Posts Tagged ‘Chris Bosh’

Wade, Heat do the right thing


VIDEO: Wade agrees to one-year contract with Miami

It was, of course, the only deal that made sense for both Dwyane Wade and the Heat.

It didn’t get Wade the maximum amount for which he was eligible and it still doesn’t make him the highest-paid player on the Miami roster next season (Chris Bosh, $22 million). But Wade got his raise from the $16 million due before opting out and leaves him the option of hitting the jackpot next summer when the salary cap is expected to go through the roof. Assuming, that is, Wade can stay healthy and prove that he’s still at an All-Star level in a season when he turns 34.

That age and the questions about his durability are why Heat president Pat Riley was only too happy to give Wade the bump for next season, while also keeping his options open for the Summer of 2016 free agent-palooza. Then Riley went right from the handshake on the deal to boarding a plane for L.A. where he was scheduled to have dinner Thursday night with free agent LaMarcus Aldridge.

From the moment that LeBron James turned his back on the Heat to return to Cleveland, there was no way Riley was going to allow his team to wallow in mediocrity for long. Since missing the playoffs last season, the Heat have gotten point guard Goran Dragic to re-sign for five years and $90 million and had talented rookie Justise Winslow fall in its lap at the No. 10 pick in the draft. Pencil in a recovering Bosh (blood clots) and center Hassan Whiteside, entering the last year of his contract, and the Heat have an opening night lineup that could probably stand toe-to-toe with any team in the Eastern Conference.

According to reports, Wade has lost 10 pounds so far in his commitment to getting back into top physical condition and now he’s again a key part of a team that can make noise. Without Bosh at the end of the season, Wade showed that he was still capable of performing at a high level and now going into his 13th NBA season has a platform to shine.

Wade simply wasn’t going to get a longer term deal from any other team that paid him top dollar for 2015-16, leaving only the alternative of taking less to go elsewhere — Cavaliers, Lakers, Clippers — out of spite.

Now the franchise icon gets to set himself up for a chance at the multi-year commitment next summer, while Riley and the Heat keep doing the full-tilt boogie to get back in the ring business. That’s a win all around.

Morning shootaround — June 30


VIDEO: How LaMarcus Aldridge’s move in free agency will affect other teams

*** FREE AGENCY COVERAGE JUNE 30 ON NBA TV: The Starters, 6:30 ET | Free Agent Fever, 7 ET & 11:30 ET ***

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Lakers, Rockets first up with Aldridge | What would adding Aldridge cost Spurs? | Report: Gasol only taking meeting with Grizzlies | How much has Wade financially sacrificed? | Report: Knicks in lead for Afflalo, Monroe

No. 1: Report: Lakers, Rockets first up to meet with Aldridge  Portland Trail Blazers All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge is one of — if not the biggest — big fish in this free-agent class. The Mavericks have clear hopes of going him, using the lure of the hometown team to get the Texas native back in his home state and give them a new building block for whenever Dirk Nowitzki retires. The Mavs will have to wait their turn, though, writes ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne, as the L.A. Lakers and Houston Rockets will apparently be the first of many teams to make a recruiting pitch to the big man.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets will get the first opportunities to meet with LaMarcus Aldridge shortly after the free-agency period officially begins at 9:01 p.m. PT Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Aldridge also will meet with the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors on Wednesday and with the New York Knicks on Thursday, league sources told ESPN.com.

According to one source, the chance of Aldridge staying with the Portland Trail Blazers is “very unlikely.”

Knicks star Carmelo Anthony has already called Aldridge, sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard.

ESPN.com reported in May that both the Spurs and Mavericks strongly believe they’ll have a great shot to lure Aldridge back to his home state of Texas. But sources said last week that Aldridge is actually thinking more and more about a free-agent jump to the Lakers.

The Lakers, sources added, firmly believe they will now be in the Aldridge hunt. And there is a rising sentiment, sources said, that the Lakers have edged past the Mavericks on Aldridge’s wish list despite the fact that he was a high school star in Dallas.

The Spurs, sources say, continue to be Aldridge’s most likely destination if he goes through with the idea of leaving the Blazers to start anew. The contingent for San Antonio’s pitch to Aldridge is expected to include Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich, according to multiple media reports.

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Opting out only option for Wade


VIDEO: GameTime: Dwyane Wade opts out

Dwyane Wade sat before the ABC TV cameras during The Finals and referred to his time with the Heat in the past tense. His father showed up an event wearing a Cavaliers t-shirt. Wade has let it be known that he and Kobe Bryant always got along swimmingly during their time as USA Basketball teammates.

So Wade sent word Monday that he would not pick up his option for the 2015-16 season and that is just one more sign that his bags are packed to leave Miami?

Maybe.

Will somebody please just give D-Wade a hug?

*** FREE AGENCY COVERAGE TONIGHT ON NBA TV: The Starters, 6:30 ET | Free Agent Fever, 7 ET & 11:30 ET ***

Let’s face it. The Heat icon who has been a key part of three championship teams with the only NBA franchise he has ever played for wants to be loved, just like the rest of us.

