Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I can’t even begin to count how many times I heard that growing up. It has skewed countless young peoples’ view as to what constitutes happiness in the workplace. As a generation, millennials (myself included) seem to struggle with this most of all. We have a difficult time separating what we do from who we are, and we struggle to find fulfillment in our work if we are not happy with it. This causes us to change jobs frequently, and to leave jobs we may have been happy to keep if we had been raised in a different time. Kyrie Irving, perhaps one of the most famous millennials alive, is apparently no exception to this possible paradigm.
“No, I didn’t consult LeBron, or any of my Cavs teammates before I made the decision to ask for a trade. I thought about my future, and decided I needed to make that decision on my own. It isn’t because I have a bad relationship with anyone on the team or in the organization, I’ll always remember Cleveland for the great team, fans, and my first championship. But it was time for me to move on, and I couldn’t be happier than I am to start the next chapter of my career in Boston, playing with great teammates, under a great coach, and in a city where legends were made.”
After declaring a rebirth of sorts for the Cleveland Cavaliers in my last piece, I now feel a bit of egg running down my face after the team has dropped two very winnable games this past week. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss two factors that I think led to these disappointing outcomes.
I have said this before, and it rings true this week as much as it has all season. We MUST win the games we are supposed to win!
No one takes us seriously when we beat the #2 team in the league one week and lose to a sub .500 team the next. It makes fans and the national media question whether we are actually a good team or just putting on a show with smoke and mirrors.
Offensive Strategy: At times, I find the strategy that the Cavaliers decide to use on offense, offensive. Meaning that it offends my common sense approach as an analytical fan.
For example, when the game is close or we are starting to squander a lead late in a game, why on earth do any of these professional players think that the best idea is to run the shot clock down and hoist up a three pointer? Is it an engrained desire to be the hero as they have practiced thousands of times since they were first introduced to the game as kids?
Sure, sometimes the shot goes in and we all talk about how clutch that player is and how they always seem to bail us out. Most of the time, those shots do not go in and amongst fans there seems to be no accountability for having just wasted a crucial possession.
We should be taking high percentage shots from the paint in these situations. This is the most opportune time to rely on Kevin Love.
He has shown over the last few weeks to be not only shooting a high percentage from down there, but it also puts him in a great position to possible secure an offensive rebound for another clock eating possession. I don’t understand why we settle for just running out 24 seconds and taking a low percentage shot when we can get a higher percentage shot and possibly the chance to run out 40 seconds.
I also want to complain about one more strategy on offense that goes hand in hand with the one I just mentioned. That strategy is the isolation play for James.
Yes, I realize that he is The King and can make his way past most defenders one on one and get a high percentage shot, but it is what consistently happens AFTER he makes it past the player defending him that is in question.
Either he takes a tougher than necessary shot trying to get an “And One” and doesn’t get the call, OR if he does get the call and misses we take our chances at the free throw line.
For being a superstar in our league and contending with James Harden for most “And One” opportunities amongst all players, he has been mostly inconsistent at the free throw line. In close games like the 104-103 loss to Boston, #AllFreeThrowsMatter
Another thing that the isolation play does when you run it over and over, is that it gives the opponents time to rest as the play usually consists of James on one end of the court and the rest of the players just standing around watching on the other side. Make these guys run the slalom around picks at the end of the game so that the fatigue catches up with them and they will make more mistakes.
If Lue is dead set on running the ISO in these situation, PLEASE do it with Kyrie! At least he is shooting a reasonable percentage from the line and finishes just as well or better than James.
Bench Play: The contributions off of the bench in these two most recent losses have been truly disappointing as a collective group. Dellevadova being out with a hamstring issue only cements my suspicion that he is maybe the most important component of the second unit.
The strength of the second unit is clearly anchored in Iman Shumpert’s ability to steal the ball and make players think twice about lazy passes. This is an invaluable asset that we have as it gives us more possessions in addition to take potential points off of the board for our adversaries.
From an offensive standpoint, we just cannot produce consistently. Just when we think that Mozgov has “figured it out” he reminds us that there is a reason he is not starting anymore with another blunder at a crucial juncture.
Against the moderately talented Charlotte Hornets all that out five bench players could amass was 13 points. Delly is averaging over 8 points per game on his own so his contributions are clearly missed.
We cannot expect to win close games without these intangibles. I challenge the players and coaches to play a smarter game and, if necessary, make some key changes to the team that put us in a stronger position to contend in the Finals.
Even if we play horribly, we will get one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference purely based on our talent level. Having Kyrie and Love in the Finals this year will not matter though unless some of these issues are corrected.
I’m ready to see if Tyronn Lue is up to that challenge.
Three years ago my grade school alma mater reached out to me regarding coaching basketball. I was intrigued. I had coached during high school and loved it. I decided to jump in and give it a shot. To say we were not good would be an understatement. The average experience of the kids on my team was 2 years of competitive basketball. Practices were spent doing drills just so we could actually get the ball up the court and pretend to run an offense.
