Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA Buzz: LaVine already showing All-Star potential and other league takeaways


NBA Buzz: LaVine already showing All-Star potential and other league takeaways

It's been interesting to hear and read the reactions of many Bulls fans worried about Zach LaVine's inconsistent play at the outset of his return from 11 months of rehab following ACL surgery. So many people pointed to his poor shooting percentage and questioned his shot selection and commitment on the defensive end. Forget the fact he hadn't played against NBA competition for almost a year and was trying to adjust to new teammates halfway through a season.

Well, how do you like Zach now?

Over his last five games, LaVine is averaging around 25 points while shooting 46 percent from the field and the 3 point line. He also has emerged as the team's closer, scoring the Bulls' last 11 points in the thrilling win over Jimmy Butler and the Timberwolves last week, then coming up with a late steal and breakaway dunk in the closing seconds to give the Bulls a win over Orlando on Monday.

Clearly, LaVine was the centerpiece of last summer's draft night trade sending Butler to Minnesota. He was coming into his own as an NBA player in his 3rd season with the Timberwolves before the ACL injury, averaging nearly 19 points a game as the team's third scoring option, while improving his 3 point shooting to right around 39 percent. There's no way Tom Thibodeau would have included LaVine in the Butler deal if he hadn't suffered the injury.

Now, the Bulls are able to center their rebuild around the talents of the 3 players they acquired from Minnesota. LaVine turns 23 next month, Kris Dunn turns 24 on March 18th, and Lauri Markkanen is only 20. Dunn has emerged as a quality NBA point guard whose defensive skills and toughness bring out the best in his teammates and the 7-foot Markkanen could be a future All-Star with his smooth shooting stroke and versatile offensive game.

Still, even after just a 13-game sample size, it's clear LaVine is the player that figures to shine brightest on the NBA stage. The two-time slam dunk champion hasn't lost any of that explosive leaping ability and he has the charisma and self-confidence necessary to accept the responsibility of being "the man" in a major market like Chicago. Going head to head with Butler down the stretch of a close game shows LaVine won't back down from a challenge and isn't afraid of his team's fate resting on his shoulders.

With the Eastern Conference struggling to produce 12 All-Star worthy candidates this season, LaVine and Markkanen could inject themselves into that conversation as soon as next year. Yes, the Bulls traded a top 15 player to Minnesota, and Butler's arrival in the Twin Cities helped that franchise end a 13-year playoff drought. But the first big move in a rebuild can determine just how long the process will last, and it's already clear LaVine will be worth the near max level contract he signs with the Bulls this summer.

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Another reality in today's NBA landscape became apparent in the hours leading up to the February 8th trade deadline. Teams willing to take on money can get a lot accomplished.

The Cavaliers completely transformed their roster because much-maligned owner Dan Gilbert was willing to increase his already astronomical luxury tax bill. Make no mistake about it, the trade with the Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. was all about money (and getting rid of Isaiah Thomas, who was a horrible fit in Cleveland both on the court and off). The Cavs were willing to take on the remaining years of Clarkson's contract, giving the Lakers the cap space they need to make a run at major free agents (including LeBron James) over the next two summers.

Similarly, Sacramento had instant buyer's remorse after giving veteran point guard George Hill a three-year, $51 million contract last summer, so the Kings were more than happy to send him on to Cleveland getting only Joe Johnson (immediately waived) and Iman Shumpert in return.

And, if you're wondering why Utah would send away promising swing-man Rodney Hood in the three-team deal while getting only Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose (immediately waived) in return, the answer is again money. The Jazz were fearful of what kind of contract Hood might command as a restricted free agent this summer, so they settled for the cost-certainty of the under-achieving Crowder, who has one of the most team-friendly contracts in the league.

So, by exploiting the financial concerns of three different franchises, the Cavs were able to turn an old, unathletic bench group into a young and hungry unit ready and willing to do whatever LeBron wants. And, Hill gives Cleveland a reliable veteran point guard who's no stranger to the pressure of playoff competition and can be a plus defender when motivated.

Just like that, the Cavs are once again the team to beat in the East and they just might be able to convince James to spend the rest of his career with his home-state franchise. Give credit to Gilbert and first-year general manager, Koby Altman, but really, it's all about the money.


