Cavs Need to Keep Kevin Love as Second Option When Thomas Returns

October was a month to forget for the Cleveland Cavaliers. With so many changes to their roster, the Cavs struggled to gel right out of the gate. They looked like five individuals on the court instead of a team. However, thanks to a thirteen game win streak, Cleveland is sitting at 24-10 and first place in the Central Division. Oh, and they are still waiting for their point guard to play.

Increased production from a number of people led to the Cavaliers turnaround. Yes, Lebron James is and always will be the driving force behind this team, but the most important player so far this season has been Kevin Love. Averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, Love looks like the all-star Cleveland traded for years back.

The biggest reason for the transformation has been the departure of Kyrie Irving. With Irving gone and Isaiah Thomas out, Cleveland needed a second option to help Lebron. This need for scoring gave Love something he never really had in a Cavalier uniform: freedom.

Being a third option is hard. Your touches are limited, and you are expected to produce high output with a smaller amount of touches than you’re accustomed to. Any NBA fan saw Love struggle in this role. Many NBA players do struggle in this role. But this year is different. This year Love is the number two guy, and he is rewarding Cleveland.

Love’s great start to the season is a call to head coach Ty Lue. With Isaiah Thomas getting closer to return, Kevin Love needs to remain the second option behind Lebron. While the idea seems easy, the actual doing could prove to be tough. Thomas is coming off his best season as a pro by far. He is in a contract year, will have the ball in his hands as the point guard, and you know is just itching to make his mark in Cleveland. While Thomas is not a selfish player by any means, putting the ball in a score-first point guard’s hands could take touches away from everyone else.

Coming off a career year and being asked to play third fiddle is a rough thing to handle for an elite competitor. However, as difficult as this may be, Thomas needs to do so for the betterment of the Cavaliers. Love has showed what he can do when given the keys. His numbers are Hall of Fame worthy, whereas Thomas is looked at as more of a “one hit wonder.” Being the point guard, Thomas will also be able to affect the game in a non-scoring way more than Love can from the four position.

The Cleveland Cavaliers appeared to have found their groove. Despite the slow start, they are looked at yet again as the team to take down in the Eastern Conference. While adding another all-star to this hot team may seem like having your cake and eating it too, every player needs to understand their role coming out of the integration. Lebron is still King, and Kevin Love needs to be second in command. It just has to happen.

NBA Christmas Slate Full of Gifts

The holidays have become synonymous with family, giving, spreading and cheer and also, for basketball fans, the NBA. Every year the NBA hosts a five game slate on Christmas, and when the schedule is as good as it is this season it serves as a wonderful Holiday gift to basketball junkies everywhere. From individual match-ups to a rematch of the last three NBA finals, the 2017 slate has something for everyone. It will provide a day full of meaningful and fun basketball. Let’s take a look at the match-ups and what to look out for on Monday:

New York vs. Philadelphia

The Christmas day slate kicks off with a game featuring two of the more fun (surprisingly) teams to watch so far this season, as the Knicks and the Sixers face off at Madison Square Garden. Philadelphia has Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid who are one of the most talented duos in the entire league. Embiid’s been day-to-day with some back soreness, but should be good to go for Monday’s contest. Philly is the best rebounding team in the league (48.4/game) and 3rd in assists (26.2/game) which is spurred by the passing of their two young superstars. The Sixers have struggled mightily in the month of December, as they have dropped 9\nine of their last ten contests. Monday represents a good chance for them to get out of their funk and get some positive momentum heading into 2018.

On the other side the Knicks are surging as they have won six of their last ten games, and stand as one of the most improved teams.. While he still has growing (game wise, hopefully for everyone else not height wise) to do, Kristaps Porzingis has at times played at a superstar level so far during this season. Porzingis and Embiid (as long as he plays) is going to be an extremely fun match-up to watch of two of the best young and versatile big men in the league. It also needs to be mentioned that Michael Beasley has been on a tear of late and is one of the most fun guys to watch over the last two weeks, like his 18 point 4th quarter against the Celtics earlier this week. While this is the first game between the two Atlantic division foes, the Knicks have the slight edge, especially if Embiid is not playing at 100%.


Cleveland at Golden State 

The rematch of the last three NBA Finals, and potentially again in 2018, square off for the first time this season on Christmas Day in the Bay (fingers crossed this is the only rhyming within the article). Both teams have been on hot of late. The Warriors have won 11 of their last 12. and the Cavs are winners of 19 of their last 21 games after overcoming a slow start. Both teams will not be at fll strength. The Cavs will be without their top two point guards in Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose, and the Warriors will be down Zaza Pachulia, Shaun Livingston and potentially Draymond Green, although he was given the green light from the Warriors medical staff last night. While it will certainly be a better and hopefully healthier match-up come June, there is still a lot of reasons to watch the game on Xmas afternoon.

