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Obsession with winning now jeopardizes Cavs long-term


Obsession with winning now jeopardizes Cavs long-term

In today's sports landscape, particularly when it comes to firing coaches, nothing makes the social media universe happier than calling for someone's job. Friday, before that train gained steam with the Cleveland Cavaliers, they fired David Blatt midway through his second season despite having the East's best record and coming off an NBA Finals appearance in which they pushed the Golden State Warriors to six games.

To his credit, for better or worse, Cavs GM David Griffin owned the decision: "When you have the clarity of purpose that our ownership has instilled in this entire organization, decisions often make themselves. Every decision made is an answer to the following question: does it put us in the best position to deliver Championships to Northeast, Ohio.”

Meaning, this wasn't LeBron James forcing the hand of management to make a coaching change. But even Griffin has to realize that James is about to be an unrestricted free agent again and all the moves they've made thus far, which includes trading away No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins who would be on a rookie scale contract for Kevin Love (five years, $110 million), aren't working. 

They've mortgaged their long-term future on the short-term and Griffin doubled down by naming Tyronn Lue, who was passed over for Blatt but served on his staff, as the successor. Lue has never been an NBA head coach and isn't an interim coach. He has a three-year deal.

Championship teams are about pieces that fit. It's not just having name players like James, Love and Kyrie Irving for the sake of having names or spending a lot of money. This isn't fantasy basketball. The Big 3 with the Miami Heat would've beaten the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 if it was all about talent. Dallas' pieces, coupled with the masterful coaching of Rick Carlisle and defensive coordinator/assistant coach Dwane Casey, were too much to overcome for James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. They had to tweak their roster to be a champion, adding vets like Shane Battier who sacrificed his game and wallet to win.

You can't gauge intangibles with a stat sheet and clearly Griffin didn't like the locker room culture (every good team has a positive one). This is why having unselfish players who don't care about stats and don't pout about playing time like Battier. This is why having cliques, prevalent with these Cavs and the Wizards before they ran all of their bad seeds out of town in recent years, is a sign of pending doom.

Griffin will be hailed as a genius who took a big risk and it worked out, or he'll be ridiculed for a desperation move that makes a bad situation worse. 

James, in his 13th season, is 31. With Irving at the helm in his first three seasons minus James, Cleveland won 21, 24 and 33 games. Love, a favorite of James who was a questionable addition at the beginning because of his defense and aloof attitude, received a max contract pretty much because the Cavs had no choice.

If they didn't give him what he wanted, Love would've walked in free agency and they'd have nothing to show for having drafted Wiggins who is now with the Minnesota Timberwolves and blossoming into a solid two-way player (something Cleveland could really use now). The Cavs gave Tristan Thompson, an excellent defender and dirty-work player, a five-year, $82 million deal before this season though they can't run any offense through him or give him the ball in the last two minutes of the game.

This is what happens when a team is desperate and goes overboard with winning now and blows up its own salary cap to do it (by far, they're way over at $112.5 million entering the season). Are the Cavs any real threat to beat the Warriors or San Antonio Spurs in a seven-game series in the Finals? 

Not with the current roster and it doesn't matter who the coach is. After doing all of that math, and the massive luxury tax payments, having no NBA championship banners would equal failure. Being a uxury tax team means the roster can't be replenished properly as the Cavs would be handicapped going forward because it can't offer free agents deals that are as competitive, giving non-luxury tax teams a significant edge. 

“Our ownership group supports David Griffin’s decision. We would like to thank David Blatt for his work over these past two seasons where the Cavaliers transformed into a playoff team after a rebuilding phase," Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert said, according to team's website. "We believe Tyronn Lue is the right coach at the right time to put us in the best position to take the last but most challenging step to complete our mission to deliver Cleveland an NBA Championship.”

Or Lue could end up like in-season hires such as J.B. Bickerstaff (Rockets), George Karl (Kings) and Mike D'Antoni (Lakers), struggling to make the best out of an impossible situation. Or he could be like first-time coach Steve Kerr (Warriors) who brought the Bay Area a title, or Derek Fisher (Knicks) who has a tougher road to plow.

Blatt probably wasn't the answer, but it takes more than individual talent (see how Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard worked out in L.A.) and tossing around cash like free candy (see the shameless spending by Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov) to win an NBA championship.

If it weren't for the N.Y. Knicks throwing the Cavs a lifeline with a trade for Timofey Mozgov and J.R. Smith, Blatt might've been fired a long time ago. It would be surprising if another conference team did anything to help the Cavs out of this jam to fix their personnel again. Why enrich the team that's trying to keep the other 14 teams in the East from reaching the NBA Finals?

Right now, first in the East is the best these Cavs can expect. Trying too hard to win in the now -- as king Pyrrhus found learned in 2075 B.C. -- will exact a heavy toll that's bound to multiply.

It can be done correctly like the San Antonio Spurs, who have achieved at least 50-win seasons every year since 1999-2000 and won five NBA championships without gutting themselves long-term. When Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili move out, they're set with LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard to replace them by assuming even bigger roles.

This is what patience and common sense decisions bring, particularly with the cap. Sometimes, a team has to take some Ls on the chin rather than compounding a bad decision with another bad one. And the Spurs are in position, competing with Golden State, to make it six championships.

That's how it's done. This is the blueprint to follow. And despite ample evidence from a successful small-market team like San Antonio, Cleveland still got it all wrong. 

