Landing spots for top NBA free agents

Just 24 hours. That’s all that remains between now and the start of NBA free agency. It seems that every year now serves up a bunch of all stars hitting the open market. Part of that is just how the NBA is structured. Here is where a number of this year’s top players should end up when free agency is all said and done.

Some thoughts before I begin. I really like Boston landing Tobias Harris. He would be a great young piece for the Celtics to include as they continue to rebuild. Paul Millsap, Kawhi Leonard and Enes Kanter should all stay with their current teams. As should DeAndre Jordan and Tyson Chandler. Now to the really big names.

Kevin_Love_CavsKevin Love
2014 team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2015 team: Indiana Pacers
I have talked about this before. Love did not f    it into the Cleveland offense. He struggled as he became solely a jump shooter. He still performed decently well given the circumstances. He opted out of his deal to give the Cavs some financial flexibility and I think he will return to Cleveland. However, I think he should head to Indiana. David West just opted out of his contract and the Pacers are looking to unload Roy Hibbert. Sounds like they are going to need a lot more rebounding going forward. Love provides that plus tons of scoring potential for a team that finished 24th in points per game a year ago. I like Love playing with a great setup man in George Hill and a guy who can thrive off the ball in Paul George. This could be a good step in Indiana returning to the playoffs.

Jimmy Butler
2014 team: Chicago BullsBulls during_a_timeout
2015 team: Dallas Mavericks
Butler is going to demand a max deal from whoever signs him, which makes a return to the Bulls difficult due to their financial constraints. He could go to Indiana if they don’t land Love and continue to thrive in a defensive system. The best place for him though would be Dallas. Butler would land with a contender out west in desperate need of a defensive injection. You can bet that Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis are not coming back next season so that should provide the financial flexibility needed to sign him. Butler would add a lockdown defender to a team that allowed the sixth most point per game a season ago. The 25-year old would be a much needed piece to help Dallas push toward another title with Nowitzki still in town.

Dwyane_WadeDwyane Wade
2014 team: Miami Heat
2015 team: Anyone but Miami (Atlanta Hawks)
Team basketball has been what Dwayne has been about for the last dozen years and what Atlanta put into practice last season. Miami isn’t willing to pay Wade for his services but you can bet Atlanta would love to nab the aging superstar. Paying Wade shouldn’t be too much of a problem with Demarre Carroll and Elton Brand likely not coming back. The Hawks have a ton of depth meaning Wade could play only 28 minutes a game and the team would not tank. Keeping Wade healthy will be easy and Atlanta would have a proven scorer to turn to when at clutch time in the playoffs. The whole Cleveland series seemed to be the Hawks looking for someone to step up. Wade has no problem doing that and could make Atlanta the favorite in the east next season.

LaMarcus_AldridgeLaMarcus Aldridge
2014 team: Portland Trailblazers
2015 team: Portland Trailblazers
At 29-years old, Aldridge isn’t getting any younger. Obviously, he still has some good years left in him but the clock is ticking. That would make you think he would try to bolt to another team poised for a title run. The best thing though would be to stay in Portland. Damian Lillard is still improving and if Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews return on similar deals to last year this team could be in a good position to compete again in the west. Obviously, this isn’t as fun as seeing Aldridge go to the Lakers, the Knicks or even the Spurs but it makes a lot of sense for Aldridge and the Trailblazers. They just brought in some really good depth in Mason Plumlee and Pat Connaughton. Give this core a year or two and they could one of the top teams in the rugged west.

Marc GasolMarc_Gasol
2014 team: Memphis Grizzlies
2015 team: Milwaukee Bucks
Michael Carter-Williams, O.J. Mayo, Giannis Antetokoumpo, Jabari Parker and Marc Gasol. That would be quite the starting lineup. Gasol is one of, if not the best passing big in the game right now. He averages almost four assists per night and should ignite Milwaukee’s offense. This team made the playoffs as the sixth seed without Parker last season. Bring in Gasol to play with a healthy Parker and suddenly the frontcourt for the Bucks looks drastically better. This move makes a lot of sense too with Larry Sanders leaving in the middle of last season. Zaza Pachulia is nothing special, Gasol is. With a ton of depth on the roster already, the Bucks could become a contender in the east within a year or two with Gasol as the centerpiece.

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King James turns back the clocks

LeBron JamesIt is always fun to turn back the clocks and reminisce about the days of old. LeBron James is doing that and then some right now in the NBA Playoffs. James has been on fire in the Eastern Conference Finals and is showing shades of his 2007 self. Even beyond that, this current Cavs team is starting to resemble the 2007 versions more and more as the playoffs roll on. It is slowly morphing into the LeBron show with a couple of random sidekicks jumping in every night to make an impact. The comparison is kind of scary.

The 2007 Cavaliers finished the season number two in the conference and entered the playoffs as a true title contender. James led the way and carried a team full of relatively unknown commodities. The starting lineup around LeBron consisted of Larry Hughes, Sasha Pavlović, Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskus. None of those guys were superstars by any means, and none of them scored more than 15 points a game in the regular season.

