Posts Tagged ‘Heat’

Heat continue to shed salary, trade Zoran Dragic to Celtics


VIDEO: Zoran Dragic shows off his handle during Summer League action for the Miami Heat

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Miami Heat’s summer roster clean up continues with yet another trade, this time it is sending Zoran Dragic to the Boston Celtics in exchange for a heavily protected second-round Draft pick. This latest move comes a day after the news broke that they had agreed to trade Shabazz Napier to Orlando for another heavily protected second-round Draft pick.

Both deals will save the Heat some serious cash, more than $11 million in both salary and luxury tax penalties. The Heat also sent a 2020 second-round Draft pick and cash considerations to the Celtics in the Dragic deal.

Shaving salary usually comes at a price. But the Heat have carefully crafted a roster for the 2015-16 season that could land them in a prime position to rise up the ranks in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, provided their biggest stars are healthy for the start of this season.

Dragic’s brother Goran Dragic signed a five-year $85 million free agent deal this summer, solidifying a core group that is anchored by veteran stars Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng.  The gap between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the rest of the pack in the Eastern Conference could be substantial, based on how the Cavaliers finished the season and the moves made by the Cavs and the rest of the field this summer in free agency.

 

Report: Magic get Napier from Heat for 2nd round pick


VIDEO: Shabazz Napier shares some of the lessons learned from his rookie season in Miami

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Shabazz Napier‘s time with the Miami Heat is up.

He’s headed to Orlando in exchange for a second round pick, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, ending his brief tenure with the Heat after just one season. A first round Draft pick in 2014, and the player LeBron James declared his favorite heading into that Draft, Napier will join a crowded point guard situation in Orlando.

Orlando already has a budding young talent in starter Elfrid Payton and a veteran backup in C.J. Watson. Napier averaged 5.8 points, 2.5 assists and 2.2 rebounds in just 19.8 minutes per game for the Heat, who have three point guards — Goran Dragic, Mario Chalmers and Tyler Johnson — remaining on their roster.

The Heat wills save money ($1.3 million salary for Napier) and give themselves some roster flexibility by making the move. The Magic, meanwhile, fill out their point guard rotation with yet another first round talent and a young player they can mold in whatever way coach Scott Skiles wants to in his first season on the job.

 

 

Ten players who made impression at Orlando Summer League


VIDEO: Stanley Johnson discusses his Summer League play

ORLANDO — Seven days, 25 games and so many different stories at the Orlando Pro Summer League. Here are 10 players that made an impression:

Aaron Gordon, F, Magic — The No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 Draft brought a reputation as an athletic, high-energy player into his rookie season in Orlando, but one who struggled with his shot and that was born out. But Gordon has spent time working with Magic shooting coach Dave Love to change the mechanics of his shot and it seems to have paid off. He looked comfortable in the three games he played, leading the league in scoring at 21.7 points per game and even hit 50 percent (6-for-12) on 3s.

Stanley Johnson, F, Pistons — From the enthusiasm that he brought to the court every day, you might have thought Johnson was on a trip to Disney World. It’s not cocky when you can do it and the Pistons’ No. 8 draft pick has all the skills and talent in his bag of tricks to excel in the NBA as soon as coach Stan Van Gundy turns him loose in the rotation. Johnson says he’s not trying to prove anything to the folks who thought the Pistons made a mistake by not taking Justise Winslow. But it sure looks that way and that’s good for Detroit.

Myles Turner, C, Pacers — The knock on the tall, skinny kid out of the University of Texas is just that. He’s skinny. But that didn’t stop him from taking advantage of his size to block more than four shots a game and protect the rim. It’s a new day and a new style in Indy with the plodding Roy Hibbert gone to the Lakers and veteran David West to the Spurs. The No. 11 pick in the draft will be thrown right into the lineup and could get a chance to shine immediately. He shot 60.5 percent from the field and the big guy can knock down the jumper.

