Morning Shootaround

Jan. 27 Shootaround -- Tyronn Lue trying to keep Cavs moving forward

NBA.com Staff

Lue aims to recalibrate Cavs | Lillard keeps All-Star snub in perspective | Kanter’s injury a significant one for OKC | Discord, dysfunction rule Bulls now

No. 1: Lue trying to recalibrate Cavs’ direction — After yesterday’s report that LeBron James is at odds with the Cavaliers’ front office over how payroll is being doled out, it seems the sky may be falling Cleveland. The reality is much further from that and Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is trying to pull his team out of its 4-6 funk over the last 10 games while also hearing all the chatter about roster discord. He talked about how difficult this time is for he and the team after Thursday’s practice, writes Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Tyronn Lue said the controversy surrounding the Cavs was a distraction and “I hate it.”

“I gotta come and deal with you guys every time it happens,” Lue said after practice Thursday. His team has lost six of eight and his star player, LeBron James, and the front office are at odds over the roster.

“Just a lot of distractions,” Lue said. “We gotta focus on basketball, getting back to winning. We’re the third-best team in the NBA right now. We’re a great team, we’re the champs, so we just got to get back to playing championship basketball. That’s it.”

The Cavs missed 17 free throws and blew a 10-point lead in regulation against the Kings. In Saturday’s overtime loss to the Spurs, Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving essentially forgot a play drawn up during a timeout late that caused a turnover.

Can those issues be related to James blasting management for its handling of the roster and his questioning of the front office’s commitment to winning another championship?

“I can’t say that that had something to do with the last play of the game the other night,” Lue said. “Can’t say it had something to do with free throws. I mean we missed. We missed free throws. When have you ever seen James Jones miss three free throws in a row? Like that’s probably never happened in his career. And it may never happen again, so, I mean, we just had a tough stretch.

“And when you’re not playing well, you’re going to have miscues, you’re going to have things that go against you. We understand that. We’re doing better and we’re going to keep getting better to start winning games. We’re confident we can do that and we will do that.”

As Lue decried the distraction caused by the tiff between James and management, he bemoaned the use of unnamed “sources” in media reports. It wasn’t exactly clear as to which report he was referring, as all the comments from James and general manager David Griffin were on the record.

Thompson said there “ain’t no distraction,” though evidence points rather plainly to the contrary.

“At the end of the day, it’s basketball,” Thompson said. “Go out there and play. It’s simple. Coach gives you the game plan, do your job or sit the (heck) down. It’s simple.”

“No team is perfect,” Thompson said. “Every team wants or needs something. You go to Golden State, they said they didn’t have the post players to protect the rim. The Raptors, they say after Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, what else they got.

“With us, (James) wants another playmaker. It is what it is. Every team needs something. That’s for the front office. We only can control what we’ve got. Guys got to get better.”

* * *

No. 2: Lillard keeping All-Star snub in perspective — Back in 2015, Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard was left off the first run of All-Star reserves and let folks know he wasn’t happy about it. Last year, the same thing happened and Lillard cooled on his stance about it. In both instances, however, he was eventually named as an injury replacement. As last night’s All-Star reserves were announced, Lillard was once again left off … and once again, he’s not letting it ruffle his feathers too much. Mike Richman of The Oregonian has more:

For the second straight season, the Portland Trail Blazers will not a have a representative in the NBA All-Star Game. Only this season they have two players who feel they deserved inclusion.

The Western Conference All-Star reserves were announced on Thursday and Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were both left off the team, which is compiled based on voting from the league’s coaching staffs.

Despite impressive numbers, the Blazers backcourt duo will not take part in the league’s midseason showcase.

Lillard is averaging 26.2 points, 5.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds a game this season, becoming the first player in the last 30 years to average at least 26 points, five assists and four rebounds and not make the All-Star team.

