The Boston Celtics entered the offseason with a top pick in the NBA draft after reaching the Eastern Conference finals, and they added All-Star forward Gordon Hayward in free agency, so optimism was running high for the C’s, especially as the Cleveland Cavaliers devolved into chaos this summer.
But one lingering issue lay dormant through it all: Isaiah Thomas’ season-ending hip injury. After months of speculation, that situation also resulted in reason for optimism, as The Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach reported the All-Star point guard, barring a setback, will not require surgery.
“Isaiah is making good progress,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Wednesday. “He’s out on the court; he’s shooting. He’s full-speed ahead on the stationary bike and working in the swimming pool. He’s progressing nicely.”
The Celtics shut Thomas down after he left Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals with an injury the team termed a “re-aggravation of a right femoral-acetabular impingement with labral tear.” He initially suffered the injury during a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in mid-March, missing a pair of games as a result, and then re-aggravated the hip in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals — before battling his way to 29 points and 12 assists in a Game 7 victory against the Washington Wizards.
Thomas struggled through the first three quarters of the conference finals, including an 0-for-6 effort early in Game 2, before doctors finally forced him to sit out the remainder of the season. It was an unfortunate finish to the Second Team All-NBA performer’s emotional and scintillating playoff run.
Given the history of hip labrum tears, which claimed the career of fellow undersized point guard and former lottery pick Jonny Flynn, that phrase left an uneasiness around the 27-year-old Thomas’ future. He reassured reporters at his exit interview in May that surgery wasn’t “the No. 1 option right now,” his hip has always been “a little different my whole life,” and, “I have an extra bone or something,” but that did little to assuage concerns that the dynamic 5-foot-9 star had taken one too many hits.
As the calendar turned to July, Celtics coach Brad Stevens suggested surgery was unlikely and all indications pointed toward Thomas being on target for a healthy start to the season, but still any decision on surgery was a week to 10 days away. Widespread speculation ensued and only became magnified when Boston signed veteran backup Shane Larkin to the team’s 16th guaranteed contract.
Ainge also put to rest fears Larkin’s signing pointed to Thomas’ hip being worse than initially thought:
“This in and of itself is just an opportunity to take a look at a really terrific player on a good contract for us to get a chance to see,” said Ainge, via Himmelsbach. “Shane, we felt like, was one of the best players in Europe this year. He’s really improved his playmaking abilities and we thought he had a terrific year. He has great speed and he’s a terrific shooter. We think he’s a better shooter than his numbers indicate. So we just really like his speed and his ability to get into the paint.”
While concerns over a potential setback may not be fully alleviated, Ainge at least provided more optimism that what Thomas told doctors immediately after the injury remains true: “Whatever they have to do to continue to play at — not just a normal level — at an MVP level, that’s what I’ve been on the doctors about. No matter what happens, let’s make sure I come back even better. And I will.”
With news of Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving’s trade request and the ensuing fallout, including LeBron James singing on Instagram, “N—— said they with you when they really not,” and the four-time MVP tweeting denials of reports he was “eager” to see Irving dealt and “tempted to beat his a—” if they crossed paths, monitoring of their social media accounts has reached a fever pitch.
So, when Irving unfollows James or likes a cartoon of Growth telling Comfort, “This is just not going to work out,” we analyze it to death, hoping to uncover some explanation of what the heck is happening. Because when a 25-year-old four-time All-Star wants off a team that has reached three straight NBA Finals, won the title in 2016 and features one of the game’s great players, nothing makes much sense.
And when Irving sings Skylar Grey’s “Coming Home” on Snapchat, that fever becomes a full-blown epidemic, because that is so clearly the song James borrowed from in the Sports Illustrated article announcing his return to Cleveland, the song that played ad nauseam over countless montages of his hero’s welcome and the song Grey performed at a 2014 rally re-introducing him to Northeast Ohio.
Lest you suggest this is all much ado about nothing, remember this would be a classic pull from LeBron’s social media playbook — a passive-aggressive strategy that was never more evident than when he took a veiled shot on Twitter at Kevin Love’s inability to “fit in” in 2015, before initially denying the tweet was directed at his teammate, and then conceding, “It’s not a coincidence, man.”
It seems almost impossible that Irving — by all accounts “a hyper-intelligent kid,” save for that whole flat-Earth thing — didn’t recognize the implications of him singing that song to the world amid reports that LeBron’s show-stealing return home may have fostered his desire to find the spotlight elsewhere and theories that LeBron’s plans to leave home pushed him to ask out before the drama of 2018.
It’s July 26, and we’re in the throes of the NBA’s dead season, so let’s get really crazy, turn the drama-meter up to 11, and imagine Irving’s reasoning behind singing “Coming Home” from every angle:
1. “Hey, guys. This is just my favorite song. Seriously. Huge ballad guy. A lot of people don’t know this, but Bon Jovi grew up a half-hour from me in New Jersey, and that’s really where my love of ballads came from. To me, Skylar Grey is really just introducing the hip-hop generation to that art form.”
2. “Hello, New York! This isn’t being reported yet, because my camp isn’t the one that leaks stories, but I’m being traded to the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony and some other pennies to my dollar, so I would appreciate if you give this Tri-State Area native the ‘Coming Home’ treatment you gave Melo in 2011.”
3. “Hi, everyone. I didn’t ask for a trade. I just begged off the Cavs, because I’m pursuing a music career, and this is my audition tape for NBC’s ‘The Voice,’ which premieres on Monday, Sept. 25, at 8 p.m. Eastern. This is not an advertisement. Seriously, I don’t get money for this. I just love the show!”
