Kyrie Irving

Spurs Tried Hard To Acquire Kyrie Irving

Back when he was on the trade block in July and August, Kyrie Irving reportedly had San Antonio on his list of preferred destinations. And according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Spurs weren’t just a bystander as the Cavaliers were considering their options. The Spurs “tried really, really hard” to land Irving, Woj said on ESPN late last night, per Ramona Shelburne (Twitter link).

Patty Mills, Tony Parker, and Dejounte Murray have handled point guard duties for the Spurs this season, and while they’ve been solid, the team clearly would have received a boost at the position by trading for Irving. However, it’s not clear what sort of package the front office could have put together that would have enticed the Cavs.

Unlike the Celtics, the Spurs weren’t holding any particularly attractive draft assets, since their own future first-round picks are unlikely to land in the lottery. LaMarcus Aldridge, who had yet to sign his new contract extension when Irving was dealt, could have been a trade chip. Danny Green probably would have appealed to Cleveland as well, but if the Cavs wanted to acquire a starting-caliber point guard for Irving, finding a match would have been tricky — Parker is 35 years old, Mills won’t be trade-eligible until January 15, and the 21-year-old Murray isn’t yet ready for a huge role.

While the Spurs’ pursuit of Irving didn’t pan out, Woj’s report on their strong interest in the former Cavs guard is the latest indication that San Antonio continues to explore ways to add star power, particularly at the point guard spot. The Spurs were also frequently linked to Chris Paul last spring before he was traded to Houston.

MacMullan’s Latest: Irving, LeBron, Cavs, Suns

With Isaiah Thomas having returned to the Cavaliers on Tuesday, and the Cavs now poised to square off against the Celtics on Wednesday, it only makes sense to revisit one of the 2017 offseason’s biggest trades. ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan has done just that, taking a deep dive into the factors that led to Kyrie Irving heading from Cleveland to Boston.

Along the way, MacMullan passes along several noteworthy tidbits — while the whole piece is worth checking out, especially for Cavs and Celtics fans, we’ve rounded up some of the most interesting details below:

  • While Irving made his trade request in July, the Cavaliers explored the possibility of moving the point guard in June, which MacMullan suggests contributed to Irving’s decision to ask out of Cleveland. “They didn’t want me there,” Irving said of the Cavs. Former teammate LeBron James disputes that notion, which he says “makes absolutely no sense.”
  • One deal the Cavs explored in June would have sent Irving and Channing Frye to the Suns and resulted in both Paul George and Eric Bledsoe landing in Cleveland. However, Phoenix balked at that deal, since the club was unwilling to give up the No. 4 overall pick, says MacMullan. A few days later, the Pacers dealt George to the Thunder instead.
  • Although no formal offer was made during those negotiations, Irving caught wind of the talks and believed they were orchestrated by James’ camp, since LeBron shares an agent with Bledsoe. Team and league sources suggest otherwise, telling MacMullan that former Cavs GM David Griffin sensed that an Irving trade request may be coming and initiated talks with the Suns.
  • When Irving and his agent met with the Cavaliers on July 9, they pressed owner Dan Gilbert about the team’s direction, and mentioned the Spurs, Knicks, and Timberwolves as preferred landing spots for Irving. Boston didn’t come up during that meeting, but Gilbert coveted the Nets‘ 2018 first-round pick that was held by the Celtics, and Irving’s camp didn’t oppose a deal to the C’s.
  • When the Celtics emerged as a viable trade partner for Irving and the Cavs, Gilbert went to James and attempted to secure a promise that he’d stay in Cleveland beyond the 2017/18 season, but LeBron declined to commit, sources tell MacMullan.

Celtics Rumors: Thomas, All-Star Game, Irving, Schedule

Celtics GM Danny Ainge is baffled by Isaiah Thomas recent criticism of the team’s former medical staff, he said in a weekly radio interview that was relayed by Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports. Thomas called out the Celtics in an ESPN interview, saying he would have sat out last postseason if he knew he’d have a long-term recovery from his hip injury. Speaking on 98.5 FM The Sports Hub, Ainge said he was blindsided by the comment. “As you remember, he had a pretty special playoff run, including a 53-point game, but I really don’t remember what he’s referring to,” Ainge said. The Celtics did not retain their trainer and strength coach but Ainge declared it had nothing to do with their handling of Thomas’ injury.

