LeBron James strolled through the ballroom at the players’ hotel during All-Star Weekend in New York looking stress-free. His Cavaliers appear to have solved their early-season woes.
James has been through a plethora of controversies during his return season in Cleveland but he managed those quickly enough that they didn’t carry into All-Star Weekend. The Cavaliers remain one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference after a pair of astute trades and some soul-searching from the leaders and the coach.
Things are going well in Cleveland and the Cavaliers are eager to make a deep playoff run despite Kevin Love continuing to struggle. The Cavaliers have won 15 of their last 17 games.
“I think the problem sometimes in sports is everyone wants instant success,” said James. “And I understand, being a part of the process before, but it takes time. It takes time for a team to jell, especially for a new team to jell together and build camaraderie, and that’s exactly what we were going through. We were going through early-season struggles because we didn’t know each other on the floor and off the floor. Over the last month or so it’s clicked, and I think it has a lot to do with us gaining trust and we’ve played some really good basketball.”
One early issue was James’s lack of familiarity with coach David Blatt, who came to the NBA after 30 years playing and coaching overseas. The Framingham product was hired before James returned to the Cavaliers and predictably their relationship did not begin smoothly.
“Every day we get closer and closer,” James said. “I think he’s great. He’s handled his first stint in the NBA extremely well so far and I’m happy to be playing for him.”
Asked if Blatt was a coach capable of leading Cleveland to multiple titles, James said, “I hope. That’s what we’re all here for.”
James was quick to compliment the three recent additions — center Timofey Mozgov, and swingmen J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. Smith, acquired from the Knicks, has averaged 12.8 points in 21 games with the Cavaliers. With more offensive freedom, he has attempted twice as many 3-pointers as he did in 24 games with the Knicks, and has responded with increased defensive intensity.
Scouts have always said that if Smith plays in a winning environment, he plays more like a winner.
“He’s given use a knockdown shooter and a defensive guy, he’s very underrated defensively,” James said. “Shump is a true professional and only cares about winning. The grit he has, you don’t have many guys like that in our league, and that’s just added to our success.
“[Mozgov] was a piece that we needed, for sure. We needed someone that can catch and finish and protect the rim defensively and give us another big body, and he has provided that.”
The Cavaliers began the second half by whipping the Wizards in Washington, a definite statement about their progress.
“Right now I think we’re where we should be,” James said. “I knew it was going to take a couple of months to get where I wanted it to be. At times it was frustrating but I knew the process, I’ve been through it before, and I understand how important the process is in creating a team. We are where we should be. We’ve played some really good basketball.”
James was barely visible during All-Star Weekend except for the game itself. At 30, he is no longer an obvious candidate for the slam dunk competition.
“I did, I did [think I was going to participate] for sure, but it never happened,” he said. “There were times I wanted to do it and didn’t do it, and times where I didn’t really care about it too much. But it’s definitely been something that’s been pretty cool for our league.”
James continues to make his own decisions — some good, some not so good — in building his brand and image. He returned to bring the Cavaliers a long-awaited title and shouldered the blame when they began slowly. He also decided to take a two-week injury break in January.
Each decision is scrutinized but James is a man of his convictions and that should be applauded.
“I carry a lot of responsibility. I understand that. But I’m only one man and I’m going to do the best job I can,” he said. “I’m going to leave it all out on the floor on and off the court, and whatever happens after that I’ll be satisfied. I understand the shoes that I’ve been put into. So, for me, I can’t live my life caring what other people think. I know what I represent. I know who I can be and what I’m about.”
Sullinger’s foot injury needs time, rest to heal
Celtics forward Jared Sullinger was diagnosed with a left foot stress injury and headed back to Boston to be further examined. He could be sidelined for six weeks.
According to Dr. Ken Jung, a foot and ankle surgeon at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic, stress injuries are generally created by wear on the foot and the injury is the precursor to a fracture if not detected.
“It typically comes about due to overuse or there is a metabolic issue going on,” Jung said. “It can also be due to a change in training regimen. You can put more stress on certain bones and the bone’s ability to repair itself on a daily basis after activity becomes overwhelmed and you get a stress reaction, which translates systematically as pain.”
Jung said athletes are generally advised to stay off the injured area to allow the reaction to heal.
“Typically the treatment is to remove the stress from that bone,” Jung said. “The stress is equating to activity level. You can still train with cardio but eliminating impact and stress on the bone. The bone can typically take anywhere from two to six weeks to resolve the stress reaction. As the pain [decreases] with the removal of stress, then you can add the stress back in gradual fashion to see how the bone responds.”
Jung said there are no special remedies for stress reactions. The area just needs rest, meaning a player such as Sullinger will have to try to remain in shape without using his left foot for the next few weeks.
“The bone just gets too much stress on it and it’s not able to heal or repair itself in a normal basis,” Jung said. “So until you alleviate that stress, the bone won’t heal and a stress reaction can develop into a stress fracture.”
Could someone play with a stress reaction? Said Jung, “If you were perhaps at the beginning of the season or in the middle of the season where you’ve got a long stretch to do, you’re likely better off resting it or letting it heal properly versus if you’re in the playoffs and you have one game you have to play. A lot of it depends on what you can tolerate pain-wise, but you do run the risk of having it progress to a fracture.”
LACK OF PLAYING TIME
Silver weighs solutions to grueling schedule
Commissioner Adam Silver has an interesting quandary on his hands. He wants to reduce the amount of four-games-in-five-nights stretches during the season but does not want the season to extend into July. In that case, the NBA Finals would compete for coverage with the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and NFL training camps.
The league also prefers the Halloween target date for the beginning of the regular season, so how does the commissioner eliminate these stretches without drastically lengthening the season?
