LeBron James

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.

OK, so tell me about Durant's "legacy" now

OK, so tell me about Durant's "legacy" now

As much as I detest the word "legacy" when people are talking about pro athletes (basketball players have careers, they don't have a legacy. Things like that are reserved for the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy) I'm going to use it here.

Where are all those people who insisted that Kevin Durant would affect his "legacy" by jumping from Oklahoma City to Golden State and, as I heard so many times, "ride those guys' coat tails to a championship."

Well, as it turned out, Durant did the right thing. The Warriors would not have won without him. He was the MVP of the series. And he escaped having to play in a city YOU wouldn't live in to the Bay Area. And he escaped having to play with Russell Westbrook on a dysfunctional team and landed with a squad that was the most unselfish in the league.

When people look back on his career they're going to say he carried the Warriors to this championship -- not that they carried him to one.

And he did so while sacrificing pieces of his game for the sake of playing on a winning team. He would have scored more points and his stats would have looked much better had he stayed with the Thunder. But the NBA Finals stage allowed him to show just how talented he is -- leading many people to conclude he's the next big thing in the league.

As far as the Cavaliers are concerned, the Finals showed they have some work to do on that roster of theirs. Instead of stacking their bench with LeBron's buddies, they need to get some serious role players with talent. They need guys capable of contributing instead of just sitting and watching. In Game 5, the Warrior bench outscored the Cavalier bench 35-7, typical of the entire series.

The Warriors, too, had a big coaching edge. Golden State plays the prettiest game in basketball on offense and just about the best defense in the league. The Cavs take turns playing one-on-one with not enough defense.

The right team won. And Kevin Durant made the right move.

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.

 

 

At last, the Blazers chalk up a significant win this season

At last, the Blazers chalk up a significant win this season

There was so much to like in the Trail Blazers' 102-86 romp over the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night in Moda Center. Let me touch on just a few of them:

  • First, it's important to note that Portland fans had to work very hard to get to the game and a good many of them made it. I was very surprised how full the arena was on a night of such dicey travel. The attendees were rewarded with their team's best game of the season. I wasn't surprised the NBA so obviously forced the teams to play on an iffy night -- it's been NBA policy to do that for decades, even when the home team is not in favor of it. Especially when a one-night delay of the game would probably force some sort of issue between the league's TV partners, ESPN and TNT.
  • The Trail Blazer defense was intense and connected. I loved the way it collapsed and covered in the basket area (the Cavs had just 24 paint points and went a woeful 12-39 in the paint) when necessary. That takes coordination and effort -- and it was there all night.
  • At the same time, the Blazers were still able to contest three-point shots. Cleveland made just 30 percent of its attempts from three-point range.
  • The Cavaliers were not real interested on defense in the first quarter and Portland got off to a very good start on offense. But in the second period Cleveland began to tighten up its defense and went to another level. What I liked about that is that the Trail Blazers kept at it, through some rough possessions, and had an eight-point halftime advantage.
  • There were so many contributions from so many players but if you're a Trail Blazer fan you have to be excited about the ongoing confidence and emergence of Allen Crabbe. He has been almost unworldly over the last few games and the squad has needed another consistent shooter from long range.
  • Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu were terrors on defense, as usual. There can be no denying how important their presence on the court is to the Blazer defense.
  • Evan Turner had a tough shooting night but had 11 assists and eight rebounds while taking some turns at defending LeBron James. My sense has been that Turner fears no man. He took on James and gave as much as he took in a physical battle. His rough edge is very important to this team.
  • CJ McCollum continued his hot play on offense -- he's in a zone right now. A very hot zone. And four blocked shots? He's engaged at the defensive end.
  • Terry Stotts had his team very well prepared, which is saying a lot considering the Blazers' busy travel day on a back-to-back game.
  • There was a different vibe Wednesday night. The Trail Blazers looked much more like last year's confident bunch than they have all season.
  • What can we expect moving forward? I'd like to think Tuesday night's game, when the Lakers' DeAngelo Russell "poked the bear" -- confronted Damian Lillard and woke him and his teammates up -- was a turning point and that the Wednesday night triumph over the Cavs was Exhibit A of a major sea change for Portland. But there is still a lot of work to be done. The Trail Blazers have buried themselves in the conference standings and climbing out of what is still an 18-23 hole won't be easy.

