Less than three weeks ago, Kyrie Irving reportedly walked into a meeting with Dan Gilbert and requested a trade because he was no longer interested in playing with franchise centerpiece LeBron James, a power play that has thrown the Cleveland Cavaliers into a tailspin. As the Cavs work through their options and sift through the emotionalfallout of Irving’s request, and what it means for their present and future, Cleveland’s ownership, front office and stars must be stinging all the more knowing what was very nearly theirs in the recent past: a fourth All-Star to bolster their efforts to topple the Golden State Warriors.
To be precise, per ESPN: “a text message from Indiana Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard [that] undid an agreement on a blockbuster deal for George the Cavs were just starting to celebrate, a moment that now lives in infamy within the organization.”
The saga begins just before the 2017 NBA draft, after George informed the Pacers that he planned to leave Indianapolis when his contract expires at the end of the 2017-18 season, and after Cavs owner Gilbert had chosen not to bring back David Griffin, preferring instead to head into the draft and free agency without a general manager. Before being shown the door at Quicken Loans Arena, Griffin was reportedly working on multiple fronts to put together packages of young players and assets that could land George or fellow All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler, going so far as to leave “for his successors potential trades” that could have imported either George or Butler even after his departure.
According to Shelburne, McMenamin and Windhorst, talks on a Butler deal never got close, but Cleveland did keep working on George.Its most substantive discussions in the run-up to draft night involved the Phoenix Suns, a team replete with young players and draft choices, including 2017’s No. 4 overall pick, and the Denver Nuggets, who likewise had multiple intriguing young players and the evening’s No. 13 pick, and had eyes on Kevin Love as an upgrade at power forward.
The general idea: Cleveland offloads star-caliber talent for young players/draft assets, and flips them for George. Those talks fizzled, though; by the end of the draft, Butler was headed to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Denver’s No. 13 pick had been shipped to the Utah Jazz for Trey Lyles. (Utah drafted Donovan Mitchell out of Louisville. He looks good.)
Cleveland’s front office remained in flux over the next week, with Gilbert failing to land top choice Chauncey Billups as the Cavs’ new president of basketball operations (reportedly due in part to Gilbert trying to pay below-market-value on the position’s salary). Even without a clearly defined top basketball executive, though, the Cavs’ remaining execs, led by assistant GM Koby Altman, kept plugging away at a deal … and, from the sounds of things, got awfully close:
The Cavs kept working with the Nuggets, trying to win a deal that would satisfy the Pacers and allow Denver to get Love and the Cavs to get George. Both were concerned about Boston, who could trump their offers for George but might have been waiting to see if it could secure Gordon Hayward in free agency after July 1.
On the afternoon of June 30, the sides thought they had a deal. On a conference call between the teams, everyone tentatively agreed. George to the Cavs, Love to the Nuggets, [Denver guard Gary] Harris and other pieces to the Pacers, sources said.
Plans were put in place for a call to be arranged between George and Gilbert, an important step before the trade would become final, sources said. The front office began making other plans to complement George as free agency was about to begin.
But then Pritchard, who had been on the conference call when the deal was tentatively agreed to, sent the message that his team was backing out, sources said. There was no deal.
The Cavs, for their part, used their limited remaining flexibility to bring back Kyle Korver and Richard Jefferson, and to bring in Jose Calderon, Jeff Green and Turkish forward Cedi Osman — a crew not exactly on par with George’s gifts as an All-Star-caliber two-way playmaker who would seem to represent exactly the kind of perimeter talent Cleveland needs to credibly do battle with the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
So the Pacers chose to turn down Harris (a good shooting guard who moves without the ball, can shoot and plays defense), Lyles (who had fallen out of favor in Utah but has shown some shooting and playmaking chops since coming out of Kentucky) and a protected first-round pick for George, in favor of importing Victor Oladipo (who might not be better than Harris) and Domantas Sabonis (who really struggled with his shooting and rebounding as a rookie) as a preferable haul. Why they did that remains unclear. Maybe Pritchard and company wind up getting the last laugh, but at the moment, that choice — to say nothing of the decision to move quickly rather than waiting to see what the Celtics might’ve been willing to part with once they got their Hayward signing wrapped up — looks pretty dicey.
Whatever the Pacers’ reasoning, Pritchard’s text scuttled what might have been the Cavs’ best chance to quickly reload for another shot at Golden State. (Ditto for Irving’s decision to wait until July 7 to say he wants out.) Just over three weeks ago, Cleveland was on the precipice of re-entry into the NBA’s arms race; now, the Cavs look like a past-tense super-team on the path to devastation. What a difference a text makes.
No matter the reconstruction of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster, no matter the potential for heightened inner turmoil, no matter the win-loss record, and with or without Kyrie Irving, LeBron James will not waive his no-trade clause for any teams at any point during the 2017-18 season, league sources told ESPN.
James, Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony are the only players with no-trade clauses. James holds a $35.6 million player option for the 2018-19 season, which means he could elect to test unrestricted free agency next summer.
In regard to that scenario, a decision has not been made.
The four-time MVP winner, according to sources, is focused solely on competing for a championship as a member of the Cavs and will fulfill his contractual obligations, whatever unexpected circumstances may arise.
