Tristan Thompson

Three Things to Know: LeBron breaks records, Rondo breaks finger, Lakers keep on winning

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) LeBron breaks records, Rondo breaks finger, Lakers keep on winning. LeBron James showed no mercy to his friends and former teammates Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson Monday night as the Lakers easily rolled past the Cavaliers to their ninth consecutive win, 128-99. The Lakers scored 81 points in the second half, LeBron had 31 on the night, Dwight Howard had 21 and 15 rebounds (plus drained a three).

The game itself was also the least interesting news out of Staples Center on Monday night.

When you’ve played the game as well and at as high a level as LeBron has for going on 17 seasons now, you’re walking history. Seemingly every time he steps on the court LeBron sets a new record or moves up some all-time list. On Tuesday night, that bit of history was LeBron passing Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas for eighth on the NBA’s all-time assist list (LeBron now has 9,067).

The other bit of news is the Lakers will be without Rajon Rondo for four to five days after an MRI found he suffered a “nondisplaced volar plate avulsion fracture” to his right ring finger. Those of us who are not doctors would call that a “jammed finger,” one where the hyperextension of the ring finger pulled the ligament and a little piece of bone broke off. It’s not serious, but Rondo joined Anthony Davis — who officially has a “ gluteus maximus contusion” — in street clothes for this game.

The Lakers are at home Wednesday night vs. Orlando before the Grammys force them (and the Clippers) out of the building for a couple of weeks.

2) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander makes history with a 20 point, 20 rebound, triple-double at age 21. The Clippers didn’t like giving up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — of course they did it to make the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George pairing come together, you make that deal every time. That doesn’t mean trading SGA didn’t sting; the Clippers knew he was going to be special.

Now everyone in Oklahoma City sees just how special. Gilgeous-Alexander had his first triple-double on Monday night, with 20 points, a career-best 20 rebounds, and 10 assists as the Thunder beat the Timberwolves on the road.

That was a little bit of history.

Gilgeous-Alexander is just starting to tap his potential, and having a season (or more) next to Chris Paul will only help that development. SGA has the raw tools to be one of the best point guards in the game, and now we see the mental aspects coming along as well. Oklahoma City has its point guard of the future in place.

3) Watch Arron Gordon’s game-winner to beat Sacramento. If you didn’t watch the Orlando at Sacramento game Monday night because you were checking out some football game, or watching “Manifest,” we’ll forgive you.

Just know you missed a heck of an ending.

The Kings were down two late when De'Aaron Fox made seemingly made every Magic defender lose him on the way to an and-one that put Sacramento up one.

That might have been the game-winner until Evan Fournier found a surprised Aaron Gordon, who got his shot to fall.

Orlando got the 116-115 win thanks to 26 points and 15 boards from Nikola Vucevic on the night.

Do you believe John Beilein’s ‘slugs’ explanation? Tristan Thompson sidesteps question

John Beilein and Tristan Thompson
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
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DETROIT – Six Cavaliers players addressed John Beilein’s thugs-slugs jumble yesterday. Five offered clear support of their coach for this volatile situation.

The exception: Tristan Thompson.

“At the end of the day, he’s our head coach,” Thompson said after Cleveland’s win over the Pistons last night. “We’re the players, and have to go out there and play and do our job at the end of the day. So, that’s all that matters.”

Beilein apologized to the Cavs both individually and collectively after the film session on Wednesday, when he called players “thugs” but later said he misspoke and meant to use the word “slugs.” Did Beilein’s explanation help motivate and focus the team for Detroit? Thompson: “Coach’s job is to give us the scout and the game plan. But we don’t need no coaches at all to motivate us. Us as players, we motivate each other.”

The Cavaliers will keep Beilein as coach. Can Thompson still play for him? Thompson: “Man, I’ll play anywhere. I’ll play all over the world.”

Beilein has reportedly struggled to connect with the Cavs. Does Thompson need anything different from his coach? Thompson: “As long as I’ve got my dogs with me every night in that huddle – what do we got, 13, 14 guys? Brought back Zo. As long I’ve got my dogs with me ready to go to war, that’s all that matters to me.”

Eventually, I flatly asked Thompson whether he believes Beilein’s explanation that he inadvertently said “thugs” while intending to say “slugs.”

“I’m not trying to take away from tonight,” Thompson said. “So, I want to keep it based on how great the guys were tonight. I think Brandon Knight was great. A guy that doesn’t get to play a lot. When his number was called – especially when we have KP down – he stepped up and was great tonight. So, I don’t want to take away from my team’s tremendous win tonight in overtime. So, that’s where my focus is at.”

Missing from that answer? Some variation of “yes.”

This was a strange interview from Thompson, who was recently Beilein’s most vocal supporter.

Maybe we’re supposed to read between the lines and see the lack of stated support for a lack of support. “Thug” is a racially charged word, and I can see how a black player would resent his white coach calling him one.