4. “Greetings, all. Remember when everyone celebrated LeBron’s return home and that Skylar Grey song was stuck in our heads for three solid months. Well, it turns out that was all for nothing, because he’s planning to move to L.A. next year, so I’m going to mock him in front of all of you for a moment.”
5. Aloha, peeps. I’m totally unaware that song was played a bazillion times when LeBron came back to Cleveland, but I’m still definitely interested in trolling him online, and I just so happened to be looking through my good friend Skylar Grey’s Instagram feed on the day my trade request was made public when I happened upon a photo of her riding an ATV that was captioned, “Leave’m in the dust,” so I will choose one of her songs at random to sing to you and let you decipher all of that meaning.
A post shared by Skylar Grey (@skylargrey) on Jul 21, 2017 at 10:13am PDT
6. “Hola, Los Cavs fans. I love attention as much as LeBron. This is both why I don’t want to share the stage with him in Cleveland anymore and the reason I’m singing this song to my many, many Snapchat followers, because this will surely become a thing and I’d really love to further the divide between me and the guy who treated me — a No. 1 pick — like his large son, so I can get that trade I requested.”
7. “嗨, 大家好. I’m actually just returning home from a weeklong trip through Asia for Nike, which is why I added the caption you’re ignoring: “Appreciative of the hospitality China!! #NikeKyrieWorldTour. Azurie DADA is on the way!!” So, this is really just a sweet message to my daughter that I’m sharing with my fans and has nothing to do with LeBron James or my trade request a couple weeks ago.
“And I know what you’re all thinking: You flew to China, and you still think the Earth is flat? Well, TMZ Sports is reporting that I came to my decision to ask for a trade after long conversations with a celebrity pastor who also advised Justin Bieber to cancel his world tour, so as you can see, anything and everything is on the table. Now, please stop analyzing my social media activity. That’s just weird.”
When Gordon Hayward announced his decision to leave the Utah Jazz for the Boston Celtics, logic told us that moving to the Eastern Conference as every other All-Star seemed to be headed West must have played a role in his decision, even if he made no mention of it in his Players’ Tribune piece.
There were so many great things pulling me in that direction. There was the winning culture of Boston, as a city — from the Sox, to the Pats, to the Bruins. There was the special history of the Celtics, as a franchise — from Russell, to Bird, to Pierce, and it goes on. There was the amazing potential of this current Celtics team — from ownership, to the front office, to a talented roster with Isaiah, and Al, and everyone else. And of course, there was Coach Stevens: Not just for the relationship that we’ve built off the court — but also for the one that we started building on the court, all of those years ago, in Indiana.
And that unfinished business we had together, back in 2010, when I left Butler for the NBA … as far as I’m concerned, all of these years later, we still have it:
And that’s to win a championship.
To win that championship, presumably, is far easier in the East, where only a dysfunctional Cleveland Cavaliers team presents a formidable challenge (for now) and there’s no NBA hell-scape to traverse just to get to the Golden State Warriors in Rounds 2 or 3. That Goliath can now wait until the Finals.
Former Celtics coach Doc Rivers, whose Los Angeles Clippers have spent years fighting an uphill battle in the West and lost to the Jazz in the first round this year, understands this as well as anyone:
“I think Gordon Hayward’s the smartest one,” Rivers told the Associated Press earlier this month. “He got out of town. He went to the East. I really don’t understand the logic of this. It is what it is. It’s just going to be a harder conference, if that’s possible.”
All things being equal, it’s only natural to consider which job opportunity offers the greatest chance of success, and Hayward finally opened up about how that factored into his decision on The Woj Pod:
“When we’re going through this process, and you keep seeing some of the big-name guys, and it’s like the West is loading up more and more and more. It’s not like I’m going to go East, just so I don’t have to play them, because you don’t want to run from competition at all — that’s not how I am — but there is a sense that it’s probably the smarter thing, as far as you’re not going to have to battle it out with all these teams, just to make it to the second or third round and give yourself a better chance against a Golden State. So, it definitely crosses your mind, 100 percent.”
And all things weren’t equal. Hayward recognized, “Golden State is obviously the team to beat. Whether you’re in the West or the East, you have to play them at some point in time.” And he felt the Jazz “matched up pretty well” with the Warriors and might’ve even taken a game from them in the Western Conference semifinals had George Hill been healthy, but there’s no doubt the Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks or Toronto Raptors are less of a gauntlet than a Houston Rockets team that just added Chris Paul, an Oklahoma City Thunder squad that brought Paul George aboard, the Minnesota Timberwolves with Jimmy Butler and maybe even the Denver Nuggets with Paul Millsap.
“I don’t know if there was one thing,” added Hayward. “I think if I had stayed in Utah, we would’ve been really good, it would’ve been a great situation for me, my family would’ve been comfortable … but it was a different feeling in Boston that I had. It was like a gut feeling, and it felt like, with everything that we broke down, the city, the coaching staff, the players, just the feeling of putting on a Boston Celtics uniform and competing for a title, outweighed everything else for me. And in the end, it was kind of that gut feeling that I had — like, this is the place that I think I should be and I feel like I belong — that’s what won it over for me.”
Among everything Hayward broke down, however auxiliary a factor it may have been, was the idea that the road to the All-Star Game would be easier with George, Butler and Millsap all heading West.
“Yeah, and I think that you look at that division that the Jazz are in,” Hayward told host Adrian Wojnarowski. “That is a tough division. Oklahoma City, Portland, Denver, like, that’s going to be a really tough division, where you’re playing those teams four times a year. The All-Star thing, it’s going to be hard no matter what division you’re in, but certainly with the amount of stars who are in the Western Conference now, especially at the forward position, too, it’s loaded, and you better have a really good first half of the season if you want to get in. And a lot of that, to me, always comes down to how your team does. If your team is winning, then it’s going to be a lot easier for you. So, like I said, that for sure crosses your mind.”
