Posts Tagged ‘Dwight Howard’

Heat take LeBron-sized hit, but they’re not done for yet


VIDEO: Chris Bosh stays put in Miami and assumes the No. 1 spot?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Chris Bosh has been saying it for a while now. He believes in his heart of (basketball) hearts that he is already a sure-fire Hall of Famer, not only one of the greatest players of his generation, but of all time.

With the free-agent dust finally settled a bitLeBron James heading to Cleveland, Carmelo Anthony sticking around in New York and many other moves — Bosh will get a chance to prove his point.

Bosh could have slipped off to Houston for their max offer and continued his career as the No. 2 or No. 3 option with the Rockets alongside All-Stars James Harden and Dwight Howard. But Pat Riley convinced him to stick around and keep it going in Miami to the tune of five years and $118 million, not to mention the challenge of proving to folks that he’s more than the third wheel he was for much of the Big 3 era.

As crazy as it sounds to some who didn’t pay attention to Bosh before he donned a Heat jersey, he is the man now like he once was in Toronto. And like everyone else in the post- LeBron era in Miami, he’ll get a chance to prove that the Heat was more than just a one-man show.

We all asked the same question when word of LeBron’s coming home letter spread. What’s next for the Heat? Will they fold up and head for the lottery the way Cleveland did in 2010 when the decision was made for James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade to join forces in Miami?

Riley, laying flat on his back after LeBron’s latest decision, quickly dusted himself off and saved the Heat from disaster. Wade and Udonis Haslem, who also opted out of their deals along with LeBron and Bosh to give Riley the flexibility to retool the Heat this summer, were never going anywhere. But Bosh had one foot out the door headed to Houston.

Riley, armed with $30 million more in cash than Houston was offering and the challenge of being “The Man,” went to work on Bosh and got the deal done. Free agents Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger had already agreed to join the party. He locked up Luol Deng on a two-year deal, not to mention Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Mario Chalmers, before the weekend ended, keeping the Heat in the thick of what should be a wide-open Eastern Conference race next season.

“He saved that franchise from who knows how many tough years,” said an executive from one of the Heat’s Southeast Division rivals. “They were on fumes Friday night after the LeBron news. Everybody goes into free agency with contingency plans. But that’s a death-blow, losing the best player in the game. But you have to give [Riley] credit, he didn’t flinch. He had to pay Bosh more than he probably wanted to or should have. But he held it together. He had to or else they were done for at least a year or two.”

Where this Heat team ranks in the Eastern Conference now is hard to tell. Chicago, with Pau Gasol on the way, suddenly looks a while lot better, provided Derrick Rose returns to form. The Indiana Pacers aren’t going anywhere. And the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks all plan on being in the playoff mix. Throw in LeBron and the Cavaliers and the field is suddenly as crowded as ever … and lacks a clear-cut favorite.

And that’s why Riley should be lauded for the work he did over the weekend.

The Heat aren’t going to be anyone’s favorite to win the East. But they’ll certainly be a viable playoff team and it wouldn’t surprise me if they climb into that top four, too. Especially if Bosh lives up to his own Hall-of-Fame hype and Wade plays with a chip on his shoulder (and through whatever pain is in his knees).

They’ve both carried teams before, with varying degrees of success.

It’s been a while, of course. And they won’t have that 6-foot-8, 250-pound security blanket they’ve relied on the past four years.

But Riley, defiant to the end, believes in the culture and crew, including coach Erik Spoelstra, that remains. He made that clear in the wake of LeBron’s departure.

“Over the last 19 years, since Micky (Arison) and I teamed together, The Miami Heat has always been a championship organization; we’ve won multiple championships and competed for many others,” Riley said in a statement released by the Heat. “Micky, Erik and I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to win and compete for championships for many years to come. We’ve proven that we can do it and we’ll do it again.”

Rumors of the Heat’s demise might have been greatly exaggerated.

Only time will tell.

Rockets back to spinning wheels again

HOUSTON — This is the game the Rockets have chosen to play. Go Fish at a high-stakes poker table.

It was less than a week ago when Dealin’ Daryl Morey bet on a starting lineup that would have included Dwight Howard, James Harden, Chris Bosh, Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley.