Mario Hezonja, G-F, Magic — After completing a full European season in Barcelona, the No. 5 pick in the draft jetted to the U.S. and played in just two games at the summer league. He struggled with his shot, through he did knock down a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in his debut. He’s also got off-the-charts athleticism, which he showed off with a ferocious one-handed drive and dunk. Though he’s only 20, Hezonja has been a professional for years and will force his way onto the floor for the Magic soon.

Willie Reed, F-C, Nets — Undrafted out of Saint Louis in 2001, he’s spent four seasons trying to prove himself with four different D-League teams before spending last season playing in the Dominican Republic. He came to Orlando with the Heat and immediately drew comparisons to Hassan Whiteside for his ability to play defense and gather rebounds. Reed impressed enough at the summer league for Brooklyn to sign him to a contract.

Frank Kaminsky, F-C, Hornets — The college basketball player of the year had trouble finding a rhythm on his shot in the early games, but the Hornets know that’s an area they don’t have to be concerned about it. He showed an ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket and did a solid job rebounding. He needs work at the defensive end, but appeared comfortable and confident enough moving ahead toward training camp.

Troy Daniels, G, Hornets — What’s the old saying? You can never have enough shooting. Daniels keeps trying to prove that to different teams as he moves about the league trying to find a permanent home. He lit up from the outside this week, hitting at a 55 percent clip from behind the 3-point line and a team like Charlotte that needs shooters could finally be the place where he sticks.

Joe Young, G, Pacers — The second-round draft pick of the Pacers was recovering from a stomach illness all week and still managed to stand out as one of the top rookies. The 2015 Pac-12 Player of the Year can fill up the basket has the kind of demeanor you want in a point guard — authoritative and vocal. He’s arriving in Indy at the perfect time as the Pacers will look to play an up-tempo game and he has a nose for pushing the ball up court. He’s a keeper.

Justise Winslow, F, Heat — Getting the ball to go into the basket was a problem for Winslow right from the start, but it didn’t keep him from attacking every game with confidence and doing enough other things to help his team. He knows that he belongs at the NBA level and goes at the basket relentlessly, drawing fouls and getting more free throws than anybody else in the league. Given the Heat no reason to think they didn’t get very lucky having him fall into their laps at the No. 10 spot.

Branden Dawson, F, Clippers — For all the back-patting for getting DeAndre Jordan to change his mind, the Clippers still have a serious lack of depth. The 6-foot-6 forward showed a nose for rebounding and putting the ball in the bucket all week and has just the right kind of overachiever attitude that comes from being picked No. 56 in the draft and could eventually find its way onto the NBA roster. He put up three double-doubles four games played. One drawback is he could make Jordan look good at the line, making just 3-for-9 on free throws.

Rookie Winslow plays cool and versatile

VIDEO: Heat’s Winslow talks postgame after big Summer League showing

ORLANDO, Fla. — The scouting reports on Justise Winslow called him a do-it-all type player.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when the Heat’s first-round draft choice wasted no time showing off his versatility in his summer league debut. The 6-6 forward played on wing, at power forward and even handled the ball to set up Miami’s offense in a 92-76 win over the Pacers.

“He was just very solid out there,” said Dan Craig, the Heat assistant who is coaching the Heat during summer league.

“Defensively, offensively, on both sides of the floor he was locked in. I thought he did a great job communicating with his teammates.

“For a guy coming into his first game, he was communicating out there. He didn’t look like there was any indecision on his part. And in the timeouts, he was very confident, he was focused. I just thought it was a great all-around game for him.”

Winslow scored 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting, had three assists and no rebounds or turnovers. But most impressive was the ease with which he carried himself all over the court in a situation where many players before him have been nervous.

“I didn’t have jitters,” the 19-year-old said. “I’ve been playing basketball for a long time. I’m sure, maybe, the first real game might be nervous, something like that. To me, just getting used to playing with these guys, everything felt natural. I was really ready for  today. I wasn’t nervous. I woke up excited, ready to play. I’ve been playing the game so long, don’t make it something bigger than it is.”

In all, Winslow played four different positions in the game and Craig says it’s the assortment of skills that led the Heat to make him a lottery pick that allows him to play so many roles.

