NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Report: Clips could make serious push for James — The Miami Heat’s “Big Three” of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James was formed in the summer of 2010 to the surprise of many. Thanks to many small moves that took place before the opening of free agency that year, the Heat positioned themselves to make Bosh and James — then with the Raptors and Cavs, respectively — albeit lesser offers to get them to team up with Wade in Miami. The rest has been history: three Finals trips, two championships and two Finals MVPs for James. But James can opt out of his deal this summer and, if he chooses to do so, the speculation and wondering about his future will start anew. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, who covered James for The Plain Dealer during LeBron’s Cleveland days, has a lengthy read on how the Los Angeles Clippers — not the Lakers — could be the top suitor for LeBron (and perhaps LeBron’s top target as well):
The incumbent Heat have done everything possible to keep James long term, including surrounding him with Hall of Fame talent and winning two championships. The logical and gut read is, five months from now, James will have recommitted to staying in Miami, either by not opting out of his contract or re-signing long term.
But as James and the Heat visit the Los Angeles Clippers on this Feb. 5, the lessons from the past are a reminder to be careful making assumptions at midseason. Especially when it comes to James.
“This time is going to be different,” a source close to James said about James’ view of free agency. “If LeBron decides to look at other options it won’t just be teams with cap space. He has 30 options if he wants them.”
Unlike the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cavs — two teams that have been mentioned as suitors for James this summer — the Clippers will not have open cap space. They will not have the cap space to sign James as a maximum-level free agent. It would require a sign-and-trade if James ever got serious about the option. In short, it would take the Heat’s cooperation.
For this reason, the Clippers are not on the national radar as a potential location for James if he decides to look around. It is unconventional to consider it. But what the Heat did to land James four years ago was not conventional, either. They were able to make some remarkable last-minute trades — a detail that largely goes overlooked in history — then convinced three stars in their primes to take pay cuts so they could play together. That is also a feat that remains unmatched by any of their peers.
The takeaway from that operation: Don’t assume anything and don’t underestimate competition.
Stemming from that experience, while James is content for the time being, he does not plan to close any doors. … Now more emboldened and self-assured, James has more power and perspective than ever before.
“LeBron is not thinking about free agency right now, he’s totally focused on the season,” said one James associate. “In the summer he knows he can get to any team he wants to.”
If the results of this season ended up with James looking at the Clippers and the Heat were eventually forced to cooperate, league executives believe Miami would ask for Blake Griffin. But neither the Heat nor the Clippers at this juncture, slightly more than halfway through a season that finds both teams believing they’re capable of winning the title, are prepared to discuss such a hypothetical scenario as they try to keep the focus off the future.
Under any scenario, the Clippers would have to make another maneuver to make a sign-and-trade work, primarily to shed some salary to get under the luxury tax. But it is not that complicated. The bottom line is this: If the Clippers were interested and James got interested, there’s a deal that could be done whether it involves Griffin or another package of players.
It should also not be taken for granted the Heat will want to keep the status quo. While they certainly want to keep James, it is possible they will use the potential free agency of their stars to go shopping themselves and perhaps reshuffle their roster by actively seeking their own sign-and-trades.
James, Wade and Bosh all have the option to become free agents this summer and all have different situations. Wade, who just turned 32, has battled knee issues over the past few years. He would not be able to command the same $42 million he’s owed through 2016 in a new contract. The Heat, however, will likely ask him to opt out so they can perhaps extend and restructure his contract to help manage the rest of the team.
The Heat are facing the reality of being the first team in history to have to pay what is known as the repeater tax, an added penalty for being a luxury tax team four out of five years. To put this in perspective, this season the Heat are about $10 million over the tax line and paying about $15.5 million in taxes. If they are at the same area next year, they would pay about $26 million in taxes alone.
If Bosh, Wade and James all decline to accept pay cuts, the three of them will alone account for $61 million. If James and Bosh request pay increases, they can each make about $21 million, which is where you can see how the Heat would be greatly helped if Wade was willing to redo his deal and accept a pay cut. James, Wade and Bosh have worked well together and all seem content. But it is hard to predict how they will feel by the summer. If all three want to maximize their earnings, the Heat will be in a challenging position both in terms of money and flexibility in the coming seasons.
The Heat and general manager/cap specialist Andy Elisburg have handled the cap masterfully in the past but have needed the cooperation of players. Wade has already cautioned, though, not to expect history to repeat.
“There are different times and different mindsets that you deal with. That was 2010,” Wade said earlier this season. “I’m not saying that LeBron James or Chris Bosh, if they get the opportunity again, are going to leave $17 million on the table [as they did in 2010]. No one can say they should do that. You have to do what is best for you.”
No. 2: Aldridge open to new deal with Blazers — As has always been the case in the NBA, winning often does wonders to quash talk of either trade rumors or a player seeking greener pastures. A little less than two years ago, Blazers All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge was hearing his name tossed about in trade rumors. But with Portland fighting with Oklahoma City and San Antonio for the West’s top record, that buzz has died down and, in fact, gone the other direction. According to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, Aldridge is reportedly open to signing a long-term extension with the Blazers, something that was previously thought to be a tough sell:
Back in Portland, the tale of Aldridge’s day-to-day happiness is big news. Here, in a quaint gym on the campus of Baruch College, it was the last thing on his mind — or anyone else’s.
But the reality is, Aldridge now openly discussing his desire to entertain a contract extension with the Trail Blazers should be big news. That’s because getting Aldridge to a place where he is surrounded by winning talent, with an organization that is well positioned to sustain its surprising success, was a monumental achievement.