Despite our unwinned season there were various bright spots. Whether it was the diabetic player that competed the whole season and finished with a huge smile on his face…a well-deserved smile or the short point guard that could steal the ball from anyone the bright spots could be found every game. The real bright spot was Jerry. The lacrosse star was giving basketball a shot for the first time ever. He was not as polished, not as skilled and not as ready as any of the other players, BUT he had one thing that the others did not. A drive to succeed. He picked up defensive principles and rebounding instantly. He also understood something kids his age don’t understand easily. Passing the ball helps us. Lacrosse principles translated very easily for Jerry and he was easy to keep on the court.
The NBA is in a resurgence. A resurgence led by amazing stars, strong teams and passing. A resurgence that has left the days of Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury and ball-stopping isolation players in the dust. The reasons for this resurgence are varied and unproven, but the reasons matter less than results. The NBA is becoming the 2nd most popular in America and more fun to watch now than in a long time. I think there are a few reasons for this.
The phrase is a popular one in sports. “Imitation is the best form of flattery.” We see it all the time in sports. The wildcat, four corners, isolation offense, catcher hitting last and the read option are all fads in sports that have come and gone and come back again. Some things change and stick. Ball movement in the NBA is one of those things. I think the San Antonio Spurs are one of the reasons for its renaissance. Greg Popovich and RJ Buford built their team around three players (Duncan, Robinson, Elliott then Duncan Parker, Ginobli now Parker, Aldridge, Leonard) and a cast of characters with specific roles and one particular skill set…to pass the ball to the open man.
The league didn’t really heed the change in the championship trend until the Spurs won their second title in 2003. When the Spurs beat the New Jersey Nets in 6 and did it with some international players (Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli), defensive specialists (Bruce Bowen and David Robinson) and one superstar (Tim Duncan) people started changing their philosophies. Those second round picks that you include in trades to get players or 1st round picks now have value. You can draft international players, let them develop in their home leagues and then bring them over when they are ready. Most importantly it changed how a team functions on offense. When Duncan and Robinson are passing to Manu and Parker and trusting them to make the right decision rather than isolating and allowing the defense to focus in on one offensive component people took notice.
2005 was the big turning point. The Pistons and Spurs matched up in the Finals this year. The team that put team ball on the map (the Pistons beat the star-studded Lakers the year before) would lose in 7 to a team that did what they do, just better. This is when the tide started turning.
Stars Demanding Help
Lebron James is the catalyst of the next step of our metamorphosis. A star…THE star of the NBA took a TERRIBLE cast of characters (Sasha Pavlovic, Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Daniel Gibson, Eric Snow, etc) to the NBA finals, lost and then lost in the Eastern Conference finals the next year. A team at the top of the Eastern Conference running an isolation offense through the best player in the game.
Then, the Decision changed everything. He left Cleveland, he left a town hating him, he left the big fish in a little pond, he left the hometown and left the isolation style of basketball. He joined a Heat team with all the hype, all the talent and an offense focused on ball movement. When the highest profile player leaves a team running one style to another focused on a different style the league takes notice and starts reacting. Although the Big 3 did not win the title every year they did show unselfish play and team ball could win you two titles and get you to the final dance perenially.
Teams Rebuilding Differently
It’s great when you can attract players like the Big 3 to your team, but how do other teams build for the future? The league is responding by gathering two types of players…shooters and athletes that pass. There seems to be an epidemic of building teams that are good but waiting to either develop or sign stars to get to the next level. The Pistons, Jazz, Celtics, Suns, Hornets, Magic, Nuggets and Timberwolves are on the fringe of tanking AND making the playoffs. They also all push spacing, shooting and BALL MOVEMENT.
The draft, second round draft picks, fringe free agents and depth are now at a premium while huge free agent acquisitions, building around one player and isolation offenses are on the way out…for now.
With the Cleveland Cavaliers completing the sweep of the Boston Celtics on Sunday and the Milwaukee Bucks finding a way to extend their series with the Chicago Bulls, the Cavs next game won’t be until next Monday.
Unfortunately, that will have no affect on whether or not Kevin Love plays for the Cavs, coming off a sweep of the Celtics, in round two. Love dislocated his shoulder after Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk saw UFC President Dana White in the first row and figured he didn’t have any plans in the near future.
The Cavs (who swept the Celtics [who reign from Boston]) will also be without J.R. Smith for two games. The former Knick guard was penalized for hitting Jae Crowder in the face in game four of the series in which the Cavs swept the Boston Celtics.
Pettiness aside, the Cavs will no doubt be in a tough spot come Monday of next week. The good news is that David Blatt and his staff have a week to prepare for the winner of the Bulls/Bucks series. I don’t know about all of you, but I still fully expect the Bulls to close out the series, whether it’s in game six in Milwaukee or at home in game seven.
Before the injury of Love and suspension of J.R., I believed that Chicago would give the Cavs a tough series, even if it only went five or six games. Now, there’s little uncertainty the Bulls will give Cavs fits. And perhaps there’s even the tiniest bit of doubt that the Cavs won’t come out of this series.
