CLEVELAND — When the Cavaliers made a flurry of mid-season trades to remake the back half of their roster, it was widely thought that the moves were an upgrade. Among the notable pieces shipped out were Isaiah Thomas, who had never found a groove since arriving, while injured, from Boston, and Dwayne Wade, who was scoring just 11 points a game, half his career average, in Cleveland.
But as the Cavaliers have struggled to win a game in the NBA Finals against Golden State, the absence of players who can score in bursts has been noticed. LeBron James said on Thursday that he wishes Wade was still on the team. “Oh, absolutely. I mean, listen, not only from a brotherhood aspect and what we know about one another, and also from an experience factor,” he said. “I believe that he would have been very, very good for us in the postseason. He’s a guy that’s kind of built for the postseason at this point in his career, who lives for the moment.”
Seems like a reasonable bet that James, long thought to be the real GM in Cleveland, didn’t sign off on that particular trade.
James was asked on Thursday if he remembered playing a young Kevin Durant in the Miami-Oklahoma City Finals and if he knew than that Durant would develop into such an offensive force. He said no, he already was that kind of player.
“Kevin Durant was great at 23,” he said. “As you get older and older, your game gets more and more seasoned. But everyone knew that. That’s Kevin Durant.”
And then, almost by accident, James delivered a devastating zinger on the former front office of the Trail Blazers, who drafted Greg Oden first overall instead of Durant.
“So it’s not like you would think that he would fizzle out,” James said. “You knew he was built for greatness from the time that he was drafted. I mean, everybody knew that besides Portland, I guess. Sorry, Portland. Sorry.”
Greg Oden, beset by chronic injuries, played parts of two seasons in Portland, averaging eight points per game.
It doesn’t quite rise to the level of a war of words — these two teams spend a lot of time complimenting one another — but Stephen Curry took mild umbrage with something James said after Game 3. James said that with all of Golden State’s weapons there was “really not much pressure” on any one of them. “If one of them has a bad game, they have three or four guys that can actually pick up the load.”
Curry acknowledge that it was sure nice to have Durant go off for 43 points on a night when Curry shot 3 of 16 from the field. But that’s as far as he went with the no-pressure thing.
“I don’t necessarily agree with that because I feel like every time we step foot on the floor we put pressure on ourselves to be great. Whether you live up to it or not, you’ve got to be OK with your effort and your intensity and whatnot and the result of the game,” Curry said.
“We don’t win 70 — or whatever we won, 67 games last year — and go through the journey we did this year without everybody feeling a sense of pressure and sense of urgency every night that you step foot on the floor. Whether you get the job done or not, we all want to show up and do our jobs at a high level, because that’s what got us all to where we are today as individual players and as a team.
Curry also addressed the Durant luxury specifically: “He helps the situation, but we don’t walk on the floor like, ‘Oh, there is K.D. We’re good.’ We still have to play and play hard and play well.”
Again, in this series, “I don’t necessarily agree with that” counts as a fight.
Steve Kerr has said it a few times in the playoffs: There is no way he could have survived as a player in the NBA the way it is now. Kerr, who won five titles playing with the Jordan-era Bulls and the Duncan-era Spurs, and who led the league in three-point percentage twice, said he doesn’t think he ever saw someone make a 30-foot shot in a game in his five Finals. Durant made four of them in Game 3, and Curry and James have also done it in this series. “The talent level right now I think is at an all-time high in the league,” Kerr said. “It’s very different. You don’t have the aircraft carriers, you don’t have Shaq and Patrick Ewing and Hakeem. But the skill level on the perimeter is so shocking.”
He continued: “Sometimes I try to picture myself playing in the Finals now. Twenty years ago, I survived. It was tough, but I survived. I could find guys to guard. I can only imagine right now. LeBron would be pointing right at me saying, ‘Come on up. We’re going to set a screen with you.’
He has a point. That would probably be a mismatch.
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