Cleveland Cavaliers are winning, and J.R. Smith is the Reason why

jr-smith-cavaliersThe Cleveland Cavaliers are currently on a seven-game winning streak and one obvious reason why is LeBron James’ return from an injury two weeks ago. A less-stated reason why: J.R. Smith’s move from New York to Cleveland.

Since joining the Cavs 10 games ago, Smith has seen his production increase from 10.9 PPG and 40.2% shooting with the Knicks, to 15.2 PPG and 41.7% shooting with the Cavaliers. His three-point shooting (38.8%), free-throw shooting (81.8%) and steals (1.5) are also noticeably up with his new team.

Obviously the Cavs appreciate Smith and vice versa, so what’s the big change? For starters, he’s taking more shots from behind the arc, which has led to an improvement. He took 35.9% of his shots from three-point land in New York, but has increased that amount to 61.9% in Cleveland. The fact that Kevin Love is posting up and kicking it out to Smith on the wings has definitely helped his game recently.

A larger part of why the 10-year veteran is flourishing is that he no longer has the distraction of New York. In an interview with NBA.com, Smith discussed how NYC’s nightlife made his mind drift away from basketball a little too much. Here’s one excerpt from the interview:

jr-smith-cavaliers-1“I think this is the best situation for me, ’cause there’s nothing but basketball. There’s nothing you expect but basketball. There’s nothing, there’s no going out, there’s no late nights. There’s video games, basketball and basketball. So it’s a great thing, ’cause I go back to where I came from. When I grew up, I never, I wasn’t allowed to go out. I missed my prom because I went to an AAU tournament, and all that stuff. For me, it was basketball, basketball, basketball.

And then when I got in the situation where I was at an early age, it was more, alright, let me see what this life is about, as opposed to just keep going. So now, I get the chance to get back to my roots.”

Another point Smith made is that, due to going out so much in New York, he wasn’t getting enough rest. However, now that he’s in Cleveland and not dealing with a bunch of distractions, Smith believes that things are much better.

Considering that the Cavaliers are already loaded on offense with Kyrie Irving, James and Love, Smith should continue getting plenty of good looks throughout the rest of the season.

Now, the big question is if the Cavs can continue playing good defense. During the seven-game win streak, they’ve held opponents to 47.3% shooting – much better than the 53.3% shooting in the first seven games of January. Assuming they can keep this solid defense up, then their odds of winning the championship increase dramatically.

Cleveland Cavaliers Betting: Kevin Love not leaving

kevin-love-staying-clevelandAny illusions of the Cleveland Cavaliers and their new Big 3 dominating right out of the gate and trampling all opponents in the way have been disbanded. Does that mean they’re no longer capable of winning the NBA title this season? Absolutely not, but the slow start does show that Cleveland needs more time to gel together.

If you’re listening to NBA rumors, though, the team won’t have much time to gel with Kevin Love. Whispers have persisted that he’ll leave the Cavaliers at the end of the season, rather than sign a long-term deal with the team. Most of these rumors have him landing in Los Angeles (Lakers) since he’s from there. In any case, the idea that Love won’t be in Cleveland past the 2014-15 season continues to grow.

But there’s only one person who can truly decide where the 6’10” power forward is going, and that’s Love himself. During an appearance on the “Mike and Mike” show, Love made sure to point out that he has no plans of leaving the Lake Erie area:

“If I could end all the speculation now, I would. But people are going to continue to talk no matter what. I just want to continue getting better with this team long term. I’m a Cleveland Cavalier.”

Part of the speculation surrounding Love comes from the fact that he won’t commit to a deal now. However, we don’t expect this to happen because he’s only eligible for a smaller two-year deal. But if Love waits until the offseason, he can sign a five-year extension with the Cavs worth up to $107 million.

kevin-love-staying-cleveland-1Of course, this isn’t to say that it’s 100% guaranteed he’ll be in the wine and gold next season. A large part of what Love plans to do hinges on how the team performs. But if the latest results are any indication, he could very well be playing alongside Kyrie Iving and LeBron James years into the future.

