When it comes to LeBron James, nothing is off the table, no player untouchable, especially on the Miami Heat roster. We must rid ourselves of all assumptions. We can’t assume LeBron doesn’t want to play with Hassan Whiteside. We also can’t assume Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman isn’t willing to take on Whiteside's massive contract spanning this year and next if he opts into his player option. Not too long ago general managers all over the league would have welcomed Whiteside, contract and all. He is still a very good defender. He may never duplicate his 2015-16 season and 2.4 VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), but he still has value, especially when Cleveland could end up losing LeBron and get nothing in return, again.
James could simply opt for free agency and leave Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert shaking his head, empty hands in the air. But LeBron makes the most money signing with Cleveland, so a sign-and-trade deal is in his best interest and the Cavaliers' best interest as well. While we don’t know and can’t assume what LeBron or the Cavaliers or Pat Riley are willing to do, we do know what Riley would have to do to make room for LeBron's potentially record-setting contract of $205 million over five years. Riley has to move some players he'd rather not and take on contracts he'd rather not.
The Heat's current roster doesn't give LeBron many reasons to re-relocate to Miami, but Josh Richardson, 24, Justise Winslow, 21, and Bam Adebayo, 20, are the best reasons right now. LeBron likely isn't interested in waiting for them to develop, though. They also won't be on the the roster if there's going to be room for LeBron's contract in Miami. Riley is going to have to draw LeBron's eyes to Miami by trading for Kawhi Leonard.
ESPN's NBA Insiders think Richardson, Adebayo, Winslow and Goran Dragic would net Miami Leonard and Patty Mills from San Antonio. San Antonio would have to send cash in the amount of at least $75,000 for each player they receive without sending a player or draft pick in return, but the money works, cutting $1,353,382 from Miami's books and leaving the Heat $17,167,521 over the salary cap, which isn't a huge problem. The real problem is Miami is giving up a lot and has no guarantee Kawhi will stay in Miami after this season. But bringing in LeBron would be the closest thing to a guarantee they could get. Kawhi has said he wants to play closer to home on the west coast, and specifically, Los Angeles, which might be what convinces LeBron to either sign a one-year deal with Cleveland and wait or a long-term deal with Los Angeles and wait. But we're trying to get LeBron to Miami, and he won't be coming alone.
There’s one player LeBron wants to bring with him whose gravity leaves James open despite being grounded and stationary. He knows his Miami teammates would benefit from that gravity, too. That gravity belongs to Kyle Korver, the man whose very presence on the floor improves his team more so than any other player in basketball – LeBron included.
If LeBron James is the Sun, Kyle Korver is Earth’s gravity, subtly manipulating the orbit of the Sun’s opponents, the defenders of the Outer Rim, to allow the sun to shine through limited traffic, basking Earth in superstar rays of light that literally brighten the days of everyone and everything on Earth – except gravity. And while gravity never catches nor reflects the Sun’s spotlight, gravity prefers to remain in the shadows, unnoticed, grounded, taking silent pleasure in his work regardless of whom the Sun allows to shine brightest that day, because he knows without him, they would all fall off the Earth to be lost in space, where the Sun can’t even save them. But gravity would never do such a thing because he’s a team player...and because the Sun scares the hell out of him.
There are a few ways Korver can come along with LeBron to Miami. The easiest way would be for James to take a pay cut in the amount of Korver’s $7.56 million contract, basically paying Korver out of his own pocket next season, which might be worth it to LeBron given Korver’s Gravity rating. I only know what I read and see on TV, and Korver seems to be LeBron’s favorite teammate in Cleveland, but James isn’t gifting one of these homes to Korver.
LeBron could also take a paycut in the amount necessary to make the money work for Cleveland and Miami in a sign-and-trade deal. So if Miami needs to dump $5 million in salary to make a deal work, LeBron takes a $5 million pay cut. Simple, except all of these trade details would have to be negotiated before LeBron negotiates his contract.