Unlike the rest of us, Wade is hoping to paid in the neighborhood of $20 million per year, because he figures he’s been a loyal soldier through the years, recruiting LeBron James and Chris Bosh to South Florida and then leaving money on the table in order to accommodate them. In Bosh’s case, twice.

What Wade is finding out is that loyalty only goes as far in pro sports as your next game and, at 33, the harsh reality is that the Heat don’t think he’s got as many great ones still ahead of him, which is why team president Pat Riley is trying to move ahead to the next incarnation of the franchise by focusing on signing Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside and then fitting Wade in where he can.

It is hard to blame Wade for feeling a bit taken for granted as he was the facilitator the Big Three Era. Yet it’s also difficult to see how the 11-time All-Star is going to get the kind of payday anyplace else that he’s asking from the Heat.

In the last three years, his ailing knees have forced Wade to miss 20, 28 and 13 games and, with the wear and tear from the way he plays the game, give nobody reason to think that he can relied upon as the lead horse to pull the wagon. From that standpoint, Riley has to make the hard choices to hold the line somewhere in order to cycle in new blood through the system in order to avoid becoming the South Florida Lakers.

Opting out of his contract is the only bit of leverage Wade has, but it isn’t much. He can hope public sentiment nudges the Heat to do something, anything to let him feel a bit more loved and respected. He’s come this far letting the Heat know he’s unhappy, so he had to play it out by becoming a free agent.

Wade’s choices are to go coast-to-coast to play with Kobe and the Lakers, run to join his buddy LeBron in Cleveland to chase another championship ring or take a smaller slice of the pie to prove a point somewhere else in the league.

But the odds are greatly against him getting paid more than what the Heat will give him. Which means when it’s all over, Wade in Miami isn’t necessarily all over.

With or without that hug.

Morning shootaround — June 3


VIDEO: Dennis Scott and Rick Kamla make their picks for the 2015 Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Williams joins Donovan’s staff | Speights ‘more than likely’ to play in Finals | Bosh goes through workout with Heat

No. 1: Report: Williams joins Donovan’s staff in OKC — Roughly three weeks ago, the New Orleans Pelicans fired coach Monty Williams after five seasons on the job. They have since filled his position with Golden State Warriors assistant coach Alvin Gentry and Williams, it seems, has a new gig lined up as well. According to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Williams will become the lead assistant on rookie coach Billy Donovan‘s staff in Oklahoma City:

Monty Williams has reached an agreement to become the top assistant under Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

For Donovan, who is transitioning from the University of Florida to the NBA, the securement of Williams stands as the first significant coup of his regime.

Donovan and Thunder general manager Sam Presti targeted Williams and sold him on a prominent role on the staff. The Thunder have championship aspirations with a core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, and playing a part in helping Oklahoma City into a deep run in the postseason could become a springboard for Williams, 43, to ascend into another head coaching job.

Donovan will keep Oklahoma City assistant Mark Bryant and Darko Rajakovic on staff, and likely make former Alabama coach Anthony Grant his No. 3 assistant coach, league sources said. The Thunder are still searching for an assistant coach with a strong defensive pedigree, sources said.

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Morning shootaround — May 30




VIDEO: NBA TV analysts discuss Scott Skiles return to Orlando

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Wade could test Heat | Hoiberg on tap | Skiles returns to Orlando | Harden wants help | Irving welcomes rest

No. 1: Wade could force Riley’s hand — What price loyalty? Over the years while team president Pat Riley has shuffled the roster to keep the Heat in the championship mix, franchise player Dwyane Wade has frequently made financial sacrifices to make it all work. He gave up money to get LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami. He took a shorter deal last summer after James left and the team gave Bosh a big, long-term deal. Now it could be time for Wade to expect his payoff and Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel says it could prove a challenge to Riley:

Amid the uncertainty of the team’s roster situation last June, Wade opted out of the final two years that was left on that contract. Then, once LeBron James elected to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency, Wade re-upped with the Heat on a two-year, $31 million deal that included a $16 million salary for 2015-16 at his option. That contract left more than $10 million on the table from what he otherwise would have collected by not opting out last June.

At the same time, Heat center Chris Bosh, who also is represented by Thomas, secured a maximum free-agent offer from the Houston Rockets, which then led to Bosh agreeing to a five-year, $118 million package with the Heat that began this past season.

Now, with James playing for a championship in Cleveland, it appears Wade might be seeking the type of significant deal he did not secure last summer.

“Several guys opted out of their contract last year,” Thomas said. “Obviously Dwyane wasn’t in a position that Chris was in, in terms of having another team offer a maximum deal. But the reality of this is he’s played his entire career for Miami. He’s done wonderful things in terms of the five titles that they played for, winning three of them.

“He’s had a tremendous career, and we’re just trying to see whether or not there’s room to continue that.”

