NBA@2: Irving a Deserving Rookie of the Year
The Cleveland Cavaliers took a risk when they traded with the Los Angeles Clippers for Baron Davis. To acquire the Clippers’ lottery pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, they took on two more seasons of Davis at a guaranteed $27.2 million.
Baron would eventually be amnestied over the summer but the pick from LA, despite long odds, became the top-overall selection and ultimately Kyrie Irving.
On Tuesday, the NBA announced that Irving was the run-away pick as the 2011-12 Kia NBA Rookie of the Year. Of the 120 sportswriters and broadcasters who voted, Kyrie received 117 first-place votes.
Oddly, second-place finisher Ricky Rubio didn’t receive any first-place votes with the three stray marks going to Kenneth Faried, Kawhi Leonard and Iman Shumpert – who finished in order behind Irving and Rubio.
The voters got it right. Irving’s point total in the voting was 592, amounting to 422 ahead of Rubio.
It was a blow out.
In Kyrie, the Cavaliers are blessed with a surprisingly NBA-ready point guard despite only turning 20-years old until this past March.
Irving immediately became the team’s leader and Cleveland was very solid early in the season. It wasn’t until center Anderson Varejao went down with a broken wrist that the team began to fall apart.
Kyrie made the Cavs better but there was a limit to what anyone could do with this evolving roster.
Perhaps most importantly, Irving showed many times that he has the “clutch gene,” hitting game-winning shots for his team with rare composure.
On the year he averaged 18.5 points a game while shooting 46.9% from the field and 39.9% from the arc along with 5.4 assists per game. He was actually a better shooter in the fourth quarter (51.8% and 41.0%), a time when so many players struggle with the guts of the game on the line.
Looking ahead, the Cavaliers still have to bring in a lot of talent to support Irving. A healthy Varejao, along with promising forward Tristan Thomas, is a good start but Cleveland has plenty of holes to fill.
To that end, the team’s awful second-half plays to their advantage. In a strong draft, the Cavs are currently slotted third in the draft lottery with a decent chance at adding another cornerstone piece (Anthony Davis, Anthony Drummond, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, etc.).
It was a lucky bounce in last year’s draft lottery. Perhaps lightning strikes twice for Cleveland.
Also, the team is expected to have a sizable amount of cap room should opportunities come via free agency or trade.
The Cavaliers only won 21 of 66 games, but going into the offseason with another high-lottery pick, cap room and the Rookie of the Year at the point suggests the Cavaliers have a bright future.
Other players receiving votes for Rookie of the Year include Klay Thompson, Isaiah Thomas, Brandon Knight, Chandler Parsons, MarShon Brooks, Kemba Walker and Josh Selby.
Nuggets Show Heart in Defeat
The Denver Nuggets completed their season on Saturday night with a 96-87 Game 7 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Denver had rallied back from a 3-1 deficit, forcing the series to the limit, but just couldn’t close out in LA.
The Nuggets finished the shortened-regular season at 38-28, sixth best in the Western Conference despite suffering various injuries (Danilo Gallinari, Rudy Fernandez, Wilson Chandler and Nene prior to the Washington Wizards trade).
Still Denver finished strong, got (somewhat) healthy and found that they had more strength as a team as they might have thought.
“I’m proud of the team,” said Coach George Karl. “I’ve never been in a locker room after the season where every guy in front of me, I’m happy with and I’m content with.”
Through the series, point guard Ty Lawson proved to be a dynamic force for the Nuggets, averaging 19 points on 51.4% shooting from the field with six assists and just 1.1 turnovers per game. Is there something more Lawson needs to do to be considered a “star?”
Veteran guard Andre Miller was a tremendous stabilizing force for Denver off the bench and the two-guard lineup was a mess for the Lakers to deal with.
Kenneth Faried was an athletic dynamo averaging a double-double (10.4 points and 10 boards), giving the Lakers fits despite playing undersized against a much larger front court.
When JaVale McGee was on his game, he was a serious problem for the Lakers. He finished with 3.1 blocks a game along with 9.6 boards.
It wasn’t a great offensive series for Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington (playing with a torn meniscus and broken nose) and Gallinari. Afflalo was tasked with guarding Kobe Bryant. Spelling Afflalo was Corey Brewer had a very solid, underneath-the-radar series.
Still Karl and his players were able to push the Lakers. Some were more productive than others but collectively the Nuggets were a team.
“All year long, I enjoyed their belief that they could win when no one else believed in them,” said Karl. “From the closer to not having a star player and all the things written, I just think they’re pretty mentally tough for a young bunch of guys. They’re enjoyable to be around; they’re enjoyable to coach. I don’t think there are 30 NBA coaches saying that right now. In that sense, I’m blessed with a good situation. Their heart is bigger than people think it is.”
Moving forward the Nuggets have to make a number of difficult decisions this offseason. Fernandez is expected to be a restricted free agent and he’s flirted with leaving the NBA for some time. He’s currently recovering from back surgery.
Miller is unrestricted and despite the fact that he’s turning 36 next week, Andre still believes he’s a starter in this league. He’ll look for that opportunity and paycheck elsewhere. If he can’t find a better fit, look for the Nuggets to extend an offer.
Karl was clear that he would love to have Miller back.
How Much for McGee?
The more difficult question is McGee. In July, the Nuggets will certainly make JaVale a qualifying offer for $3.5 million to make him restricted. The question is, how much and how long for a player who hasn’t arrived yet, makes a lot of mistakes but still has as an extremely high ceiling?
Instead of giving him a large, five-year deal, the Nuggets should let McGee explore the market and look for an offer sheet.
Matching a four-year deal at the Mid-Level Exception is a no-brainer for Denver. A $21.4 million in his upside alone is worth it.
The more difficult choice comes if a cap team makes a run. The Nuggets can pay McGee a maximum, five-year deal of $74.3 million but the most a team with space can pay is $55.2 million over four.
Is there really a general manager out there willing to truly sign off on $55 million for McGee?
Some teams that may have sizable cap space this summer: Boston Celtics, Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Jersey Nets, New Orleans Hornets, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards.
The range of space available is pretty wide and some won’t look seriously at JaVale (like Washington) but all it takes is one and there just aren’t many high-level free agents available this summer.
Playing for Karl, over time, McGee will get better. His development was stunted with the Wizards who were in a bad situation on many fronts.
Even though JaVale didn’t start for Denver, big men are almost always paid a premium.
Where’s the tipping point? $30 million over four years? Probably.
$40 million? Hmm . . . a tough decision lies ahead for the Nuggets.
Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to insure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @jfleminghoops, @TheRocketGuy, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @alexraskinNBA, @TommyBeer and @YannisHW.