Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Feb. 15): LeBron James holding up under bigger minutes load

LeBron holding up despite bigger workload | Davis: ‘I don’t plan on leaving’ Pelicans | Okafor rejoins Sixers in Boston | Wade says no call from Riley’s led to his departure

No. 1: Bigger workload not affecting LeBron yet — In light of Kevin Love’s surgery and absence for the next six weeks, the Cleveland Cavaliers may be tempted to rely even more on superstar LeBron James. The reigning NBA Finals MVP ranks second in the league in minutes per game (37.6) to Toronto’s Kyle Lowry (37.7) and is averaging 38.3 mpg this month. While he continues to log heavy minutes,’s Dave McMenamin points out that James isn’t wearing down while doing so and may be able to get some rest here and there, too:

At the sound of his coach referencing his minutes and his machine-like body, James — feet plunged in a bucket of ice with green cellophane holding ice packs in place on his back and both knees — leaned back in his folding chair and knocked his knuckles against the wooden locker façade behind him.

You knock on wood to avoid bad luck.

James and the Cavs have had enough of that already this season, from J.R. Smith’s thumb to Kevin Love’s knee, to surgeries required by Mo Williams and Chris Andersen, sapping the defending champs of their depth.

But the thing about James’ minutes is it’s only an issue if it becomes an issue. And right now, the man who has figured a way to manage his body through six consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, with many a USA Basketball summer sprinkled in for good measure, doesn’t want to discuss it.

“I’ll rest when I retire,” James said with a heavy dose of defiance in his voice at Tuesday’s shootaround. “As long as I’m in the lineup, we’ve got a chance. We good. Kev is out, Kev is out for an extended period of time. J.R. has been out, but I’m in the lineup. I’ll be suiting up, we’ve got a chance against anybody. I ain’t worried.”

While his minutes are up slightly — two more than he averaged last season — his impact on the game in those extra 120 seconds has been exponential. His 8.8 assists per game are a career high, in this, his 14th season. His 53.3 percent mark from the field and 37.6 percent clip from 3 are his best numbers since his last season in Miami, when he and Dwyane Wade would have efficiency contests as a little game within the game to keep each another sharp.

And James is only getting better as the season progresses. In February, he is averaging 11.2 assists, shooting 61.2 percent from the field and 56 percent from 3. According to ESPN Stats & Information, there have been 92 months when James has played in at least two games. His field goal percentage this month ranks fourth out of 92. His 3-point percentage ranks second out of 92. And his assists? It’s the most he has ever distributed the ball in any calendar month since he entered the league nearly a decade and a half ago.

“For me it has been a good month so far and for our team — after a not-so-good January,” James said in reference to Cleveland’s 7-8 record last month. “But at the end of the day the [All-Star] break is coming up. We’ve got one more game tomorrow, the break is coming up and I think we all can use it, including you guys. Just get ready for the later stage of the season and prepare for the playoffs. I’ve always looked forward to after the break. It’s my favorite part.”

James will get some rest whether he wants it or not. Lue says he has identified several games in March during which he intends to keep James on the bench, though he wouldn’t disclose the specific dates.

But that won’t stop James from playing how he deems fit when he is on the floor, for however long it takes to do things as he did Tuesday — 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting, 14 assists and eight rebounds — to keep Cleveland climbing toward the start of the playoffs.

“What a time to be doing it then [with] us gearing up for getting ready for an extreme journey,” Kyrie Irving said. “So, he’s really, really, really, really locked in. Which I love and I’m just trying to be right there with him as best I can.”

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No. 2: Davis pledges his loyalty to Pelicans — The New Orleans Pelicans are in the midst of another letdown season and have fading playoff hopes at the All-Star break. This marks the second such season for the team even as superstar big man Anthony Davis delivers another All-NBA type season for the Pelicans. Despite the lack of success the team has endured of late, though, Davis made a point in a recent conference call to affirm his dedication to the team, writes Jeff Duncan of The Times Picayune:

The New Orleans Pelicans’ playoff hopes might be dim, but their star, Anthony Davis remains bullish about the team and its future.

Anthony Davis professed his loyalty to the Pelicans organization and maintained his commitment to the city of New Orleans during a conference call with international media on Tuesday afternoon.

The media session was part of the league’s pre-event publicity for the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday at the Smoothie King Center, but a handful of the questions specifically addressed Davis’ happiness with the club, which is in danger of missing the playoffs for the fourth time in Davis’ five seasons in New Orleans.

“I don’t plan on leaving, so make sure you write that down,” Davis said when asked about trade speculation.

Another questioner asked Davis about an Internet rumor speculating that he and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook could eventually join forces with the Lakers in Los Angeles, where his agent, Arn Tellem of Wasserman Media Group is based.

“I don’t pay attention to (the rumors),” Davis said. “I don’t know who said it or how it came about. I’m with the Pelicans right now.”

“We’ve got to find a way to keep fighting,” Davis said. “We have a team that is able to compete for the playoffs. We showed that a couple of times this year (in January wins against the Cavaliers and Spurs). We feel we are just as good as any other team in this league. We just need to find a way to stay a little more healthy and be a little more consistent.”

Asked if he thought a change of scenery in another NBA market might be best-suited for his career, Davis maintained his loyalty to the Pelicans.

“I like our team we have now,” Davis said of the Pelicans. “We always are just kind of injured. It’s tough to win games when a lot of the top guys are out.”