For starters LeBron has been as dominant as he has been at any time in his career. He is a leading MVP candidate along with James Harden, and is shooting 57% from the field and 41% from 3. Kevin Love has quietly been having one of the best seasons of his career, and has been huge in his role as the second option for Cleveland. As far as the Warriors are concerned they are back to business as usual. Curry and Durant are both averaging 26.3 points per contest, with Klay Thompson chipping in almost 21 a game. Draymond Green has given them the same versatility on both ends as always, and rookie Jordan Bell has been giving the team great minutes with Pachulia out and injured. The Warriors are the better team and at home, so I expect them to win, but this is the best match-up of teams during the whole Christmas day lineup.

Washington at Boston

John Wall and Kyrie Irving will serve as by far the best point guard match-up on Christmas Day, but the two teams are on opposite ends of the playoff picture a third of the way into the season. While the Celtics have been struggling as of late, losing five of ten, they still hold the best record in the Eastern Conference and stand as the lone viable threat to take out the Cavs out East. The Wizards have not quite been as good as they were thought to be going into the season, but so far they still lead their division. John Wall has struggled with some injury issues thus far, and it has played a huge factor into the Wizards slow start. Marcus Morris will miss the game for the Celtics and is the only player ruled out thus far for Monday evening.

While Wall has struggled both on the court at times, and off the court with injuries this season, Bradley Beal has continued to develop into one of the best shooting guards in the league. Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre both continue to improve and give Washington quality depth out on the wing. Getting Wall healthy and playing back at the level we all know he is capable of is imperative in getting the Wizards trending back up the Eastern Conference standings. Meanwhile, the Celtics are trying to right the ship a little bit at home on Christmas. While everyone has been talking about Kyrie Irving and rookie Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown has started to show signs of putting it all together, which is a proposition that should scare everyone in the NBA. Celtics should win this game at home, but Washington desperately needs to add some big wins to their record, which should have them coming in hungry and ready to go.


Houston at Oklahoma City

There is no match-up on Christmas day that features two teams on polar (no Xmas pun intended) opposite ends of the spectrum than Houston and OKC. Houston has the NBA’s best record (25-6), the player leading the MVP race (James Harden) and Chris Paul, who when healthy has still yet to lose a game in a Rockets uniform. Oklahoma City has struggled to find any consistent chemistry between superstars Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but a solution may be on the verge of developing as they have started to string some wins. Chris Paul and Clint Capela are day-to-day and could play, while Luc Mbah a Moute is the only player definitely out for Monday’s contest, and the Thunder come in to Monday with a clean bill of health.

While Westbrook has struggled from the field, mightily at times, this season he is still on the verge of averaging another triple-double (23.6 points/9.5 rebounds/9.9 assists per game) and has been punishing rims seemingly every night (Side Note: if you do not already, please do yourself a favor and follow @World_Wide_Wob on Twitter, he posts highlights every single night). Paul George and Carmelo Anthony struggled to get acclimated early, but are starting to find their place within the OKC offense, which can potentially make them a nightmare match-up in the Western Conference playoffs. While the Rockets have dropped their last two contests, they have been off to an incredible start and look every bit a contender out West. James Harden has been playing at an MVP level, Chris Paul is unbeaten when healthy this season and Eric Gordon has been a great piece both in the starting lineup and coming off of the bench. Clint Capela continues to improve and offers Mike D’antoni something that he has never previously had on a contender, a rim protector. This may end up being the most exciting game of the entire day.

Minnesota at LA Lakers

Monday’s lineup rounds up with a game between one of the most improved teams in the league and one of its youngest and most fun teams to watch. The Timberwolves lead the Northwest division with a record of 20-13 and feature one of the games best inside-out combos in Jimmy Butler and Karl Anthony-Towns. The Lakers have been inconsistent, but with two of the best rookies in the league the future is looking extremely bright for the Lakers. As far as injuries are concerned both teams could be down one player for Monday’s game, Nemanja Bjelica for Minnesota and Brandon Ingram for the Lakers. While this game may lack the firepower of the earlier games, there are still some sure fire reasons to watch Monday night on TNT.

