AP Photo

Las Vegas overflowing with Kawhi Leonard speculation, almost no answers

6 Comments

LAS VEGAS — Everybody is talking about it. Nobody really knows what comes next.

The second topic on everyone’s lips at the NBA Summer League — after complaining about the shocking temperature disparity in the arena vs. the second everyone steps outside into the desert air — is “What is going on with Kawhi Leonard?”

Nobody knows for sure. Ask 10 team executives, you get 10 different answers. Trust me, I’ve tried it.

Everyone involved is waiting for someone else to blink: The Spurs are waiting on the Sixers/Lakers/others to up their offers and throw all (or most of) their best young players in a package; other teams are waiting for the Spurs to stop asking for everything but a bottle of 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon in the trade; other teams (Raptors?) want to jump into the mix in a serious way; and everyone is waiting for Leonard’s inexperienced management team to have better communication with teams interested in a trade, to get the best medical info out there and get teams to trust their word.

Yes, that was the Raptors mentioned in the last sentence. Here is what Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post wrote about Toronto (a team looking to shake things up) and Leonard.

The Toronto Raptors also generated buzz as a potential destination for Leonard. With LeBron James out of the Eastern Conference, perhaps Raptors President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri is willing to swing for the fences and move DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry in such a deal.

DeRozan’s name has bubbled up in trade rumors all summer, but the Raptors are only going to move him in a trade they think makes them better now. If healthy, Leonard would. But that’s where the questions start: Is Leonard fully healthy? Would he consider re-signing with Toronto? Would Leonard’s uncle/management team squash such a move?

That’s where it is with every team, every rumor. There are more questions than answers.

Does Leonard want to be a Laker or does he not want to play with LeBron? Will the Lakers throw Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma into a deal? Does he want to come to L.A. and be a Clipper, and will he sign there next summer (because the Clips don’t have the pieces for a trade)? Will the Sixers throw in Markelle Fultz to get a deal done? That is just the tip of the iceberg of questions.

The Sixers or Lakers are the most likely destinations for a trade, but the Spurs don’t like either team’s current offer, so this drags out. It could drag out until training camp. Maybe longer, although the Spurs leverage is not growing. Free agency in 2019 looms over everything.

That’s not a definitive answer, but only because right now there isn’t one.

James Harden, Rockets again leave Jazz in the dust

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
1 Comment

After turning the ball over late in the fourth quarter, James Harden meandered near halfcourt as the Jazz pushed for a fastbreak layup. But that put him in perfect position to receive a long inbound pass after Utah scored. Harden caught the ball and whipped it ahead Kenneth Faried, who dunked to give Harden a triple-double-clinching assist.

You’ll have to forgive Harden for not hustling back on defense. He did most of his heavy lifting far earlier.

By late in the first quarter, Harden created 28 points (17 scored, 11 assisted) to the Jazz’s 13 total points. The Rockets never looked back.

Houston crushed Utah 118-98 in Game 2 Wednesday to take a 2-0 series lead. It seems the Jazz – who lost Game 1 by 32 points and a 4-1 second-round series in this matchup last year – have no answer for the Rockets, particularly Harden.

Harden finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He was a game-high +24.

Here are the best-of-seven series with the most-lopsided first two games. The 2-0-leading teams that won the series are in red. The 2-0-leading teams that lost the series are in blue. This Houston-Utah series is in silver. This Bucks-Pistons series is in cream.

image

Teams that outscored their opponents by at least 50 in the first two games have never lost a best-of-season series. The Rockets, +52, might have built an insurmountable advantage.

Especially the way the Jazz guard Harden. They’re trying to overplay him but wind up just giving him lanes into the paint. The talented guard is picking them apart.

Until Utah solves that, secondary matchups won’t matter. Houston is content winning through its superstar.

Bucks wallop Pistons. Again.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images
1 Comment

The Pistons fought harder. Luke Kennard moved into the starting lineup and provided a spark. Detroit defended more actively.

But the result was largely the same: A Bucks blowout.

Milwaukee routed Detroit 120-99 in Game 2 Wednesday. Following a 35-point Game 1 victory, the Bucks have outscored the Pistons by 56 points in the series. Every team to outscore its opponent by at least 50 in the first two games of a best-of-seven series has won it.

Here are the best-of-seven series with the most-lopsided first two games. The 2-0-leading teams that won the series are in green. The 2-0-leading teams that lost the series are in red. This Milwaukee-Detroit series is in cream.

image

The Pistons can’t stop Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists). With Kennard (Detroit-high 19 points) starting for defensive specialist Bruce Brown, the Pistons also couldn’t contain Eric Bledsoe (27 points). Khris Middleton (24 points) provided his usual steady production.

Meanwhile, without Blake Griffin, Detroit lacks a difference-making star. Andre Drummond (18 points and 16 rebounds) had nice individual moments but was -32 (another terrible plus-minus for him).

The Pistons are just overwhelmed by the superior Bucks, and it’s hard to see that changing.

Kyrie Irving torches Pacers for 37 points in Celtics win

3 Comments

In what had been a tight game, the Pacers built a four-point lead over the Celtics with four minutes left in the third quarter. From there:

Irving scored 37 points and dished seven assists, leading Boston to a 99-91 Game 2 win Wednesday. The Celtics now lead the first-round series 2-0. Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home have won the series 93% of the time.

The Pacers just can’t muster enough offense – not against this sound Boston defense. Indiana went nearly nine scoreless minutes in the fourth quarter. Even after ending that drought, the Pacers’ final five possessions: miss, miss, miss, turnover, turnover.

This is why the Celtics got Irving. His ability to create shots sets them apart in these slogging playoff games.

Jayson Tatum added 26 points. But Al Horford struggled while playing through illness. Marcus Morris shot 0-for-8. Jaylen Brown didn’t really get going.

This wasn’t the prettiest game for Boston, but because of Irving, it was a win.

LeBron James named one of TIME’s 100 most-influential people

AP Photo/Mark Duncan
4 Comments

LeBron James couldn’t even influence the Lakers into the playoffs.

But as a businessman and philanthropist, his reach is only growing.

LeBron remains the NBA’s biggest star. He’s still an elite player (when healthy), and his name resonates with casual fans and even non-fans. Add his off-court interests – more accessible to him in Los Angeles – and his importance can’t be denied.

That’s why LeBron made TIME’s 2019 list of 100 most-influential

Warren Buffett wrote about LeBron:

I’ve been impressed with his leadership skills, his sharp mind and his ability to stay grounded. People in LeBron’s position get tugged in different directions and have a lot of chances to make bad decisions. He’s kept his head, and that’s not easy.

There is so much on LeBron’s plate – production, acting, his school, even basketball. His ability to handle it all is incredible.

Having such varied interests might not lend itself to LeBron dominating on the court. But it makes him even more deserving of this list.