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Cavaliers making predictably slow headway in post-LeBron James era

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

This is why Cleveland blew it during LeBron James‘ last year there.

The Cavaliers spent the 2017-18 season bracing for LeBron’s exit. They kept the treasured Nets first-rounder. They targeted young players. They didn’t trade for Paul George due to fear he’d walk the next summer.

The result: A team with a real chance didn’t maximize its opportunity to win the 2018 championship.

Perhaps, LeBron would have left, anyway. Many believe his exit last summer was fait accompli. But I think another Cavs title would’ve increased their odds of re-signing him. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered much. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered enough. But living through a championship run and celebration could have been transformative.

Even if LeBron still left, a championship would’ve been rewarding in its own right. Each title is so important. That’s the whole point of the game.

It’s so hard to reach title contention, and Cleveland was there. Teams on that level should do all they can to win rings.

But the Cavaliers took only a halfhearted swing in 2018. They were too interested in preparing for their post-LeBron future. More than a year after LeBron’s departure, where has that gotten them?

Not far.

The Cavs stink. They spent three years pushing all-in to win titles around LeBron. Hitting the brakes in the fourth year didn’t stop them from crashing into the wall.

They still have the poor roster (or equivalent parts) assembled around LeBron, just without LeBron. They still have a bloated payroll, which bit them when they couldn’t trade J.R. Smith’s partially guaranteed contract for value without entering the luxury tax. They still have as many outgoing future first-rounders as incoming, though at least the incoming pick has slightly more favorable protections.

This is the head start into the next era Cleveland earned by tepidly pursuing the 2018 title. It doesn’t count for much.

Still, in this quagmire, the Cavaliers made a few interesting moves that could make a long-term difference.

That Brooklyn pick turned into Collin Sexton, who had a crummy rookie year overall but showed incredible progress throughout. The Cavs drafted another point guard, Darius Garland No. 5, this year, anyway. That was the right move, one not every team would’ve had the stomach for. Garland was the best prospect available. Neither he nor Sexton is assured of panning out. Cleveland was correct to take Garland and figure out the rest later, though the situation creates complications.

The Cavs also added No. 26 pick Dylan Windler and No. 30 pick Kevin Porter Jr., who came at a significant cost. Cleveland sent the Pistons four second-rounders and $5 million for Porter. Kudos to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert for that spending. Porter is far from a sure thing, but the Cavs improved their odds of finding a contributor by spending more.

Ultimately, Cleveland used the Nos. 5, 26 and 30 picks on Nos. 3, 11 and 26 prospects on my board. That’s generally excellent value, though in this weak-looking draft, the impact could be limited.

The Cavaliers also surprisingly hired John Beilein. He showed his coaching chops at every level of college basketball, most recently at Michigan. As the oldest first-time non-interim coach in NBA history, Beilein is at least intriguing. These are the type of creative moves that will help the Cavs moving forward.

The most important thing is nailing high draft picks, and I think they did that, though it’s far too early to tell. Cleveland will likely get another high pick next summer, too.

Offseason grade: C+

Timberwolves fined $25,000 for resting healthy D’Angelo Russell against Denver

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Sunday, in a game against Denver, the Minnesota Timberwolves rested D'Angelo Russell. He was healthy, they just gave him the night off, and nobody around the NBA thought twice about it.

Except for the folks in Manhattan at the NBA’s league office.

The league fined the Timberwolves $25,000 as an organization for “violating the league’s player resting policy.”

The Timberwolves response? Basically, ¯_(ツ)_/¯

The new management team in Minnesota is very focused on modernizing the health and player development programs in the organization. Resting Russell was part of that, and if they felt the need to make sure Russell was good to go for future games they were not going to be dissuaded from sitting him.

Some teams have gone to great lengths to make sure the league knew their player medically needed days off, the most prominent among those being the Clippers with Kawhi Leonard on back-to-backs. Then Doc Rivers admitted the truth — that they were resting him at times when Leonard was healthy and could play — and he got hit with a $50,000 fine.

The league has become very sensitive to the idea of “load management,” that healthy players are being rested during the regular season. From a PR perspective, it’s bad for business and is seen as devaluing the regular season. However, coaches and team sports scientists have seen the value, particularly in preventing injuries and having players relatively fresh for the playoffs, so they will continue to do it.

At this point in the season, every player is a little banged up. These kinds of fines by the league will push teams to say Russell — or whomever — is out for a game due to a sore knee, or ankle, or back, or whatever. Every player has some ailment that could use a little rest. This is how it was done before the league became more transparent and let teams just call it “rest.” The practice is not going to change with teams, it may just have a new name.

Kobe Bryant memorabilia, including game-worn Finals jerseys, going up for auction

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NEW YORK (AP) — Some key Kobe Bryant memorabilia, including two of his Los Angeles Lakers uniforms and cement handprints from his induction into the Grauman’s Chinese Theater hall of fame gallery, are going up for sale in April.

Julien’s Auctions said Thursday that the items would be up for sale on April 30 as part of its annual sports auction that includes a silver medal from the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and a 2002 FIFA World Cup gold winner’s medal.

Bryant’s items were already being planned for auction when he, his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.

“We are honored to include this collection of his items and pay tribute to this giant who was an inspiration not only to basketball fans but to the entire world,” said Darren Julien, Julien’s Auctions’ president and CEO.

The Lakers uniforms up for sale are one worn during the 2000 NBA Finals, with his original number 8. The uniform included a black armband which marked the memory of Wilt Chamberlain, who died that season.

The other uniform was from his 2007 season, when his number was 24.

Other Bryant items include Adidas game shoes signed by the late legend; and a basketball signed by the 2010-11 Lakers including Bryant and other stars such as Ron Artest and Pau Gasol.

Juliens said the Bryant items were being sold by a collector in Kentucky. Fans can view what’s up for sale between April 27 and April 30 in Beverly Hills, California, before the auction takes place at Juliens Auctions Beverly Hills.

Bryant, who was 41, and his daughter were remembered Monday at the Staples Center with a memorial that included a performance from Beyoncé and tributes by Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse to perform musically next month

Raptors coach Nick Nurse
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On his way to guiding the Raptors to a championship, Nick Nurse earned viral fame by arriving in Milwaukee for the Eastern Conference finals with a guitar slung over his back:

Now, Nurse is preparing for a different stage.

Nurse, via CityNews:

I’m working on four songs right now that I’m getting ready to – I’m getting ready to have a little performance. Actually, March 11th, I’m having a kickoff for my foundation – Nick Nurse Foundation – in support of music programs for kids around the Toronto area. So, we have a lot of bands coming in, and I’m going to sit in with, well, at least one of them.

Nurse is doing this while building a strong case for Coach of the Year.

Excelling in the NBA and music, Nurse is a regular Damian Lillard.

Report: Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. diagnosed with torn meniscus

Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr.
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Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. is transitioning from raw young player to solid starter.

His progress will be stalled.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

This could end Oubre’s season.

At 4.5 games and five teams out of postseason position, the Suns (24-35) have hung in the playoff race. But this could sink their already-slim chances.

Oubre will earn $14,375,000 in the final year of his contract next season. There will be plenty of attention on his health and athleticism entering 2021 free agency.