Shootaround (Sept. 28) -- Wade, James reunion in Cleveland can have implications beyond this season
NBA.com staff reports
This morning’s headlines:
- Wade, LeBron reunion can have implications beyond this year
- Kings reward Divac, Joerger
- Donovan feels for mentor Pitino
- D’Angelo Russell has learned lots of lessons
* * *
Wade, LeBron reunion can have implications beyond this year — Yes, just as you suspected, Dwyane Wade joined the Cavaliers and his good friend LeBron James in what they hope will replicate the success they had together in Miami. But this move does more; it pacifies LeBron and could keep the megastar from leaving Cleveland next summer if he has greater respect for GM Koby Altman, who has done a good job despite the trial by fire this off-season. Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated sees this as the latest chance for the Cavs to keep LeBron in Cleveland:
Irving’s departure stripped James of his right-hand man and a proven, potent Finals weapon. It also forced James to rely on an injured Isaiah Thomas, a deteriorated Derrick Rose and a fully washed Jose Calderon to pick up whatever portion of the slack they can manage. To be clear, there will be a lot of slack. Despite Irving averaging career-highs in scoring and usage last season, James led the NBA in minutes per game and ranked third in touches per game. When James was off the court, the Cavaliers posted a minus-8.5 net rating, which would have ranked dead last overall. In the eight games he missed last season, Cleveland went 0-8 and lost by an average of 16 points. James is accustomed to shouldering monster burdens, but he’s in for some seriously heavy lifting until Thomas is back on the court and fully up to speed.
Early on, something will almost certainly have to give. Either Cleveland will lose more than it’s used to on or James will be asked to dial it up to superhuman status more often than usual. Both scenarios are bound to be at least occasionally frustrating for James, who must also guide the acclimation process for newcomers like Rose, Calderon and Jeff Green. While James has spoken glowingly of Rose, perhaps to boost his confidence and buy-in, the 2011 MVP is a total non-shooter and a completely untrustworthy defensive player. Calderon couldn’t guard anyone when he was 26 and his 36th birthday is Thursday; Green’s night-to-night inconsistency could turn a toddler’s hair gray.
These conditions—the organizational instability, the hole left by Irving, the new roster parts, and the ongoing 2018 free agency talk—are precisely why signing Dwyane Wade matters for Cleveland. At 35, Wade will struggle to contribute positively in a theoretical Finals match-up with the Warriors for the same reasons as Rose: His lack of three-point shooting shrinks the court and his declining defensive awareness and spotty effort make him an easy target for exploitation. During the 2014 Finals against San Antonio, a 32-year-old Wade lagged badly, posting a miserable minus-17.4 net rating as Miami fell in five games. It’s a bit terrifying to contemplate how much worse things could get for him against the Warriors come June, and both Jae Crowder and J.R. Smith will almost certainly be far better options.
But first-year Cavaliers GM Koby Altman has a more immediate priority than dethroning Golden State: He must keep James as happy as humanly possible. No one expects James to be giggling like he was on Monday all season long, but Cleveland needs him to lead with positivity, lest its season get swept up by fear-mongering over his possible departure. At various times since his 2014 return to Cleveland, James has appeared fed up with Dion Waiters, frustrated by Irving, disillusioned with David Blatt, and furious with both Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love. Irving’s exit should be a wake-up call to James that Cleveland’s culture wasn’t where it needed to be; In turn, Wade’s presence should help James get through the day-to-day slog and manage the inevitable bumps in the road.
* * *
Kings reward Divac, Joerger — Wasn’t it just yesterday when folks around the league were laughing at Vlade Divac and the leadership of the Kings? Well, Divac is getting the last laugh; he and coach Dave Joerger received contract extensions and their spots are safe for the near future. It helped that Divac finally ridded himself of DeMarcus Cousins and did some nifty maneuvering to bring in promising young talent from the most recent draft, along with veterans who can and should help. Here’s Jason Johnson of the Sacramento Bee on the confidence the Kings have in Divac:
Over the last few months, the jokes have subsided and the Kings no longer are the NBA’s picture of dysfunction.
