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Posts Tagged ‘Luol Deng’

Analytics Art: Deng filling gaps nicely for Heat in Bosh’s absence

VIDEO: Luol Deng delivers in Heat’s win over Wizards

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to

Luol Deng is trying to get his groove back. The two-time All-Star floundered throughout the first half of the season for the Miami Heat, averaging just 10.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting 43.1 percent from the field prior to the All-Star break.

Since then, however, Deng has experienced a resurgence. The timing couldn’t be better, as teammate Chris Bosh may be forced to sit out the remainder of the season following another blood clot scare, according to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Without Bosh on the floor (four games since All-Star weekend), Deng has rattled off four straight double-doubles.

In Deng’s first two games after the break, he scored 30 and 27 points, respectively. Those performances mark the two highest-scoring games of the 30-year-old’s season.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Deng’s post-All-Star averages are more favorable than his lackluster numbers before the break.

Save for 3-point shooting — Deng’s only made two of his 11 attempts from deep since the break — he has upped his game across the board. His scoring uptick to 21.5 points headlines his impact sans Bosh, but he’s been great defensively as well.

With averages of 8.5 defensive rebounds and 1.5 steals per game in his past four games, Deng’s defense is providing a huge boost. According to, Deng’s defensive rebound percentage of 22.8 percent is vastly superior to his pre-All-Star mark of 13.3 percent. His defensive rating of 99.0 since All-Star festivities also bucks a trend Heat fans have been seeing far too often this season — that opponents are better offensively when Deng is on the floor.

When taking the season as a whole, Miami’s opponents have scored more points at a more efficient clip while also dishing out more assists when Deng plays. Now, his two-way play has led to three big wins against key Eastern Conference opponents: Atlanta, Washington and Indiana.

The Heat are still good without Bosh, but there’s just something missing. At least for a short stint, Deng has helped Miami overcome that glaring limitation by scoring in bunches and crashing the glass.

Chances are he’ll regress to the mean moving forward, but at least Deng appears to have some pep in his step. He no longer looks as if he’s lacking confidence, which provides a silver lining for a Heat team facing plenty of adversity heading toward a playoff push.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 14

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 13


Dragic out at least 3 games, perhaps longer | Colangelo: Sixers could be better ‘sooner rather than later’ | Vitti wants to rest Kobe 1-2 weeks | Mavs’ Matthews miffed over rest day

No. 1: Dragic out three games (and perhaps longer) — Injuries haven’t made as much of a mess of the Miami Heat roster as it did a season ago. To date, the team’s most-used lineup of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside has logged a team-high 332 minutes together. Last season, that crew played didn’t play a single minute together. However, that continuity was disrupted last night as Dragic missed Miami’s game in Los Angeles against the Clippers. He was sent home from the team’s road trip due to a calf injury and things may be a little bleak in terms of his injury. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has more:

Amid a stretch when he had been playing his best ball of the season, guard Goran Dragic has been lost to the Miami Heat for at least three games and possibly longer.

Coach Erik Spoelstra announced after Wednesday morning’s shootaround at Santa Monica High School that his starting point guard was being sent back to South Florida due to a strained left calf sustained in Monday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena.

Spoelstra termed the injury “a slight calf strain” and added, “it’s not a tear.”

Dragic, however, said a doctor in Los Angeles termed it “a bad strain” and Dragic he is anxious for the results of an MRI scheduled for his Thursday return to Miami.

“We don’t know yet for sure,” Dragic said. “We’ll see when I’m going to have the MRI and we’re going to know a little bit more. We don’t know. We cannot do the timetable.”

“I mean, it’s a frustrating, of course,” he said. “I want to be here with the team. It’s part of the game. Now the only thing I can do is do my part of the job, and try to get healthy as fast as possible.”

“I don’t know which move it happened,” Dragic said. “It started hurting.”

Spoelstra said the team’s training staff has narrowed the injury down to Monday’s second half.

“We looked a couple of different plays that happened last game,” Spoelstra said, “but it could have been on either one of them in the second half, one of them where he slipped on the baseline, another one where he took off. But it started to tighten up during the game.”

Dragic said treatment began immediately.

“After the game we did some ice. We did tests,” he said. “And just said as soon as we got to L.A. we were going to go and see the doctor for the ultrasound and we did.”

Dragic said it is the first time in his career he has sustained this type of injury.

“We did some treatments with ultrasound and tried to get the swelling out,” he said.

Now the question becomes whether the comfort built with Dragic will be lost, with the Heat to utilize Tyler Johnson and Beno Udrih in the interim.



