NBA Rumor: Kevin Love Trade?

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No conversations between Kevin Love, Cavaliers about a buyout yet

Moving on from Love isn’t easy. His trade value has cratered, currently seen leaguewide as a negative asset because of his age, injury history, massive contract (owed $60 million over next two years) and public outbursts. Opposing teams want the Cavs to give up at least a draft pick or a young player in a Love swap. The Cavs aren’t in position to do that.

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Of course, there’s the elder statesman of the group: Kevin Love. The five-time All-Star is going to be 33 at the start of next season. Altman assured he wasn’t at 100% at any point of the season in his presser due to his calf injury, and insisted that Love “eats humble pie” when he sees his public displays of frustration all over the internet. The Cavs GM added that they’re the only ones who see Love’s vulnerability. “He has his moments, but he’s ours and he’s uniquely Kevin Love,” Altman said. The source added that if Love was a drain on the organization and had a poor attitude indicative of these “very highly visible” moments that the Cavs would be thinking about going in another direction. However, they do not see that as the case.

Koby Altman on Kevin Love: 'We want him to be here'

The Cavs will add another talented player high in the draft, and there are plans to sign veteran free agents this summer. But the young guys need someone to show them the way, and Altman feels that’s a perfect role for Love. “We want him to be here,” Atlman said. “We signed him to an extension (four years, $120 million in 2019) for that reason, to be here when we want to make that next step. And so we’re going to hopefully rely on him heavily next year after a significant summer.”

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.

Since Love returned from injury on April 1, the Cavs are 4-13 and losers of six straight. They were supposed to compete for a play-in spot. Instead, they’ve imploded. 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.

Given Toronto has raw but intriguing Chris Boucher, who has seen an uptick in minutes and production, it’s fair to wonder how much his recent rise could alter the Raptors’ view of their center spot. A source with knowledge of the Mavericks’ thinking suggested Kevin Love as a much better fit given the team’s 3-point woes and desire to surround MVP candidate Luka Doncic with shooters. Love would also help boost Dallas’ problematic defensive rebounding metrics. Still, the Mavericks have two appealing expiring contracts — Tim Hardaway Jr. ($18 million) and James Johnson ($16 million) — that would help facilitate a deal.

With Thompson gone, Love said he never expected he would be the longest tenured Cav from the 2016 champions. Matthew Dellavedova left for Milwaukee after winning the title and was traded back in December 2018. “Daniel Day-Lewis, baby,” Love joked, referring to the actor in 1992 movie The Last of the Mohicans. “As everybody knows, probably after the first week I was here, my name was thrown out — ‘Hey, we might be able to get something for him’ or ‘This would be a great trade’ or ‘Kevin’s name came up’ — with somebody pulling the name out of thin air, whether it was warranted or not. “In a way, it is a little crazy — maybe crazy is the wrong word — but there is something to be said for that. A couple of days ago I was breaking down how this is my seventh year here, my 13th year in the league and now I’m heading into being here longer than I was in Minnesota. It’s crazy how time flies and how fast-fleeting it is, for better or for worse.”

Love was on the trading block for all of last season but went nowhere as the Cavs insisted on getting a first-round pick for him. That was not going to happen, not for a guy who still had $120 million over four years on his deal. Maybe that will get more palatable when it is down to three years and $91 million. The Cavs could also hold off and see how things work with Love and new center Andre Drummond but the prediction here is that won’t work out well and if Cleveland can find a taker for Love, go for it. Eastern Conference exec: “Not happening. He is 32 (in September) and can’t stay healthy. His numbers are so-so. Maybe a team looking for a shakeup—Phoenix is a possibility—might take the risk. But you’ll be paying $30 million a year to a guy in decline in his 30s. That is a hard sell.”

The Cavs will not do a salary dump for Love. They want some combination of draft picks and young, ascending players for Love. Now, in order to get that kind of haul, which many around the league continue to scoff at, the Cavs would likely need to take back a bloated salary. In that kind of package, the draft pick would be considered the Cavs’ sweetener in exchange for the other team’s bad, lengthier salary. It’s clear Cleveland’s view on Love doesn’t align with the rest of the league. That’s normal. The Cavs like him. They don’t regret the signing. They were expecting a monster season before his emotions intervened and 2019-20 went off the rails under John Beilein. But circumstances surrounding Love’s down year have changed and he’s set up to rebound. It could allow him to alter his trade value.

