Kyrie Irving

Once again, Danny Ainge proves he's not afraid to bet big on his own judgment

Once again, Danny Ainge proves he's not afraid to bet big on his own judgment

A few thoughts about the blockbuster Cleveland-Boston trade:

  • One thing I've always admired about Danny Ainge: He's got a lot of guts. He always has. He's totally unafraid. And in pulling the trigger on a trade with the team he's trying to beat in the NBA East, he's taking a gamble. In trading his team's best and most popular player he's making an even bigger gamble. And in taking on Kyrie Irving, well, he might be taking the biggest gamble of all. But he doesn't really care what anyone else thinks, he does what he thinks is right. It's the same as the trade he pulled off prior to the draft with the No. 1 pick. He thought Jayson Tatum was the best player in the draft and knew he didn't have to take him with the first pick, so he moved the pick. And he really didn't care what anybody else thought of the deal. The guy has had plenty of self-confidence and courage since the day he started playing basketball. I remember watching him as a high-school junior in the Oregon state basketball tournament and on the football field and marveling at how he laughed in the face of pressure. He seemed totally immune to it and probably still is.
  • In today's world, people running franchises who are willing to make a big gamble or controversial move without worrying about what fans or media will think about it are rare -- and usually worth their weight in gold.
  • Ainge has put a big burden on his coach, Brad Stevens. As well he should -- Stevens is one of the best in the business. But I think Stevens will need to be at the top of his game to find the kind of team chemistry the Celtics had last season. Irving, I've heard, is pretty tough to handle -- for his teammates and his coaches. Getting him to play the team game and keeping him out of calling his own number all the time might be a problem.
  • This deal has long-term ramifications that should not be ignored. Irving is four years younger than Thomas (who is dealing with a hip injury) and in better health. Most people in the league believe LeBron James is headed out of Cleveland after this season and Boston has positioned itself to be the next big thing in the East. Thomas has one year left on his contract and Irving has two years and a player option for a third. Ainge is making a move that's possibly good for this season but definitely good for the seasons after that.
  • Thomas is 5-9 and often listed at 185 pounds. He doesn't look as if he's within 20 pounds of that number, however. Irving is 6-3 and 193. Players as small as Thomas have a pretty rough ride in the NBA -- and I'm not so sure how long he can keep that slight frame healthy enough to carry the heavy load he carried last season. I certainly wouldn't invest in that body with a long-term max deal.
  • Kevin Love and Thomas played on the same AAU team in high school and I'm sure they will play well together. Cleveland will be OK next season if Thomas stays healthy. Of course, behind him is Derrick Rose, another player whose continued good health is no sure thing.
  • I don't know what to think of Irving and his desire to get away from James. But I have a feeling that PLAYING with LeBron is OK, it's just existing with him that's a problem. You hear stories about the entourage, about LeBron basically running the whole organization -- stuff that can't be easy on teammates.
  • The Celtics have reshaped their team coming off what was a very good season. That takes guts. But that's Danny Ainge.

 

Kyrie Irving's demands are taking disloyalty to an obscene new level

Kyrie Irving's demands are taking disloyalty to an obscene new level

I don't know about you, but I'm seeing something in the NBA right now that could become a real problem for me.

For years, discontented players have asked to be traded. Usually they do it privately and not in the media. You never hear about it most of the time that it happens.

First, let's get this straight right now -- I have nothing against free agency. I grew up in an era when players where chained to the same team for life, even if they never got a chance to play much. They had no options. They had to play for the team that "owned" them, or go home.

So now free agency has brought a lot of player movement and it usually favors the rich franchises, the more glamorous cities or the places where the sun shines the most frequently. But I never get too worked up over that. It's the way it is in any business. People want to work for successful companies alongside talented co-workers in great cities.

I wasn't upset when Kevin Durant chose Golden State or LeBron James picked Miami. Or Cleveland. It was their right. The fulfilled their contract and won the right to choose a new team.

But what's bugging me now is a player under contract who is acting as if he is a free agent. He is not only demanding a trade, he is trying to dictate where he should be dealt. I don't like any of that.

Kyrie Irving is that guy. He has three seasons -- the last one being an opt-out year -- left on his contract with Cleveland and has told the Cavs he wishes to be traded. And not only that, he's given the team three "preferred destinations." Now keep in mind, this isn't Carmelo Anthony, who has basically been run out of town by Phil Jackson and has it written into his current contract with the Knicks that he has the right to approve any trades.

