Kobe Bryant has emulated Michael Jordan in many ways but never quite escaped his shadow.
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After all, there are 16 championship banners hanging in the rafters at the Staples Center and one of the best players in the history of the league taking the floor there in every game. The Lakers make news every night, even if they will lose far more games than they win this season.
With that in mind, here is a look at the latest from Los Angeles.
Kobe Bryant Laker for Life?
Kobe Bryant discussed any potential possibility of leaving Los Angeles recently, via Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:
I hear the chatter of Kobe should ask out and he should go and play for a contender in this latter stage of his career. But that’s not what I do. I’m extremely loyal to the Lakers.
I believe in fighting through the tough times as well as enjoying the good times. It’s my responsibility to get us to be the best that we can be. It’s important that we approach that on a day-to-day basis.
On the surface, the loyalty is certainly admirable, especially in today’s age of basketball when so many superstars jump to a contender at the earliest possible moment instead of sticking around to participate in a rebuilding project.
However, Spears pointed out that Bryant did ask for a trade in 2007 when the Lakers did not make any notable moves and then rescinded that request after the team acquired Pau Gasol. It’s not as if Bryant has always been 100 percent willing to stick out rebuilding projects in purple and gold.
The New York Knicks would be an intriguing option if Bryant was to leave or get traded in the near future. It would reunite Bryant with Phil Jackson and give him the opportunity to play alongside Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks don’t have a ton of young assets, but the two teams could probably work something out if the desire was there on both sides.
Alas, that is just speculation, and it looks like Bryant will be a Laker for life if his latest comments are any indication. That should put fans’ worries to rest during this trying season.
Pursuit of Quincy Miller
Shams Charania of RealGM noted that the Lakers could look to add Quincy Miller in the near future:
Miller will only be 22 years old for the majority of this season, so he is a potential young asset who could help the team out in the long term. Last year, he scored 4.9 points a game for the Denver Nuggets and played in 52 contests, which was a drastic improvement from the seven appearances he saw as a rookie.
Los Angeles is likely interested in Miller because of the rash of injuries it has suffered recently.
Steve Nash and Julius Randle are both out for the season, and Nick Young and Ryan Kelly are dealing with physical setbacks as well. The bottom line is that the Lakers need healthy bodies and more depth over the course of a grueling NBA season, and Miller would provide them with just that.
Isaiah Thomas Almost Chose the Lakers
Isaiah Thomas, in a Q&A session with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, noted that he was almost a member of the Los Angeles Lakers this season:
First off, it’s the Los Angeles Lakers. Who wouldn’t want to play for them? Second off, I felt like they always needed a point guard — a small guard like myself. I always envisioned myself playing with the Lakers, but like you said, they were waiting on Carmelo and other moves. The Suns came out of nowhere and showed a lot of interest, and I fell in love with them.
Thomas’ presence would have drastically improved the Lakers’ 2014-15 outlook. Last year, he posted nightly averages of 20.3 points, 6.3 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals, and he is a career 36 percent shooter from three-point range.
Thomas could have been a second banana in the scoring department behind Bryant in that scenario, especially with Randle injured, and he would have benefited from plenty of open looks from distance when defenders collapsed on Bryant.
Steve Mason of ESPNLA 710 had an interesting take on it when Thomas was busy lighting the Lakers up for the Phoenix Suns in a recent game:
At this point, it is not worth worrying about what could have been for Lakers fans.
This 2014-15 season will likely be a lost cause, but that doesn’t mean the team will stop looking toward the future. Los Angeles could get a favorable draft pick in the top five after losing plenty of games and will look toward future free-agent classes.
At least that’s what fans have to keep telling themselves.
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MIAMI — The conventional wisdom is that the Miami Heat rebounded reasonably well this offseason from the loss of the game’s premier player, re-signing Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, adding veterans Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger, and drafting Shabazz Napier to inject some overdue youth along with James Ennis.
But even if they exceed expectations, that won’t completely curtail conversation about what could have been, not just if LeBron James had stayed, but also about who they could have added to complement him.
In separate conversations with Bleacher Report, Monday in Columbus and Tuesday in Miami, current Bulls forward/center Pau Gasol and current Rockets forward Trevor Ariza spoke of the Heat’s recruiting efforts during the free agency period, and how strongly each considered moving to Miami.
The Heat liked both players—Gasol as a complement to Bosh in the frontcourt, and Ariza as a wing defender and three-point shooter to replace the retired Shane Battier.
Clearly, Miami is a city both players like.
Ariza was born there.