It’s also quite possible Thompson truly thought sidestepping the issue was the best way to make it go away. If so, he was wrong. A quick declaration of support – like Larry Nance Jr., Kevin Love, Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Brandon Knight gave – would have been far more effective. Instead, Thompson opened the door wide open for speculation into how he truly feels.

The timing doesn’t help discern his meaning. Thompson didn’t speak at shootaround or pregame yesterday. After the emotional victory, it’s easy to see why he’d prefer attention land on the game. Thompson had a career night. He’s also a supportive teammate who wants to shout out Alfonzo McKinnie‘s defensive stops and Knight’s play with Kevin Porter Jr. injured. Thompson could have seen an opportunity to move on and leave the thugs-slugs issue behind.

To be fair, Thompson is not a public-relations expert. He’s a basketball player. Not understanding how to diffuse this controversy would hardly be some major offense. With prior scandal, Thompson served himself well by not talking about it. That kept the noise at bay.

But sports media was already widely discussing Beilein. Like it or not, this issue was in the forefront.

Which raises another question: How did it get there? Most Cleveland players who spoke publicly yesterday said Beilein’s use of the word “thugs” didn’t jar them in the moment. Only Sexton said otherwise, and he added he wasn’t alone.

“Everybody was shocked,” Sexton said.

Yet, Sexton also provided a defense of Beilein against the (absurd) argument that it’s inconceivable he’d use the word “slugs.”

“He says it all the time, so it’s all good,” Sexton said. “…He calls us slugs, because we move slow. But it’s good. We knew what he meant.”

Do all the Cavaliers know what Beilein meant, though? That remains an open question.

Three Things to Know: Anthony Davis will re-sign with Lakers, but don’t expect five years

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Anthony Davis will re-sign with Lakers but don’t expect five years. Wednesday’s “big” NBA story out of Los Angeles was the Lakers offered Anthony Davis a max extension of his current contract — four years, $146 million — and Davis turned it down. Except that wasn’t a surprise. As most stories on the issue explained, if Davis becomes a free agent this summer and re-signs with the Lakers he can get five-years, $202 million.

That is true. That is also not how this is going to go down.

Davis unquestionably will re-sign with the Lakers. I know zero sources around the league who think otherwise. That is why the league’s free agent/trade focus is now on Giannis Antetokounmpo (who probably signs a five-year super-max extension with the Bucks this summer, but there is more wiggle room than with Davis) and how unhappy Karl-Anthony Towns is in Minnesota.

Just don’t expect Davis to sign for five years with the Lakers. Expect a three-year contract with an opt-out after two.

This is right out of the LeBron James/Rich Paul playbook (Paul is Davis’ agent, too) and it works for two reasons. First, it keeps pressure on the Lakers organization to put a contending team on the court, something that will be a challenge once LeBron decides to step away (whenever that comes). Second, after two more seasons Davis will reach 10 years of service, making him eligible for a full 35 percent of the salary cap. In the summer of 2022 Davis could opt-out, then re-sign an even larger five-year contract with the Lakers.

All of which means a lot of “nothing to see here, move along” with the story of Davis passing on the Lakers’ extension offer, just know what comes next is not what a lot of pundits were selling.

2) Tristan Thompson led Cleveland to a feel-good win amidst controversy. As trade speculation swirled around Tristan Thompson last month, the Cavaliers put out word they want to keep him because they value his leadership that much.

They might have never needed it more than yesterday.

The Cavs spent the day at the forefront of the national sports conversation, because their coach – John Beilein – called his players “thugs” then said he meant to say “slugs.” The story was the right mix of sensational, serious and silly to capture attention. Even for a team accustomed to drama, this provided plenty.

Enter Thompson.

The center scored a career-high 35 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, made the game-tying free throws in the fourth quarter, slammed the dagger dunk in overtime and finished a game-high +10 in a 115-112 win over the Pistons last night.

Did Thompson know his 35 points set a personal best?

“Uhhh,” Thompson said, seemingly deliberating how to answer a question that could make him look vain.

“Hell yeah!” Kevin Love, who had been exchanging friendly obscenities with Thompson throughout the interview, shouted across the locker room. “I was reminded by the bench!”

“Hell yeah!” Thompson said. “They was telling me on the bench, and s—, I ain’t stupid. I know!”

Love continued to rile up Thompson.

“I know what I’m talking about! I ain’t stupid! I’m a basketball savant! I know everything!” Thompson said, becoming increasingly profane and then comparing himself to The Schwab.

At the end of a long day, Beilein clearly appreciated his team’s enthusiasm.

“Go into a college locker room, and everybody is jumping around. Pro locker room, everyone is chilling after win,” Beilein said. “That locker room is hopping around right now.