With an offseason marked by around-the-margins moves (bringing back Kyle Korver and Richard Jefferson, bringing in Jose Calderon, Jeff Green and Turkish forward Cedi Osman) that don’t figure to make the Cavs any more serious a challenger to the Golden State Warriors than they were in June. With the month of uncertainty surrounding Cleveland’s front office that might have contributed to missed chances to land a pair of All-Stars. And, now, with word that Irving wants out.
If he’s so frustrated that he can no longer stomach what might look to him like detrimental intransigence (or incompetence) from the owner’s box, then sure, he could make like Kyrie, demand a trade, and make it clear that he’ll waive his no-trade clause to whichever destinations he chooses to help put himself in a better situation.
He has fought for every bit of leverage he could muster, and earned every ounce of it he now holds. When you’re the best player in the world, you insist on things like player options in the third year of your deal and the right to refuse any trade the team might present, and you get them, because you’re the guy who brought Cleveland its first professional sports championship in more than five decades. You move when you want to move; you don’t have to move for anybody.
Yes, replacing Irving with, say, Derrick Rose would reduce the likelihood that the Cavs romp their way to a fourth straight NBA Finals berth with the ease they displayed a couple of short months ago. But if all things aren’t possible through LeBron, then at least a whole hell of a lot of them are, and Gordon Hayward aside, the Cavs will still be considered the class of the conference so long as James is suiting up in wine and gold come Halloween.
No, James’ odds of toppling the Warriors won’t look any better without one of the game’s most explosive offensive creators riding shotgun. But by maintaining what status quo he can muster, LeBron remains in line for an eighth straight trip to the championship round, makes his full freight of just under $33.3 million, and retains the opportunity to re-enter the free-agent market next summer if he so chooses without having to unnecessarily uproot his family. He continues to operate on his own timetable. Not anybody else’s.
Irving’s request, of course, works the other side of that particular street. The 25-year-old has evidently decided — no matter how many shots or how high a usage rate he can roll up, annual trips to the Finals or no — that he is finished playing a supplementary role, so even though he’s got two years left on his deal and no real leverage to speak of, he’s making his voice heard. He’s making his move.
On some level, LeBron probably has to respect that. Doesn’t mean he’s going to react to it with anything more than Instagram videos, though. If James leaves Cleveland again, he will do it when he wants, how he wants, for the reasons he wants, and nothing — not even a “devastating” turn of events — is going to change that.
When you’re in the middle of a difficult time, listening to some music can help you either put your troubles aside for a minute or focus in on what you’re feeling enough to be able to reach some catharsis. Whether what turned up on LeBron James’ Instagram story on Saturday was an example of the latter sort of sonic experience, or just pure coincidence, is anybody’s guess.
It sure is interesting, though, that one day after the bombshell report that Kyrie Irving had walked into a meeting with Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and requested a trade in part because, after three trips to the NBA Finals and one NBA championship, he no longer wanted to play with James, LeBron chose to hit the ‘gram with a short burst of eyes-covered head-bobbing along to a very particular part of “Heavy Heart,” the second track off Meek Mill’s just-released record, “Wins and Losses.” Check it out, but be warned that there’s some NSFW language in the clip below, so reader/listener/viewer caution is advised:
In breaking the story of Irving’s trade request, ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst said that “James was blindsided and disappointed” when he learned that Kyrie wanted out. During a subsequent appearance on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” Windhorst used a stronger word to describe James’ reaction: “devastated.”
Early Sunday morning, Draymond Green took to Instagram to express his displeasure with a photo of the Irish mixed martial artist wearing a Golden State Warriors jersey with the No. 23 — Green’s number, albeit in an older version of the Dubs’ home jerseys than Draymond has ever worn — at some point:
A post shared by Draymond Green (@money23green) on Jul 23, 2017 at 1:22am PDT
“We rocking with Floyd bro not you… take that off bruh @thenotoriousmma,” Green wrote in the post’s caption.
Shortly thereafter, Mayweather popped into the comments of the post with an apparent vote of approval for Green’s support, writing, “Splash for the cash,” followed by the hashtags #warriors and #michigan. (That Green played his college ball for Michigan State, rather than in Ann Arbor, is neither here nor there.)
Never one to allow anyone else to get the last word if he can help it, McGregor showed up in the comments, too, taking Green to task and clarifying just whose No. 23 he was wearing:
“That’s C.J Watson mate,” McGregor wrote. “I don’t know who the f*** you are. No disrespect tho kid, keep hustling and stay i school.
“Now ask yourself why I’m rocking C.j when I don’t know or give a f*** about basketball,” McGregor continued. “I dribble heads off the floor. Not a ball. This is no game here kid.”
Perhaps you, too, are wondering why McGregor would choose the No. 23 that C.J. Watson wore for the Warriors between 2008 and 2010.
Well, back in September of 2010, Mayweather was arrested and charged with grand larceny, robbery, coercion, harassment and domestic battery stemming from an incident in which Mayweather reportedly struck Josie Harris, the mother of three of Mayweather’s children. From a 2013 story for Yahoo Sports by Martin Rogers:
The altercation happened when Mayweather returned to Harris’ property at 5 a.m. on September 9. Police had already been summoned following a verbal dispute hours earlier, but Mayweather came back. Harris says she was asleep on the living room couch when she woke up to Mayweather, holding her cell phone, yelling at her about text messages from NBA guard C.J. Watson.
