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The Kevin Love Sweepstakes Is About To Get Started

Kevin Love is officially a free agent. But where does he land next season? (photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Kevin Love is officially a free agent. But where does he land next season? (photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Decision time has come about for many in the NBA. There are some players that are have options on their contracts whether they would like to accept the contract they have or opt out in search of a better deal for themselves. LeBron James is one of the names that is opting out, but he is expected to re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers. But James isn’t the only star player that has this option in Cleveland. The Cleveland Cavaliers traded for Kevin Love last offseason and shipped the past two number one overall picks to Minnesota for him. The Cavs did this knowing that Love could potentially opt out of his deal after this season. But to many, they believed that Kevin Love and LeBron would be a good pairing based on their games. Well, it seems as if the pairing did not work as well as some thought, as Love had one of his worst scoring and rebounding seasons in the NBA. The pairing of Love with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James was not as good as some thought it would be. And as the season went on, it seemed the relationship between both James and Love was not the smoothest either. Of course Love is one of the hardest people to read in the NBA, so this talk about their relationship could be just rumors. But with all that talk and the play circulating in the media, Kevin Love made a decision to opt out of the last year of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He could still end up in Cleveland next season, but the great thing for the Cleveland Cavaliers in this decision is now it makes it a little easier on them as to what options they have this summer. If Love would have opted in, the Cavs would have been in a tough place when it came to Tristian Thompson, who is a restricted free agent this offseason. Now instead of wondering how Love and James would get along, the NBA and its fans will be waiting to see where Love turns up next.

Kevin Love is a stats guy. He has averaged double-figure points and rebounds for five of his seven seasons in the NBA. And for what it’s worth, he is one of the best outlet passers in the NBA. That could be great for a team that is starting the fast break. The perfect fit for Love would be a team that has some explosive wings but allows him to be a focal point of the offense. In that aspect, there are a few teams that may be able to comply with what he would like. The most obvious answer for a team craving Love is the Los Angeles Lakers. Many Lakers fans have thought that eventually Love would be coming home to the Lakers. And in this circumstance, he could make Los Angeles his home. The Lakers have at least $23 million in cap space this offseason. The Lakers recently selected D’Angelo Russell out of Ohio State with the 2nd pick in the draft, so the indication from Los Angeles is that Love will be one of two power forwards they look at this offseason (LaMarcus Aldridge is the other). But with the silence of Kevin Love, you don’t know whether or not he wants the extra year on his deal and that could potentially affect him coming to LA or not. The only way he gets that extra year on his deal to go to Los Angeles is if he is signed and traded to them. And in that case, the Lakers would have to give up something to get him. More than likely it would be future draft picks and also a player. If I was the Cavaliers, I would ask for Julius Randle in return for trading Love to the Lakers. That would allow for the Cavs to sign Tristian Thompson back and also get him a backup in Randle to solve their power forward position. But of course, the Lakers are not the only ones interested in Love this offseason and they may not even be interested in parting ways with Randle so soon.

The Boston Celtics are another team that is checking out the prospects of bringing Love in. Danny Ainge tried to work something out to get him to Boston before when Rajon Rondo was still their point guard to no avail. Well, the Celtics now have a stockpile of picks and interesting players available to make something happen this time. The Celtics, like the Lakers, could try and swing a free agent deal with Love and leave it at that. That would give them Love’s talents for four years and more than likely max money. But if the Celtics were to decide to do a sign and trade for Love, they have all the assets to make it happen. They have a gluttony of talent in their frontcourt that many would be interested in including forward Jared Sullinger and forward Kelly Olynyk (wouldn’t it be interesting if he was traded to the Cavs in this one). But in all honesty, Love would not make as big a difference as the main player on that team. The Celtics need one more piece to go along with Love should they sign him outright or trade for him. That piece is a frontline scorer. If Love is brought in on that team and asked to be the leading scorer for them, then that team would go nowhere fast. And with the picks the Celtics made in this most recent draft, you have to count on free agency for them to add some punch there. In the end, he is not a difference-maker for that team that takes them to the playoffs. Of course he would get more touches and make more things happen for that team. But it would be Minnesota all over again but on the East coast and Love wants to be the focus or secondary focus on a team and win basketball games.

A darkhorse candidate that may take a look at Love is the New York Knicks. They drafted big man Kristaps Porzingis 4th overall in the draft, who by all accounts will not be ready to make a big contribution anytime soon. The Knicks redeemed themselves a little bit with trading Tim Hardaway Jr to the Atlanta Hawks for talented point guard Jerian Grant, but there is still the matter of that hole in the frontcourt. As the Knicks stand right now, they have no big men that are going to be there. Carmelo would slide back to the power forward position again if no one is found, but that is not expected to happen. The Knicks are expected to make a run at big man Greg Monroe and there are rumors out there that David West could sign there after opting out of his player option in Indianapolis. But none of these guys is a given to sign at this point and time. And even if the Knicks were going to sign Monroe they would still be able to take Kevin Love. Of course the money dries up quick when you spend it, and the Knicks would overspend for Monroe and another piece as well as trying to get Love. If that is the case, he would be looking to play elsewhere as he is not the top priority there in New York. Plus there is also the issue of whether he and Carmelo could co-exist, which no one knows. Melo is different from LeBron in that he is more of a scorer than facilitator. And that mix may not be something that would fit Love’s game, let alone the bright lights of the city that he seems to not care for. We could speak of them trading something to Cleveland, but the Knicks have nothing to offer there due to trades in the past and their roster not being as talented.