It will be imperative for the Cavs to win at least one of their first two games of the next series, which will both be at home. If they drop both games, they’d face a 0-2 deficit heading into Chicago. Not good.
So what can the Cavs do from here? Obviously Blatt will have to make adjustments to the lineup. He’ll have to use some lineups he used while Love was on the bench during the regular season and he might even have to experiment with some completely new ones. It will all depend on the different situations the Cavs are in and which players the Bulls put on the floor.
Stretching the floor
This is something that is affected with both Love and J.R. out. Both players were in the top five in regards to Cavs 3-pt percentage and both hitting at or above the team average – Love at 36.7% and Smith at 39%.
It’s well known that Smith has started off poorly shooting from distance in the playoffs at 26.7% (8-30). At some point in the playoffs, there will be a game or two where the Cavs will need his hot shooting stroke. The suspension takes away two opportunities at getting that.
There is multiple ways David Blatt can go about this.
The initial thought would just to replace J.R. with Iman Shumpert and Love with Tristan Thompson in the starting lineup.
According to nba.com/stats, the lineup of Kyrie Irving – Shumpert – LeBron – Thompson – Timofey Mozgov was used in nine games this season for an average of 1.5 minutes in those games (in other words, not much). Surprisingly, the Cavs were able to shoot 55.6% from long range. Is that something the Cavs could keep up in the playoffs for a couple games? My guess would be no. Shumpert has severely cooled off from 3 (25% in the playoffs) and has never been a consistent shooter from there.
There are a few guys the Cavs are going to have to rely on if they want floor spacing: Matthew Dellavedova, James Jones, and Mike Miller.
At least one of these guys is bound to start. In a quick conversation with Fear The Sword’s David Zavac, he hinted at a starting lineup consisting of Kyrie, Shumpert, Miller, LeBron, and Mozgov.
@dano708 yeah that wasn't necessarily what I meant. Play Miller over Jones.
— David Zavac (@DavidZavac) April 28, 2015
Predictably, this was a lineup that Blatt never used in the regular season, simply because Mike Miller rarely played any important minutes in the second half of the season. Miller saw his minutes decrease after the additions of Smith and Shumpert, and because he just flat out was not shooting the ball well: 32.7% from 3 this season, his lowest season output in his 15-year career.
The good news is Miller has shot 43.6% in his 47 playoff games the last three years. Along with James Jones, Miller’s also been hyped up as a guy that is ready to play in any situation of the game. And by know, we should know that he can make a clutch shot or two in the playoffs.
Blatt also likes to utilize James Jones at the four to take the opposing team’s big man out of the paint. This is something the Cavs used against the Bulls in February when Love was out due to an eye injury. Jones playing in the frontcourt with Tristan Thompson forced Joakim Noah to play out of the paint and…
This lets guys like LeBron and Kyrie have a ton of room to operate when driving inside. On this specific play, the little movement Jones makes going inside then sliding back out is enough to draw Noah’s attention away from what’s going on in the paint.
Delly, who averaged 10 minutes per game in the Celtics series, will probably be asked to step up from an offensive standpoint as well. And while people will groan at that, his 40.7% from the 3-pt line was actually the second best on the Cavs behind only Kyrie Irving’s 41.5%. He’s currently 2-7 in the playoffs, so he’ll have to get going in these next two games.
Defensively the Cavs might be okay. The trick for David Blatt will be picking the right matchups, depending who is on the floor for the Bulls.
Chicago’s most common lineup is their starting one: Derrick Rose – Jimmy Butler – Mike Dunleavy – Pau Gasol – Joakim Noah.
With the suggested Cavs lineup above, we could see defensive matchups consisting of: Kyrie on Rose, Shumpert on Butler, Miller on Dunleavy, Thompson on Gasol, and LeBron on Noah.
This lineup lets Shumpert, arguably the best pure perimeter defender the Cavs have, guard the Bull’s best consistent offensive player in Jimmy Butler. This is something I’d like to see early and often. With Love out, LeBron should play more in the frontcourt on defense instead of relying so much on Jones or, God forbid, Kendrick Perkins.
Miller, perhaps the worst defender of those five, will be stashed away on Dunleavy, who shoots 54.7% of his shots from the 3-pt line.
When Nikola Mirotic comes off the bench, that’s when a guy like James Jones can come to clear the paint on offense for the Cavs.
Delly could have a rough time overall in this series if he doesn’t get his shot going. He’s okay defensively, but he really struggles on quicker guards, which the Bulls have in Rose and Aaron Brooks.
Tristan Thompson will have his hands full in the second round on both sides of the floor. That said, I think he can come out smelling like a… rose… against Chicago. His versatility will be on display, likely having to guard every big the Bulls have to throw at him. (Selfishly, I’d like to see him get switched onto guys like Rose and Brooks just to see how he would do. That’s not a plan for success, he just gives his assignment a tough battle every time and I think it would be fun to see.)
Limiting offensive opportunities for the opponent
Speaking of Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love being hurt means the Cavs lose their best defensive rebounder – 7.9 per game, 26.3% defensive rebound percentage.