Sometimes you draw to a busted flush.

Bosh spurned the Rockets’ $88 million, four-year offer to stay in Miami for $118 million. Simple math.

Now Parsons walks up I-45 to Dallas for $46 million over three years. Simple gaffe.

The Rockets could have kept Parsons for the upcoming season for the final year on his rookie contract, roughly $964,000. But the team chose not to pick up the option in order to keep the right to match any offer that he received. Then they didn’t.

Nice season the Rockets had there in 2013-14. They won 54 games, grabbed the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and were feeling pretty good about themselves until nobody covered Damian Lillard with 0.9 seconds to play.

But when the heartache of that Game 6 loss and sudden ouster in Portland finally faded, there was reason to look ahead. Until this. Now the Rockets are back on the hamster wheel making no progress.

No offense to Trevor Ariza, but he doesn’t move the Rockets up in the West pecking order, doesn’t move the overall program forward.

Then again, the Rockets don’t actually have a program other than to keep swapping names and players and draft choices and salary cap spaces like trading cards. For a fellow who looked like the smartest guy in the room last summer when he landed Howard, Morey celebrates the first anniversary of that coup by telling Houston fans: “See you next summer. Please.”

While the Spurs win their fifth championship in 15 years by building a sense of family and togetherness, the Rockets are like the guy dealing three-card monte on the sidewalk, looking to just outsmart all of the other saps. They’re not looking for a path to long-term stability and success, just shortcuts to the top.

The Rockets brass reportedly also did not believe that a core lineup of Howard, Harden and Parsons was a championship contender. They wanted and needed Bosh with his champion’s pedigree because there remain serious questions about whether Howard or Harden can ever be the lead horse to pull a wagon. So how good is that lineup without Parsons?

The Rockets did not match the Dallas offer to Parsons because they did not want it to eat up too much of their payroll, so they could jump back in and play this game again next summer.

How do you develop real fan loyalty when you keep asking them to trust you and trust you and trust you for a future that’s out there in a world of analytics and promises beyond the stars?

What’s there to sell? Salary cap space, trade exceptions, maybe another video display on the front of the Toyota Center where they could photoshop LaMarcus Aldridge or LeBron James into the jersey of another current player next July.

Hopefully, that cap space and trade exception can come off the bench for some significant minutes, because in all of the grand hustle, an already thin roster became positively anorexic with the leaving of Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and Parsons.

There was a palpable sense of shock and betrayal in Houston when Bosh — who definitely played the flirting game — did not jump into the Rockets’ arms as soon as James announced his return to Cleveland.

But there is no room here for hurt feelings. The Rockets, just like the Heat with LeBron, have to know and understand this game they like to play is the equivalent of a pickup in a singles bar. Sure, we can have some fun. But did you really think we were getting married?

It’s all those fans that keep going home alone at closing time who get stuck with another tab.

Mavs’ power play nabs Chandler Parsons

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Dallas Mavericks rolled the dice and came up with 3-point ace Chandler Parsons.

The Houston Rockets on Sunday opted not to match the aggressive, three-year, $46-million offer sheet Mavericks owner Mark Cuban delivered to the restricted free agent the moment the NBA’s moratorium period expired on Thursday. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle first reported the Rockets would not match, the organization concluding that the high price tag would hinder long-term building.

The always opportunistic Cuban, who partied with Chandler and his parents at a bar after the 6-foot-9 small forward signed the offer sheet, made it official Sunday afternoon, writing “Welcome to Dallas Chandler Parsons” on his Cyber Dust app.

Parsons, who becomes Dallas’ highest-paid player at $15 million next season, alerted the masses via Twitter:

Parson’s arrival, coupled with the trade for Tyson Chandler, means Dallas has flipped a front line of Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Samuel Dalembert into Parsons, Nowitzki and Chandler. The starting lineup rounds out with shooting guard Monta Ellis and either Raymond Felton or Devin Harris at point guard.

Nowitzki, 36, is the hero here. Coming off a four-year, $80-million contract, he agreed to a three-year deal for $30 million in the first week of free agency. The hometown discount allowed Dallas to pad the price of Parsons’ offer sheet. While $15 million per season might seem hefty for a player just three years into his career, put it in terms of $25 million total for Parsons and Nowitzki, and it’s much more palatable.

