Posts Tagged ‘Larry Bird’

Morning shootaround — July 21


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cavs to ink Wiggins to deal soon | Report: Knicks looking to move a guard | Bird still puzzled by Stephenson’s departure

No. 1: Report: Cavs to sign rookie Wiggins soon — Normally, a first-round pick closing in on signing his first contract is not news in this space as the deals for all first-round picks are predetermined and basically just need pen to be put to paper. But in the case of the No. 1 overall pick — Andrew Wiggins of the Cleveland Cavaliers — and his ties to trade talks dealing with Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love, we’ll make an exception. As Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com points out, the Cavs’ expected signing of Wiggins would, if nothing else, significantly delay any kind of Love-to-Cleveland deal:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are planning to sign No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins to a contract in the coming week, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Cavaliers’ delay in signing the former Kansas star has nothing to do with the prospect of Wiggins being dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of Cleveland’s ongoing trade discussions for Kevin Love.

The Cavaliers, sources say, are merely exploring options for using their estimated $1.4 million in remaining cap space before signing Wiggins to a contract that will pay him in the neighborhood of $5.5 million as a rookie.

The Cavs and Timberwolves have been discussing a Love trade since the return of LeBron James, with sources saying that Minnesota is insistent on getting Wiggins back in any deal that sends Love to Cleveland.

Once Wiggins signs, though, league rules stipulate that the Cavs must wait 30 days before trading him.

The Cavs’ delay in formalizing Wiggins’ contract has garnered extra attention because of the Love factor, but the reality is that this process is a fairly routine bit of salary-cap management that takes place this time of year with draft picks.


VIDEO:
Andrew Wiggins talks about being in the thick of the Kevin Love trade talks
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Lance takes talents, drama to Hornets, while Pacers sift through options


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson talks with the media after Indiana falls in Game 6 of the East finals

LAS VEGAS – Lance being Lance.

That’s how some will explain free-agent shooting guard Lance Stephenson‘s decision to sign with the Charlotte Hornets for $18 million guaranteed vs. the $44 million offered by his previous team, the Indiana Pacers.

Given Stephenson’s occasionally erratic behavior and impulsive thinking – the blowing-in-LeBron‘s-ear stuff that drove down his market value just weeks before free agency – the idea of leaving $26 million on the table to switch teams might seem so … so Lance. According to the Charlotte Observer, Stephenson will be paid $9 million in each of his first two Hornets seasons, with a slight raise in 2016-17 if the team exercises its option to retain him.

As confident as Stephenson is in his truly impressive talents, that might just permit the brash Brooklyn native with the “Born Ready” nickname to market himself again sooner at a higher price. Heck, it might keep him relatively hungry and focused on his next deal, mitigating the fears many in Indianapolis and around the NBA had that Stephenson, if validated with major money, might go from incorrigible to unmanageable.

Then again, maybe he was just bored. And with such a short guarantee, if the mercurial Stephenson (who will be 24 in September) undermines the image-conscious Hornets on the court or elsewhere, he might face even more frustration the next time he hits free agency.

He is Charlotte owner Michael Jordan‘s challenge to handle now, after four years of Larry Bird‘s TLC in Indiana – if Stephenson still requires or accepts mentoring from an all-timer.

Assuming Stephenson locks in while on the court, Charlotte – in this fallback move after its offer sheet to Utah’s Gordon Hayward was matched by the Jazz – has added a formidable talent. Stephenson is a multiply skilled wing player who is a natural scorer, a terrific athlete, a crafty (and sometimes wild) passer when he spies the opening and a lively, tenacious defender who welcomes the task of stifling big scorers. He has good range that can get better after shooting 49 percent overall and 35 percent on 3-pointers, while averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists.

At its best, Stephenson’s energy served as jumper cables for an Indiana team that could be too calm, too centered for its own good some nights. At its worst, that energy had the effect of Tasering his own team. The Pacers’ locker room was full of veteran players who could rein Stephenson back in; with the Hornets’ loss of Josh McRoberts and several young players trying to make their bones like Stephenson, who knows if Charlotte has the necessary steadying influences needed for Lance.

Indiana had offered Stephenson a five-year, $44 million deal two weeks ago that, by all reports, had not been amended. Its average value of $8.8 million was only marginally different from the $9 million for which Stephenson is uprooting.

Even as players such as Hayward, Chandler Parsons and Trevor Ariza were getting bigger deals, Stephenson never pushed into eight-figure territory because of the risks associated with his behavior. He ranked among the league’s leaders in technical fouls and flopping fines, and was stats-centric enough to steal rebounds from teammates Roy Hibbert and David West (and to complain at the scorers table if he felt something was missed). Even Bird criticized him at the end for his distracting antics against Miami in the East finals, where Stephenson whipped up media scrutiny for days on end.