And, when told that this particular reporter was from there, Gasol smiled, “Miami? Oh, good for you.”
After spending six-plus seasons with the Lakers, how close was Gasol to remaining in warm weather, and joining the Heat?
“We had a few conversations,” Gasol said. “We met in Los Angeles as well. But their situation wasn’t clear at the time.”
That occurred over July 4th weekend.
“They couldn’t really give me certainty of certain things,” Gasol said. “Of LeBron…”
James, after opting out of his contract, had yet to commit to returning to Miami; later, Pat Riley revealed that James hadn’t been returning his texts or emails.
“So that was important, as far as my decision went,” Gasol said. “So at the time that I made my decision, basically it still wasn’t clear. It seemed like LeBron wasn’t going to go back, so I felt like Chicago was going to be a better fit for me.”
Gasol agreed to a three-year, $22 million contract with the Bulls on July 12, one day after James’ essay in Sports Illustrated announced a return to the Cavaliers, although that did come after the Bulls and Lakers had been unsuccessfully attempting to work out a sign-and-trade deal.
Gasol confirmed that Bosh and Wade reached out to recruit him.
“Obviously, I respect them a lot,” Gasol said. “I appreciate their interest. And it really would have been nice to play with a lot of guys [who] reached out to me, excellent players, Hall of Famers, a lot of them. But I could only play for one team, and I decided that Chicago was the best way to go for me.”
Since James left, there have been reports—including one from ESPN Radio’s Dan LeBatard—that James had advised Gasol not to sign in Miami because he would not be around, an accusation that fits with the organization’s perception that his mind was made up long before he informed Riley. Sources close to James have disputed that premise generally, as well as the Gasol report specifically.
Did James steer Gasol from the Heat?
“No, that’s speculation, that’s not accurate,” Gasol said. “No. I communicated with LeBron as well, but that was not mentioned. No.”
Now Gasol is a core piece on what is expected to be Cleveland’s primary competition in the East.
“So far, I’m still trying to figure things out, get into a better rhythm sometimes,” Gasol said. “But I think I fit in nicely, I add to the team. And I like our team and our chances…I think it’s an improvement from the situation that I was in the last couple of years. And now it’s just a question of giving everything you have, every single night, so you get more comfortable and more used to it, with your teammates, and your teammates with [you].”
While James’ presence mattered to Gasol, it was less of a concern to Ariza.
“They talked to me the whole time,” Ariza said of the Heat, who also met with him in Los Angeles over July 4th weekend. “Nobody really knew what he was going to do. And my decision wasn’t going to be based off what he did.”
Ariza felt like it would have been a “plus” to play with James, or to fill some of his role.
“So it was a win-win for me,” Ariza said, laughing.
Ariza called the free agent process “humbling” and “crazy,” and said that Riley’s pitch, about organizational culture, was “great.”
“He’s really good at it,” Ariza said, laughing.
And yes, joining the Heat was tempting to him.
“[Miami] is like home to me,” Ariza said, smiling. “And it was very, very tough to have to go a different direction from Mr. Pat Riley. But they showed a lot of interest in me. I’m very grateful for it. But I felt like Houston was the best fit for me.”
Ariza said it didn’t come down to money, though the Heat, when they thought James was returning, were operating as a capped team and offering free agents the capped-out mid-level exception starting at about $5.4 million per season. Later, when James left, Miami had more money at hand, and gave much of that to Luol Deng, at two years and $20 million, to be their new starting small forward.
The Rockets ultimately signed him for four years and $32 million to be their starting small forward, in place of Chandler Parsons, who was allowed to leave for Dallas as a restricted free agent.
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The Cleveland Cavaliers have clearly been the big winners this offseason, but they are not finished building the best roster possible.
With the additions of LeBron James and Kevin Love, this is clearly one of the best teams in the NBA. However, this squad has its sights on a title, and anything less will be a disappointment. As a result, the Cavaliers have to keep making any move that could take them a step closer to a championship.
One potential move on the table is a trade for Denver Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov. Alexander Chernykh of Sports.ru first reported a potential move earlier this month based on an interview head coach David Blatt gave to Russia News Agency ITAR-TASS:
James Herbert of CBS Sports breaks down both the pros and cons of such a deal:
Of course the Cavs would want Mozgov. He’s 7-foot-1 and skilled, coming off by far the best season of his career. It would be tricky to work out a deal, though. Mozgov is making $4.65 million this coming season and he has a $4.95 million team option the year after that. The Nuggets don’t really have any reason to dump him for a package of say, Brendan Haywood and Cleveland’s several unguaranteed contracts.
