Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Garnett’

Wolves opt for litter of Timberpups


VIDEO: Flip Saunders talks about the Minnesota Timberwolves’ new additions

Building a serious contender around one superstar power forward named Kevin wasn’t working for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It didn’t work with Kevin Garnett ultimately, despite a string of eight consecutive playoff appearances from 1997-2004. And it surely didn’t work with Kevin Love, whose six-season stay in the Twin Cities merely extended the Wolves’ postseason drought from four years to a full decade.

So now Minnesota is trying another way. It’s going to raise a litter of Timberpups and hope there is success in numbers.

By acquiring Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett on Saturday in the long-awaited, two franchise-shifting trade of Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and adding him to their own 2014 lottery pick Zach LaVine, a still-young Ricky Rubio (24 in October) and last year’s first-rounders Gorgui Dieng and, er, Shabazz Muhammad (for the moment, tick tock), the Wolves have youth and hope and dreams. But mostly youth.

They have it in numbers, too, as if seeding their organization for a bountiful harvest in a few years. Oh, Flip Saunders, the team’s president of basketball operations and its coach, will talk about excitement and development in the meantime – he is, after all, a masterful amateur magician talented in the sleight of hand.

But the real payoff, if it comes at all, will come between the games as his group of raw, talented players coalesce around each other.

Synchronizing things has always been a problem for Minnesota.

It snagged Garnett in a dice-roll Draft decision 19 years ago and had a dozen years to assemble a championship-caliber team around him, but never managed to fully do so. The initial vision of Garnett and Stephon Marbury as a new-millennial Karl Malone-John Stockton (or at least Shawn Kemp-Gary Payton), with first Tom Gugliotta (and then Joe Smith) as third stars, never achieved full focus. Gugliotta left, Smith was no more than a role player and Marbury torpedoed his own career in one of sports’ many examples of $100 million airport, $10 control tower.

Kevin McHale, the Wolves’ basketball boss, kept patching around Garnett and got them as far as the 2004 Western Conference finals by hiring mercenaries Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell. That approach had no better legs than Sprewell and Cassell themselves, though, and after the usual death spiral – coaching changes, contract squabbles, missing the playoffs in Garnett’s last three Minnesota seasons – the big guy participated in the trade to Boston that got him his ring. And left the Wolves as, well, the Wolves.

The Love years were even worse. McHale got the UCLA forward in a Draft night switcheroo with Memphis for O.J. Mayo and seemed to be the perfect mentor for Love.

But McHale’s own tenure in Minnesota was out of sync with his new young big, and when Wolves owner Glen Taylor dumped McHale in favor of David Kahn, bad downshifted to worse. Erratic Draft picks and personnel moves followed, along with an uneasy atmosphere – or creepy culture, if you go by some Wolves insiders – during Kahn’s four lost seasons in charge.

It’s quicker to note what went right in that time than what went wrong – the Wolves didn’t pass on Rubio, Love developed himself into an All-Star and Rick Adelman stabilized the coaching position for a time – but it wasn’t enough. By the time Saunders was brought back 15 months ago to do some serious sweet-talking, Love already had one foot and half of his other out the door.

So now they’ll try it this way: Round up as many young players as possible, fold in a key veteran or three (new acquisition Thad Young, plus current Wolves Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin until they can shed the contract), and bake.

“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to build not an individual, we’re trying to build a team,” Saunders said Saturday. “That’s the thing that we’ve sold to the players or anyone that we bring in here.”

For an outpost franchise like Minnesota, a big part of the plan is that the players – in growing up together – see ways in which their whole can end up greater than the sum of their parts. The risk is that someone feels slighted by being a spot or two down in his own ideal pecking order – if Bennett or LaVine feels stunted because of Wiggins, or if Rubio locks in on max-contract dreams when he hasn’t earned one yet – and blows up the blueprint.

That’s akin to what happened in Oklahoma City, which took a similar approach until James Harden chafed at being neither Batman nor Robin. He wound up with his own team in Houston, but at least the Thunder reached The Finals once and have managed to stabilize the roster since his departure.

Then again, maybe OKC proves that it all eventually comes full circle. And building around a superstar forward named Kevin really is the way to go.