During the three days the Rockets had to mull their Parsons strategy, they signed small forward and Mavs secondary target Trevor Ariza away from Washington, the first sign Houston might be moving away from Parsons. Another Mavs Plan B target, Luol Deng, agreed to a deal Sunday with Miami.

Suddenly, if Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was going to match, the Mavs’ alternatives were looking bleak at a position they wanted to upgrade. Plus, they had already lost nearly half of their 3-point shooting from last season with Vince Carter signing a free-agent deal with Memphis and Jose Calderon now in New York, the price for acquiring Chandler.

Now Dallas has a 25-year-old borderline All-Star who last season averaged 16.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.0 apg and shot 37.0 percent from beyond the arc. Chandler was the classic “sleeper,” a four-year player at Florida who became the Rockets’ prized second-round pick by tremendously outplaying his low-cost contract.

Dallas believes next to the sweet-shooting Nowitzki and quick-penetrating Ellis, Parsons will fit seamlessly in coach Rick Carlisle‘s flow offense.

This will be a bitter pill to swallow for the superstar-searching Morey. He declined the team option that would pay Parsons $965,000 next season, a move that would have made Parsons an unrestricted free agent in 2015. Morey wanted to clear as much cap space as possible to make a run at LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but always with the objective of retaining Parsons.

Neither superstar chose Houston, but when James announced he was returning to Cleveland, the door opened for a run at All-Star forward Chris Bosh. And the Rockets thought they had him. Only at the last minute Bosh signed a $118-million max contract to stay in Miami, simultaneously nuking Houston’s plans to match Parson’s offer sheet.

For Dallas, the risk paid off gloriously. Parsons will replace Marion, a popular and reliable veteran, and the last player other than Nowitzki from the Mavs’ 2011 championship team. The 36-year-old will likely be moving on as Dallas is down to a $2.73 million exception which they’ll likely use to bolster the backcourt where point guard would appear to be the one key weakness. Combo guard and 3-point specialist Mo Williams has been a target.

Cuban, like Morey, has been big-fish hunting for three summers, but unlike Morey, he has come up empty each time. In a twist surely not lost on either men, Parsons heavily recruited Dwight Howard last summer and the All-Star center passed on Dallas and signed a four-year deal with the Rockets. Now Cuban will certainly delight in a little revenge.

Not to mention an improved roster. Dallas won 49 games last season, yet had to fight to the end to secure the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With the flexible and adaptable Carlisle at the controls, the Mavs, boasting one of the league’s most efficient offenses throughout the regular season, took eventual champion San Antonio to seven games in the first round.

Interior defense was the obvious weakness and Dallas quickly pulled the trigger to return Chandler, the 7-1 anchor who completed the title team.

Now, by taking a gamble mixed with little good fortune, the Mavs got their other Chandler, as in Parsons.

Bosh leaves Rockets on launch pad


VIDEO: Chris Bosh spurns Houston, agrees to re-sign with Miami

The word all along had been that when LeBron James made his decision, the rest of the dominoes would start to fall.

Seems the first one came crashing down on the best laid plans of the Rockets, who had made a four-year, $88-million offer to power forward Chris Bosh.

It was a neat little plan by Rockets general manager Tradin’ Daryl Morey, who had managed to come away with the plums of the past two off-seasons in Dwight Howard and James Harden.

Houston had gone as far trading away a piece of an already thin bench to make room for the All-Star Bosh under the salary by shipping guard Jeremy Lin and a pair of draft choices to the Lakers. What the Rockets took back in that trade was nothing and what they ended up with at the end of the day was just more of it.

Rather than form a new Big Three in Texas, Bosh surprised and spurned the Rockets by choosing to remain in Miami for a reported maximum contract of $118 million over five years.

For the 30-year-old Bosh, it makes all the financial sense in the world and it could be his time to shake off his third-wheel status with the Heatles and go back to the starring role of his Toronto days. He’s a tent-post that club president Pat Riley can build on in reconstructing the Heat again.