Blazers end the first half on a high note with rout of LeBron James and Cleveland

Blazers end the first half on a high note with rout of LeBron James and Cleveland

The Trail Blazers ended their first half on a high note with perhaps their best outing of the season, a thorough and dominant 102-86 victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Behind the shooting of Allen Crabbe and an explosive second half from CJ McCollum, and with the help of an active and swarming defense, the Blazers beat the defending champions to run their record to 18-23, one game better than last season at the halfway mark.

McCollum scored 21 of his 27 points in the second half and became the first Trail Blazers player since Clyde Drexler in 1987 to score 25 or more points in seven consecutive games. The franchise record is 11 by Geoff Petrie. 

Crabbe, meanwhile, hit 9-of-10 shots and scored 24 points, two games after he established a career-high with 30 points against Detroit, and coach Terry Stotts recorded his 200th win in Portland. 

But perhaps more than anything, the Blazers' win was fueled by its defense, which held Cleveland to 34.1 percent shooting, one night after Portland held the Lakers to 29 percent shooting in the second half of a win in Los Angeles. Evan Turner keyed the defense by often holding his ground against repeated post ups by James, who was held to 20 points, 11 rebounds and four assists on 5-of-12 shooting. Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless also played a part in defending James and the entire Blazers roster was a step faster and had a greater sense of urgency than the Cavaliers (28-10), who lost their second straight.

Both teams were coming off brutal travel schedules that were effected by an unexpected snowstorm that hit Portland on Tuesday night. Cleveland played at Utah on Tuesday and didn't land in Portland until 5:15 a.m. on Wednesday. Portland played in Los Angeles and spent the night in Seattle after flying to Sea-Tac Airport. The team flew to Portland and arrived at 1 p.m., then bused to the Benson Hotel in downtown Portland before heading to the arena at 4 p.m.

It was the sixth time Portland has held its opponent to less than 100 points in its last 11 games. In the season's first 30 games, the Blazers accomplished that feat five times. 

Next up: Orlando at Blazers, 7 p.m. Friday (KGW)

Trail Blazers drubbed again as Kevin Love has NBA record performance in Cleveland

Trail Blazers drubbed again as Kevin Love has NBA record performance in Cleveland

CLEVELAND -- The Trail Blazers' defensive nightmare continues.

Cleveland forward Kevin Love scored an NBA record 34 points in the first quarter -- which included eight three-pointers -- and the Cavaliers stained the Blazers' record book with gaudy numbers Wednesday in a 137-125 rout at Quicken Loans Arena. 

The Blazers (8-9) entered the game with the NBA's second worst defensive rating, just one-tenth below Sacramento, and proceeded to give up a franchise-tying 46 points in the first quarter and a season high in points for the second time during this trip. In addition to Love, LeBron James had a field day, recording his second triple-double of the season: 31 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists. 

Damian Lillard, who vowed before the game to take his game "to another level" had 40 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds as the Blazers lost of the fifth time in the last six games. Four of those loses have included deficits of 20 or more points. 

Love, the Lake Oswego native, finished with 40 points and his 34-point outburst was three off Klay Thompson's NBA record for points in any quarter, which Thompson set two seasons ago in the third quarter against Sacramento. He finished 12-of-20 from the field, 8-of-12 from three-point range and 8-of-8 from the free throw line. 

Love made his first seven shots, including his first six three-pointers, as the Cavs raced to a 26-13 lead just more than four minutes into the game. 

Cleveland (11-2) were playing on four days rest while Portland was coming in the back end of a back-to-back and finishing a five-game swing during which they went 1-4. 