He joins Milwaukee’s Michael Redd (2006 and 2007) and Golden State’s Purvis Short (1985 and 1986) as the only players in NBA history to average at least 25 points in consecutive seasons and not make an All-Star team in either year, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein.

Last season, Lillard was admittedly disappointed when he missed out on an All-Star spot that thought he had earned. But said that frustration has led him to placing less emphasis on landing an All-Star nod this season.

“Obviously, I would love to be there,” Lillard said following Blazers’ practice on Thursday. “But actually not being a part of it last year, going into this year it’s like I would love to be there but if I don’t, I’m not going to be angry at the world about it. We got bigger problems.”

There is an undeniable team element that factors into the All-Star voting. While Lillard and McCollum have put up monster numbers, the Blazers are 20-27 and sit a half game behind the Denver Nuggets for the final playoff spot in the West.

Coaches place an emphasis on team success and the Blazers underwhelming season plays a role in Lillard and McCollum’s exclusion from the All-Star game. While both players denied being emotionally invested in making the game, they appeared to have at least considered that they were unlikely to make it despite their impressive statistical seasons.

Following Blazers practice on Thursday, McCollum briefly interrupted Lillard’s media session to chime in with his own All-Star related question, asking if coaches should vote for players who put up “pedestrian-like numbers” or players that “change teams drastically.”

“I think it should be guys who change teams drastically,” Lillard responded to his backcourt partner’s query. “There’s certain things that go into this now and those certain things are out of our control. You just got to roll with the punches. You understand?”

“There’s a lot of politics involved in this game,” McCollum added.

* * *

No. 3: Kanter expected to miss significant time — Anyone who follows the NBA knows just how fantastic Russell Westbrook has been for the Oklahoma City Thunder. They also know that OKC’s roster is a bit thin in terms of depth this season and can’t afford significant injuries at virtually any position. Yet the Thunder will have to forge on without backup big man Enes Kanter after he fractured his forearm in a fit of frustration last night. Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman has more:

There had been a missed free throw and blown layup. There had been a charge.

It had been a frustrating start Thursday night for Enes Kanter. A momentary outburst could cost the Thunder center some significant time.

Kanter punched a chair on the Oklahoma City bench in frustration in the second quarter of Thursday’s 109-98 win against the Dallas Mavericks at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

There’s no timetable for his return, Thunder coach Billy Donovan said after the game, but Yahoo Sports reported Kanter could be out six to eight weeks.

“I’m disappointed personally because I think Enes had been playing very good basketball,” Donovan said. “He’d kind of carved out a niche coming off the bench for us with that second unit. He was a guy that generated offense for us.”

His absence is significant for a Thunder second unit that relies on him to generate offense, both as a low-post scorer and, increasingly in recent games, as a passer out of double-teams.

Russell Westbrook called it “very unfortunate” that the injury was self-inflicted, but Kanter’s teammates were understanding afterward. Steven Adams, who said he’d never seen Kanter erupt in that way, said Kanter’s frustrations were “continuous things” that “just exploded.”

After he hit the chair, Kanter remained on the bench briefly, at one point holding a blue cushion over his face. He ultimately went back to the locker room, and x-rays later confirmed his fracture.

“Something like that, bro, he didn’t mean to do it, obviously,” Adams said. “It’s just one of those really frustrating times, and he just happened to do what he did. He’s already hard on himself. Nobody else can be as hard on him as he is on his himself.”

* * *

No. 4: Dysfunction, discord mark Bulls season now — First, came the biting comments from Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler about their Bulls teammates after a home loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Then, came the response of sorts from Rajon Rondo via Instagram to what Wade and Butler had to say. Now, the Bulls must pick up the pieces of all this disharmony and figure out what the rest of 2016-17 will look like. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune tries to make sense of the broken pieces and fractured relationships right now in Chicago:

This is what happens when you sign two independent-thinking players like Wade and Rondo who have won championships and aren’t beholden to the Bulls’ past glories. They’re veterans. They’re professionals. They’re honest.