Shed no tears for Andrew Wiggins

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wolves head coach Flip Saunders talks about Andrew Wiggins’ potential

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Don’t cry for Andrew Wiggins.

That’s the message delivered by the last two men who coached the No. 1 Draft pick. When the Cleveland Cavaliers finally shipped Wiggins — shunned by LeBron James since the day the King announced his return to Cleveland six weeks ago — to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love on Saturday, he joined Chris Webber (1993) as the only No. 1 picks since the NBA-ABA merger to be traded before ever playing a game for the team that drafted them.

A sad end to a long, strange summer for Wiggins? More like an eagerly anticipated beginning, says Rob Fulford, Wiggins’ high school coach at Huntington Prep in West Virginia.

“Andrew is such a good kid; he’s just a classy kid, very humble, very respectful,” Fulford, now an assistant at Missouri, told NBA.com this week. “I think this whole process with the trade rumors, he could care less. That kid just wants to play basketball. The fact that LeBron never reached out to him, Andrew could care less what LeBron James thinks of him.”

Throughout this saga in which the Cavs selected the Toronto-born Wiggins No. 1 and watched him flash his promising skills during the Las Vegas Summer League all the while trade rumors swirled and LeBron sweet-talked Love, Wiggins, 19, handled the enormity of the situation with graceful maturity always accompanied by a warm, playful smile.

It didn’t surprise Fulford, who saw such characteristics from the time Wiggins arrived at Huntington Prep to enormous fanfare to the day he left for Kansas as a McDonald’s All-American. His departure included a heartfelt thank-you note to the people of the Huntington community published in the local newspaper.

“You have to understand, this kid, the media circus was around from the beginning when he got here in August of his junior year in high school until he left Huntington in May of his senior year after graduation,” Fulford said. “It was just a circus. I think it prepared him for what was going to happen at Kansas and even now he’s used to it, and I think he’s handled it really well. With the parents that he has, both have been professional athletes, I think it helped that he’s been kind of groomed in that manner.”

All Wiggins wanted, he reiterated during several interviews over the last month, was a place to call home, a place where he feels wanted. And so Wiggins will not flank the game’s greatest player on an instant contender in Cleveland, but instead will embrace replacing the fed-up Love as the next great hope for the long-languishing Wolves.

Fulford keeps in relatively close contact with the long-limbed, 6-foot-8 phenom, typically through text messages. The message he’s received loud and clear is that Wiggins is excited to make his own name for a franchise in need of a leader.

“Andrew’s going to be a superstar,” Fulford said. “This gives him a platform from Day 1 to kind of be the guy, and he’s ready for that.”

Earlier this month, Wiggins’ former coach at Kansas, Bill Self, said nearly the same after telling reporters that Wiggins had told him he hoped Cleveland would trade him.

“Even though, in a weird way, everybody would love the opportunity to play with LeBron because you’re guaranteed winning, for the longevity of his career, he needs to develop that mindset to be the guy for him to be great,” Self told reporters. “And I think being in Minnesota will help him do that.”

For glum Wolves fans, the Love fiasco has the potential to yield a happy ending after all. The greatest fear for an organization is it will never come close to recouping equal talent when forced to trade a disgruntled All-Star. Wolves president and coach Flip Saunders has reaped a haul as strong as anyone could expect.

In the three-team trade, Wiggins heads to Minnesota with the Cavs’ 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and Philadelphia’s consummate pro, Thaddeus Young, 26, a solid immediate replacement for Love at power forward.

They’ll join a cast that includes 23-year-old, potential All-Star point guard Ricky Rubio, veteran guards Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea, emerging center Nikola Pekovic, small forwards Corey Brewer and Chase Budinger, Wiggins’ fellow Huntington Prep alum and quick-learning 2013 first-round pick Gorgui Dieng, and high-flying ’14 first-round pick Zach LaVine.

The fit in Saunders’ up-tempo plans should suit the slashing Wiggins well. Fulford said Kansas’ high-low attack that included big man and No. 3 pick Joel Embiid didn’t always afford Wiggins the driving lanes he craves, turning him into a jump-shooter.

“He’s going to have more space to work with,” Fulford said. “And he’s extremely … I won’t say he’s impossible to guard in space, but he’s close to it.”