Tristan’s known for his offensive rebounding ability; he’s one of the best in the league and is the best left in the Eastern Conference playoffs. For whatever reason, he hasn’t been as productive on the defensive side, only grabbing 4.7 during the season at a 19.7% clip (behind Love, Mozgov, and Varejao).
Part of this is certainly due to him having more responsibility/ground to cover than the rest of the Cavs’ bigs. Tristan is the one that is usually tasked with being put on the more mobile of a given opponent’s frontcourt players.
Defensive rebounds is something that shouldn’t be overlooked in the upcoming series, even though it’s something that is expected from a team coming off an opponent’s miss.
If you want to know how devastating offensive rebounds are for the opposing team, just ask Brad Stevens. Thompson’s five offensive rebounds in game two, and more specifically, his two in the fourth quarter that led to 3-pointers, led to the Celtics’ demise.
Love being out may increase Chicago’s ability to create second chances for their offense.
Luckily, the Cavs as a whole stepped up in Love’s absence in game four. Four players for the Cavs grabbed double digit rebounds: Mozgov, LeBron, Shumpert (!), and Kyrie (!!!). I’m not saying to expect Kyrie to have that type of offensive performance every game, but it’s clear he understands that the Cavs have to dig deep on all areas of the floor to win playoff games.
Another thing that could help the Cavs prevent second chance opportunities for their opponent is hustle. It sounds painfully trite but I really think it can make a difference in what should be a close series.
Going back to game four against Boston (again), there were multiple times (that I couldn’t find video) where the Cavs stuck their hand in the cookie jar on defense and stripped the ball away in the paint. Shumpert is a guy that did this on Sunday and needs to continue it.
Missing J.R. for the first two games means one less guy that will be able to play the passing lanes for the Cavs. This was one of his better tools that he was able to use for the Cavs this year. J.R. had a steal percentage of 2.3% with Cleveland. For reference, Shumpert was 13th in the league in this category at 2.7%. So Smith’s impact on the defensive end was felt in most of the games he played in, one way or another. Shumpert and LeBron will have to stay on their game as far as playing the passing lanes are concerned.
The Cavs swept the Celtics.
Cleveland fans have not witnessed a playoff series since 2010. Many of us tuned out when the Cavs were not in the postseason. Others, like myself, would watch the playoffs but not as closely. From 2011 until 2014, I would watch Heat games and hope that they would lose. This was the extent of my emotional investment in the NBA playoffs during those years.
Rooting for a team to lose is still fun, but not as fun as when there is a legitimate cheering interest. I’d rather root for the Cavaliers than the Mavaliers.
Much has been made over the fact that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love lack any postseason experience heading into the 2015 playoffs. It is easy to watch the NBA and question how different playoff games really are than high-intensity regular season games, but the intensity of the playoffs is night-and-day.
It was funny when Kyrie Irving asked Mike Miller during the second game of the regular season if that is what the playoffs are like. On the other hand, it demonstrated his naiveté over playing meaningful basketball.
The playoffs are more intense because the officials swallow their whistles more. In addition, teams change their game plan from day-to-day. Boston coach Brad Stevens was unhappy with his team’s rebounding in game 1 of the Cavs series and the Celtics responded by changing their game plan and they out-rebounded Cleveland 39-35. LeBron James was unhappy with his high turnovers in games 1 and 2, so he made the necessary changes and only had 2 in game 3.
In addition, there is bound to be moments of chippiness that carry over from one game to the next. Rivalries are born in the playoffs. If Jae Crowder says to Boston media that the Cavs do not have anyone on the roster that intimidates him during the regular season, it may be a month or two before the teams meet up again. Hard fouls are delivered and retaliated against from game-to-game.
The Cavs swept the Boston Celtics in their first round series. Cleveland’s margin of victory in the sweep was +9.25 points per game. None of the games were terribly close, but the young and inexperienced Cavs most definitely learned first-hand how intense the playoffs can be.
It has been a while since Cleveland fans have experienced a game as intense as game 4 against the Celtics. The officiating was dubious and the game spiraled out of control for Tony Brothers and his officiating crew. Kevin Love’s shoulder was dislocated due to a non-basketball play by Kelly Olynyk which set the tone for the rest of the game. Kendrick Perkins set an unreasonably hard screen on Jae Crowder, which resulted in a flagrant 1 foul and double technical fouls on Kendrick Perkins and Jae Crowder. J.R. Smith reverted back to old habits and hit Crowder on the head, which resulted in an ejection for Smith (with a potential suspension in game 1 of the conference semi-finals) and a knee injury to Jae Crowder.
Despite the sweep by the Cavs, the series was quite intense and it should do the young Cavs a lot of good to have experienced it. Having an easy 4 game sweep against another team would have made things more difficult when they inevitably face the Chicago Bulls in the next round.
The team’s playoff picture is a moot point if Kevin Love is out for the rest of the playoffs. His injury did not look good and it is hard to imagine him not missing significant time, but he sounded optimistic about playing in game 1 of the next series during the post-game press conference.
