As deadline nears, can Cavs find deal to make a difference?
By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer
LeBron James says he won’t be traded, though every other move should be on the table for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It’s just unclear if anything can make a difference.
The Cavaliers are a team that’s deeply in a rut and badly in need of a change to jump-start a season that shows signs of slipping away. But they’re down to their final hours to find help via trade, with the deadline set for Thursday afternoon.
Impact players are traded, but this season the biggest ones may have already been moved. Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony all were dealt over the summer, as was Kyrie Irving — in a move that may have backfired for the Cavs. Their former point guard has led Boston to the top of the Eastern Conference, while Isaiah Thomas has struggled in the brief time he’s been available since returning from his hip injury.
Cleveland also acquired the Brooklyn Nets’ No. 1 pick in that deal, a likely high lottery selection. But the type of names most heavily mentioned in the days before this year’s deadline — such as the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams, and Memphis’ Tyreke Evans — aren’t worth such a coveted asset. They can certainly help teams but maybe not ones who seem as far off track as the Cavs, who have dropped 14 of 21 and are barely hanging on to a spot in the top four of the Eastern Conference.
The deadline was moved up this season, with the NBA feeling it would give players who are dealt a chance to use the All-Star break to get acclimated to their new situations. The deadline previously was at the end of the break, and it sure looks like the Cavs wouldn’t want to wait that long this season.
Cleveland has been able to score late-season help in recent years by signing veteran players who had taken buyouts and gone to the waiver wire, but even that kind of move may not be available this time. With so much uncertainty about James’ future, Cleveland may not be an attractive destination to veterans who have other options.
But James’ immediate future is clear. He said Tuesday after a 116-98 loss in Orlando that he would not waive his no-trade clause and would finish the season in Cleveland.
“I couldn’t give up on my teammates like that. I just couldn’t do it,” James said. “We put too much into the game every single day.”
They’re just not getting enough out of it.
Golden State may be tired, but Houston is torrid.
The Rockets have rolled to five straight victories and are tied in the loss column with the Warriors for the best record in the NBA.
The defending champions have been sputtering and have dropped two in a row. Coach Steve Kerr said recently his team appeared tired and needed to get to the All-Star break to get away from each other.
No such worries for the Rockets, who look fresh, thanks in part to injury absences for James Harden and Chris Paul that have lessened their workload.
If the Rockets can keep winning and the Warriors stay slumping, Houston could get to the break in first place and start the sprint to the finish of the regular season from the pole position.
“We just want to keep winning and we obviously can’t control what Golden State does,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They could win every game from here on out. So they’ll go their road and we’ll go ours, but we’re going to try to make a run for it and with all the injuries we have had, we’re not really tired. Guys have missed weeks and so that helps a little bit.
“We just need to finish out before we get to the All-Star Game and then make a run for it and then we’ll see.”
AHEAD THIS WEEK
Utah at Memphis, Wednesday. The Jazz have the NBA’s longest current winning streak at six in a row.
Oklahoma City at Lakers, Thursday. The Lakers just went into Oklahoma City and beat the Thunder.
Clippers at Detroit, Friday. The Clippers say hello to Blake Griffin, whose Pistons are unbeaten since acquiring him.
Minnesota at Chicago, Friday. Jimmy Butler returns to his old home.
Cleveland at Boston, Sunday. The Celtics retire Paul Pierce’s jersey.
NEEDING A BREAK
Bad news for teams like the Warriors who can’t wait for a break: It’s probably going to be this way for a while.
The NBA moved up the start of the regular season this season, building more space so back-to-backs could be reduced and stretches of four games in five nights could be eliminated.
But though the start went from late to mid-October, the All-Star break remained in its usual spot on President’s Day weekend, with the game set for Feb. 18 in Los Angeles. So the break comes even further than usual past the midway point of the season — this is already Week 17 of a 26-week regular season.
Assuming the NBA keeps the mid-October start, the break will remain deep into the season. The next three All-Star Game dates have already been announced and they’re all around the traditional time: Feb. 17, 2019; Feb. 16, 2020; and Feb. 14, 2021.
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