With Carmelo Anthony also pushing for a trade to the Rockets, more than half of the East’s frontcourt All-Stars in 2017 may no longer stand in Hayward’s way. He will still have to compete for a spot against mainstays LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Love, as well as rising stars Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis and Hassan Whiteside, among others, but that’s nowhere near the murderer’s row of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, George, Butler, and the list goes on.
While it may seem petty for Hayward to factor awards into his decision, everyone should be able to appreciate the importance of recognition on your path to professional development. And it’s all the less frivolous now that the NBA has tied contract incentives into All-Star and All-NBA honors.
And, dare we say it, a few more All-Star nods may mean the difference a Hall of Fame vote or two for Hayward. In other words, immortality might even be on the line. So, when Hayward added up all those other factors — Boston’s winning culture, the Celtics mystique, his college coach, a promising roster and front-office continuity — the easier East made the decision all the more easier. Just as we thought.
What was surprising, though, was the verbiage respected Cleveland.com Cavaliers beat reporter Joe Vardon used to depict the negotiations that led to Rose’s agreement on a one-year, $2.1 million deal — language that LeBron James took exception to as whispers of his feud with Irving were growing louder:
Derrick Rose and the Cavaliers agreed to a one-year deal for $2.1 million contract Monday after spending the day together, discussing how the team will return to the Finals without Kyrie Irving.
Rose, 28, the 2011 NBA MVP whose career has been hampered by knee injuries, will come to the Cavs looking for his first trip to the Finals after eight pro seasons. He’s also looking at a potential starting spot in the same lineup with LeBron James, now that Irving has asked for a trade and James is eager to see him off.
James took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to deny both Vardon and Smith’s reporting, a step the Cavaliers superstar had stopped short of amid rumors he will leave Cleveland in 2018 free agency:
James’ tweets give Cleveland hope that an attempt at resolving the conflict could be in the works. Although, we’ve come to learn over the past six months that hashtags about fake news on Twitter aren’t always genuine. If there is smoke to all this fire, Irving is traded and James leaves town next summer, LeBron will not escape the perception that he burned Cleveland again, #NotFacts be damned.
It’s almost unfathomable that a legendary talent whose stated goal has always been his next ring would be “eager” to part ways with a player who he cited as one of his reasons for coming home in 2014, who he called “the superhero to my kids ” this past season, and who scored 78 points in what should have been two series-tying wins over the Golden State Warriors juggernaut in the 2017 Finals.
Whether James wants Irving traded or not, though, the reality of the situation is that the Cavaliers are at least entertaining the idea of moving on without Irving on the roster, according to multiple reports.
Vardon also reported, “Irving’s request to be traded was a topic of discussion between Rose and the Cavs, sources said, though they declined to say if Rose was promised a starting job.” It certainly makes sense that an ex-MVP who has started all but one of the 470 games he’s played in his eight-year NBA career would want to know how news of Irving’s trade request would affect his playing time next season. And this harmonizes with what The Vertical’s Shams Charania first reported on Monday night:
Rose and the Cavaliers have discussed parameters for Rose to play as a starter and reserve, but the three-time NBA All-Star has focused on filling whichever role the franchise requires.
The Cavs planning for another Finals run with Rose and with or without Irving is certainly eyebrow-raising. It may be true, and it’s absolutely necessary to discuss alternatives if the marriage between Cleveland and Irving is bound for a breakup, which, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, it might just be:
The Cavaliers are projecting confidence they can snare a king’s ransom for Kyrie Irving, and more than that, they are acting — for now — as if a trade is almost inevitable, and that there is little chance of salvaging their relationship with him, according to several sources familiar with the situation.
Still, the notion that the 2016 NBA champions are already preparing for life without the 25-year-old four-time All-Star who made the most important shot in franchise history is no less astonishing.
Even with LeBron James on the roster, his chances of an eighth consecutive Finals appearance could depend largely upon what the Cavaliers can acquire for Irving, given the improvement of the Boston Celtics this summer. The “king’s ransom” they procure in return better include a point guard, because the dip from Irving to the injury-struck Rose in the starting lineup would be no small fall:
Rose cannot carry the offense without James, wait on the wings as LeBron barrels his way to the basket or work in concert with him on pick-and-rolls the same way Irving can, and as porous as Kyrie’s defense has been over the years, the post-surgeries Rose isn’t a marked upgrade on that end, either.
The Phoenix Suns have emerged as favorites in the Irving sweepstakes, including point guard Eric Bledsoe in the package, per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, but the Cavs would reportedly also seek the addition of No. 4 pick Josh Jackson. That makes sense from a chemistry standpoint, since James has long served as a mentor to Bledsoe, who is represented by LeBron’s friend and agent Rich Paul.
Bledsoe might also help Cleveland improve its defense, and his offensive efficiency could improve alongside James, but health has always been his biggest concern. The 27-year-old Bledsoe has had multiple knee injuries and seen three of his last four seasons cut short as a result, not unlike Rose.
Jackson would give the Cavs a jolt of young talent they’ve been missing off the bench, but at 20 years old, it’s hard to imagine him making a significant impact on Cleveland’s 2017-18 season. Still, that may represent the best offer for Irving, and the combination of Bledsoe, Jackson and Rose could just be enough to hold off the Celtics and keep the Cavs in contention for the final year of James’ contract.
Like it or not, LeBron and Cleveland might just have to get used to these alternatives as #Facts of life.