The Cavaliers do have a few non-guaranteed contracts, which came in a trade with the Utah Jazz earlier in the offseason. Windhorst explained that John Lucas III, Malcolm Thomas and Erik Murphy all could be headed out as part of any Mozgov deal.
While Cleveland will have to sweeten the package in order to complete a deal, it makes sense for the team to want this to happen.
Blatt coached Mozgov with the Russian national team and is familiar with what he can do on the court. The big center also recently finished his best year in the NBA, averaging 9.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks 21.6 minutes per game. He played in all 82 games after failing to top 45 in any of his first three years in the league.
Throughout his career, the Russian center has proven to be a quality defender who can keep other big men from backing him down in the post. He is a quality rim protector when given the chance and can also rebound with the best in the league.
Most importantly, he would be a good fit with the Cavaliers, as CBS Sports’ Chris Towers argued after hearing the rumors:
As much talent as Cleveland added this summer, the team is still relatively weak in the low post. Love is a below-average defender, which will leave Anderson Varejao even more exposed. The team will need someone else capable of coming in to play center without losing much.
Additionally, the fact that Varejao is averaging just 36.5 games played over the past four seasons should force the team to add a safety net.
This is where Mozgov could be perfect. He would be solid either off the bench or as a starter in a limited offensive role. He knows exactly what he contributes to a team and would certainly not overstep his boundaries as the star players light up the scoreboard.
At this point, the only question is whether the Nuggets would be willing to make a deal. However, first-round pick Jusuf Nurkic is a similar player who can quickly fill the spot Mozgov would leave behind. With JaVale McGee still on the roster, the team will be fine making this type of move.
This makes a move possible, which means the Cavaliers have to keep working to somehow complete the deal.
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For a man that hasn’t played in more than a year, Emeka Okafor is highly desired commodity. Earlier this week, rumors surfaced from ESPN that half the league had registered interest in the center who hasn’t seen any action since 2012-13. Okafor missed the entirety of the 2013-14 season with a herniated disc in his neck. […]
Cleveland Cavaliers: The Pursuit Of Emeka Okafor – Hoops Habit – Hoops Habit – Analysis, Opinion and Stats All About The NBA
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There is no column in an NBA box score for playing through an injury, just as there are no bonus clauses in contracts based on defensive assignments accepted to cover a teammate’s ass. It’s why such players, especially ones whose place or paycheck in the league already is secure, are to be treasured.
The Golden State Warriors have two such players in David Lee and Klay Thompson. Two players they seriously considered dealing to the Minnesota Timberwolves this summer to acquire Kevin Love. Two players they must now convince to fill those invisible columns and ignore they were nearly sent away as a reward for their previous service.
Most probably know what Lee and Thompson have contributed to the Warriors’ recent rise to relevance, but it bears recounting for two reasons. One, because of how perfunctorily so many were willing to see them moved for Love, perhaps not fully appreciating their part in the Warriors’ renaissance.
And, two, because it now appears they aren’t going anywhere, and Warriors management has some fence-mending to do if it wants to assure that such sacrifices and ass-covering is done with the same enthusiasm that fueled the team’s recent success.
Two years ago, Lee played well enough to be the Warriors’ first All-Star in 16 years and help them to their first playoff appearance in six years. He played in 79 of 82 regular-season games only because he was willing to battle through a bruised knee, a sprained ankle and a sore back. He also missed one game on a suspension for shoving Pacers center Roy Hibbert. Without all that, the Warriors probably wouldn’t have seen the postseason, what with forward Brandon Rush lost for the season in the first week and center Andrew Bogut limited to 32 games.
Lee’s first career trip to the playoffs appeared to end in the first game when he suffered what the team at one point announced as a season-ending torn hip flexor. Eleven days later he was hobbling onto the court for Game 6, playing a single Willis Reedesque minute that inspired a deafening roar from the crowd and an emotional wave that contributed to a series-clinching victory.
Thompson has made similar sacrifices, including an iron-man run of playing 182 out of a possible 183 games. Despite being a 6’7″ shooting guard with one of the most textbook and trustworthy jump shots in the league, he has dedicated himself to becoming a lockdown defender. He did so well in that regard that the Warriors asked him in practically every game to guard the opponent’s biggest perimeter threat, whether that be an explosive point guard such as Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul, or such elite scoring 2-guards as James Harden and DeMar DeRozan. He averaged 18.4 points and scored at least double digits in 74 of 81 games, and yet there were critics who had the nerve to question why there were nights he didn’t have his legs to score 20 or, regardless of all that on-the-ball defending, didn’t average more than three rebounds a night.