Mayweather and Harris were no longer together; the boxer had by then installed Jackson in his home and as his main love interest. But, according to Harris, it was not acceptable to Mayweather for her to see other men while living in a house he owned.
“Are you having sex with C.J.?” Mayweather yelled at Harris, according to the arrest report.
“Yes, that is who I am seeing now,” she replied.
Mayweather then grabbed her by the hair and punched her in the back of the head “with a closed fist several times,” according to the report. He then pulled her off the couch by her hair and twisted her left arm. […]
“All I heard is, ‘Who is C.J. Watson, C.J. Watson the basketball player?’ ” Harris says. “From there it was just … bad. I was powerless. He was holding me down. I couldn’t fight back. The kids were screaming and crying, ‘You’re hurting my Mom.’ “
At one point, Mayweather yelled, “I’m going to kill you and the man you are messing around with,” Harris told police. “I’m going to have you both disappear.”
Watson later reportedly denied dating Harris. Mayweather would eventually reach an agreement in which he pleaded guilty to a reduced battery charge and no contest to two charges of harassment, resulting in him being sentenced to serve 90 days in jail, complete 100 hours of community service and pay a $2,500 fine. Mayweather started serving his sentence in June of 2012, and was was released on Aug. 3, after only two months, for good behavior. The incident is one of many in Mayweather’s past related to domestic violence.
And, lest we be in any way confused by McGregor’s chosen method of angering/insulting/trolling/whatever his opponent, we need only look back six months for evidence of the UFC champion taking this particular tack in his “trash talk” with Mayweather:
Unsurprisingly, nothing McGregor said or intimated did much to change Green’s mind:
“Hahahahaha that number won’t be worn again when I’m finished with it clown!” Green wrote in a comment replying to McGregor. “[Olympic] Gold medalist, NBA champ, all star, DPOY etc!!! Hahahaha stop it boy! Nate Diaz(Bay Area stand up) whooped you in your ring! [NOTE: McGregor evened the score with Diaz five months later.] Money May about to destroy you!!! Take that warrior jersey off bruh you’re an incredible internet troll we don’t rock with you! Go train bum!!”
Another day, another instance of the run-up to Mayweather-McGregor giving all involved, and even some who previously weren’t involved, a chance to truly cover themselves in glory. Great work, everyone. Let’s all delete our social media apps and rinse our eyes out with bleach.
Asked earlier this week for his comments on LeBron James’ reported frustrations with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ lack of roster upgrades during the 2017 offseason, Kyrie Irving told Sports Illustrated’s Maggie Gray that the Cavs were in “a very peculiar place, and we just need to make sure that all our pieces are aligned first, and then we go from there.”
“It’s the summertime, a lot of craziness going on in the NBA, so best to just observe, and then see what happens,” Irving said. “Obviously, there’s some things that I’m pretty sure our organization wants to do, and we’ll go from there.”
So, about that “observe and see what happens” strategy …
Kyrie Irving asked the Cavs to trade him in a meeting last week, sources told ESPN. Story posting on https://t.co/b8H6X39PKb shortly
The request came last week and was made to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. Irving has expressed that he wants to go play in a situation where he can be a more focal point and no longer wants to play alongside LeBron James, sources said.
Irving’s agent Jeff Wechsler would not confirm or deny whether Irving asked for a trade.
“Kyrie and I had a meeting with Cavs leadership where we discussed many different scenarios in reference to Kyrie and his future with the team,” Wechsler told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “The basis of those discussions and what went on in those discussions are between the Cavs and us. We are respectfully going to keep those private.”
The Cavs, as you might expect, are not super thrilled by this report … but for what might be a telling reason:
ESPN Sources: Cleveland disturbed news about Kyrie Irving was made public out of fear it could impact trade value.
(So the issue is “this could hamstring us in trades,” not “this is totally bogus and we’re not entertaining the idea at all.” Hmm. OK, got it.)
The No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA draft — the player the Cavs selected after plummeting to earth following James’ decision to leave the franchise to join the Miami Heat — Irving just completed arguably the best season of his six-year NBA career. The point guard averaged 25.2 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting, a 40.1 percent mark from 3-point range and 90.5 percent accuracy at the foul line — all career highs — while dishing 5.8 assists, pulling down 3.2 rebounds and snaring 1.2 steals in 35.1 minutes per game over 72 appearances.
Irving began his career as the man on a young, talent-poor Cavs team left devastated by LeBron’s departure. He averaged nearly 21 points and six assists per game during his first three seasons, earning headlines with his highlight-reel handle and making a pair of All-Star appearances along the way. But the Cavs were dreadful in those three seasons, going 78-152 and failing to even sniff the playoffs. It was only after James’ return and the arrival of Kevin Love in the summer of 2014 that Cleveland’s fortunes turned, resulting in the Cavaliers making three straight NBA Finals appearances and winning the first NBA championship in franchise history in 2016.