On the one hand, it is a good thing that the Cavs played such a tough and physical series. On the other, it may have cost the team its chance at competing for a title. Kevin Love is not the 26 point and 12 rebound player that the Cavs traded for, but his presence is imperative for the Cavs to contend.
Kevin Love missed the game against the Chicago Bulls on February 12. In that game, the lack of spacing was evident. The Cavs shot 25.8% from three and Irving struggled en route to an inefficient 17 point outing.
The only thing that we can do is hope for the best when Love’s diagnosis is revealed on Monday. Until then, it’s probably best to take solace in the fact that the Boston Celtics have gone fishing and that Kelly Olynyk cannot hurt anybody else.
1Atlanta Hawks vs. 8Brooklyn Nets
Overview: The Hawks put together one of the best and most impressive seasons in team history, especially not having an eye-popping lineup full of superstars like other Eastern Conference playoff teams like Chicago and Cleveland. When 100% healthy Atlanta can be the best team in the NBA with Spurs-like team chemistry and ability to control the opponent by running the game to their likable pace. Brooklyn can play a similar style being one of the slowest paced teams in the league (24th). Atlanta is one of the better defensive teams in the league (42% opponent field goal percentage) and Brooklyn is near the bottom.
How the Hawks will win: The Hawks just need to continue to play tough defense and make a high-percentage of their shots like always to cruise to victory.
How the Nets will win: The Nets will need some “help” from the Hawks if they want to pull the upset. The Nets captured some quality wins towards the end of the regular season defeating playoff teams Cleveland, Toronto, Portland, and Washington and will need to continue to play with that intensity along with a high-level of play from Brook Lopez.
Prediction: Atlanta 4-0. It’s hard to see Atlanta dropping this series or even a game in this series based on the success they have trended this season. Atlanta is too strong and potent to lose to a very inconsistent Brooklyn squad.
2Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 7Boston Celtics
Overview: The Cavaliers seem to have figured out the kinks that they dealt with this season playing with more team chemistry within the last few months of the season ripping off 15 wins in their last 20. Brad Steven’s Celtics squad snuck into the playoffs and are currently sporting a six game win streak with solid back to back over Cleveland then ending the season with a pair of wins over Toronto and Milwaukee.
How the Cavs will win: The veteran experience of the Cavs is far greater than that of the Celtics and that is always a huge playoff advantage. If the Cavaliers can continue to receive All-Star play from the one-two punch in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving this series could be put to bed fairly quick.
How the Celtics will win: Boston’s youthful swagger got them to the playoffs and a burst of energy could keep them there. The Celtics will need to keep trending in the right direction of limiting turnovers per game and continue to play with solid team chemistry to shock the NBA world with an upset.
Prediction: Cleveland 4-2. The Cavs are far more talented than the youthful Celtics team and have two of the best players in the league that can anchor down and take over at any point in the game. Don’t be surprised though if Boston keeps it close in every meeting.
3Chicago Bulls vs. 6Milwaukee Bucks
Overview: Chicago ended the season on a high note ripping off four straight wins in Derrick Rose’s return with solid play down the stretch from Aaron Brooks and Nikola Mirotic. Chicago is a team that is too talented not to contend for an East title. Milwaukee, on the other hand, has been in the playoff picture for quite some time now, but has hardly gained any buzz from the media. Michael Carter-Williams has been playing solid basketball within the past five games averaging 19 points, six assists, and two steles per game with a 58% shooting percentage. Solid play from him and the rest of the roster will need to continue in order for Milwaukee to make this series very interesting.
How the Bulls will win: Derrick Rose brings back a swagger Chicago has been lacking without him and Pau Gasol plays with that playoff fire we all know and love. The bench has been solid and will need to be consistent in order to put away the Bucks quickly.
How the Bucks will win: Milwaukee’s best asset is containing their opponents on the offensive end and with Chicago being a middle of the road offensive team holding them to a low field goal percentage isn’t out of the question. Milwaukee will need to grow up quick.
Prediction: Chicago 4-3. Yes, I believe Chicago is far and away the better team, but there is something about this Bucks squad that I feel that they can make this series very interesting. Though not a sexy matchup it could be a fun one to watch.
4Toronto Raptors vs. 5Washington Wizards
Overview: Two very similar teams take on each other in a very fun matchup Saturday afternoon. Both teams have the full potential to make a serious run at the conference title if they can play on a consistent level. Both teams have the overall athleticism to run a team out of the building or better yet jump a team out of the gym. The match ups will be drooling to the casual NBA fan with Kyle Lowry versus John Wall, DeMar DeRozan versus Bradley Beal, and an underrated matchup between Jonas Valanciunas and Marcin Gortat.
How the Raptors will win: The Raptors swept the season series, but did it without a healthy Bradley Beal on the Wizards. The Raptors have the phycological advantage, if that really means anything, due to defeating Washington in seven games of the last eight. It only takes a couple of shots for Toronto to get hot from the field and if they can play on that pace they will cruise through this series.