Love’s Wolves never made the playoffs, a six-year span that included exceptionally disappointing endings to the last two seasons. Nobody should expect a rapid ascension this season in the competitive West as the Wolves again transition, but young and athletic, Wiggins’ new team is stocked with upside and should be an exciting squad to watch grow.

“I don’t think there’s any question he’ll have a great rookie season. He’s groomed for this,” Fulford said. “In college he got better the year he was there, but he’ll be a better NBA player than he was a college player, and he was an All-American at Kansas, so sky’s the limit for him.

“It’s one of those things, him being on a team where it’s kind of really going to be his, I think, is a good thing for him.”

So shed no tears for Andrew Wiggins. Or the Wolves.

T’Wolves need a king’s ransom for Love


VIDEO: Relive the Timberwolves’ top 5 alley-oops from 2013-14

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — At this point in the process, if Kevin Love doesn’t end up trotting out for the starting lineup with LeBron James on opening night this season, it’ll be a true shocker.

We’ve crossed that threshold in this summer’s ongoing Love-to-Cleveland saga. The news that the Minnesota Timberwolves are dealing exclusively with the Cleveland Cavaliers shouldn’t come as a surprise.

We’re all agreed that the potential addition of Love pushes the Cavs over the top in the Eastern Conference, at least on paper, when you have a three-man All-Star core of James, Love and point guard Kyrie Irving.

But what does Love’s departure mean for the Timberwolves? Losing Love doesn’t put them in any more of a precarious position than they are in right now. They didn’t make the playoffs with him and won’t be considered a playoff factor without him in the rugged Western Conference. Not with Ricky Rubio leading a young cast that better include Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, along with their own youngsters (including HT faves Gorgui DiengZach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III) in yet another rebuilding effort.

It took a while, but I’m on board with this deal getting done, and sooner rather than later. LeBron gets what LeBron wants. And if he wants Love on his side, it shall be. (My golden rule on players remains, though. So Love comes with a clarification sticker: If you cannot take your team to the playoffs as the No. 1 option, you’re either a No. 2 or a No. 3 option.)

All that said, Timberwolves boss Flip Saunders would be wise to hold out for a king’s ransom for Love, given what the franchise has gone through since the last time they traded away the face of the franchise. Oh yeah, today is the anniversary of the 2007 trade that saw Kevin Garnett relocate to Boston where he joined Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to win a championship and help revive the Celtics.

It’s been that long, and more, since the Timberwolves were involved in the playoff discussion in the Western Conference (they haven’t made the postseason since 2004). They traded Garnett to the Celtics for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff and two first-round draft picks (one of which was acquired in a trade with Minnesota a year prior). The deal marked the largest NBA trade ever for one player, and in hindsight it still wasn’t enough.

Jefferson, an All-Star caliber big man and franchise building block now in Charlotte, wasn’t ready to step into Garnett’s shoes back then. For all of his spectacular skills, Love hasn’t been up to that task either. Timberwolves fans have had to suffer through numerous restarts and regime changes since Garnett’s departure and none of them have worked.

Anyone who tells you they are convinced Wiggins, Bennett and that future first-round pick Saunders will get from the Cavs for Love will spark the revival the Twin Cities have been waiting on is delusional. It won’t happen anytime soon, and certainly not in time to take the sting off of seeing Love compete for a championship as soon as his first season away from Minnesota.

And if Love is the transcendent talent so many believe him to be, his presence alongside LeBron and Kyrie should result in the Cavs being the cream of the Eastern Conference crop immediately (above or at least alongside Indiana and Chicago).

The Timberwolves, on the other hand, will have to endure yet another round (or two … or three) of blueprints for what has turned out to be a seemingly never-ending franchise rebuild.

This isn’t news to Saunders, whose roots in the organization (and Minnesota overall) run deep. He knows better than anyone the pressure the Wolves will be under until Love is dealt … and then again after Love is gone. One dreadful, non-playoff season blends into another and before you know it, a decade (or more) has passed without the postseason.

And that’s why Saunders should squeeze every ounce of whatever he can from the Cavs in this deal. Make them pay for the right to add Love. A king’s ransom isn’t too much to ask for now.