The reported request is just the latest speed bump in a tumultuous offseason in Cleveland. After losing the 2017 NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors in five games, owner Dan Gilbert declined to renew the contract of general manager David Griffin, sending the Cavs into free agency without the lead basketball decision-maker who helped construct three straight Eastern Conerence championship rosters. (Gilbert also reportedly did so without so much as a heads up to James.) Irving “had a good relationship with Griffin,” according to Windhorst, who noted that the former GM played a pivotal role in convincing Irving to sign a five-year maximum contract extension in 2014 before James’ arrival.
With assets in short supply and the front office in flux, Cleveland’s attempts to secure top-line talent to supplement the core of James, Irving and Love sputtered. While the Cavs brought back Kyle Korver and Richard Jefferson, and brought in Jose Calderon, the Celtics added Gordon Hayward without sacrificing the assets to make another big move in trade.
The Toronto Raptors brought back Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka to team with DeMar DeRozan, and revamped the rest of their rotation. The Washington Wizards re-upped Otto Porter to secure the third piece of their young core alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal. And the Warriors? Well, all they did was foot an astronomical bill to bring back Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia and David West, while also importing bargain wings Omri Casspi and Nick Young.
The distance between the Warriors and Cavs appears to have grown, and the distance between the Cavs and the rest of the pack might have shrunk just a tad. And the situation in Cleveland remained far from settled …
Your friendly reminder: The Cavs still haven’t hired a GM
The trade request reportedly caught James by surprise, leaving the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player feeling “blindsided and disappointed,” according to Windhorst. It doesn’t sound like he’s going to be spilling too many tears in his wine about it, though:
LeBron James focused on training for next season and winning with whomever is on the roster, I’m told.
“Blindsided” though James may have been, questions of top billing, timetables and uncertainty over when it would be the 25-year-old Irving’s time to move from understudy to signature star are nothing new. In fact, the topic came up several times during Cleveland’s 2017 postseason run.
It’s hard not to think about, because as I continue to get older and I’m playing with an unbelievable player like Bron, you know, from the outsider’s perspective, it could be seen a few ways. And for me, it’s — it hasn’t been anything short of difficult, trying to figure out when will it be my time, when will it — and the honest answer from me is that I cannot give any energy to anything that people say would be best for the team, or even sometimes what I think would be best.
My job is to be in the moment, especially with an unbelievable player like him. You have to just enjoy the ride just as much. You know, individual goals that you have to just push to the side because this team, nothing is promised, and who knows what would happen down the line, and this is probably hands down the best team that I’ve ever played with, and probably will play with if we all stay together.
After the Cavs eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, Irving fielded a question about the “synergy” that he and James had developed on the court. In his answer, he praised James’ remarkable abilities: “He’s been the driving force this whole entire playoff run, and all of us have just really helped him along the way with being just the teammates that we’re supposed to be.”
Irving also said that being around James’ greatness on a daily basis forces his teammates to make a choice: “either you can kind of sit back and just watch and observe, or you can pick your game up as well.” In so doing, he noted that “picking your game up” also requires a willingness to sacrifice, and to keep sacrificing:
In our beginning stages, I think that we didn’t want to step on each other’s toes because of how special we both are and the other pieces that we have on our team. That’s a hard balance to figure out. But the special ones figure it out, and I’m just eternally grateful to have a guy like that — as well as [Love], Tristan [Thompson], J.R., [Smith] all my teammates.
But when you look at how this team is run and who are the driving forces behind it, it has to be myself and Bron. We understand that. It falls on our shoulders, as well as everyone else, but we have to carry it. I accepted that. He knows I’m preparing every single day and I’m dedicating myself every single day to this game and I’m leaving it out there, and I expect the same from him.
When you get to that level of trust, and you allow someone to come into a friendship that extends well off the court, and you understand how great this era can be if we are selfless to the point where we don’t think about anything else except for the greatness of our team and what we can accomplish — [if] we stay in that moment, we’re very special.
[…] now you have to almost take a step back and observe, but at the same point, you want to keep your foot on the gas pedal. And I think that finding that balance is one of the toughest things to do, because you have so much belief and confidence in yourself, but also one of the biggest things that makes a great player great is how selfless he is and how much is he willing to sacrifice in order to see the betterment of the team.
Selfishly, I always wanted to just show everyone in the whole entire world exactly who I was every single time, and I can do that with a lot of great teammates around me. And I would rather have that and be competing for a championship every single day than waking up at 3:00 in the morning, getting jump shots, figuring out what the next direction is for the team.
That’s been the law of the land in the Eastern Conference for the better part of the last decade: when you play with LeBron, you don’t have to worry about the direction of the franchise, because you know you’re going to be competing for championships. After falling short in Game 5 against the Warriors, Irving heaped praise on James for his efforts in the series, and emphasized that he’d be doing “a disservice to myself if I didn’t try to learn as much as possible while I’m playing with this guy”:
Every single day demanding more out of himself, demanding more out of us, the true testament of a consummate professional. And understanding how things work, not only just in the game but off the court — things that matter, just taking care of your body, understanding the magnitude of what the goal is at hand, and what steps it takes in order to achieve that goal. You can’t skip any steps.