During an appearance in Manila, Giannis took questions from the Filipino crowd, including one about Durant’s departure in relation to the Greek Freak’s own allegiance to the team that drafted him:
“A lot of people say they’re going to stay on the team, and they decide to move to a different city, but you guys have always got to remember that a guy might want to stay on a team, but the team doesn’t do the right thing or the right moves for the player to become great,” said Antetokounmpo. “KD, the only reason he wanted to stay in OKC was to win a championship, right? So, did they win the championship? That’s why he decided to leave. Did he win a championship in Golden State? So, sometimes it’s not only the player, because sometimes it’s not up to the player.”
That appears to be a slight twist on comments made in a blog he wrote for EuroHoops in 2015 — one that now allows for wiggle room between remaining loyal to a franchise and chasing a championship. By this logic, missteps by the Bucks front office could leave Antetokounmpo no choice but to leave.
“Milwaukee is going to go through this with the Greek Freak,” said Wojnarowski. “That day is coming, right, where he’s going to look and say, ‘Where is this organization? What are they doing here?’ You don’t think Giannis has been watching what went on there for the last several months, of what they allowed to go on with the front office? He’s watching it, and the clock has started. Everybody in the league is trying to figure out how they’re going to get him out of there. That has started.
“So, Milwaukee, I don’t want to hear in three years or four years when they lose him, ‘Geez, we can’t.’ Utah did everything right, everything right from an organization. They lost their guy. And you look at a team like Milwaukee and say financially they’ll be able to do more. But you better have your organization in great shape, because then you have no chance with a guy like that.”
To which Antetokounmpo seemingly responded hours later on Twitter with a Kendrick Lamar lyric:
But Antetokounmpo and Wojnarowski have more in common than the bevy of vowels in their names.
The Bucks reportedly hired Justin Zanik as their GM-in-waiting in 2016, only to pass him over for 34-year-old “relative unknown” Jon Horst when John Hammond left the organization in May for the GM position with the Orlando Magic. Horst’s hiring sparked controversy in Milwaukee, since he wasn’t even among the team’s three finalists for the job in early June, and coach Jason Kidd and two of the team’s three owners endorsed Zanik for the job. Owner Wes Edens reportedly overruled everyone.
There’s a lot riding on the success of Horst, who signed a three-year deal with a below-market $500,000 starting salary, according to ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst. Hammond built a remarkable young core of Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker, and Horst began his reign by re-signing Tony Snell to a four-year, $46 million contract. The decisions will only get tougher, as Parker will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer.
Antetokounmpo’s four-year, $100 million contract extension doesn’t expire in 2021, when he will be approaching his 27th birthday — the same age Durant was when he decided to leave OKC for the bay. So, his latest comments in Manila, while nothing Earth-shattering, sure put some pressure on Horst’s plate to compete for a title, and they also make us look at his previous comments a little differently.
In 2015, when a 20-year-old Antetokounmpo wrote his EuroHoops blog and said, “I want to play for the Milwaukee Bucks,” the full quote has a different ring to it after he defended Durant’s Warriors move:
“From my side, I feel that I want to be playing in the Bucks. I’m not talking about my next contract. The way I feel now, I want to keep playing for the Milwaukee Bucks for the next 20 years!
“You never know how life turns out. Three years ago I was thinking that I might be playing for Filathlitikos forever! All of a sudden, the draft emerged, the NBA, the Bucks and everything that followed. I don’t know how I’ll be feeling and thinking in 2, 3 or more years. Right now I feel like I want to play for the Milwaukee Bucks forever.”
Two years later, Giannis continues to trumpet his loyalty, but there’s still a whole lot of time between “right now” and 2021, when he may want to stay in Milwaukee, but greatness calls him elsewhere.
When Cleveland Cavaliers teammates Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye released the first episode of their Road Trippin’ podcast this past January, it was a breath of fresh air. With Kyrie Irving revealing his flat-Earth theory and regular appearances by LeBron James, the podcast was billed as a look inside their locker room, beyond sensational headlines and edited video clips, a window into the real Cavs.
As Irving said when he and LeBron appeared on episode three in February, “I think one thing that separates us is we’re giving the truth, no matter what. The truth will always set us free. I’m telling you.”
James likened Road Trippin’ to his Uninterrupted venture, which gives athletes a platform to speak directly to their fans, and ultimately partnered with Jefferson and Frye to bring their podcast aboard. “For me, it’s all about authentication and being authentic to what we talk about and just being able to be yourself,” LeBron said on episode 12 in March, “and that’s why I started Uninterrupted.
“I came to my business partner Maverick Carter one day, and I was like, ‘Listen, I’m tired of my words being chopped and diced and put out, and I’ve talked for 20 minutes, and they only show the headline.’ So, I was like, I’m tired of that. I’m tired of doing that. Perception is everything, especially in our sport. People see the headline on social media, and they automatically assume this is what you were talking about, so that’s why I kind of see this as the same thing, where you can just get stuff off your chest, talk about things, no filter, no chopping, no cutting, no pasting, just be yourself.”
So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that Jefferson learned of Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland when guest host Chris McGee read the headline aloud while Jefferson and fellow podcast regular Allie Clifton were recording their latest episode of Road Trippin’ with Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn.
“Is it true?” asked Jefferson. “I’m finding out kind of now. No, man.”
“Are you in the know?” Clifton joked.