So how hard is the hard way? LeBron’s and Korver’s contracts next season total $42,910,000, which necessitates the trade of Whiteside’s salary. So now Riley is asking Cleveland to take Whiteside and Tyler Johnson, who has a 15-percent trade kicker clause in his contract, boosting his salary next season to $22,132,175.50 if he's traded. That's asking a lot of Cleveland, but again, Cleveland could end up losing LeBron to free agency. So if Cleveland has to take Tyler Johnson, they can demand Miami take a similarly over-paid point guard in George Hill off their hands.
Now Cleveland and Miami just need to make the money work in a sign-and-trade deal for LeBron, Korver and Hill. LeBron, Korver and Hill make a combined $61,910,000. Considering Tyler Johnson's trade kicker, he, James Johnson and Whiteside would make $62,218,138.50 in Cleveland next season. This keeps Cleveland under the luxury tax cap and would set the Cavaliers up nicely for a run at free agents in 2020, with all three contracts potentially expiring after the 2019 season (James Johnson has a player option for 2020). In order for both teams to avoid adding to their payrolls already exceeding the salary cap, Miami would have to send $308,138.50 to Cleveland as a part of the deal, which the Heat might as well include with the first-round pick they'll need to send Cleveland to close the deal.
The Heat will have to part with at least one of their first-rounders if not both of them to bring LeBron and Kawhi together, so this is just a means to give Cleveland some long-term value that's lacking in the players they're getting in return from Miami. With the Heat in need of a backup for LeBron, Cleveland could send over Larry Nance Jr. and cash for the Heat's first-round pick in either 2019 or 2020.
Is there a fair deal involving LeBron James? Of course. Is this it? Probably not, but it gives you an idea of how difficult it will be for LeBron to make the maximum amount of money and leave Cleveland for Miami. I imagine it’s hard for Gilbert to say no to a man who single-handedly, quite literally, delivered his franchise’s first ever championship and more than doubled the value of that franchise. And he did all this after Gilbert publicly berated him as selfish for doing nothing more than exercising a right he earned to become a free agent and choose where he wanted to live and work. Golden State needed four stars to triple the Warriors’ value.
If Gilbert is in it for the money, the time to sell is before LeBron leaves. I wouldn’t be surprised if LeBron’s plan is to leave Cleveland, wait for the Cavaliers’ value to fall in his absence before buying the franchise and becoming the first owner/player in professional sports. Then he can reap the rewards Gilbert enjoyed made off his name being attached to the franchise, and King James could finish his reign at home. For now, all we can do is speculate while we wait for The Decision: Part III.
The NBA Playoffs tipped off over the weekend, and the results of every Game 1 gives us a glimpse of what we can expect in the first round. Here’s what we learned from every NBA Playoff Game 1.
If Klay Thompson keeps shooting like he did on Saturday, the Warriors won’t need Stephen Curry in the first round. He was 11-for-13 from the floor and hit five of six three-point attempts to lead the Warriors. All the Warriors’ starters had positive plus-minuses, though, so Thompson could have an off day and Golden State would still give San Antonio fits.
Dejounte Murray was the only Spurs’ starter with a positive plus-minus on Saturday. In fact, only two Spurs finished with a positive plus-minus. LaMarcus Aldridge was terrible, going five-for-12 from the field for 14 points, and the age of Manu Ginobili (-15) and Tony Parker (-17) showed, especially on defense.
You don’t need to see it to know it -- Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan’s collective reputation precedes them. They struggle in the playoffs, and they struggled in Game 1, especially in the first half. But Serge Ibaka scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in support, as the Raptors won a Game 1 for the first time in 11 tries.
These new Raptors can win when Lowry and DeRozan struggle shooting because of their new “all hands” offensive approach. They’re seeking the most open shot, regardless of shooter, which is why DeRozan could finish six-for-17 from the floor with 17 points against the Wizards and the Raptors still won Game 1. DeRozan also had six assists, and Lowry added nine, mostly on open three-pointers. The Raptors hit 16 of their 30 three-point attempts.