[RELATED: NBA postpones Wizards-Jazz because of blizzard]

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Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

The Washington Wizards open their regular season on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Just one week ago, it would have seemed near impossible that Dwight Howard, the Wizards' biggest offseason acquisition, would be ready to play in the season opener, but after three solid days of practice, it can't be ruled out. The Wizards plan to evaluate him throughout the day on Thursday to determine if he can take the court in what would be his first live game action with his new team.

Howard, 32, missed the entire preseason and nearly all of their practices leading up to the opener with a strained piriformis muscle. Though reports have been encouraging from his three practices, he is not yet in game shape. Even if he can play, expect him to be limited. If he can't play, Ian Mahinmi will get the start.

Heat are banged up

Miami is not only coming off a game the night before, as they lost in their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they are missing some key guys. Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow are out due to injuries.

That will leave Miami perilously thin at the guard and small forward position. That happens to be an area of the roster where the Wizards are especially deep, now with Austin Rivers as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal and with first round pick Troy Brown Jr. behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That said, Waiters and Ellington being out means Dwyane Wade may get more run and, as we saw in the preseason, he is still very hard to stop. He is capable of a big night, especially given it's so early in the year and he doesn't yet have the wear-and-tear of a long season.

Can Beal reach the next level?

One of the most important indicators of how much better the Wizards will be this season is the continued improvement of their young players. John Wall, Porter and Oubre are included in that and particularly Oubre, who is entering an important season in the final year of his contract.

But the guy who improved more than anyone last year and has a chance to take another big leap this season is Beal. Now with one All-Star nod under his belt, what does he have for an encore? 

If Beal can get his scoring average up even higher from the 22.6 he put up last season, he could enter the All-NBA conversation. And he now has more help than ever with Rivers behind him. Beal should, in theory, be more fresh each night with Rivers taking away some of his workload. 

The Heat offer a good matchup defensively for Beal with Josh Richardson. He is one of the more underrated players in basketball and is a menace on the perimeter.

"I've been a fan of his since I played him in college at Tennessee," Beal said. "He's always been a pest. He's super athletic, sneaky athletic. And I feel like he developed his shot to where you have to respect it. If you go under [on screens], he's shooting it."


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With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

Lloyd Ferguson had always been infatuated with sneakers. He had long been interested in painting and abstract art. It wasn't until he was 17-years-old that he realized his biggest passions in life could converge and someday become his livelihood.

It was 2011 and the annual event Sneaker Con had stopped in Washington, D.C. Ferguson, who grew up in Silver Spring, Md., came across a vendor table with customized shoes. An artist was taking popular designs from Nike, Adidas and other brands and turning them into unique and entirely original concepts.

Ferguson approached the artist and found out all he could in terms of the process and the necessary supplies to make similar shoes of his own. A seed had been planted for years later when Ferguson would make his own mark in sneaker art and become who many now know as Swaggy Picasso.

Let's rewind a bit. Before Ferguson knew customized sneakers would be a realistic path, basketball was his biggest passion. He was good at it, enough to play at Wheaton High School and later at Montgomery College. It also became a connection to his mother who passed away when he was just 13-years-old. 

Much of Ferguson's childhood was affected by the deteriorating health of his mom, who had a stroke when he was seven and as a result became paralyzed from the waist down. He often visited her while she recovered in a nursing home and, as her condition worsened, he remained linked to her through his success in the sport.

"I wanted to make my mom happy because that was the last thing she saw me doing when I was a kid. I carried that on for her," Ferguson said. "It's just been hard. I just used the things that make me happy to get me through it."

Playing college basketball was an important achievement for Ferguson, but it was short-lived. He eventually turned to art classes and as he regained those skills, he circled back to that day at Sneaker Con and how shoes were the perfect canvas. 

He started by cleaning and repainting shoes for friends and soon realized executing his own designs could be more fulfilling creatively and more lucrative. Several years in, Ferguson is starting to make a name for himself.

His Instagram account @SwaggyPicasso has allowed him to get exposure for his work. The first one that popped online was a Maryland flag-themed pair of Jordan Taxi 12s. One thing led to another, and now Lakers guard Josh Hart has an order on the way inspired by New Jersey-based artist Kaws.

"Ever since then, I've been going H.A.M. with all the painting and it's been amazing," Ferguson said.

Ferguson says his projects can take anywhere between five hours to two days. They require an extensive preparation process before the painting even begins. He will either sketch the concept on the shoe itself or on paper and go from there.

Ferguson's workshop is in his home in Silver Spring where he lives with the pastor of his church. He tries to do two shoes per day and will often stay up until the early hours of the morning to put in the finishing touches of his designs.

"I wake up every morning as the happiest man alive because I'm using my abilities and then putting it on the things that I love most which is shoes. It's just amazing," he said.

Swaggy Picasso is just starting to blow up and and all of it is overwhelming. He next  hopes to design shoes for Wizards players like John Wall and Bradley Beal and many more NBA stars. 

He is also designing a pair of shoes for NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, set to debut on Thursday night's broadcast of the Wizards' season opener against the Miami Heat. Ferguson will attend the game and plans to wear a unique design himself, a pair of Yeezys inspired by the Batman villain 'The Joker.'

With a love for basketball and sneakers, the NBA is the logical destination for Ferguson's work. He wants to create one-of-a-kind shoes for NBA players for a living and someday open his own shop where sneaker heads can walk in and get their own custom designs.

Ferguson appears well on his way to reaching those goals, but at only 23 is now just enjoying the journey.

"I never knew I would get this far or that people would notice me," he said. "It's still mind-blowing because it's like this is really happening."

A full feature video on Ferguson's life and work is available exclusively in the new MyTeams app. Click here to download it