Tom Thibodeau has to be pleased thus far with how the Wolves have been playing, but has to see that there is still a ton of room to grow. Butler has been getting used to playing with Thibs again, but is starting to find his groove, while young centerpieces Towns and Andrew Wiggins have shown flashes, but need to continue to get better year-in and year-out to have this team reach their full potential. Making the playoffs would be a win for Minnesota this season, but they will have to continue to grow to work on winning a series or two in future seasons. The Lakers have struggled, and coach Luke Walton voiced his displeasure after a loss to Portland on Saturday night. The team is very young, and despite their struggles has to be encouraged by the Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and the strides that Lonzo Ball has made over the last few weeks. Is this the best Christmas Day match-up? Far from it. Is it worth staying up and being a little tired at the office on Tuesday (for those who work this week)? Absolutely.

Basketball becoming a huge part of Christmas Day has been a huge victory for NBA and basketball junkies everywhere. The schedule is loaded, and there should be 12+ hours of basketball to package with your family and other Holiday joy this season. Feel free to join the discussion in the comment below, or on Twitter (@thehoopgroup or my personal handle @dgunnerhg). Most importantly Happy Holidays to you and yours, and hopefully 2018 turns out to be your best year yet!

Brad Stevens Make a Good Celtics Team Very Dangerous

Rewind to opening night in the NBA. Gordon Hayward had the latest gruesome leg injury and the Cleveland Cavaliers ruined Kyrie Irving’s Celtic debut. With Hayward out for the year, many immediately left the Celtics for dead and were ready to name the Cavs Eastern Conference champions yet again. After that, Boston lost to Milwaukee to drop to 0-2 and it looked like Hayward’s absence would indeed be missed this year.

All Brad Stevens and company did from there was rattle off 12 straight wins and now own the best record in the NBA. And while their opening night opponents are still struggling to find their identity, Boston seems to have theirs figured out. One large reason why is the man on their sidelines.

Say what you want about the top coaches in the NBA. Greg Popovich has been a mad genius for years. Steve Kerr and Golden State have lost just 24 games in two seasons. You can mention Thibodeau, D’Antoni, and Spoelstra. None of them have been as impressive as Brad Stevens has so far this season.

Imagine winning the Eastern Conference last season over the mighty Cavaliers. Then imagine trading your best player, who was the heart and soul of your club. Imagine trading away your defensive specialist on the perimeter. You replace them with two all-stars, but you lose one of them on opening night. You now have one all-star, who grant it is one of the best players in the league, and a back court of young, unproven players. Couple that with a thin front court. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for sbest record in the NBA.

Now I know that is exaggerated to an extent. The cupboard is not empty in Boston. They do have Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and two lottery picks in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. It’s not that they are winning that is the impressive part. It’s how they are winning. They come from behind (see their game against Oklahoma City). They win the close game (25% of their wins have been a one possession game). And they’ve even won at less than full strength (Irving and Horford have each missed games).

Brad Stevens has this team competing. He has them playing very balanced and serving their roles. Irving is the team’s leading scorer, but six other players are scoring 10 points plus a game, if you include Marcus Morris’s 12.2 in just five games. Horford leads the team in rebounding, but league sophomore Jaylen Brown chips in almost seven a game. Aron Baynes, the definition of a role player, adds six a game as well. Their assist leader? Marcus Smart. The guy everyone was worried would lose his place on this team. He also adds 1.67 steals per game, second to Kyrie’s 1.92.

Top to bottom Stevens is getting production from their guys on the floor. And the result is win after win. That’s the biggest thing a coach can do in the NBA; Get his team to buy into their roles and play as one, cohesive unit. Not bad for a guy that many thought would flame out after a couple seasons, as most college-to-NBA coaches do.

I’m not crowning the Celtics 2018 NBA Champions three weeks into the season. I’m not saying give Brad Stevens the Coach of the Year award yet either. There is far too much season. The Pistons are legit and the Cavs will be scary come playoff time when they get their point guard healthy. A lot can still happen. But right now it doesn’t seem to matter who Boston throws out on the court. Brad Stevens has them winning.

Kyrie to the Celtics Changes NBA East


Boston wants to dominate the 2020s.

Ainge knows that while LeBron remains in Cleveland, he shouldn’t sell the farm for a short term upgrade.

Boston is saving their assets for a true superstar – think Anthony Davis.

Ainge knows Golden State is unbeatable for the next 2-3 years.