VIDEO: Check out the Timberwolves’ top 10 plays from last season

Morning shootaround — July 14


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: KG open to Nets return? | Report: Spurs, Bonner reach deal | Bulls round out roster | Ariza-to-Houston deal grows

No. 1: Report: KG still ‘excited’ to play for Nets — Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Garnett will be entering his 20th NBA season if he chooses to play in 2014-15. The likelihood of him playing next season was always up in the air … but is it even more so now? Garnett’s longtime teammate, Paul Pierce, agreed to a deal with the Washington Wizards over the weekend and led some to think perhaps KG will hang it up for sure this summer. ESPN.com’s Mike Mazzeo writes that Garnett may still be back in Brooklyn next season anyway:

Despite the loss of Paul Pierce via free agency, Kevin Garnett likes the direction of the Brooklyn Nets and is “excited” about joining them for the upcoming season, sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard.

Garnett, who turned 38 in May, is due $12 million in 2014-15, which would be his 20th NBA season.

He has yet to publicly announce that he’s playing this season, but all indications continue to point that way. On Saturday, a league source told ESPNNewYork.com that the Nets still expect Garnett to return.

Pierce elected to sign a two-year contract with the Washington Wizards for $11 million with a second-year player option, sources told ESPN.com.

Pierce and Garnett had been teammates since 2007-08. They won a championship together with the Boston Celtics.


VIDEO: Paul Pierce and the Wizards agree on a two-year deal (more…)

Morning Shootaround — July 10


VIDEO: What might LeBron James do next in free agency?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: LeBron leaves meeting with no decision made | Uncertainty reigns in Anthony’s decision | Report: Nets to pay $90M in luxury taxes | Report: Bulls pick up pursuit of Gasol

No. 1: Reports: LeBron leaves meeting with no commitment to Heat — Well, the LeBron James-Pat Riley-Miami Heat summit in Las Vegas is done and the team has no more of an idea of where LeBron will choose to play next season and beyond. The choices, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, seem to come down to the incumbent Heat and his old team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Depending on which report you read, the decision may happen soon … or, who knows when. First, here’s Wojnarowski first on the meeting:

Superstar free agent LeBron James met with Miami Heat president Pat Riley on Wednesday in Las Vegas and left without committing to a new contract, a league source told Yahoo Sports.

No decision date has been set, a source close to James told Yahoo Sports’ Marc Spears.

James and his agent Rich Paul met with Riley on the same day the Cleveland Cavaliers agreed to a three-team trade to clear enough salary-cap room to make James a maximum contract offer, opening a path for his possible homecoming, sources said. The Cavaliers are also pursuing a trade for Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, contingent on James returning to Cleveland, sources told Yahoo Sports.

If James leaves Miami, Chris Bosh‘s intention is to also leave the Heat, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Bosh has been speaking with the Houston Rockets, who are prepared to clear enough cap room to offer him a four-year, $88 million contract.

If the Cavs can’t get James, their backup plan remains making a run at signing free-agent forward Trevor Ariza, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Timberwolves will demand Andrew Wiggins, the Cavs’ No. 1 overall pick from last month’s NBA draft, be a part of any proposed deal, sources told Yahoo Sports.

ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard and Brian Windhorst also have a report on the meeting and what might be next for James:

LeBron James met with Miami Heat officials for more than an hour Wednesday afternoon in Las Vegas but emerged without a decision about his future, sources told ESPN.com.

James and his agent Rich Paul are done meeting with teams, according to sources close to the situation. James now will talk with his family and make his choice.

There is no timetable for James’ decision, but with him reportedly planning to attend the World Cup this weekend in Brazil, a decision before then seems likely.

The Rockets’ position, however, got more complicated on Wednesday when their restricted free agent Chandler Parsons signed a three-year offer from the Mavericks for more than $45 million, which the Rockets have three days to match.

If the Rockets match, they will lose the requisite cap space needed to sign Bosh. They can match the offer and still afford Bosh, but only if they sign Bosh first. To make room for Bosh, the Rockets will need to execute at least two trades, likely involving Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, to clear cap space.

The Heat were represented at Wednesday’s meeting with James by president Pat Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg. James was joined by Paul. This was the first known face-to-face meeting James has held since officially becoming a free agent on July 1. James’ agent met or spoke with officials from the Mavericks, Rockets, Suns, Cavaliers and Lakers last week, but James was not present.

