Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Sept. 2) -- 'Fully committed' to Cleveland Cavaliers, Isaiah Thomas begins rehab

This morning’s headlines:

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IT starts comeback trek for CavsNow that the wrangling and drama are over, the principals in the freshly completed Cleveland-Boston trade can get busy prepping for the 2017-18 NBA season. For new Cavaliers guard Isaiah Thomas, that means grinding through the rehabilitation regimen to mend his injured right hip. Thomas is scheduled to get started Tuesday with members of Cleveland’s medical staff, according to Plain-Dealer beat writer Joe Vardon:

The Cavs don’t have a timetable of return for Thomas, the 5-foot-9, two-time All-Star who was the biggest name player Cleveland received in exchange for Kyrie Irving. Multiple sources told the team “is not going to rush it” with Thomas, but is optimistic he’ll return to the court in the 2017-18 season and play at his usually high level.

Though Thomas was upset to have been traded by the Celtics, he’s “fully committed” to playing for Cleveland, a source said.

Thomas’ work back to the court will be overseen by Dr. James Rosneck, a renowned hip specialist at the Cleveland Clinic who works with the Cavs. Dr. Richard Parker, the team’s lead doctor and an orthopedic surgeon at the Clinic, will of course also be involved.

The Cavs want to see how Thomas responds after a week, and then through the month of September leading into training camp before they determine a timetable. Thomas elected not to have surgery and told ESPN this week surgery was not the best course of action. All indications point to Thomas missing at least a portion of the season.

Thomas, who was third in the NBA in scoring at 28.9 points per game last year, is suffering from a torn labrum and additional injuries in his hip that both date to March of last season and have plagued him for years.

Thomas is 28 and is entering the final year of his contract, for about $6.3 million. The Cavs acquired Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, the Brooklyn Nets’ No. 1 pick in 2018 and the Miami second-round pick in 2020 for Irving.

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Irving graduates from ‘LeBron U’When LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers in July 2014, he likened his four seasons in Miami – which included four trips to the Finals and NBA championships in 2012 and 2013 – to attending college, during which he got his degree in winning. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that Kyrie Irving, the former Cavs’ point guard and James sidekick who leveraged his way to Boston in the trade mentioned above, sounded like another college alumnus – one who went to school by playing alongside King James. Here’s a bit of ESPN writer Chris Forsberg’s report off Irving’s initial Boston news conference:

Kyrie Irving said he has not spoken with LeBron James since the trade that delivered him to the Boston Celtics, but he showered his former teammate with praise and stressed that his decision to push for a trade was motivated by an opportunity to find out what more he can accomplish.

Looking relaxed and often playfully interacting with both [newly acquired Gordon] Hayward and the Boston brass seated beside him, Irving seemed very much as if he was embracing being the new face of the franchise.

“I can’t wait to get on the floor and maximize my potential,” Irving said. “I just want to be around those incredible coaches and those incredible minds and those incredible individuals, and I feel like in doing that, Boston came right at the exact time and it was meant to be that way. I trust in that, and I’m glad to be here.”

Irving was pushed on his decision to leave Cleveland and the status of his relationship with James.

“I haven’t spoken to [James], and my intent [in asking for a trade], like I said, was for my best intentions,” Irving said. “To look back at the amount of ground we covered in the last three-year span … to really realize how special that was and how much stuff happened in that amount of time, I’d be sitting up here and telling you guys a lie if I didn’t tell you I learned so much from that guy.

“The perfection of the craft comes in a variety of forms. And you watch, you ask a lot of the great players, ‘What does it take to be great?’ I’ve had the unique opportunity to play with one of the greats and it was awesome. … When you look back and you’re eternally grateful for the moments that you’ve had and shared; you’re able to put peace with that journey and start anew.”

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Lakers’ tampering merited bigger hitHalf a million dollars doesn’t buy what it used to, certainly not around the NBA. So as the only penalty suffered by the Los Angeles Lakers for tampering with Indiana All-Star Paul George while he still was under contract to the Pacers, it seemed insufficient both as punishment and as a deterrent to future transgressors, wrote veteran NBA reporter Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer

[The] NBA blew it Thursday by not punishing the Lakers more after determining that the front office tampered, in regard to All-Star forward Paul George. The league had a prime opportunity to say interfering with a contractual relationship between a player (particularly a superstar) and a team is inexcusable.