Love is going to be sought after by a few teams this offseason and there may be some surprises out there that were not mentioned. But along with potentially re-signing in Cleveland (which is a longshot at best at this point), Love has some things to think about. After all, this contract could be the last big contract he signs in the NBA. In all honesty, all teams would need to take a look at what they are willing to sacrifice for a guy that is a defensive liability but can flatout fill it up on the offensive end along with battle on the offensive boards. The choice is not only his but the teams that are interested. And come July 1st, Love, like many others who opted out of deals, will be deciding whether the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

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Andre Iguodala’s Unselfishness Gets Repaid In A Title

Andre Iguodala hits a big three and celebrates as the Warriors win the NBA title. (photo courtesy of www.cheatsheet.com)

Andre Iguodala hits a big three and celebrates as the Warriors win the NBA title. (photo courtesy of http://www.cheatsheet.com)

The Golden State Warriors are now NBA champions after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games. The feeling of winning the NBA title when many did not expect them to do so beginning the season has to be something that overcame all of them at that moment in time. All the hugs and joy that was seen between players, coaches and families on the Warriors team were priceless things to watch. Going into this series, the battle of Golden State versus Cleveland was viewed as the NBA’s best team versus the NBA’s best player in LeBron James. Cleveland got a huge series out of James, but the strength of the Golden State Warriors team proved to be too much for him to overcome. The strength in numbers was enough to overthrow the King. But more than that, there was one thing that was shown all season with this team. If you have watched the Warriors all season long, they have been an unselfish team that is all in together. In fact, you could say that they all take turns making plays to win games. Obviously players like Draymond Green, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson receive most of the credit, but there were other players and their sacrifices that helped make this team who they are. One player that sacrificed a lot this season is David Lee. He was the starter ever since he came to Golden State, but when he hurt his hamstring before the season, it was Draymond Green who got the call to start. And with him in the lineup, the team seemed to flow better. Green retained the starting nod while Lee retreated to a bench role for the betterment of the team. And in the end, his acceptance of his role helped bring home a title. But there was one man that made a sacrifice even bigger than Lee did. His name was Andre Iguodala.

When Andre Iguodala came to Golden State, he said he was coming there to play for then coach Mark Jackson. Iggy was a starter ever since he came into the league as a rookie back in 2004 with the Philadelphia 76ers. In his first year with the Golden State Warriors, he was thought to add a little more defense and versatility to that team. But instead of adding that, he took a little more than he added. Emerging young player Harrison Barnes, who had played well the previous season, was not the same player he was coming in off the bench. He never played to the level he did the previous season and that ended up being to the detriment of the team. The Warriors would go on not meet expectations as they lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the 2014 NBA playoffs. And as far as Iggy, he would average his lowest points per game since his rookie year (9.3 points per game) while dealing with a hamstring injury that hampered him throughout the season. Going into this season, the Warriors had a new coach. After a managerial disagreement, Mark Jackson was fired and former NBA player and TNT announcer Steve Kerr took over. It was expected by many that Kerr would keep the same lineup and add in their free agent signings, Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa. But Kerr had something else in mind and it involved Andre Iguodala.

One of Kerr’s first visits when he signed on as coach of the Golden State Warriors was to Andre Iguodala. He knew the veteran was a voice on the team that many would listen to because of his tenure in the league. But his reason for meeting with him was not only to get on the same page as him, but to ask him to sacrifice. When taking over the coaching job, Kerr noticed the dip in Harrison Barnes’ play as a result of going to the bench. And in an effort to maximize what he had in Barnes, he asked Iggy to come in off the bench for the first time in his career. From what is reported, it was not an easy decision for Iguodala. He was known as an NBA starter for all of his career. In his mind he had to be wondering what Kerr was thinking when he asked him to be a bench player. But reluctantly, Iggy agreed to the switch and bought what Kerr was selling to him. And during the season, it seemed like Barnes played much better. He only averaged .6 points better than the previous year, but Barnes shot 48.2% for the season (up from 39.9%) and he also posted a career-high in rebounds. And to his credit, Iggy gave the Warriors a boost off the bench all season long, averaging 8 points per game off one of the best benches in the NBA. The sacrifice of Iggy along with the great play of the Warriors helped lead Golden State to 67 wins and the number once seed in the NBA’s Western Conference. And throughout the playoffs, Iggy made timely plays and was one of the glue guys off the Warriors bench along with Shaun Livingston. But his biggest payback for his sacrifice would come in the postseason.