In other news regarding the Celtics:

  • The team hasn’t hosted an All-Star Game since 1964 but owner Wyc Grousbeck is hoping to change that, Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe reports. The team has been reluctant to apply for hosting the annual event because of the way the league distributes tickets but Grousbeck is willing to accept its terms. “We can’t get all of our fans into the game, all of our season ticket-holders,” Grousbeck said. “We have a season ticket-holder wait list and relatively few of our season ticket-holders would be able to come to a game that we host. But nonetheless, we’re going to get a (application) package and see if we can work something out.” The earliest that could happen is 2022 because the league has already booked other venues prior to that year.
  • Coach Brad Stevens has managed Kyrie Irving‘s minutes and the star point guard is fine with that approach, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of NBCSports.com. Irving is averaging 32.2 MPG, compared to 35.1 MPG in his last season with the Cavaliers. “Whatever is needed, I’m willing to do for the team,” Irving told the assembled media. “And I know Brad will echo the same things, so I trust what he’s got going on.”
  • Fatigue is a factor in the Celtics’ inconsistent play of late, Chris Forsberg of ESPN notes. Boston has endured a front-loaded schedule  in which it plays half of its games in 79 days, Forsberg points out. The Celtics will play their final 41 games over a 97-day stretch.

Celtics Planned To Use Hayward As No. 2 Playmaker

The Celtics planned to run a Warriors-style offense this season prior to Gordon Hayward‘s serious leg injury on opening night, Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated reports. The coaching staff wanted to utilize Hayward as a second ballhandler with Kyrie Irving running the attack. Many of Boston’s sets centered around Irving and Hayward playing a two-man game in the mold of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with the Boston duo making plays off weakside screens and pindowns, Jenkins continues. Forward Al Horford would have also had a playmaking role, much like the Warriors’ Draymond Green, spacing the floor and distributing the ball to cutters. Without Hayward, Irving has been relied upon more as a scorer and Horford’s playmaking duties have been expanded, Jenkins adds.

Other nuggets from the SI piece on Hayward include:

  • GM Danny Ainge sees a healthy Hayward as the missing piece to a championship team. “What do we need? A versatile 6’8” defender who can switch one through four, handle the ball, create offense for others and make shots,” Ainge told Jenkins. “That’s what we need. That’s Gordon Hayward.”
  • It’s not out of the question Hayward could return this season if the Celtics make a deep playoff run. Hayward is trying to be realistic about his situation, so that he doesn’t set himself up for disappointment. “Wishing to be on the court, trying to be on the court, those are the thoughts that kept me up at night,” he told Jenkins.
  • Hayward’s predicament led to deeper bond among his teammates. That helped the Celtics get off to a strong start without him. “I think Gordon’s injury made us closer,” guard Terry Rozier told Jenkins.

Pacific Notes: Carter, Randle, Jackson

While 40-year-old veteran Vince Carter was brought to a rebuilding Kings team to provide experience and leadership, he was signed as a player and not a coach for a reason, Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee writes.

That reason, Carter and Kings head coach Dave Joerger agree, is to support the development of the team’s young players on and off the court. Although Carter did miss a handful of games with kidney stones last month, his goal when he’s healthy and active is to teach his teammates to play the right way – by  leading by example.

Sure, Jones writes, Carter’s 11.7 minutes per game could go to Kings rookie Justin Jackson or raw sophomore Malachi Richardson, but his presence adds credibility to the organization in transition.

I think the worst thing you can do is trot five freshmen and sophomores out there together,” Joerger said. “I’ve been told that by many, many people in management, and those who’ve gone through a rebuild. You try to have a nice mix.

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • The Lakers have emerged as a solid defensive force this season and much of that can be attributed to reserve forward Julius Randle. Joey Ramirez of the team’s official site writes that Randle’s versatility on that side of the ball – he’s adept checking everything from perimeter players to big men – can be chalked up to his showing up to training camp in the best shape of his career.
  • Rookie Josh Jackson insists that his opting out of a predraft workout with the Celtics was because of a miscommunication between him and his agent and not because he didn’t want to play for a team stacked with veterans at his position, Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald writes. “I’m not threatened by anybody, ever. I welcome competition,” the Suns forward said.
  • Leave it to Kyrie Irving to understand Devin Booker‘s reality with the SunsA. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston writes that Irving toiled in Cleveland before LeBron James returned much the same way that Booker is in Phoenix. “He already has that mentality of being a killer,” Irving said. “Now it’s just getting pieces around him in order to be at a high level to showcase that.

Central Notes: Turner, Thomas, Calderon

It’s been eight games since Myles Turner returned to action for the Pacers after suffering a concussion in the team’s season opener. The big man, Clifton Brown of the Indianapolis Star writes, has been struggling to find his groove ever since.