Now, however, the Pacers have a different sort of headache. Replacing good Lance might be just as challenging as handling bad Lance. There are precious few options left among free agents – especially since Indiana already cut loose former Philadelphia guard Evan Turner, who disappointed after his acquisition by Bird in February.

The latest Lance insurance policy is C.J. Miles, a 6-foot-6 veteran of nine NBA seasons with Utah and Cleveland. Last season, Miles averaged 9.9 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists while shooting 43.5 percent. He hit 39.3 percent of his 3-pointers but isn’t comparable to Stephenson as an athlete, defender or offense generator.

Outside options? Rodney Stuckey still is available after moving into a bench role with the Pistons. Ray Allen at 39 wouldn’t be able to handle the workload Indiana needs from Stephenson’s spot. There’s always a chance the Pacers could indulge George Hill‘s inner off-guard dreams and find another point guard, like former Magic playmaker Jameer Nelson.

Barring a stealthy save by Bird late in free agency or via trade, Stephenson has gone from blowing in LeBron’s ear to boxing the Pacers’ ears … all at a head-scratching bargain price.

 

Morning shootaround — July 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Hornets, Stephenson reach deal | Reports: Wolves, Warriors renew Love trade talks | Parsons clarifies comments about Houston | ‘The Greek Freak’ at point guard? | Silver: Clips sale may not happen soon

No. 1: Report: Stephenson headed to Hornets — The Charlotte Hornets opened free agency by taking a big swing at landing restricted free-agent swingman Gordon Hayward of the Jazz, but Utah matched the Hornets’ offer sheet last weekend. Swing No. 2 appears to be a success for the Hornets this time, though, as they have agreed to terms on a three-year deal with Indiana Pacers standout (and unrestricted free agent) Lance Stephenson, as first reported by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. This marks a big loss for the Pacers — who had the best record in the East last season — but there had been talk that contract negotiations between Stephenson and Indiana had broken down of late. Bonnell has more on the move for Charlotte:

Following an all-night negotiating session, the Charlotte Hornets have come to an agreement to sign Indiana Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson, the Observer has learned.

Under terms of the agreement, Stephenson will make $9 million in 2014-15 and $9 million in 2015-16. Stephenson will get a slight raise in 2016-17 if the Hornets pick up the team option.

Stephenson fills an obvious need, as the Hornets were weak offensively at the shooting guard and small forward positions. The 6-foot-5 Stephenson had a breakthrough season statistically, averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists. He also shot 49 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range.

However, he has a quirky personality that seems to have limited his market when he became an unrestricted free agent July 1.

The Pacers had offered Stephenson $44 million over five seasons, and reportedly did not come off that number. Stephenson thought he was worth considerably more.

But the question becomes how Stephenson’s quirkiness might play out once he signs a lucrative contract extension. He famously blew in opponent LeBron James’ ear in the playoffs. He was fined for flopping this season and was charged with 14 technical fouls, fourth-most in the NBA.

It is not the Hornets’ habit to take frequent risks on high-maintenance players. Trading for Stephen Jackson worked out for two seasons before they traded him on to the Milwaukee Bucks. Now they have drafted P.J. Hairston, a player who lost his NCAA eligibility over improper benefits and who recently was cited for punching a teenager during a pickup game at a Durham YMCA.

Hornets owner Michael Jordan has said one of his team’s greatest strengths last season was the character of the players on the roster. Did that embolden the front office to pursue Stepehenson? Is Stephenson now a threat to that chemistry?

Certainly the Hornets faced competitive pressure in the Eastern Conference. The Cleveland Cavaliers improved dramatically with the addition of James, so that’s a non-playoff team in the East that now looks like a post-season lock. While the Heat lost James, they weakened the Hornets with the signing of Josh McRoberts.

It’s possible the Hornets would have struggled just to make the playoffs this season without upgrading the roster with a move like Stephenson.

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Market for Stephenson might move, though concerns remain same


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson talks about his season with the Pacers in 2013-14

Lance Stephenson might or might not be happy with the Indiana Pacers’ contract offer to him. But he has to be happy with the Charlotte Hornets’ contract offer to Gordon Hayward.

