Love publicly apologized for his outburst, saying it was out of character. And while fans may have had a harder time accepting Love’s remorse – and stomaching his $30 million per season contract – Altman insists it hasn’t caused a rift inside the Cavaliers. “What people don’t see is his vulnerability with the players and his teammates. I don’t think people see his generosity,” said Altman, who last spoke to reporters in January. “If he was an all-out bad guy and those plays that you talk about represented him, his teammates wouldn’t love him, his teammates wouldn’t want to be around him.”
More Rumors in this Storyline
A buyout would require Kevin Love to give money back. But sources tell cleveland.com that topic hasn’t been discussed. Maybe that changes this offseason. Love’s number being so high is a hurdle, of course.
At this point a trade seems far-fetched. Love’s trade value is nil. He can talk all he wants about playing for the Portland Trail Blazers — a terrible thing to say publicly. The Blazers have been an ideal fit for years. But what’s the workable deal that makes it reality? The Cavs told Love on a few occasions the best route out of Cleveland was to play better, that he was responsible for resuscitating that dying value. Instead, he’s looked miserable, moped from time to time, created headaches and hasn’t been able to stay healthy.
Various Cavs players still grow frustrated by the way Sexton dominates the ball, and opponents taunt them by saying during games, “you know he’s not going to pass you the ball.”
When Love, 32, signed that extension, he was told by the Cavs’ front office that tanking was not the plan; competing for the playoffs was. I don’t believe he would have turned down $120 million, even if the Cavs were honest with him, but he has the right to feel frustrated and as though he’s left behind, as his teammates from those championship days have all been able to move on. Throw in Love’s frustrations over being injured so much, not to mention statistically this is the worst season of his career (10.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game), and yeah, it’s clear he is not all in on the Cleveland rebuild.
Marla Ridenour: #Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said Kevin Love is playing in tonight’s home game against Orlando. Said he had a long conversation with Love this morning about his turnover against Toronto and Love had a long conversation with his teammates.
Spencer Davies: Love: “I’ll take this one on the chin…this one hurt me because it wasn’t coming from a bad place…I f***ed up…I apologize for that lack of judgment because that wasn’t me.” Insists incident is completely different from last time he showed frustration on the floor
Ultimately, both sides might agree to a buyout. Love has about $60 million remaining on his contract over the next two years. Blake Griffin, another Jeff Schwartz client, gave back $13 million of the $75 million owed to him to get out of Detroit. If Love wants to give back $10 million or $15 million, the Cavs might accommodate him and send him on his way. They can stretch the money owed to him, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time Dan Gilbert has paid people not to work for him.
I texted Love, but he didn’t want to talk about what happened Monday. One day, his jersey will be hanging in the rafters of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. For the sake of all parties involved, it might be best if he’s wearing a different one next season.
After a converted layup by the Raptors, the five-time All-Star was shoved in the back and ran into the stanchion. Official Brandon Schwab tossed the ball to Love so he could inbound it in and an irritated Love spiked the ball with his left hand. Schwab is a G-League official and players expressed irritation with the consistency in calls, sources said. Players from around the league have shared their concerns privately and publicly with the influx of new officials this season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are addressing the Kevin Love incident internally as the forward apologized to his team after Monday night’s loss to the Toronto Raptors, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Love could be fined by the Cavaliers for swatting the basketball inadvertently inbounds out of frustration, resulting in a turnover and leading to a three-pointer by the Raptors.
Love’s intent wasn’t to slap the ball inbounds, sources said. Love was frustrated with officials and not his team’s performance, sources said. Brandon Schwab is a G-League official and players expressed irritation with the consistency in calls, sources said. Players from around the league have shared their concerns privately and publicly with the influx of new officials this season.
Chris Haynes: Cleveland Cavaliers are addressing the Kevin Love matter internally but the team is focused on turning the page with the forward having apologized last night, league sources tell @YahooSports.