The team is currently riding a 6-game winning streak, including tonight’s win over the first-place Toronto Raptors. Sure some of these wins have come against bottom-feeders like the Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks. But there have also been victories over the Wizards, Pacers, Knicks and Raptors – all leaving Cleveland with a respectable 11-7 record right now

Perhaps just as important is that Love is playing much better and gelling with his teammates. Through the season’s first 12 games, he was only averaging 16.5 PPG and shooting 40% from the field. During the 6-game win streak, Love is scoring 22.0 PPG and shooting 62% from the field.

This could be the big difference in why Cleveland is doing so much better as of late. Before, their Big 3 scoring punch was missing a crucial element with Love bricking 60% of his shots. But as we’d expect from a two-time NBA second-teamer, he’s finally getting that shooting percentage up and knocking down 50% from beyond the arc during the streak.

The arrow is pointing up for Cleveland from here on out. So it’s not entirely unreasonable to think that they at least get to the NBA Championship game. And this should be more than enough to keep Love in a Cleveland uniform.

Andrew Wiggins Trade Rumors are just that for Now

andrew-wiggins-minnesota-tradeLast week, the biggest news surrounding the NBA was LeBron James’ return to Cleveland. This week, it’s been the constant back-and-forth speculation over whether Andrew Wiggins will remain a Cavalier when the season starts or be shipped to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a trade package for 3-time NBA All-Star Kevin Love.

Initially, new head coach David Blatt said that there was no way Wiggins would be included in any trade. “There’s no reason or cause for worry on his part because Andrew’s not going anywhere, as far as I know and as far as the club has expressed,” Blatt said.

More recently, though, it was thought that Cleveland had changed their tune after widespread reports emerged that the Cavs are willing to trade Wiggins for Love. These reports drew upon an article by Cleveland Morning Journal writer Bob Finnan, who wrote the following:

Up until this point, it was assumed the Cavs wanted to hang onto Wiggins, largely because of comments made by Coach David Blatt. However, a source said James wants the 6-10, 250-pound Love on the roster. And, what James wants, he normally gets.

The thinking is that Wiggins is going to be a very good player, a possible All-Star player, in time. But he’s raw. He’s a long way away from reaching that potential. Love is an All-Star caliber player now. The union of James, Kyrie Irving and Love could be a championship in the making.

kevin-love-minnesota-timberwolvesFinnan added that the full deal for Love could include Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a first-round pick. However, it’s worth adding that until anything is made official, the sudden reversal on not trading Wiggins is straight from the rumor mill. In an Associated Press article written by Jon Krawcyznski, two league sources say that Cleveland’s refusal to include the 19-year-old in any deal stands. Here’s a look at an excerpt from Krawcyznski’s article:

But two people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that the Cavaliers’ position has remained unchanged and that no offer including Wiggins has been made to Minnesota. The people requested anonymity because neither team was publicly commenting on trade talks.

“Rumors are rumors. That’s why they call them rumors,” Cavs coach David Blatt said. “Sooner or later in one’s career, you’re going to have to deal with it. If he has to deal with it now, then so be it. It’s summer league. He’s learning everything as he goes along.”

Original trade rumors had the Cavs offering Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and a number one pick to Minnesota for Love. However, word had it that the Timberwolves countered by wanting Wiggins included in any potential deal.

andrew-wiggins-minnesota-trade-1Assuming what’s been said about Cleveland not wanting to trade Wiggins is true, it’s easy to see why. The Toronto native is currently having a good summer league, averaging 15.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG and 1.5 BPG in four contests so far. He’s also displayed some incredible athleticism on dunks and blocked shots, foreshadowing the dominating two-way player that he could one day become.

However, those who favor getting a Kevin Love deal done as quickly as possible point out that Wiggins is only shooting 40.2% from the field through four games. Furthermore, he may not be polished enough just yet to serve as an immediate star during LeBron’s unknown tenure in Cleveland.

By getting Love, the Cavs ensure that they’re an immediate favorite in the East and potentially to win the NBA Championship. The 6’10” power forward averaged 26.1 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 4.4 APG and shot 37.6% from the three-point line. Love is actually the only player in NBA history to average over 26 PPG, 12 RPG, 4 APG and make 190 three-pointers.

Given his versatility, Minnesota knows that they have a great asset for any team that wants to trade. However, their leverage in any kind of deal may be sliding because Love has announced that he won’t re-sign with the Timberwolves next summer. This leaves the team needing to get rid of Love by the mid-season trade deadline or take a chance on improving as a team and hoping that the star reconsiders his previous statement.