The Golden State Warriors were looking at a 2-1 deficit going into Cleveland for Game 4. Many wondered what adjustments that Kerr would make and how he would combat what LeBron James was putting together for the Cavaliers. Up until gametime, no one really knew what he would do. But then he shocked the world and went with Andre Iguodala in the starting lineup to replace center Andre Bogut. The shocker wasn’t so much that Iggy was in the starting lineup. After all, he was the most consistent player in the series up to that point. When he jumped into the starting lineup, it was his first time being in the starting lineup all season. And with Iggy and Draymond Green starting up front, it was assumed the Cavs would eat them up on the glass. Well, that move surely did so for the first couple of minutes of Game 4. Tristian Thompson was tearing them up on the glass to start the game. But after the Warriors settled in, the small lineup with Iggy started to work its magic. And three straight games later, the magic they found in the small lineup led them to being NBA champions. One player that made an immeasurable impact on this series from the onset is Andre Iguodala. He made LeBron work for every point he got when he guarded him, had some nice assists and hit the open shot when given to him. And because of that strong play, he won the NBA Finals MVP. Some say that Steph Curry should have won the MVP, but Iggy was consistent the entire series and when he was inserted in the starting lineup, he gave the team 20.3 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists per game. And even more than that, he helped make the Warriors defense better along with create big mismatch problems for the Cavaliers. Curry may be the Warriors best player, but Iggy was definitely the most important player and proved to be the most valuable too despite the missed free throws.

Andre Iguodala made a sacrifice that not many would have honestly said they would have made. He willingly went to the bench in an effort to do what the coach said would make the team better. And as a result of his sacrifice and unselfishness, he played a huge part in bringing a championship to Golden State. Not only did he help win the title, but he was a key cog in the turnaround of the entire series. No matter what anyone says about Iguodala after tonight, it won’t matter. Iggy can now be known as an NBA champion and one that was selfless enough to see the big picture for the Warriors. And for that he should be commended.

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Draymond Green Is Hurting The Golden State Warriors In The NBA Finals

When will Draymond Green show up for the Golden State Warriors? (photo courtesy of www.uproxx.com)

When will Draymond Green show up for the Golden State Warriors? (photo courtesy of http://www.uproxx.com)

The Golden State Warriors were riding high after their Game 1 win. They did not play their best in Game 1, but they found a way to make it happen and survive a huge effort by LeBron James against them. But in the past two games, it seems like we have continued to see a Warriors team that has not played as well as they could. And in that time, we have seen a Cleveland Cavaliers team that has started to play better around James. Even with them losing the presence of point guard Kyrie Irving for the rest of the season, the Cavs still looked like the tougher and better team. The struggles of point guard Steph Curry have been well-documented over the last two game and he seemed to snap out of them when he caught fire in the fourth quarter versus Cleveland. But while Curry’s resurgence is catching headlines, there has been one player that has been scuffling for the entire NBA Finals. When the Warriors made the change before the season to add Draymond Green to the starting lineup, they figured it would strengthen their bench (moved David Lee to the bench) while adding some youth and better shooting to the starting lineup. They also made that move because Lee had a hamstring injury and Green was inserted into the starting lineup. The move worked well for the Warriors and they stuck with it through the regular season, as Green had his best seasons as a professional (11.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game). And early in the postseason, Green was good for them. He was playing with passion and knocking down shots as well. But in the NBA Finals, it seems that he has been scuffling to gain some ground. Going into Game 4, the Warriors face a tough position. They will be in Cleveland going against the best player in the NBA while down one game. And to add to that, they will also be playing in front of a raucous crowd that will bring tons of energy to the building. They need Green to play well. But some are wondering what is going on with him in the first place.

Green has been a very versatile defender for the Warriors this season. He has guarded four positions with ease. He and Warriors center Andrew Bogut up one of the best power forward/center defensive combos in the NBA. But during this series, it seems like the versatility of Green has not shown up. Part of that reason is he has to stay with Cavaliers power forward Tristian Thompson. Coming into this series, the matchup between Green and Thompson was one to watch. Thompson is a bull on the offensive glass and Green, although undersized, is one of the tougher defenders and rebounders around. Through three games, it seems that Thompson has gotten the better of Green. Thompson may not be scoring as much as Green has, but he is giving the Cavaliers second chance opportunities with his offensive rebounding. And while Green is trying to box Thompson out, he is just not able to get the job done on a consistent level. The result is Green spending a ton of energy trying to find him on the boards. Green has not guarded LeBron James much this series. Some thought that Green against LeBron would be a good matchup. But anytime Green has guarded LeBron, he has been at a disadvantage. The Cavs have given James the ball either on the wing or in the middle when guarded by Green. And with one setup dribble or a jab step, he has gotten by Green with ease all the way to the basket. Now he has had his moments as a help defender in this series. Who can forget the block he had on LeBron James in the fourth quarter of Game 2? That was a great defensive play from him. But for most of the series, he has been struggling to keep Tristian Thompson off the glass. The fact of the matter is through three games, Green cannot hold him off the glass and Thompson’s activity and constant movement is causing him issues.

