LeBron. Plus, building a cohesive team defense takes time this group hasn’t had (and will not have enough of): Cleveland’s communication on things such tagging roll guys, helping the helper, and challenging shooters at the arc have a long way to go. On Sunday, the Lakers’ league-leading pace scrambled the Cavaliers defense on multiple occasions (the game was played at a 104 possession pace). Most glaringly on Sunday night, the Cavaliers just did not have an answer for the Lakers’ big men Randle (36 points, a career high) and Brook Lopez (22 points).

“We knew if we got out in transition on this team, we could have some success,” Randle said.

“I think the rebounding hurts us, I think the physicality on the block, having to double team the post left us scrambling around,” Lue said after the Lakers’ loss. “That’s what we have to do right now, so no excuses. But we’ve got to play better.”

There are a lot of issues to address and not a lot of time to do it. The Cavaliers’ offense often gets stagnant and ends with LeBron in isolation — against the Clippers 38.5 percent of LeBron’s offensive possessions (where he finished the possession) were in isolation, and if you combine isolations and postups and it gets to 50 percent of his possessions. Against the Lakers 38 percent of LeBron’s possessions were isos or post ups. It can work for the Cavaliers because LeBron is so dominant a scorer, and because he is a brilliant passer.

 

Right now, LeBron just doesn’t have the guys around him to take advantage of his skill set or the MVP-level season he is in the midst of (he will finish in the top five in MVP voting).

Sunday, the Cavaliers tied the game up at 76-76 in the third, then the Lakers went on a 22-6 run and that was ultimately the ballgame. LeBron played well at the start of the fourth, but the Cavs couldn’t get stops and Los Angeles was never really threatened again.

Walking to the bench after a timeout midway through the fourth with his team down 19, LeBron had a look of frustration and disgust on his face — the same look he had through much of a dismal January.

Come the playoffs (and, more importantly, July) those looks may be a thing of the past, something long forgotten in the grind of a long NBA season.

But it’s something to file away. Just in case.

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.