Sources say Cleveland Cavaliers will take Joel Embiid with No. 1 Pick

joel-embiid-number-one-pickThe improbable happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers when they landed the 2014 NBA Draft’s top pick. Boasting just the ninth best odds (1.7% chance) of getting the number-one pick, the ping pong balls bounced Cleveland’s way and gave them the top selection. This is now the second straight year that they’ll be picking first on June 26th.

Last year, Cleveland didn’t do so well in the draft as they took UNLV’s Anthony Bennett number one. This was an unconventional pick, to say the least, as Bennett was already injured at the time and considered a project. He’s still widely considered a project, having averaged 4.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 35.6% shooting, and 24.5% three-point shooting. Given these numbers, Bennett could be years away from being a true NBA contributor.

Now, it’s up to new GM David Griffin to succeed where Chris Grant failed so miserably with the number-one pick. Griffin already has a huge advantage because the 2014 NBA Draft talent pool is much, much stronger than 2013’s crop. Some of the names that have been thrown around for this year’s first selection could’ve easily topped the 2013 Draft. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Dante Exum and Jabari Parker are all potential top choices.

So who does Cleveland have their eye on with a month left before the draft? Initially, it looked like they could be leaning towards Andrew Wiggins. The 6’8″ Canadian has been on the radar of NBA scouts for the past several years and did nothing to hurt his stock with 17.1 PPG and 5.9 RPG at Kansas. Here’s a look at what ESPN’s Chad Ford wrote a few days ago:

Sources in Cleveland say that Wiggins is the likely choice. The team feels he has the most long-term potential, helps them defensively right out of the gate, can replace Dion Waiters in the starting lineup while adding character to the team.

Interestingly enough, though, Wiggins figures to get some heavy competition from his Jayhawks teammate, Joel Embiid (11.1 PPG, 8.8 RPG). The 7-footer really impressed scouts during a workout hosted by the L.A. Clippers. Embiid was so impressive, in fact, that he quickly made Ford change his tune regarding who’s going number one. Here’s a look at what three different writers had to say on the matter:

 joel-embiid-number-one-pick-1Ford – Embiid quickly re-asserting claim to # 1 pick here. Added muscle, still has quick feet & a beautiful jumper. No evidence of back issues. Just spoke with Embiid. Told me his back is 100 percent. Been working out hard for last 3 weeks. Embiid said he’s gained 15 pounds. Up to 265. Still getting back into shape. Got a bit winded in workout but still looked quick & explosive.

Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo Sports – Watching Joel Embiid in workout for league executives in Santa Monica. Impossible to imagine passing on him at No. 1.

Adam Zagoria, SNY.tv – “I did not see any issues with his back,” one veteran NBA scout on hand at the workout told SNY.tv. “He looked very agile and athletic.”

“He looks great,” a second scout said. “Running, jumping, dunking, bent up like a pretzel in warmups and stretching exercises. Had two ex-NBA bigs [Brian Scalabrine and Will Perdue] banging on him underneath. He passed the eyeball test big time. Move him up. “He helped himself today.”

Cleveland already has some good pieces in place to make themselves a playoff-caliber basketball team. And adding a super-talented big man like Embiid could give them the missing piece to become a postseason lock in the East. But then again, so could adding a shooting guard like Wiggins, who already seems NBA-ready. Likewise, many scouts believe that Parker (19.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG) will also make an immediate impact at the next level.

Another option for Cleveland would be trading their top pick. Since the Cavaliers already have enough young talent in Kyrie Irving, Waiters and Tristan Thompson, they would do well to add a veteran All-Star to the mix. But like the three writers above mentioned, Embiid’s talent and potential may be too much to pass up on.

Cleveland Cavaliers can’t make a Decision on moving Dion Waiters

dion-waiters-clevelandWe’re now just a couple of weeks away from the 2014 NBA trade deadline. And the Cleveland Cavaliers are one of the more likely teams to make a huge deal before the February 20th deadline. Going further, this could mean moving starting shooting guard Dion Waiters, whose attitude has apparently worn thin on teammates and coaches.

