(Photo: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
It’s no secret that Lebron James is looking for a change of scenery this summer. Lebron has a strenuous relationship with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. It’s rumored that he has been touring prep schools in Los Angeles and Philadelphia for his kids to attend. While the Sixers and the Lakers would be great destinations for the King, I’ve been wondering where the best place for Lebron to go would be.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics completed, somehow, the craziest trade of the offseason tonight. The Cavaliers are sending Kyrie Irving to the Celtics in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick, and a 2020 2nd-round pick.
When the Irving stuff first started getting leaked, I saw a tweet from FS1’s Jason McIntyre basically laying out this trade, but with Guerschon Yabusele instead of Zizic. I loved the idea then, so to see it play out is really interesting. Here’s why both teams won this trade.
Cleveland won the trade because…
Kyrie was unhappy, wasn’t going to resign with Cleveland in two years, and was going to make the whole season super awkward for everyone. The Cavs needed to dump him, and they needed to maximize what they were going to get for him. I believe they did that. Thomas is injured, and unlikely to resign with them, but he isn’t the key to this deal. Crowder is on one of the best contracts in the league and the Celtics really liked Zizic as a role player, possibly as a replacement for Al Horford as he ages. But the real prize is the Brooklyn pick. Even with the Nets looking much more competent for this upcoming season, they will still probably yield a top seven pick, and this years draft is extremely talented up top. If the Cavs can turn an unhappy Kyrie into Zizic, a vet in Crowder to put around Kevin Love, and can get a guy like Luka Doncic in the draft, they will set themselves up for the future. This is a big deal because it’s clear by this move that the Cavaliers believe Lebron James is going to Los Angeles after this year. Even the 2020 pick could prove valuable in a rebuild. Best case scenario, James is happy Irving is gone and decides he wants to stay. Worst case scenario, he leaves and you’ve got a young core that you can start to rebuild around.
Boston won the trade because…
The best player in the trade ended up on Boston’s roster. Plain and simple. Boston is signaling that they’re gunning for the Finals this season, and it’s broken that terrible cycle they were in of gathering assets AND trying to contend. They finally decided to be aggressive, and it will pay off for them, even if they don’t resign Irving. Also, they clear up some of the logjam at the wing spots by dumping Crowder, even if it meant losing his contract. We still aren’t sure if he and Gordon Hayward were going to gel anyway.
Ultimately, both teams did well given the circumstances, and this trade helps the league by stealing the spotlight right before we head into football season.
After Russell Westbrook averaged a triple double last season, this MVP race may seem tame in comparison, but I think we’re in for a changing-of-the-guard season from the superstars in the league. The Lebron-era stars are starting their turn toward the end of the their careers and there is some serious talent coming up from the younger players. I think there will be a lot of familiar faces this season, but we’ll start to see some of the younger players sneaking into the conversation. Also, I think given the controversy, if you want to call it that, surrounding last years vote, and with the addition of Paul George to the team, Russell Westbrook has almost no shot at winning the award this year. He’s not on my list. So without further ado…
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets
The runner-up to last seasons award is coming for blood. Or as much blood as someone who scored 10 points, had 7 assists and 6 turnovers in an elimination game in the playoffs can go for. Despite that, Harden is the best player on a team that should at least challenge the Warriors for the best record in the league, and that’s saying something. He got decently close to a triple double average himself last season, and with Chris Paul able to feed him more and Harden trying to run the offense full-time, he should get plenty of opportunities to score in bunches. Harden is my pre-season favorite to win the award next season.
2. Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
I get it. He’s 32, going on 33 this season, with a lot of miles on his body that not even an Instagram video can prepare you for. He’s feuding (or not) with Kyrie Irving and his camp, he’s probably already got eyes for Los Angeles, etc.
But the thing to always remember with Lebron is, he is the best player to ever play the game, and when he gets irritated, he can prove any point he wants on the court. He’s already thinking about Los Angeles? I’d argue he’s gunning for one final “fuck you” to Dan Gilbert on his way out. He’s going to be 33 this season? He’s also an alien and a player with the durability and stamina of which we’ve NEVER seen in the NBA.
So keep talking all that shit about Lebron being on the downside of his career. He’ll prove you wrong.
3. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Durant showed what he was capable of in the postseason for the Warriors. I don’t care if he doesn’t like the Slim Reaper nickname, it is the most accurate name for him. He went full Reaper to close the Cavaliers out in the finals and he should continue to dominate as he hits the prime of his prime. The MVP award isn’t just about composite numbers necessarily, it’s also about the flair, the swagger you bring to the table and if playoff KD shows up for the regular season, it’s a wrap.
4. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Listen. Kawhi is 26 years old. He’s only played 6 NBA seasons. We haven’t even started peak Kawhi yet. This is ridiculous. Leonard is the glue holding San Antonio together after Tim Duncan retired two years ago, and he will need to make an even further leap (mostly offensively) if he wants to challenge the Warriors. I think Rudy Gay is going to be a difference maker for the Spurs, but if they want to challenge the Warriors out West, not only will LaMarcus Aldridge need to pull his head out of his ass, but Kawhi will have to go to an otherworldly level.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
I’ve been on the Greek Freak bandwagon almost since he came into the league, so this isn’t a totally unbiased selection, but this offseason, most of the talk around the 22 year old hasn’t been about IF he would win an MVP, but how MANY MVP’s he would win. Giannis is one of the NBA unicorns, and while I don’t think he will win it this season, if he starts hitting his jumper and the Bucks make a surprise run to the top of the Eastern Conference, he could bring home the hardware.
