Old Cavaliers vs. young Celtics a battle for the ages

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Neither the Cavaliers nor the Celtics were satisfied with the 2017 Eastern Conference finals.

Cleveland doesn’t want to just beat Boston but not be able to hang with the Warriors in the NBA Finals. The Celtics don’t want to try in vain to topple LeBron James.

So, both teams set out to change.

The Cavs traded star point guard Kyrie Irving, wound up with a messy locker room then made sweeping changes just before the trade deadline. In all the chaos, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is relying on his most-experienced players in the playoffs. Beyond, Cleveland is pinning its long-term hopes on the acquired-in-Irving-trade Nets’ first-round pick, which obviously isn’t contributing this postseason.

Boston acquired the stars it could, Gordon Hayward and Irving, without sacrificing its young core. When those stars got hurt, the Celtics gave greater responsibility to the young players – namely Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. Improbably, Boston won a couple playoff series.

So, the Cavaliers and Celtics meet again in the Eastern Conference finals – just with many new faces. Two-thirds of the players who played in last year’s series are no longer with the same team.

Amid the turnover, both teams have codified their position. The Cavaliers, trying to win now, are the oldest team in the postseason. The Celtics, with an eye toward the future, are the youngest.

This is the 14th time the oldest and youngest teams in the postseason have met in a series. The older team has gone 12-1.

Here’s each of those series with the teams’ average age* in parentheses:

  • Cleveland Cavaliers (30.4) vs. Boston Celtics (24.8) in 2018 conference finals
  • Dallas Mavericks (31.6) beat Oklahoma City Thunder (23.8) in 2011 conference finals, 4-1
  • Indiana Pacers (31.2) beat Philadelphia 76ers (25.9) in 1999 conference semifinals, 4-0
  • Utah Jazz (29.5) beat Denver Nuggets (24.8) in 1994 conference semifinals, 4-3
  • Boston Celtics (29.5) beat Chicago Bulls (25.4) in 1987 first round, 3-0
  • Boston Celtics (29.3) beat Atlanta Hawks (25.1) in 1986 conference semifinals, 4-1
  • Washington Bullets (28.8) beat Atlanta Hawks (24.9) in 1979 conference semifinals, 4-3
  • Los Angeles Lakers (29.4) beat Milwaukee Bucks (25.9) in 1972 conference finals, 4-2
  • Boston Celtics (29.8) beat New York Knicks (24.6) in 1967 division semifinals, 3-1
  • Boston Celtics (28.7) beat Cincinnati Royals (26.5) in 1966 division semifinals, 3-2
  • Boston Celtics (28.7) beat Los Angeles Lakers (25.7) in 1965 NBA Finals, 4-1
  • Boston Celtics (28.4) beat San Francisco Warriors (25.5) in 1964 NBA Finals, 4-1
  • Minneapolis Lakers (25.9) beat Detroit Pistons (27.5) in 1959 division semifinals, 2-1
  • St. Louis Hawks (27.7) beat Minneapolis Lakers (25.4) in 1957 division finals, 3-0

*Weighted by minutes played in the postseason, holding each player’s age constant as of Feb. 1 of that season

The Cavaliers’ and Celtics’ exact average ages will fluctuate as they finish their playoff runs. But Cleveland is much older and Boston is much younger than any other remaining teams. The Cavs and Celtics are pretty locked into their spots.

If the 5.6-year average-age gap holds, it’d be the 10th-largest ever between teams meeting in a playoff series. Here’s every series featuring an average-age gap above five years:

  • Dallas Mavericks (31.6) beat Oklahoma City Thunder (23.8) in 2011 conference finals, 4-1
  • Oklahoma City Thunder (25.7) beat Dallas Mavericks (32.6) in 2012 first round, 4-0
  • Houston Rockets (32.7) beat Minnesota Timberwolves (25.9) in 1997 first round, 3-0
  • Dallas Mavericks (26.1) beat Utah Jazz (32.6) in 2001 first round, 3-2
  • Los Angeles Lakers (29.0) beat Oklahoma City Thunder (22.9) in 2010 first round, 4-2
  • Indiana Pacers (30.0) beat Cleveland Cavaliers (23.9) in 1998 first round, 3-1
  • Los Angeles Lakers (25.9) beat Seattle SuperSonics (31.6) in 1998 conference semifinals, 4-1
  • Boston Celtics (30.7) beat New York Knicks (25.1) in 1988 first round, 3-1
  • Miami Heat (31.1) beat Charlotte Hornets (25.5) in 2014 first round, 4-0
  • Cleveland Cavaliers (30.4) vs. Boston Celtics (24.8) in 2018 conference finals
  • Miami Heat (29.4) beat Chicago Bulls (23.9) in 2006 first round, 4-2
  • Brooklyn Nets (30.7) beat Toronto Raptors (25.2) in 2014 first round, 4-3
  • Boston Celtics (30.1) beat Philadelphia 76ers (24.7) in 2012 conference semifinals, 4-3
  • Indiana Pacers (31.2) beat Philadelphia 76ers (25.9) in 1999 conference semifinals, 4-0
  • Boston Celtics (29.8) beat New York Knicks (24.6) in 1967 division semifinals, 3-1
  • Chicago Bulls (30.8) beat Washington Bullets (25.7) in 1997 first round, 3-0
  • Oklahoma City Thunder (25.6) beat San Antonio Spurs (30.7) in 2016 conference semifinals, 4-2
  • Boston Celtics (28.9) beat Atlanta Hawks (23.8) in 2008 first round, 4-3