“Am I in the know?” added Jefferson.” This is what I will say about this, and by the time this gets out and whenever we air this in a few days, I don’t know. I don’t feel like there’s a power struggle with LeBron and Kyrie and [Kevin Love]. I think Kyrie is a hyper-intelligent kid — really, really smart, doesn’t get enough credit for how smart he is — and I think seeing that the franchise is in flux, I think seeing [Cavaliers GM David Griffin] leave and the amount of coaches, I think Kyrie has had a much tougher time in this stretch of the organization than anyone ever really wants to fully [realize].
“He was a No. 1 pick right after LeBron, then he has three different coaches, then LeBron comes back, now there’s trade rumors, now it’s ‘LeBron’s leaving.’ At some point in time, anybody would want some sort of stability, even if it’s the unknown. I don’t know if he asked to be traded. I don’t know this, but I will say that he’s had a tougher time, if you look at his start to where we are right now, of the ups and downs of a franchise, more than most. Even though we’ve been successful and even though we’ve won a championship and he’s been an All-Star, there’s still so much of a wave, and to be like, ‘Yo, we’re going to sit here for a whole year on whether or not LeBron’s coming back,’ that’s got to be tough on anybody — everybody.”
This lends to the theory that Irving felt frustrated by his career being dictated by James. Kyrie couldn’t win without LeBron. Then, LeBron brought a title to Cleveland. Now, if LeBron leaves in 2018, Kyrie can’t win without LeBron. Again. It’s not a partnership. It’s an apprenticeship. So, instead of waiting around to find out whether his legendary teammate is going to remain with the Cavaliers next summer, Irving felt compelled to leave Cleveland on his own terms, before stuff really hits the fan.
I’m not saying that’s what happened. I’m saying that might be what happened, but we don’t know, because it’s never been addressed outside of a passive-aggressive Instagram story in which LeBron sang, “N**** said they with you when you really not.” There’s been no unfiltered address from James on Uninterrupted, and Kyrie didn’t appear on Road Trippin’ to give his unedited version of the events.
Instead, Jefferson was hit with the bombshell just like the rest of us, scrambling to rationalize Irving’s trade demand, before changing the subject, enjoying a Corona and talking about Vonn’s herd of cows.
“I think Kyrie knows how important he is to our team,” said Jefferson, who revealed plans to play one or two more seasons. “LeBron knows how important he is. He’s been on this podcast. They’ve been on this podcast together, multiple times, where Bron was like, ‘Dude, this is my guy. I need him. He is so important to me. My kids love him.’ And, again, just like any family, there are ups and downs. There are moments that you hate them, moments that you love them, and then you just kind of keep it moving.”
So, it seems even the Cavs aren’t sure who the real Cavs are.
I listened to Road Trippin’ regularly throughout the past season, and one of the first things that struck me when I learned the Irving news was how much time both Kyrie and LeBron had devoted to telling the listeners how special the bond is between all of the Cavaliers and especially the two of them.
So, I re-listened to make sure I remembered correctly what Kyrie and LeBron said during their appearances together. True enough, on the first episode in which both All-Stars joined the podcast, Irving stated, “It’s unbelievable how we want things to be done the right way here in the Cavs.”
We know now, or at least we think know, that Irving considered requesting a trade after the Cavs won the title in 2016, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who broke the story of Irving’s latest request. It’s possible Irving believes the Cavs did everything the right way and still wants out, but there was little indication of his frustration with playing alongside LeBron during their podcast appearances.
Still, it was fascinating to re-listen to the podcasts after the recent reports came to light, and what struck me most was just how little Irving offered when he shared the Road Trippin’ stage with LeBron.
“To be in the position that I’m in, the only thing that matters to me is passing it down to the generation that comes after me, and to be able to sit on this plane right now 30,000 feet in the air and look at Kyrie right now, a 25-year-old who’s learning everything — not only what it means to be a professional athlete, but what it means to be a business, what it means to be a role model, what it means to have a platform — that’s my only goal in life,” LeBron said in episode three. “To be able to give back to the generation that’s going to come after us, and we know, because they have to continue to let the word known after we’re done. At some point, myself, Channing and RJ, we’re going to take our shoes, tie the shoestrings, walk outside, and throw them over the wires. So, that’s all I care about.”
LeBron then added, “I’m giving this boy the blueprint every day.” As Irving stayed silent, Jefferson and Frye asked him if he appreciated what LeBron said, and Irving answered, “You know I appreciate it.”
And LeBron continued:
“I’ve got to give it to him. I’ve got to give it to him. I’ve got to give it to him, because you know why I’ve got to give it to him? Because a lot of kids look up to this young man right here. A point guard with handles, quickness, the ability to handle the ball, the ability to score, and also the ability to have a nice smile and be a nice young gentleman, kids look up to that, and I’ve got to give the blueprint to him. He deserves it.
“Listen, any kid, and he’s not a kid anymore — he’s a young man, he was a kid. When he was drafted, he was a kid. Now today he’s a young man, but I think any young man or kid that wants the knowledge and has the ability to take the knowledge and apply it and also give it back to the younger generation deserves to have the blueprint. And Kyrie Irving deserves to have the blueprint, because he’s going to apply it and also give it back to the younger generation. And when I see that, I’ve done my job. It’s like pay it forward. When you introduce a male and a female together, and they decide to get married and have a kid, now you have a blessing and you’ve done your job. That’s all that matters to me.”
LeBron raved about how much his kids admire Kyrie, “and that means so much to me, because, yes, they know what their dad is capable of, but I want to be dad to my kids. I need Kyrie to be the superhero to my kids.” When LeBron finished, Irving said, “That was as open as it can get, and that was a beautiful thing,” before giving his spiel about the podcast being a truth circle, “no matter what.”