The third-year center has failed to top the 13-point plateau in each of the past five games and he hasn’t cracked double-digits in rebounds either. Last season, in contrast, the 21-year-old averaged 14.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game for the Pacers, setting the stage for a significant step forward in the first season without Paul George in the lineup.

Sometimes when you miss games, it sets you back and you lose your rhythm,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “He had some shots that he’s very capable of making. I told him, ‘Don’t get down on yourself. Keep shooting the ball. That rhythm will come for you.'”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • It’s coming, but the Cavaliers are still adapting to life without Kyrie Irving, Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer writes. There has been a noticeable hole in Cleveland’s attack at the point, although injuries to Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose have played a large part of that.
  • The Cavaliers will turn to Jose Calderon to fill a gaping hole at the point guard position, Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com writes. The 36-year-old has only played 6.7 minutes per game for the Cavs this season.
  • The rehabilitation process inherent with Isaiah Thomas‘ hip injury has helped the player build a unique sense of respect with the Cavaliers franchise. “I’m protecting myself, so, even if they wanted me to hurry back, I’m not going to hurry back, just because I’ve got a long career ahead of me and an important summer as well,” Thomas, a pending free agent, told Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. “So, I’ve got to make sure I’m 100 percent healthy before I step out on the floor. But these guys have not rushed me one bit. They’ve taken their time with me and I appreciate that. Because most teams, they want you out there, especially if things aren’t going well.

Nuggets Were Close To Eric Bledsoe Trade

Denver was in the “red zone” on a potential trade for Eric Bledsoe last month, according to Zach Lowe of ESPN. Complete details aren’t provided, but Lowe believes Phoenix would have received Emmanuel Mudiay and a first-round pick.

Negotiations with the Suns eventually fell apart and the Nuggets moved on, leaving them with an extremely young point guard duo in Mudiay and Jamal Murray.

“We chase every opportunity to improve ourselves,” said Denver GM Tim Connelly, who refused to comment directly on the Bledsoe talks. “We’ve had a lot of excellent players offered to us for our young talent. There’s a fine line between overvaluing your own players and being too aggressive chasing short-term results.”

The decision not to give up too much for Bledsoe is understandable, writes Lowe, who says he wouldn’t have made made the Nuggets title contenders this season or next. After that, he will be seeking a huge contract as a free agent in his 30s with a history of knee problems.

Lowe also notes that Denver had an opportunity to make a run at Kyrie Irving over the summer, but refused to include Murray in a potential deal. He believes a package of Murray, Wilson Chandler and a minimally protected first-rounder would have gotten the Cavaliers’ attention.

The experience issue at point guard was created just before the season started when the Nuggets elected to waive Jameer Nelson, who played 75 games last season and started 39. Denver worked out a deal to trade him to a lower-level team in exchange for a protected second-round pick, but pulled out because the front office didn’t want Nelson to be stuck on a team with no shot at the playoffs. He eventually signed with the Pelicans after clearing waivers.

“It was tough to see Jameer go,” coach Mike Malone said. “The players trusted him. I find value in veteran mentors. In our meetings, of course I brought up all the reasons it made sense to keep him. But you have to think big picture. It wasn’t like I was kicking and screaming. By the end, we were all on board.”

Atlantic Notes: Irving, Celtics, Crabbe, Raptors

Kyrie Irving won’t be sidelined long by a facial fracture he suffered Friday night, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical. Irving is doubtful for Sunday’s game, the Celtics announced today, but he plans to get a facemask and resume playing as soon as possible. Sources tell Charania that Irving should need the mask for about two weeks.

The injury, which is being called minor, occurred early in Friday’s game when Irving was accidentally elbowed in the face by teammate Aron Baynes. Irving has emerged as an early MVP candidate, posting 20.3 points and 5.2 assists per night while helping the Celtics rise to a league-best 11-2 despite the loss of Gordon Hayward.