Unlike fellow Nike superstar LeBron James, who made headlines in January by publicly lobbying for the Cavaliers to add another playmaker to the lineup, Davis said it’s not his place to make demands on management or ownership to improve the roster.

“That’s up to the front office,” Davis said when asked if he would lobby the Pelicans’ brain trust in similar fashion. “Whatever the front office tries to to do they come to me and ask me my opinion. But right now I’m just trying to help the team win and do my job.”

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No. 3: Okafor rejoins Sixers in Boston — Just two days ago, Philadelphia 76ers big man Jahlil Okafor was not on the team plane for a trip to Charlotte to play the Hornets. That maneuver fueled speculation that Okafor, whose name has been in trade talks all season, will be dealt soon. While a big man trade did happen yesterday — Serge Ibaka going to the Toronto Raptors — it seems Okafor is about to be moved just yet, writes Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Jahlil Okafor has rejoined the 76ers and is likely to play in their game Wednesday night in Boston because the team is not as close to trading the second-year center as it seemed to be in recent days, sources said. The trade talks continue but are not close enough to a deal to keep Okafor out of the lineup.

Okafor will likely come off the bench and Nerlens Noel will likely start at center for the 76ers against the Celtics at T.D. Garden in the Sixers’ final game before a nine-day all-star break.

This is another chapter is what has been a strange trade scenario.

A team source confirmed multiple reports that Okafor flew to Boston Tuesday to rejoin the team. However, coach Brett Brown said on WIP Wednesday morning that Okafor is scheduled to fly here in a couple of hours to join the team for shootaround.

Okafor did not travel with the team to Monday’s game in Charlotte nor play in Saturday’s home game against Miami because trade talks were progressing on several fronts. Instead of going to Charlotte, Okafor was in his hometown of Chicago.

Teams sometimes will keep players out of the lineup if a trade is imminent to avoid a deal-killing injury. The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 23.

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No. 4: Wade says Riley not calling him helped him pick Bulls — What’s done is done in terms of free agency from last summer, but for some Miami Heat fans, the loss of Dwyane Wade to the Chicago Bulls will always sting. In an interview with Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, Wade revealed how the lack of a phone call from Pat Riley — something he initially said didn’t affect his decision — helped him decide to move on from his first NBA home:

Six months ago, when Wade joined the Bulls, he said the fact Heat president Pat Riley never contacted him in negotiations was not a factor.

“I couldn’t concern myself or worry about someone reaching out to me or not reaching out to me,” he said at his introductory Bulls news conference last July. “That’s [wasn’t] why I made the decision. It wasn’t because he didn’t reach out to me. How petty is that? I wasn’t looking for Pat to reach out to me. That wasn’t the focus of mine. … My heart was telling me to go back home.”

But in a podcast with The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski this week, Wade admitted that Riley not calling him was the deciding factor.

“I did feel at the end of the day it’s Micky Arison’s team but it’s Pat’s show,” Wade told Wojnarowski. “I love Pat and I know he loves me. The fact that we didn’t talk, that hurt. That was my deciding factor when it came down to the end of the day and he didn’t show he wanted me there. I know the Arison family loved me and wanted me there. I know Spo [coach Erik Spoelstra] wanted me there.

“At the end of the day, I didn’t hear from the guy I needed to. I expressed this to him later. That right there hurt me. It showed me… it was time to remove myself from the situation…. It’s a business. But I’m human as well. I was waiting for him to step up and meet me, call me, do something and it just never happened. That’s not the Pat I know. You can find me quicker than anybody. You want to be wanted. Everyone wants to be wanted. I didn’t feel like I was wanted from the person I wanted to be wanted from…. I was waiting for him to step up and meet me somewhere. Call me. Do something. It just never happened. That’s not Pat. That’s not the Pat I know.”

Wade admitted that he felt the Heat took him for granted.

“I don’t accept how they all played out,” he said. “Same way I did certain things, I felt they should have. Same year LeBron [James] left, they signed Chris [Bosh] to a max deal. I’m happy for Chris. OK, it’s my turn. That hurt me. I’ve spoken this to Pat. That really hurt me. That was the first moment where I felt I was taken for granted. I signed a shorter deal.”

That deal ended up paying him $15 million in 2014-15, the first year after James left.

Wade spoke of his appreciation for what he learned in Miami and how he tried to take that culture to Chicago.

“What Pat and Micky have been able to establish in Miami is incredible,” he said. “There are great things about it and some things not great as far as how controlling it can be. From a basketball standpoint, it’s phenomenal.”

Wade, if he chooses, can opt out of a contract that would pay him $23.8 million next season. Though it’s certainly possible that Wade could return to the Heat some day, it’s difficult to envision it this offseason unless Wade agrees to an enormous pay cut.

So have Wade and Udonis Haslem discussed this?

“We don’t talk about it,” Haslem said. “You can never say never. I would love to have him back. But we have some young pieces we need to develop and watch those players grow. We’ll see what happens….

We want some young talent that we want to groom. Let these guys blossom some.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Great deep dive into what may be ailing the Detroit Pistons this season … Side effect of the Serge Ibaka trade in Toronto? They’re putting a lot of faith in Norman Powell … Karl-Anthony Towns high-fived Ricky Rubio so hard it made him feel bad … Jeremy Lin finally returned to practice for the Brooklyn Nets and may suit up after the All-Star break … ICYMI, former Slam Dunk Contest champion Nate Robinson made his NBA D-League debut last night … The Memphis Grizzlies may sign Toney Douglas for the rest of the season …