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LeBron Opens Up His Own Finishing School In Northeast Ohio

With LeBron James going home, the Cleveland Cavaliers' odds for a title are up to 9/2. It's an ambitious goal for next season, but they do have a stunning amount of talent. They could start a No. 1 overall pick at four positions - Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, LeBron and Anthony Bennett. Kyrie is 22, Bennett is 21 and Wiggins is 19. If they allow those three to grow next to LeBron, all they have to do is find a C. There's no rush - this could be the start of something special.

LeBron is not headed for a steep decline. At 6'9 260, he's one of the biggest and most skilled players in the league and he turns 30 in December. He can be a starter on an elite team for another decade - Karl Malone started on a team that went to the NBA Finals at 40. As long as LeBron stays healthy, the window is open. Instead of doing everything to maximize winning a championship over the next 2-3 seasons, they could try to win titles for the next decade.

If you were trying to win right away, the move would be to trade for Kevin Love. They could start with an offer of Bennett and Dion Waiters, but they would probably need to include Wiggins. The problem is that it would be hard to give up on a guy like Wiggins so early in his career. In 7-8 years, Wiggins will be the same age as Love as is now. When LeBron starts to enter his late 30's, Wiggins could conceivably be the guy he hands the reigns of the franchise too.

That’s what the end game could be for LeBron - not to bring one title to Cleveland, but to bring a franchise that could compete for titles well into the future. When LeBron watched the San Antonio Spurs dismantle the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, he saw what to strive for. He grabbed the best players of his generation four years ago - this time around, he's trying to get the best players of the next generation. This is his chance to be on a franchise like the Spurs.

If he stayed in Miami, he would have constantly been in a race against time. He's already watched Wade decline in front of his eyes and Bosh is beginning the downswing of his career. The Heat didn't have a lot of young talent and not much cap space to add more. They would have been getting worse every year and LeBron couldn’t stem the tide alone. In Cleveland, the tide is reversed. As he gets older, all the young guys around him will be getting better.

There are questions about the other No. 1 overall picks, but they would all be so much better next to LeBron. The same can be said for Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson - LeBron could get all these guys careers on the right track. To me, the idea should be as much size, athleticism and shooting ability around LeBron as possible, which means Wiggins, at 6'8 200 with a 7'0 wingspan, and Bennett, at 6'8 240 with a 7'1 wingspan, as the two guys next to him.

After the draft, Cavs GM David Griffin said he saw Wiggins as a big SG, where he has a dramatic size and athletic advantage over everyone he would face. The problem was that unless he was playing with a wing who was even bigger and more athletic than him, he would always get the opposing team's longest and most athletic perimeter defender anyway. Next to LeBron, that problem is solved. The potential of LeBron and Wiggins on the wings is absurd.

Waiters has the chance to be a very good player in this league, but he's a smaller SG who takes the ball out of Wiggins hands and push him down a spot in the line-up. Thompson, meanwhile, doesn't fit the way the NBA is going - he's an undersized power forward who can't protect the rim or shoot 3's. Waiters and Thompson would both be best suited for reserve roles, which means Cleveland could have a team with two No. 4 picks coming off the bench.

Bennett is another guy whose career could be transformed next to LeBron. As a combo forward, he was trapped between positions a bit, but that’s no big deal when you are playing with one of the most versatile defenders of all-time. He has lost a lot of weight, which was one of the main things holding him back in his disastrous rookie season. If he can shoot like he did at UNLV, he would be very overqualified in the role of Shane Battier or Rashard Lewis.

The main questions about Kyrie are his defense and distribution, but that’s no longer an issue. He can play the Mario Chalmers role, spotting up off the ball and living off the attention LeBron draws. To give a scorer that gifted so many open shots is almost unfair. One thing that made LeBron so deadly in Miami was his ability to get guys like Mike Miller rhythm 3's - an elite shooter is not going to miss often when can set his feet and get a good look at the basket.

The biggest concern is at center, the one position where they don't have a No. 1 overall pick. Anderson Varejao is a good player, but he doesn't give them a lot of size or rim protection, which could end up being their Achilles heel in the playoffs. With so many young guys next to LeBron, they will need a guy who can clean up mistakes. Whether it's dealing some combination of Waiters and Thompson or it's cap space in the next few years, they need to find a two-way center.

There are an awful lot of ifs between the Cavs and being a perennial title contender, but that's why LeBron is there. As he said in his open letter, he can make their young guys better. There wasn't anything he could teach Wade and Bosh - they were his peers. Kyrie, Wiggins, Bennett, Waiters, Thompson - these are guys who were in middle school and high school when he entered the NBA. LeBron could pay it forward in Cleveland and reap a tremendous reward.

In essence, he could run the best finishing school in the NBA, sacrificing the front end of his second stint with the Cavs to extend out the back. Tim Duncan is winning titles at 38 because he is playing with guys in their early 30's and 20's - you stay young by surrounding yourself with younger players. And if the Cavs become the Spurs, it's because LeBron was Duncan and Gregg Popovich in one person. That's what’s on the table for him in Cleveland.