While it was well known and publicly stated the Bosh and his family enjoyed living in South Florida, one question is why he stretched out the affair and dragged the Rockets across the dance floor before jilting them. It is, by the way, the second time in four years that Bosh batted his eyes and flirted with Houston only to give the Rockets the kiss-off. Maybe they’ll learn next time not to pucker up.

If you’re keeping score in Houston, that’s no James, no Carmelo Anthony and no Bosh.

So the question becomes: What’s Plan D?

In addition, how do the Rockets respond to the offer sheet three-year, $46 million offer sheet the Mavs gave to forward Chandler Parsons?

When Bosh was in play, the Rockets plan had likely been to dig deep into their pockets to keep Parsons in order to form what, at least on paper, could have been the most solid starting five in the Western Conference — Howard, Harden, Bosh, Parsons and Patrick Beverley.

However, without Bosh to stretch the floor with his shooting and solidify the defense on the frontline, one of the biggest holes in the lineup remains. The Rockets were a 54-win team last season but still with holes and unable to get out of the first round of the playoffs.

Therefore is it worth it to break the bank for Parsons to virtually keep the same together? Of course, the fact that they’re in this predicament is the Rockets’ own doing, since they never had to allow Parsons to become a restricted free agent in the first place. Too cute by half.

According to numerous reports, Morey has spent the past several days talking to the representatives of Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza and Paul Pierce. The other interesting name who might fit in neatly on the front line is Pau Gasol, but indications are that he has shown little interest in Houston.

Deng, Ariza or Pierce would all come far cheaper than Bosh — and even Parsons — but the question is whether a significant commitment to any of them truly moves the Rockets ahead in the rugged Western Conference pecking order.

Morey won’t stop trying to roll the dice and place another bet, because that’s what he does. But in a way, what happened to the Rockets is a variation of what happened to the Heat on Friday. When you play the free agent game, sometimes you get burned.

The difference, of course, is that Miami has two championships and four straight Finals appearances in its grasp and the Rockets just blistered fingers.

Lin trade a steppingstone to Bosh

It was just two years ago when the Rockets brought Jeremy Lin to Houston to be the centerpiece in their Toyota Center showroom.

Now 24 months later, he becomes a traffic cone to be moved out to make room for a bigger, shinier model in Chris Bosh.

The dealing of Lin, along with future first and second round draft picks to the Lakers, is a solid indication that the Rockets feel good about landing the power forward Bosh.

The Rockets had made Bosh a maximum four-year offer of nearly $88 million to join an All-Star lineup that includes Dwight Howard and James Harden. All they were waiting on was the pending free agency decision by LeBron James.

Now that James has announced his return to Cleveland, all signs point to Bosh also fleeing a sinking ship in Miami to join a Rockets team that won 54 games last season and would seem to be a perfect fit for his stretch shooting, team defense and unselfish play.

It is believed that the Rockets also still want to match the three-year, $46 million offer sheet that Chandler Parsons received from the Mavericks. But in order to land both Parsons and Bosh, general manager Daryl Morey still has more maneuvering to do.

It’s likely that the Rockets need to waive all of their non-guaranteed players with the exception of Patrick Beverley and also trade at least two other contracts, probably Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas.

Aldridge: Clock ticking for Rockets to match offer sheet on Parsons

 

parsons

Chandler Parsons averaged 16.6 points and 5.5 boards last season for Houston. (NBAE via Getty Images)

The clock finally began ticking toward resolution on a great number of NBA fronts Thursday, when the Houston Rockets officially received a three-year, $45 million offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks for restricted free agent Chandler Parsons. The Rockets now have three days to decide whether to match the offer sheet and keep Parsons, or decline to match and allow Parsons to go to the Mavericks.

The Parsons sheet, which includes a 15 percent trade kicker (meaning if either Houston or Dallas trades him during the life of the contract, he’s due an additional 15 percent of his remaining salary) and a player option after the second year, was signed early Thursday morning.

Houston’s now facing a dilemma. The Rockets have moved to create enough cap room to make a maximum contract offer to Miami unrestricted free agent Chris Bosh, with trades that would send Omer Asik to New Orleans and Jeremy Lin to Philadelphia for future Draft picks. Those trades can now be carried out with the expiration Thursday of the July Moratorium on all contract signings and trades.