Ask any GM or scout and they’ll tell you Thompson is one of the best two-way players in the game, yet he hasn’t sniffed either All-Star or All-Defensive team recognition. To make matters worse, teammate Andre Iguodala did receive All-Defensive first-team honors last season, even though injuries left him a shell of himself and forced the Warriors to give Thompson the assignments Iguodala was expected to fill. “Klay is a much better defender,” said one former Warriors assistant coach. “It’s not even close. It’s all based on reputation and stats. The truth is, Dre is always gambling on the weak side.”
Thompson handled all of that without complaint. The reward? A summer wondering if he would be dealt to the league’s moribund Minnesota outpost.
The Warriors not only dangled both him and Lee in talks with the Timberwolves, league and team sources say, but they apparently initiated the conversation. Various reports on the deal’s likelihood of going down bubbled for several weeks, and while GM Bob Myers declined to address the subject directly, he certainly didn’t discourage the notion that Thompson and Lee were available for the right price.
“Right now, I think it’s unlikely,” Myers told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. “Right now, today. … But I will say this: If you asked me last year at this time would we be in a situation to grab an [Andre] Iguodala, I would have said the same thing.”
League sources also say they could’ve dealt Harrison Barnes to Orlando for Arron Afflalo in conjunction with the Minnesota deal, which would’ve given them a reasonable substitute for Thompson.
Eventually, they passed on everything because there wasn’t a strong consensus in the organization that they’d definitively be better. And when it became clear that Love would be headed to Cleveland instead of a Western Conference rival, such as the Houston Rockets, it made the need to roll the dice even less enticing.
Myers’ attempt to be as honest as possible is appreciated, but it has come with a price. While attempts to reach Lee or his representatives were unsuccessful, a source close to Thompson said the shooting guard is “pissed” that the Warriors legitimately considered moving him.
The natural refrain is, “Grow up” or “grow a pair” or, perhaps more delicately, “Hey, it’s a business. Deal with it.” Which Thompson and Lee no doubt will. They wouldn’t have had the success they’ve had without a hard-hat mentality.
But there’s a way to go about pursuing a trade that doesn’t invoke collateral damage or repercussions. First, don’t aggressively pursue one to the point it’s beyond denying and then not be willing to pull the trigger. If you’re moving players who have been good soldiers, do them a solid by trying to move them somewhere they’d welcome; otherwise, you’re sending the wrong message to the rest of your team that quiet sacrifice doesn’t really earn you anything. One executive also warned that getting right with the players’ agents after a failed trade is just as important.
Don’t misunderstand; there’s nothing wrong with the Warriors exploring a deal for Love. While one scout said his team would have a field day forcing a Curry-Love combination to defend pick-and-rolls “all day long,” another league talent expert is convinced that Curry and Love are a far better offensive combo than Thompson and Curry and that Love would’ve benefitted the entire team. “I’m way on an island with this, but I believe Love would’ve made everybody on that team better,” he said. “I just value a range-shooting 4 more. Shooting guards are replaceable.”
Where he’s not alone is also suggesting Curry and Thompson never will reach their full potential together, the premise being that Thompson never will evolve into the scorer he could be and Curry won’t be forced into carrying a heavier defensive load.
“You have to have everybody take the defensive challenge if you want to play for a championship, anyway,” said one former player with a championship ring. “Steph is ultra-competitive. If you asked him, ‘Do you want to score 25 or be a two-way player and MVP candidate’ he’d say ‘MVP candidate’ for sure. But you have to challenge him to do that.”
Perhaps new head coach Steve Kerr will do that. Perhaps Kerr can neatly evade the issue of alienation by telling Thompson and Lee that he fought to keep them, which is why they’re still with the team.
As a first-year head coach replacing one as beloved in the locker room as his predecessor, Mark Jackson, Kerr’s to-do list already is rather thick. Not losing two starters in Thompson and Lee will help the team’s continuity. Its dedication to those invisible columns? Only time will tell.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.
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If you were running the Golden State Warriors, would you give up Klay Thompson for a chance to add Kevin Love for just one year? What if Love was guaranteed to stay for much longer? Would you do it then?
Those are the questions that have presumably been swirling around the minds of Bob Myers, Joe Lacob and everyone else in the Golden State front office, but now they apparently have an answer:
Obviously, Thompson wouldn’t be traded straight up for Love.
The full structure of a potential deal is unknown at this time, though ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard has one theory that seems to verge on insane for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but any trade will have to include either David Lee or Andrew Bogut, solely for salary purposes.