“At the end of the day, we’re here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to win a championship,” he said. “And along that ride, we’re going to create brotherhood, we’re going to create friends, we’re going to create guys who we’re going to love forever, but at the end of the day, man, what’s the main thing? The main thing is to put rings on our finger, man, and that’s it. That’s it. So, if guys gotta sacrifice a couple minutes per quarter here, sacrifice a shot per quarter here, sacrifice whatever the case may be, we knew what we were all getting ourselves into. Like, when RJ signed, when we traded for [JR Smith], when Channing got traded, when I came back and I saw Ky, we all knew what this situation was about to be about. We about winning. No ifs, ands or butts.”
To which Kyrie merely responded, “Yeah.”
The group praised Uninterrupted again for how, “We’ll bring them into real life,” before this exchange:
Kyrie: “It took me a little while to take the time and understand Bron. Do you know hard that it is?”
LeBron: “Because I’m a huge communicator.”
Kyrie: “He’s a huge communicator, and I’m one of those guys who’s just like, ‘Pfft.’”
LeBron: “I’m a huge communicator, and I feel like communication speeds up the process, and Kyrie needs some time to warm up to anybody, because it’s the trust factor. It’s like, ‘Are you really genuine about what you’re saying and doing? Or are you are here to just be able to profit from what you’re saying or doing?’ And that’s what Kyrie is, so it took a little bit of time for us. Plus, let’s add on us coming from complete opposite directions in life.”
Kyrie: “We’re both from single-parent homes, so we understood that.”
LeBron: “We understood that. So, we had to have the conversation, because at the end of the day, are we here because this is what we’re talking about in the media — ‘Yeah, it’s great to team up with Kyrie Irving, I feel like we’re trying to win a championship’ — or are we here on some bulls***? Are we here to waste each other’s time?’ So, it took a little time for us.”
Kyrie: “But I want to let you know that I was never around anyone like Bron, so it was taking a step back, because there was an admiration, there was an influence factor, there were a lot of things that he had brought to not only just basketball but to life, that I was just very intrigued with, but at the same token, I had to take a step back. Still, there’s a part of me that’s like, ‘I can’t get too close to him just yet. I can’t just let my whole guard down and just let him be who he is,’ which is what he specializes at, and that’s really just giving you the knowledge, understanding who you are, understanding where you come from, understanding where he comes from and what he brings to the table, and the difference in perspectives on what our minds actually do. So, it was just like a lot of that. It was a ton of that. And then when we came to that mutual ground, then it was like, OK. …”
LeBron: “And we already know exactly the thought process behind it without even saying words now at this point.”
That was in mid-March. At some point over the next four months, that communication apparently broke down, and LeBron was reportedly “devastated” to hear of Irving’s trade request. Since then, Stephen A. Smith’s sources suggested Irving’s camp believes LeBron leaked the news on Friday.
Regardless of how it got out, without Windhorst’s detailed reporting, anyone who listened to Road Trippin’ would still believe the perception Irving and James wanted their listeners to believe. The lesson, as always, is not to believe everything you hear on the internet — even if it’s uninterrupted.
Soon after news broke that Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving requested a trade and no longer wants to play in the LeBron James’ shadow, the man who broke the story, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, appeared on WKNR-AM radio and questioned the timing of Irving’s demands last week:
Windy: If Kyrie had told the Cavs this in mid-June, they probably could have traded for Chris Paul and traded Kevin Love for Paul George.
However, the man who confirmed Windhorst’s initial report, NBA.com’s David Aldridge, wrote, “Another league source said that Irving made his initial trade request before last month’s draft” — before the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Clippers traded All-Stars Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Chris Paul, presumably players who could be swapped for Irving and keep Cleveland in contention.
It’s entirely possible that Irving merely hinted at a trade request last month and made a more formal demand last week, and it’s also possible the Cavaliers believed he was posturing about wanting out several weeks ago, only to realize more recently the severity of his desire to play elsewhere.
Either way, the Cavs should not have been blindsided by last week’s request. There is no doubt whispers about Irving’s growing frustration in Cleveland were growing louder in NBA circles leading up to the draft, and it would be difficult to imagine the Cavaliers brass was unaware of those rumblings.
The real question should be whether or not Cleveland’s front-office upheaval caused the Cavs a shot to land one of the three All-Stars who changed teams in trades over the past month. The team parted ways with popular general manager David Griffin on June 19 over a contract dispute, and then reportedly lowballed prospective president of basketball operations Chauncey Billups early in July.
It wasn’t until Friday, as Irving’s trade demands were making waves, that the Cavaliers began finalizing a deal to formally replace Griffin with assistant GM Koby Altman, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Meanwhile, the Bulls, Pacers and Clippers all traded their stars for pennies on the dollar. A four-time All-Star under the age of 25, signed for at least two more seasons, Irving represents a far better return than the Lauri Markkanen, Victor Oladipo and Patrick Beverley packages those teams received. A more stable organization might have been quicker to recognize that opportunity, and stability has never been a strong suit between owner Dan Gilbert, his front office personnel and the team’s players.
At least one report indicated Griffin refused to trade Irving, and there are plenty of reasons not to deal a budding young superstar, so the ex-Cavs GM worked on a trade that would have brought Butler to Cleveland up until the day he left the organization. Griffin also reportedly left behind Butler and George trade proposals on his way out. Butler and Irving are friends and business partners, and Irving reportedly listed Butler’s Minnesota Timberwolves among his preferred trade destinations. Trades for Butler or George just might have been Griffin’s last-ditch effort to keep Irving happy in Cleveland.
Griffin’s departure then left the Cavs a week to include Irving in new trade proposals for Butler or George, although the Chicago Sun-Times reported at the time indicated players in Cleveland were warning Butler to “stay away from a suddenly volatile situation.” That was shortly after Griffin left.