Obviously, this year’s Cavs have some more fire power but the pieces are continuing to fall as more of the burden falls on James. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love both are nursing injuries that could cost them the rest of the playoffs. The Cavaliers starting lineup now features Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov alongside James. None of these guys have average more than 14 points a game since the playoffs began.LeBron_James_Wiz

Once again, the King is forced to prove why he sits on the throne. LeBron has done a very good job of answering the call so far. In three games without Irving or Love on the floor this postseason, James has tallied 27.3 points, 11.7 assists and 12 rebounds per night. Everyone points to that 2007 squad as the team that LeBron single-handedly brought to the finals, but he only average 25 points along with 8 helpers and 8 boards. Despite being 8 years older, James is playing even better now.

LeBron_James_Defensively, James is playing like his younger self as well. After registering 1.6 steals and 0.7 blocks per contest during the regular season, James has turned it up a notch. The King is now posting 1.8 thefts and 1.3 rejections on a nightly basis since he’s entered the playoffs. Those numbers are identical as well to his 2007 playoff numbers.

The amazing thing is the transformation LeBron has undergone in that time. His game is very different now than it was 8 years ago but James is still proving to be productive. James is relying on his three-point shot less than ever and playing a lot more around the hoop. In fact 50.3 of James shots have come within ten feet this postseason. He continues to bang with guys in the paint and slash his way to the basket. What a difference this is now from what we saw when James relied on his jump shot and post fadeaway more often than not.

He does better with opponents around him too. LeBron has attempted 60 percent of his shots with an opponent less than four feet away from him. He has connected on 49 percent of them. Oddly enough, on the other 40 percent of his shots where an opponent is more than four feet away, James has only hit about 33 percent of those shots. This doesn’t take into account where he was on the floor but it is certainly interesting to see that he seems to relish some contact.LeBron_James_vs_Andre_Roberson

This was supposed to be a competitive Cleveland team because of the new Big 3 that was planning to take the league by storm. With only LeBron left standing of those three, they are still as viable a title threat now as they were before. Part of that is because of the three-point shooting from Dellavedova, Shumpert and J.R. Smith. Mozgov and Thompson’s rebounding certainly go a long way as well but without James this team would not have a prayer of beating Atlanta, much less winning a title.

Irving should return soon though and if he does at full strength this Cleveland team could challenge Golden State in the Finals. They would be deep enough at guard to contend with the Warriors backcourt rotation and they can answer with some three-pointers of their own. I am pulling for a Warriors-Cavaliers matchup now just because of the intensity that series could bring. James would likely faced Draymond Green on a night-to-night basis, which would be a great matchup. LeBron is hitting his stride at the right time so even Green might have trouble King James.

2007 might be long behind him but if James continues to play like he’s 23, he might just land himself another title and really turn up the heat on the conversation for greatest player of all time.

Some Love lost in Cleveland

The Cleveland Cavaliers have returned to being one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference this year with LeBron James’ return home. However, this team has its fair share of deficiencies, starting with how players fit together on the floor. It is no secret that Kevin Love has had a tough year. He has been a decent contributor but not at the level that the Cavs thought he would play when they acquired him last summer.

Love is posting career lows as a starter in attempts per game and makes per game this year. His shooting percentage is at its worst mark in a season where Love has started at least 20 games. His rebound average is the lowest it has been since his rookie year. On top of all of that, Love’s scoring has dipped by almost ten points this season. He clearly does not fit with the Cavaliers. Realistically, Love will likely leave Cleveland at the end of the season with his contract set to expire. Here are the best places that Love could land next offseason.

Minnesota Timberwolves: This would be the icing on the cake for the T-Wolves. Getting Love back and hanging on to Wiggins. Essentially, the Cavaliers would have traded for the 3-time All-star in exchange for clearing Anthony Bennett of the books. This is not the most likely scenario, as Minnesota will probably be looking elsewhere to spend their money. With a ton of youth, the Wolves could look to sign a veteran power forward instead. Either way, the Wolves have a need at the position and Love would certainly fit their system. However, Minnesota ranks as the worst defensive team in the league. Love, who is primarily an offense first player, would be benefit from playing elsewhere.

New Orleans Pelicans: With Omar Asik’s contract about to expire, he could become expendable. Enter Love and suddenly, the Pelicans have one of the best duos in basketball in their frontcourt. Anthony Davis and Love teamed up together could be scary. Love would also assuredly benefit from Davis’ shot blocking presence, negated much of his poor play defensively. Unfortunately, Love could run into the same problem that he has in Cleveland. There would be a lot of mouths to feed in New Orleans with Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Davis and Love all wanting high volume touches.

Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks are one of the best defensive squads in basketball and with Larry Sanders unlikely to return, the Bucks could use a new body in their frontcourt. Love’s addition to Milwaukee could pose some problems with Jabari Parker’s return next season and Giannis Antetokounmpo already stationed at small forward. Love would be able to take over as a lead scorer on this team though as the Bucks have zero front court players scoring more than ten points per game. Plus, with Milwaukee ranking at 25th in rebounds per night, adding Love would be a welcome addition.