By doing nothing beyond waiting, Stephenson – the talented and erratic shooting guard who is testing free agency after four seasons of development and nurturing in Indiana – has seen the market change for good young wing players. Not necessarily his market to stay in Indianapolis, given Larry Bird‘s calculation of Stephenson’s pro & con bottom line: five years, $44 million, an average annual salary of $8.8 million. But the market overall, as determined by a pair of needy teams in modest-sized markets.

The Hornets’ decision to sign Hayward to an offer sheet for four years, $63 million (a max deal worth $15.75 per year) presumably has shifted things seismically not only for Stephenson but for Chandler Parsons, Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng.

Depending on what you read or believe, Stephenson already was displeased with the amount of Indiana’s offer and/or Bird’s one-price strategy.

Some reports claim Stephenson was simply disappointed by the Pacers’ number and wants to see what else is out there. Some claim he rejected that deal and is looking to leave. Among the teams said to have interest, from passing to strong, in Stephenson: Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Miami, Charlotte and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Taking the speculation to yet another level, there was word out of Texas that the Mavericks might deign to offer a smaller deal with Stephenson if he spurns Indiana yet miscalculates and grows desperate enough to accept a worse payday. Good luck with that.

We all know how the game goes from here: If Avery Bradley is worth $8 million a year to Boston with his limited offensive impact and Hayward is worth nearly twice that to Charlotte and Utah – the Jazz have been open about their intent to match anything Hayward signed – then it might seem, in sheer basketball valuation, Stephenson should be further to the right on the pay scale than what Indiana has presented. There are a couple of disclaimers though:

  • The difficulty, or should we say near-impossibility, of attracting free agents to Salt Lake City. Epecially with the Jazz mired in the lottery. With a new, unproven coaching staff.
  • Hayward’s restricted status.

Both of those point toward a player perhaps getting overpaid. A market that can’t dangle some mix of beaches, balmy weather, nightlife, lucrative endorsements and instant winning often has to show more money. And with RFAs, if the current team has expressed its intention to match, a rival can only fatten the offer in hopes of discouraging that.

Indianapolis isn’t a glamour market but it has gone to two consecutive East finals, with a breakthrough possible again next spring, especially if Miami has a break-up. Stephenson is unrestricted, which means that the team that overpays him will be the one stuck.

And stuck is an operative word, leading to a couple legitimate disclaimers about Stephenson and his value:

  • The Pacers shooting guard has had an unusually patient and nurturing situation in Indiana. Bird has had his back from the start, drafting him in 2010 despite off-court incidents and behavioral concerns. The team’s veterans have encouraged and kept him in line for the most part. Even when Stephenson drove down his own value with some high-profile hi-jinks against LeBron James and the Heat this postseason, Bird wondered aloud if he should have spent more face time with the irrepressible player.
  • Teams, including the Pacers, wonder what Stephenson might be like off the court once he has an eight-figure, multi-year guaranteed contract. He might take that as validation of everything – good and bad – he’s been doing, rather than a deal offered flinchingly in the hope that his maturity might catch up to his skill level.

Bob Kravitz, longtime columnist for the Indianapolis Star, urged the Pacers not to budge beyond the five years and $44 million they already have offered Stephenson. “Stephenson will never have as good a support system (read: Bird) as he has now in Indianapolis,” Kravitz wrote. “He will never find a group of teammates more willing (however grudgingly) to put up with his antics, both on the practice court and in games. He will never find a fan base more willing to embrace him, a fan base that loves him despite all his warts, much like Ron Artest, the former Pacers All-Star now named Metta World Peace.”

And yet, the one spinout other teams wouldn’t have to worry about that should concern the Pacers is Stephenson and his possible growing impatience with being the team’s “little brother.” He could well be Indiana’s second-best player in 2014-15 behind Paul George but his salary could be fourth- or fifth-highest on the roster.

One thing the Pacers can offer Stephenson that other teams cannot is the comfort zone he has at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, not just with the fans but in his eccentric “Bird Cave.” More pressing at the moment, though, for those who would consider him: caveat emptor.

Orlando Pro Summer League tips off


VIDEO: The Summer League season begins Saturday in Orlando

It’s an annual coming-out party for NBA rookies, other young pros looking to hone their skills and move up the pecking order and a handful of older veterans seeking another crack at the big time. In this case, it’s also the long-awaited pro debut of Nerlens Noel.

The Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League tips off Saturday (9 a.m., NBA TV) with familiar names from the draft and plenty of other hopefuls hustling for an invitation to training camps in October.

Eight first-round picks from the 2014 draft — led by No. 4 Aaron Gordon of the Magic, No. 6 Marcus Smart of the Celtics and No. 10 Elfrid Payton of the Magic — will take part in the seven days of competition that will take place on the practice court at Orlando’s Amway Center.