James spent Wednesday morning and evening working out, playing pickup and speaking to high school and college stars at his LeBron James Skills Academy basketball camp.

(more…)

Nets move quick, hire proven Hollins


VIDEO: GameTime: Bucks-Nets Coaching Situation

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It didn’t take long for the Brooklyn Nets to find a replacement for Jason Kidd. It’s as if they’ve done this coaching search thing before.

The Nets announced Wednesday afternoon that they have reached an agreement with Lionel Hollins, who will be their fourth coach in the last two years. Avery Johnson was fired, P.J. Carlesimo was never considered to be more than an interim replacement, and Kidd thought that, after half of a season of success, he was ready for bigger things.

Hollins arrives after year off from coaching, which followed a 4 1/2-year stint in Memphis, in which the Grizzlies improved every year.

Grizzlies pace and efficiency, Lionel Hollins’ four full seasons

Season W L Win% Pace Rk OffRtg Rk DefRtg Rk NetRtg Rk
2009-10 40 42 0.488 96.1 8 104.8 17 107.6 24 -2.9 20
2010-11 46 36 0.561 94.5 15 104.4 16 102.5 8 +1.9 10
2011-12 41 25 0.621 93.4 18 101.0 21 98.9 7 +2.1 12
2012-13 56 26 0.683 91.1 29 101.7 18 97.4 2 +4.2 8

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Hollins’ teams have never been better than average offensively, despite having Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol for most of those four full seasons. The Grizzlies were one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league, but they didn’t shoot well. And shooting is much more important than rebounding.

In Hollins’ last season in Memphis, no team made or attempted fewer 3-pointers. When you’re playing Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince and Randolph at the 2, 3 and 4 spots, you’re not going to space the floor very well.

Last season, Brooklyn ranked 10th or 11th in 3-point makes, 3-point attempts, and 3-point percentage. And that was with a starting guard — Shaun Livingston — who shot 1-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Livingston is gone and his departure will hurt the Nets’ defense. Paul Pierce, meanwhile, is a free agent. And we don’t know for sure that Kevin Garnett will return for the last year on his contract. Those three and Kidd were Brooklyn’s biggest acquisitions last summer.

So the Nets could be hitting the reset button, going back to their core from their first season in Brooklyn, with Hollins on the bench. Even without Pierce or Garnett, they’d be above the luxury tax line, with only the tax payer’s mid-level exception to use on free agents. That could go to Croatian small forward Bojan Bogdanovic.

No matter what Pierce and Garnett do, Hollins’ success in Brooklyn will depend on the health of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, their two former All-Stars who could still be in their prime, with emphasis on the word “could.”

Williams had surgery on both ankles in May. Lopez had a third surgery on his right foot in January. They will be the team’s biggest questions come October.

The good news is that Hollins can’t get off to a worse start than Kidd, who saw his team go 10-21 in the first two months of last season. If Williams and Lopez are healthy, Hollins will have three guys — Joe Johnson being the third — who can consistently draw double-teams offensively. Their guards and forwards will be able to spread the floor much better than Hollins’ Grizzlies did.

Though offense was the issue in Memphis, defense will be a bigger question in Brooklyn, where Hollins won’t have Allen or Gasol.

This is still one of the more talented teams in the league though. And it’s playing in the weaker conference. Hollins has an opportunity to keep it near the top.

Report: Kidd loses power play in Brooklyn, free to talk with Bucks

After being denied a promotion by the Nets, Jason Kidd was granted permission to talk to the Bucks.

After being denied a promotion by the Nets, Jason Kidd was granted permission to talk to the Bucks.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Jason Kidd‘s run as coach in Brooklyn could soon be over after just one season, courtesy of his own ambition.

Kidd was denied a promotion with the Nets and, in the wake of that failed attempt to increase his power to include personnel decisions, was granted permission to discuss future employment with the Milwaukee Bucks, according to a report from Tim Bontemps of the New York Post.

The Bucks, of course, already have a coach in Larry Drew. So it’s unclear exactly which job Kidd is exploring in Milwaukee. Both Kidd and Drew just finished their first seasons, respectively, in their current positions.