And that was one thing that I came to understand, because as a young player, you want everything to happen right now. And Bron’s been in this league for a while now, and he’s seen every which way from on the court, to off the court, to dealing with some of you guys, to dealing with the whole world of just choosing a side. Whether you want to believe in him or not, he’s still coming. And that’s the type of guy that I want to be with every single time I’m going to war, because I know what to expect, and you stand your ground, too, with a leader like that. You don’t want to take a step back. You move to the front line with a guy like that, and you want to bring your game up to another level.
That’s what I’m going to continue to do, because I know that if we continue to be with one another and keep utilizing one another, man, the sky’s the limit.
With some distance from the emotions of the Finals, though — and, perhaps, the opportunity to see the foundation of the Cavs’ conference dominance starting to crack, with Griffin gone and grumblings about James’ displeasure one year away from his chance to re-enter the market — Irving has apparently changed his mind. Early reports suggest that he might have his sights set on a few teams where he might think he’d have more of a featured role while still getting to play postseason ball alongside some top talent (well, with one notable exception):
Sources: In the Kyrie Irving meeting with Cavs, one of primary teams raised as a preferred trade destination for him: The San Antonio Spurs.
Where the Cavs would figure to get value for a player of Irving’s stature at this stage in the offseason remains unclear. Jimmy Butler’s gone. Paul George is, too. So is Chris Paul. Carmelo Anthony … well, he’s still available, but that situation is complicated, and how much his addition would even help the Cavs is very much an open question.
Ultimately, with two more guaranteed years on his contract before he can exercise a player option to hit unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2019, and without a no-trade clause in his contract, Irving only has so much leverage in picking out his preferred trade destination. It’s worth remembering, too, that frustrations aired during the heat of the summer can be worked out and resolved before training camp gets underway in September. Kobe Bryant demanded the Los Angeles Lakers trade him in May of 2007, and he wound up sticking around for another decade, making three more Finals and winning two more titles. Storms can blow over.
Even so, this is one hell of a whirlwind that Kyrie Irving saw fit to kick up in the middle of July. Now, he and the only NBA team he’s ever played for are left to reap it, and we’re left waiting to see where everyone has landed when the wind dies down.
We are, perhaps, too quick to refer to your garden-variety defender-shaking crossover as an “ankle-breaker.” The phrase just seems woefully inaccurate to me now that I’ve seen a dude crumple into a pile on the court after actually suffering an injury trying to change direction guarding a ball-handler.
The perspective corrective comes to us from the 2017 William Jones Cup, an international basketball tournament held in Taiwan featuring national teams from several FIBA Asia members (Iran, Iraq, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, India and two entrants from Chinese Taipei) plus squads from Canada and Lithuania. In the closing seconds of a game on the sixth day of the tournament, Iraq defender Hussein Talib tried to pressure Gilas Pilipinas forward Kevin Ferrer.
What initially seemed like a run-of-the-mill stumble and fall was soon revealed to be something much more significant. Talib remained on the floor after the final buzzer sounded on the Philippines’ 84-75 win over Iraq, and wound up needing to be carried off the court by teammates, coaches and training staff. Adding injury to insult: about as bad as it gets.
For Ferrer, a 24-year-old forward who plays professionally for Ginebra San Miguel of the Philippine Basketball Association, the opposite is true. Before the end of this week, many of us had no idea who he was. Now, we know he’s a guy who, under the right circumstances, can literally injure an opponent with his handles. I’m not sure Kyrie Irving’s ready to give up the Ankletaker moniker, but if he ever considers franchising it out to territories beyond the borders of the continental United States, he should look Ferrer up. Dude’s the real deal; we’ve got his bona fides on tape.
To Brandon Henderson, the 2017 NBA draft was more than a massive disappointment; it was the last straw. And as it turns out, he was far from the only Chicago Bulls fan who felt that way … or who was willing to fork over some cash to let the Bulls’ brass know in no uncertain terms just how angry he was.
At June’s draft, the Bulls first decided to trade All-NBA swingman Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen. Then, they chose to sell their second-round pick, No. 38 overall — the last piece of the haul from the 2014 deal that sent Luol Deng to Cleveland — to the Golden State Warriors for $3.8 million in cash, rather than just taking the guy the defending champs wanted: Oregon power forward Jordan Bell.
It angered Henderson that general manager Gar Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson — the front-office collective frequently referred to as “GarPax” — would kickstart a rebuild by trading a franchise centerpiece for a restricted-free-agent-to-be coming off an ACL tear, a 23-year-old second-year point guard who struggled mightily on offense as a rookie, and a 7-foot shooter whose rebounding and defensive work have frequently been described as uninspiring and/or concerning. It really angered him that they’d compound that by punting a shot at a player some have described as a low-cost Draymond Green starter kit in exchange for cold hard cash.
The draft-night moves led Henderson’s simmering frustration with the Bulls to boil over. As he surveyed the latest letdown to come from a front office that has presided over Chicago’s descent from title contention to “barely capable of a .500 record and the East’s No. 8 seed” status, Henderson decided to do something about it. From Madeline Kenney of the Chicago Sun-Times:
He created a GoFundMe page Friday, hoping to raise enough money to purchase a billboard that would call for the firing of Gar-Pax after their controversial draft [dealings].