With 33.3 seconds remaining in the third quarter of a two-possession game, following Malachi Flynn’s driving layup, Kevin Love got bumped into the stanchion and glared at referee Courtney Kirkland. Then Love … well … only he knows exactly what he did — and why. Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who has known Love since their early days together in Minnesota, slowly lowered his mask, shouted something in Love’s general direction and looked on in disbelief. Assistant coach Antonio Lang was flabbergasted, raising both palms and peering toward other coaches, wanting to make sure they saw the same. Brodric Thomas, an undrafted rookie free agent and one of two players waiting to receive the inbounds pass, couldn’t believe it either.
This wasn’t a brain cramp from a young player who got confused or doesn’t know any better. This wasn’t the kind of careless mistake that keeps plaguing an inexperienced team late in games. This was a temper tantrum. Another one in the growing the lowlight reel of the Cavaliers’ supposed leader. It was childish. Disrespectful. Selfish. Unprofessional. Uncouth. An awful example for his young, impressionable teammates. And it erased a gutsy effort from an undermanned roster playing on the second game of a back-to-back. “That was unacceptable,” a source texted cleveland.com.
“I didn’t see it,” said Darius Garland, the closest player to the pass. “I was trying to get my defender off me. It’s probably on social media, so when I get on the bus I’m probably (going to) look. Something like that happens, we just have to get on to the next play. That was just a little breakdown that he had, it was nothing serious. He got whacked on one end and he got whacked on the defensive end and they didn’t call it. He just got frustrated, that was it.”
Chris Fedor: #Cavs J.B. Bickerstaff on the verbal spat between Sexton & Allen: “I don’t think it was that big of a deal. We discussed it and we moved on. If you never have conflict, you never have resolution. So it’s OK to have a little bit of conflict as long as it leads to a resolution.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers are expected to part ways with Kevin Porter Jr. after a fiery outburst in the Cavs’ locker room on Friday, a team source confirmed to BasketballNews.com.
Originally reported by The Athletic this morning, Porter’s locker was given to newcomer Taurean Prince and his new locker was near the lounge area with the reserves. The report indicates that Porter started shouting and at one point threw food (though the source told BasketballNews.com that this was relatively minor). However, the confrontation between Porter and general manager Koby Altman was very heated.
Porter felt disrespected that his locker was moved, but the team source says that the decision was based on NBA seniority and spacing to adhere to COVID-19 protocols. The source said that Altman tried to settle him down and hear him out; however, Porter had none of it and “pushed Koby past his breaking point.”
“He snapped on Koby, and Koby snapped back,” the source told BasketballNews.com. “Ultimately, I think Koby being unable to calm him was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.” The source said that Porter is not allowed back at Cleveland Clinic Courts at the moment. The Cavaliers will try to find a trade for Porter, potentially packaging the second-year swingman with a big man.
At this point, the team source is hopeful that Porter can turn things around in his life and continue to progress as a man: “I’m worried about him outside of basketball at this point.”
Despite his messy exit, Beilein still returned to Northeast Ohio to say farewell to his players in a pre-practice address. “I’ve never had a coach who stepped down or was fired and came in and talked to us,” Cavs forward Kevin Love said after practice. “But just seeing him being vulnerable and treating us with respect and empathy, I thought it was super powerful.”
“Us players, in some ways — really, in a lot of ways — we could have been a lot better,” Love said. “Naturally we have a lot of young players on this team. As veterans, we’re trying to figure out ways to help young fellas, as well as the coaching staff. When you look at things in their entirety and as an accumulation, that’s when you start to see the story. It’s really not just one man.”
Love said that any progress the Cavs make the rest of this season will begin with him and his teammates taking accountability. “We gotta do a little check on ourselves too,” the 5-time All-Star said. “We gotta look at ourselves in the mirror too. I was talking about passing that mirror test. Definitely myself — I’ve been a s–thead at some points this season. I let losing get the best of me and nobody likes to do that…. it’s really just looking at ourselves and finding out how we can get better. And from there, trying to put it all together.”
