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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+

Some NBA players reportedly expect families can’t come to Orlando until September

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Nothing is set in stone until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA’s return likely will have teams reporting to the “bubble” (or campus, or whatever term of art the league ends up using) in Orlando in mid-July. Games would start July 31 and run into late September and maybe even October.

For players, that’s a long time to be stuck in a hotel without seeing family or loved ones, so families joining the players has long been part of the plan. Except, now comes a note from Tim Reynolds at the AP that some players think their families may not be able to join them until deep into the postseason.

The smaller the bubble, the easier it is to maintain with extensive testing, which is why not all 30 teams are expected to be invited and the size of team traveling parties will be smaller. It has been expected that families wouldn’t be invited to join players at least until after the first round of the playoffs (when a lot of players left).

However, if games start July 31 and the league plans to play a couple of weeks of regular-season games, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot, then it will be September by the time the NBA gets to a final eight teams. Which will have players separated from their families for a couple of months.

It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations with that. No matter what direction Adam Silver goes with this restart, there are going to be some unhappy teams and players.

 

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.

Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to lead peaceful protest

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While many NBA players have spoken out on social media and attended rallies in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police, maybe none has been as vocal and active as the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown.

Saturday, he drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to lead a peaceful protest at the Martin Luther King National Historic Park.

Brown was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Brown’s protest still had a run-in with Atlanta police.

This protest is one of many nationwide happening for a fifth straight night in the wake of the death of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. That death happened not long after the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man killed while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood.

Derek Chauvin, the man pictured kneeling on Floyd’s neck — which he did for more than eight-and-a-half minutes — was fired from his job in the Minneapolis Police Department and was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder.

Brown, like many nationwide, hope these protests and this frustration can be channeled into real change. Something this nation needs.

Pistons’ Dwane Casey’s says “we all have to be and do better” in wake of George Floyd’s death

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A lot of NBA players have spoken out about the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis Police officer. Stephen Jackson, a friend of Floyd’s, has been the most vocal. Recently players have spoken out about the racism they felt at other times in their lives.

Few have had the experience of Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey. He grew up in Kentucky during desegregation and was in the midst of some of the uglier days of our nation.

Casey released this statement in the wake of Floyd’s death.

“Fifty-four years ago I was an eight-year-old boy living in rural Kentucky when the schools were desegregated.  I walked into a white school where I was not wanted nor welcomed.  At that time there were no cell phones to record my treatment, no cable news stations with 24/7 coverage, no social media to record the reality of the situation or offer support nor condemnation.  But I can remember exactly how I felt as an eight-year-old child.  I felt helpless.  I felt as if I was neither seen, nor heard, nor understood.  As I have watched the events unfold in the days following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a city where I coached and once called home, I see how many people continue to feel those same feelings – helpless, frustrated, invisible, angry.

“I understand the outrage because it seems the list continues to grow: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd.  The injustices continue to mount and nothing seems to be changing.

“Fifty-four years later, my son is now eight years old and I look at the world he is growing up in and wonder, how much has really changed? How often is he judged on sight?  Is he growing up in a world where he is seen, and heard, and understood?  Does he feel helpless?  Will he be treated like George Floyd or Ahmaud Abrey?  What have we really done in the last 54 years to make his eight-year-old world better than mine was?  We all have to be and do better.

“We have to change the way we see and hear each other.  We have to work together to find solutions to make the justice system just.  Black, white and brown people have to work together to find new answers.   The only way we can stop the systemic problems that people of color have faced all our lives is through honesty and transparency.  We have to understand why people are at their limit at this moment.  It takes empathy, in its truest form.  It takes a culture shift, it takes action.  Let’s stop the injustice now.  Let’s not allow another generation to continue to live in a world where they are treated as unequal.  Now is the time for real change.”

Now is the time for change, but we need to act to make it happen, not just hope.