Morning Shootaround — Jan. 4

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 3


Curry questionable for Warriors next game, Green is a go | Butler wants nothing to do with Jordan comparisons | Heat starters finally in positive territory | Z-Bo remains a bright spot for Grizzlies | Kupchak knows Lakers can’t move on until Kobe does

No. 1:Curry questionable for Warriors’ next game, Green is a go — The Golden State Warriors are justified in their concern for reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry, who is battling a shin injury that could allowed him to play all of 14 minutes in the team’s past three games. Curry is questionable for the Warriors’ game against Charlotte tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). It’s a good thing the Warriors have Draymond Green healthy and fully engaged. He’s doing everything humanly possible to compensate for Curry’s absence, doing his “Dray-Magic” routine on the regular. As Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group suggests, Green’s heroics know no bounds:

In the wake of the latest and most monstrous triple-double of his career — 29 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists against the Denver Nuggets — Draymond Green seemed more delighted by the little challenge he won with coach Luke Walton.

It came in the first quarter of the Warriors’ early blitz. Green already had buried his first three 3-point shots as the Warriors raced out to an 11-2 lead in the first 2:18. During a Nuggets timeout, the Warriors huddled at the bench and, well, here’s Draymond to tell the rest:

“I was able to get it going and my teammates started to look for me. Then Luke drew up a play for me (during the timeout) and told me I wasn’t going to make it on the fourth one. So I had to knock that one down.”

And of course, he did. Nailed it. Nuttin’ but net, followed by a smile and a knowing smirk at the guy striding in front of the bench. Drain-mond. Trey-mond. Call him what you will, but make sure you call him unique and oh-so special, a man you can dare to do something and he’ll damn near kill himself trying.

If you want to know why Walton has been such a wonder as Steve Kerr‘s interim replacement, it’s stuff like this. He’s not so far removed from his playing days that he hasn’t forgotten how to play the game within a game, the mind game that gently goads a player to a new level of greatness.

Whatever competitive buttons he’s pushing with Green, he’s hitting all the gobble holes in the pinball machine. Draymond is lighting up everywhere and giving multiple replays. It makes you wonder what Walton might do next to keep his most versatile player at this astonishing level of play.

Hey, Luke, how about this one? Tell Green he’s played OK so far this season, but add that he’s probably reached his ceiling, and that there’s no chance he could ever become the NBA’s MVP. Yep, that might touch off a fresh bell or whistle.

One could argue fairly convincingly that through 33 games, Green has been the best all-around player in the league — and the most valuable — even over teammate and defending MVP Stephen Curry. True, he’s not off the charts in any one statistical category. He’s averaging 15.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.4 assists. But as a composite, those numbers are pretty untouchable. And he’s shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc, up eight percentage points from his career best last year (33.7) .

VIDEO: Draymond Green racks up his league-leading 6th triple-double


Morning shootaround — Dec. 16

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 15


Report: Irving to return tomorrow; Shumpert suffers groin injury | Making sense of Heat trade chatter | Kerr determined to return this season | Cousins’ manager tossed for swiping at Terry

No. 1: Report: Irving to make debut Thursday; Shumpert (groin) likely to miss 1 game — On Monday, the buzz in NBA circles was that Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving would get back on the court sometime this week. Before last night’s game in Boston, Cavs coach David Blatt said he’s taking a cautious approach with Irving as he recovers from his knee injury, that Irving is not yet 100 percent and has overall been hesitant to commit to a return date. Well, something has changed from then until now as’s Dave McMenamin reports Irving will make his 2015-16 debut tomorrow night against the Oklahoma City Thunder (8 ET, TNT):

UPDATE, 11:48 a.m.

Irving threw some cold water on the report of him playing tomorrow, sending out a tweet that he will not suit up against the Thunder

Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving is set to make his season debut Thursday at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a source familiar with Irving’s plans told

Irving, sidelined for the first 23 games of the Cavs’ season while recovering from surgery in June to repair a fractured left kneecap suffered in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, was cleared for full contact more than a week ago and has been through a handful of practices since without any setbacks.

Irving’s final hurdle before the team approves of his intention to play will involve a series of physical tests to measure his body’s strength and responsiveness, a team source told The tests will be similar to the ones administered on Irving before he was allowed to return for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta last spring after sitting out Games 2 and 3 with tendinitis in his left knee.

Although the Cavs can apparently look forward to getting Irving back, his backcourt mate, Iman Shumpert, is likely to miss Thursday’s game after suffering a groin strain last night.’s Chris Haynes has more:

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert, fresh off of returning from a wrist injury, left the game in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s 89-77 win over the Boston Celtics with a right groin injury and would not return.