***

No. 2: Bulls ready to make Hoiberg coach — In a city known for plenty of political secrets and more than its share of back room dealing, nobody is surprised that the Bulls have Fred Hoiberg lined up to the be their next head coach, replacing the fired Tom Thibodeau. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times says its only a matter of Hoiberg making things official:

“It’s just when Fred [Hoiberg] says yes to them, not if,’’ the source said. “This is a year in the works.’’

Coaches – both college and at the NBA level – are actually very much dialed into one another, and there weren’t many in either profession that didn’t feel like the Bulls and Hoiberg would be a match “sooner than later.’’

With the NBA Finals between Cleveland and Golden State set to start on Thursday, the Bulls could have the Hoiberg matter signed, sealed and delivered before then.

The only possible hiccup out there seems to be the Minnesota Timberwolves, who also covet Hoiberg. Hoiberg played for the Timberwolves from 2003-05, and then was an assistant general manager for the franchise, seemingly on the fast track to become the general manager. When that never materialized, he went into coaching prior to the 2010 season, and has turned Iowa State into a prominent NCAA program.

According to sources, he’s actually been on the Bulls’ radar since late last year as a Plan B, and as the relationship between now former coach Tom Thibodeau and the front office disintegrated as the year has gone on, he was Plan A with no realistic options following him.

That’s what made the press conference with VP of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman such good theater on Thursday, as the two had to do their best to act like it will be a vast coaching search.

“We’ve got certain criteria that we’re going to be looking for in the next coach,’’ Forman said. “But we’re not going to put ourselves in a box – ‘had to be a head coach, had to be an assistant coach, what level they’ve coached on’ – we’re really going to look for the right fit.

“And I went through some of those things that I’ve talked about. Obviously someone that can lead, but we’ve got to get somebody that can communicate at a high level, that’s got great knowledge of the game, obviously experience is a plus, as far as coaching is concerned. If they’ve been a head coach even more so, but we’re not going to limit our search in any way.’’

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No. 3: Skiles hopes to make more Magic in Orlando — It took Scott Skiles and Magic president Alex Martins some time to make sure they were getting back together for all the right reasons, but the former point guard made his return to Orlando official and now he picks up the rebuilding process, says Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

In reality, however, the Magic first had to overcome a significant obstacle, a hurdle in Skiles’ mind.

“I wanted to make sure I was being hired because they thought I could coach, not because I was someone that was affiliated with the organization in the past,” Skiles said.

That concern, Skiles explained, started to fade away once he and the team’s general manager, Rob Hennigan, held a seven-hour talk in Skiles’ suburban Orlando home in recent weeks.

“The first conversation I had with him, I made it very clear that our first priority was to get to know each other on a personal level,” Hennigan said. “The conversation really sort of cascaded from there. I didn’t bring up one time that it was a bonus that he played here or has familiarity with the area and the fan base. That was truly just gravy.”

Throughout a press conference late Friday afternoon, Hennigan and Martins sought to combat the widespread perception that the team hired Skiles because of his past ties to the franchise.

Martins said Hennigan provided him with a list of potential hires shortly after the season ended, and Hennigan started to go through each name one-by-one. When Hennigan arrived at Skiles’ name and started to speak, Martins stopped Hennigan and told him that Hennigan had to arrive at his own conclusions.

Martins added that he spoke with Skiles just twice between the end of the regular season and Friday. The first time lasted just several minutes and was meant to inform Skiles that Hennigan would be in contact. The second time occurred Thursday, when Skiles, Martins and Hennigan traveled to Grand Rapids, Mich., to speak with the DeVos family.

“I truly wanted this to be an objective decision about his coaching ability,” Martins said Friday. “I didn’t want my personal past with Scott and my experience with him of having been a player here and our relationship to enter into that. We truly had to find the right coach for this team.”

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No. 4: Harden would welcome playmaker — One look at a worn-away, worn-down, worn-out James Harden at the end of the Western Conference finals was all that was needed to tell you that the MVP candidate could not be expected to carry so much of the load if he is going to carry the Rockets to their goal of winning a championship. At the team’s exit interviews on Friday, Harden confirmed that he would welcome the offseason acquisition of a playmaking point guard so the Rockets can take the next step forward. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has the details:

He said he “definitely” would like to see the Rockets add another playmaker to take some of that responsibility out of his hands.
“That’s one of the conversations me and Daryl are going to have (and) the coaches,” Harden said. “That’s one of the pieces to add, but that’s later conversations. We’ll be all right. We’re very confident in the group we have. This summer we have to work hard and be ready for next year.”

Still, Harden said the Rockets could benefit from keeping more of their core together. Of the 15 players on the Rockets final 2013-14 roster, seven were gone by the start of the next season. Just five players on roster that faced the Trail Blazers were around by the start of this season’s playoffs.

He called keeping the Rockets’ nucleus together “very important” and spoke of the benefits of growing together.

“If we get Pat (Beverley) and D-Mo (Donatas Motiejunas) back healthy, we’re a really good team, a really deep team,” Harden said.

“We’re pretty good with what we have, maybe add a piece or so. But we made it this far with a couple of our guys injured and banged up. Put those guys together and we’ll be a lot better.”