But the Cavs want to compete in 2020-21. This is Year 3 of the rebuild, the season everyone in the organization, including owner Dan Gilbert, has been pointing toward in hopes of taking the next step. Andre Drummond’s arrival at the deadline accelerates the rebuild timeline. Bickerstaff is locked in as head coach. The Cavs are expecting internal improvements from the core of youngsters and many of their top rotational pieces will be back. If the Cavs are going to take that next step and at least get closer to the playoff picture, they will need Love, their best — and most important — player. Plus, what’s the point of dumping Love? What would the Cavs do with that extra salary space? In a weak free agent class, there’s no one to sign, so no rush to move on from Love — unless the Cavs get a quality offer that makes them a better team in the short and long term.

Would Love still prefer to play for a contender? Of course. It’s incredibly challenging to go from four years of chasing titles to two straight of chasing lottery ping-pong balls. The Cavs being more competitive, just as they were in the 11 games under Bickerstaff before the league shutdown, helped. How the Cavs start 2020-21 — if Love is still on the roster — will be key. But enough has changed since his desire to be traded that it won’t be harmful to keep Love around and the veteran won’t force his way out.

Those are the kinds of numbers the Cavs continue to focus on. They see plenty of value in keeping Love, whose bloated contract, injury history and age play into being the centerpiece of trade chatter. If the Cavs get what they deem a fair offer, they will pursue some combination of draft picks and young players — as unrealistic as some NBA officials consider that demand. That’s the rub. The Cavs’ view of Love doesn’t align with the rest of the league. Until that gap narrows, Love is likely to stay in Cleveland.

The thing is, the reality of Cleveland’s situation may prevent that from happening. Right now, Love, Drummond and Larry Nance Jr., all staples for the Cavaliers’ big man rotation account for roughly 52% of the team’s payroll at $68.7 million. Next season, Nance will be here under contract and the team will likely have both Love and Drummond here as well, per league sources. Drummond plans on opting into his $28.7 million player option and Love will be hard to move with the NBA salary cap expected to go down due to the coronavirus pandemic. With that in mind, all three aforementioned players will combine for $78.1 million total next year.

The thing is, the reality of Cleveland’s situation may prevent that from happening. Right now, Love, Drummond and Larry Nance Jr., all staples for the Cavaliers’ big man rotation account for roughly 52% of the team’s payroll at $68.7 million. Next season, Nance will be here under contract and the team will likely have both Love and Drummond here as well, per league sources. Drummond plans on opting into his $28.7 million player option and Love will be hard to move with the NBA salary cap expected to go down due to the coronavirus pandemic. With that in mind, all three aforementioned players will combine for $78.1 million total next year.

If the Cavs get an offer they deem worthy then they will consider it. But they still see him as a valuable piece, one that threads the needle between their present and future. They aren’t going to give him away for nothing. They aren’t going to accept a salary dump either. Sources maintain it will take a combination of picks and players for the Cavs to send him elsewhere. Get ready for more Love trade rumors this summer, especially given the dearth of impact free agents available. Listening and accepting are two different things.

As for trading Love for “peanuts,” that wont happen. The Cavs continue to value him. They don’t regret the contract extension. Plus, they have no urgency to dump salary. The potential restricted free agent market dried up with contract extensions for Buddy Hield, Domantas Sabonis, Jaylen Brown, Dillon Brooks and others this season. The one restricted free agent with appeal is Brandon Ingram. Multiple sources expect the New Orleans Pelicans to match any offer sheet. So, that path, one that changed with the Drummond addition, is no longer available.

As for trading Love for “peanuts,” that wont happen. The Cavs continue to value him. They don’t regret the contract extension. Plus, they have no urgency to dump salary. The potential restricted free agent market dried up with contract extensions for Buddy Hield, Domantas Sabonis, Jaylen Brown, Dillon Brooks and others this season. The one restricted free agent with appeal is Brandon Ingram. Multiple sources expect the New Orleans Pelicans to match any offer sheet. So, that path, one that changed with the Drummond addition, is no longer available.

“There’s a lot of bad contracts they could have traded him for. The Sixers would have traded Al Horford for him, but why would Cleveland do that? They want expiring money and picks,” the former GM said. “Portland could have made a deal work, but for what? They would have really had to look at their cap space and tax money for next year and asked how far a trade for Love would really push them. Would it make them a top-four seed in the West? I don’t think so.”