This is purely speculative, but here’s the hypothetical trade—centering around Thompson and Love—that works best for both sides:
- Golden State receives Kevin Love and Corey Brewer
- Minnesota receives Klay Thompson, David Lee and Harrison Barnes
It’s no more complicated than that. No picks change hands, as only players are on the move.
So, what does this leave Golden State working with?
The starting lineup becomes Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala (shifting from the 3 to the 2), Draymond Green, Love and Bogut, with Brewer coming off the bench in the role that Barnes filled throughout the 2013-14 campaign.
It’s worth noting that this assumed trade is the basis for parts of this analysis. Any changes would have to change Golden State’s thinking, even if the difference is only slight.
So Much Depends on Andre Iguodala
If Thompson is on the way out, along with Lee, the Warriors will have to make up for the offensive decline.
After all, the shooting guard was half of the Splash Brothers tandem during the 2013-14 campaign, averaging 18.4 points per game while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 41.7 percent beyond the arc. That type of production isn’t easy to replace, especially when the primary wing help would be coming from an increase in Iguodala’s responsibility and better shooting from Green.
Iggy, much to the chagrin of the Warriors, was not a quality offensive option during his first season in the Bay Area. Perhaps age caught up to him, leaving him less able to channel his athleticism on a regular basis. Maybe Mark Jackson’s poor offensive stratagems didn’t get him involved as often as necessary, instead leaving him in the corners too many times.
So far, Steve Kerr has given every indication that this will change in 2014-15.
After his introductory press conference, the new head coach said the following to Tim Kawakami of MercuryNews.com:
I don’t like to see [Iguodala] standing in the corner. That’s where he gets lost a little bit…I think you’ll see a lot of ball movement; I think you’ll see the bigs utilized as passers on the elbows and on the block. I think you’ll see some Triangle concepts. We’re not going to look like the Chicago Bulls in the ’90s…I think in today’s NBA you have to run; you have to play fast and score early…I like to see flow and ball movement and spacing. And this team has a lot of skill players who should be able to work together and create easier shots for one another.
That’s a positive, as there’s undoubtedly a bit more offense that can be tapped out of Iguodala’s presence on the court. Not a lot, but at least a bit.
As Michael Pina wrote for Bleacher Report, improvement from him is of paramount importance for a Dubs offense that surprisingly ranked only No. 12 in offensive efficiency, per Basketball-Reference.com:
The Warriors are already a very good basketball team, but the pieces in place are capable of even better production in 2014-15. Iguodala is first in line. He did a fine job fitting in last year, but his individual numbers were suboptimal.
Defensively, Iguodala will continue on as the fantastic perimeter safety net he’s always been, but Kerr needs to give him the ball in even more advantageous areas if Golden State’s offense is to reach loftier heights.
Losing Thompson would hurt. It would alter those pieces that are already capable of better production.
But the addition of Love is an upgrade over Lee, and the Warriors are capable of replacing the 2-guard’s production internally. The combined efforts of an increasingly involved Iguodala and a version of Green that’s even better at hitting looks from the outside—he’s consistently improved throughout his two-year NBA career—will do the trick.
Question is, will that trick result in a championship-caliber team?
Can the Warriors Win a Title in 2014-15?
The answer depends on how you feel about Kerr and the rest of a coaching staff that’s sure to contain plenty of NBA experience by the time it’s fully assembled.
There’s no right answer; nor is there a wrong one. That said, I’d lean more toward the “yes” side of the spectrum.
With Love leading the charge alongside Curry, the Warriors would morph into an incredibly dangerous offensive squad. Love is an upgrade over Lee, after all, capable of expanding his floor-spacing range to well beyond the three-point arc.
All of a sudden, you’re pairing two of the top 10 offensive players in the NBA.
And is defense a concern?
Nope, not really. This was already one of the five best defensive teams in the Association during the 2013-14 campaign, and the changes aren’t making it any worse. Love and Lee are comparable defensive liabilities, and the combination of Iggy and Green on the wings would be just as effective as Thompson and Iguodala.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Warriors were the No. 4 team in the league last year, as the difficult schedule and fourth-best margin of victory resulted in a simple rating system score that trailed only the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers.
Quite frankly, the Dubs underachieved under Jackson.
Sure, they improved their record during each year of his tenure, but their margin of victory indicates that their record should’ve been even better. Three wins better, in fact. Between that and a disappointing first-round effort against the Clippers, it’s hard to argue anything else.
Could a coaching change put an end to the underachieving? Maybe.