“We didn’t go into the game saying we were going to put him in all these different situations,” said Craig. “But that’s who he is. He’s a guy that can bring you all of those things. So, throughout the course of the game, we were able to see that. Some of it was scripted, some of it wasn’t. It’s just what he was able to bring and I think we’ll see more of that as summer league continues.”

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.

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 21


NEWS OF THE MORNING
Heat hot for Dragic | LeBron in a funk | No breaking up Warriors | Dealing in Detroit

No. 1: Miami to offer Dragic 5 years, $80 mllion — It won’t be a max deal, but Miami plans to turn up the heat early in the free agency period by offering point guard Goran Dragic $16 million per season to remain in South Florida as a key part of resurrecting the former champs. Marc Stein of ESPN.com says that the team will offer less than the allowable $100 million overall, because the Heat still have to deal with a new contract for franchise icon Dwyane Wade:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Heat are planning to offer Dragic a five-year deal in excess of $80 million to keep him in Miami after acquiring the 2014 All-NBA third-team selection from Phoenix on trade deadline day in February.

Only Miami can offer a five-year deal this summer to Dragic, who told local reporters after the season that he “had a great time” with the Heat despite missing out on the playoffs. He said on more than one occasion that “I want to come back.”

Heat president Pat Riley has likewise expressed confidence in Miami’s ability to retain him, saying at a season-ending media availability two months ago: “If he doesn’t sign, my ass will be in that seat [next to reporters] next year.”

A five-year maximum deal for Dragic would exceed $100 million but Miami also might find itself dealing with Dwyane Wade’s free agency one summer earlier than expected if Wade decides to bypass his $16.1 million player option for next season. The Heat also await a decision from Luol Deng about his plans to either invoke next season’s $10.2 million player option or opt for free agency.

***

No. 2: LeBron still trying to deal with Finals loss — If only it were a case of James Brown, Sly Stone or George Clinton filling up the head of LeBron James. But when the four-time MVP says he’s “still in a little funk,” he’s not dancing. In a streamed testimonial on Bleacher Report’s “Uninterrupted,” James said he’s still trying to get over the 4-2 loss to the Warriors, but vows to keep the Cavaliers contending for championships in the years to come, according to Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

“Hopefully I can put our team in position once again to try to compete for a championship next year and year in and year out,” James said on Bleacher Report’s “Uninterrupted,” a series of streamed testimonials James takes part in as part of an undisclosed financial arrangement. “That’s my goal, and my inspiration hasn’t changed.”

James told the Northeast Ohio Media Group during the Finals he is “happy where I’m at” in Cleveland, and in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors he reiterated his family was happy to be home.

James has a $21.57 million player option on the deal he signed when he returned to Cleveland last summer. He’ll likely decline the option for a new one-year contract worth roughly $22 million with a player option.

In James’ latest “Uninterrupted” video, in which he speaks while sitting in a barber’s chair getting a haircut, he said “being back home is everything that I dreamed of, everything that I thought about.

“Being back with these fans, being back with this community, just being back here and trying to bring joy to this city, which deserves it,” James said. “Bringing a sense of pride to this city, which deserves it. Giving this city something to talk about, which they deserve.”

Of the Finals, in which James averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists but the Cavs’ lost 4-2, he said “it hurt to lose, and I’m still in a little funk right now, but I’m trying to work my way out of it.”

“You know, for a team that’s first getting together, in our first year to be able to reach the Finals, (I’m) not saying I’m happy with the results, but I’m proud of our guys,” James said. “Just the growth that they had from the first day we walked in the gym to the other day, us losing, I’m proud of the guys and what they was able to accomplish.”

***

No. 3: Warriors want to stay together — Though league rules prevent him from talking in specifics, first-year general manager Bob Myers hinted that keeping free agent Draymond Green is the high priority, but bringing back most of the roster that won Golden State’s first championship in 40 years is the plan for next season. He spoke to Al Saracevic of the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Our hope is to keep the core together,” said Myers. “That is within our control.”