Jason Kidd's Great Escape

On the surface, Jason Kidd’s jump from the Brooklyn Nets to the Milwaukee Bucks doesn’t make a lot of sense. After a rough start, Kidd found his sea legs in the second half of the season, leading Brooklyn to the second round of the playoffs and establishing himself as a legitimate NBA head coach on a perennial playoff contender. Milwaukee, in contrast, is a perennial underachiever coming off a 15-win season that hasn’t made the second round since 2001.

However, if you take a closer look at the environment surrounding both teams, you can see the logic behind Kidd’s thinking. As he is undoubtedly aware, an NBA head coach is hired to be fired. No matter how successful a coach has been, they can lose their job at any time. The key is expectations and the appearance of forward progress - the Bucks have nowhere to go but up, the Nets have nowhere to go but down. For a young head coach, the choice is easy.

The Nets have far more talent than the Bucks and they will almost certainly be a better team over the next two seasons, but they don’t have much room for growth. After trading three future first-round picks for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, they went all-in last season, only to see their best player (Brook Lopez) go down in the first two months. Kidd responded admirably in changing their identity on fly, but the limits of the approach were exposed in the playoffs.

With Pierce and Garnett aging and no other ways to add talent to their roster beyond the free agent bargain bin, Brooklyn will need Mikhail Prokhorov to continue writing monstrous luxury tax checks just to stay in place. Even if Prokhorov doesn’t tire of subsidizing half of the league, what’s to stop him from looking at the coaching staff for an upgrade next off-season? Kidd only needs to look at Mark Jackson with the Golden State Warriors to see how quickly the knives come out.

Milwaukee, on the other hand, is an almost ideal situation for a young head coach. After bottoming out under the old regime, they have a new ownership group looking to start over and a promising young core to build around. Last season was a perfect storm of injuries, bad free agent signings and back luck. Even without a coaching change, they are almost certain to have a dead cat bounce and regress to the mean, which will give Kidd breathing room.

When you take a look at the elite young talent under contract, the Bucks situation going forward looks even more promising. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are both under 20 and have as much upside as any two young players in the NBA. Just as important, their games complement each other, which will allow them to grow together over the next 3-5 years. They could be the best two players on an elite team and Kidd gets them at the ground floor.

After only one season, Giannis already looks like the steal of the 2013 draft and possibly its best all-around player. At 6’10 210 (and growing) with a 7’4 wingspan, he has a freakish combination of length, skill and athleticism that allows him to match up with multiple perimeter positions and impact the game in a number of ways. He’s a franchise-type talent - if he had stayed an extra year in Greece, he could have been a Top 5 pick in this year’s draft.

And while Giannis can defend and slash to the rim, Jabari can stretch the floor and command double teams on offense. The No. 2 pick in 2014, he is an elite prospect who was also one of the safest picks on the board. At 6’9 240 with a 7’0 wingspan, Jabari already has a high-level combination of athleticism, ball-handling, shooting and feel for the game. He averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds a game on 47% shooting at Duke and should be a ROY front-runner.

The big concern for Jabari comes on the defensive end, which is what makes Milwaukee such a good fit. Not only do they have Giannis to handle the tough defensive assignments on the perimeter, they have two quality rim protectors - Larry Sanders and John Henson - to play behind him. There are spacing issues with playing Sanders and Henson together, but they should combine to protect Jabari over 48 minutes and you can always trade an athletic 6’11+ player.

The Bucks current mix is far from perfect, but there is talent up and down the roster that can be moved around in order to better complement Jabari and Giannis. That will be what next season is all about - figuring out which combination of Sanders, Henson, Khris Middleton, Ersan Ilyasova, Ekpe Udoh, Brandon Knight and OJ Mayo is worth keeping around. No matter how it shakes out, they don’t have the same type of cap-killing contracts as the Nets.

For Kidd, the plan is simple. Develop Giannis and Jabari, consolidate the peripheral talent around them and add another high lottery pick - preferably a two-way perimeter playmaker and shooter - next season. With a new Big Three and one of the Henson/Sanders duo upfront, Milwaukee isn’t that far off from being a playoff contender and a long-term power in the Eastern Conference. They just need to add shooting and improve defensively over the next two years.

If Kidd plays it right, he can be the Scott Brooks to their version of the Oklahoma City Thunder North. Kidd’s already proven he’s a more flexible strategist than Brooks, so hitching his wagon to that type of young talent could give him nearly unparalleled job security. Throughout his long career in the NBA, Kidd has been the consummate survivor, one step ahead of the pitchforks and leaving disaster in his wake. His latest move could be his greatest escape yet.

Draft Report: Andrew Wiggins Of Kansas

- The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Tjarks' e-book about the NBA Draft that can be purchased for just $3.99.