After all the smoke cleared from Love and Cleveland's hot shooting, the Blazers found themselves within striking distance after CJ McCollum made a driving layin with 9:26 left in the second quarter, pulling the Blazers within 51-42. But with Love on the bench, the rest of the Cavaliers remained hot, as Channing Frye hit four three-pointers, JR Smith two and Kyrie Irving two. 

All told, the Cavaliers hit 16 three-pointers in the first half (in 22 attempts), the 16 the most by opponent in Blazers history, surpassing the 14 made by Golden State last March and the 14 made by New York in 2012. Cleveland finished with 21 three-pointers, the most the Blazers have ever allowed. 

The Blazers started Evan Turner in the second half in place of Ed Davis, and a 12-2 run to open the half was enough concern for Cleveland to call a timeout. The Blazers eventually got within 94-83 in the third quarter, but each flurry was met by a surge from James, who recorded his second triple-double early in the fourth quarter. It was his 44th career triple-double. 

Mason Plumlee made 9-of-10 shots for the Blazers and finished with 19 points, four rebounds and three assists. Turner added 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting. 

Next up: New Orleans at Blazers, 7 p.m. Friday (CSN)

 

A little less hysterical look at the Cavaliers' win over Warriors

A little less hysterical look at the Cavaliers' win over Warriors

It seemed like the entire world of sports went a little bonkers Sunday night when the Cleveland Cavaliers finally finished off the seemingly endless NBA season. Just a few comments on what went down in Oracle Arena:

  • Before handing over the Larry O'Brien Trophy, Commissioner Adam Silver -- doing this for the first time -- just couldn't restrain his goofy enthusiasm. Like so many people these days, he seemed to think history started about a year ago. "You just witnessed one of the greatest games in NBA history," he said. Note that he didn't say Finals history. Or Game 7 history. He said "in NBA history." And that, Mr. Commissioner, isn't even close. I'm not going to insult anyone's intelligence by listing a bunch of games but if you've watched the league for more than a few minutes, you can remember a whole lot of games that were more dramatic or featured better play than this one.
  • I must say, too, I'm already up to here with "long-suffering Cleveland sports fan." Yes, I know -- it's been a long time since that NFL title in 1964 with no "Big Four" championship in between. But you did win four NFL championships prior to the Super Bowl era and you at least get to watch major-league baseball and pro football forever. And you have beautiful venues for all of your sports teams. In Portland we haven't won an NBA title since 1977 and don't even have any other Big Four team to watch. But we do have a national treasure planted near the Moda Center. So there is that.
  • LeBron James spent a lot of time after the game he couldn't wait to get back to Cleveland to celebrate with his people. But then, of course, he chartered a plane and took the team to Las Vegas for a late-night celebration (pictures here).
  • I give James a lot of credit -- his post-game Michael Jordan impersonation (down on all fours crying) was pretty good, if not too creative.
  • LeBron James used "I" more than "We" much more often than most sports heroes do after winning a championship.
  • On and on and on we hear about LeBron's "legacy." And the legacy of other players. Folks, presidents have legacies. Great humanitarians have legacies. Athletes give us memories, not legacies. Other than Muhammad Ali, who did leave a legacy.
  • That said, people are very unfair to LeBron when they hold it against him that he lost so many times in the Finals. Many of LeBron's teams have been potential lottery teams without him. Yeah, Michael Jordan has all those rings. So does Bill Russell. But those guys played alongside a lot of all-stars. Frequently, LeBron has had to carry undermanned teams. Give him credit for that and don't always "count the rings" -- that is patently unfair. Absurd, actually.
  • Golden State had multiple chances to put the Cavaliers away, starting in Game 5 -- before Andrew Bogut was injured. But Draymond Green was suspended, the Warriors struggled and it seemed to knock Golden State off its game for the rest of the series.
  • I hope all the isolation plays we saw in that series don't spark a return to such things in the NBA. It's not pretty basketball.
  • Same with the physical nature of the Finals. Go ahead and try to grab and hold Curry during the regular season and see where that gets you -- on the bench in foul trouble. But in this series the NBA reverted back to the tired old custom of "playoff fouls" being different than regular-season fouls. Hate that.
  • A team that thrived on threes for most of the last two seasons just couldn't hit them when needed. And Curry's late-game, behind-the-back pass that sailed out of bounds on a critical possession showed a lack of understanding of the time and situation. It was very careless.
  • Kevin Love had a very nice Game 7, including that one-on-one stop of Curry late in the game. Good for him -- I thought he was being set up to be the goat of the series had Cleveland not won. But Sunday night he got what he came to Cleveland to get -- a championship ring. And now I hope he moves on to someplace where he can again showcase the skills that made him an all-star.
  • Man, that season seemed to last forever, didn't it?