“Clearly, with the success we’ve had this season, the players have shown this group can win. High character. A lot of youth. They’ve been able to complement each other.”

Beyond Green, the Warriors have a few other questions to answer, but nothing too pressing. With the expected departure of Lee, a former All-Star whose minutes were curtailed drastically because of Green’s rise, the team will be looking for a backup power forward.

A key reserve, Leandro Barbosa, is an unrestricted free agent. Myers and the ownership group, led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, will have to decide whether to re-sign the 12-year veteran or look for an upgrade.

“I think the league has shifted a little bit,” said Myers. “Even though it’s perceived we have a lot of shooting, we still could use more shooting, especially in the second unit.

“We could always use a shooter who can defend. That’s on the wish list of the entire league. Spacing the floor has become a major focus for all teams, as we saw in the playoffs and the Finals.”

The good news for Myers? His bosses have plenty of money, and they’re not afraid to spend it. Lacob and Guber have made it clear that success on the court is a priority.

“We want to be fiscally responsible. And we want to win,” said Myers. “Clearly, from ownership, it’s win first. It’s a good place to be. It gives you a great chance to be successful when the ultimate goal is winning.”

***

No. 4: Pistons might be ready to deal pick — After trading for “stretch four” Ersan Ilyasova, whom coach Stan Van Gundy says will be in the starting lineup, the Pistons brought in a pair of forwards in Frank Kaminsky and Myles Turner for pre-draft workouts and Terry Foster of the Detroit News says that could be a sign that the team is getting ready to shop its No. 8 pick:

The Pistons sent more signals Saturday that they might be willing to trade away the eighth pick in Thursday’s NBA draft when they worked out big men Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin and Myles Turner of Texas.

Then again, perhaps Stan Van Gundy and his staff don’t want to leave any stone unturned. Both Kaminsky and Turner will be available at No. 8. And the Pistons appear to be set at power forward after obtaining from Milwaukee “Stretch Four” Ersan Ilyasova, who Van Gundy said would start the 2015-16 season for the Pistons.

If Van Gundy is interested in adding more depth at power forward, he can turn to either Kaminsky, the college basketball player of the year, or Turner. Both have similar games. They can hit perimeter shots and dip inside for buckets. Kaminsky’s major weakness is perimeter defense. And Turner must show more fluidity when he runs.

Both are 6-foot-11 and projected to go anywhere from 11th to 16th. They are competing for a better draft slot.

The Pistons are expected to select a small forward if they keep the eighth pick. There is also a chance they’ll trade up with the New York Knicks, who are looking to deal the fourth pick. If that happens it gives the Pistons a solid shot at Duke forward Justise Winslow or shooting guard Mario Hezonja of Croatia.

Regardless, whomever the Pistons select will be a premier perimeter shooter.

If the Pistons select Kaminsky or Turner it would put them in the market to sign a free agent small forward — perhaps former Piston Arron Afflalo. That becomes a dicey proposition because this has not been a big destination for free agents.

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Karl-Anthony Towns works out for Timberwolves and looks more and more like No. 1 pick … Greg Oden to take part in mini-camp with Mavericks … Doc Rivers’ mother dies in Illinois … Celtics legend Bill Russell enjoys his role as link to the past at the NBA Finals … Spain’s Rodriguez planning return to NBA … Lance Stephenson says he seeks to change his image with the Clippers.

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.’’

***

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.”

***

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.”

***

***

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

Morning Shootaround — March 21


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news | LeBron leads Cavaliers to playoff spot on rough night | Clippers making their move in the Western Conference playoff chase

No. 1: Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news — It’s truly Russell Westbrook‘s team now in Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant is out indefinitely with no reasonable expectation that he will return this season, whether the Thunder make the playoffs or not. Whatever the circumstance, Westbrook is bringing the energy and effort needed to lead the charge for Scott Brooks‘ team, just as he did Friday night in the Thunder’s takedown of the Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks. Love him or hate him, right now the underdog is on top after collecting his ninth triple double and pushing the Thunder up the ladder in the chase for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman explains:

The Thunder’s already wavering title hopes took a potentially fatal blow on Friday morning with the latest Kevin Durant injury setback.