“As a player I feel like I have a good mind-set about this, just making sure that I’m not taken for granted and making sure that we’re in a good place,” Aldridge told CBSSports.com on Tuesday after the Blazers practiced in Manhattan to prepare for Wednesday night’s game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
After two straight years out of the playoffs and so much bad luck with Greg Oden and Brandon Roy, the Blazers are back. They’ve faded in January after an impossibly hot start, but GM Neil Olshey steadying what had been a sinking ship to the point where Aldridge now wants to stick around is nothing short of remarkable.
“Winning and happiness and making sure my worth is valued,” Aldridge said, when asked what he will prioritize when it comes time to decide his future. “It’s always nice to be noticed for doing good things.”
It was only a few months ago when word was spreading on the NBA grapevine that Aldridge had seen enough in Portland and wanted out. And truly, who could’ve blamed him? The Blazers’ window certainly appeared to have slammed shut, their decline all but assured.
But Olshey has done in Portland for Aldridge what he did for Chris Paul in Los Angeles: He made it a place where a star wants to stay. From the drafting of Damian Lillard to the hiring of Terry Stotts to the revamping of the bench this past summer, the Blazers are on a sustainable path. They’ve acquired talent and cap flexibility without squandering assets. They have front-office stability, too, after years of unrest.
Though he’ll make his third All-Star appearance later this month in New Orleans, this is the one Aldridge said he feels the best about.
“I’m just healthy,” he said. “Two summers ago, I had my hip scope done and I had to rehab from that. So last season I was thankful for being an All-Star, but I was still coming off that injury. This summer I was healthy. I had more time to work out, I got my conditioning up and I’ve just felt better.”
No. 3: New commish Silver backs Kings’ arena plans — New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been on the job a week or so, and last night he took in the Raptors-Kings game from Sleep Train Arena. Just last week, the team released the first official renderings for their new arena downtown, which is scheduled to begin construction this summer. Silver obviously has seen the plans and as our own Scott Howard-Cooper reports, he’s impressed with what the future holds for the Kings:
Adam Silver on Wednesday attended his first game as commissioner and used Kings-Raptors at Sleep Train Arena as a symbolic gesture to show the league is as committed as ever to getting an arena built despite the transition away from Sacramento guardian angel David Stern.Silver, the long-time deputy who replaced Stern on Saturday, spoke with certainty that the downtown project would get completed, even as the issue appears headed to the courts after a group attempting to stop public funding for the facility submitted signatures to force a vote in a June election, only to have the petition thrown out on legal grounds. If anything, senior NBA officials, who previously accurately predicted looming lawsuits would have no impact on the decision between Sacramento and Seattle last spring, have said for months that the matter going to a public vote would result in a rousing affirmation in favor of the new arena, although with a cost to the city to put it on the ballot.
“I’m so confident because I’ve known Kevin Johnson for over 20 years,” Silver said. “I knew him as a player, I knew him as a broadcaster and obviously I know him as a mayor now. I’ve sat in literally dozens of meetings with lawyers, political advisors, political leaders, both from Sacramento and California, and talking to (Kings owner) Vivek (Ranadive) and his partners. I’m absolutely confident it’s going to get done.”
No. 4: Gay unsure if he’ll opt in with Kings — Since being traded from Toronto to Sacramento 19 games into the season, Rudy Gay has done a solid job with the Kings, averaging 20.8 ppg and averaging 52.5 percent while leading the team to an 11-14 mark (they started the season 6-14). Gay has a player option on his contract this summer, but as he tells ESPN.com’s Marc Stein in a brief Q&A session, he’s unsure if he’ll opt in or not:
Q: Why has the move made such a dramatic difference in your game individually?
A: I don’t know, man. I just think in Toronto we didn’t have enough time to actually get rolling. Here I’m just back to being me, that’s all.
Q: What exactly does “back to being me” mean?
A: Just being free. Just going out there and making plays for myself and others. Coach [Mike Malone] is putting me in different situations. He’s trusting me with the ball, trusting me to make plays for others, and also the guys around me are trusting me to do that for them.
Q: Which way are you leaning in terms of opting into your contract for next season or opting out?
A: I’m not sure. I have to go into the summer with my people, think about everything, weigh out the pros and cons. I don’t know yet. But Sacramento’s been great to me thus far. Obviously I’m trying to tune it all out right now. All I can think about right now is how great Sacramento’s been to me.
Q: How hard has it been to watch Toronto kind of take off without you?
A: It’s not [hard]. I love those guys. DeMar [DeRozan] just texted me five minutes ago … literally. We’ll always be brothers. That’s my little brother. I love to see him have this success [and make the East All-Star squad]. He’s been in the doghouse of the NBA for a long time. I think now he’s getting his just due.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Injured Rockets big man Omer Asik could be cleared to return to practice in 7-10 days … Chris “Birdman” Andersen is beginning to find his rhythm again for the Heat … Magic Johnson says he’s plenty willing to help recruit free agents to the Lakers … The Nets expect to have Andrei Kirilenko and Andray Blatche in uniform tonight against the Spurs … Speaking of the Nets, point guard Shaun Livingston credits reading the book ‘Siddhartha’ with his turnaround this season … Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins called Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy a clown after the Bulls-Kings game Sunday, and Dunleavy didn’t like that too much …
ICYMI of the Night: Lotsa folks got dunked on last night (we’re looking at you Greg Steimsma, Zaza Pachulia and John Henson, Robbie Hummel, Meyers Leonard and Jonas Jerebko), but our favorite play was this twisting reverse layup off an alley-oop by Blake Griffin …