In those 17 series, the older team has gone 13-4.

It’s not as simple as experience winning out. Teams let themselves get old when they’re ready to win. They care more about a player’s current ability than his future potential.

That’s why the Cavs have traded for players like Kyle Korver (37) and George Hill (32) the last couple years. Cleveland wants to win now with LeBron.

The Celtics aren’t ready to accept that tradeoff. They want to win as much as they can while retaining long-term upside.

Eventually, LeBron’s dominance over the Eastern Conference will end. But the Cavaliers are committed to continuing it this year. The Celtics are more concerned with having next.

That shows in the teams ages, and it will probably show in the series.

Report: There is mutual interest between the Knicks, Julius Randle

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The Knicks priority this summer is big game hunting: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, maybe Kyrie Irving (if one of those first two come). They have the cap space (or can get to it easily) and the lures of New York and Madison Square Garden. They want to be players.

Whether they land a superstar or not — and right now “not” seems the more likely outcome, reading the tea leaves around the league — they will need to round out the roster with good players to fit next to rookie R.J. Barret and young prospects such as Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson.

Enter Julius Randle.

From Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated:

Other free agents on the Knicks’ radar include their own free-agent center DeAndre Jordan, Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins and twins Markieff and Marcus Morris. New Orleans Pelicans forward Julius Randle and the Knicks also have mutual interest, according to sources.

“We are going to have the opportunity to meet with the guys we want to meet with,” [Knicks president Steve] Mills said without offering details or confirming names.

Randle, just 24, has seen his stock go up in recent years and averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Pelicans last season. His game is a throwback, he uses his strength and athleticism to bully his way to buckets. He also shot 34.4 percent from three, forcing teams to respect him from the arc.

Randle could fit well with the Knicks. The question, as always, is at what price.

As for the others mentioned in the report, DeAndre Jordan may well land wherever Kevin Durant signs (they are good friends). Cousins and the Morris twins are second-tier players, meaning once the stars make their picks teams will be looking to round out rosters and those guys will start getting more and more calls. (The Warriors can only offer Cousins a little more than $6 million to return, another team will likely come in higher, but what worries teams more is the years, he very well may not get more than two.)

Drew Brees sent Zion Williamson a signed jersey that said “Passing the torch to you”

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New Orleans is a football town.

The Pelicans are trying to carve out their space in that market — and landing Zion Williamson with the No. 1 pick in the draft has helped generate the kind of excitement they need — but the Big Easy is all about the Saints. Quarterback Drew Brees is treated like a deity in that town.

Brees welcomed Williamson to town Tuesday by giving him an autographed jersey, one that read, “Passing the torch to you.” It also came with a card that said, “Zion, welcome to the family. Let’s dance.”

The best part of this is Williamson’s reaction — he is genuinely in awe. Much like when he teared up on the night of the draft (when we all knew he was going to be taken No. 1 for months), Williamson just seems humble and taken aback by everything through this process.

Masai Ujiri ‘confident’ Kawhi Leonard will return to Toronto Raptors

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TORONTO (AP) Still absorbing the magnitude of his team’s accomplishment, Raptors President Masai Ujiri is confident Kawhi Leonard and the rest of Toronto’s core will reunite next season in a bid for another title.

“We’re on to the next issue, which for us is coming back and being champions again,” Ujiri said Tuesday in his first news conference since Toronto won its first title nearly two weeks ago. “We want to experience this moment here again and again and again.”

Retaining Leonard is the most pressing issue. The two-time finals MVP is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent. Toronto can offer a five-year deal worth about $190 million – one year and some $50 million more than any other team.