Despite his immaturity and clashes with team star Kyrie Irving, this is no easy decision for the Cavaliers. After all, they invested the fourth overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft on Waiters. It’s not like he’s been a bad player either, averaging 14.2 PPG and shooting 38.1% from beyond the three-point line. On top of this, owner Dan Gilbert also loves Waiters’ talent

So will Cleveland actually move a player who could bring them back something significant? Gilbert may not want to do this. However, the driving force behind getting rid of Waiters is the team’s record, which is a miserable 16-32. And shaking up the roster by trading their shooting guard could have a very positive effect on the Cavs.

dion-waiters-cleveland-1They were built to win this season and, at the very least, grab a playoff seed in the extremely weak Eastern Conference. Veterans like Andrew Bynum, Earl Clark, and Jarrett Jack were brought in to provide bench depth and experience on what was supposed to be a good team. The Bynum experiment blew up in the organization’s face, but he did serve a purpose since Cleveland was able to deal his expiring contract for two-time NBA All-Star Luol Deng.

Unfortunately, not even Deng has been able to spark a turnaround with this struggling club. In fact, Deng seems repulsed by what he’s seen in Cleveland so far. He reportedly told a friend “the stuff going on in practice would never be tolerated by the coaching staff or the front office back in Chicago. It’s a mess.” Deng was particularly offended by how certain players talk to head coach Mike Brown, threaten not to play after halftime, and when Waiters was kicked out of practice, yet still played starter’s minutes in the next game.

The latter point is very telling of the root of Cleveland’s problems. Waiters seems to feel entitled and shows little respect for Brown. None of the players seem to have quite the star power to keep him in check either. Deng is new to this situation and is probably just trying to play out the season so he can leave in free agency, while Irving is an All-Star, but doesn’t yet have the accomplishments to help control a locker room.

Obviously the team that’s been assembled isn’t getting things done on the court. So Cleveland either needs to move Waiters while they have a chance, or accept another year without the postseason and look towards the draft…again.

2014 NBA All-Star Game to feature 4 First-Time Starters

paul-george-pacersThere’s not normally a lot of turnover when it comes to NBA All-Star game starters. Fans usually vote big-name veterans in as starters, whether they’re injured or healthy. Case in point, Kobe Bryant has played all of six games this season, but he was still voted into the All-Star contest.

Speaking of which, Bryant had previously said that the game needs to feature some younger players. And he’ll get his wish because four first-time All-Stars were also voted in as starters too. Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Paul George and Stephen Curry all garnered enough fan votes to start in their first All-Star contest.

Many were surprised that Curry wasn’t selected as a starter or reserve last year. But he won’t have to worry about that this season after garnering lots of fan votes. Love is another interesting story because he passed Dwight Howard just before the voting closed. “Hey, I’m popular now,” Love said jokingly. “It’s very humbling to me to be starting in the All-Star game. I tip my hat to the fans in the Twin Cities and all over Minnesota and beyond.”

stephen-curryIt’s little surprise that George was voted in as a starter. He’s led Indiana to the league’s best record so far and is averaging 23.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 3.4 APG. Kyrie Irving has also put up some very solid numbers, with 21.7 PPG, 6.1 APG and 3.0 RPG. Amidst a weak crop of Eastern Conference point guards, Irving definitely stands out, even with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles.

The 2014 NBA All-Star reserves will be announced on January 30th, two weeks before the game takes place on February 16th in New Orleans. We’ll cover the entire All-Star game rosters when they’re released, but for now, here’s a look at the starters.

Eastern Conference

Kyrie Irving, PG Cleveland Cavaliers – 21.7 PPG, 6.1 APG, 3.0 RPG
Dwayne Wade, SG Miami Heat – 18.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.7 APG
Paul George, SF Indiana Pacers – 23.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.4 APG
LeBron James, SF Miami Heat – 26.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 6.5 APG
Carmelo Anthony, SF New York Knicks – 26.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 3.1 APG

Western Conference

Stephen Curry, PG Golden State Warriors – 23.5 PPG, 9.2 APG, 4.6 RPG
Kobe Bryant, SG Los Angeles Lakers – 13.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 4.3 RPG
Kevin Durant, SF Oklahoma City Thunder – 31.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 5.1 APG
Blake Griffin, PF Los Angeles Clippers – 22.6 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 3.5 APG
Kevin Love, PF Minnesota Timberwolves – 25.0 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 4.1 APG