Indiana Pacers: The odds that this one happens might be the highest of any team. It makes a lot of sense to me. Love is a great scorer and can play alongside one other top scorer in Paul George. He would join a team that is one of the best defensively in the league, which is a perfect fit for Love. On top of that, he would play alongside a great rim protector in Roy Hibbert and an excellent distributor in George Hill. And no one else on the Pacers requires a ton of touches except for George, which creates a nice opening for Love to come in and be an elite scorer. This moves when it is broken down makes a ton of sense and would propel Indiana into the conversation of best team in the East if George returns the same.

Love might return to Cleveland because he wants a shot at a championship but he would be smart to walk away. This is not the best spot for him and he would benefit tremendously playing elsewhere. It will be an interesting year in free agency and teams would likely be willing to spend a year in biting the bullet of the luxury tax knowing that the 2016 offseason will provide a massive boost to the cap. Getting a top offense weapon like Love in a weaker offseason will be a smart move for an offensive needy team. Now it just remains to be seen who will make a run for the former UCLA product.

What’s wrong with the Cavaliers?

Cleveland was finally supposed to have something to be proud of regarding sports. This city was supposed to see an NBA superstar team rise up with the acquisition of LeBron James and Kevin Love this offseason. Those two, paired with Kyrie Irving were expected to turn the Cavaliers into a top 3 team in the Eastern Conference and compete for a spot in the NBA Finals. However, this team has been average at best. James has not been as dominant as usual. Love has struggled to find his where he fits into the offense on this team. With Cleveland announcing that center Anderson Varejao has been lost for the year due to a torn Achilles, this team does not seem to be in good shape.

They sit fifth in the Eastern Conference through 32 games and would be set for series against Chicago in the first round if the season ended today. The Cavs’ point differential is an average +2.5 and rank near the middle of the league in both points for and points against (13th and 14th). LeBron and company rank 11th in shooting percentage but a lowly 25th in shooting percentage against. This team commits the same number of turnovers as it generates. Every aspect of this team shouts average. The Cavaliers do not seem to do anything especially well, other than maybe scoring fast break points. With all of the moves the Cleveland front office made spanning for landing James in free agency, to mortgaging the team’s future on Love, to bringing in a new head coach in David Blatt, to signing veterans Mike Miller, James Jones and Shawn Marion. This Cavs team resembles nothing of what it did a year ago. And it has drastically improved, just not to the level it was expect to reach. Now it is time to uncover what is holding them back.

The biggest issue has been Love’s contribution to the team. The power forward was good in Minnesota as a scorer and rebounder. Part of that though was due to the sheer volume of the offense that ran through the former Timberwolf. Love is taking close to six fewer shots per game this season than last season and his shooting percentage has dropped from 45.7% to 43.4% from the field. From beyond the arc, the drop is even worse as Love has declined from 37.6% to 33.8%. As a result, Love’s scoring average has dropped from 26.1 to 17.1. On top of that, the All Star forward has seen his rebounding totals drop from 12.5 to 10.2. Much of this can be explained away by James and Irving’s offensive skill while Love is trying to learn a new system but this is a fairly large decline in production. Love does not really fit in well for Cleveland. The Cavs really need a defensive presence around the basket and he does not provide it. The best thing the Cleveland brass can hope to do is trade Love away in exchange for a couple of draft picks, a little more depth and, most importantly, a rim protector.

Another major setback for the Cavs has been the lack of production from role players. Players like offseason acquisitions Miller, Jones and Marion have fallen flat while younger talent such as Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson have failed to make enough of an impact. Waiters is the only player averaging over 10 points per game. Marion is averaging just over five points and Jones and Miller are averaging less than four points per game. If we saw anything from the James’ days with Miami, it was that role players make a huge impact on a team when they play well. Without them, it is very hard to be a top team in the league.

LeBron also hasn’t been the same dominant player he used to be either. He is scoring two points fewer per game. More importantly, his shooting percentage has dropped from 56.7% to 48.8%. That is a huge drop off and it hurts the Cavaliers due to James’ overall drop in efficiency. His rebound numbers are down by about two per game as well while his assists are on the rise. LeBron is morphing slightly this season but his transformation has not been enough to benefit the Cavaliers. He also has had all of the minutes he has played catch up to him as well. LeBron has missed a few games this season and has been playing banged up throughout the entire season to date.

This combination of players has essentially been a bit of an experiment. Mixing Irving, who is a score first point guard, Love, who relies on his outside shooting opportunity and a high usage percentage, and James, who is arguably the best pure scorer in the league behind Kevin Durant does not translate to success. These three players are each talented in their own right but do not mesh well as a team. This is not a team that is capable of winning a championship with its current roster. This offseason will surely see a lot of changes for the Cavaliers. There is a reason the James only signed a two-year contract. He wanted to be sure this would all work out. Do not be surprised if he looks to leave Cleveland again when it expires unless the roster is seriously overhauled. It simply does not work right now. I do not think it will ever work. The best thing for Cleveland would be to rework the lineup and find a pure point guard and a defensive big man in exchange for Love while switching Irving to more of a scoring guard role. All of this is unlikely but that’s the only way this team will be successful while keeping its current core.