The franchise took another step toward stability by signing general manager Vlade Divac to an extension and picking up coach Dave Joerger’s option to secure both of them on contract through the 2019-20 season, the team announced Wednesday.
That keeps the two most visible leaders in the franchise together for three more seasons, which is something the Kings haven’t been able to say since the days of Geoff Petrie and Rick Adelman more than 10 years ago.
Now Divac – after an offseason that was widely praised, and with a coach hired on his watch – believes the Kings have the pieces to move the franchise toward becoming a winner.
“When I came here, it was all talk about stability,” Divac said. “And I think the last couple years we’ve brought that stability here and we know where we are. Now we have a picture of where we’re going to be in the next couple years and we’re going to work hard and get there. I think we’re in a perfect situation for that.”
When Divac, one of the more popular players in franchise history, returned as an executive in 2015, he inherited players who harbored distrust of the front office and ownership following the firing of popular coach Michael Malone. The front office was understaffed and the support staff was lacking. George Karl was the third coach that season and fifth since 2012.
The team had an All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins, but it failed to provide an environment to nurture his talents and help him develop. Karl was fired after the 2015-16 season and Cousins was traded in February.
The remaining key players acquired before Divac – Rudy Gay and Darren Collison – both left as free agents this summer.
All remaining players and coaches have been brought in during Divac’s tenure. The front office has been bolstered and the opinion of the Kings around the league is changing for the better.
“It’s night and day from Day One when I came in here,” Divac said. “I’m thankful to Dave and his coaching staff. They’ve been incredible and it makes my job easier to focus on what we have to do. We are partners in this process and the journey just started. I’m looking forward to what we’re going to be in a few years.”
When the Kings traded Cousins, it ended the team’s chances of making the playoffs and put it in full rebuilding mode, a setback to any progress Joerger made prior to the trade on the court.
The Kings finished 32-50 last season. Joerger did not have a losing season during his three in Memphis, going 147-99 and making the playoffs each time.
Committing to a young team requires a vision for the future and patience – areas the franchise has struggled with in recent seasons, underlined by quick decisions to fire Malone and later hire Karl. Joerger now has the security of knowing he can work toward the future and has Divac’s support.
“This helps look at the broad strokes, which we’ve done anyways,” Joerger said. “But this really cements the stability and the partnership going forward for the longer term.”
That means developing five rookies, including guard De’Aaron Fox, the fifth overall pick in June’s draft. The Kings have 10 players who have played less than three seasons in the NBA, so struggles are expected.
* * *
Donovan feels for mentor Pitino — Billy Donovan’s path to eventual NBA coach was paved by none other than Rick Pitino, who recruited Donovan to Providence and then groomed him as a coach, then watched Donovan win a pair of NCAA titles before joining the Oklahoma City Thunder. So it was a somber day for Donovan when he learned of Pitino’s dismissal at Louisville. Royce Young spoke with Donovan about Pitino, who also coached the Knicks and Celtics:
“I feel bad,” Donovan said. “I wouldn’t be standing where I am today without Coach Pitino, the investment he made in my life. I think the values and things that he taught me — I haven’t spoken to him. I don’t know all the things that are going on there, but him being a college coach and then working for him for five years, we’ve always remained very close, and I feel bad for all he’s dealing with and Louisville is dealing with right now.”
A federal investigation into fraud and corruption in recruiting has connected a number of schools, including Louisville, which was already under probation. The Cardinals’ probation for a sex-for-pay scheme run by a Pitino assistant led to Pitino already being suspended for the first five conference games of the upcoming season.
Donovan played for Pitino at Providence as the two engineered an improbable Final Four appearance in 1987. From there, Pitino coached Donovan for 44 games with the New York Knicks and has served as a longtime mentor. After getting cut in the NBA and trying out Wall Street, Donovan was hired by Pitino as a graduate assistant at Kentucky in 1989, kicking off a long and very successful coaching career.