While we count down the days until Round 4 between the Cavs and Warriors in the Finals, Golden State coach Steve Kerr came up with a unique way to get his bored defending champions a little more invested in the regular season grind. Kerr decided to hand the clipboard over to his players, and let them coach the team during a meaningless Monday night game against Phoenix.

Kerr explained, "It had to do with me reaching my team. I have not reached them for the last month. They're tired of my voice. I'm tired of my voice. It's been a long haul these last few years and I wasn't reaching them, and we just figured it was probably a good night to pull a trick out of the hat and do something different. I thought the players responded really well. I just feel like when we're focused, we are really tough to beat, and tonight we were focused. And I think just having to count on each other, and not hearing my voice -- which sort of sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher or parent or whoever's voice that is. At this point, that's what I sound like to them. So, they needed a different voice."

Kerr's motivational trick obviously worked. Golden State handed the awful Suns their fourth loss of the season by 40 points or more, 129-83. And veteran forward Jared Dudley summed up the state of basketball in Phoenix, where the Suns have lost 11 of their last 12 games. "It shows a lack of respect for an opponent, and maybe right now we don't deserve respect," Dudley told ESPN. "When you keep getting beat by 40, teams won't respect you. But it's up to us to change that."

Or not. After all tank season is in full effect, and it's quite a race among the bottom 8 teams.


Since the NBA moved the trade deadline ahead of All-Star weekend, this is the first season teams will have more time to analyze potential buyout targets before the March 1st deadline for playoff eligibility.

Boston added big man Greg Monroe to strengthen their second unit, while the Rockets are poised to sign both veteran Joe Johnson and shot blocker Brandan Wright for the stretch run and playoffs.

Atlanta bought out former Bulls guard Marco Belinelli, who signed with the 76ers.

But we're still waiting to find out where Derrick Rose will land. After being waived by Utah, Rose isn't exactly finding a robust market for his services. There had been initial reports about Thibodeau being interested in signing his former star point guard to play a back-up role behind Jeff Teague, but that would mean taking Tyus Jones out of the rotation. Washington was reportedly interested, but now the Wizards are considering bringing Ty Lawson back from China to take over the point guard minutes available because of injuries to John Wall and Tim Frazier.

Remember when Rose left the Cavs for a few weeks earlier this season to ponder his NBA future? It's possible the league will make that decision for him. The youngest MVP in NBA history is only 29.

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Finally, back to Steve Kerr's decision to let his players make the coaching decisions Monday night against Phoenix. Kerr had a quick conversation with Suns' coach Jay Triano after the final buzzer, explaining he didn't mean to be disrespectful, which brought this response from Triano in his post-game media session.

"I noticed their plays were a little better out of timeout tonight." "Nah, I didn't have a problem with what Steve did."

Probably a good idea for Triano to keep his options open. The interim head coach figures to be looking for a new job at the end of the season.

NBA world explodes (and makes wise-cracks) as LeBron, Cavs go trade crazy


NBA world explodes (and makes wise-cracks) as LeBron, Cavs go trade crazy

There may not be another league in the world in any sport that has so much drama without teams getting near a court as the NBA.

The final hours leading up to Thursday's trade deadline were proof. After the Bulls kicked things off with a whisper in the wind by dealing Jameer Nelson, who never played for the Bulls, for Willie Reed and a swap of second-round picks in 2022 (yes, 2022), Cleveland took over and ran things.

The Cavs dealt away Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade and landed Rodney Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. While the Rose and Wade deals will resonate more with Bulls fans, there was plenty of snark to go around about all of the moves. Here's a collection of some of the best jokes about Cleveland's busy day.

Some people had the perspective to think of the few remaining Cavs that aren't LeBron.

And possibly the most savage of the bunch:

NBA Buzz: It's never too early for a mock draft


NBA Buzz: It's never too early for a mock draft

The majority of the NBA universe is speculating about which players will be traded before the Feb. 8 deadline — but we already did that a couple days ago.

So, with the college basketball season past its halfway point, how about an early projection of what the 14 lottery teams might do with their first-round selections?

It's never too early for a mock draft.

1. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley, PF, Duke. The Kings have been whiffing on lottery picks for most of the last decade, but taking Bagley would be a no-brainer. Sacramento is pretty thin up front after the DeMarcus Cousins trade last season, and Bagley looks like a multiple-time All Star with a variety of post moves and shooting range out to the 3-point line.

2. Atlanta Hawks: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona. The Hawks have completely torn down the roster just a few short years after finishing with the best record in the East. They could use help at every position, but as we saw when the Bulls visited on Jan. 20, the Hawks have absolutely zero rim protection. Enter Ayton, an athletic seven-footer with an NBA-ready frame who should be able to anchor the Atlanta defense for years to come.

3. Orlando Magic: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma. The Magic are another team in major need of a roster makeover, and after watching Elfrid Payton struggle for four seasons at the most important position in the modern game, isn't it time for an upgrade at the point guard position? Young leads the nation in both scoring and assists with Steph Curry-like shooting range. He would definitely be a big-gate attraction in the Magic Kingdom.

4. Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic, SG/SF, Slovenia. After riding international star Dirk Nowitzki to their only NBA title in 2011, how about bringing in the best player currently competing in Europe? Mark Cuban has never been afraid to take chances with personnel moves, and the highly skilled Doncic could turn out to be the best perimeter player in the draft. At the age of 18, his shooting and passing ability have drawn rave reviews from NBA scouts.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: Michael Porter, SF/PF, Missouri. Porter only played two minutes for the Tigers before leaving his first college game with what turned out to be a season-ending back injury. Still, scouts love his potential to play both forward spots at 6-foot-10, and if Porter decides to apply for the draft, it's hard to see him falling beyond this point.

6. Phoenix Suns: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama. The Suns used to be drowning in point guards, but after trading Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe in recent years, their starter is now 5-foot-9 Chicago native Tyler Ulis. Sexton has tremendous scoring and ball-handling skills, showing up on the national radar after almost single-handedly beating Minnesota in a Thanksgiving tournament game when Alabama was forced to play with only three players for a good portion of the second half because of injuries and ejections.

7. Boston Celtics: Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas. The Celtics continue to stock up on young talent by virtue of all the great trades made by general manager Danny Ainge in recent years. Boston has just about every position but center covered, and now they get a chance to add a defensive anchor with a 7-foot-9 wingspan. The Celtics are poised for a long run as the beasts of the East.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF, Michigan State. Power forward really isn't the Cavs' biggest position of need, but if LeBron James leaves in free agency, Cleveland could be heading into rebuild mode. Jackson has a soft shooting touch from 3-point range and is quick off his feet as a shot blocker. He could team up with Kevin Love on a new-look Cavs team post-LeBron.

9. Bulls: Mikal Bridges, SG/SF, Villanova. With four starting positions already covered (assuming Robin Lopez remains on the roster), the Bulls would have the luxury to add another shot creator on the wing. Bridges is tall enough to play the small forward spot and has a lightning-quick first step to get to the rim. He also is shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line and 50 percent overall. Adding Bridges to a lineup that features Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn would give the Bulls a young and versatile unit capable of playing with tremendous pace.

10. Charlotte Hornets: Kevin Knox, SF/PF, Kentucky. The Hornets could be ready to push the reset button after watching their veteran-laden team underachieve this season. Charlotte will be looking to trade the big contracts of Nic Batum, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, which means they could be in need of a versatile frontcourt player with high-end scoring potential.

11. Utah Jazz: Wendell Carter, PF, Duke. With Derrick Favors likely to leave in free agency, the Jazz could definitely use a young power forward with Carter's ability to score inside. Carter has played in Bagley's massive shadow at Duke, but he figures to get more touches and shot attempts in an NBA offense. The Jazz have had pretty good luck drafting power forwards in the past with Karl Malone and Paul Millsap.

12. New York Knicks: Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State. Bridges surprised a lot of NBA executives with his decision to return to Michigan State for his sophomore season considering he was a likely lottery pick last year. Bridges has become much more than just a spectacular dunker, adding a more consistent 3-point shot to his offensive arsenal. He could be an excellent fit in New York alongside Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter.