And they’re not impressed with the direction of the Bulls, who are trying to remain competitive while developing young players. It’s not a good look.

Add in history between those players when they played for the Heat and Celtics and a turbulent 2016-17 season in which Rondo, according to sources, thinks Wade and Butler influence the coaching staff and run the show and you get what happened late Thursday afternoon. In an almost unprecedented move, Rondo posted a photo of himself, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on his Instagram account with stinging words that could be interpreted only as a rebuke of what Wade and Butler did.

Thursday passed with no response from the Bulls to either Rondo’s words or Wednesday’s scathing indictment from the franchise’s two most important players. That’s as shortsighted as it is unsurprising.

Silence, even if it’s broken Friday as expected, doesn’t make the words from Rondo, Wade and Butler disappear. They’re out there permanently. Those of Wade and Butler may scar their soft-minded teammates and anger their proud ones. Rondo’s words do nothing but strengthen his bond with the young players and deepen the divide between him and Wade, though Wade liked them on Instagram.

All once again pull into question Fred Hoiberg’s hold on the locker room and management’s roster construction.

Rondo smiling and dubbing management’s acquisition of him and Wade alongside Butler as “The Three Alphas” seems like eons ago. And the fact management likely wouldn’t have pursued Rondo if it had known it would land Wade and later trade for Michael Carter-Williams doesn’t absolve it from the current mess.

Wade’s comments recall Butler’s “coach harder” comment from last season. That indicted a coach and a lack of accountability. The fresh comments created a void from which some players may never recover.

Sources said Nikola Mirotic and Carter-Williams have frustrated Wade and Butler more than most players and that both Wade and Butler addressed players privately before airing their frustrations to reporters.

Wade’s words also are more stinging than Butler’s from last season in that Butler never has been viewed as a natural leader other than through his prodigious work ethic and hard-earned ascension to among the game’s elite. Wade’s pedigree and experience spoke volumes even before his comments rattled through the locker room, Butler nodding in approval nearby in a display that clearly was coordinated.

Wade’s comments don’t just threaten to sabotage this season but carry consequences beyond the short-term. Once his preferred path broke down to re-sign with the Heat, who, oh by the way arrive Friday with a five-game winning streak, he cited a goal to help restore his hometown franchise to respectability.

Admitting the Bulls’ inconsistency will play a factor in his player option decision this summer on one day and following it with a rebuke of management’s roster on the next clashes with that goal. Wade’s leadership efforts and example before this week resonated throughout the organization.

They perhaps helped Butler most of all.

Rondo attended summer league on his own and even went to Hoffman Estates to support young players on Development League assignments with the Windy City Bulls. He always felt comfortable in his own skin even as the bromance between Butler and Wade grew.

So what happens now, beyond the hilariously fantasy-like thought of how much fun an intrasquad scrimmage would be?

It seems hard to imagine Rondo, who only carries a $3 million guarantee for next season, lasting the remainder of the season, even if the younger players like and respect him. Wade has made clear he will weigh many options this summer as he makes a decision on his player option.

And the Bulls, for now, appear set on building around Butler, who, as is his custom, went in to work out on the Bulls’ day off Thursday.

* * *

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Fantastic Q&A with former 1998 Draft picks (and future Hall of Famers) Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Vince Carter … NBA insiders and front-office types continue to rave about Joel Embiid … Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George thinks teammate Myles Turner will get motivated by watching the 2017 All-Star Game in New Orleans … For the first time in seven years, Carmelo Anthony will not be an NBA All-Star … Speaking of Anthony, one anonymous NBA GM has doubts about whether he could fit in as a part of an overall system in the NBA … Great long read on the (at times) dysfunctional dynamics between DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings … A current Jeopardy! champion (and NBA podcaster) is getting in some thinly veiled shots at the Warriors on the game show … The Hawks have a send-off message planned for the Super Bowl-bound Atlanta Falcons …

Latest