Clippers interested in Thompson, Love and Dedmon

The Clippers have been aggressive, no surprise considering they have the $11.5 million Mo Harkless contract and a first round pick to deal. Considering if LA doesn’t trade the pick it can’t deal another one until we colonize Mars, there is some urgency in the LA front office to get a deal done. The Clippers have kicked the tires on Kevin Love and could grab disgruntled Kings center Dewayne Dedmon, but neither are preferred options. There is some interest in Tristan Thompson in LA’s front office, per sources, as LA’s coaching staff has fretted about the team’s rebounding, particularly when Ivica Zubac is off the floor. Wing depth is a consideration for the Clippers, with Robert Covington and Iguodala among the possibilities discussed.

Maybe that strong offer the Cavs aren’t currently expecting — a combination of picks and players, perhaps both — comes Thursday. If that’s the case, that would obviously change their plan. But the Cavs, sources say, will not do a salary dump — even if other teams view a Love deal as them helping the Cavs, not the other way around. Cleveland isn’t interested in attaching a pick to Love. The franchise still views him as its best player, the most valuable trade chip. “Since the second I got here I’ve been in those talks,” Love said with a smile. “It’s easy for me, I’ve settled into who I am as a basketball player and a person, so I’m easy.”

The Twitter-sphere has already dealt him to Portland, Miami, Phoenix and Denver at various points. That’s one of the many things that makes this time of year tough on guys. “It always is,” Love admitted. “In the past it was a little bit different feel because I knew 100 percent nothing was going to happen with me. It’s just a weird time every year with teams that feel they like they have a chance or are that one piece or two pieces away. The trade deadline comes in every sport, I’m sure guys are kind of sitting there waiting, have half a bag packed. You never know.”

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.

So if Love’s short-term future may actually be with the Cavs, how would that sit with him? “I will be happy if I’m still here,” Love said following the Cavs’ 124-112 loss to the Washington Wizards on Thursday night. “I fully plan on continuing to help these guys, continuing to help — Tristan (Thompson), myself, Larry (Nance Jr.) these guys, being a leader with all the veterans. And this place, Cleveland, the fans, they’ve been really, really good to me. So, yes.”

While he’s not unhappy every day, plenty of aspects this season — and Cleveland’s general direction — have “driven him crazy,” according to a source. He’s been most irritated with team’s “selfish” playing style and hasn’t handled that growing frustration in the best, most mature way. He’s admitted as much. It’s also fair to wonder whether the Cavs’ thinking has shifted as well. From the very beginning, they’ve wanted to be “blown away” by an offer for Love, believing he has immense value both in the short term and long term. They believed he would be a positive influence on the young players, showing them the way off the floor while also helping alleviate some of that pressure on the court.

Everyone is wondering the same. I could see both. I know it’s not the answer anyone wants, but the Love situation is complex. The most challenging questions to answer, in no particular order, are these: Have his actions this season — on and off the court — necessitated a move? Is the relationship with him and the Cavs so dire that keeping him around would actually be harmful? Would he be understanding and stay locked in if the Cavs didn’t trade him in a few weeks? […] Internally, the Cavs were hoping his value would rise, believing Love would rebound and put up big numbers in Beilein’s system after an injury-riddled season a year ago. There were even some who felt the best offers would come after this season.

Part of the barrier is the Cavs’ view of Love doesn’t match the NBA’s view of him. Love wants to be traded. That has been his preference for at least a month. He wants to play for a winner, with teammates that are at the same stage of their career — or at least closer — when it comes to knowledge, experience and talent. The growing pains, both with young players and Beilein trying to make the transition from college to the pros, have worn on Love. He’s still trying to manage his frustration. Sticking around beyond the deadline could cause him to explode again.

Love certainly could help the Blazers, or Pacers, or Rockets. But that contract is hard to match up in a way that makes sense for Cleveland, which understandably is asking for a lot in return. “I don’t think Kevin has a lot of value,” a Western Conference executive said Monday. “The contract is obvious, but you know he is going to miss games with the toll on his body… I don’t see teams taking Kevin on (without) at least taking back a first-round draft pick or multiple seconds.”