Another major headliner will be Noel, the No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft, who sat out all of last season while recovering from knee surgery. He’ll finally get to scratch that itch to play. Sixers fans might get their first glimpse into bright future.

The games are not open to the public and will only be attended by media and league personnel. All games will be shown on NBA TV.

The 10 teams will each play five games, concluding with a championship day that will be based on standings. A point system will establish the standings leading up to the final day, with eight points awarded each game based on: four points for winning the game and one point for winning a quarter (in the event of a tied quarter, each team will receive 0.5 points). In the event of ties in seeding heading into championship day, three tiebreakers will be in place: 1) total point differential; 2) total points allowed; 3) coin flip.

Here’s a quick look at roster highlights for each of the 10 teams that will participate:

Boston Celtics — It’s the second year of the rebuilding program under coach Brad Stevens. The Celtics are hoping to get a big boost from their pair of first-round draft choices Marcus Smart and James Young. It’s not certain if Young will play after he suffered a strained neck in a car accident several weeks before the Draft. He’s been held out of early workouts at the Celtics’ training facility. Last year’s first-round pick Kelly Olynyk – the MVP of the Summer League last season — will return to Orlando, joined by fellow Celtics veterans Chris Babb, Chris Johnson and Phil Pressey.

Brooklyn Nets — Last year’s summer appearance by the Nets was most notable for the coaching debut of Jason Kidd, who proceeded to answer a cell phone call on the sidelines of his very first game. Kidd has been replaced by Lionel Hollins, who did a masterful job giving the Grizzlies credibility as a playoff contender. The Nets were without first-round draft picks as a result of the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trades last year. But on draft night they dealt cash for second-round picks Markel Brown, Xavier Thames and Cory Jefferson. Also playing for the Nets will be Mason Plumlee, who made a big impression a year ago and went on to become the All-Rookie first team center last season.

Detroit Pistons – It’s the beginning of a new era in Detroit with Stan Van Gundy’s arrival as both head coach and club president. Second-year Pistons players Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell will each be looking to tighten up their games to impress the new boss. Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler will practice with the team, but will not participate in games. The NBA D-League 2014 Defensive Player of the Year DeAndre Liggins will be on the roster, along with undrafted free agents Tristan Spurlock, Mustafa Shakur, Jordan Heath and Markel Starks.

Houston Rockets — It’s been a long time since the Rockets made Maarty Leunen a second-round pick out of Oregon in the 2008 draft, but the long-range bomber will be in Orlando to take his shot. Leunen has the shooting skill the Rockets seek, hitting 42 percent on 3-pointers the past three seasons in the Italian League. He’ll join up with last year’s rookies, Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington, who both got their feet wet last season with the Rockets. The 6-foot-9 power forward Covington was named the 2014 NBA D-League rookie of the year . The Rockets’ top draft pick Clint Cappela will not play, but second-round choice, Arizona guard Nick Johnson, will be on the court in Orlando.

Indiana Pacers – There’s not the usual summertime electricity in the air when you walk away from the draft without a single player. The Pacers’ roster will be anchored by last year’s holdovers Donald Sloan and Solomon Hill, who’ll be seeking to earn another season on the roster. Jake Odum was a four-year starter at Larry Bird’s alma mater Indiana State and will try to push Sloan for the third point guard spot. A back injury has scratched 10-year NBA veteran Roger Mason Jr. from his scheduled appearance with the Pacers.

Memphis Grizzlies — Second-year shooting guard Jamaal Franklin will head up the Grizzlies’ entry. Franklin saw time in 21 games for the Grizzlies last season. He’ll be joined by 2014 draft pick Jordan Adams (No. 22 overall) and Jarnell Stokes (No. 35). Adams was rated a terrific scorer and good offensive rebounder ahead of the draft, but some scouts labeled him unathletic. This is his first chance to prove them wrong. The roster, led by assistant coach Shawn Respert for the first three games and assistant Jason March for the last two, will feature three native Memphians, including Stokes, former University of Memphis guard Joe Jackson and former Ole Miss guard Terrico White.

Miami Heat – Gee, no pressure at all when LeBron James tweets that you were the best point guard in the draft. Assuming The King returns to Miami, everyone will be looking to see if Shabazz Napier can bring enough talent to South Beach to help make a difference for the point-guard poor Heat. Miami brass made its play for the guy who led UConn to another NCAA championship on draft night, swinging a deal with the Bobcats to get their man at No. 24. Seven-footer Justin Hamilton played seven games with the Heat last season. Point guard Larry Drew set the UCLA single season record for assists in 2013, but went undrafted and played last season for the Sioux City Skyforce in the NBA D-League.

Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder surprised many with their first round picks Mitch McGary (21) and Josh Huestis (29), mostly because they seemed to duplicate picks from a year earlier in Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. Plenty scouts were high on the big man McGary, and Huestis put his stamp on last season when he locked up and shut down No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. Adams and Roberson are back for another summer league run and will be joined by Jeremy Lamb and Grant Jerrett.

Orlando Magic — The hometown team will bring in a pair of top 10 talents from this year’s draft. The power forward Gordon has size and strength and a defensive nose. This is where he’ll start trying to add a jumper to his game that could vault him to the elite level in a couple of years. The Magic wanted Payton enough to give up a future first round pick for him at No. 10, and together with Victor Oladipo could give them an outstanding backcourt for years. Last year’s top pick Oladipo will be back on the summer league roster along with Stephen Curry’s brother Seth, who is still trying to carve out a place in the NBA. Matt Bouldin won the D-League championship with the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants last season.

Philadelphia 76ers – He’s been champing at the bit to get out on the court wearing a Sixers jersey in game conditions for more than a year, so don’t be surprised if Nerlens Noel jumps through the ceiling when he finally gets on the floor. The No. 6 pick in the 2013 Draft was rehabbed very conservatively, so now he’ll get to show off the all-around skills that had him listed as the No. 1 pick until his knee injury. Joel Embiid, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, will of course sit out following foot surgery. Last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams will be sidelined after surgery to repair a torn labrum. The Sixers roster will include the 32nd pick K.J. McDaniels, Jeremi Grant (No. 39), Vasilije Micic (No. 52) and Jordan McRae (No. 58). Also suiting up will be Pierre Jackson, who set the single-game D-League scoring record with 58 points last season.

Night for Pacers, Pistons to watch, plot

The Cleveland Cavaliers again have everyone else in the NBA breathlessly waiting while they decide which domino shall topple first.

The Milwaukee Bucks are next, happy to sit at No. 2, hoping for more Durant-after-Oden, less Bowie-after-Olajuwon.

The Chicago Bulls sit further back but hold two picks, Nos. 16 and 19, in the first round of what’s considered to be a deep draft (and even loftier ambitions for free agency).

And then there are the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, poor little Central Division teams on the outside looking in – on the first round, anyway – of the 2014 Draft Thursday night.

The Pacers traded away their first-round pick to Phoenix last summer, packaging it with Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee for veteran forward Luis Scola. The Suns hold it at No. 27, leaving Indiana with only the No. 57 pick – three from the bottom – as a long-shot stab at talent near the end of the night.

The Pistons would have picked No. 9, a pivotal point similar to last year (No. 8), if not for its desperation two years ago to unload Ben Gordon, sweetening a deal for Charlotte’s Corey Maggette by including a protected future first-rounder. That future turned into the present when Detroit slipped one spot in the lottery drawing, stripping the protection, transferring the pick to the Hornets and leaving new basketball poobah Stan Van Gundy only with the No. 38 pick.

Technically, Nos. 38 and 57 aren’t wastelands when it comes to finding (more like discovering months later) occasional talent. Eighteen of the past 20 players drafted 38th earned jobs in the league, however briefly; Andy Rautins (2010) and DeMarco Johnson (1998) lasted five games each, while Michael Wright (2001) and Rashard Griffith (1995) were the only washouts. Over the past 20 years, the top players to emerge from No. 38 probably have been Chandler Parsons (2011), Steve Blake (2003), Eduardo Najera (2000), Chris Duhon (2004) and Nate Wolters (2013).

Meanwhile, San Antonio sixth man Manu Ginobili classed up the No. 57 slot when the Spurs grabbed him there in 1999. Washington center Marcin Gortat was picked at the spot in 2005. Since Gortat, however, the eight players selected at No. 57 have played a combined five games – all by Florida State forward Ryan Reid (2010), who logged 17 minutes total for the Thunder in 2011-12.

All of which is a long and historically broken down way of saying Indiana and Detroit aren’t banking on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to deliver their offseason improvements.

The Pacers have internal chores atop their to-do list. Shooting guard Lance Stephenson has reached free agency before full maturity, forcing a tough call on president Larry Bird and the rest of the organization: Pay Stephenson and risk even greater antics fueled by a fat, guaranteed-and-validating contract in the mid-eight figures, or let him leave and scramble to replace his scoring, playmaking, defense and energy. Backup Evan Turner was a dud after arriving via trade in February and also will be a free agent, but for now he is Indiana’s Lance insurance.