But by late Friday night, Russell Westbrook and a patched together lineup had already reminded the basketball world that — while a championship run is now hard to fathom — high-level hoops entertainment will remain for the next month-plus in Oklahoma City.

The East-leading Atlanta Hawks came to town, packing a potent offense to feast on the Thunder’s slumping defense. Void of Serge Ibaka to clean up mistakes, OKC struggled on that end again.

But as has been common of late, even without double-double machine Enes Kanter on this night, the Thunder went all mid-2000s Phoenix Suns and succeeded in outscoring a scoring machine. The final: Thunder 123, Hawks 115.

“It was like an ABA game out there,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks joked.

With the win, OKC became only the fourth NBA team to ever go from nine games under .500 to nine games over in the same season.

And Westbrook, again, was at the center of it all, finishing with 36 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for his ninth triple-double of the season.

Instead of an emotional letdown after the latest Durant news, the Thunder came out energized and angry, jumping on the Hawks in the opening minutes. Westbrook had seven of his 14 assists in the first quarter. OKC, at one point, held an early nine-point lead.

But after the Hawks weathered that early storm, OKC’s faulty defense sprung leaks and Atlanta started splashing jumpers from all over the floor. On this night, reserve big man Pero Antic played the role of random dude to roast the Thunder’s perimeter defense, going off for 18 points in 12 first half minutes.

The Hawks led 68-61 at halftime. With two minutes left in the third quarter, that lead had ballooned to 12. Shorthanded, it looked like the Thunder would come up short, fittingly capping an emotionally tough day for the franchise.

But then Anthony Morrow got hot and the tone of the game changed.

With 7:54 left in the fourth quarter, Morrow splashed in his third three of the night, cutting the Hawks lead to four. It was the sixth consecutive game Morrow has hit at least three 3s, one of the hotter stretches of his storied shooting career.

But he was just getting started. Over the next four minutes of game action, Morrow drilled three more 3s, the crowd noise rising and the Thunder’s momentum building with each splash.

“I’ve never experienced (a playoff atmosphere),” Morrow said. “But (Westbrook) said that was close to it.”


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook lifted the Thunder on the night they found out Kevin Durant’s season could be over 

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Morning Shootaround — March 16


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron questionable for second return to Miami | Thunder get big win vs. Bulls | Garnett hosts his Brooklyn friends

No. 1: LeBron questionable for second return to Miami — That emotional return to Miami the first time around for LeBron James might not have a second act. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ superstar is questionable for tonight’s game after taking an awkward fall on his right leg in Sunday’s win over Orlando. The Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving to carry the load if LeBron cannot go. But as NBA.com’s John Schuhmann points out, the Cavs are just 2-9 without LeBron this season and have been outscored by 7.9 points per 100 possessions with him off the floor. But missing another game in this particular season wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for James. Joe Vardon of the Plain Dealer explains:

James has already missed a career-high 11 games this season due to injury. Additionally, both he and the Cavaliers have expressed a desire to rest James for some games leading up to the playoffs in April.

But a rematch with the Heat in Miami, where James won two titles in four years and where he was received warmly when the Cavs played there Christmas Day, was not one James planned to skip.

James’ first game in Miami this season was emotional for him and included a video tribute and standing ovation from the home fans.

He cut a video testimonial for Bleacher Report about the emotions of playing against former teammates Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, and others.

On Sunday night, James agreed the next South Beach visit would have a much different feel.

It’d be really different if he didn’t play.

“For me to be able to just finish the game, you know, the way I fell, the way I took that fall, it just goes to my training, the way I approach the game off the floor,” James said. “That time I was able to stay on the floor with my teammates.”

James scored four points and dished out three assists while playing 10 of 12 minutes in the fourth quarter.

It’s also worth noting that James’ best, most athletic dunk was in the final period, when he reached the ball high above the rim as he glided past defenders and crushed it with his right hand with 5:31 left.


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about how he’s feeling after the Cavs’ win in Orlando

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