“I know what we’ve built here,” Ujiri said. “I’m confident, and you see how these things go.”

Ujiri stressed the main selling points of his pitch to Leonard: health, trust, success.

“I said we have to be ourselves, and we were ourselves for the whole year,” Ujiri said. “I think he saw that. I think we built a trust there.

“I believe winning a championship, him seeing who we are, working with his medical staff combined with our medical staff and getting him to where he wanted to be,” Ujiri added.

Injured for all but nine games in his final season with San Antonio, Leonard played 60 games this season and another 24 in the playoffs. After averaging career bests of 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in the regular season, Leonard raised his averages to 30.5 and 9.1 in the playoffs.

Ujiri says he and Leonard have had multiple talks the past several days, discussions he called “positive.”

The Raptors will stay in touch and meet formally once free agency begins Sunday. After that, Ujiri is not worried about how long Leonard takes to decide.

“I texted Kawhi last night, I talked to his uncle this morning,” Ujiri said. “For us, there’s that trust regardless of wherever it goes, and there’ll be constant communication.”

Center Marc Gasol also has a player option for next season, and guard Danny Green is a free agent.

“I think they know what the effect of Kawhi’s decision is, but we’re really approaching it like we want to bring everybody back on this team,” Ujiri said. “That’s a priority for us.”

Less urgent is a potential extension for forward Pascal Siakam, a runaway winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. The parties plan to meet during the summer league.

“Pascal has gotten to a place where he’s definitely a priority for us and it’s definitely going to be a conversation that we’ll have,” Ujiri said.

Ujiri said little about his confrontation with a deputy following the Game 6 clincher. The deputy’s lawyer, David Mastagni, says his client is on medical leave with a concussion and jaw injury and is considering a lawsuit.

Ujiri says his lawyers are updating him about the investigation.

“I am confident about who I am as a person, my character and as a human being,” Ujiri said. “For now, I’ll just respect their process there and wait for the next steps.”

Asked to address reports linking him to NBA job offers, Ujiri stresses that his family loves Toronto.

“My kids are Canadians,” he said. “For me, the blessing is being wanted here and finding a place that makes you happy and finding challenges that really make you grow as a person.”

As for celebrating the NBA title with political leaders, Ujiri says the team has yet to decide on a White House visit if invited. He adds that seeing Canada’s prime minister would be a “priority.”

Ujiri did have one regret Tuesday – not bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy with him. But minutes before the news conference ended, the golden trophy arrived and was placed on the table next to him. Ujiri carried it out as he left.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PJ Tucker says Chris Paul-James Harden rift is ‘fake news’

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There have been reports out of the Houston Rockets organization that both James Harden and Chris Paul are upset with each other. The situation has reportedly become untenable, with Harden as the franchise cornerstone apparently hoping that general manager Daryl Morey will be able to ship Paul off somewhere else.

It was already expected that Morey would be trying to move Paul’s contract this summer. Paul has fallen off, and the rift between the two players was noticable. Still, it’s a tall task to move CP3’s deal — it’s enormous, and his skills are clearly in decline.

But at least one player things that all of this talk is just… talk.

According to Rockets swingman PJ Tucker, there aren’t big issues between Paul and Harden. In fact, speaking to The Athletic Sam Amick this week, Tucker called the supposed conflict “fake news” and that the tension after the team’s Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors wasn’t anything out of the ordinary given the circumstances.

Via The Athletic:

“I’m sick of the fake news man. It’s fake. Everybody – I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue.

“It was what it was. Everybody’s mad. Everybody’s pissed. You can’t – I’m sick of all the highlight of whoever this person is trying to come up with all this crap, like I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue with each other. Like, I’m the center, focal (point) of the argument because I’m always yelling at somebody and they’re yelling at me. So for me, it’s like ‘If you’re not arguing…’ You don’t think Kobe and Shaq argued?”

The problem here is that reports have said that Harden is sick of Paul trying to coach the team. Meanwhile, Paul has found that Harden’s ability to generate offense for himself isn’t necessarily what he thinks is best for the squad. It’s an impasse.

And of course, Kobe and Shaq hated each other so much they broke up a dynasty. Paul and Harden don’t compare to that tandem in their prime right now, and Tucker’s example is ignoring the fact that Shaq got shipped off to the Miami Heat.

It’s possible that Tucker is giving out the information he knows to be true. It’s also possible that he’s simply being a good teammate for the Rockets. And, begrudgingly, I will admit it’s also possible that the discourse between Paul and Harden is par for the course for stars of their stature and competitive nature.

Still, I won’t hold my breath for things to get smoothed over in Houston.