Coach Frank Vogel also has to resuscitate Roy Hibbert as the team’s centerpiece, weighing the big man’s defensive presence against his offensive quirks and alarming unreliability late last season and postseason.

The Pistons feel as if their work already is underway, with Van Gundy in place and speculation swirling about a Josh Smith-to-Sacramento trade. They also have done their homework in gauging restricted free agent Greg Monroe‘s value, possible offer sheets (which often aren’t in synch with the first calculation) and their match-or-trade decision tree. Detroit also figures to have between an estimated $13 million to $14 million in salary cap space, pending other moves.

Van Gundy, a baseball fan, used an analogy from that sport when updating Detroit media recently on the team’s expected maneuvers. “We’re not gonna hit a home run,” he said, “but if we can get three singles or two singles and a double, and drive in a couple runs, we’ll be OK.”

Assuming they’ve got Verlander or Scherzer on the mound, of course.

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.

Riley puts heat on LeBron, Big 3 to ‘stay the course … and not run’


VIDEO: Heat boss Pat Riley is calling for everyone to “get a grip” and those who stay to reinvent themselves

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Fifty-five minutes of Pat Riley unfiltered is the off-the-court equivalent of watching a Game 7 of The Finals go to triple overtime. You don’t want a miss a second of the action.

The Miami Heat’s boss was in rare form this morning in his postseason news conference, explaining where the Heat stands now after losing in The Finals to the Spurs and where they are headed with the huge decisions looming for the Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in advance of free agency this summer, should they choose to opt-out of their current deals and test the waters.

Riley’s message to them all was clear. But he might as well have FaceTimed LeBron or at least hit him on Skype when talked about the need to “stay the course” and not “run for the first open door.”

Wade and Bosh have already expressed publicly their desire to stay in Miami and continue a partnership that has produced four straight trips to The Finals and two title-winning campaigns. LeBron is the only one who has not hinted publicly about which way he is leaning.

Riley mentioned all of the great dynasties of the past and how many if not all of them failed more than they succeeded in their annual quests to win titles. He spoke of how hard the process can be and of the certain trials and tribulations that accompany the triumphs for those teams that stick together in their quest for Larry O’Brien trophies.

“This stuff is hard,” Riley said. “And you’ve got to stay together if you’ve got the guts. And you don’t find the first door and run out of it.”

That’s tougher love than most men in Riley’s position are comfortable using. But most of those men don’t have the experience, backrground or list of accomplishments Riley has. Riley vowed to do whatever it takes to keep his crew together. He pointed to the Spurs and their bond that carried them from a crushing defeat in The Finals last year to a rematch this year and vengeance.

Riley called for mass reinvention, at least for everyone under 69 (his age) and the improvement from within that marked the Spurs’ spectacular run through the regular season and postseason.


VIDEO: Pat Riley talks about LeBron James and the Heat (more…)

Game 5: Duncan close to one for the thumb

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Tim Duncan talks with Steve Smith about being on the cusp of a fifth title

SAN ANTONIO – The Miami Heat played their two best games of the NBA Finals on the Spurs’ home floor. If not for LeBron James exiting the final minutes of Game 1 with cramps, they might have headed home up 2-0. So much has changed since then. The Spurs embarrassed Miami, not once, but twice, to push the Heat to the brink. Miami’s only hope is to regain their form the last time they were here.

The Basics:

Game 5 tips off Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Prior to this year’s format change, the Heat would be playing this Game 5 on their home floor, but considering how lousy they played at the American Airlines Arena, they might feel more at home with their backs against the wall on the road.

They have little to fall back on now. Their 13-game streak of winning after losing is history. The last time they lost three in a row came back in the 2011 Finals to the Dallas Mavericks, the team that raised the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the Big Three’s first season together. Could a Spurs victory end that era?

It certainly sounded on Saturday as if a Spurs victory will extend that Big Three’s era at least another season. Tim Duncan, potentially headed for a fifth championship and a Finals MVP at age 38, as well as 36-year-old Manu Ginobili, playing so well this entire postseason, gave no indication on Saturday that they plan to call it a career, in fact just the opposite. Adding to that, coach Gregg Popovich, the NBA’s Coach of the Year, said he has no plan to walk into the sunset just yet. However, there’s still the matter or wrapping up a fourth championship with Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker.

The Narrative:

The best player in the world is getting clobbered by criticism and the best team in the NBA the last two seasons is suddenly being downgraded as a group of individuals that don’t play within a team concept. Both accounts are nonsense. Yes, the Heat was built on the backs of superstar talent, but they have always played as a team. James is one of the most unselfish players in the game, often criticized for passing to an open teammate instead of shooting in the final moments. It can’t go both ways.