The page surpassed its original goal of $2,000 within a day and has raised nearly $7,000 in three days.
“I didn’t imagine that we would be able to get to that much and I didn’t think it’d be that quickly,” said Henderson, who has been a Bulls fan his entire life. “It’s definitely been something that I tried to keep pace with.”
All told, Henderson’s campaign raised $8,327 — more than enough to get the billboard designed, produced and placed. And on Wednesday, it finally saw the light of day, on the corner of Lake Street and North Racine Avenue in Chicago’s West Loop:
“See Red” has been a Bulls slogan (and, with the advent of Twitter, accompanying hashtag) for years. After watching the franchise’s on-court product deteriorate over the years, from the peak of the Derrick Rose MVP heyday to last year’s aborted “Three Alphas” experiment, it’s hard to blame fans for seeing things a little bit differently these days than the Bulls might prefer they did.
Henderson told the Sun-Times that the billboard cost about $7,000, and that he plans to use the extra money raised for “a digital billboard” placed “near the United Center for the Bulls’ home opener” in October, before donating whatever’s left to the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago. (I might suggest cutting out the middle part and focusing on the latter, now that you’ve made your point, but hey, whatever floats your boat.)
The history of NBA billboard propositions is spotty, at best, with morefailures than relativesuccesses (and even those successes more likely due to other factors than those in charge feeling public pressure). Even so, when you’re looking to clearly communicate a message of discontent with the way things are going, it’s tough to beat a giant billboard a mile away from the United Center that pleads for ownership to fire the two dudes in charge.
The Knicks’ post-Phil Jackson braintrust of newly elevated president of basketball operations Steve Mills and new GM Perry decided last weekend to “pause” trade talks aimed at shipping the 33-year-old Anthony out. During a Monday news conference introducing Perry to New York media, Mills told reporters that the team would not entertain the possibility of buying out the remaining two years and $54 million on Anthony’s contact, and that, while Anthony last month finally proclaimed himself willing to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate moves to join either the Cleveland Cavaliers (led by longtime pal LeBron James) or the Houston Rockets (now featuring longtime pal Chris Paul), no such deal should be expected if it doesn’t help forward the Knicks’ rebuilding goals.
“Our view is if there’s an opportunity that works for Carmelo and works for us, then we’ll look at some kind of trade,” Mills said Monday. “But we also feel that Carmelo could easily be a part of our team next year, and we have to understand how we’re going to play and what the expectations [are] of how we’re going to play and we’re going to move forward. So it may be with Carmelo or it may be without Carmelo […] Carmelo’s a great, great basketball player, and if Carmelo is with us, we will continue to develop our young players. If he’s not here, we’ll continue to develop our young players.”
“It may be with Carmelo,” however, is apparently not going to fly with Carmelo.
“What [Mills and Perry have] wanted to do here in the last few days is to hit the reset button on these Carmelo trade talks,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on “SportsCenter” on Tuesday. “They felt that Phil Jackson had cost them all their leverage to get anything back in a deal they wanted. Carmelo Anthony has made it clear to them: ‘I want to go to Houston, I’m not interested in talking to you about being re-incorporated back into this New York roster.’”
It’s not surprising that Anthony wouldn’t be interested in mending fences. Yes, the executive who spentmuch of the pastseasonpubliclyintimating that a separation would be best for all parties is now gone; once again, ‘Melo is the winner in an intra-Madison Square Garden squabble. The yearlong battle seems to have worn on Anthony, though, and despite coming out on top in his tug-of-war with Phil, he’s made the decision that he’s ready to move on.
If the Knicks aren’t going to engage him in buyout talks, then he’d just as soon they put together a deal that lands him on a contender where he can play with some friends and pursue the NBA championship that has eluded him throughout his 14-year professional career. That’s easier said than done, though.
Anthony’s willingness to waive the no-trade clause eliminates one big hurdle. But that still leaves constructing a deal that gets Anthony where he wants to go while also allowing the Knicks to achieve financial relief from offloading the rest of his contract and brings New York assets — future draft picks, promising young players on rookie deals — that help foster a rebuild around a young core of rising star Kristaps Porzingis, center Willy Hernangomez, 2017 first-round draft pick Frank Ntilikina and just-re-signed shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. After past trades, neither Cleveland nor Houston have many such assets.
Adding in a high price tag ratcheted up by the 15 percent trade kicker Jackson included in his contract — remember, an acquiring team has to send enough salary New York’s way to make the trade viable under league rules — creates more complications. If the Knicks aren’t interested in keeping such high-priced ballast — say, Rockets forward Ryan Anderson, who’s owed nearly $61.3 million over the next three seasons — on the roster as they try to rebuild, then they have to find other teams who might be interested in taking on salary to become part of the deal. That has reportedly provenchallenging. And so, for now, things stay put.
As it turns out, though, despite Monday’s comments to the contrary, Mills and the Knicks reportedly “remain as committed as Carmelo Anthony to finalizing a deal that would send the All Star forward to the Houston Rockets,” according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:
It appears that the idea of the Knicks trying to convince Anthony to stay in New York were overblown. Mills wants to rebuild and the thought of having a 33-year-old Anthony on the roster doesn’t make sense. Moreover, the Knicks got Anthony to agree to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate a deal. Keeping him on the roster would not be ideal for either the Knicks or Anthony.