How the Wizards will win: Out-rebounding Toronto on the glass with consistent play from the best player on the floor in point guard John Wall. If Wall and Beal can knockdown a high percentage of their shots this series should favor Washington overall.
Prediction: Toronto 4-3. This is one of the few series in which I don’t feel 100% confident in picking a winner due to two very similar squads with both being capable of outmanning the other. Toronto gets the nod with the X-factor being Big Jonas down low and the more consistent point guards of the two in this series: Kyle Lowry.
*Note that I nor does MoreThanAFan claim any of the pictures displayed in this article as their own.
No matter the sport, the trade deadline always intrigues fans all across the nation. Whether the process involves big named players or just minimal role type players, we sit and wait for our team to make a bold push to upgrade their status. The NBA trade deadline ended yesterday evening and even though there were no outrageous headlines (you can beg to differ) it’s still fun to see what’s going around the league with new faces in new places.
Hitting the big headlines or not, it was an insane Thursday for the NBA front offices making big pushes as the trade deadline was on its way with no sense of warning leading up to the activity that took place on Thursday. Seventeen organizations were apart of the fun day. Many teams, though, should have been dealing, but did nothing.
In case you missed it, here’s a rundown of the notable deals that took place during the waning minutes leading to the buzzer on the NBA trade deadline:
Notable Additions: Isaiah Thomas from Phoenix, Jonas Jerebko from Detroit
Notable Departures: Tayshaun Prince to Detroit, Marcus Thornton to Phoenix
Draft Picks: Lose 2016 First-Round Draft Pick to Phoenix
After dealing away Rajon Rondo a couple months ago, it was expected that Boston would be all in in trade talks entering Thursday. Adding Isaiah Thomas certainly helps upgrade this backcourt joining Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. Thomas plays with an edge and has the ability to score averaging 15.2 points per game and a 39% three-point field goal percentage, which Boston has struggled mightily in that category this season (best 3P shooters is/was Marcus Thornton and Tayshaun Prince who both are located in new cities starting today).
Notable Additions: Goran Dragic from Phoenix
Notable Departures: Norris Cole & Shawne Williams to New Orleans, Danny Granger to Phoenix.
Draft Picks: Lose 2017 First-Round pick, 2021 First-Round pick
The biggest spotlight left by a player today was Goran Dragic and he will now reside in South Beach. Dragic wasn’t cheap for Miami, but having an All-Star caliber point guard is what Miami has been lacking for quite awhile now. Dragic makes this team a sleeper if Miami continues to still be in contention in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Notable Additions: Enes Kanter & Steve Novak from Utah, DJ Augustin & Kyle Singler from Detroit
Notable Departures: Reggie Jackson to Detroit, Kendrick Perkins to Utah
Draft Picks: Lose future first round pick
Oklahoma City is always a team the NBA following keeps an eye on around the trade deadline and free agency period seemingly to be only one player away from being the undisputed champs. No, that didn’t happen yesterday, but that doesn’t mean OKC did a poor job at the deadline. The Thunder had a nice day gaining two stretch forwards, a center, and nice guard relief off the bench. Being on the border of the cut-line of the playoffs, OKC knew it needed to upgrade today and the front office delivered becoming more talented at positions of need.
Notable Additions: JaVale McGee from Denver, Isaiah Canaan from Houston
Notable Departures: Michael Carter-Williams to Milwaukee, KJ McDaniels to Houston
Draft Picks: Gain two 2015 first round picks & future second round pick
I have come to terms that I will never understand what goes on in the front office of the Sixers, not that I should anyways. Many saw today as a great day for Philly, but I just don’t see it. I feel like it was just another method of starting over for a team that has finished near the bottom way too often lately. Giving away the reigning rookie of the year, while dealing away one of the better rookies of the league this year (McDaniels), I feel as there was no upgrade today for them even though gaining McGee and Canaan who are just average bench players in today’s league.
Notable Additions: Danny Granger from Miami, Brandon Knight from Milwaukee, John Salmons from New Orleans, Marcus Thornton from Boston
Notable Departures: Goran Dragic to Miami, Isaiah Thomas to Boston, Miles Plumlee to Milwaukee,
Draft Picks: Gain 2016 first round pick, Gain 2017 first round pick, and Gain 2021 first round pick. Lose 2015 first round pick
Phoenix made your head spin yesterday as the team making the most moves and the most headlines on a drama-filled day. Getting additions for the disinterested Dragic was great, but dealing away Isaiah Thomas to Boston in return for Marcus Thornton left you scratching your head for a bit. Overall it was a pretty good day for Phoenix and sure they lost their 2015 first round pick, but gained THREE future first round selections today!
Other newsoworthy trades:
-Kevin Garnett returns home to Minnesota as he swaps place with Thaddeus Young.
-The Trail Blazers add sharp shooter Aaron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee.
-The Knicks gained two future first round picks for just giving up Pablo Prigioni to Houston.
-Bucks gain a trio of young talent (Miles Plumlee, Carter-Williams, and Tyler Ennis) after giving up Brandon Knight.