The fact is the Heat are being beaten by a playing better than they are, by the best passing, most efficient offense the league has seen likely since the 1980s with Magic Johnson‘s Lakers and Larry Bird‘s Celtics. The true weakness at the moment for Miami is that it’s not getting as many solid performances from up and down the roster as are the Spurs. Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade have struggled in recent games and Miami’s role players aren’t delivering with the juice of Spurs players such as Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. (more…)

Morning shootaround: June 14


VIDEO: Fisher discusses the Knicks’ roster 

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jordan explains Higgins’ exit | Beasley as Heat’s cavalry? | Jackson, Fisher huddle with ‘Melo | Cavaliers closing in on coach

No. 1: Jordan explains Higgins’ exit — For years, a lot of casual observers of the Charlotte NBA team (once Bobcats, now Hornets) figured Rod Higgins held his job as president of basketball operations largely because he was a longtime pal of owner/legend Michael Jordan. But in addressing the reason behind Higgins’ abrupt deision to resign – Jordan shifted more responsibilities to general manager Rich Cho – the GOAT made it clear why he valued having Higgins around too. Here’s a peek at veteran scribe Rick Bonnell‘s Jordan exclusive in the Charlotte Observer:

“Rod’s strong points are working with the coaches and the trainers, traveling with the team,” Jordan said. “He was my buffer zone with the coaches. I didn’t want to overwhelm them with ideas, so I’d work with Rod on that.”
Jordan said he wants Cho, with a background as an attorney, dealing more with budgets and managing the salary cap.
“One of (Higgins’) strong points is not negotiating, leveraging teams,” Jordan said. “Sometimes when teams would call (proposing trades), they’d bypass Rod to get to Rich.”
Higgins, with the franchise since 2007, teamed with Cho the last three years. Jordan said that arrangement led to some “confusion over who reported to whom. It created a contentious environment where I had to step in.”
That’s when Jordan proposed these shifts in responsibilities, which Higgins considered a demotion. At that point, Jordan said he asked Higgins if they could wait until after the draft to make a change.
“He chose to leave now,” Jordan said.
Higgins, 54, has been a friend and colleague of Jordan’s for roughly 30 years. They played together with the Chicago Bulls in the mid-1980s. Jordan later hired Higgins to help him run the Washington Wizards’ basketball operation. Jordan said that made Friday’s parting extra difficult.
“I had to make a decision about a brother,” Jordan said. “I hope he gets a soft landing and finds (the job) he wants.”

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No. 2: Beasley as Heat’s cavalry? — Before the 2014 Finals began, the suggestion that Miami might find itself in need of help from erratic forward Michael Beasley would have been seen as an implicit admission that the Heat were headed for trouble against the San Antonio Spurs. Well, they are in trouble, down 3-1 and facing elimination in Game 5 Sunday in San Antonio. And more than a few critics have wondered if Miami coach Erik Spoelstra might look to Beasley as an X factor and counter to Kawhi Leonard‘s offensive impact for the Spurs. Our man Jeff Caplan didn’t necessarily see much of a role for Beasley in the series when they chatted prior to Game 1, but now can offer a look at the maddeningly talented but scatter-careered forward:

Beasley has yet to be active in The Finals and has been inactive in 10 of Miami’s 19 playoff games. He’s played a total of seven minutes in three games. During the regular season, he appeared in a career-low 55 games and averaged career-lows in points (7.9), rebounds (3.1) and minutes (15.1).
Yet, Beasley said: “Honestly, this season has flown by faster than any other I’ve been in. I don’t know why, I don’t know how. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun.”
The Heat had no fun in Games 3 and 4 in Miami and now head back to San Antonio for Sunday’s Game 5 in the unenviable position of trailing 3-1. After Game 4, Spoelstra was asked if Beasley could be an option in Game 5 to provide some much-needed scoring punch. While his playing time was sporadic, Beasley did record a career-high shooting percentage of 49.9 percent and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a better mark than only his rookie season.
Spoelstra didn’t give a direct answer, and in an indication as to how Beasley is still perceived, the questioner was roasted on Twitter by fans and also media covering The Finals for having even broached the subject.
“I shouldn’t say no. I do, but I’m not going to stress over it,” Beasley said when asked if he cares more now how others view him. “People who know me, my family, my kids, my closest friends, they know me. I’m not trying to get everybody to know that I’m a good guy, a great guy or whatever. At this point I’m just focused on playing basketball.”