“Training camp is critically important to our teams. Could we shorten it up a little bit if we didn’t have quite the same number of preseason games, and then add those days in the regular season so we would gain a little bit at the beginning?” Silver said. “And the question is, towards the end of this season, can we push a little bit further in June, closer to the draft? I think there had been discussions — well, I wouldn’t characterize them as discussions. I’ve heard proposals about them moving the Finals past the Fourth of July. It just feels out of synch once you get into the summer, historically those haven’t been viewed as the best television nights, once you get into July, and just in terms of households watching TV.”
The league already gave the players an extended All-Star break, with every team receiving at least seven days off. And that occurred without extending the regular season into May.
Players and coaches dread playing four games in five nights, but it may be unavoidable unless the NBA wants to begin its regular season in early October, when it would be overshadowed by the baseball playoffs.
There may be no right answer.
“I will say maybe that’s something we should look at, too. If we’re truly going to take a fresh look at this, we have to examine what the appropriate time is to begin the season and when we should end it,” Silver said. “But at least without a major overhaul in the way our season is now played, you’re right, we can gain a little bit at the beginning of the season. We can gain a little bit at the end. When it comes to four games out of five nights and back-to-backs, literally every day matters. So that will be helpful to pick up a few more days on both sides of the schedule.”
Brooklyn’s Jack likes to speak his mind
In addition to being one of the best pick-and-roll guards in the NBA, Jarrett Jack is one of the league’s best talkers — a straight shooter who, unlike many other NBA players, enjoys interacting with the media.
Jack sank the winning shot in the Nets’ 102-100 win over the Clippers on Feb. 2, and a reluctant interview turned into 10 minutes of his brutal honesty.
Asked about the Clippers’ victory over the Nets, a 123-84 win at Staples Center Jan. 22, he said, “That’s being nice [to say they beat us badly], they beat the [expletive] out of us.”
Jack then was asked to describe the final play in the rematch, when he drained a long jumper on a pick-and-roll switch with 7-footer DeAndre Jordan defending him. The Nets rallied from a 9-point deficit in the final 90 seconds.
“Everything went perfectly right, so to speak,” he said. “You couldn’t even script that. Spike [Lee] couldn’t make a better movie. That’s crazy.”
The Nets have experienced their share of ups and downs this season despite a veteran roster. Injuries have played a significant part in a difficult season.
“This is an unforgiving league, nobody is going to give us anything,” Jack said. “We’ve got to go out there and grind and fight and do everything necessary. Even [in the Clippers game], it’s cool that we won but it definitely wasn’t handed over to us. When we wake up in the morning, I’m sure guys will be like, ‘Man, I gave it my all.’ And that’s that feeling we’re going to have to have each and every game if we’re going to be successful.
“The stretch we’ve been going through in January, it’s tough, it’s difficult. You try to have a short-term memory as best you can, try to stay positive. I know myself, I’ve gotten frustrated and I have great teammates literally grab me and say, ‘Man, we’re with you, keep fighting, keep going,’ even when it seems like you keep running into a brick wall.”
Jack also talked about a T-shirt he donned that read “Black History Month,” with “Month” crossed out and “Years” written under it.
“I thought it was a dope shirt, I thought the shirt made a dope statement,” he said. “And that’s just what I believe. Things shouldn’t just be highlighted within any sort of time frame. I think we should celebrate everything as much as we can. I don’t want to overspeak or put myself in a compromising position but I just feel there’s contributions from a bunch of nationalities that we should just celebrate. It doesn’t have to be a monthly thing or a daily thing. It doesn’t have to be a weekend thing or a six-month thing. It could be all the time. We can celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln in the same breath.
“They come from two totally different walks of life but the contributions they made to society, they stack up. There’s a number of people who can be celebrated within this month that don’t necessarily have to be African-American. That’s what my shirt meant more than anything.”
Now that the trade deadline is over, a series of contract buyouts are expected that will add veterans to the free agent market. One buyout candidate likely will not be the Celtics’ Brandon Bass, who made it through another trade deadline without leaving Boston. Unless the Celtics initiate a buyout, expect Bass to remain a Celtic for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, players such as Kenyon Martin (waived by Milwaukee) and Thomas Robinson (seeking a buyout from the Nuggets) could be available, as well as Toney Douglas, Ish Smith, and Shawne Williams . . . The death last week of Jerome Kersey, an all-time great Portland Trail Blazer, encouraged current Blazer Steve Blake to change his uniform number from 25 (Kersey’s former number) to No. 5 for the remainder of the season. Kersey died of a blood clot at age 52, a tragedy for a city that reveres its Blazers, past and present. Kersey played 17 seasons in the NBA, and was part of the first Lakers’ team that included Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in 1996-97. He was also a member of the 1999 champion Spurs . . . Former Celtic Kendrick Perkins, who was traded from Oklahoma City to Utah on Thursday, and then was waived by the Jazz on Saturday, quickly agreed to join the Cavaliers, although the signing won’t become official until Monday. Several other teams had interest in Perkins, including the Clippers, Bulls, and Spurs. He’ll bring defensive toughness and leadership to Cleveland . . . The 76ers’ trading of Michael Carter-Williams to the Bucks on deadline day appeared to be a surprise, but the fact is the organization had been trying to move him for a while and did not consider him a potential cornerstone, as it does Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. Following the deal, the 76ers quickly signed former Penn State guard Tim Frazier to another 10-day contract. The 76ers are banking that the Lakers finish with the sixth overall pick or lower because they received that protected pick from the Suns in the three-team deal involving Carter-Williams. It could provide Philadelphia another chance to draft a true point guard.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.