Kidd’s reported power play puts him in a precarious position with the Nets, who have loads of other decisions to make, including what to do with Kevin Garnett and the final year of his contract, and might have to add a coaching search to their to-do-list.

If Kidd tried to undercut Nets GM Billy King and failed, he’s almost certainly out of a job in Brooklyn. For this news to break on the eve of free agency makes for an extremely bizarre process as the Nets try to reload for the 2014-15 season.

There’s an excellent chance they’ll do so without the services of Kidd, whose methods, per the Post, were nothing if not bold:

According to a league source, Kidd recently approached ownership with a series of demands, including the role of overseeing the Nets’ basketball operations department in addition to his head coaching responsibilities. The source said Kidd didn’t want general manager Billy King to be dismissed, but wanted to be given a title and placed above him in the organizational hierarchy.

Ownership declined to grant Kidd that kind of power, which is rare for any coach in the league to have. The source said ownership felt Kidd wasn’t ready for that kind of responsibility after having only one year of coaching experience — the team finished his first season on the bench with a 44-38 record, good for sixth in the Eastern Conference — and allowed Kidd to seek other opportunities.

The franchise then was approached by the Bucks to speak with Kidd about the prospect of hiring him, and have done so with the Nets’ permission.

Kidd has a small ownership stake in the Nets, so perhaps he felt he was well within his rights to ask for more power. But someone else within the organization clearly didn’t agree with his way of doing business.

Whatever role the Bucks have played or will play in this process can only be further complicated by them speaking to a coach of an Eastern Conference rival while they already have a coach under contract.

Whatever happens in Milwaukee, it’s clear Kidd’s days are numbered in Brooklyn.

Opt out and Wade remains King of Miami

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pat Riley on Big Three staying in Miami

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Any red-blooded capitalist will tell Dwyane Wade to take the money and run. He earned it.

Only this isn’t free-wheeling Wall Street, it’s the salary-capped NBA. And Wade is no longer a wolf, now a flicker of the former “Flash” of South Beach. Therefore the remaining $41.8 million over the final two years of his contract is no longer a value, but a hindrance to his franchise’s only path forward as a title contender.

And so it is the moment of truth for Wade, just 32, but aged hard by throbbing knees: Opt-in, take all the money contractually owed to him, yet surely suffer the vilification of his own fans; or opt out for the good of the team, re-sign at a discount, and secure his legacy as one of Miami’s all-time most cherished sports stars.

There is no middle ground here. If Wade opts in it will almost assuredly kill the Big Three era. Wade’s salary would hamper president Pat Riley‘s ability to reinforce the roster and LeBron James — the centerpiece of the franchise and the first of the three to opt out of his contract earlier in this week — will take that as his cue to relocate his talents elsewhere.

While the overwhelming focus is on what James will do, it is Wade who controls the Heat’s future. He can follow Kobe Bryant and gobble up a significant percentage of his team’s cap space. Of course, Wade, who has earned more than $121 million in salary alone during his 11-year career, can, like the rest of us, gauge Bryant’s title chances over these next two seasons.

If Wade opts out, as some reports have him doing this weekend, the expectation is for forward Chris Bosh to do the same, allowing the Big Three, with four consecutive Finals appearances and two rings during their time together, to work in concert on deals that allow Riley to get to work on “re-tooling” the team.

There is, of course, a stunningly convincing blueprint for all three to take less if contending for championships is truly the ultimate goal. The San Antonio Spurs’ Big Three combined to make $29 million this season, or $1 million less than Bryant took home. Tony Parker, the Spurs’ 32-year-old All-Star point guard, made a pedestrian $12.5 million this season, and will again next season.

In 2012 at age 36 and seemingly physically slowing down, Tim Duncan signed a three-year contract for $30 million. At the same age, Kevin Garnett signed a three-year, $36 million extension. Next week, Dirk Nowitzki, also 36, is expected to sign a new deal in a similar range.

Wade is obviously a younger player, but considering the health issues that limited him to just 54 regular-season games while on a season-long maintenance plan — one that surely must continue into the foreseeable future — and clearly slowed him in the Finals, accepting a similar contract could be asked of Wade.

There is one glaring difference, however, between the aforementioned players and Wade that could push him to seek a bit more in return in a reworked deal — none were asked to opt out of a lucrative deal already in place.