It’s hard to be any more definitive, though this team has the ability to be a top-five squad on both ends of the court, which is obviously a recipe for elite-level success.
The Warriors, whether they’re led by Love or not, are going to be competitive throughout the 2014-15 campaign, but they’ll still have to overcome a ridiculously difficult slate of teams during the postseason. There’s no way around that.
If Love makes them even slightly better, which he would, it’s tough to think negatively about the short-term chances. But if the Dubs are trading a major part of their future (Thompson), more than one season must be considered.
Is Love Just a Rental?
Any Love trade has to consider this inquiry at length.
As shown by ShamSports.com, Love is under contract through the end of this next season. After that, he can either opt in to the final year of his deal for $16.7 million, or he can hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent one year earlier than expected.
This isn’t going to change in a trade, which means Golden State is looking at the possibility of a one-year rental. Think of it as the exact situation that the Los Angeles Lakers faced with Dwight Howard a few years back, as the Purple and Gold traded for D12, planning to convince him that he should stick around and sign an extension, only to watch as he bolted for the Houston Rockets.
So, is Love just a rental?
There’s a chance he isn’t. Not only does his playing style fit in nicely along with the rest of the Dubs, who feature the point guard he’s needed to play with—one who can create shots for himself—and the rim-protecting center he’s always lacked, but the Bay Area is awfully close to home.
That’s always been part of the appeal for the Lakers, as Love is a California native who went to UCLA for his collegiate career. Being by the Pacific Ocean and close to home is quite appealing, and while the Dubs might not be situated in L.A., they’re a whole lot closer than Minnesota is.
Ultimately, his status as a rental still depends on the success of the team, but Golden State has to feel a bit confident it can retain Love past the end of the 2015 postseason.
But the answer could still be that he is one, even if the Warriors experience quite a bit of success with him lining up at the 4. If that’s the case, they must evaluate whether he’s worth giving up so much talent for one year of title hopes and dreams.
And that’s more a matter of personal opinion than anything else.
Is one run for a championship worth setting this team back for the future? Maybe.
You’ll have to decide that for yourself, just as the Golden State front office will in coming days and weeks.
Should the Dubs gain confidence that Love will stick around for more than one season, it’s absolutely worth parting ways with Thompson, painful as that may be. But if he’s not guaranteed to play home games in Oracle Arena for more than 41 contests and the length of the inevitable postseason run, things get a lot more tricky.
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Ticking clocks are always exciting, except for when your favorite team is running up against one as it tracks down the final piece to its NBA Finals puzzle.
The Chicago Bulls don’t have much longer to decide whether they’re gonna move on Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love. The NBA draft is a week away. The Bulls have two picks in the first round—16th and 19th.
When those two first-rounders are gone, they’ll lose much of their leverage, and any trade with the T-Wolves will likely prove too costly.
The edge that Chicago owns isn’t imaginary, either. This is a regular playoff team that’s arguably one scorer away from being a title contender.
It’s still unclear, according to league sources, if the Timberwolves have fully committed to trading Love, but if they are, Golden State and Chicago are considered front-runners, with Denver said to be in the mix.
What separates those teams? The players they could offer Minnesota.
There’s speculation that Golden State could offer a package including shooting guard Klay Thompson, forward David Lee, while Chicago could offer a package including Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson.
That follows a report from Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times that revealed the Bulls would be willing to trade whatever’s not nailed down and/or named Derrick Rose in order to get enough cap space to sign Love, Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James:
According to several NBA sources Sunday, the Bulls have been actively looking to improve the starting lineup at almost any cost, with Derrick Rose the only untouchable player—and not by choice.
“They are looking to exhaust as many assets as it will take,’’ one source said of general manager Gar Forman and head of basketball operations John Paxson.
What could prove problematic for Chicago is that Joakim Noah wouldn’t want to see Taj Gibson offloaded to make way for Anthony, or, one could surmise, Love, according to Cowley. Adding a perennial All-Star might not be worth it if it means throwing off the team’s locker room chemistry. Look at what happened with Dwight Howard in Los Angeles.
You wonder how much the Bulls’ pursuit of Love might clash with their desire to add Anthony in free agency. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported on June 14 that if the New York Knicks star decides to opt out, the Bulls and Houston Rockets lead the field:
New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony is leaning toward leaving in pursuit of immediate championship contention, and awaits the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign him in free agency, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
As re-signing with the Knicks continues to fade as his priority, Chicago and Houston have emerged as the clear frontrunners to acquire Anthony, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Anthony’s meeting with Knicks officials on Friday night had little impact on his state of mind, league sources said, because there remain too many uncertainties about how quickly president Phil Jackson can reshape the team into a championship contender.