But Green is not only having issues on the defensive end, but the offensive end too. During the season, it was not uncommon to see him come down and hit the transition three-pointer as the trailer on the fast break. It was also usual to see him take a defensive rebound and push the basketball the other way each game. During the playoffs, he has done that a lot and actually hit some three’s that have been huge. But as the playoffs have gone on, the percentage that Green has shot from three-point range has gotten worse and worse. He started the playoffs shooting around 35% from three-point range. But now he has sunk all the way down to shooting around 13% from the deep. And in watching the games, it isn’t like Green is shooting these shots contested either. He has actually been wide-open on a lot of these three-point attempts and has just missed them. Green has also not been as efficient taking the basketball to the rim either. One thing that has been exposed about Green this series is his height. Green is listed at 6’7”, but he may be even shorter than that. Where his height has hurt him is when he has driven to the basket and tried to finish over Cavs center Timofey Mozgov. The 7’1” center from Russia has been a major deterrent at the rim for Green all series long. When Green has attacked him in the paint, Mozgov has gone straight up every time and not broken the plane of verticality. When he goes straight up and jumps, Green is essentially jumping into him and trying to finish. And a 6’7” man jumping into a 7’1” man with long arms has not worked out for Green. The result has been a missed finish at the rim every time for Green. And a lot of the time, Green makes it try to look like a foul, when it actually is not a foul at all. The main thing that Green may want to try is a pullup jumper because time and time again he tries to take the basketball at Mozgov and it has produced nothing for the Warriors at all.

Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are important because of what they bring this team, but Green has been a huge difference-maker all season long. And with their backs against the wall, he must produce for them. Green has been known more for his contesting of calls this series than he has for his actual play. In Game 4 he must show up with his play and not his talk for the Warriors to have a chance to win. If he does not show up, then the Warriors may need to make an adjustment and give some of his minutes to their former starting power forward, David Lee. We all saw what Lee brought to the team when he played in the fourth quarter of Game 3.

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The NBA Finals Have Been A Game Of Adjustments Between Steve Kerr And David Blatt

David Blatt and Steve Kerr have added to this series with their adjustments and lack of them as well. (photo courtesy of the AP)

David Blatt and Steve Kerr have added to this series with their adjustments and lack of them as well. (photo courtesy of the AP)

When the Cleveland Cavaliers versus Golden State Warriors NBA Finals started, plenty looked at the matchups and how they would pan out. The thinking were the Warriors were the deeper team and they could wear down the Cavs with their limited depth. But one thing that some talked about could be the difference is the coaching. Both coaches were first-year coaches in the NBA. Former player Steve Kerr took over for Mark Jackson in Golden State. And although some thought it was a bad hire over Jackson, it proved to be the best move they could have made. Meanwhile in Cleveland, the Cavs hired longtime international coach David Blatt as their new head coach. And then after that, the surprise that LeBron James was coming home made his new job even better. The Cavs with LeBron James were expected to be the best team in the East. And although it started off rough, a few trades and some team comradery made them a force to be reckoned with in the East when the playoffs started. Out West, Steve Kerr opened up the Golden State offense all year long while maintaining the tough defensive mentality that Mark Jackson installed in the Warriors team. Kerr ended up leading the Warriors to the best record in the West improbably. And the funny thing about these two Finals coaches: Blatt was almost a member of Kerr’s staff in Golden State. Blatt had actually agreed to become the assistant head coach for the Golden State Warriors under Kerr last offseason. But when Cleveland called, Blatt took that job and that allowed Alvin Gentry to step in as the assistant coach. These two coaches are connected in more ways than one as coaches, but in this series, both have made some moves that have made you scratch your head and made you give them praise.

In the first game of this series, Golden State was single-covering LeBron James the entire game. They switched defenders on him almost the entire game but kept the integrity of their defense. This move allowed for the Warriors to make LeBron only a scorer and not the playmaker that he usually is each and every game. In response to the things the Warriors were doing, you would expect Blatt would make some effort to make some adjustments to the things they were doing. But instead of doing so, Blatt continued to lead LeBron in the post, basically letting the Warriors know where he would be at all times. The result was a floor that was cut in half or a third due to LeBron being placed in one place of the floor. LeBron had only six assists in Game 1 and that helped limit the involvement of his teammates on the floor, mainly JR Smith and Iman Shumpert, who were basically just there to watch the game. Another adjustment that Blatt failed to make was the minutes on Kyrie Irving. Honestly, there was no way to predict that injury was going to happen, but Blatt could have recognized that he was coming off an injury and could have tailored his minutes more. And if he was not comfortable going with Matthew Dellavedova more minutes in Game 1, he could have made it happen with James at point guard with Shumpert and Smith flanking him. But instead, he plays Kyrie more minutes than he was physically prepared to do. Injuries happen and cannot be predicted, but even if he still is playing in this series, he may not have been the same with the minutes that he played in Game 1. But not to be left out, Kerr had one more adjustment that he had to make in Game 1. Kerr saw that Cleveland was going big with their lineup and felt the team needed more traction going down the stretch. His adjustment: he went to the smaller lineup that had Draymond Green playing the center position. The result: the Warriors came back and won tied the game along with outscoring the Cavaliers 10-2 in overtime. The Cavs never made that adjustment to what he was doing and that proved to be the difference in their Game 1 win. But in Game 2, it seemed like the coaching brilliance seemed to switch sides.