13. Detroit Pistons: Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky. Diallo hasn't really stood out on a young Kentucky team, but his physical tools are off the charts. He's a great finisher at the rim but needs more consistency with his outside shot. The Pistons could be in need of a shooting guard with Avery Bradley heading to free agency.

14. Denver Nuggets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky. Another talented young athlete who gets kind of lost in a somewhat dysfunctional Kentucky offense. The Nuggets are ready to move on from the Emmanuel Mudiay experiment, though Gilgeous-Alexander offers similar concerns as a raw, underdeveloped prospect.

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The big news this week involves the Milwaukee Bucks' decision to fire head coach Jason Kidd, who originally came to Milwaukee because of his longstanding friendship with Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry. Kidd signed a contract extension in 2016 and has a good relationship with All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So why the change? Clearly, Kidd and his staff have not done the best job of developing the talent on the roster. The Bucks made an early season trade with the Suns to acquire point guard Eric Bledsoe, giving them another shot creator to go along with the Greek Freak. They've also loaded up on long athletes over the years, drafting frontcourt players John Henson, Thon Maker and D.J. Wilson, while also adding point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who was the 2016-17 Rookie of the Year. And the Bucks starting lineup features a third proven scorer in swingman Khris Middleton, with Chicago native Jabari Parker expected back next month after completing his second ACL rehab.

With the Bucks scheduled to move into their new downtown arena next season, ownership is clearly not satisfied with a team hovering around .500 and in danger of missing the playoffs. Assistant coach Joe Prunty will take over for now, but the names of David Fizdale and Monty Williams have already surfaced as leading candidates to replace Kidd.

The San Antonio Spurs have long been held in high regard as the NBA's model organization. But now ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright are reporting there's a growing disconnect with star forward Kawhi Leonard over the handling of his rehab from a quad injury. Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season because of the injury, and according to the report, he wasn't always on the same page with how the rehab process was done. Leonard is currently sidelined again because of the same injury, and the Spurs aren't sure when he'll be ready to play again.

Spurs general manager R.C. Buford denies there is any problem between the organization and its star player, but it's definitely a situation to watch considering Leonard can opt out of his current contract following the 2018-19 season. If the Bulls decided not be active in this summer's free-agent market, is there a chance they could make a run at one the NBA's top 10 players with a max offer in 2019?

While the Bucks have been one of the league's most disappointing teams this season, the Washington Wizards aren't far behind. Washington currently holds the fifth seed in the East, but that has more to do with the quality of the conference rather than the Wizards' outstanding play. Washington players recently decided to hold a clear-the-air meeting, but things didn't go exactly as planned.

According to the Washington Post, the meeting actually had a negative impact on team morale. John Wall said, "We had our team meeting. A couple guys took it the negative way, and it hurt our team. Instead of taking it a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a little bit."

Wizards leading scorer Bradley Beal added, "Honestly, it was probably — I won't say pointless, but we didn't accomplish what we needed to accomplish in that meeting. We just need to win ballgames. Like I told the guys, it doesn't matter how many meetings we have. We can have a meeting after every game, but if we're not mentally prepared for each game, we're going to lose again."

And that's exactly what happened. In the next game after the meeting, the Wizards got pounded by the Hornets, 133-109. Clearly, there's a lot of work to do before Washington can be considered a legitimate threat in the East.

Speaking of bad team meetings, how about Wojnarowski reporting the embattled Cavs got together before practice on Monday and actually questioned the legitimacy of Kevin Love's illness after he only played three minutes in a blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder? According to the report, Love had to explain to his teammates why he left the arena before the game was over and then missed practice the following day. The Cavs might eventually get their act together before the playoffs, but it sure doesn't look good now.

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Former Cavs coach David Blatt felt blindsided when he was fired and replaced by Ty Lue midway through the team's 2015-16 championship season. Blatt eventually went back to Europe to resume his coaching career, and he directed one of the teams in a Turkish BSL All-Star Game on Sunday.

When asked about his goals for the game, Blatt offered this classic that resonated on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean: "I hope we don't give up as many points as the Cavaliers gave up last night."

Very funny line after the Cavs were torched for 148 points in that loss to the Thunder, which matched a franchise record. Problem is, Blatt's All-Star squad gave up 151 in losing their game. You know what they say about karma.