Harden said he intends to work on his “entire game,” and cited “different aspects of shooting, coming off pin-downs, my ball-handling, not turning the basketball over so much.  Post-up game.”

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No. 5: Break before Finals suits Irving — The rest of basketball world may not be happy with more than a week break before the start of the NBA Finals. But Cavs mending point guard Kyrie Irving says the break before taking on the Warriors is just what the doctor ordered, according to our own Steve Aschburner:

“I’m participating in everything,” Irving said after the Cavaliers’ workout Friday. “We just had a light practice today. The next few days, we’ll definitely ramp it up, I assume. I’m in everything. So I’m ready to go.”

That’s a departure from the previous three rounds. Irving sprained his right foot early in the first round against Boston, which, as he continued to play on it, led to a compensating injury in his left knee. That tendinitis limited him against Chicago and caused him to skip Games 2 and 3 against Atlanta in the East finals.

The three-time All Star, 23, did at least travel with the Cavs to Atlanta to start the series, then took a side trip to Florida with Cleveland team physician Dr. Richard Parker to consult with noted sports orthopedist Dr. James Andrews. They came back with a tweaked treatment plan, which Irving credited for helping him play in the Game 4 clincher Tuesday. He scored 16 points in 22 minutes in the 30-point blowout.

Irving’s production hasn’t dropped off entirely, even though he has lacked his signature turbocharged quickness, along with the trust in his body. In 12 games, he has averaged 18.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists, and his player-efficiency rating of 20.3 is within his PER range of 20.1 to 21.5 through his first four NBA seasons.

But going through the “will he or won’t he?” uncertainty with the knee (the foot isn’t much of an issue anymore) took a mental toll on Irving. So did the layers of treatment, even as he was trying to properly prepare in case he did play.

“You know, being hurt sucks. Especially in a time like that,” Irving said. “So it was just a learning experience, to say the least. But it was a test of my will. I was very resilient in what I was doing. Hopefully going forward I don’t have any relapse.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Klay Thompson could miss at least several days of practice before The Finals after diagnosis of a concussion….Dwight Howard will miss the 2015-16 season opener after getting upgraded to a flagrant foul in the Western Conference finals closer…Warriors Bogut says Dwight Howard crosses the line with physical play…Alvin Gentry is the first candidate to get a second interview with the Pelicans…Wes Matthews leaves the door open in Portland….Thabo Sefolosha says New York police have damaged his reputation

Reversal of fortune for Heat down stretch


VIDEO: Wade gets a tough shot to drop in a losing effort

So this is what the post-LeBron James verdict looks like for the Heat: A losing record in a powderpuff conference, Dwyane Wade‘s brain trying to overcompensate for his body, a costly loss Saturday at home to Toronto and another day or two before their absence from the playoffs becomes official.

Yes, this is a rather steep drop from four straight trips to the NBA Finals and two championships and lots of bubbly being uncorked at LIV, the South Beach playpen for a franchise that owned the NBA since 2010. There will be no celebrating the 2014-15 season, one in which the Heat hoped for the best but was served with a worst-case scenario come true.

An injury to Chris Bosh and the LeBron defection will cause Miami to become the first NBA Finalist to miss the playoffs since the 2004-05 Lakers, and this will also be the first Erik Spoelstra-coached team to hit the golf course early. Well, you could understand. No team could survive the loss of two-thirds of a Big Three and expect to live happily thereafter. Although Wade was brilliant at times, especially after healing from a nagging hamstring issue, the Heat couldn’t overcome all the losses or a chance to avoid a losing season.

A critic could nit-pick and say Miami shouldn’t made a stronger stand in the East, where the Celtics (!) could make the playoffs. Remember, not only did Miami have Wade, but Bosh made the All-Star team before a blood clot was found on his lung and ended his season. Plus, Miami stumbled upon the discovery of the year in center Hassan Whiteside and also traded for Goran Dragic at the deadline.

Yet: Miami got too much inconsistency from Luol Deng and Dragic has been a mild disappointment. Here’s all you need to know: Miami leaned on Michael Beasley down the stretch. Seriously.

And now, the question becomes: How long will this non-playoff stretch last for the Heat? Assuming they get good health form their key players, the easy answer to that is: Not for long. They’ll have Wade, Bosh and Dragic (if he re-signs as expected) next season, and if Whiteside doesn’t suddenly turn into a pumpkin, then they’ll have a double-double center as well. In the East, that’s a team worth 44 wins.

It would be dangerous to underestimate Pat Riley and Micky Arison, especially with the free agent class of 2016 coming soon. LeBron isn’t walking in that door again, but eventually, someone else will.