Now just 54 games into his tenure, Beilein has his answer. He and the Cavaliers are parting ways and he is walking away from the franchise nine months after taking the job. The entire experience has been such a disaster that league sources told The Athletic that Beilein is walking away from the more than $12 million guaranteed on his four-year contract just to get out. J.B. Bickerstaff gets the task of replacing him and trying to put this back together for the final 28 games — and beyond. The relationship with Beilein, meanwhile, deteriorated faster than anyone could’ve expected. “I don’t even know how things got to this point,” one Cavs player told The Athletic.
Beilein’s tone toward the players became an issue, sources have told The Athletic, with him allegedly overly harping his voice in film sessions, nitpicking fundamentals and showing an inability to adapt to the NBA’s offensive and defensive structures. As a 67-year-old coach of a blend of veterans and young players, Beilein is said to have shown no consistency in relating to players or in building lasting relationships with them. “He was a dictator — not a coach suited for today’s NBA,” one source said.
Instead, multiple players began playing songs that included the word “thug” whenever Beilein was within earshot, sources said: Bone Thugz-n-Harmony’s “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” and Tupac’s “Thugz Mansion” among them. As the team boarded the bus a few days after the incident, one player was intentionally playing Trick Daddy’s “I’m a Thug” with Beilein a few feet away. Other players blasted songs with the word “thug” loudly during workouts in the facility. Players did this to make light of a very tough situation, according to one team source. “The worst part to me was not owning that he said it,” one player told The Athletic.
A dejected John Beilein made the lonely stroll from the home locker room to the podium for his postgame press conference. But only because the NBA requires it. If he had his wish, Beilein would’ve immediately bolted for his downtown residence, seeking refuge with a stiff drink. Who knows if that even would’ve helped after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ latest trainwreck. “I asked (Cavaliers director of communications) B.J. (Evans) if I had to come in here and he said, yeah, I do,” Beilein said. “I asked him if I could plead the fifth, no witnesses could be called to this game. That tells you a little bit how I feel.”
And, again, Beilein wasn’t the only one. What are they supposed to say? What’s the answer? Is there one? What’s the root of Cleveland’s myriad problems? “Wish I could tell you,” one player told cleveland.com. “I definitely don’t have an answer. This is the worst it’s been by far.”
For lottery-bound groups, this time of year is brutally tough because the primary decision-makers have to do what’s best long term. More than a few guys in that locker room sense the organization wanting to make a big shakeup, that the front office is “trying to trade Kevin and Tristan.” While it’s their job to block out any noise and focus solely on basketball, they are also human. On top of that, losing is really hard, especially home blowouts against lousy teams. There is such a thing as an acceptable loss in a rebuilding season. Saturday night, however, was not one.
Six Cavaliers players addressed John Beilein’s thugs-slugs jumble yesterday. Five offered clear support of their coach for this volatile situation. The exception: Tristan Thompson. “At the end of the day, he’s our head coach,” Thompson said after Cleveland’s win over the Pistons last night. “We’re the players, and have to go out there and play and do our job at the end of the day. So, that’s all that matters.”
Which raises another question: How did it get there? Most Cleveland players who spoke publicly yesterday said Beilein’s use of the word “thugs” didn’t jar them in the moment. Only Sexton said otherwise, and he added he wasn’t alone. “Everybody was shocked,” Sexton said.
John Beilein will remain as the Cavaliers’ head coach after he apologized to the team prior to shootaround on Thursday for a remark he made during Wednesday’s film session. “Met about it today, I apologized about it today as well,” Beilein said before taking questions Thursday. “I never intended, and I think the players understand that now. But it’s something I have to learn from and just enunciate better and be clearer with what my intentions were. So, they all know it, they understand it. But it’s something, it’s unfortunate, we’ll get behind us without question.”
Collin Sexton acknowledged after the game that Beilein has called them “slugs” before because they can be slow. And while there was an initial shock when the incident happened on Wednesday, he said they knew what he meant in the end. Both Larry Nance Jr. and Kevin Love said they believe the team can move forward with him as the head coach. They recognize he made a mistake and misspoke.