What gives Irving the right to expect to just trade his uniform in for another one? Well, nothing. Except NBA players these days are being catered to, fawned over and recruited the same way they were in their high school days, when they played AAU basketball. And we are starting to see the signs that they are beginning to think they can simply go where they want, sign up to play with their pals or create a super team on a whim.

And face it, in many cases some of the top players are basically running their franchise. LeBron James complains in Cleveland that he doesn't get enough help to beat the Warriors but come on -- LeBron has been the de facto General Manager of that team since he returned. He's been behind a good many of that team's trades and free-agent signings, as he assembled a roster of friends and players he knew would defer to him. Now that it isn't working to his satisfaction, he wants a do-over. Or to go someplace else.

If we're talking about recruiting free agents or even Anthony -- who has the no-trade clause that he could modify for any team chasing him -- that's fair game. But players already under contract who first demand a trade and then try to pick the team they go to?

No way.

First off, you sign a deal for $20 million a season as Irving did, you keep your mouth shut and play. Play it out. Then you become a free agent and can go wherever you want. But don't attempt to hold a team for ransom that has signed you in good faith. Be a person of integrity and honor your deal.

And trying to pick the team you're traded to after demanding a trade while under contract? That's what's adding insult to injury.

The Cavs should find out where he'd least like to go and send him there. If the league gets to the point when contracts mean nothing and players can merely quit on their current team and demand a trade to a specific team of their choice, that's when I will quit paying attention.

There is enough player movement as it is, with free agency. And giving up on your current team is not only unseemly, it takes disloyalty to an obscene level.

GOAT? Who knows... but there's never been another team like the Warriors

GOAT? Who knows... but there's never been another team like the Warriors

You can talk all day and all night about the greatest teams of all time. And you really can't come to any conclusions. Differing eras makes it too difficult.

But there has never been another team like this version of the Golden State Warriors.

Folks, time changes. And it has changed basketball in a very big way. You know that, of course, but it may be a bigger change than you think.

Yes, the Warriors shoot the three-point shot like nobody else -- in volume and accuracy. In Game 3, they made 16 of their 33 threes while Cleveland was hitting just 12 of 44. That's a huge edge.

And I must say, Steph Curry is just as unique as his team. I know Kevin Durant is getting most of the headlines from Wednesday's game -- as he should -- but we're already taking Curry for granted because he's been doing his amazing thing for a few years now.

It wasn't just that Curry made five of his nine three-point shots. It's that he made shots -- and continues to make shots -- from spots where other players don't dare shoot them. And he gets them off quickly, too. Curry's edge over most every other player in the NBA is that he's accumulating points three at a time on shots that nobody else makes with consistency. If he gets a glimmer of daylight from about 25 feet and in, he can be deadly. I don't remember any other player in the history of the game as proficient as he is at shooting in volume from distance.

And above that, he's a perpetual motion machine. He had 13 rebounds Wednesday because he's so active. He gets to the ball, whether in the air or on the floor. In his own way, he's as difficult to defend as any of the game's legendary players.

And yes, the Warriors also have other shooters. Klay Thompson and Durant are terrific. But what makes these guys special is that they move the ball and move bodies. They play an unselfish, equal-opportunity offense that doesn't allow the defense to lock in on anybody. In contrast to the Cavaliers.

Cleveland plays too much one-on-one. It's really not sustainable -- even as good as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are at it -- over the long haul against a team moving the ball the way the Warriors do.

Wednesday, 72.5 percent of Golden State's made field goals were assisted. For Cleveland, it was just 42.5. EVERY SINGLE SHOT by Thompson, Draymond Green, David West and Shaun Livingston came off an assist. That's crazy.

And of course, when a lot of people are evaluating this series at some point, they're going to point fingers at the Cavaliers' "supporting cast" and conclude Cleveland didn't get enough production out of it. I think it's easy to say that, but my observation over many years of watching this game is that when one or two players are as ball dominant as James and Irving are, other players simply don't get a good feel for the game. What you end up with is players who are so eager to actually get a shot they burp up a bad one (J.R. Smith) or become more reluctant to shoot (Kevin Love). It's a natural response when you aren't getting consistent touches.

Basketball is changing at warp speed and the Warriors are leading the way. Shooting from distance is of paramount importance these days. You simply cannot afford to get outscored by a big number from behind the three-point line. It's so difficult to overcome that. And you've got to move the ball and play unselfishly to get open three-point shots.