It appears the season has lasted a couple of games too long for Warriors

It appears the season has lasted a couple of games too long for Warriors

It's looking as if the season has just gone a little too long for the Golden State Warriors. In a season of an unprecedented number of wins, can they somehow find a way to win just one more?

It's going to be very difficult. I called them to win in seven and I'm going to stick with that. But it's entirely possible that they've blown their chance to properly finish off the greatest season of all time.

Draymond Green, by getting suspended for Game 5 when Golden State had the Cleveland Cavaliers on the run, cost them a lot. The injury to Andrew Bogut has deprived them of their rim protector, throwing their great defense off kilter. The guards -- the backbone of the offense all season -- have been held, pushed, jostled and wrestled to the point where they look completely worn out and ineffective.

Without Bogut, they have very little choice now but to play small most of the time -- which allows LeBron James to be the biggest player on the floor, a role he seems to relish. In fact, James has played back-to-back games that have probably been among the two best he's ever played on a big playoff stage. But can he have one more of those Sunday night in Game 7 in Oakland?

That's going to be big, of course. But not the biggest decider of what's going to happen in Game 7.

The Warriors need to find their touch from long range. Getting field goals in three-point bunches has been a difference-maker for this team all season. And I'm not talking about making nine or 10 of them. I'm talking about an avalanche of threes.

And frankly, to do that the Warriors need freedom of movement and the ability to get open for those shots. A lot of what's going to happen has to do with how this game is going to be called by the officials. Steve Kerr did a masterful job of trying to work the officials two days in advance after Thursday night's loss:

Look, it's the Finals. Everybody is competing out there. There are fouls on every play. It's a physical game ... if they're going to let Cleveland grab and hold these guys constantly on their cuts and then you're going to call these ticky-tack fouls on the MVP of the league to foul him out, I don't agree with that."

Steph Curry has been bounced around by defenders since the Oklahoma City series, when NBA referees went back to their old habit of allowing teams to get more physical with their defense just because it's the playoffs.

I don't abide that and never have. But it's the way this has been going. And if Klay Thompson and Curry can't shake free of the arm bars and body bumps, it's going to be another long night Sunday for Golden State.

The three-point shot has been the difference for the Warriors all season. They can get beat on the boards, and allow more free throws and points in the paint but as long as they have one of those huge nights from long range, they've still won. It's likely going to have to be that way Sunday in Game 7.

Or a great season is going to come to a stunning end.

Cavaliers wanted Draymond Green suspended two games

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USATI

Cavaliers wanted Draymond Green suspended two games

The Cavaliers reportedly pushed hard to getDraymond Green suspended for smacking at LeBron James‘ groin.

Lo and behold, Green was suspended for Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

So, Cleveland go its way?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Cavs wanted him suspended for two games. I can tell you that. They wanted it to be a flagrant 2 and to have him suspended for Game 5 and Game 6.

The league got it right. The retroactively assigned flagrant 1 triggered a one-game suspension due to Green’s prior playoff flagrants. A flagrant 2, which would’ve triggered a two-game suspension, would’ve been too harsh for Green’s retaliation.

CONTINUE READING

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.