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Kevin Love says he expects to return “sometime after the new year”

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Not that it really matters because this season is a lost cause anyway, but Kevin Love is going to be out longer than expected.

Love had surgery on an injured big toe on his left foot on Nov. 2 and the team said he could be back in six weeks, which would be mid-December. Love went on ESPN’s The Jump Tuesday and said expect it to be longer than that, more like January sometime.

“There’s just no telling at this time with the weight-bearing injury what it is going to be like moving forward, but I expect to be back sometime after the new year,” he said.

Love, who was expected to be the focal point of the Cavaliers’ offense, has played in just four games this season.

There has been a lot of speculation about Love as a trade chip but don’t expect anything serious along those lines until next summer. And maybe a year or two after that. Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension that kicks in next season, and considering Love’s injury history and the apparent slight decline in his play, good luck finding a team that wants to pay him $30 million a season for four seasons. Maybe, if Love comes back and looks like a force again, some team that strikes out next summer in free agency could get desperate and be open to a trade. But don’t bet on it.

Love is going to be in Cleveland for a while. Just not on the court until 2019.

Report: J.R. Smith and Cavaliers separating as they seek trade

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DETROIT – Yesterday – yesterday! – J.R. Smith explained why he didn’t leave the Cavaliers when, a few weeks ago, they pulled him from the rotation and gave him the offer to step away.

“I can’t do that to the city and the fans,” Smith said. “A lot of people have been backing me since I’ve been here. I feel like it’s been a new start since I came here. The way the fans embraced me, the way that I’ve embraced the city, my teammates, I can’t do that to them.”

But Smith also said Cleveland is tanking and reaffirmed his desire to be traded. That probably set wheels in motion.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

Smith – who’s guaranteed $18.59 million on a contract that will surely end after this season – carries negative trade value. The Cavs shouldn’t attach the sweetener necessary to dump him. They’re better off just paying him for now.

Because just $3.87 million of his $15.68 million salary for next season is guaranteed, Smith’s contract could prove useful in a trade.

If Smith would reduce his guarantee with a buyout, let him go. But Smith probably shouldn’t do that without a new job lined up.

So, the stalemate continues.

If everyone is happier apart, all the better. Smith wasn’t making a difference on the court for a team he correctly identified as tanking.

J.R. Smith: Cavaliers are tanking

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J.R. Smith said he wants the Cavaliers to trade him.

But that was right after they told Smith he’d be shut down. He has been playing regularly lately.

Still, Smith isn’t pleased with Cleveland.

J.R. Smith, via Jason Lloyd of The Athletic:

“I don’t think the goal is to win. The goal isn’t to go out there and try to get as many wins as you can,” Smith said. “I think the goal is to develop and lose to get lottery picks. I think that was always the plan.”

And as long as the Cavs are operating this way, Smith is not interested in being part of it.

“Not if the goal isn’t to compete, to win,” he said.

If that’s what the Cavaliers are doing, that’s smart. They need premier young talent, and a high draft pick is the best way to acquire it. Because they owe the Hawks a top-10-protected first-rounder, the Cavs need to tank hard rather taking half-measures.

But I also understand why Smith wants no part of it. He’s 33 years old, and he doesn’t have time to wait around for a rebuild. He wants to win now.

Smith should shame the Cavaliers for tanking. That should be a consequence of their plan, even if it’s the right one. He is a casualty of it. If he shames Cleveland into trading or buying him out, all the better.

Giannis Antetokounmpo 29 points, 12 rebounds lead Bucks past Nuggets, 104-98

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Bucks have been plagued lately by sluggish first-half performances.

They got away with it again Monday night.

The Bucks fell behind by 17 points before rallying to down the Denver Nuggets 104-98. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 29 points and Eric Bledsoe added 23, including two late 3-pointers.

Antetokounmpo added 12 rebounds for Milwaukee, which came from 22 down in the first half to beat the Chicago Bulls on Friday night. The Bucks also fell behind by double digits in the first quarter in a loss to Memphis on Wednesday.

“We’ve got to do a better job to try to set the tone,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think we did a better job this game, but we can do a lot better. I think our talent saves us. I feel like we are so talented that even when we are down 10, down 15, we can always get back into the game.”

The Bucks swept the two-game season series against the Nuggets for the first time since 2009-10.

Jamal Murray had 17 points, eight rebounds and a season-best nine assists for Denver, which has lost six of its last seven games.

“We still have confidence. We just aren’t winning games,” Murray said.

Nikola Jokic had 20 points, Gary Harris 14 and Malik Beasley chipped in with a season-high 12 points off the bench.

“I was really pleased with the fight and the competitive spirit. We gave ourselves a chance against a very good basketball team on the road,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “But there are no moral victories. We’ve got to start winning these games.”

The Bucks led 78-77 heading to fourth quarter. The teams exchanged leads until Milwaukee went on a late 8-0 run that featured a pair of 3-pointers by Bledsoe.

“I think Eric is in a really good place,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He is understanding what we need in different moments.”

Denver pulled within two points with less than a minute left on Jokic’s 3 but Khris Middleton, who had been 0 for 7 from deep, answered with a 3-pointer to put the Bucks up 103-98 with 27 seconds left.

After trailing by 10 to start the third quarter, the Bucks grabbed the lead late in the period on a slam dunk by Antetokounmpo.

Denver used a 17-4 to start the second quarter to build a 17-point lead and held a 56-46 advantage at the half. Milwaukee closed the half on a 10-3 run.

The Nuggets led 29-25 after the first quarter, sparked by nine points from Gary Harris.

 

LeBron James on Cleveland: ‘When Kyrie got traded, it was the beginning of the end’

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This Wednesday, LeBron James makes his return to Cleveland.

This time it should feel different from eight years ago, when LeBron returned in a Miami Heat uniform and Cleveland unleashed all its pent-up fury upon him. Not that Cavaliers fans wanted him to leave last summer, but this time they saw it coming and could look back upon a title in the city for the first time since 1954. LeBron cemented his legacy in Cleveland.

LeBron reflected upon those days and said he knew the end was coming the same time everyone else did — when Kyrie Irving demanded a trade (he was eventually shipped to Boston). Via Joe Varden of The Athletic.

“Everyone knows that when Kyrie got traded, it was the beginning of the end for everything. It’s not a secret.”

For my money, the real beginning of the end was when owner Dan Gilbert refused to pay up and retain a quality general manager in David Griffin. LeBron realized that when it all started to go down, too. The new GM Koby Altman told LeBron he would not trade Irving to Boston — turning them into an instant powerhouse — but then the trade was completed later that day. LeBron realized it’s not that Altman lied to him as much as Altman wasn’t the guy making the call.

“You realize at that point in time, take nothing from Koby, because Koby [was just named GM], but at that point in time, you realize that Koby’s not the only one running the team, as [Griffin] had done, and that’s why Griff was let go pretty much.”

LeBron still carried the Cavaliers to the Finals (in part because Irving was injured and out when the teams met in the postseason) but the Cavaliers were no match for the league’s elite, which is why they got swept by the Warriors. LeBron decided he needed to move on to new challenges and headed West to the Lakers, where the work to build a contender is still ongoing.

His return to Cleveland will bring mixed emotions to Cavaliers fans on Wednesday. And if LeBron plays like he has lately — dropping 44 on Portland and 51 on Miami — they will be reminded just how great a player he was for them.