It’s easy to see where the Andrew Wiggins hype came from. At 6’8 200 with a 7’0 wingspan, he’s a ball of fast-twitch muscles and one of the best athletes to enter the NBA in recent memory. When he was playing AAU basketball, a lightly coached transition setting where he could make direct-line runs at the rim for 40 minutes, I’m sure he looked like the best prospect since LeBron James. You can only see the holes in his game when he’s forced to play in the halfcourt.

At this stage in his career, Wiggins is not a high-level ball-handler, shooter or passer. He had a nice freshman season at Kansas, but it was nothing in the ballpark of what Kevin Durant did at Texas. If you break down his numbers, he wasn’t any better than Ben McLemore, another freshman SG with elite athleticism taken in the lottery after one year in Lawrence. Wiggins would be one of the top picks in any draft, but I’m not sure he’s a generational type prospect.

Season

G

MP

FG

FGA

FG%

3P

3PA

3P%

FT

FTA

FT%

RB

AS

ST

BK

TO

PF

PTS

2012-13

37

32.2

5.4

10.8

.495

2.5

5.8

.420

4.0

4.6

.870

5.2

2.0

1.0

0.7

2.1

1.9

15.9

2013-14

35

32.8

5.4

12.1

.448

1.2

3.6

.341

5.0

6.5

.775

5.9

1.5

1.2

1.0

2.3

2.7

17.1

*Stats courtesy of basketball-reference

Those are both excellent seasons, especially for a pair of freshman, but there’s nothing in those statistics that says Player B (Wiggins) is better than Player A (McLemore). Wiggins got to the line more, but he was a worse shooter. For the most part, opposing teams were happy to let Wiggins shoot 3’s. Both received criticism for not being aggressive and taking over games in the second half, but the reality was neither was skilled enough to create a good shot at will.

When Wiggins was getting the ball, he was putting his head down and going right to the rim. There wasn’t much finesse to his game - he had trouble reading the floor and beating a defense that was loaded up to stop him. He’s a raw player who gets most of his points based off being longer and more athletic. At the next level, though, elite athletic ability is no guarantee of stardom. A primary option has to be able create shots for others and Wiggins is not ready for that.

In my mind, assist-to-turnover ratio is one of the most telling statistics for a college guard. That’s the canary in the coal mine when it comes to making decisions with the ball. Anyone can rack up assists if they force the ball through enough tight spots - the key is being able to do it without coughing up the ball. Neither Wiggins nor McLemore had a positive ratio as freshmen, an indication that they were having trouble thinking the game and making the easy plays.

If Wiggins ends up in a situation like McLemore, playing on a team with more established players like DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas, he’s not going to get a lot of shots and he will have trouble impacting the game. If he can dominate the ball, he will be on a bad team and he won’t be able to make anyone around him better. In order to reach his potential, he needs to be brought along slowly and developed into a more well-rounded player.

Take a look at Paul George’s developmental path with the Indiana Pacers. As a rookie, George was a defensive-minded role player who came off the bench and took 6 shots a game. He moved into the starting line-up in his second season and played off of Danny Granger. It wasn’t until his third season, when Granger went down with an injury, that he was given the keys to the offense and he didn’t average more than 20 points a game until his fourth season in the NBA.

It took awhile for George to come into his own and he was more advanced than Wiggins when he came into the league. He played two seasons at Fresno State and he was a better shooter (40% for his career) and passer (3 assists as a sophomore). He still had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio, but it was trending in the right direction after his freshman season. George didn’t have to deal with many expectations and he started his career on a playoff contender.

Patience will be the name of the game for whoever drafts Wiggins, which will be difficult given the hype surrounding him and how high he will be selected. He’s not anywhere close to being one of the most NBA-ready players in this draft - from a skills perspective, he’s years behind guys like Jabari Parker and Dante Exum. While he’s got a ton of defensive potential, a perimeter player drafted in the Top 3 has to be elite on the offensive end of the floor.

At the NBA level, what separates the best players is their ability to think the game. They can read the defense, anticipate the double team and make the play before it happens. Wiggins is not there yet and it may take years before he is. He will be a really good NBA player for a long time, but there are a number of players in this draft with similar ceilings and higher floors. Joel Embiid had a 28.2 PER and Wiggins had a 21.4 - that means more than their high school reps.

- This was an excerpt from Jonathan Tjarks' e-book about the NBA Draft that can be purchased for $3.99.

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With Damian Lillard entrenched at PG, Portland used a lottery pick on a guy who can't play more than 10-15 minutes a game in a playoff series. That's not a great use of resources for a small-market team without many other obvious ways of upgrading their roster in the offseason.

Looking To The 2015 NBA Draft: Centers

There should be a bumper crop of behemoths in the college game in 2015, who will look to make their mark in a sport traditionally dominate by guards.

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In contrast to small forward and center, where very few players can fit the prototype of size, athleticism and skill, there are usually too many power forward to go around.

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