No, it wouldn’t be. Then again, little about this situation has ever seemed ideal for either party. Why change now?
“So what they’re trying to do … Steve Mills wouldn’t have ascended to this job in New York if he wasn’t politically savvy,” Wojnarowski said. “He doesn’t want to get into a public war here with Carmelo Anthony, who they spent over a year trying to run out of town. Houston now is prepared for the fact that these talks, these negotiations with the Knicks, could run through August, September, into possibly the start of training camp as New York tries to rebuild ‘Melo’s value and threaten people with the idea that they’ll bring him back to start the season.”
After all the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, then, we haven’t actually moved very much from where we started. Carmelo Anthony’s ready to not be a Knick anymore. The Knicks are ready for that, too. Whether that winds up happening, and how quickly, will depend on another team (likely Houston) finding a way to construct a transaction attractive enough to make it worth New York’s while, or the situation becoming so untenable for New York that Knicks brass blinks and decides to take a lowball offer just to get it done.
The last 17 or so years of Knicks history suggests which outcome is more likely. Now, we find out whether New York’s new front office actually represents a break from the past, or if the just-installed regime winds up producing more of the same.
“We’ll be in constant communication with Carmelo and his camp, and we’ll come to some resolution that works well for both us,” Mills said Monday.
After 24 years and two NBA championships, owner Leslie Alexander wants to sell the Houston Rockets. Dikembe Mutombo wants us all to know that he’s got five on it … or that he’s trying to get together lots of people who will, anyway.
The legendary shot-blocker, who spent the final five seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the Rockets before retiring in 2009, told Mark Berman of Houston’s Fox 26 on Tuesday that he “is working on putting a group together that he hopes will try and buy the Rockets franchise.” More from Berman:
“I’m working on it,” Mutombo said in an interview with FOX 26 Sports. “I’m talking to a lot of people already since [Monday]. We’ll see. I’m just talking to the people who can cut the check and they can make me be part of it. I’m working on that.” […]
Mutombo said the Rockets franchise presents a great opportunity for the next owner.
“It’s like someone who’s already sitting on the runway trying to take off,” Mutombo said. “That’s what kind of team the Rockets are right now.
“The Rockets are a great franchise. They have a great team. They’ve got great coaches, great basketball players, great staff. Whoever is coming in, it’s not like they’re going to have to rebuild it.
“I’m trying to convince some people about trying to buy this team. It’s one of the best franchises right now. It’s really the right time.”
No arguments there, with respect to the organization Alexander has built. The Rockets have made five straight playoff appearances, with three 50-win seasons during that stretch, and have three key pieces — in-his-prime superstar and MVP runner-up James Harden, Coach of the Year-winning offensive visionary head coach Mike D’Antoni, well-regarded general manager Daryl Morey — all locked into long-term deals. Morey just pulled off a blockbuster deal to import All-Star point guard Chris Paul to pair with Harden in what should be one of the NBA’s most explosive backcourts, and worked around the edges to add pieces like P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute to help bolster Houston’s perimeter defense, fortifying the core of a 55-win team.
The Rockets have a roster that looks set to compete for several years in a top-10 U.S. media market. They have a large fan base in Asia dating back to the selection of Yao Ming with the No. 1 pick in the 2002 NBA draft, one whose attention only figures to be bolstered by the arrival of 7-foot-1 Zhou Qi, a 2016 second-round pick. The NBA’s $24 billion broadcast rights deal, and the share of nine figures’ worth of subscription fees from their own regional sports network, bolster their revenues.
Add in other factors like a relatively new arena with inexpensive annual rent costs, and the Rockets look like a tremendously valuable asset that should generate some massive bids. It’s likely the eventual sale price will surpass the $1.65 billion valuation that Forbes magazine set out for the franchise in February; it’s possible, too, that it could top the record-setting $2 billion that Steve Ballmer paid for the Los Angeles Clippers back in 2014.
To get in that game, Mutombo’s going to need some friends with deep pockets. A pair of local businessmen, billionaire restaurant and casino owner Tilman Fertitta and furniture chain owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, have both expressed interest in pursuing a stake in the Rockets.
How large a share Mutombo would plan to pursue, what kind of financial commitment that would require, what sort of role he’d have in the franchise’s operations — these all remain open, unanswered questions. But after showing interest in buying into the Atlanta Hawks before they officially went on the market in 2015, only to find himself on the outside of Antony Ressler’s $850 million purchase, Mutombo’s eager for another chance to continue his off-court career as a businessman by moving into the owner’s suite.
“A lot of people think it’s a great thing,” Mutombo told Berman. “It’s a great opportunity. “Now it’s just a question of the number. There’s going to be a lot of discussion, and a lot of cash.”
The new collective bargaining agreement between the NBA’s teams and players included a provision that created a new kind of agreement — a “two-way” contract — that acts as sort of a bridge between the NBA and the newly renamed G League. For Eric Griffin, though, the two-way deal represents something much more than another chance to earn an NBA roster spot. It’s an opportunity to finally put the most harrowing experience of his life behind him.