Before being hired by the Thunder in 2015, Donovan spent 21 years as a college head coach, both at Marshall and Florida, where he won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007.
On Tuesday, the FBI charged 10 men, including a top Adidas executive and four college assistant coaches, with using hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to influence top-rated recruits in their choice of school, shoe sponsor and agents.
“It’s sad. It’s sad in a lot of ways,” Donovan said of the scandal. “You feel bad for so many different people. But I think the unfortunate part is I think for a lot of the kids over the years who are being recruited and going through it, it’s unfortunate that whether it’s people on the recruiting side or the coaching side getting in the middle of that, because I’m not so sure what kind of message it actually sends to young people. But it’s, I think for somebody that’s been around college basketball for a long, long time, it’s just kind of disappointing in a lot of ways.”
* * *
D’Angelo Russell has learned lots of lessons — It’s a pretty humbling experience when you get jettisoned from your first team in record time, and for another young point guard at that. Russell comes to the Brooklyn Nets a bit wounded, especially after Magic Johnson said publicly that the Lakers didn’t benefit from Russell’s leadership, or lack thereof. Russell received the message loud and clear and intends to be a better player and person in New York. Brian Lewis of the New York Post had a few moments with the new Nets point guard:
D’Angelo Russell says the tough lessons he learned from a turbulent past in Los Angeles will prepare him for a better future in Brooklyn. Being traded by the Lakers taught him the NBA is a business and made him want to do whatever it takes to set down roots with the Nets.
“Yeah, definitely, it prepared me in major way to come straight to New York and be who I am,” Russell said. “Just in general — how to talk to [media], how to carry myself, everything, on the court and off the court. Getting traded, you realize everything is a business. … It’s a fresh start for me and I’m going to try to take advantage of that.
“As of now, I’m in a new situation, and I’ve got to earn that trust and relationships with guys. So I’m going to go out of my way to make that happen.”
How? By hitting the gym for late-night workouts as soon as he got traded and inviting Caris LeVert to come along; by working out most of the summer in Brooklyn with his new teammates; and by playing alongside Isaiah Whitehead at Dyckman Park.
“They’re my new teammates. I want this to be home for me,” Russell said. “Getting traded and moving, changing your whole environment and situation is not easy. So I don’t want to do that again.”
One of the Lakers’ issues with Russell was he needed to respond better to tough coaching. And Timofey Mozgov, who played two years with Russell in L.A. and came along in the trade, said the 21-year-old can learn from constructive criticism.
“It depends on how he recognizes it, but it’s going to help him growing up. … Instructive criticism always helps,” Mozgov said, just as Russell jumped on his back. “The criticism, this is right, you always should listen because the people around talking, they see what you’re doing on the court. And you always can speak with the coach. He tells you what to do right.
“Criticism always [pushes] you to be stronger. For me, always push me on the court. Coach doesn’t like how I do this: OK, I’m going to work on this. It’s simple. The same way [for him]. It should be a ring for him, like, ‘OK, this means I do something wrong, so let me see what I can do better.’ ”
Russell admits he needs to get stronger, both to help him finish at the rim and on defense.
“For me it was just … changing my body, getting stronger,’’ Russell said. “You’re playing against grown men.”
* * *
And in Random Headlines: Bill Russell, one of the leading voices among prominent athletes in the often-turbulent 1960s, says he’s down with the struggle … Fred Hoiberg believes the Cavs will get more than what they hope with Dwyane Wade … JJ Barea, the pride of Puerto Rico, is heartbroken over what a national disaster did to his homeland … Jamal Crawford and Aaron Brooks, a pair of old souls, hope to bring plenty of sizzle and leadership off the bench for the Timberwolves … Suns rookie Josh Jackson is still listening to his mother’s advice regarding basketball, which is a good thing, since she played in college and had a WNBA tryout … Donovan Mitchell had a terrific summer camp for the Jazz, but he knows this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league.