Coming into Game 2, the Cleveland Cavaliers were desperate for a win. Even though many had counted them out due to the loss of Kyrie Irving with a knee injury, the Cavs were confident in their team and what they had to work with against the Golden State Warriors. One of the main reasons they must have been confident was because of the gameplan that was laid out for them. The first adjustment they made this game, besides having Dellavedova to start in place of Irving, was to move LeBron James around. In Game 1, LeBron could be found on the left for most of the game. And as a result, it allowed the Warriors defense to single-cover him all game long and hug the shooters. In the second game, Blatt had LeBron in different spots to start the game. He started with him on the block some, but then he had him bringing the ball up the floor with a pick waiting from big man Timofey Mozgov or Tristian Thompson and that is when the Warriors defense began to feel the pressure applied by LeBron James. The screen in the middle of the floor meant the Warriors had to help more than they had to in the first game. And as the game went on, it allowed James to get others involved and get them open shots. The person who seemed to benefit from the screens in the middle of the floor and the Cavs moving LeBron around the most early was Timofey Mozgov. He was owning the Warriors big men. And with LeBron on the move, Mozgov got to the right spots for the finish around the basket. The rest of the game, the Warriors defense was running to help on LeBron James and that allowed him to get more assists and be the playmaker he is. But that was not the only adjustment that Blatt made. On the defensive end, Blatt made one defensive switch that messed with the Warriors offense a little bit. Andre Iguodala had one of his best games of the postseason in Game 1 versus the Cavs. He was going to the basket and hitting some shots on his way to 15 points off the bench. Well, in Game 2 the Cavs had something for him that threw him off rhythm. The Cavs made a switch to put Timofey Mozgov on him and he laid off of him when Iggy would catch the ball outside the three-point line. As a result, that defense and Mozgov sagging off of him allowed Iggy to shoot the open three, which is not a shot that he consistently knocks down nor comfortably feels good shooting. The results were an uncomfortable Andre Iguodala and it seemed like that subtle switch that Cleveland did for a small segment of time threw him off his rhythm and he was not the same. He had seven points off the bench, but he was hesitant to shoot the basketball for most of the game and that kind of defensive switch seemed to play with his mind a little. And finally, the last adjustment that David Blatt made was an excellent one. Blatt began to put Steph Curry in pick-and-roll situations some in the later stages of the game and overtime. He was the guy getting screened in a couple of those situations and that allowed for Matthew Dellavedova to get a couple floaters off in the paint for four points in the fourth quarter. And when Dellavedova was used as the screener, he was screening LeBron’s man and putting Curry in a compromising situation defensively. One time Curry lost Dellavedova and the result was a wide-open three for him. And in other situations, LeBron ended up on Curry and forced the Warriors to send help. The result: open shots for other Cavs players. That adjustment alone accounted for at least ten Cleveland points right then and there. Honestly, it seemed like Kerr did not make many adjustments at all in Game 2. The one adjustment he did make was not understandable. The Cavs were down one more player and had a short bench in Game 2. The one thing that was expected from the Warriors was for them to use their excellent depth against the Cavs. Well, someone forgot to tell Kerr to use that depth to wear on the Cavaliers over the course of the game. It seemed like he used his bench an even shorter amount of time than he did in the first game of this series. You would think he would have used his bench even more to tire out the Cavs, but he went the opposite way and that could have potentially helped his team be fresher down the stretch of Game 2.

Both coaches have had their moments in the first two games of this series. And of course there will be more adjustments to be made as more film is watched. The series is now split at one game apiece due to the play of the players and also the adjustments of the coaches that seem to be rarely talked about. Some may put more stock in what the players are doing on the court and they obviously decide the games. But the subtle adjustments that have been made from game to game have been paramount in the success of each team. And going forward, it should be interesting to see what wrinkles can cause the game to swing in which direction. Blatt and Kerr may be first-year coaches in the NBA, but both have made some adjustments that have made the other team uncomfortable. In the end, the coach that makes the better adjustments before and through the game will help his team hoist the trophy. The only question remains is if Kerr will be the one to make the better adjustments or will Blatt use his international coaching experience to outsmart Kerr.