Blogtable: 2015’s biggest surprise and disappointment?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Surprise and disappointment? | Under-the-radar free agents? | Your All-Defensive team



VIDEOThese guys might have been the League Pass team of 2014-15

> With one week left, what has been the biggest surprise of this NBA season? And biggest disappointment?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No way, no how did I expect the Atlanta Hawks’ leap in the standings off of last season’s 38-44. Two of Atlanta’s big offseason moves were trading away Lou Williams and drafting Adreian Payne in the first round, so the help didn’t come from the outside. That’s development, building, bonding. My biggest disappointment: the rubble of Oklahoma City’s 2015 championship aspirations. It’s a bummer for the Thunder, the nasty West bracket is a little less head-spinning and it’s always tricky business propping open a window of contention to accommodate injuries. So often, either the time is right or it’s not, and OKC’s might be passing.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Everybody’s been waiting for the injuries to catch up with the Rockets all season, but James Harden’s MVP-level play hasn’t let them fall and could even produce the No. 2 seed in the West. We knew he was good. His play has been shockingly good. The biggest disappointment has been the long list of injured stars that have unfortunately made for more headlines off the court than on: Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, DeMar DeRozan, Jabari Parker, just to name a few. But for sheer, jaw-dropping, oh-my-God-how-did-that-happen, awfulness, I can’t neglect to mention that huge hole in the ground at 7th Ave, between 31st and 33rd Sts. in Manhattan. Nobody expect that big of a crater from the New York Knicks.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The biggest surprise is easy: John Stockton, fresh off releasing a book, starring in insurance commercials, in costume and everything. Who is this guy? The Knicks will come back to make the playoffs on the last night of the regular season, then win the championship, and it still won’t top Stockton, who worked hard to avoid the spotlight as a player, as the king of all media. (If you’re going to insist on a surprise on the court, it’s anyone blowing away the field in the Western Conference standings. This was supposed to be a tight race, right? The Warriors have turned it into a non-race.) Biggest disappointment: Injuries. They happen every year, only this time fate ganged up on the Thunder, costing OKC the chance for a long playoff run, and on the rookies, costing everyone the chance to see three of the best newcomers for more than a portion of the season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Celtics might make the playoffs despite dumping their top two players (Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo) and watching another miss games because of injuries (Jared Sullinger). Yes, the East is so bad that somebody with a losing record was destined to make the playoffs, but still this rates as a surprise to a degree. Disappointing? Lance Stephenson bombing almost immediately in Charlotte and never recovering. I figured if nothing else, he’d be a pain off the court, not on it.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The biggest surprise is the dominance of the Hawks and Warriors in their respective conferences. I had Atlanta eighth among East teams in my preseason Power Rankings and only two GMs picked them to win the Southeast Division. They were, by far, the East’s best team until it was time to ease off the gas pedal, beating a lot of Western Conference contenders along the way. The Warriors were projected higher than the Hawks, but I don’t think anybody saw them registering the best point differential since Steve Kerr was playing for the Bulls. The biggest disappointment is Oklahoma City suffering through a wasted season with Kevin Durant’s ongoing foot issue. The Thunder are a title contender when healthy and while they’re still in the mix for a playoff spot, their season really never got off the ground.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The biggest and most pleasant surprise has been the Atlanta Hawks and their improbable rise from an offseason filled with uncertainty. I don’t think anyone but the most die-hard of Atlanta fans would admit to believing the Hawks would put together the sort of season they have. How they finish the story in the playoffs remains to be seen. But there is no doubt the Hawks achieved the unthinkable finishing atop the Eastern Conference regular season standings. The biggest disappointment, and I don’t think we need to belabor the point, has been the bi-coastal dumpster fires that have consumed the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks this season. I knew they’d struggle mightily. But the Lakers and Knicks have been brutal this season. Just brutal.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Hawks have been the most inspiring team: They may be benefiting from the Spurs’ system, but they’ve been running it without Hall of Fame talent, and if their devotion to teamwork could produce a championship then it would be a huge breakthrough for the NBA. The biggest disappointment has been the physical breakdown of so many players: The Rockets, Clippers, Spurs, Cavaliers, Blazers, Bulls, Thunder, Pelicans, Raptors, Wizards, Bucks, Jazz, Pacers, Heat, Hornets, Pistons, Kings, Lakers, 76ers, Timberwolves and Knicks have all been diminished by meaningful injuries this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: You’re baiting me, right? How can I not go with the Atlanta Hawks, the team that was pegged by many to be a playoff team, but nobody, not in their wildest dreams, expected the Hawks to have the season they’re having. As for biggest disappointment, it’s hard to overlook the team right up I-85 from the Hawks, the Charlotte Hornets. I know they’ve had injuries throughout the season, but adding Lance Stephenson seems to have just made that whole situation into a mess.

Morning shootaround — March 28


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks clinch Eastern Conference | Mavericks lose Ellis | What’s next for Thunder, Durant? | Shaq would have stayed in Orlando

No. 1: Hawks clinch Eastern Conference — Coming into this season, the Atlanta Hawks were dealing with an underwhelming free agency period, a GM on an indefinite leave of absence, and an ownership group that wanted to sell the franchise. And then the season started, which the Hawks used as a terrific reminder that all the off the court noise ends there, and what really matters is the results on the floor. Friday night, with a win over the Miami Heat, the Hawks moved to 55-17 on the season and clinched the Eastern Conference championship. Yet despite the incredible season and improbable title, as Jeff Schultz writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks acted like it was no big deal …

The Hawks clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs Friday night and they acted as if they had just beaten Milwaukee on a Tuesday in November.