The players did not discuss it after the fact in a player’s meeting. Nance said he doesn’t think any of the players believe there was malicious intent involved. Beilein has never said anything of that nature before, according to Nance, which helped to understand that this was a one-off situation. However, it doesn’t excuse the comment, and they recognize that as well.
Brian Dulik: #Cavaliers PG Darius Garland on coach John Beilein after 115-112 OT win at #Pistons: “We’re behind him 100 percent. He’s trying to win, just like we are. We’re all behind Coach. It (the slug/thug controversy) wasn’t really a big deal to us.” #BeTheFight #DetroitBasketball #NBA
“Whatever happened, happened yesterday,” Thompson said. “We dealt with it in house, and at the end of the day, like I told you guys before, I don’t really do that Chatty Patty stuff. So, you guys have your reports, you guys do what you guys have to do for your job to get the information. At the end of the day, it was about Detroit tonight and guys stayed focused. You’re going to have bumps in the road, at the end of the day we kept our composure and focus, so we were able to get a win tonight. I don’t want this interview or nothing like that to take away from how hard the guys played tonight. I’m proud of my teammates.”
After stunning his players in a film session Wednesday with a verbal suggestion that they were no longer playing “like a bunch of thugs,” Cleveland Cavaliers coach John Beilein later reached out to players individually to insist he instead meant to use the word “slugs.” Delivering the term thugs to a group of largely young African American men carries obvious racial connotations, and Beilein acknowledged to ESPN in a telephone conversation Wednesday night that he understood that.
“I didn’t realize that I had said the word ‘thugs,’ but my staff told me later I did and so I must have said it,” Beilein told ESPN on Wednesday night. “I meant to say slugs, as in slow-moving. We weren’t playing hard before, and now we were playing harder. I meant it as a compliment. That’s what I was trying to say. I’ve already talked to eight of my players tonight, and they are telling me that they understand.”
Chris Fedor: #Cavs organization is taking this John Beilein issue seriously. Sources say front office members talked with everyone in the room to get their candid thoughts and the current feedback is that the team is OK and can move forward with Beilein as head coach
Sources say the feedback as of early Thursday morning was that the team is OK, players understand Beilein’s explanation and they can move forward with him as head coach. Some players, sources say, weren’t even aware of Beilein’s poor word choice right away.
Kevin Love wanted to clear the air. About his recent repulsive on-court behavior, the fine he received from the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon following shootaround (a story he felt was overblown), his relationships — with general manager Koby Altman, head coach John Beilein and teammates — and the many non-truths being written and said about him in recent weeks. About everything during this frustrating rebuild that continues to test him both mentally and physically.
“No matter how good or bad things are, balance is the hardest thing to get in life,” Love told cleveland.com in a private moment following shootaround Tuesday afternoon. “I know that is philosophical, but it’s true. It’s like Koby said to me the other night, ‘You’re the best player on an NBA team and don’t ever forget that.’ And he’s right. Sometimes you have to get checked and put it into perspective. I think now opposed to when I was 24 or 25 I’m able to either take that on the chin or absorb that. I had to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘Hey, listen that’s unacceptable, you need to be better and we move on.’”
According to those there, Love was upset by the timing of the punishment — after shootaround while he was in the training room and a few days after the Toronto incident — and the abrupt nature. Because of that, Love wanted a deeper explanation. He then came back onto the court and approached Altman, who was huddled in his usual spot off to the side, flanked by executives Jason Hillman, Andrae Patterson and assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff. Everyone decided to move the discussion into the film room.
“There was no altercation, there was no screaming match,” Love said. “I was actually shocked when guys were telling me about the article and what had come out. I’d heard about everything about 10 minutes before. I didn’t know who it came from, it didn’t come from me. Like I said, there wasn’t anything that happened at shootaround that warranted something like that. “It was a conversation we had, but there was no blowup, there was no me talking about how much money I have. I’m an a–h—. But I’m not that big of an a–h—. … That was like a 2 out of 10. It was really nothing.”
Kelsey Russo: Kevin Love will not be disciplined by the Cavs for his outburst during Saturday night’s game against OKC, sources told @TheAthleticCLE.