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LeBron James: Heavy Is The Head That Wears The Crown

In Game 2, LeBron James is staring pressure in the face(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

In Game 2, LeBron James is staring pressure in the face(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Cleveland Cavaliers were riding an emotional high heading into the NBA Finals. They had just swept the Atlanta Hawks and it seemed like everything was coming together. Point guard Kyrie Irving showed up in Game 4 after missing the previous two games with knee tendinitis and foot issues and played well. JR Smith and Iman Shumpert were hitting open jumpshots with regularity when LeBron drew the coverage as well. And most importantly, Cleveland was owning the boards behind the presence of glasseater Tristian Thompson. Some who followed the Cavaliers thought that they were peaking at the right time and had a very good shot to beat the Western Conference Champion Golden State Warriors. But after Game 1, that picture has changed just a little bit. Both Iman Shumpert and JR Smith could not hit the broad side of a barn as they combined to go 5/19 for 15 points. Tristian Thompson and the Cavaliers were outrebounded by 3 total rebounds despite starting out crushing the Warriors on the boards. And most importantly and more damaging, Kyrie Irving went down awkwardly when trying to make a move with the basketball in overtime. The result was him limping to the locker room and not returning. The final score ended up being 108-100, but the Warriors were in complete control of the overtime and held the Cavaliers to one garbage time layup by LeBron James during that period. The look of joy turned into the look of consternation and frustration as we all saw over Kyrie’s face when asked about his injuries by media after the game. He looked like he did not have a good feeling about his injury and that was just the case, as he has a fractured kneecap and will be out for 3-4 months. First it was power forward Kevin Love and now it was Kyrie Irving that went down with a season-ending injury. The results are now on LeBron James while he is staring at a Warriors team that ended up winning despite not playing their best game. But this type of pressure is nothing new for LeBron.

James has been facing pressure ever since he landed in the NBA out of Akron, Ohio. The high school phenom was a great blend of size and speed and many thought he could transcend the game. Well, the jury is still out on if he transcended the game, but he sure has been a great player over his NBA career. James has climbed numerous lists in terms of assists, points, and rebounds for both the regular season and the postseason. And over time, he has gone from just making the playoffs to becoming a guy that is supposed to be in the NBA Finals every year. This year marks the fifth time in a row that he has been in the NBA Finals and this time he is up against a team that has been the best in the NBA all season long. The Golden State Warriors are solid from top to bottom and the good thing for them is they have not suffered any injuries to their players. But for LeBron, he has lost two of the team’s top three players during their run to the title. This team, as it stands, reminds some of Cleveland team of 2007. At that point and time, he took the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals on his back. Looking at that team compared to this one is not a fair comparison because the talent gap is so huge between that 2007 team and this current team. However, James is expected to make it to the come through better than he did in the 2007 version of the Cavaliers. He will be expected to come out guns blazing trying to scratch and claw his team to the victory. If he is to fall short, then there will be unlimited amounts of memes made and put all over social media coming for him. And if he is to win and do the improbably, then there would be many that would go overboard with the praise and others that will downplay it like LeBron isn’t a special player. Many are thinking this series is over with the absence of Irving on the court, but when a great player is on the other side, things can happen that could upset that prediction.

As we saw in Game 1, LeBron went for 44 points against the Warriors. It was a great scoring game from him, his best in his NBA Finals history. But along with the loss, there were other things that were not ideal for him in this game. LeBron only had six assists and he shot the basketball 38 times to get his 44 points. Not exactly what you would expect from LeBron. With Kyrie out for the rest of the series, the focus will be on LeBron to initiate the offense as well as score. In the last game, it seemed as if the Warriors were comfortable putting one defender on LeBron and letting him have at it in the post. Well, that also helped him negate getting his teammates involved in the game. For example, Cavaliers forward Tristian Thompson scored two points in the first quarter. He never even scored again the entire game. He is just one of the players that did not get enough touches in positions to make some things happen. In Game 2, LeBron has to find that happy balance of assisting and scoring for his team. When LeBron attacks the rim, the Warriors have no choice but to help his way. And when they do that, LeBron needs to spot guys like JR Smith and Iman Shumpert spotting up to knock down shots. A suggestion for Cleveland head coach David Blatt on what he could do that would help LeBron see the floor would be to put him in the middle of the floor for pick-and-rolls a few more times. This will allow LeBron much better vision of where his teammates are and it also allows for him to be more of who he wants to be. LeBron can be lethal when he has it going scoring, but he is the most lethal when he can get his teammates consistently good looks from the attention he draws. And getting his teammates involved is the only way he can win in this series. Ideally, for LeBron and the Cavs to have a shot to win, the line LeBron needs to average or come close to averaging is at least 28 points, 10 assists, 4 hockey assists and 10 rebounds. And as far as how he scores, he needs to score in a more efficient manner. If he is not efficient and incorporating his supporting cast, then this game could get ugly quickly and the series will be done rather quickly as well. Golden State is definitely playing at a high level and the stats and injuries seem to be stacked against him, but great players can be the deodorant that covers up weaknesses of a team.