Wade is realistic enough to understand the cap ramifications of opting in vs. out, and what it means for the Heat’s ability to stay together, contend and plausibly rewrite history. After playing in four consecutive NBA Finals, it’s doubtful Wade, who has sacrificed salary and stature in the progression of the Big Three, could stomach a return to mediocrity, despite the millions he will be asked to leave behind.

And he’s likely honest enough with himself to realize that his twilight could be short. His knees are robbing him of prime basketball years, a shame, but also a reality.

Can he last four more years? Maybe he has only two left. The clearest picture is for Wade to opt out and accept a lesser deal in the neighborhood of four years and in the range of $40 million to $50 million.

It might not be the American way of doing business, but odds are it keeps James in town, keeps championships in play and retains Wade’s status, perhaps not as the King of the Heat, but as the King of Miami.

Report: No punching this Big Ticket yet


VIDEO: The Starters: Time to retire?

Welcome back, Big Ticket.

Nothing’s official yet, but the signs and tweets out of Brooklyn suggest that Kevin Garnett will return in 2014-15 for the final season of his contract and the 20th season of his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

The Nets are operating as if Garnett will be back for a second year in their organization, based on general manager Billy King‘s comments to reporters Wednesday in East Rutherford, N.J. The team’s GM has had some conversations with the 38-year-old power forward and said Garnett has begun offseason workouts earlier this summer, after his least productive season ever. Appearing in just 54 games and averaging only 20.5 minutes, the 6-foot-11 veteran averaged 6.5 points and 6.6 rebounds while making only 44.1 percent of his 6.6 field-goal attempts per game – all career lows. His per-36 minutes numbers looked better – 11.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg – but Garnett missed 20 of 21 games late in the schedule with back issues.

Exiting after Brooklyn’s elimination by Miami from the East semifinals, Garnett skipped a final postgame session with reporters and gave no indication of his 2014-15 plans. But then, that’s been his M.O. even in his prime. Then, typically, he would gear up mentally and physically on the beaches near his Malibu, Calif., home, as the summer turned to fall and the opening of NBA training camps neared.

That’s how it looks to be pointing again – there is a $12 million salary to be had in this final year of his contract – and that’s fine with the Nets. Especially Mason Plumlee, Garnett’s backup/potential successor.

“All the guys who’ve had the chance to be his teammate, say if he’s not here next year, I know I’d miss him,” Plumlee said late last season, after spending most of the year apprenticing under Garnett. “Anybody who’s spent a season with him, they appreciate how unique of a teammate he is. You don’t have many guys who are so about everybody else on the team, to where they’re lending their wisdom, their time. He shares everything he’s been through, mistakes he’s made, everything.”

Plumlee, Brooklyn’s top pick out of Duke in last year’s draft, had heard all about Garnett’s ferocity – with rivals and sometimes teammates – by the time he arrived last fall. Then he got an earful more from longtime coach and NBA analyst Doug Collins. “He went on and on, about how this was the best situation for me, that it didn’t matter that I fell in the draft,” Plumlee said. “He couldn’t say enough good things about [Garnett].”

The veteran made a project out of the rookie and it showed: Plumlee averaged 6.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in November and December but was up to 9.2 and 6.1 in March and April, earning a spot on the all-rookie first team.

“He’s the best for a young guy coming in,” Plumlee said. “He takes as much time as anybody to talk, to help, to explain stuff. Not just basketball stuff but off the court – your money, dealing with family and friends. His mentorship extends beyond just basketball.”

That came mostly in conversation on planes, the sort of stuff that has Sam Mitchell – newly named Minnesota assistant coach and Garnett’s mentor there two decades ago – convinced his old friend should carve out a role in Minnesota’s management once he retires.

Nets coach Jason Kidd also noted the influence Garnett had on younger players such as Plumlee. “From day 1 in training camp, Kevin sharing what he knows about the game and what it takes to be successful, you can see Mason has taken that information and has used it wisely,” Kidd said.

Some of those lessons still occur on the floor.

“The most impressive thing is, he always has an understanding of where he’s supposed to be,” Plumlee said. “And at this point in his career, he’s consumed with getting the next guy going, getting the next guy open. He’s all about screening to get Paul [Pierce] open, get Joe [Johnson] open. And then obviously everything on defense. How he talks. How he guards.”