You can never say never, but surely it’s a one-or-the-other situation with Love and Anthony. Unless one or both players are willing to take pay cuts, Chicago can’t afford the two on the payroll.
CSNChicago.com’s Kevin Anderson tried to envision all of the moving parts necessary in order for the Bulls to grab the two All-Stars.
The plan involves trading Jimmy Butler, Gibson, the rights to Nikola Mirotic and two 2014 first-rounders for Love. Then Chicago would amnesty Carlos Boozer and trade Mike Dunleavy Jr. to somebody who would take him in order to ease the financial burden. The last stage is convincing ‘Melo to sign for $11.5 million in the first year of his deal.
While that’s all possible, Anderson admitted that the chances of so many things happening in the Bulls’ favor are remote. Fans can hope, of course, but they shouldn’t get too attached to a lineup featuring Rose, Love and Anthony.
If Chicago is serious about adding a marquee player, then it may have to focus its efforts on one player.
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WICHITA, Kan. — Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall says he doesn’t talk about a perfect season, because that’s what he is supposed to say.
But the Shockers—currently 23-0—are well aware of what they’re doing and that everyone is paying attention.
Three weeks ago, Wichita State trailed by 18 to Missouri State at halftime, and Marshall started his halftime speech with a reminder to his guys of the magnitude of the moment.
“That score is going across that ticker,” Marshall told his players. “And the nation is now paying attention.”
The Shockers, who faced an even more improbable deficit of 19 with less than 12 minutes remaining, rallied to win in overtime.
The nation was already paying attention to the Shockers—ranked fourth in this week’s AP poll and second in the coaches poll—because of last year’s Final Four run.
But the attention has shifted from “can the Shockers remain relevant” to “can they go undefeated?”
It has been 10 years since a team finished with a perfect regular season. Saint Joseph’s went 27-0 and didn’t lose until the Atlantic 10 tournament.
The Shockers have company—Syracuse is also undefeated—but few are talking about a perfect season for Jim Boeheim’s club. The Orange still have road games against No. 25 Pittsburgh, No. 11 Duke and No. 20 Virginia.
Wichita State’s biggest remaining test in the regular season comes this week with road games against Indiana State and Northern Iowa, the other two best teams in the Missouri Valley. Neither of those teams has sniffed the Top 25, and their chances of pulling off the upset, according to kenpom.com, are 27 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
The chances of a perfect regular season for the Shockers, kenpom.com now estimates, are at 38.9 percent.
During his halftime speech at Missouri State, Marshall told his team: “The lights are bright, and they have never been brighter.”
As the calendar turns into February and approaches March, the same could be said as his team pursues perfection.
Can the Shockers handle it?
From the outside, it seems like the pressure of a perfect season would be almost unbearable. UNLV in 1991 was the last team to enter the NCAA tournament unbeaten. That team was so dominant that its closest game all year was a seven-point win at Arkansas.
If there was a team that had the weapons to be the first since Indiana in 1976 to win the national championship with a perfect record, it was those Runnin‘ Rebels. But the pressure finally got to them in the Final Four when they lost to Duke.
“As much as you want to say in coaching terms that it’s one game at a time and one day at a time, everywhere those Wichita State kids go…they’re being asked that question,” Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli told Bleacher Report. “It builds. It certainly builds.”
The key is to manipulate the mind.
Marshall has become convinced that at some point in every game his team has trailed, the Shockers go from hunted to hunter.
“The pressure is on them,” Marshall tells his guys. “They can feel it.”
The Shockers have trailed in the second half of eight games, and the formula for a comeback is pretty standard. They go to a full-court press, and the opponent’s confidence turns into doubt.
“It works in your favor,” Marshall said. “Why not press? Because if they’re not going to try to score, a couple times (Missouri State) did and they were a little tight.
“That basket was as big as a kiddie pool in the first half, and in the second half, it was as big as a thimble. It’s a different mindset. So much of it is confidence and mojo and how you feel.”
Evansville coach Marty Simmons can relate.
This past Saturday, Simmons brought his Purple Aces to Wichita and his team played perfect for almost 12 minutes. Evansville made 12 of its first 14 shots and led 29-14.
“That X on our back, I don’t think people understand regardless if a team is really little or you don’t really know them, if you get their best, it’s college basketball and anything can happen,” Wichita State senior Cleanthony Early said.
Marshall starts most games without a gambler’s mentality. His game plan against Evansville had been to fall back off the point guards, who were not threats to score, in an effort to clog the paint.