Once those deals are finalized, Houston can offer Bosh a max deal for four years and almost $90 million.

The problem for the Rockets is that if Bosh doesn’t agree to sign with Houston in the next three days, the only way Houston can match the Mavericks’ offer sheet for Parsons is to use the cap room it is saving for Bosh. If Bosh does agree to sign with the Rockets, Houston can exceed the cap in order to match the offer sheet and keep Parsons. But that is the sequence that must take place.

Houston had indicated it would match any sheet for Parsons, and the Rockets may well match this one. But it may cost them a chance at Bosh, which Houston views as the perfect power forward to play alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden.

And the Rockets, of course, are further hampered because Bosh has expressed a preference to continue playing with LeBron James. But Bosh may not know where James is going to play next season in the next 72 hours, as James decides whether to return to Miami or go home and play with the Cavaliers, the team that drafted him first overall in 2003 and that is near his Akron hometown.

The Rockets tried to work out sign-and-trade scenarios with the Mavericks for Parsons before they officially received the offer sheet. But once Houston was given the paperwork, under league rules, it could no longer entertain sign and trade possibilities. The Rockets can now only match or not match.

If the Rockets do match, they won’t be able to trade Parsons for one year without his consent, and they can’t trade him to the Mavericks at all. Nor can his contract be reworked in any way.

The option year is especially vexing to the Rockets and owner Les Alexander, according to a source. They couldn’t trade Parsons without his okay during the first year as stated above. That would leave them only one season with him before he could potentially become an unrestricted free agent — the same summer that Howard could opt out and be unrestricted. Howard and Parsons share the same agent, Dan Fegan.

This scenario unfolded after the Rockets declined their 2014-15 team option on Parsons, making him a restricted free agent. If the Rockets had picked up that one-year option, Parsons would have become an unrestricted free agent in 2015, able to sign anywhere. The reasoning behind that decision was that even though Parsons could get offer sheets in 2014, the Rockets planned to match anything. And it gave the team time to try and sign Parsons to a long-term deal before he hit unrestricted free agency.

Plan B(osh) is better fit for Rockets


VIDEO: Fran Blinebury discusses Houston’s reported offer to Chris Bosh

ORLANDO, Fla. — The bad news for the Rockets is that it looks like their hopes of landing free agent Carmelo Anthony are fading fast.

The good new is their fall-back offer of a max contract to Chris Bosh may actually be a better fit.

That is the general consensus of a handful of coaches, general managers and scouts on hand at the Orlando Pro Summer League.

“On a team with Carmelo, [James] Harden and Dwight [Howard], on most nights one guy is gonna go home mad,” said one executive. “On a lot of other nights, two guys might go home mad. Then there would be those nights when all three are mad. I don’t think that’s a way to win a championship.”

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was at the Amway Center to take in the action of his young wannabes, but was not commenting on reports that the team made an offer of a four-year, $85 million to $88 million contract to Bosh. He originally agreed to do a halftime interview on NBA TV with Isiah Thomas and Matt Winer, but backed out at the last minute.

A year ago, Morey and Rockets coach Kevin McHale got the club fined $150,000 when they arrived at the Summer League and promptly made premature comments about the signing of the free agent Howard. This time it’s zipped lips.

Bosh may not pack the scoring punch or the same A-list marquee appeal as Anthony, but he’s a much better fit for the Rockets’ offense.

“If you’re trying to draw a picture of the kind of player they need to blend right in pretty seamlessly in Houston, you’d come away with a likeness of Bosh,” said a scout. “He’s a stretch four that can make those 3-point shots that Houston loves. He’ll defend. And mostly, he’s not the kind of high-maintenance personality that you’d be taking on in Anthony. He’s the one who’s sacrificed the most in Miami. Carmelo and Harden are just too much alike in needing the ball and they would both have issues giving way to the other one at the end of games.”

Putting Bosh on the front line would be like allowing Howard to step into a time machine and go back to his days in Orlando when Rashard Lewis filled up the bucket with 3-pointers and the Magic went to the NBA Finals in 2009.