***

No. 3: Jackson, Fisher huddle with ‘Melo — We can assume that, if numbers came up when basketball boss Phil Jackson, new head coach Derek Fisher and GM Steve Mills of the New York Knicks met with Carmelo Anthony and agent Leon Rose Friday in Los Angeles, the Knicks contingent detailed the pay cuts Anthony would be facing were he to leave New York as a free agent this summer. How big would those cuts be? The difference between a nine-figure deal with N.Y. vs. an eight-figure packages from outside suitors, the latest allegedly the Miami Heat in a refurbished Big 4 vision. Knicks beat writer Al Iannazzone laid out some of the basics for Newsday:

Phil Jackson led a contingent of Knicks officials into a meeting with Carmelo Anthony on Friday in Los Angeles, according to a league source, and presented their plan for turning the team into a contender.
The current blueprint includes Anthony, but he has the ability to opt out of his contract by June 23 and become a free agent. All indications are that Anthony will do that.
Jackson has said he hopes Anthony will “opt in” and wait until 2015 to become a free agent. But a league source said Anthony hasn’t changed his mind after saying all season that he would become a free agent this summer.
If Anthony were to opt in, it would give the Knicks more flexibility next summer, and perhaps in 2016, to sign multiple stars. The 2015 free-agent class could include LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Marc Gasol. Kevin Durant is the big potential prize in 2016.
Jackson was accompanied by general manager Steve Mills and new coach Derek Fisher during the sit-down with Anthony and his agent, Leon Rose. It was the first time Anthony met with Fisher since he became coach.
The Knicks can pay Anthony more than any other team in free agency. A maximum deal from them would be five years and roughly $129 million. But Jackson also has said that if Anthony re-signs, he hopes he will take less to give the Knicks more room for other moves.

***

No. 4: Cavaliers closing in on coach — Holders of the Draft’s No. 1 pick, dreamers when it comes to LeBron James’ possible return as a free agent, the Cleveland Cavaliers are said to be getting closer to assigning value to at lease one of their multiple variables: their vacant head coaching position. Longtime Cavs beat writer Bob Finnan wrote about the narrowing field of candidates: Alvin Gentry and Tyronn Lue, both assistants on Doc Rivers‘ staff with the Los Angeles Clippers, and former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt:

Clippers assistant coaches Alvin Gentry and Tyronn Lue and former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt.
Gentry and Lue met with Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert on June 13. It was their second interview with the Cavs.
Blatt reportedly will meet with the Cavs next week. He previously spoke to Cavs General Manager David Griffin about the position left vacant by the firing of Mike Brown on May 12. Blatt told Israel reporter David Pick that he interviewed for the Cavs’ head-coaching job via the phone.
The 55-year-old Blatt announced during a news conference in Israel on June 12 that he was leaving his position as head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv. It is believed that he would be joining an NBA team. If he doesn’t get the Cavs’ job, he could join Golden State coach Steve Kerr’s coaching staff as his lead assistant.
However, he’s very much in the mix in Cleveland for the head-coaching position.
Griffin has been doing some background checks on Blatt, and Pick reported that he has spoken to former Cavs’ draft pick Milan Macvan, who played for Blatt in Maccabi. Macvan, a Serbian power forward, was a second-round pick of the Cavs in 2011.
There was a report that Blatt wouldn’t come to the NBA unless he got a head-coaching job. He said on June 12 that wasn’t true.
If those are the three finalists, two of them — the 37-year-old Lue, and Blatt — have never been head coaches in the NBA. The third, 59-year-old Gentry, is considered by some as a coaching retread who has a below-.500 record in 12 years as a head coach. All three coaches are known as offensive-minded, who would take advantage of the Cavs’ personnel.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami’s Ray Allen has at least one of these three R’s in his future: Return, relocation or retirement? … Celtics assistant Ron Adams might wind up on Steve Kerr‘s staff in Golden State, and Julius Randle refutes the claim that his right foot needs surgery. … Tim Duncan has until June 24 to opt in for next season. He, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich all have contracts that run through 2014-15, should they choose to give it one more season. … One more inspiring scrap-heap-to-Finals-star Boris Diaw story. … Can Dante Exum vault into the Top 3 and rock the 2014 Draft? … Sid Lowe goes to the Timberwolves for a third (or is it fourth?) go-around, with Sam Mitchell invoking “country club” privileges next. … Larry Bird tries to help disappointed Pacers fans buck up … We’re not clear as to which trio should feel more disrespected by this, the Heat’s Big 3 or the classic comedic geniuses.