He will be evaluated further in Cleveland on Wednesday. Shumpert just made his season debut in the team’s last game on Friday at Orlando.

“Honestly a little concerned,” head coach David Blatt said of Shumpert’s latest injury. “I got to be honest with you. I have no idea what the extent is. Just given our recent history, I’m concerned.”

The defensive specialist was visibly frustrated after the game and refused to speak with reporters.

After getting his right leg wrapped, he sat at his locker stall quietly with a towel around his waist staring at the ground. He worked feverishly to get himself back on the court and now this. He could undergo an MRI if the training staff feels it’s necessary.

VIDEO: David Blatt talks after the Cavs’ win in Boston

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Morning shootaround — Nov. 28

VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday’s action


Warriors just keep winning | Jackson returns to OKC | Heat embracing life after LeBron | Davis goes down

No. 1: Warriors just keep winning The Golden State Warriors went into Phoenix Friday night with their historic season-opening winning streak on the line. Seventeen wins in a row? No problem, apparently, as the Warriors cruised to a 19-point win, 135-116, and keeping their streak alive. This included a typically impressive 41-point effort from Stephen Curry, who didn’t even get off the bench in the fourth quarter. What made this win even more outrageous, writes ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss, is that the Warriors didn’t even play particularly well, and yet they still won easily …

Here’s an illustration of what’s terrifying about the 17-0 Warriors, aside from the fact they’re 17-0. On Friday night, Golden State was torched on defense, ceding 116 points on 92 shots to the host Phoenix Suns. The Warriors were sloppy on offense, lousy with unforced errors, coughing it up 23 times. A bad game for them, in a few respects.

Still, they won by 19, 135-116. Also, they didn’t even need to play Stephen Curry in the fourth quarter. As in, the game ceased being competitive after three stanzas. The Suns were done. An unholy torrent of 3-point shooting had snuffed them. In his three quarters, Curry delivered 41 points and nine 3-pointers. The team set a record, splashing 22 from deep.

The Suns went small, attempting to best Golden State at its preferred style. What resulted was an aesthetically pleasing, fast-forwarded look at basketball. Phoenix already had dug a hole by then and couldn’t keep pace with Golden State in rhythm, hitting so many 3s. The Suns had a great night beyond the arc, draining 10 3-pointers on 26 attempts. Other teams just aren’t supposed to top that figure by 12.

Golden State, despite all the “streak” questions, continues to focus on process. Interim coach Luke Walton said, “We turned the ball over too much, we still have to get better at that.” Breakout All-Star candidate Draymond Green, who claimed a triple-double Friday, said, “I don’t think our performance was great tonight. You can’t let fool’s gold fool you.” It makes sense. The Warriors hit some 3s they won’t usually hit. They need to tighten up, fix certain things that might hurt them later.

If it’s fool’s gold though, what glitters still has to make other teams shiver with woe. Curry was brilliant, which would seem redundant, possibly even boring, if not for his propensity to unveil a new trick every game. This time, with Ronnie Price attempting to pressure him, Curry evoked three gasps on one play from the “away” crowd. First, with a behind-the-back dribble that left Price grasping. Then, with a pump fake that sent Price flying. And finally, the punctuating swish. Gasp. Gasp. Gasp. Cheer.

“Afterward, it felt like a neutral site game at that point,” Curry said of what his play did to the crowd.

So when will the Warriors lose? It could be sooner rather than later because of an injury to Harrison Barnes. While subbing at center, Barnes’ ankle gave way when he landed on Markieff Morris. The team says it’s a sprain and that X-rays are negative. Still, the expectation is he will miss some time, and Golden State will be without its dominant “death lineup” of Green-Barnes-Andre IguodalaKlay Thompson-Curry. That could end the streak, as could the basic law of averages. No team goes undefeated, no matter how great.


No. 2: Jackson returns to OKC It may not have been on the level of, say, LeBron James returning to Cleveland with Miami for the first time, but Friday night saw a significant homecoming nonetheless. Last season, former Thunder guard Reggie Jackson made his displeasure at his back-up role known, and was traded to Detroit, where he signed a long-term deal and has become an integral part of their core. With the Pistons in Oklahoma City last night, the Thunder seemed happy to get the big win, 103-87, and make something of a statement along the way, writes The Oklahoman‘s Erick Thorne

Former Thunder guard Reggie Jackson didn’t leave Oklahoma City on the best of terms.