“That’s the kind of situation that Howard thrived in with the Magic,” said an assistant coach. “That’s when Dwight was at his best. With Rashard out there, he was able to open up the floor and created so much space for Dwight to go to work.

“The question that a lot of people had about Dwight going into last season was whether he was finally healthy again. Would that back hold up. It looked like it did and it’s safe to say that physically he’s back to being very close to his old self. What you want to see now is an offensive system that allows him to go back to being his old self. That’s Bosh.”

There was a time back in 2010 when Bosh was anything but a fall-back plan for the Rockets. The last time he was a free agent, Morey was knocking on his door one minute after the opening of the free agency period and wanted to make him the foundation of the team. Bosh chose then to join LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami.

Now, four years later, Bosh is right back in their sights as the alternative to Anthony and would probably be the right target, even if Rockets weren’t originally aiming for him.

Wade stuck on the outside looking in?

Dwyane Wade's declining health has sapped some of his impact on the Heat. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Dwyane Wade’s declining health has sapped some of his impact. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – As LeBron James flirts with Cleveland and Chris Bosh gets sweet-talked to leave South Beach for Houston, Dwyane Wade seemingly is left with as little control over the future of the Big Three as he has over his prematurely and chronically achy knees.

If the Heatles do break up after two titles and four trips to the NBA Finals in four seasons, the overriding reason will simply be because Wade broke down. If he’s even close to the same Wade that recruited James and Bosh to Miami four years ago, the Big Three would already be back and the Heat reloading with visions of more titles, while Cleveland would be swooning over the next big thing, Andrew Wiggins, and not now suddenly and breathlessly awaiting reconciliation with their former hometown hero turned villain.

As for Wade, the “Flash” is sadly now more a flash in the pan, his faulty knees robbing him of prime basketball years and possibly now of contending in the years he has left. At age 32 — with knees that suggest his career is much further down the road — Wade stands to be the biggest loser in free agency, a period in which so many believed he, James and Bosh would be back. Of course, they still might.

But if James determines this run is done, he’ll have his choice of teams to transform into instant contenders. Bosh can take the lucrative deal the Rockets reportedly offered him Monday to play with James Harden and Dwight Howard.

But what about Dwyane?

Wade opted out of the final two years and $41.8 million of his contract. Bosh and James opted out of the final two years and $42.7 million of their contracts. Widespread belief held the trio did so to stay together, to rework their deals for additional years but at less money per annum to allow Heat president Pat Riley to refurbish the roster.

Yet reports have suggested that James wants a max deal that would start at more than $20 million. Bosh, reports say, wants in the neighborhood of $80 million and $90 million over five years from Miami and Wade wants between $55 million and $60 million over four years (I suggested Wade’s deal should be four years, $40 million). At those rates, with each knowing the more each took the less would remain for quality reinforcements, the question has to be asked if the Big Three really planned to stay together when they met over a meal prior to free agency or if they actually were saying their goodbyes?

Wade managed to play in just 54 regular-season games last year while adhering to a strict maintenance plan designed to allow him to be at full strength throughout the playoffs. He was still a highly efficient scorer, shooting 54.5 percent while averaging 19.0 ppg on 14.1 field-goal attempts, the lowest total since his rookie season in 2003-04.

But he didn’t play in back-to-back games and missed more games during certain stretches than expected. Wade’s bouncing in and out of the lineup frustrated James, made it impossible to keep a consistent rotation and was likely a significant factor in the Heat’s diminished defensive prowess last season.

In the playoffs, Wade blistered the Pacers for 19.8 ppg on 54.5 percent shooting, but against San Antonio he seemed at a loss to be able shift gears at key times, specifically during the final minutes of Game 1 when the Spurs took control after James left with cramps. In Games 4 and 5, Wade went 7-for-25 from the floor.

It’s difficult to believe Wade won’t be restricted to a similar maintenance program next season. Once a player loses the physical ability that elevated him to superstar status, it typically doesn’t return. That’s the reality Wade and the Heat face.

The season before James and Bosh joined Wade in Miami, the Heat went 47-35 and lost in the first round with a roster that included a younger Udonis Haslem, Michael Beasley in his second season, Quentin Richardson, Jermaine O’Neal, Carlos Arroyo, Mario Chalmers, Rafer Alston and Dorrell Wright.