As free agency approached, an Irving for Paul swap would have made even more sense, because Paul’s relationship with James might help keep LeBron in Cleveland amid concerns he could bolt in 2018. Also adding George, another James confidant, for Kevin Love, as Windhorst suggested, would have gone a long way in convincing the four-time MVP the franchise was committed to keeping him happy.
In the end, though, the Cavs whiffed on everyone, whether that’s because Irving didn’t make his demand soon enough or the front office couldn’t get its act together fast enough. Regardless, Altman now faces the challenge of fielding Irving offers from teams now certain he wants out of Cleveland:
ESPN Sources: Cleveland disturbed news about Kyrie Irving was made public out of fear it could impact trade value.
And then there’s the distinct possibility James could leave town in the wake of Irving’s departure. No Irving. No LeBron. No Butler. No George. No Paul. No more championship contention in Cleveland.
Thankfully, James and Irving together brought the city a title and three straight Finals appearances, because the new Cavaliers seem just as dysfunctional as the old Cavaliers, and without a ring to show for their trouble, things would be a whole lot more depressing for Cleveland fans than they are now.
In a roundabout way, the New York Knicks plan to sue in order to prevent the Los Angeles Clippers from moving to Inglewood, Calif., and this time Knicks owner James Dolan might actually in the right.
If you’re wondering why, here’s the long and short of it: Dolan founded the Madison Square Garden Company, which is worth roughly $9.4 billion and includes both the Knicks and The Forum in Inglewood. The city southwest of Los Angeles recently entered into an agreement with Clippers owner Steve Ballmer to negotiate the team’s move into a new arena up the street from the 17,500-seat Forum — much to the surprise of Dolan’s company, which just filed a claim against Inglewood over the deal.
In an interview with the Daily Breeze, Marvin Putnam, serving as counsel for the MSG Co., accused Inglewood Mayor James Butts of convincing the company to relinquish its leasehold on a portion of a parking lot across the street from the NFL stadium currently under construction for the purposes of a technology park, only to enter into an agreement with the Clippers to build an arena on the property.
“The mayor made it extremely clear that he needed that piece of land back for a kind of ‘Silicon Beach,’ ” Putnam told the newspaper. “They’re attempting to flat-out trick people.”
“We believe fraud has been committed here,” added Putnam, who claims a contract between MSG and the city stipulates the land would not be used for anything that could damage The Forum’s business. MSG’s recent filing serves as a precursor to a lawsuit, and it prompted the Inglewood City Council to reconvene a meeting on Friday to decide if their previous arrangement is in breach of that contract.
“The City of Inglewood cherishes its relationship with The Madison Square Garden Company and Live Nation,” Butts said in a statement on Thursday, via the Compton Herald. “Working together, we have seen The Forum become one of the top concert venues in the country. We disagree on the City’s right to self-determination and the scope of that right. The Inglewood City Council’s first responsibility is to its residents and their quality of life while ensuring continued progress, opportunities for employment, and improved public safety.
“In the end, I believe that we will be able to come together and find an amicable resolution. In the meantime, life goes on unabated for both The Forum and the City of Inglewood.”
However, the City Council unanimously voted again to approve the negotiating deal with the Clippers — one that could involve the city enacting eminent domain to acquire more land — per according to the Los Angeles Times. Given MSG’s filing, one would think a lawsuit is inevitable now.
MSG’s lawyers also accused the city of failing to properly notify the public about both the original agreement with the Clippers and the potential use of eminent domain, according to the L.A. Times.
Mayor Butts maintained publicly that no residents would be displaced by the project, but Forum public relations representative Randy James emailed the L.A. Times on Friday to warn, “While the parcels of land that the city owns may be vacant, those vacant parcels comprise just a fraction of the total area. There is no question that residents would need to be displaced within this area.”
Ballmer has publicly stated his desire to privately fund an 20,000-seat state-of-the-art arena, which would give the Clippers top billing and might also play home to other entertainment ventures. Last month, Ballmer confirmed in a letter to fans he would pay a non-refundable $1.5 million deposit for the three-year negotiating window that would likely bring the Clips to Inglewood next decade.
“I have said from day one that we need to plan for the future. This agreement helps us do that by expanding our options,” Ballmer wrote. “The prospect of a new state-of-the-art NBA arena would allow us greater latitude to influence our game schedule. … We also want to offer our fans premium experiences in terms of technology, club spaces and other amenities; that’s easier to realize in a new arena.”
One problem: The Forum is located less than two miles from the 22-acre site on which the new arena would be built. Despite a $100 million renovation project and The Forum’s popularity as a concert venue, MSG would almost certainly lose a portion of its entertainment business to a nearby arena, even if it just meant would-be patrons choosing to attend a basketball game instead of a concert.
Oddly, the Los Angeles Lakers played in The Forum until 1999, when they joined the Clippers in moving to the Staples Center. The impetus for the Clips moving to Inglewood is Ballmer’s view that a team he paid $2 billion for is billed third or fourth at Staples behind the Lakers, Los Angeles Kings and other events. Now, owners of both The Forum and Staples Center (Anschultz Entertainment Group, which has the Clippers under lease until 2024), were both blindsided by Ballmer’s Inglewood deal.
It’s all very strange, and it only gets odder when a company owned by Dolan — an NBA owner across the country — is threatening to file a lawsuit to prevent another team from moving to a new arena.