That’s probably a good thing.

“Maybe we’ll do a little, ‘Hip-hip, hooray’ on the plane,” Kyle Korver said.

“I mean, it’s great,” Paul Millsap said. “But we really haven’t been focusing on it. We’ve got bigger goals ahead. We haven’t been looking at the scoreboard or looking at other teams. We’ve been looking at ourselves, trying to get ourselves right.”

The Hawks (55-17), playing the best defense they had in a few weeks, led Miami by 18 points at halftime (55-37) and cruised to a 99-86 win over the remains of the Heat.

Miami isn’t the same team without LeBron James (Cleveland) and Chris Bosh (injured), and with Dwyane Wade seemingly playing on one leg. The Heat’s bandwagon fan base, which used to fill Philips Arena, also appears to have shrunk, or at least morphed into Cleveland fans. Funny how that works.

But the Hawks’ win, combined with Cleveland’s loss to Brooklyn, officially clinched the East, even if it was a bit anti-climactic. It almost seemed fitting that when coach Mike Budenholzer walked into the locker room minutes after the game to tell his players that the Cavaliers had lost, half of the team was in the showers.

“Bud found out, came in and there were only like five guys in here,” Korver said. “He was like, ‘Good accomplishment, we won the East.’”

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No. 2: Mavericks lose Ellis — The Dallas Mavericks have made several changes this season — trading for Rajon Rondo, signing Amar’e Stoudemire — and despite the growing pains involved they have managed to remain in the playoff picture. But a calf injury last night to Monta Ellis not only got Mark Cuban fired up on Twitter, but without Ellis on the floor, as Tim McMahon writes for ESPNDallas.com, the Mavericks offense was a “hot mess” …

The Dallas offense didn’t exactly look healthy without its leading scorer. The Mavs scored a grand total of 22 points in the final 18:43 without Ellis, finishing with their second-lowest point total of the season.

Of course, the Mavs didn’t quite light it up in the first half with a healthy Ellis, either. Dallas scored only 41 points in the first half, shooting 38.6 percent from the floor. But the Mavs closed the first half with a 10-2 run, capped by Ellis speeding through the Spurs for a coast-to-coast layup, and opened the second half with a 13-4 spurt to slash the Spurs’ lead to four.

Then Ellis limped off the floor with 6:43 remaining in the third quarter, a little bit after he got kneed in the calf while defending Manu Ginobili, and took the life out of the Mavs’ offense with him. Dallas didn’t score for the next 3:03 and managed only 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Forwards Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons failed to pick up the slack with Ellis out. They both failed to score in double figures, combining for only 16 points, none of which came in the fourth quarter.

Was that hot mess a preview of the Mavs’ offense minus Ellis?

“We’ll find out,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said before correcting himself. “Hopefully, we won’t have to find out.”

The Mavs will know more about Ellis’ status on Saturday, but his streak of playing in 237 consecutive games is certainly in jeopardy. The Mavs’ next game is Sunday night in Indiana.

“We just have to wait and see what the doctors say and how he feels tomorrow,” Nowitzki said. “Hopefully, he will be OK. We all know he plays injured and sick and he is always there for his team.”

It could be painful to watch the Mavs without their best creator by far, but it also might be in everyone’s best interest if Ellis misses some time. The Mavs have no hope of making a playoff run if Ellis isn’t at his best.

Ellis’ toughness can’t be questioned. He has proven repeatedly that he’ll fight through pain and play through injuries. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, particularly with the playoffs weeks away.

Ellis refused to even consider missing any games after straining his left hip two games before the All-Star break. The injury bothered Ellis for weeks, a major factor in an extended slump he finally busted out of with his 38-point performance in Tuesday’s home win over the Spurs.

“Our trainers will evaluate the situation, and we’ll communicate with him,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t see us putting him out there if he’s not feeling good. You can’t underestimate his ability to bounce back from things. He’s a fighter, he loves to compete and he hates missing games. That said, we aren’t going to put him in harm’s way.”

***

No. 3: What’s next for Thunder, Durant? — The Oklahoma City Thunder have had bad luck with injuries, but even as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have missed time the last few seasons, Kevin Durant was able to carry the load, logging heavy minutes and scoring hundreds of points. But after winning the MVP a season ago, this season Durant hasn’t been able to shake the injury bug, and after having two surgeries on his right foot since the summer, the Thunder announced yesterday that Durant will need a third surgery on that right foot that will keep him out four to six months. The bone graft procedure Durant is in for should give Durant his best shot yet at fixing his troublesome right foot. And with free agency for Durant looming in the summer of 2016, as Royce Young writes at Daily Thunder, there are plenty of questions left to answer …

The big question I’m seeing a lot is, “Did Durant come back too quickly?”