These were the refrains we heard for the past few years. Boston had the most coveted assets in the league after fleecing Brooklyn out of three first round picks. They were rumored to be potential destinations for all of the stars on the trading block for the past few years, but they continued to pass on players such as Demarcus Cousins, Paul George, and Jimmy Butler. It frustrated fans, but it made sense. Why trade young players and picks now when they almost certainly can’t put you past LeBron or the Warriors?

Celtics GM Danny Ainge stayed the course, even when public pressure to make a move mounted. The ping-pong balls rewarded his patience when the Celtics won the draft lottery in May 2017. After moving down, they still got their guy – Jayson Tatum – and added him to a roster with talented prospect Jaylen Brown. With Tatum, Brown, young superstar coach Brad Stevens, and Brooklyn’s first round pick in 2018, the Celtics were in incredible position to field a dominant roster in the 2020s.

By now, you already know that the Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Brooklyn’s 2018 first round pick for Kyrie Irving. The move makes sense on some levels. As well as Thomas played last year, he is simply not as good as Irving. The Celtics were leery about paying a 5’8”, 29 year old point guard a max contract in the summer of 2018. Crowder has been a contributer, but his absence frees up more minutes for Brown and Tatum. But the offseason addition of Gordon Hayward may have tipped the scales more than any other factor in favor of making this trade. He too plays the same position as Crowder. But more importantly, Ainge thinks Boston can make the Finals this year.

The Celtics are positioned for the 2020s, but they are pretty damn good right now. Hayward, and to a lesser extent Al Horford, give the Celtics All-Star caliber players in their prime (the back end of Horford’s). Adding Irving makes the team better this year. All reports indicate that LeBron’s relationship with Cleveland ownership is shattered. It’s not hard to envision a scenario where he mentally checks out like he did during the 2010 playoff series versus the Celtics and the 2011 Finals versus the Mavs. If so, the Celtics are poised to take advantage. Then Boston is one injury of a key player on Golden State away from winning the Finals. It’s unlikely, but only the Warriors, Spurs, and Cavs still have a better chance of winning the 2018 Finals than the Celtics do. That has to count for something.

At age 25, Kyrie is right in the “sweet spot” where he can help the Celtics make the Finals this year and can still contribute long term. Horford will be a dinosaur by the time Boston’s teenagers (and future picks) are ready to contribute, and Hayward will be getting long in the tooth as well. If they can lock Kyrie up long term, he can be the point guard of the present and the future. Ainge took a big risk by finally dealing one of the Brooklyn picks. If it ends up as the top pick in what is shaping up to be a top-heavy draft, he may come to regret it. Marvin Bagley in particular has been called a once in a generation talent.

Boston payed a hefty price for a player who had to be traded. But they gave up players who were ultimately expendable for them, either this year or next. Giving up the Brooklyn pick definitely hurts – especially after George and Butler were acquired for so little – but Boston undoubtedly got better this year, and draft picks can be uncertain. Check back in about fifteen years to see who won this trade. Maybe the Celtics will have multiple Larry O’Brien trophies to show for it, or maybe Marvin Bagley will be remembered as the greatest Cav of all time.

R.J. Barrett Reclassifies to 2018

rj barrett

R.J. Barrett is looking to get to college, and ultimately the pros, a year sooner. Just days after Marvin Bagley, the #1 player in the Class of 2018, filed papers to re-class into 2017, Barrett followed suit. He announced he would be re-classing from 2019 to 2018. Barrett said the decision came after evaluating his play this summer. The move does not come as a surprise, as anyone who has seen Barrett play knows he is ready for the next level.

If his play this summer was the deciding factor, then I can’t imagine the decision took very long. Barrett was a monster this summer. You probably heard his name mostly during the U19 FIBA Games. Barrett not only dominated Team USA, but took home tournament MVP, while leading Canada to the gold. At only 17 years old, Barrett was outshining players who are signed, and enrolling into colleges in the Fall. Despite the age gap, Barrett was the most outstanding player by far. He has shown he has nothing left to prove at the high school level.

He has been touted by some as the best Canadian prospect ever, as well as the best high school player in the nation as a sophomore. With accolades like that, it is no surprise that Barrett is currently being recruited by all the major powerhouses. Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA, Arizona, Oregon and Michigan were all listed as schools working hard for him. Expect Kentucky to make a hard push after John Calipari got a front row seat to Barrett’s torching of theUSA U19 team in Egypt.

The bar has been set high for R.J. Barrett. Playing at a school that has produced lottery picks Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid & D’Angelo Russell, and for a coach who coached Kyrie Irving and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist prior to joining Montverde, Barrett could be the best of all of them. And we are now a year sooner to finding out.