If James and Bosh elect to go separate ways, upper-tier free agents will begin to be snapped up, and Miami, with only Norris Cole currently under contract (plus first-round pick Shabazz Napier and free agent Josh McRoberts reportedly agreeing to a deal Monday), might be lucky to cobble together a roster as complete as that one in 2009-10.

And Wade, his career now clearly on the down side and his biggest payday still with Miami, could find his fortunes of the last four seasons turned completely upside-down.

Uncertainty reigns for ‘Melo, LeBron


VIDEO: ‘Melo has to choose between the Knicks and Lakers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Smoke, mirrors, rumor, innuendo and uncertainty have ruled the day since free agency began for the biggest names on the market.

With Carmelo Anthony mulling over max offers from at least two teams (the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks) and LeBron James sorting through possible face-to-face presentations from hand-picked finalists, all we know for sure one week into this process is that no one knows for certain if the incumbent teams will hold on to their prized superstars.

The Lakers have given Anthony something to think about and have positioned themselves as the main threat to the Knicks. Rumblings that James is seriously considering a return to his Cleveland roots with the Cavaliers is a narrative that is simply too juicy to ignore, no matter if those rumblings are legitimate or not.

Complicating matters for guys like Heat boss Pat Riley and his Knicks counterpart Phil Jackson is the lack of activity on the part of these superstars one way or another.

Riley cannot move on anything without knowing for sure what LeBron, the linchpin of the Heat’s revitalization blueprint, plans to do. And that leaves Chris Bosh vulnerable to the sales pitch of a team like the Houston Rockets, who have reportedly put themselves in a position to play the role of spoiler with their Plan B options if they miss out on Carmelo (who visited the Rockets on his national recruiting tour last week) and LeBron.

With Omer Asik traded and Dwight Howard in need of an elite power forward to play alongside him, the Rockets have turned their attention to trying to pry Bosh away from the Heat while there is continued uncertainty about what LeBron will do. It makes perfect sense for the Rockets — divide and conquer while strengthening their own ranks with yet another All-Star piece .

The dots connect ultimately back to both Carmelo and LeBron in almost every theoretical scenario.

What if the Heat’s Big Three of LeBron, Bosh and Dwyane Wade went into the process thinking they’d work in concert and allow Riley and the Heat the time needed to work out the details, only to have things change dramatically when it became clear that their individual salary demands and future plans don’t coincide with what the Heat had in mind?

What if the Knicks’ ace in the hole with ‘Melo — that max offer of $129 million that they could offer that no one else could — isn’t enough to keep the face of that franchise in the fold?

That proposed Big Four pipe dream Riley spoke of the week before free agency began appears to be just that for Heat fans, an absolute pipe dream. If the machinations of the past few days aren’t just the hype that comes along with the process for superstars in free agency, keeping the Big Three together could wind up being the real pipe dream.

The fact is, as much as these decisions are about the superstar conglomerates necessary to compete for championships, these superstars are making individual financial decisions that could alter the landscape of the league.

If Carmelo decides to join Kobe Bryant in L.A., and the Lakers put any semblance of a decent supporting cast around them, the Lakers suddenly become a factor again in the rugged Western Conference. And keep in mind, the Lakers and Knicks are the only teams capable of offering Carmelo max money (four years and $97 million in L.A. and five years, $129 million from the Knicks) without making any other roster moves.

If LeBron decides to bolt from Miami and take his talents back to say Cleveland, then he lends instant powerhouse credibility to the mismatching parts (starting with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and the No. 1 overall pick in last month’s NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins) assembled in the wake of his departure via free agency four years ago.

This growing notion that Anthony is choosing between the Lakers and Knicks means that the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Rockets, Phoenix Suns and anyone else positioning themselves as a suitor for the biggest name(s) on the free-agent market would be wise to move on to their alternate plans.

Finding elite role players willing to sacrifice their monster paydays for the greater good in Miami proved more difficult than probably even Riley imagined, given the uncertainty surrounding James, whose commitment might have sped up the process for Riley and the Heat in regards to their pursuit of guys like Kyle Lowry and Marcin Gortat.