Rick Noland: Beilein on whether Love will face further discipline for actions on Saturday: “We’re always working to make sure our guys do the right thing. That’s something we’ll take care of within the team”
Kevin Love: A lot of non truths being shared…but I’ve learned that we live in a world where people remember accusations and not rebuttals. Let them paint whatever picture they want. Fact is — I love my teammates.
After receiving the ball, Love threw a low pass to Cedi Osman, who bobbled the ball before shooting a 3-pointer. “We were making a playcall,” Love said. “We were in the bonus, and Chris Paul was on me, so I felt swing it to me and try to throw it in the post, see if they double-team and get a good shot out of that. That’s not what we did, and yeah, I was frustrated.”
Kendrick Perkins: Well damn. Being a leader ain’t easy huh Kevin? Channing Frye: You see who’s guarding him? Kendrick Perkins: Channing Stop!!! He’s been having breakdowns his whole Career and Kevin need to look himself in the mirror and stop with the foolishness bro.
Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love had a verbal altercation with general manager Koby Altman following Saturday’s shootaround, league sources confirm to cleveland.com. Love, the team’s franchise player, was unhappy with Altman’s decision to fine him $1,000 for an outburst during a 20-point loss against the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 31, 2019.
This is now the second time this season Love and Altman have had a talk about attitude, engagement and body language, sources tell cleveland.com. The first time, sources say, was in early December following a string of awful, disengaged single-digit performances by the five-time All-Star. After that first chat with Altman, ahead of Cleveland’s Dec. 11 home game against Houston, Love went on an impressive run, scoring double figures in eight of the next nine games. His attitude shifted as well.
Love, who has repeatedly been mentioned in trade rumors, would prefer to be moved before the deadline, sources say, but he has not yet demanded a trade. The Cavs aren’t in any hurry to move their best player and top asset, especially if they can’t get a deal they like, but they are willing to listen to offers. If Love asks out before the Feb. 6 trade deadline, that could change the organization’s thinking.
Kevin Love had an emotional verbal outburst directed toward general manager Koby Altman following shootaround on Saturday, expressing his displeasure and disgust with the organization, league sources told The Athletic. Love was screaming in front of teammates and Cavs coaches and front-office members that there was “no feel here,” league sources said.
Love was fined $1,000 by the Cavs for an outburst on the bench on Dec. 31 in Toronto, sources said, and disagreed with the fine. He was spotted by cameras slapping chairs on the Cavaliers bench away from the team huddle in the third quarter of the blowout. He asked a Cavs coach to take him out of the game so he could cool down. During the next timeout, when a coach asked what was wrong, Love said he didn’t like how selfish the first unit was playing, sources said.
Kevin Love is mad af (Via @Karol__Sliwa )
As Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Beilein was about to give his view of a heated exchange with Tristan Thompson during the team’s overtime win in San Antonio, Thompson wrapped up his post-shootaround on-court workout session, walked toward the other end of the floor and overheard the line of questioning. Thompson stopped. And then gave his coach a big hug. “You know I love this guy,” Thompson said Saturday morning at Fiserv Forum, his first comments since getting benched in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The incident between Beilein and Thompson took place late in the third quarter Thursday night. Following Matthew Dellavedova’s steal, Thompson received a pass and threw down a two-handed breakaway dunk that put the Cavs ahead by nine. But as the Spurs called timeout and players sauntered toward the bench, Thompson was still fuming. Dellavedova, one of Thompson’s longest-tenured teammates, tried to restrain the veteran. But it didn’t work. Thompson was seen on camera shouting something at Beilein.
Was Thompson peeved at Beilein? “No. Not at all,” Thompson said. “I was just frustrated with how the game was going because they were going on a run and I saw the opportunity for us to get a win, especially in San Antonio. Just a little frustrated seeing the lead slip away. But coach did a great job with our second unit. They brought that energy and they were rolling and you have to keep going with those guys, the hot hand.”
