HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Who says you have to wait until training camp starts for the elbows to start flying?
The Magic and Heat are kicking things off early with some verbal sparring that we usually have to wait until the playoffs to enjoy. And the players on both teams haven’t even chimed in yet. All the scrapping going on now is coming from Magic GM Otis Smith (above), Heat boss Pat Riley and Magic (and former Heat) coach Stan Van Gundy.
It’s a soap opera befitting an unprecedented summer of free agent activity that will no doubt shape the league for at least the next six years.
My main man and NBA.com colleague Shaun Powell provides some of the highlights while also forecasting what is sure to be one of the league’s most heated rivalries in the coming years:
Smith said he thought LeBron was “more of a competitor” than someone who would join a stacked team, repeating sentiments expressed by Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. (My take: Magic and Jordan didn’t jump from their teams because those teams had Kareem and Worthy and Pippen and Rodman.)
Riley, in a conference call last week, said Smith “never made any kind of comment like that when he signed Rashard Lewis (to a) $126 million contract.” (My take: I’m not 100 percent sure, but sounds like Riles snuck an additional zinger in there, reminding everyone how Smith vastly overpaid for Lewis.)
Van Gundy, in an interview now up and running on the OrlandoMagic.com, said, “Pat getting on people for making moral judgments made me laugh. I was with Pat when we had all those Knicks series and he had no problem making moral judgments on my brother.” (My take: Don’t mess with family. Blood runs thick among the Van Gundys, the First Brothers of Basketball.)
While you can expect Smith, Van Gundy and Riley to suddenly tone down the rhetoric — only because that’s what people do almost by reflex — we know what bubbles underneath. We know there’s no love lost between Van Gundy and Riley partly because of what went down in Miami during the 2006 championship season. We know Smith, calm by nature, is feisty inside and ultra competitive. We know Riley just put together a potential monster threesome with [LeBron] James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and he feels the world wants to see the Heat crumble. We also have a fairly strong suspicion the road to the NBA Finals will travel down the Turnpike. Or up the Turnpike.
With so much attention on each other, we’d advise both the Heat and Magic to look out for the actual reigning Eastern Conference champions up in Boston.
They didn’t exactly take the summer off, though they have managed to stay out of the name calling parade … for now (Celtics big man Shaquille O’Neal has history in both Orlando and Miami as well, and you know he loves to trade barbs with anyone willing to step into the ring with him).
Training camp can’t get here fast enough.