-Rockets add Pablo Prigioni and KJ McDaniels.
-Detroit had an underrated day gaining Reggie Jackson and Tayshaun Prince.
-Denver added a lot today with Will Barton, Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver, and Cenk Akyol coming to play for Coach Shaw. Also picked up a 2016 first round pick.
Top Ten Heading Into the Second Half of the Season
1. Atlanta Hawks (43-11)
2. Golden State Warriors (42-9)
3. Memphis Grizzlies (39-14)
4. San Antonio Spurs (34-19)
5. Toronto Raptors (36-17)
6. Cleveland Cavs (33-22)
7. Houston Rockers (36-17)
8. Dallas Mavericks (36-20)
9. Portland Trail Blazers (36-17)
10. Chicago Bulls (34-20)
First off before I release any rankings, I would like to say to all of those reading to have a joyous Christmas with their families. It’s a special time for me and I want to share the Christmas spirit with you all and I hope you enjoy your Christmas traditions, new and old, and celebrate a great day with everyone. Merry Christmas!
NBA Christmas Gifts
The 2015 Ford F-150: Golden State Warriors (22-3)
The Warriors are the shiny and sexy new team in the NBA and continue to have success without the defensive presence of big man Andrew Bogut. The Warriors have topped out at number one each week of the NBA season and don’t seem to be pressing the brakes out of the top spot anytime soon. Sure, the Grizz loss was valid, but not enough to drop the Dubs from #1. The bench has plenty of horsepower headlined by rising star Draymond Green and other key component Marreese Speights, but these two can only give so much as others seem to sputter.
Microsoft’s Xbox One: Portland Trail Blazers (22-6)
Yes, the Xbox One was 2013’s big gift and both the Xbox and the Portland Trail Blazers were just scratching the surface of potential. With new upgrades and game styles, both find themselves in great positions this time around Christmas again. The Blazers had an awesome start in 2013, but this season may trump last season’s early success, as they could arguably be considered the second best team in the Western Conference. The Blazers are known for their high scoring offense, but the defense has been phenomenal ranking third in defense just behind Golden State and Houston.
Stocking Stuffers: Phoenix Suns (15-14), New Orleans Pelicans (14-13), and Miami Heat (13-15).
All three teams are around a .500 record and all three are capable enough to give a few smiles when being pulled out of your stocking on Christmas morning. Phoenix has young talent and continues to develop, but the Western Conference will not get any easier as they still continue to struggle. Fortunately, the Suns grabbed Charlotte and New York out of the East before Christmas. New Orleans is attractive and won’t be the gift that gets put in the corner Christmas afternoon. New Orleans has a strong point with also young talent and a superstar in the making. This stocking stuffer could be valuable in a few months. Miami has potential and are still attractive even without LeBron James. I mean they only have three less losses than the Cavs right now. So, there’s that.
The Gift Card to the Local Bar: San Antonio Spurs (17-11)
Even though it’s nothing special, but just something an in-law could grab quickly due to frantically rushing through gift shopping the day before the family gathering, it’s still effective and comes into play at the right time. The Spurs haven’t been anything special in 2014 with some great wins, but also some weird losses. The Spurs have suffered four overtime losses in the past month, but like that gift card or drink, the Spurs will come in the clutch when it matters most.
Clothes… (from a kids’ point of view): Boston Celtics (10-15)
They are never the gifts wrapped in the Toy Story, Cars, or Barbie wrapping paper (if they were, your parents were just cruel), but just a white box in the plaid paper. The clothes are never the highlight of Christmas morning, but are appreciated later in the year. The Celtics dealt Rajon Rondo to Dallas for a great trio of players: the much-improved Brandan Wright, the veteran point guard Jameer Nelson, and the young effective power forward Jae Crowder. No matter how much you hate the gift of new blue jeans and a polo top, they are always around and come in handy, whether you want to admit or not. The Celtics are a legitimate playoff contender in the East, and so am I! 😉
The One I am Going to Leave Behind: New York Knicks (5-25)
The gift of giving is great and all, but just some cash will do sometimes instead of giving out a Christmas sweater, socks, or chocolates. New York is the one gift you want to forget you ever got. New York leads the league in losses at 25 and they are 4-16 in games decided by single digits. It might be the time to take the gift back (hopefully you have the receipt) and get some in-store credit to gain a high draft pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Jalil Okafor would look mighty sweet right now in orange and blue.
Ray Allen, formerly of the Boston Celtics and more recently the Miami Heat, has yet to make a decision on whether or not he’ll continue his professional basketball career. It’s commonly thought that if he does choose to play this upcoming season, it’ll be with the Cleveland Cavaliers and his former Heat teammates LeBron James, Mike Miller, and “James Johnson… James…. J.J.” aka James Jones.
It’s also been reported that Allen could sign with the Spurs or rejoin his former coach with the Celtics, Doc Rivers, and go to L.A. to play with the Clippers. Allen’s been a hot commodity for Cavs fans ever since signing LeBron James became a “legit” possibility.