Love apologized Tuesday for some of his recent behavior on the court, then went out and scored 30 points in a loss to the Detroit Pistons. He finished 12-of-15 shooting from the field — but attempted just two shots in the fourth quarter as the Cavaliers blew a 12-point lead. He is averaging 16.4 points and 10.3 rebounds on the season. “The Cavs have communicated to him, ‘Help us help you,'” Windhorst said. “Do you want to get traded? Then come in and have a good attitude every day and put up numbers. And there have been periods this season where Cavs has done that. But there have been several times this season where he’s lost his cool a little bit, and we’re all watching for it.”
1 year ago via RealGM

“I think there’s teams that would do it,” said Windhorst. “One of the things that’s been remarkable to me as I’ve talked to some people around the league about Kevin in the last 48-72 hours is there’s a lot of people who really, really value him and really like him, but the problem is because of the contract, it’s a difficult to come up with a trade for. Because the Cavs are viewing trading an All-Star level player. The other teams are saying ‘Yeah, he’s a good player but we’re taking on this money.’ They think they’re bailing the Cavs out.”

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 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.

Sources say the Cavs didn’t feel confident about their chances of getting a first-round pick for Clarkson in this market, so they took a pair of future seconds — a 2022 from San Antonio and a 2023 from Golden State, sources say. The move puts Cleveland about $5.1 million below the luxury tax threshold, which gives the team more financial flexibility when it comes to other deals. Make no mistake, more are coming between now and the trade deadline on Feb. 6. Players are already bracing for those shakeups.

Could I see it? I could see … I just don’t … What’s going to happen with us this summer? Or at the trade deadline? I just don’t know. It’s just tough because, and I’m not a religious guy by any means, but the old saying “You want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.” Listen, obviously it’s a tough go right now. We’ve got (six) wins. But in some ways, the grass isn’t always greener. You just don’t know how the shit is going to shake out. Ever. In anything.

It is difficult for Boston to cobble together enough salary to add a major piece without including one of its core players. Boston does have Daniel Theis ($5M), Enes Kanter ($4.8M), all its own first-rounders and additional picks from Milwaukee and Memphis, but that’s not enough money to target a player like the Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldridge or the Cavaliers’ Kevin Love — unless Boston is willing to put Marcus Smart or Gordon Hayward in a deal, which is unlikely to happen.

Sunday, of course, is the first day players who were acquired in the offseason are eligible to be traded, even though Neil Olshey, the team’s top executive, said this week there is nothing brewing. That hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from heating up, which has included one report saying Kevin Love would prefer a trade to Portland. That rumor apparently reached the eyes and ears of Whiteside, who during Tuesday’s game against New York was shouting during play to Anthony that “Kevin Love doesn’t rebound like that!” “And Kevin Love doesn’t block shots like that, either,” Whiteside said Thursday when asked about the Tuesday exchange. “The trade talk … it don’t enter my mind a lot. I was more just messing with Melo. I’m not thinking about it. If we are struggling on defense and you want to (trade him), I mean, good luck. Good luck with that.”

As the Cavaliers figure out their direction under new coach John Beilein, Kevin Love is in limbo. He is the most notable veteran player on a team that is in a transition period, but he has three years and over $90 million left on his contract. As we reported in our Inside Pass on Monday, Love prefers a trade to a contending team. He has his contract extension, but that deal and the Cavaliers’ asking price is what is giving interested teams major pause, I’m told.

Love has been mentioned frequently, but is a question mark. There was a report that Portland is his favored destination, but I have not been able to substantiate that and, in fact, have been told by people close to him that the report is not necessarily true. And the other concern with Love – who is obviously a terrific player with championship pedigree – are his injuries. Over his last three seasons, he has played 60, 59, and 22 games. At an average salary of $30.1 million over the next three seasons, his availability is a concern.

Love would prefer to play for his hometown Portland Trail Blazers, according to multiple league sources. The Blazers make perfect sense as a destination for Love; they need help for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after the team has been decimated by injuries. Last week, Rodney Hood suffered a ruptured left Achilles tendon, joining Jusuf Nurkic (broken leg) and Zach Collins (dislocated left shoulder) on the sideline. Nurkic will return this season, and Love would be a terrific frontcourt partner because of his perimeter shooting and playmaking ability. Portland could then play big upfront, which would be valuable in a series against a team with a bigger frontcourt, like the Lakers. Or, it could go with Love at center, which could be useful against the Rockets, who often size down with P.J. Tucker at center.