The Spurs made another move that won’t move San Antonio’s needle much in the Western Conference this summer, re-signing Pau Gasol to a three-year contract, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Gasol opted out of a $16.2 million player option for the 2017-18 season in a decision that seemed likely to result in the Spurs making a big free-agent splash. That splash never came, as San Antonio lost wing Jonathon Simmons in free agency, only to replace him with oft-injured 30-year-old Rudy Gay.
The Spurs brought back 40-year-old Manu Ginobili for another year, and only a few days later will sign the 37-year-old Gasol to a three-year deal, with a partial guarantee for the third season, before which he too will turn 40. All of which means the Spurs will run back a similar roster to the one that reached the Western Conference finals, only to be swept when superstar Kawhi Leonard suffered an injury.
Or will they?
Sources: In the Kyrie Irving meeting with Cavs, one of primary teams raised as a preferred trade destination for him: The San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs were reported to be one of four teams on Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving’s preferred destinations following the bombshell news of his trade demands. After a quiet summer on the free agency market, it seemed inevitable that San Antonio would do something, if only because the Spurs were falling back in the West power rankings, and they always manage to move the needle.
The Gasol signing doesn’t do that, though. He just submitted the least productive season of his 16-year NBA career, which has included a pair of titles and six All-Star appearances. Gasol averaged 12.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.1 blocks in 25.4 minutes over 64 games in San Antonio last year.
Even if Gasol accepted less than half of his previous salary, the Spurs now won’t have max cap space next summer unless LaMarcus Aldridge opts out of his $22.4 million option for 2018-19. Aldridge has been a subject of trade rumors, including a shakily sourced report in June about a potential deal with the Cavaliers. It sure has been a wild NBA summer, except in San Antonio. So far, at least.
Thursday marked two-time NBA champion Ray Allen’s 42nd birthday, and while we imagine the retired marksman spent a chunk of it playing golf in some exotic location, we know for sure the future Hall of Famer spent some of it arguing with Boston Celtics fans on Instagram. Which is quite sad, really.
We got here because Allen’s ex-teammates have publiclyharpedon his 2012 decision to join the Miami Heat for the past five years, and their outspoken contempt for him has only increased as they all enter retirement. Some Boston fans have taken that animosity to another level, so when the Instagram account “@bostonceltics4ever” posted happy birthday wishes to Allen on Thursday, a whole lot of fans responded by calling him a “traitor,” “snake,” “Judas Shuttlesworth” and much worse.
“Y’all need to get over it!!!” he or someone authorized to comment from his official Instagram account wrote. (Either that, or he was hacked. Again.) “Where were you all when the team tried to trade me. It’s a business, we go where it’s necessary just like you all do in your jobs!!!! I will always be a Celtics no matter what any of you say. Get over it!!!!”
Allen also circled back to thank the fans who actually did wish him a happy birthday, which is nice, but the fact that Allen still felt compelled to address Celtics fans about this on Instagram three years after he last played a game in the NBA only emphasizes how bad things have gotten between them.
In the past few months alone, members of the 2008 Celtics opted not to invite Allen on a vacation celebrating the forthcoming 10th anniversary of their championship together, and Kevin Garnett hosted an “Area 21” segment for TNT during the playoffs in which Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and Glen “Big Baby” Davis all explained on national TV their rationale for disliking Allen.
In interviews over the years, his ex-teammates didn’t quite go as far as some of the folks on Instagram, but Kevin Garnett called Allen disloyal, Rajon Rondo dubbed him the “enemy” and Paul Pierce described the ordeal as a “betrayal.” And while they have publicly spoken about him, it seems they have privately not spoken to him, which for a team that embraced “Ubuntu” is a bit depressing.
All of the animus is focused on Allen’s decision to turn down a two-year, $12 million offer from the Celtics, including a no-trade clause, to join the Heat for three years and $9.5 million shortly after the two teams met in the seven-game 2012 Eastern Conference finals series. Even Boston coach Doc Rivers told Yahoo Sports at the time, “I was pissed at him. I was pissed at him for his reasons for leaving.”
It was not a cordial breakup, but after repeatedly being dangled in trade talks — including one that would have sent him to the Memphis Grizzlies for O.J. Mayo that came awfully close to happening — and losing his starting job to Avery Bradley during the 2011-12 season, Allen was ready to move on. Rumors have lingered about Allen’s on-court chemistry with Rondo and his off-court relationship with teammates playing a significant role in that decision, but for whatever reason, he felt the desire to chase one more ring elsewhere, taking less money and playing a valuable role to accomplish that goal.
These are all points that have been made over and over again — and reinforced by Allen on Thursday.
Pierce has suggested it was a lack of a phone call about Allen’s decision that hurt most, but he’s also the one who believes a mending of their relationship could be coming. Although, Garnett continues to imply that while they are the true Celtics, Allen is not, because he left when they still felt like they had championship hopes. Of course, Rondo tore his ACL in 2013, those Celtics never really had another title shot, and Boston’s recent trade of Bradley marked the last vestige of the “grit and balls” Celtics.
Perkins was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Davis got signed-and-traded to the Orlando Magic, Garnett and Pierce were dealt to the Brooklyn Nets, and Rivers orchestrated his way to the Los Angeles Clippers. In the years since, the Celtics rebuilt the roster to reach the conference finals for the first time since 2012, and the organization just gave Allen’s No. 20 to incoming All-Star wing Gordon Hayward, indicating that number will not join Pierce’s 34 and Garnett’s 5 in the TD Garden rafters.
You might think that would close the book on this strange chapter, but a couple Instagram comments from Allen on his birthday kept the pages turning, which seems about right for this paperback romance. Really, though, the only bombshell in this latest edition was Allen writing, “I will always be a Celtic no matter what any of you say,” which seems to suggest the hostility only flows one way.