The answer is, yeah, probably, in hindsight. But also what you have to understand is the team is in constant consultation with specialists about this. And sometimes, things don’t go as anticipated. It’s not like they were just saying, “I don’t care, get Durant back out there before we lose more games.”

In these situations, it makes everyone feel better to assign blame. Point a finger at someone, lash out, yell, gripe, whatever. And in truth, it probably is someone’s fault in there. Maybe it’s Durant’s. Maybe it’s Sam Presti’s. Maybe it’s the medical team. Maybe it’s your fault, ever think of that?

What’s necessary to keep in mind, though, is no one was being irresponsible here. If Durant did return earlier than he should of, it’s only because he was cleared to do so. The team and Durant can only operate off of what they’re being told, and up until literally a week and a half ago, this thing was healing the way it was supposed to. The thought was that the screwhead had created a severe bone bruise from the constant rubbing, and Durant just couldn’t shake it off without significant time off. That’s what everyone thought. I was told by someone that’s pretty close to it all that he was going to play against the Celtics two weeks ago. That’s how unexpected this turn of events became.

Durant practiced on that Saturday before, doing some 3-on-3, then he played 1-on-1 in Dallas on Monday. And after that, he walked out of the arena with a severe limp, and pretty deflated. It wasn’t improving the way it was supposed to with the increased activity and at that point, the writing was really on the wall.

It doesn’t look good that Durant has had three surgeries on his foot. One is plenty. One is supposed to do the job. With what happened last season with Russell Westbrook, there’s good reason to wonder what’s going on. But I’d look at it this way: The Thunder’s conservative approach opens the door for them to get egg on their face. They didn’t mess around with Westbrook, taking a chance to let him play on a swollen knee. They pulled the plug, and made the decision to scope and deal with the consequences and fallout.

And then they did it again. They knew there would be skeptics and critics, questioning what the hell they were doing. But instead of delaying for the offseason to address it, they prioritized the long-term health of Westbrook and made the decision with only that in mind.

I’d say it worked out pretty well for them, and Westbrook.

The Thunder could’ve taken a different measure here with Durant. They could’ve rested him the next few weeks, then put him back on the practice floor and tried to ease him back on the floor for the postseason. That option was absolutely on the table.

But in collaboration with literally three of the top foot and ankle specialists in the world, the consensus was to go ahead and take the steps to end Durant’s season and do the bone graft. Instead of risking anything in his future, they’re going to just take advantage of the coming offseason which should let him completely heal, and then start over next season.

***

No. 4: Shaq would have stayed in OrlandoShaquille O’Neal began his pro career with the Orlando Magic, and he lasted four seasons before leaving Orlando in bitter circumstances and signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. But time heals all wounds, or at least it does in the Magic Kingdom, and last night the Magic welcomed Shaq back and inducted him into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. In his remarks during the festivities, as Josh Robbins writes in the Orlando Sentinel, Shaq said if he could do it over again, he would have played out his seven-year contract in Orlando and handled things differently …

Flanked by Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, the mammoth center led Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals, where the Magic lost to Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston Rockets in four games.

The next year, the Magic fell to Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals in four games.

O’Neal never played for the Magic again.

The Magic initially made him a low offer, and the Lakers swooped in with a $121 million offer and the lure of Hollywood.

The Magic eventually offered O’Neal a deal that eclipsed the Lakers’ offer, but it was too late. Restricted free agency didn’t exist in those days, so the Magic were powerless to prevent O’Neal from leaving.

And he left.

“We came back later and beat the Lakers’ offer at the closing minutes,” said Magic co-founder and Magic Hall of Famer Pat Williams. “But, emotionally, Shaq was gone.”

O’Neal was 24-years-old when he spurned the Magic in favor of the Lakers.

“It was all business,” O’Neal said. “Do I regret it? I never fully answered. I regret it sometimes. This is where I started, where I should’ve stayed. I actually wish that they [had] made it a law that whoever drafted you, you’ve got to stay there your whole career. No trades. No nothing. No free agency. No anything like that. Do I regret it? I regret it only because the DeVos family, they deserve a couple [of NBA titles].”

As it turned out, he didn’t finally win a title with the Lakers until 2000 — four years after he left the Magic.

“I just wish I would’ve had more patience,” O’Neal revealed. “It was all about I wanted to be protected from the bashing. What I mean by that [is] I wanted to win then. Even when I got there [to L.A.], I still got bashed and it still took four years to win. But I was very impatient. I was very young, and I thought that if I go there with those guys out there, that I could win right away. And that wasn’t the case.

“So now that I’m older now, I wish as a youngster, I wish I had had more patience.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Jazz player and announcer Hot Rod Hundley has died at 80 … Warriors big man Draymond Green has launched a line of t-shirts poking fun at Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers … The Rockets got Dwight Howard back from injury and now lose big man Donatas Motiejunas for a few weeks with a back injury … The Heat hope to get Hassan Whiteside back by the playoffs … The Nets have signed Earl Clark to a 10-day contract

Blogtable: Upset-minded team in East?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Extend the season? | Rethinking age limit? | Upset-minded East playoff team?