Ben Simmons was a rebound away from scoring a triple-double in his first playoff game, and the Heat couldn’t contain JJ Redick or Dario Saric on the perimeter. They both went four-of-six from three-point range. Hassan Whiteside was a non-factor, playing 12 minutes. The Heat couldn’t even contain Marco Belinelli or Ersan Ilyasova, a couple of late-season waiver claims. They scored 42 minutes combined. How the Heat became the most popular pick of analysts to score an upset in Round 1 is mind-boggling.
Anthony Davis has picked up his game in the absence of DeMarcus Cousins. He scored 35 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and scored four blocks, and despite being just +1 on the night, his supporting cast was just good enough for the Pelicans to steal Game 1 in Portland. Nikola Mirotic hit four of his 10 three-point attempts to lead New Orleans in plus-minus (+13), and Jrue Holiday made half of his shots to finish with 21 points (+12).
Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard struggled shooting inside the three-point line, going six-for-23 from the field but four-of-nine from three-point range. CJ McCollum didn’t offer much relief, going seven-for-18 from the field despite shooting four-of-10 from three-point range. Davis defended the rim effectively, and the Pelicans made the Blazers win on the perimeter. They didn’t, shooting under 31 percent from beyond the arc.
Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were good enough for Boston to beat Milwaukee in Game 1. And they can be enough to carry the underdog Celtics without Kyrie Irving over the East’s seventh-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who turned the ball over a ton. Horford was huge for Boston in Game 1 and is capable of carrying this team into the Eastern Conference semifinals, but he won’t.
Milwaukee’s defensive adjustments late in Game 1 got them back into the game, and should get them a win in Game 2. They finally started forcing turnovers to make up for the 20 they lost, and although the Bucks lost in overtime, Boston showed its susceptible to losing in front of its home crowd. Once that happens, the Bucks just have to win their home games.
The Indiana Pacers are really good. Victor Oladipo looked like a superstar in Game 1, and Lance Stephenson did what he does when he’s right, holding LeBron James to a -13 plus-minus despite scoring a triple-double with 24 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. Every Pacers’ starter had a plus-minus of at least +14 while James was the only Cavalier starter in double figures.
LeBron James lost a Game 1 in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs for the first time in his career, and it happened on his home court. Even King James might not be able to carry these Cavs into the NBA Finals. Even if it’s not Indiana that eliminates Cleveland, Philadelphia very well could. The Cavs have already lost their home court advantage in Round 1 and won’t likely have one in Round 2.
Paul George scored 36 points and finished the night +3. Russell Westbrook scored 29 points but was -1, and Carmelo Anthony scored 15 points to finish +1. The Thunder pulled away from the Jazz when their bench was on the floor, despite Utah’s bench outscoring the Thunder bench 34-17. Alex Abrines led the Thunder in plus-minus (+14), Jerami Grant was second (+12), Raymond Felton was third (+9), Patrick Patterson was fourth (+6), and Terrance Ferguson tied George for fifth on the team in plus-minus.
Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau might lack an effective offensive strategy, but his defensive strategy against Houston seemed to be “make James Harden beat us.” He did, but it took 44 points and 58-percent shooting, including a seven-of-12 effort from beyond the arc. Harden was simply brilliant, but Houston can’t expect him to keep shooting damn near 60 percent from the floor. Once the Wolves locked down Clint Capela, who had 20 of his 24 points in the first half, the Rockets needed every one of Harden’s points to hold off Minnesota.
Is this the recipe to beat the Rockets? Sunday was the closest the Timberwolves have been to beating Houston all season. They lost all four regular season games against the Rockets -- three by 18 points and the final game by nine points. Harden was +10 in that nine-point victory, scoring 14 of his 34 points from the free throw line. Despite 44 points on Sunday night, the Rockets were just +5 with him on the floor. Had the Wolves gotten anything out of Karl-Anthony Towns, they would have stolen Game 1 in Houston. We’ll see if they can steal Game 2 instead, which would be the biggest surprise of the NBA Playoffs.
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