I'm told the Cavs primary focus upon signing LeBron would be to acquire more shooters. Ray Allen would be a target.
— Probasketballdraft (@Probballdraft) July 7, 2014
Since then, the Cavs have gone on to trade Jarrett Jack, Sergey Karasev, Tyler Zeller, Carrick Felix, and Andrew Wiggins for cap space, the right to some players that will never play for the Cavs, John Lucas III, Erik Murphy, Malcolm Thomas, and Kevin Love. They have also signed sign LeBron, Miller, Jones, and Shawn Marion. This is a much different team even as far back as only 2 months ago since the Allen rumors started. That the interest in him is still relatively high tells you how much this team values its shooting and how positively viewed Ray Allen is, even at the age of 39.
However, I’m not too high on signing Ray Allen for a couple reasons – one of which is not basketball related, which is okay since I’m a fan. There are also obvious positives I see that come from signing Allen that I will look at too.
Negatives to Ray Allen
Let me start with the most trivial reason that doesn’t affect the basketball court at all and just rubs my fanhood the wrong way.
From 2007-2010 the Boston Celtics were one of the Cavs’ biggest rivals, both Championship contenders. Cavs fans hated “The Big 3” consisted of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Allen with a passion, but some, like me, respected them. I loved how these old guys were acquired and won a championship together just before their respective careers flamed out.
After their fifth year together, Ray Allen decided to end things, declining a 2-year, $12 million dollar deal from the Celtics to sign a 3-year deal with the Heat for the veteran minimum. There’s signing with a championship contender as an aging veteran to win the ring you never won, and then there’s leaving your teammates high and dry. I feel like Allen did the latter, bolting to Miami for a ring he already had instead of showing loyalty to the Celtics, especially Pierce and Garnett.
I know I live in a fantasy world where I love athletes actually showing loyalty instead of “ring-chasing,” but what Allen did rubs me the wrong way, irrational or not. Not to mention Allen joined the team that Celtics were foes with, who two years in a row they failed to beat in the Eastern Conference playoffs. For this reason, I wouldn’t be surprised if Allen went to the Spurs, even though most think he’ll play with the Cavs, should he stay unretired.
After all the offseason moves the Cavs made, the roster looks a lot different since the beginning of the Ray Allen rumors. Here’s the current look of the roster:
PG: Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, John Lucas II
SG: Dion Waiters, Mike Miller, Joe Harris
SF: LeBron James, Shawn Marion, James Jones
PF: Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Malcolm Thomas, Dwight Powell, Erik Murphy
C: Anderson Varejao, Brendan Haywood, Alex Kirk
As you can see, the Cavs are loaded with every position at least 3 players deep. However, you can factor in that at least two of the three players the Cavs got from Utah in the Felix deal could be traded for rim protection. Also, Kirk, Powell, and most relevant for this situation, Harris will almost certainly spend time with the Canton Charge this season. So what could the roster look like at the start of the season should Allen be signed?
PG: Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova,
SG: Dion Waiters, Mike Miller, Ray Allen, Joe Harris
SF: LeBron James, Shawn Marion, James Jones
PF: Kevin Love, Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson
C: Timofey Mozgov, Brendan Haywood, Alex Kirk
In this scenario the Cavs acquire Mozgov for the non-guaranteed contracts Lucas III, Murphy, and Thomas. Alex Kirk and Joe Harris would be the nightly inactives and getting Mozgov would enable Varejao to play more power forward.
These moves also mean Matthew Dellavedova is basically the only reliable option behind Kyrie to handle the ball. At the same time, this probably means a playing time decrease for Delly with Ray Allen now needing minutes. This could increase the amount of time Dion Waiters comes up the floor with the ball, not ideal. With the stacked amount of shooting guards, it would force the Cavs to limit the amount of time they’d be able to throw Delly out there and control the floor. This isn’t a deal-breaker in signing Ray Allen, it’s just something to look out for should a deal consummate.
Positives to Ray Allen
He’s arguably the greatest shooter in the history of the game. Even as he’s about to enter his 40’s next year, he’s shown he can still shoot at a respectable clip. He’s a 40% career 3-pt shooter, shooting 37.5% with the Heat last year. He’s also shot 40% in from deep in the playoffs for his career, 38.8% last year. He’s taken and made the most 3’s in NBA history (7429, 2973). All this and you can still see stories of him being the first to show up and take jumpers in that respective night’s gymnasium.
The man is shooting while the Knicks’ dance crew is practicing… There’s no one else in the stands.
He doesn’t offer much, if any, defensive help, which is a bit of an issue on this team. But he’s a guy that’s been around for years as an all around offensive stud early in his career and a sharpshooter for the entirety of it.
It’s obvious what Ray Allen brings to the table and it’s evident that he can still do it, even if he decides to retire. By all accounts, he’s a good teammate, he’s a “clutch” player, and he seems to always be in the right place at the right time. If anything, he’ll be most valuable to this brand new team in the playoffs as the Cavs go for their first championship in team history.