“If they’re excited, then the coaching staff is really excited. Because we want to have fun. And the way you have fun is you win, and we won tonight.”

—Dan Feldman, from the Cavs/Pistons game in Detroit

3) Joel Embiid will miss a couple of weeks following finger surgery, but even without him Philadelphia’s defense locks-up Boston. Is it really a surprise that Joel Embiid needs surgery — did you see what happened to his finger earlier this week? The ring finger on his left hand was bent in a way fingers are just not meant to bend. At the time Embiid had it popped back in, taped up, and returned to the game (a win against Oklahoma City).

However, it should be no surprise he needs surgery for a torn ligament in that finger. Embiid is having surgery and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. He, averaging 23.4 points and 12.3 rebounds a game for the Sixers, but his bigger impact is on the defensive end, where the Sixers are 8.2 points per 100 possessions better when Embiid is on the court.

Except against Boston on Thursday night. With Al Horford as center — and after an early-game adjustment playing more aggressively out high on the pick-and-roll, rather than Embiid’s drop coverage — the Sixers shut down the top-10 Boston offense and got the win, 109-98. Philly got a spark from Josh Richardson’s 29 points, and Ben Simmons added 19, but it was mostly the Philly defense that stole the show.

We’ll see if the Sixers can sustain this level of defense with Embiid out, but this was an impressive start.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: They still love Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook returned to the franchise where he played the first 11 seasons of his career, where he grew up in a lot of ways, where he won an MVP-award and racked up triple -doubles. To say Thunder fans welcomed him back with open arms is an understatement.

First, there was a video tribute.

Then came the raucous standing ovation.

Then Westbrook went through his traditional pregame routine — fist bumps for the stat crew, shooting arrows, a sprint to the corner — to the joy of the crowd.

That crowd also loved the way Chris Paul and the rest of the Thunder played that night, spoiling Westbrook’s return and raking up a 113-92 Thunder win.

Cavaliers coach John Beilein reportedly called team ‘thugs,’ but says he meant ‘slugs’

David Berding/Getty Images
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This is ugly.

And it could get uglier.

In a film session Wednesday, first-year Cavaliers coach John Beilein tried to pay his team a compliment by saying they were no longer playing like “thugs.” Later that night, he contacted players saying he meant to say “slugs.” Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story.

Beilein had been wrapping up what had been an off-day film session in Detroit and a hush fell over the room when his players and staff heard the words come out of his mouth, sources said.

The Cavaliers players left the room initially stunned and were increasingly disturbed as they dispersed out of the meeting, league sources said.

“I didn’t realize that I had said the word “thugs,” but my staff told me later I did and so I must have said it,” Beilein told ESPN on Wednesday night. “I meant to say slugs, as in slow moving. We weren’t playing hard before, and now we were playing harder. I meant it as a compliment. That’s what I was trying to say. I’ve already talked to eight of my players tonight, and they are telling me that they understand.”

Here are some thoughts on this:

• There is an obvious, massive difference between “thugs” and “slugs.”

• The word “thug” carries a lot of heft and ugly racial connotations when said to a room of mostly young African-American men. Because of that, it’s tougher to brush this off as a simple slip of the tongue.

• Was this a one-time, fluke thing? Or, is there a little more to this, and will other stories leak out in the coming days?

• The Cavaliers have been playing defense like slugs in recent weeks.

• Beilein left the University of Michigan at age 66 to take over the Cavaliers job this season, signing a five-year contract. The Cavaliers are a team in flux — veterans who could be traded, such as Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, plus young players in need of development such as Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. It’s not an easy team to coach, but the roster has not responded to Beilein, and he has not connected with his players. What we end up with is things like Love acting out.

• Will this threaten Beilein’s job? Maybe. Things certainly are at a crossroads midway through his first season.

If this proves to be a pattern, then yes, he’s gone. If the players don’t buy Beilein’s “slug” reasoning and he loses the locker room (or loses it more, if that’s possible), then yes. If this spirals into something uglier, then yes. But predicting how this will play out in Cleveland is difficult thanks to an unpredictable organization.

Expect a lot more on this in the coming days.

Pistons rookie Sekou Doumbouya detonates dunk on Tristan Thompson, stares him down (video)

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It’s not all bad news for the Pistons.

As Blake Griffin prepared for and underwent potentially season-ending surgery, rookie Sekou Doumbouya moved into the starting lineup.

The No. 15 pick in last year’s draft, Doumbouya is averaging 13 points and seven rebounds per game in four starts. He has made 58% of his 2-pointers in that span. Though he has shot just 31% on 3-pointers, he’s comfortable enough beyond the arc to launch four triples per game.

Simply, Doumbouya, who just turned 19, has shown flashes of why I rated him No. 7 on my draft board.

None have been more impressive than this devastating dunk – and stare-down! – on Tristan Thompson in Detroit’s win over the Cavaliers last night.