VIDEOPaul George is holding out hope he’ll be able to return for a potential playoff run

> If I told you a sleeper team was going to pull off a major upset in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, which team would you tag to make that prediction come true: Bucks, Pacers, Hornets or Heat?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Pacers, though I say that without trying to predict the first-round matchups. Indiana already is a different team that most foes have faced this season, and if Paul George is able to return and blend into what’s already working, the Pacers could bite a top seed in the behind. Now, if they wind up eighth and Atlanta stays at No. 1, that’s a tall order because the Hawks came close to upsetting them a year ago and are better now. But given the Pacers’ pride and desire to salvage what had been a mostly lost season, I’d take them very seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Bucks with their stingy, No. 2-rated defense, 3-point shooting ability, rising youth in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams and the been-there-done-that smarts of coach Jason Kidd. They could be a we-having-nothing-to-lose handful.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Maybe I’m just getting caught up in the good vibrations of the moment — stringing together wins, Paul George back on the practice court — but I’ll go Pacers. Same problems scoring, but Indy defends and rebounds. Tough not to like that as a starting point for an upset, obviously depending on the matchup. I’d put the Bucks a close second.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Honestly, I don’t like any of their chances, but I’ll go with the Bucks. They’ll likely have a better seeding and therefore a more evenly-matched first round. Plus, they’re young with fresh legs that’ll come in handy in late April, and their coach, Jason Kidd, has been there and done that in this league.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Indiana is the clear pick. The Pacers have been the best team in the league (both in regard to record and point differential) since Feb. 1. They have a great defense and an offense that has improved with a healthy George Hill in the starting lineup and Rodney Stuckey coming off the bench. They have a coach and a roster with playoff experience, and maybe one of the league’s best players coming back. But I would still have a hard time picking them against Atlanta, Chicago or Cleveland. 

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m tagging the Pacers and relishing the idea, based on the standings at this moment, of a Cleveland Cavaliers-Pacers No. 2 vs No. 7 first-round matchup. Talk about a major upset, this one would be colossal. Paul George comes back. Roy Hibbert rediscovers the All-Star within. Coach Frank Vogel gets his revenge for last season’s meltdown and the team’s staggering fall from grace. Doing it at the expense of long-time foe LeBron James would only add to the intrigue of a storybook scenario for the Pacers … and it is indeed an absolute fantasy. I don’t think there are any upsets to be had in the first round. Not based on what we see in the standings right now.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Pacers are the East’s poor-man version of OKC. Based on their current trend with their best players – including Paul George – returning to health, then no one at the top of the standings is going to want to see Indiana.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I have a hard time pegging the Pacers as an underdog, even as long as Paul George is out. This is a team with guys like Roy Hibbert, David West, George Hill, Luis Scola — quality NBA veteran players. I know that they’ve been without George this season and have dealt with other injuries, but if anything, to me the Pacers have the pieces to be better than they’ve been for most of this season. And then it’s not if George returns, it’s which George might return — I don’t expect to see the George who was one of the best players in the NBA, because that will take time to find and get back to, even just mentally. But I do think if they can get back any version of George that provides depth and is able to knock down an occasional open jumper, that could be a huge postseason help.

Upset-minded East teams
For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Bosh shows Whiteside how it’s done


Video: Whiteside ejected after hit on Olynyk

There was a welcome sighting, and an unnecessary sighting, in American Airlines Arena involving a pair of Heat players at important junctions in their careers.

Chris Bosh made his first public appearance Monday since undergoing surgery last month to remove blood clots on his lung. He said he won’t resume normal basketball duties until the fall. Bosh held a pregame news conference first, then took the microphone before the Heat-Celtics tip and expressed thanks for all the well-wishes, almost choking up in the process. Bosh received an ovation, then spent the rest of the game on the Heat bench.

There, he watched Hassan Whiteside deliver an unprovoked cheap shot at Kelly Olynyk, which earned an easy ejection. A suspension is almost sure to follow for Whiteside, who rammed Olynyk from behind and sent the Celtics forward flying into the court-side photographers, dazed and certainly confused. What the heck?

“I don’t even know what happened,” said Olynyk.

Whiteside has been a pleasant revelation this season for the Heat, coming from basketball oblivion to collect double-doubles almost nightly and become the big man’s version of Linsanity. Still, he has plenty to learn about the game and being a professional. Just last week he was involved in a scuffle with Alex Len. Now this. While the Len incident was simply two centers rubbing each other the wrong way, and ended with Whiteside tackling Len to the ground, Olynyk did nothing to warrant an elbow to the back of the head, and could have been injured on the play.

“We’ll handle it and it will be corrected,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “Everybody’s responsible to the team.”

Whiteside would do well to emulate one of the more upstanding players in basketball. The grace shown by Bosh, not only Monday but throughout his career, is the right example to follow. There’s no need to resort to being a knucklehead, not with his future, which seems bright. Better to be like Bosh.