“Nothing’s changed,” Love told ESPN after Cleveland’s morning shootaround at TD Garden. “What I mean by that is, since I got here they’ve been … since I f—— got here there’s been talk of me being traded, so it’s nothing different. If they decide to go that way, I’ve just got to know it’s part of the business, or if we decide to go that way, it’s part of the business.” “Truthfully, I don’t know how it’s going to play out, because I see both sides,” he added.

As the lone player over 30 on a roster featuring six players under 25, four players in their first or second-year and a first-year coach in John Beilein, Love’s name stands out as Cleveland’s most obvious trade candidate. “I imagine, in a rebuild, it’s easy to look at it, especially when it’s down and out at this point, and say, ‘Hey, we want to completely reset the deck and go young,'” Love told ESPN. “I understand that. “But despite that, whether it’s five months or five years, I’m always going to be able to come back to Cleveland no matter what, and I’ll always love the fans, and be part of this organization, one way or another.”

His journey to the Trail Blazers was less complicated. Portland had a clear need for a four-man, and many rival executives believed the organization would target Oklahoma City’s Danilo Gallinari or Cleveland’s Kevin Love in a trade after the loss of Collins. But as the losses piled up, and its franchise star Damian Lillard clearly needed more support, Portland needed to acquire someone immediately. The Trail Blazers made the call to Anthony and his representative, and one question remained within Anthony: Is this real — or a waste of time?

Kevin Love will not force trade

Even with him, the Cavs are likely a long shot for a playoff spot in the East. But Love insists that he isn’t forcing a change. “I’ve been committed to Cleveland since Day 1,” Love said. “I know it’s been a little shaky at some points. It’s been really great at some points. But now I’ve found some semblance of balance in my life, not only on the court but away from it.”

But going public with the details of his panic attack — and his ongoing involvement in the conversation about the need to take care of mental health — has not left Love feeling vulnerable. He’s more at peace than anything else, and that’s why the rumors that are out there aren’t gnawing at him. “I’m just going to let the chips fall,” Love said. “I know that this is a young team. I think I can help them. I’m going to do right by Cleveland, the organization. This is a league where teams want to rebuild, teams want to go young but certain teams are looking for a piece, a guy who’s played in the finals, a guy who has playoff experience. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think it definitely lessens the burden and the anxiety.”

After the departures of James and Irving, Love became the face of the franchise when he signed a four-year, $120-million contract extension last year. Cleveland, however, is a rebuilding team and there has been talk Love could be dealt to a team looking to make a championship push. “I know there’s talk about me possibly being the missing piece somewhere,” Love said. “There’s been constant chatter since I signed that I could be traded. It’s one of those things where I’m going to keep doing right by the team, by Cleveland and by the organization. If my number is called, so be it, but I’m going to stay true to my commitment and let the chips fall where they may.”

The Cavs continue to get calls about Love. The phone will likely ring throughout the season, up until the trade deadline and then again in the summer — if he’s still in Cleveland that long. Signing Love to a lucrative four-year extension was Altman’s first big move, the tone-setter after James left for Los Angeles. Some scoffed at the decision, believing Love didn’t fit — and still doesn’t — on a young team not positioned to win for a few more years. The NBA is unpredictable, but Altman talks the same way he did more than a year ago — seeing Love anchoring this turnaround.

While Love is Cleveland’s most valuable trade chip, there are others. That list starts with five players on expiring contracts: Knight, Henson, Dellavedova, Tristan Thompson and Jordan Clarkson. “We are still in evaluation mode with our team, with the new parts, the staff and the offense. We like our guys,” Altman said. “There’s no sense of urgency to rush to do anything. I think last year was a little bit different in terms of we knew we wanted to recoup a lot of different draft assets. Where we are now: We have great flexibility, we’re one of four teams that has over $20 million in cap space next summer, so we’re not in any rush to do anything drastic.”

Kevin Love wants to stay in Cleveland

He’s no longer the willing follower. He’s the quiet leader. While rumors constantly fly about his future, Love is exactly where he wants to be, where he chose to be two summers ago. He has no interest in that changing. “I do want to be here. I always have,” Love told cleveland.com in an exclusive one-on-one interview. “I say that knowing it’s the NBA and it’s a business. I think especially after seeing last year, the summer leading up to last year and this summer, the changeover is like unprecedented so you don’t know what is going to happen.
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June 23, 2021 | 5:32 am EDT Update

Nets upset with Kyrie Irving?

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.
This rumor is part of a storyline: 351 more rumors
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.
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.”