LeBron James is expected to carry this team going forward and some think he will carry an undermanned Cleveland team to the NBA title. If he is able to do that, then this feat will be by far his best one. But if he isn’t able to bring it home, the extreme frustration and hate will probably flood social media and there will be questions about his greatness surrounding us once again. But LeBron is used to this and more from and everyone that has viewed, prodded, poked and overexamined his career in the NBA. The focus is on how the Cavs will respond to all this adversity and more importantly, how LeBron will lead them through this adversity.

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The Kevin Love/ Tristian Thompson Dilemma Is Quickly Approaching For The Cleveland Cavaliers

Tristian Thompson and Kevin Love enjoying a light moment together. Love's decision could end up with one of these two leaving town. (photo courtesy of www.nbatitlechase.com)

Tristian Thompson and Kevin Love enjoying a light moment together. Love’s decision could end up with one of these two leaving town. (photo courtesy of http://www.nbatitlechase.com)

Thoughts of the Cleveland postseason going up in flames immediately came to mind when the injury to forward Kevin Love happened. It was announced heading into the Chicago series that Love would be out the rest of the playoffs when Boston Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk yanked on Love’s arm in the decisive Game 4 in Boston causing a shoulder separation and some other damage as well. Many wondered what adjustment would be made from Cleveland head coach David Blatt in this regard. Would he move LeBron James to the power forward position permanently and slide guard JR Smith back into the starting lineup? Or would Blatt make a move that many would not expect? Well, Blatt opted for the unexpected when he slid seldom-used Mike Miller into the starting lineup alongside James and Timofey Mozgov in the frontcourt. Miller was ineffective for the few minutes he saw on the court and then Blatt made the move that he should have made from the beginning. Blatt brought in bruising big man Tristian Thompson to give them some life like he always does. The Cleveland Cavaliers did not come back to win that game, but it did cement Thompson in the starting lineup for the rest of the postseason. And with him in the starting lineup this postseason, the Cavs are now headed back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007 when the Cavaliers faced the San Antonio Spurs. But with a decision looming in regards to Thompson and Love, the team now has some things to think about.

Love is the first part of this equation in Cleveland at the power forward spot. In Minnesota, Love was the answer as he stretched the floor with his shooting for the Timberwolves and ate the glass as well as a rebounder. So naturally when the thought was that he would fit in nicely with LeBron as a younger version of Chris Bosh with a better shooting stroke when the Cavaliers acquired him. But the acquisition of Love came at a price, as the Cavs gave up 2014 1st round pick (and #1 overall pick) and eventual 2014-2015 Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins. There were some that said the Cavaliers should have waited until next season to do this when Love could opt out of his deal. But the choice was made that the Cavs needed Love now and were willing to give up a future great NBA player to do so. Love was and still is a very good shooter for his size and that can give problems to a team that is not used to seeing that type of play from a power forward. But even though some believed he would be a seamless fit, he has actually had more problems adjusting there than some anticipated. Love was always the main focus in Minnesota, but in Cleveland he was just a third wheel. Being third in the pecking order behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving seemed to cause problems in Love fitting in on this team. He did not get the shots that he thought he should get and it seemed like the team just ran inconsistently when he was on the court. And on the defensive end, the comparisons of Love to former LeBron teammate Chris Bosh immediately ended. Love was giving up any and everything on the defensive end and he was not rebounding on the defensive end either. That led the Cavs to being a middle of the road defensive team. The team began to find its rhythm when they traded for Timofey Mozgov and guards Iman Shumpert and JR Smith and Love began to fit in better, but all that momentum with the new starting five they had quickly halted with Love’s injury. Heading into the summer, Love has to examine the sample size of how he fit this Cleveland team and what he could make on the open market. Love has a $16.7 million player option available for him next season. That could keep him paid and in Cleveland to give it one more run as he tries to stay healthy and fit into the team. But if he feels he can make it somewhere else and wants to be the man a little bit more, he could take his chances on the open market as a free agent. If he does that, then he could get a deal that could potentially pay him somewhere close to what he would make in 2015, but he could also be sacrificing winning with the best player in the NBA for the ability to make a payday. All in all, it falls on what Kevin Love values most: the money and status or winning and playing his role.