And to beat the Warriors, you're going to need a great team. And there is only one great team out there right now and it's the Warriors. And they are so much different than any of the other great teams in history that it's hard to say where they fit.

A few other thoughts about Game 3:

  • I'm still not understanding why James didn't get out past the three-point line on Durant on that critical shot late in the game. That shot was too important to allow it to be wide open.
  • I'm also bewildered as to why the NBA allows these games to degenerate into a wrestling match. So many obvious fouls are being ignored that if you actually get called for a foul -- or a travel or a double dribble -- you're just flat-out unlucky. It's a joke.
  • People are saying that Green isn't playing his best during this series but he does so many things for his team. Wednesday night he led all players in contested shots with 15, had the best plus/minus of anybody with 14 and had a team-high seven assists to go with a team-high five screen-assists. That doesn't sound like a bad game to me.
  • The only team capable of beating the Warriors is the Warriors. If they don't move, or move the ball, or take a night off on defense, they can be had. But that's the only way.

 

 

Is Cleveland's Game 5 approach sustainable?

Is Cleveland's Game 5 approach sustainable?

In the long run, playing the way the Cleveland Cavaliers did Monday night is a prescription for disaster against a good team. But there's only two games left, at most -- so the "long run" is just about over.

The Cavs got a combined 82 points -- 41 each -- from Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Only one other Cleveland player reached double figures and that was J.R. Smith with 10. Irving and James had terrific shooting nights, particularly from three-point range. And although I consider Irving a very good shooter, James is not. This was a hot night by two all-star players against a team without its best defensive player.

And yes, Draymond Green was seriously missed by the Warriors. Golden State's defensive chemistry and cohesiveness was just not the same. Nor could it find the necessary third scorer and playmaker. Green will be back for Game 6, of course -- and it will be interesting to see if he brings some measure of control to his emotions. Remember, if Green gets another flagrant foul in this game, he'd miss a possible Game 7. But he wouldn't be that foolish, would he?

I know Cleveland won this game going away -- which means little in a series when the winning team is always over 100 and the losers are always under 100. Philosophically, I didn't like the way Cleveland played. Winning teams -- great teams -- move the ball, move bodies and get all their players involved. The Cavs did that in the early rounds of the playoffs but threw it in the dumpster when faced with an elimination game.

And they made it work because of great shooting, which comes and goes even with star players. I think that could work again in Game 6, when Cleveland returns home. Usually teams shoot well in their home arena. But sustainable for the rest of the series? I'm not so sure. I just sit back and marvel at how Cleveland wastes the talent of Kevin Love by not involving him in an offensive system of some sort. He's being set up, of course. He's going to be the fall guy if this thing doesn't work out in Cleveland's favor -- taking the blame for LeBron, who has grown tired of taking the losing-in-the-Finals heat.

Cleveland is playing without any real system right now. It's a two-man game and the rest of the guys may as well just pull up a chair, grab a towel and watch. It will probably get the Cavs to a Game 7, but maybe no further. LeBron is back in his old role of coaching this team, which has never worked real well.

On the other hand, Golden State is facing the possibility of being without injured Andrew Bogut, its rim protector, which will help the Cavs, too. And I must say, adding the extra travel day in between the games in the Finals, makes this thing seem like it will never end. And with the real possibility now of going seven games, it's going to be a physical test -- a battle of attrition -- that the Warriors never wanted it to be.

It's up for grabs now. Somehow I got the feeling that Golden State was meant to win in five games. And since that didn't happen, anything can happen.

Game 4: Shaky officiating and some poor Cav decisions

Game 4: Shaky officiating and some poor Cav decisions

Before I get into some specifics about Golden State's win over Cleveland Friday night in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, let me say something that just has to be said: The officiating by the crew of Danny Crawford, Jason Phillips and Mike Callahan left a lot to be desired. A LOT.

If you happened to record the game, I'd invite you to run any number of plays back and count how many fouls went uncalled. Fouls that would have surely been called in a regular-season contest. It was ridiculous. They weren't even protecting shooters -- which is usually an NBA maxim. And when you overlook so many obvious fouls, it becomes such a random thing when you do actually call a foul. The inconsistency must make it extremely difficult to play in the game. I know it makes it hard to watch a game.