The NBA should have barred the Lakers from signing George once he becomes an unrestricted free agent, either next summer or the summer after that (George has a $20.5 million player option for 2018-19).

The league said in a news release Thursday that an independent law firm, hired to investigate allegations, established that Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager, had discussions with George’s agent expressing interest in George. The NBA also announced it had previously warned the Lakers about tampering, after president of basketball operations Magic Johnson made comments about George in April on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

This was blatant, and it’s easy to establish the damage to which it contributed. George was under contract to the Indiana Pacers, and he was by far that franchise’s biggest asset. Under pressure to get something once George made it clear he wouldn’t re-sign, the Pacers traded George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

Oladipo and Sabonis – two pretty good players – were hardly fair compensation for losing a player selected for four of the last five All-Star Games.

Anything short of barring the Lakers from pursuing George in the future sends a terrible message to the NBA’s 30 front offices. Even if such a punishment was overturned in the courts, the league had an obligation to protect the integrity of competitive balance, and this fine does not accomplish that.

If the Lakers end up signing George, a native Californian, it will reinforce the most cynical assumptions about the NBA: That the Lakers are too big to fail, after winning fewer than 30 games each of the past four seasons. That the fortunes of small-market teams, like the Pacers, don’t matter. That iconic former players, such as Johnson, get off lightly.

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Lamb stirs Hornets’ buzzSummer workouts alone aren’t the most reliable indicator of an NBA player’s improvement from one season to the next, but they’re a start. So what Charlotte’s Jeremy Lamb has shown to the Hornets’ Steve Clifford and his staff by staying in town and working on his game has the team feeling good about Lamb’s shot at more consistent performances this year. Lamb averaged double digits in scoring his first two months with Charlotte in 2015-16 after arriving from OKC, but he’s only done that in only two of 12 regular-season months since. Good time to boost his play, notes Bonnell:

Clifford says guard-forward Jeremy Lamb has applied himself this summer as much as any Hornet.

“I’m really excited about what he’s done and where he’s at,” Clifford told the Observer of Lamb, who will enter his third NBA season with the Hornets when training camp opens at Spectrum Center Sept. 26.

The Hornets acquired Lamb, a 6-foot-5 college star at Connecticut, from the Oklahoma City Thunder in June of 2015. Hornets general manager Rich Cho, who had pursued a trade for Lamb for more than a year, signed Lamb to a contract extension weeks into Lamb’s first season in Charlotte.

Lamb’s results were mixed. Getting his first consistent NBA minutes during the 2015-16 season, he struggled with endurance and slipped in and out of the playing rotation. He averaged a career-best 9.7 points and 4.3 rebounds last season, but shot only 28 percent from 3-point range.

Clifford said the focus Lamb has demonstrated this summer in workouts has registered on his teammates and the coaches, and could lead to a more prominent role in the 2017-18 season.

This would be excellent timing for Lamb, because the Hornets have a crowd competing at his two NBA positions, shooting guard and small forward. Starters Nic Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist return, and the Hornets have major financial obligations to both those veteran players. The Hornets used their two draft picks in June on wing players – Kentucky shooting guard Malik Monk in the first round and Florida State guard-forward Dwayne Bacon in the second round.

Also, small forward Treveon Graham, who enters training camp with an unguaranteed contract, was probably the Hornets’ best player at Orlando summer league.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Sportswriters don’t get slapped with fines or other penalties for tampering, so Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report looks at some Lakers scenariors in which LeBron James and one other star – not necessarily Paul George – head to southern California next summer. … Eddie Jordan will be stepping into the veteran assistant coach’s role in Charlotte previously filled on Steve Clifford’s staff by Bob Weiss. … Former Houston forward Chuck Hayes, one of that team’s most popular players in recent memory, returns to the Rockets as a pro player personnel scout. … Ros Gold-Onwude also is on the NBA talent carousel this summer, going from her sideline reporter gig for the Golden State Warriors (where Jerry West gave her a dynamite review) to a similar role on TNT’s national stage. … Tiny Archibald turns 69 today, and if you don’t appreciate the impact the undersized Hall of Famer had on the NBA in the 1970s, and on New York neighborhoods in the years since, read and learn. … Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki didn’t have to look far for a worthwhile cause when he hosts his pro celebrity tennis tournament in two weeks.