Love acknowledged the difficulty in Beilein’s adjustment to the NBA from college but said Beilein’s style is what the Cavs need at this point, especially with so many young players who spent only a year in college. “It’s a throwback because he does a lot of skill work and fundamental work,” Love told The Detroit News on Tuesday. “It reminds me of when I was back in college and we definitely did a lot of film there, so player development-wise, that’s really key — especially when you’re young — is to adopt that as a strategy to better your game. “When you look at film, it doesn’t lie. You can’t make excuses on the film and say, ‘I was here,’ when you weren’t. It always shows you where your game is.”
The former Michigan coach said he believes he has his players’ attention, and they have been receptive. “We’ve met … and it’s like, ‘Coach, keep doing what you’re doing because we really need this. We need accountability, we need to play harder, stronger, tougher. Don’t stop what you’re doing,'” Beilein said. “We were the worst defensive team in the NBA last year. What do we do, practice less? “I have a lot of confidence the guys in the locker room are on board, and they’ve told me that.”
“I don’t really see the comparison of college,” John Henson said before praising Beilein for reminding him of his old Hall-of-Fame coach at North Carolina Roy Williams. “This is an NBA team, it’s run like an NBA team. What he’s doing, I don’t think anybody’s complaining. I think it’s kind of overshot, you know what I mean. They just kind of ran with it media wise. I think he’s doing fine, got a great staff. You saw tonight, we played hard, played well within our schemes, just didn’t come (out) on top.”
Slowly getting dressed, tossing a stocking cap on his head, with an inhaler by his locker to help battle a cold, Thompson was next ready to fight a few of his own teammates when he was informed that three were quoted in an article that dropped hours before the Cavs’ fifth straight loss. “Y’all better find them names ‘cause I’ll pull up on ‘em right now,” Thompson said. “You can’t do that s—. “At the end of the day if you’re going to build a culture and a family, you can’t have that Chatty Patty s— going on. That s— is whack to me. Everyone’s got to look in the mirror, there’s only so much coach can do and there’s only so much we can do. Do we have the best roster in the NBA? No. But we’re going to go out there and compete every night. Guys got to look in the mirror. So I hope whoever reported that was just bulls——g and blamed it on a player.”
One player skimmed through The Athletic article prior to the game. In it, players complained about long film sessions, Beilein’s repeated nitpicking over basic fundamentals, not enough versatility on offense and a lack of understanding of the NBA game and opposing players. When that player, sitting at his locker, saw some of the quotes, he couldn’t help but chuckle. “What are we even mad about,” he asked. “It’s a story about nothing. I’ve enjoyed my time with coach thus far.”
But the ones who spoke on record, and three more who talked with cleveland.com anonymously, were supportive of Beilein, who made the NBA leap after 27 successful seasons in college, including 12 at the University of Michigan, where he took the Wolverines to nine NCAA Tournaments and two Final Fours.
Chris Fedor: #Cavs Tristan Thompson is ANGRY that he just came out of the game. Just held his arms out and shouted at the bench. Demonstrably.
Cavaliers coach John Beilein defended his methods and said he’s drastically changed his style from college, responding to a critical story posted by The Athletic Friday afternoon. “I have made huge changes in everything,” Beilein said before the Cavs faced the Orlando Magic at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. “I would say 85 percent of our language is NBA language. Our typical practice (at Michigan) the day before a game would be two hours and 10 minutes, now it might be 60 or 70 minutes.”
John Beilein: “We were the worst defensive team in the NBA last year. What do we do, practice less? We have to do that and we’ve got to continue to work at it. I have a lot of confidence the guys in the locker room are on board, and they’ve told me that. So we’ve just got to keep pushing through.”
Cavs forward Larry Nance Jr. said if some players have issues with Beilein, “Ideally you want to keep that in house.” “I guess that’s today’s NBA,” Nance said. “Am I worried about it? No. My job doesn’t change. I’m going to play as hard as I can for as long as I can and try to get us to win.”