With that off my chest, let's deal with some specifics from this game:

  • There was a lot of gabbing afterward about a little tap below the belt delivered by Draymond Green to LeBron James after a scuffle between the players. Let me just say that when you knock a guy down, then make things worse by disrespecting him by walking over him, it's not surprising you might get hit between the legs as you straddle him. Enough said about that foolishness.
  • James scuffled with Green and Steph Curry in the fourth quarter -- a pretty obvious indication that his frustration level was getting pretty high. He also seemed to be battling teammate Kyrie Irving for shots down the stretch, which should never happen.
  • Cleveland Coach Tyronn Lue needs to grab more control over that team. In the fourth quarter it was just James and Irving taking turns, or taking each other's turns, going one-on-one. By now, everyone knows how ineffective that can be.
  • LeBron just hasn't ever seemed to figure out the appropriate balance between making his teammates better and getting his own good shots. It's plagued him his entire career. For as much time as he spends berating his teammates on the court, this man needs coaching more than most superstars do.
  • Speaking of coaching, I'm going to be one of the few to say this because Charles Barkley and I were the only ones who didn't agree with starting Richard Jefferson Friday night: how in the world could any coach decide it's a better idea to start Richard Jefferson than Kevin Love in a Finals game? Love ended up playing just seven seconds more than Jefferson -- which is a joke. Love is an all-star, Jefferson is washed up. I will always think that was a very silly move -- especially with James and Irving doing nothing but playing hero-ball in the fourth quarter, with Love languishing on the bench. Lue will learn real soon that sometimes you get outcoached by someone else and sometimes you outcoach yourself -- which is what he did Friday.
  • I've talked about how good Steve Kerr is as the coach of the Warriors but there's evidence in so many little things Golden State does during a game. Late, when the Cavs were trying to foul on every Warrior possession, Golden State caught the ball before it hit the ground after Cleveland made baskets and immediately got it inbounds to Steph Curry -- the league's best foul shooter. Seems like such a little thing until you see so many other teams fiddle around picking up the ball out of bounds after a make and allowing the defense to get set.
  • Lue didn't give James or Irving a break in the second half and I know a lot of fans -- the same ones who thought Damian Lillard should have played every minute of the second half of every playoff game -- think that's proper. But it isn't. These guys aren't robots.

Warriors manhandled by Cavs in Game 3

usatsi_9330846.jpg
USATI

Warriors manhandled by Cavs in Game 3

Once again, the Warriors fell victim to the 'Game 3 Blues,' and this time it allowed the Cavaliers to pump life into their flickering championship hopes.

Trailing from tip to buzzer, the defending champions were took a 120-90 spanking from Cleveland before a raging sellout crowd Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena. The Warriors now hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven NBA Finals.

The Warriors showed only flashes of excellence, mostly by the reserves, who dug out of a 20-point first-quarter hole (33-13) to get within eight (51-43) at the half before collapsing in the third quarter.

Four Warriors scored in double figures, with Stephen Curry putting in 19 points, Harrison Barnes tossing in 18, Andre Iguodala 11 and Klay Thompson 10.

The Warriors were outrebounded 52-32 and also committed 18 turnovers, off which the Cavs scored a whopping 34 points.

Star forward LeBron James led the Cavs with a game-high 32 points, while All-Star guard Kyrie Irving bounced back from miserable showings in Games 1 and 2 to pour in 30 points, 16 of which came in a scalding-hot first quarter.

The loss sent the Warriors to 0-4 in Game 3s this postseason and extended to five their overall losing streak in such postseason games, dating back to Game 3 of the 2015 NBA Finals.

The Cavaliers snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Warriors, dating back to Game 4 of the 2015 NBA Finals.

CONTINUE READING

Breaking down Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals rematch

usatsi_9065443.jpg
USATI

Breaking down Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals rematch

Winning the regular season and advancing through three rounds of playoffs, the Warriors now confront the fifth and final barrier to repeating as champions.

So of course in the NBA Finals they get a rematch with their desired opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers, featuring LeBron James.

This is as it should be, as the Warriors dumped the Cavs in six games last season, only to spend the next few months hearing about how fortunate they were to face a Cleveland team without All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.

The 2015 title came with an asterisk in the minds of skeptics, so the Warriors spent the 2015-16 season running roughshod over the league – including a 34-point waxing of the “healthy” Cavaliers on Jan. 18 in Cleveland.

The playoffs, of course, present an altogether different set of circumstances. Here is a position-by-position look at the 2016 NBA Finals, keeping in mind that some matchups are likely to change:

CONTINUE READING