They have both agreed to terms on lucrative deals to remain with their respective teams, the Toronto Raptors for Lowry and Washington Wizards for Gortat.

And therein lies the true consequence of kissing and then rolling the free agent dice in today’s NBA.

You can wait for the smoke to clear from the first crazy week of the process and then see where you stand with the impact players, a reasonably sound plan for those operating from a position of power. Then again, as we’ve learned from the smoke, mirrors and innuendo of this weekend alone, it only produces uncertainty until either Carmelo or LeBron makes a decision … or at least gives us a hint as to what they plan to do.

A superstar from contending, Mavs wait

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki will have to be patient with the Mavs’ plans to add help

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Dallas Mavericks are waiting on a superstar. They’re not holding their breath. Still, they must sit tight.

When Dirk Nowitzki agreed to a three-year, $30 million contract with Dallas on Thursday it likely signaled the end of the club’s very brief courtship of Carmelo Anthony. Dallas was also among a select few teams to speak with the agent of LeBron James, and no they wait to see if they’ll be summoned to speak with the King himself, perhaps next week.

Still, it’s difficult to see James selecting the Mavs over a return to the Heat or teaming with James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston, or even with newly minted max point guard Kyrie Irving and No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins in Cleveland, which possesses the added pull of James’ heartstrings.

The willingness of Anthony and James this week, and Howard a year ago, to visit with the Mavs seems more a hat tip to highly visible and player-friendly owner Mark Cuban than bona fide interest in giving it a go alongside Dirk Nowitzki in his twilight years.

Even so, the fact James’ agent granted face-to-face meetings means you’re in the running, even if you’re a long shot. Cuban certainly believes that where there’s an ear, there’s a way. So you wait, holding off on chasing other big-ticket free agents until James and Anthony make their decisions. Only then can the dominoes begin to fall.

Some might believe a more prudent step for Dallas is to strike now at coveted targets, such as Luol Deng (Cleveland) or Trevor Ariza (Washington) or restricted free agent Chandler Parsons (Houston).

Agreeing to terms with any of those players would financially eliminate Dallas from the superstar sweepstakes, and until James or Anthony officially tells Dallas no, the front office must operate as if yes remains a possibility. Houston, Chicago, Phoenix and the Los Angeles Lakers all must do the same.

Anyways, it’s a virtual guarantee that none of those players, unless offered an unimaginatively lucrative contract, will agree to a deal anywhere until James and Anthony — and possibly even wild card Chris Bosh — set the landscape.

So they wait.

On Saturday, Dallas did move forward with its own free-agent point guard Devin Harris. ESPN.com reported the two sides were closing in on a three-year deal for approximately $9 million. If those terms are accurate, it would be an identical deal to the one Harris signed last summer with Dallas before discovering he needed toe surgery and then agreed to a one-year contract at a reduced rate. This deal would be a bargain for the Mavs considering some the terms reached by guards in the first few days of free agency.

Harris is a key returnee for Dallas, which sent starting point guard Jose Calderon, along with three other players and two second-round draft picks, to New York in exchange for center Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, who Cuban had to take back in order to get Chandler. Unless the Mavs can move Felton, he is expected to compete for the starting job with Harris.

Three-point specialist and free agent Mo Williams (Portland) is also tied to Dallas. The Mavs want to re-sign Vince Carter, who has suitors, including contending teams, and Shawn Marion, while Dallas would like him back is looking to upgrade the position in its starting lineup.

If the Mavs don’t land LeBron or Melo, it will be an intriguing race to sign the likes of Deng and Chandler (and his future is totally hinged to the Rockets acquiring James, Anthony or Bosh). Deng has interest from Atlanta and was reportedly meeting with Miami on Saturday.

This is the third consecutive summer that Cuban has entered free agency with the cap space to sign a max (or near-max) free agent. With Nowitzi, Monta Ellis and Chandler back, they truly are one superstar away from once again becoming contenders in the brutally competitive Western Conference.

Yet without one, matching last season’s 49 wins, good for the last playoff spot, stands to be a difficult task.

So they wait.