In the midst of losses in four consecutive games and 10 of their past 11, Cavaliers players are bristling at new coach John Beilein because he’s treating this season like they, and he, are still in college, numerous sources told The Athletic. It’s already gotten to the point where players are looking past Beilein to his lead assistant, J.B. Bickerstaff, for guidance, those sources said.
“Guys drowned out his voice, and when guys start searching for the next in line for help, I believe you’ve lost them,” one Cavs player said. “The little things become big things, and sometimes very big things,” another player said. “Our assistants are definitely more prepared for the NBA,” a third said.
Veterans and younger players, from all corners of the roster, are frustrated with what they see as the pitfalls of a college environment Beilein brought with him. When the Cavs were 4-5, players viewed some of these things as quirks of a coach with a different approach. Now, they consider them grating. Grievances include his nitpicking over basic fundamentals, too much harping in lengthy film sessions, not enough versatility on offense, and a broader lack of understanding of the NBA game and opposing players. Some of that comes with this being his first year in the league.
On Wednesday, players and coaches met for a lengthy film session that turned even longer when both sides vented over things happening during games, sources said. The players’ problems with Beilein aren’t necessarily sour grapes over a losing streak. “At the same time I think the players are the reasons things are happening the way they are,” one player said. “Coaching can’t fix 20- and 30-point blowouts.”
On Friday night, Harden added 12 assists and 10 rebounds, another triple-double. Forget those stats. The most irritating number to Thompson was six — as in the amount of players who scored double figures for Houston. If the Cavs entered the night determined to take Harden’s teammates out of the game then how did that many get going? “How many games has it been? At this point, we’ve taught everything we can teach,” Thompson said. “Now it’s up to the players to come out there and just do their job. Do your job. Simple. Our players didn’t do their job.”
On Friday night, every member of the Rockets — all 11 that played — scored at least four points. The non-Hardens erupted for 98 points, as Houston scored a season-high 141 points. “He’s a dynamic scorer, one of the best scorers in our league,” Thompson said of Harden. “But what makes him more dangerous is when he’s finding guys and getting other guys going. Rather have him score all the points and have the other guys be cold and not engaged in the game. That’s what we did last time. That’s what teams do. That’s what Milwaukee was doing. Had some success. Guys just didn’t follow along the game plan.”
Rick Noland: Drew: “It was a disappointing loss, but moreso that we didn’t play with more energy. That was the thing that hit home the most”
Rick Noland: Nance: “Guys have career nights on us. That’s something we have to take personally. That was the message passed around the locker room. We have to man up”
A few hours later, the Cavs and Smith agreed to his excommunication. In the same Athletic piece, veteran point guard George Hill said he believed the focus shifted away from winning before the start of this season — Cleveland’s first without LeBron. Hill said “in the summer, it felt like politically you have to say we can still do these things because you want everyone to buy in to being here. Once everybody is here, I don’t know. The directions change.” It does not appear that Hill, who is injured, will be disciplined for his comments, as the organization views them differently from what Smith said.
Then there is JR Smith. He is finding it harder and harder to hide his contempt toward the organization these days. Smith has asked to be traded twice, but he’s still here in part because he refuses to accept a buyout. He made it clear in a conversation with The Athletic on Monday that he has no relationship with general manager Koby Altman and he has no interest in playing for a team that has no interest in winning.
“I don’t think the goal is to win. The goal isn’t to go out there and try to get as many wins as you can,” Smith said. “I think the goal is to develop and lose to get lottery picks. I think that was always the plan.” And as long as the Cavs are operating this way, Smith is not interested in being part of it. “Not if the goal isn’t to compete, to win,” he said.
But that isn’t what they sold their players or the public. They kept up this silly “playoffs” belief even when everyone else understood it wasn’t reality. “I think that was to save face with everybody else, honestly,” Smith said.
Sexton’s struggles, and how his teammates responded to them, led to head coach Larry Drew addressing that with players. “I actually pulled some guys to the side when we were in Orlando,” Drew said. “That was my exact point — having to be patient with a 19-year-old kid.”