Signed: Jose Calderon, Jeff Green, Derrick Rose
Resigned: Kyle Korver
Received in Trade: Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic
Free Agents: Dahntay Jones, James Jones, Andrew Bogut, Deron Williams, Derrick Williams
Traded: Kyrie Irving
Projected Starting Lineup
- Isaiah Thomas
- JR Smith
- Lebron James
- Kevin Love
- Tristan Thompson
AP Photo/Ben Margot
I, regrettably, did not pick the Golden State Warriors to sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. I picked them in five, mostly due to Lebron James. I figured he would be able to steal a game somewhere. Unfortunately for Lebron, he can’t do it all himself.
After getting run off the court in Game 1, it’s pretty apparent that, barring injury or Mike Brown becoming….well, Mike Brown, we’re staring down a first championship for Kevin Durant. Side note, I love Mike Brown.
The Cavaliers have a lot to fix, but these are the most important things to a turnaround in the series for the Cavaliers.
1. Guard Kevin Durant
I’m not entirely sure if the “Ignore-Kevin-Durant-on-Defense” gameplan was a smart choice. It felt like Durant ran down the middle of the court, unimpeded, for a dunk about 204728974 times. Part of the problem is that Lebron is just not the same lockdown defender that he was at the peak of his prime. Lebron still has a step on almost everyone on the planet, but Kevin Durant is an alien. Similar to Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, and other E.T.’s. Lebron can’t hang with Durant, but unfortunately he is probably the Cavs best option. Getting more length on Durant (Iman Shumpert) or someone to rough him up (Dahantay Jones, James Jones) would be the only option to give Lebron a break.
2. Use Less Bench
All that being said, the Cavs bench was awful. Deron Williams might as well have gone back to Brooklyn and the whole bench combined for 21 points, 5 less rebounds than Kevin Love alone, and 2 assists. This is where I think Lebron’s usage over the regular season and playoffs will bite Cleveland. Lebron and the rest of the starters are going to have two, maybe three guys that they can rely on for decent breaks. Kyle Korver has to step up, Iman Shumpert has to become a plus-wing defender and Richard Jefferson needs to travel back in time. Outside of those guys, I can’t see how you legitimately argue more than a couple minutes for anyone else.
3. Slow the Game Down
Trying to outrun the Warriors is a recipe for disaster, especially if the Cavs shrink their bench down. The Warriors are faster, smaller and younger than the Cavs. Slowing the game down and operating out of the half court will allow Cleveland to try to control the pace and get the starters some rest on the offensive end of the court.
4. Go Small…ish
Shrinking the bench gives Cleveland less options, but Tyronn Lue needs to get creative. Starting the same lineup, and then staggering Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love keeps Lebron at the 4 and closer to the basket. Using Lebron in a Draymond Green role on defense is probably their best bet to put defensive pressure on the Warriors and keep the games lower scoring.
5. Pull Draymond Green Away From the Basket
Conversely, cracking the Warrior code on defense requires removing the most important piece. When Green got in foul trouble early in the first quarter and had to come out of the game, Cleveland was able to take advantage and keep the game close. The biggest advantage Green gives the Warriors is playing close to the basket and sliding with help defense on anyone that comes into the paint. Going small and making Green guard a legit threat on the perimeter pulls him out of that role and opens up the lane. Green is the most important player for the Warriors and limiting his effectiveness is a must for Cleveland.
Photo: Mark D. Smith, USA TODAY Sports
In the final award preview post, we’re going to take a look at the the MVP race. I have a somewhat controversial list, as Steph Curry is not on it. After winning it the past two years, unanimously last season, I think there’s 0% chance the voters give it to him again. Adding Durant will pull votes from him anyway, and I just don’t see any way that Steph gets it.
That being said, there are definitely some familiar names on here, all for different reasons. Let’s check it out.
Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
You have to put the best player in the league on the list. Period. Lebron may have been coasting a bit last year, but that may not be the case this season. He was angry that Steph won it last season, and it showed in the Finals. If Lebron feels like making the point definitive, he could play in 72 games, try every night and get the Cavs to the best record in the league, even over the looming Golden State team. Conversely, Lebron could see the big picture and choose to rest his body for another shot at Golden State in the playoffs. Ultimately, I see Lebron as the big picture guy, however keyed in Lebron is bar none the best player in the league.
Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
And looking at Lebron from the opposite coast is Kevin Durant. While I think there’s no chance Steph wins it, I do think he pulls some votes from Durant. So, there’s only one scenario where Durant has a shot. If he can lead Golden State to another record-breaking season (upper 70’s in wins) and average the numbers he did last season in Oklahoma City (28.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 5 apg) then I can see the voters being compelled to give it to him. Before the preseason, I didn’t know how likely this was. However, after watching the flow and chemistry on the court already for the Warriors, I think it’s definitely on the table.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
An underdog in terms of the betting odds, Harden is an intriguing option. Under the Mike D’Antoni offense, and running the point this season officially, Harden could have a monster year and bring the Rockets right along with him. Make no mistake, the Rockets won’t play any sort of defense, but they also might average 110 points per game. Harden could finish in the 30 ppg, 9 apg range and that would be enough if the Rockets get to a top seed in the West.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook is going to play like a man possessed. It’s in his wiring. So let’s look at the differences between last season with Durant and the 2014-15 season without Durant.
- 2015-16: 23.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 10.4 apg, PER 27.6
- 2014-15: 28.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 8.6 apg, PER 29.1
Now, obviously the points and PER were higher without Durant, and that may be enough to warrant the award. But I think Westbrook will need a better showing both in team record and teammate stats to pull it out. He does have a better supporting cast this season than a couple years ago, but Russell will still need to prove it.
My Pick: Russell Westbrook