Chris Reichert of G League website 2 Ways and 10 Days reported Monday that Griffin — a 6-foot-8 forward who went undrafted out of Campbell University in 2012, and who has hops for days — had agreed to a two-way deal with the Utah Jazz, for whom he’d shined as an energetic finisher, rebounder and shot-blocker during the NBA’s Utah and Las Vegas summer leagues. Two-way players will spend their time primarily with their NBA team’s development league affiliate — in Utah’s case, the Salt Lake City Stars — but “can spend up to 45 days with [their] affiliate NBA team,” according to Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ. During those days that he’s with the Jazz, Griffin will earn a pro-rated portion of the rookie minimum salary; while he’s in the G League, he’ll make $75,000.
That’s not a huge payday for a player who earned All-Star honors in the Israeli Premier League with Hapoel Gilboa Galil last season. For the 27-year-old Griffin, though, just getting back to the point where he can resume his pursuit of his NBA dream — previous summer and training camp stints with the Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons failed to produce anything more than a 2015 D-League All-Star selection — is a blessing.
Just 15 months ago, Griffin was arrested on attempted murder charges “after he and another man, 23-year-old Daquan Lundy, allegedly fired several rounds at a third individual outside an Orlando, Florida, apartment building,” as Sam Gardner wrote for Fox Sports:
The alleged victim, 24-year-old Treavor Glover, told police he was approached by two black males as he walked from his car to his apartment at approximately 1:19 a.m. on April 27. Glover stated that the larger of the two men fired two shots in his direction, and the other fired one. Griffin’s arrest warrant lists him at 6-foot-9 and 200 pounds, while Lundy is listed at 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds.
Glover told police he attempted to flee to the rear of the apartment complex after the initial three shots but fell to the ground as he ran away, skinning his hand. Glover stated that “at least one” of the men then stood over him and fired four shots at close range, with one shot grazing his forehead. It’s unclear based on the incident report which of the two men fired the shot that struck Glover.
Griffin maintained his innocence, but remained locked up for six days pending an emergency bond hearing, a period during which he says he started “having full conversations with myself, really going psycho. ‘Did you do that? Why did you do it? I don’t know, man, maybe I did it. No, don’t be crazy, you’re going to be all right.’” He’d be released on bond, and vindicated within two months, after defense attorney Eric Barker “presented what he believed to be conclusive proof of Griffin’s alibi,” according to Gardner:
In addition to the security alarm timestamps, the video footage of Griffin inside his home at the time of the shooting and evidence that Griffin had returned the rental car supposedly spotted at the scene earlier that day, Barker also argued that the men described in Glover’s initial statement to police could not have been Griffin and Lundy.
According to arrest records, Griffin is 6-foot-9 and Lundy is 5-foot-7, a 14-inch height difference that doesn’t match up with the incident report.
“The victim is 6-foot,” Barker said. “So if you’re saying the taller guy is 6-foot-2, then you’re saying that (the shooter) is about the same height, maybe a little taller. And in court, you can tell the judge, ‘Hey, my guy is 6-9,’ and it sounds tall, but when the judge says, ‘Hey, can you stand and raise your hand?’ when he stands up, you can really see it — ‘Wow, that’s a tall dude.’” […]
“I think it’s human nature, when you read about something bad in the news, that you just believe it,” Barker said. “There’s that automatic judgment when you hear it, so I don’t think there’s too many people who would question, ‘I wonder if Eric Griffin is guilty or innocent?’ I think they just assume, ‘Oh man, that’s too bad. Another person with talent throwing their life away.’”
Even so, a tarnished reputation couldn’t put a damper on the news that came on June 22: The state had verified the information from the alarm company and was going to drop Griffin’s charges.
Despite the elation that Griffin and his family felt at his release, they soon had to face a daunting reality: even though he’d been cleared of all wrongdoing, his mere association with the case had drastically limited his professional options. From an August 2016 story by ESPN’s Ian Begley:
The incident cost Griffin opportunities to play in the NBA summer league and an offer from a team in the Philippines, [Griffin’s agent Tod] Seidel said. Teams withdrew their standing offers to Griffin after finding out about the attempted murder charge, he said.
“Even when we provided a letter from the prosecution that explained he [Griffin] had absolutely nothing to do with this horrible crime, teams still backed away,” Seidel said.
Griffin averaged 14.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.6 assists in 31.7 minutes per game in Israel, earning a spot on the Israeli Premier League All-Star team and an opportunity to get back on the stateside circuit by showcasing his wares at summer league. He caught on with the Jazz’s summer league squad, averaging 8.7 points and six rebounds in three games in Utah before putting up 10.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in four games in Las Vegas.
“First and foremost, [I’ve noticed] his intensity level and how hard he’s played consistently,” Jazz assistant coach Zach Guthrie told Benjamin Mehic of the Salt Lake Tribune. “No matter the score, no matter who’s out there with him — he’s playing hard and he’s trying to play the right way.”
It’s the kind of recognition that Griffin feared he might never receive again at the NBA level.
“I still have hope, though,” he said after being cleared last year. “I’ll never lose faith, and I know I’m going to grind if they give me a chance.”
Fifteen months after the worst night of his life, Griffin has that chance. Now, he aims to make the most of it.