In returning, Garnett would join only Kevin Willis (21), Robert Parish (21) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in playing at least 20 NBA seasons. The 15-time All-Star already ranks 10th all-time in games, sixth in minutes, third in defensive rebounds, 11th in rebounds 17th in points, 18th in steals, 20th in blocks and 49th in assists.

LeBron’s next decision defines him


VIDEO: Pat Riley talks about LeBron’s free-agency

Pat Riley is right.

Now it’s about looking back and looking ahead.

Let LeBron James go away on vacation, confer with his wife and the rest of his family and friends. Then remember just how far he’s come.

Not just from the prodigy of Akron to king of the basketball world in Miami.

But from July 2010 to now. From those first days after the ill-fated, ill-thought “Decision,” to  his current place where the respect has come, albeit grudgingly.

As long as he laces up his sneakers and snaps on that headband, there will always be that part of the public that will never give him his due.

They are the segment of fandom that will never get over a Sports Illustrated cover that made him “The Chosen One.” Hyped up and pre-packaged is always a difficult bar to clearn.

They are the ones who’ll always claim they lost respect for him when he bailed out on the Cavaliers and took his talents to South Beach to chase rings, even though Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin Garnett and others had followed similar paths.

They are the ones who resented the fact that the Heat roster was filled with All-Star talent, despite the fact that it was different than those Lakers and Celtics teams that ushered in the so-called Golden Age of the 1980s in the NBA.

Those are the ones James will never win over, no matter how many he adds to the four MVP awards already in his collection and the two championships he won in Miami.

Even in defeat to the Spurs, there was no disputing who was the best individual player on the court in the 2014 Finals. The same as 2013, 2012, 2011.

Riley is right when he says too many are too quick to dismiss the Heat achievement of getting to The Finals four years in a row. We always overreact to the last thing we saw and so it is easy to say the Miami glory days are through.

Dwyane Wade is definitely far from his peak and some of those sharp edges have been worn from Chris Bosh’s game.

But of the current rosters in the Eastern Conference, which team would you put right now ahead of the Heat for next season? The fractured Pacers? The leaning-on-Derrick-Rose’s-bad-wheels Bulls? The Wizards who just won a playoff series for the first time in nearly a decade?

Sure, he could grab a horse and a cowboy hat and jump off to play with Dwight Howard and James Harden in Houston and probably have the most talent-laden, ready-made situation to hoist another championship trophy.

But as he creeps up on his 30th birthday in December, it’s time for James to be considering his legacy in the game and whether another successful chase-the-ring move would actually enhance it.

This really isn’t a question about loyalty, because we know it’s hardly a two-way street when it comes to teams themselves. Face it, the Spurs wouldn’t have hung onto Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all seven years between NBA titles if they weren’t capable of delivering the goods at an All-Star level.

James is carving out his place in history, still young enough to chase those five championships of Duncan and Kobe Bryant, even the six by Michael Jordan. However, in each case, the jewelry won is a matched set, all coming with the same franchise.

Choosing to return to the Cavaliers now won’t make everyone open their arms and forget that he abandoned Cleveland for four of the prime seasons of his career. Bolting for another city any place else in the NBA will only make him look desperate and cheapen the resume that he’s worked hard to rebuild during his time with the Heat.

Over the past four years, James has won over even some of the diehard critics and many of those who were on the fence. He’s been a dominant all-around force, the backbone of the Heat, more circumspect in the public eye, a leader.

By getting to four straight Finals alone, Miami has joined only the Celtics and Lakers in the record books. Magic Johnson’s Lakers only went back-to-back once. Larry Bird’s Celtics never did. Those five Spurs championships that are being celebrated now came over 17 years. The Heat have barely put a dent in that calendar.

To be sure, there is work to be done to pick up the pieces and make them fit together again in Miami. Nobody knows that better than Riley. And nobody should know that it is foolish to underestimate Riley as an architect, a maneuverer more than James.

Riley is right. It is a simple choice of staying the course or hitting the door.

James’ choices with the ball in his hands are almost always above reproach. Now is the time to see how much he’s learned off the court in the last four years about building a proper legacy. This decision defines him for good.