There’s more news from around the Atlantic Division:

  • Unexpected contributions from several players have helped the Celtics remain successful after the loss of Hayward, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. Rookie Jayson Tatum and second-year player Jaylen Brown have taken on more responsibility, while Terry Rozier, Shane Larkin and Daniel Theis have become valuable role players. “We’ve been preaching next man up forever,” Rozier told Chris Forsberg of ESPN. “Lately, our team is dropping like flies. You just gotta be ready. Shane did a great job, stepping up, coming in [Friday]. Like you said, you just never know in this league when your number is going to be called. We did a good job handling that.”
  • Nets guard Allen Crabbe didn’t hide his nostalgia for Portland when he returned to the city Friday for the first time since a July trade, relays Joe Freeman of The Oregonian. Crabbe spent four seasons with the Trail Blazers before the deal and says he still has fond feelings for the organization. However, he believes he has a greater opportunity to become a full-time player in Brooklyn. “It’s everything an NBA player would want,” Crabbe said. “To be a key piece to a team. I don’t think it was going to happen [in Portland].”
  • Changes in philosophy are resulting in fewer shots for Raptors stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, notes Scott Stinson of The National Post. Toronto has been emphasizing ball movement and 3-point shooting, resulting in three fewer shots and three fewer points per game for DeRozan and four fewer shots and nearly 10 fewer points for Lowry.

Atlantic Notes: Celtics, Nets, Miles

Despite losing two of their most notable defenders over the course of the offseason, the new-look Celtics boast an imposing defensive front thanks to returning defensive quarterback Al Horford and new addition Kyrie Irving, Chris Forsberg of ESPN writes.

In fact, if the NBA season were to end today, the Celtics would have the highest defensive rating (95.9) of any team since the 2004/05 Spurs. That’s a franchise improvement of 9.6 points over last season, a fact even more impressive when you consider that in addition to the new faces, the club also heavily features youth in their lineup, starting both 21-year-old Jaylen Brown and 19-year-old Jayson Tatum.

As Forsberg writes, the Celtics may have lost defensive skill over the summer but they gained length. By replacing Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder with Irving, Brown and Tatum, the club gained more than a foot in height.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • A profile on new Nets minority owner Joe Tsai reveals that the Alibaba co-founder’s favorite player is Jeremy Lin, Marc Berman of the New York Post writes. Tsai also praised second-year swingman Caris LeVert.
  • The Raptors haven’t relied heavily on C.J. Miles from beyond the arc but his presence on the perimeter has served as a decoy for the Raptors’ offense, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star writes. “He is a product of great spacing,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “He helps our spacing and that is one reason why the roll guy is so productive. They are hugged up on him [out beyond the arc], which is great, and to me that is just as good as C.J. knocking down a three or even getting an attempt.
  • While the plan was to keep Marcus Morris on a minute restriction following his return from a knee injury, injuries to other players have impacted that strategy. A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston writes that the newly acquired Celtics forward has been called upon to play 22-25 minutes but that they’ll see how his body responds on a game-by-game basis.

Cavaliers Notes: Bledsoe, Okafor, Wade, Irving

The Cavaliers were among the teams mentioned when the Eric Bledsoe trade request first went public, but Cleveland should pass on the Suns guard, writes Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. In response to a reader’s question, Vardon says Bledsoe doesn’t solve the Cavs’ need for shooters and his desire to start would muddle an already crowded backcourt.

Bledsoe shot 43% from the floor and 34% from 3-point range last season and wouldn’t stretch opposing defenses the way the Cavaliers need. Bledsoe and LeBron James were workout partners this summer, so they have a connection, but Vardon doesn’t expect Cleveland to offer any significant assets. Phoenix is looking for young talent and valuable draft picks, and apart from Brooklyn’s unprotected first-rounder, the Cavs don’t have much to offer in those areas.

Sources also tell Vardon the team isn’t interested in Sixers center Jahlil Okafor.

There’s more today out of Cleveland:

  • Dwyane Wade won’t rejoin the starting lineup before Isaiah Thomas returns from his hip injury, Vardon adds in the same piece. With Derrick Rose at point guard, the Cavaliers need J.R. Smith starting beside him to provide a 3-point threat. Smith is averaging 5.2 points in nine games this season and struggling with his shot, hitting just .209 from long distance, but he has a history as an effective 3-point shooter. Wade, who hasn’t been much better at .222, started three games at the beginning of the year before asking to be moved to a reserve role.
  • Cleveland hasn’t figured out how to handle the loss of Kyrie Irving, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Irving played a key role in winning three straight Eastern Conference titles and posted a career-best 25.2 points per game last season to go with 5.8 assists. He gave the offense an explosive quality that has been missing so far this year. “One thing I did notice at Miami, teams were afraid of us a little bit,” Wade said in comparing his old Heat teams with the Cavs. “Ain’t nobody afraid. Maybe at some point it will get there, but not right now. Everyone’s playing free, it’s early in the year, and everything’s going right for everybody but us. And we’ve got to figure it out.”
  • Coach Tyronn Lue has expressed a desire to “play with pace,” but Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com isn’t convinced that’s the best approach for the NBA’s oldest team.
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