Thompson said he wasn’t one of the players Drew talked to in Orlando. JR Smith wouldn’t confirm one way or the other, but dropped a hint that he was. “It gets frustrating sometimes in the moment, but you have to take a quick flashback and understand he’s still 19 years old,” Smith told cleveland.com. “He’s a young player and he’s going to go through the same situations I was in. For me, I have to look at it I have to be that guy I didn’t have who is trying to push me to be better and make sure I’m on the right path. He’s definitely on his way there. It’s obviously going to take time.”
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June 23, 2021 | 5:32 am EDT Update
Sullivan is the author of “Can’t Knock the Hustle: Inside the Season of Protest, Pandemic, and Progress with the Brooklyn Nets’ Superstars of Tomorrow,” which released on Tuesday. In a conversation with our friends from Celtics Wire on their podcast, Celtics Lab, Sullivan said that Nets ownership was unhappy with Irving over his midseason “pause,” and that Irving could be available for the right offer.
Matt Sullivan: “Let me give you guys a little news, I’m not sure that’s been out there. I’ve heard that Nets ownership was quite upset with Kyrie’s ‘pause,’ especially that maskless party that turned his psuedo-paternity leave into more like a COVID suspension. And in the last week I’ve heard rumblings – whispers, really, because cracking the Nets is kind of like breaking into the Kremlin, that Brooklyn GM Sean Marks would maybe, possibly, apparently be willing to at least listen to a trade offer for Kyrie this offseason. Now, I’m not sure what the market for Kyrie is at this point. It’s not like Ben Simmons giving you the headache on the court. It’s that complex personality that comes from off the court. I think it’s been annoying some people in the franchise. I can’t speak to his teammates, who obviously want to play with one of the world’s best and get him back there.”
Deandre Ayton couldn’t stop smiling after the Phoenix Suns’ 104-103 win on Tuesday gave them a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals over the LA Clippers. The big man wore a permagrin as he basked in the joy that came from dunking home the go-ahead bucket in the game’s final second, finishing one of the most dramatic alley-oops in NBA playoff history, but he didn’t want any of the credit. “I’ll start off by saying that’s definitely Jae [Crowder’s] game winner, making a great pass for a 7-footer,” Ayton said after his dunk with 0.7 seconds left lifted his final line to 24 points on 12-for-15 shooting and 14 rebounds.
No wonder Ayton said he completed the best play of his three-year NBA career after finishing with 24 points, 14 rebounds and one memorable lob that gave the Suns a 2-0 series lead. “I never played so hard from the jump ball to the end, 150%,” Ayton said. “Usually it’s like 110%, but tonight it’s 150% and it’s 150% mentally. Just the level of focus and the things you have to really pay attention to, it’s really intense.”
And the production has been eye-popping. Per Elias Sports Bureau research, this postseason Ayton is the first player in the shot clock era (since 1954-55) with a 70% or better field goal percentage in any 12-game postseason span. He has had five 20-point, 10-rebound games this postseason, the most by a Suns player since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2007. “I’ve never played so hard from the jump ball to the end,” Ayton said. “A hundred and fifty percent. Usually, it’s like 110, but this is 150%. And it’s 150% mentally, too. Just the level of focus and the things you really have to pay attention to. It’s really intense, man.”
The cloud of the 2018 draft doesn’t follow Ayton. He has admitted in the past to being sensitive to perception and criticism, but put all of it behind him. “At the end of the day, we’re all different players,” Ayton said of comparisons to Doncic and Young. “I’m a 7-footer, big man, and they’re two point guards. I don’t know what you can compare. But me, I play as hard as I can. This is my team. I dominate the best way I can for this team and try to take this team as far as I can. Other than that, I trust my work, I trust my work ethic, I trust my craft.”
But with a chance to give them a three-point lead with 8.2 seconds left, George surprisingly missed both free throws despite coming into this game making 89.2% from the free throw line this postseason. “I’m not going to put too much on that,” George said afterward. “Obviously it was an opportunity that was missed. Pat made an unbelievable play that put me in position to extend the lead. I’m always confident at the free throw line. I’ve always been very successful in clutch moments at the free throw line.”