“I abhor giving up easy baskets,” Marshall said. “So we try to just guard you and try to make you force tough, contested jump shots, and if that doesn’t work, then obviously we have to extend pressure.”
Marshall’s original game plan allowed the Purple Aces to get in a rhythm and get comfortable, so then he had his team turn up the pressure and press.
Six turnovers later, the Shockers led before halftime had even arrived.
As another pass sailed out of bounds, Simmons turned to his assistants and yelled: “We’ve got guys out there who don’t know what the (heck) they’re doing!”
Only Simmons said another four-letter word.
That’s what the Shockers will do to you. They make you uncomfortable, they make you lose your mind and they make you want to curse.
Every Shocker can trace back their belief and their ability to come back from any deficit against any team to last March.
On March 23, 2013, to be specific.
That was the night Wichita State captured the nation’s attention, knocking off No. 1 Gonzaga to advance to the Sweet 16.
The Shockers trailed by five to Gonzaga at the under-eight-minute timeout that night, and Marshall noticed a defeated nature to his players’ gait as they walked toward the huddle.
The coach posed a question to his team:
If I would have said to you on Oct. 15 when we started practice, you’re down five against the No. 1 team in the country with seven and change to play for the right to go to the Sweet 16, would you have taken it?
One by one, Marshall made eye contact with each player on the floor, asking the question: Would you have taken it?
“It’s not a dream anymore. It became reality when he said that,” Tekele Cotton said. “I just got chills in my body. Let’s go out here and win the game. Why can’t we win the game? There’s no rule that says we can’t win the game right now.”
“In a game that with all the intensity and adrenaline that’s rushing, for him to have that abstract thought was mind-blowing for us,” point guard Fred VanVleet said. “We just looked around at each other and thought about it for a second, and it was kind of a collective ‘Hell yeah, let’s go.’”
“They all said they would,” Marshall said. “There was a different cadence to their step when they came back out on the floor. And Ron Baker, I’m not kidding you, he didn’t say anything, but the look that he gave me as a freshman who had missed 20-something games…he looked at me and it was as if ‘I got ya. I got this.’”
Over the next nine possessions, the Shockers scored 23 points, and Baker, once a walk-on, buried two threes, releasing each one without hesitation.
“Ohhhh, it was quick,” Marshall said. “I got this. Watch. It was quickest release you could imagine.”
The dagger came from VanVleet, also a freshman, who had the ball in his hands with Wichita State ahead by two and less than two minutes left and the shot clock winding down.
VanVleet and Marshall can recite the details like it happened seconds ago.
VanVleet looked to the sideline to see if his coach was going to call a timeout. When Marshall didn’t, VanVleet measured up Gonzaga’s David Stockton, dribbled toward the three-point line and fumbled the ball to his left toward the Wichita State bench. He reached out to grab the ball, looked at the shot clock…four…three…and stepped into a three-pointer from about 24 feet out.
“And as it’s going through the net, he literally turns over to me and winks as he holds his follow-through,” Marshall said. “And I’m going, jeez, these kids have cojones and the bravado that they show is incredible, and it’s exactly what I want.
“I want players to play with supreme confidence, because I try to coach with confidence. You have to have confidence, especially when you’re the little guy. You’re the underdog. You have to know that you can do it.”
At practice on Friday, Wichita State was running offense without any defense and Marshall noticed a small slip from perfection in the way his post players were outletting the ball. He walked onto the floor to demonstrate.
Keep the ball high. Don’t let it dip. Pivot toward your outlet man.
Not doing so had happened “at least two times” in recent games.
“We’ve gotten sloppy,” Marshall told his team.
Hours earlier, Marshall was talking about his team’s toughness and chemistry.
“They just have a confidence, a swagger if you will, that they’re going to find a way,” he said. “They’re going to get it done.”
There’s a belief in Wichita, behind all the one-game-at-a-time talk, that they will be the first since UNLV to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated.
If they get through this week, it will be sold as a disappointment if they don’t do it. The Shockers will become, as if they haven’t already, the Gonzaga of this season.
“We’re almost in their shoes that they were last year,” VanVleet said. “Hopefully that doesn’t happen. Hopefully there’s not another Wichita State out there.”
Do not fool VanVleet‘s hope for fear.
“This is something that we’re not afraid of,” Marshall said. “I don’t want to say we’re used to it, but by and large, I think these guys embrace it.”
Yes, the Shockers want to go undefeated. They believe they can go undefeated. And they might just have the cojones to pull it off.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @cjmoore4.
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