Love’s decision to stay or go could not only have an effect on him and his career, but on the career of Tristian Thompson as well in Cleveland. The former 2011 4th overall pick out of Texas was slated to be the starting power forward this season. And after rejecting a four-year, $52 million extension with the Cavaliers, Thompson was betting on himself to be more valuable than the deal he was offered by Cleveland. That decision to reject the extension looked to be the wrong one at first glance because the Cavaliers would gain the services of Kevin Love via trade and that meant Thompson would be going to the bench. Some would have sulked at the situation and lamented not signing the deal that was offered. But Thompson took a different approach. Instead of becoming a malcontent, he became the hype man off their bench. Thompson came in with energy and passion everytime he stepped on the court. And the best thing he did when he stepped out there was rebound. Thompson, while coming in off the bench, was the best rebounder for the Cavs all season long and he even finished games this season ahead of Kevin Love because of his rebounding along with his defensive presence. And when Love went down for the season in the playoffs, Thompson got his chance to make some things happen as a starter. And as a result, Thompson has added some toughness and grit to the Cavaliers starting lineup and has also helped make them better defensively than they ever were with Love. With every passing game, it seems like Love is less and less mentioned and Thompson has become the guy that Cleveland fans are thinking more about wanting to stay. Thompson may not have the prettiest numbers, but he can definitely change the game with the things that he can do. And he has proved that he was worth more than what the Cavaliers though he is worth at first. But the thing is now, the Cavs are at the mercy of Kevin Love. If he signs to stay in Cleveland, the Cavaliers will either have to find someone to take on the new extension they gave big man Anderson Varejao during the season or they will be losing Thompson to free agency even though he is restricted. And that would be sad for Cleveland fans being that Thompson has come of age in Cleveland this season under the tutelage of LeBron James. It’s unfortunate because he will more than likely want to stay in Cleveland, but the reality is there are numbers that have to match up in regards to the salary cap and the numbers more than likely will not if Love stays.

Kevin Love was supposed to be an important piece on the run to the title for Cleveland. But heading into this offseason, it seems like he could be the biggest issue this offseason. If he stays, then the likelihood of Tristian Thompson leaving becomes reality. But if he decides to leave, then Thompson will be the starting power forward for Cleveland next season. All in all, the ball is in Kevin Love’s court and what he chooses to do will cause the dominoes to fall even quicker in Cleveland. But one thing is for sure in regards to all these decisions: Thompson and Love will not be donning a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey again after this season as teammates.

Conference Finals Preview With Chucky Brown

Chucky Brown in action blocking Spurs guard Avery Johnson's shot. (photo courtesy of www.beaumontenterprise.com)

Chucky Brown in action blocking Spurs guard Avery Johnson’s shot. (photo courtesy of http://www.beaumontenterprise.com)

The Conference Finals are finally upon us. In the West, we have the Golden State Warriors versus the Houston Rockets.  And in the East, we have the Atlanta Hawks and the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Both pretty good matchups and both pitting the #1 seed versus the #2 seed. But how does it play out? Today I reached out to someone that is familiar with all these teams being that he played for them all. Former NBA player Chucky Brown gave me his thoughts on the conference finals along with his best memories from his playing days.

Mike Patton: Chucky, you played for a lot of teams in the NBA. What was the most memorable team you played on and why?

Chucky Brown: That would be the Houston Rockets team back in 1995. That was the year we won the title. Everyone knew their role, had the same goal and wanted to win the title together.

MP: What is your best professional basketball memory?

CB: Besides winning the title, I would say the best memories I have are all the guys that I met over my career. I’m still in contact with some of them to this day.

MP: Good to hear. Well, let’s get down to the playoff action. What have you thought about the playoffs so far?

CB: The playoffs have been pretty good. I hate it that Memphis and Chicago had injuries. I would have loved to have seen Cleveland at full strength, but injuries are a part of the game.

MP: As far as the conference finals matchups, which one intrigues you more?

CB: The Golden State/Houston matchup is one that intrigues me. Houston lost the season series to them, but now they have everyone back except for point guard Patrick Beverly and that could make things interesting. Houston has learned how to play without a point guard.

MP: What are some keys for the Houston Rockets/ Golden State Warriors series?

CB: For Golden State,  they must shoot well and defend so they can get out in transition. The Warriors must also protect the paint. In regards to the Rockets, they need to attack the paint but they also need to make the Warriors take the ball out. That will help keep them out of transition. And the Rockets also have to defend well in the halfcourt.

MP: Who is someone not on the marquee that you see playing really well in this series?

CB: For Golden State, that would be Harrison Barnes. He is a really good player that the Warriors don’t use as much. He started coming on in the Memphis series and could continue it in this one. As far as the Rockets, Josh Smith is the name that comes to mind. He has ben playing very well recently. If he continues that, he could make a difference.

MP: What are some keys for the Cleveland Cavaliers/Atlanta Hawks series?

CB: For the Cavs, their roles players are key. They could be the difference in this series if they play well. As for the Hawks, they cannot let the role players get going and make LeBron James have to do everything, being that he is a pass-first player. They also have to play good team defense as well.

MP: Who is someone not on the marquee that could have a big effect on this series?

CB:  The Cavs have a guy in Tristian Thompson that was a huge factor in the Chicago series on the boards. He could have that same type of effect on the boards in this series versus Atlanta.

MP: Who do you think win both series and in how many games?

CB: I think Cleveland will win in six games because of having the best player in the NBA, LeBron James, on their side. As far as in the Western Conference, I believe the Rockets will win the series in seven games. They showed extreme character in the Clippers series when faced with adversity and I think they can carry that over to this series.

MP: Who do you have winning it all?

CB: If the Rockets get there, then the Rockets. Regardless, the champion is coming out of the West.

Many thanks to Chucky Brown for his time and answers on the Conference Finals. What do you all think of what he said?

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