Kevin Durant wasn’t afraid to say it.

“It was tough. I didn’t like some of the stuff he said in the media and how he went about it,” Durant said Friday before the Thunder’s 103-87 win over Jackson’s Detroit Pistons. “… But at the end of the day you’ve got to respect a guy who wants that opportunity and I can appreciate a guy who wants that opportunity.”

The Pistons were able to offer Jackson the opportunity he wanted to become a starting point guard, and rewarded him with a five-year, $80 million contract in July. Jackson was dealt to the Detroit in February after not being able to agree with the Thunder on a contract extension and following a report that his agent requested a trade out of OKC. The trade landed the Thunder Enes Kanter, as well as Steve Novak, Kyle Singler and D.J. Augustin.

Jackson, who called Friday night’s tilt against the Thunder “just another game,” was asked if he had any regrets about how his tenure in Oklahoma City ended.

“I don’t look back to last year,” Jackson said. When asked if there was regret that the Thunder didn’t get over the top, the one thing Jackson said he does look back on is “four years and I don’t have a ring.

“But like I said, I’m focused on the season so I can reflect in the summer,” Jackson said.

When asked if the trade was beneficial for both Jackson and the Thunder, Durant said he never really thought about it that way.

“We’ve got a really great team, we’ve got some great guys back. Reggie’s doing well in Detroit,” Durant said. “We had a rough ending last year with Reggie, but I can just think about when he first got here how hard he worked, how great of a teammate he is, and every guy wants an opportunity.”


No. 3: Heat embracing life after LeBron — It’s going on two seasons now since LeBron James left South Beach to return to his native Ohio. And while last season the Heat battled injuries and a major mid-season trade, this year the expectations are higher for the Heat, including from the Heat themselves. As Michael Lee writes for Yahoo, the Heat are actively looking at their legacy in the post-James era …

“I expect to be in the playoffs every year from now on,” Chris Bosh told Yahoo Sports. “We want it. After my ordeal last year, it’s a lot easier grinding it out, having a good time, playing out your dreams. It’s tough, but it’s a lot of glory in it. That’s what we’re about. People remember your name. And for me personally, it’s a chance to write our legacy without Bron, to be honest.”

LeBron James was better off without Miami than the other way around in their first season apart. While James flourished in his return to Cleveland, making his fifth consecutive NBA Finals run, the Heat floundered through an injury-plagued campaign in which trouble lurked around nearly every corner. Despite unearthing a rebounding and shot-blocking gem in Hassan Whiteside and trading for Goran Dragic, a third-team all-NBA guard two years ago in Phoenix, the Heat were doomed to the lottery once Bosh’s season came to an end. But the playoff reprieve had a surprise on the other side as Miami landed a seemingly ready-made contributor in promising rookie Justise Winslow, a defensive menace who won a national title at Duke and was available with the 10th overall selection in the draft.

The Cavaliers at full strength don’t appear to have a capable challenger to supplant James’ reign, but the Heat are certainly one of the more intriguing candidates in a much-improved Eastern Conference. Miami usually finds a way to avoid the recidivist rate of most non-playoff teams, making repeat trips to the lottery once in Pat Riley’s 20 years with the franchise and winning a championship within four years of its past two lottery appearances.

“If you’re not going to win a championship, that whole run through June sucks anyway,” Dwyane Wade said earlier this season. “We weren’t going to win a championship last year, so it wouldn’t matter if we went out in the first round or April 17, when our last game was. That’s kind of what I think at this point in my career. I don’t play to get into the first round of the playoffs. We’re still a young team, together trying to grow. We have a lot of potential and we see that.”

The Heat have the sort of talent that has the potential to be sensational or go sideways.

Wade and Bosh, neighbors and partners on two championship teams, are still capable of special nights but both are north of 30 and can no longer consistently carry teams as they have in the past. Dragic, whom Miami awarded with a five-year, $90 million extension last summer, is still navigating how to be aggressive while serving as the point guard on a team with multiple offensive options. Veteran Luol Deng, 30, has a résumé that includes two all-star appearances, but Tom Thibodeau may have squeezed out the best years of his career in Chicago. Amaré Stoudemire, 33, signed with the Heat believing they gave him the best chance to grab that elusive title, but he is being used sparingly to save him for the postseason.

“If we would’ve been together in our 20s, it would’ve been a real problem,” Stoudemire told Yahoo about teaming with Wade and Bosh, “but as we’ve gotten older, we’ve found ways to still be successful.”


No. 4: Davis goes down The New Orleans Pelicans may have gotten off to a slow start under new coach Alvin Gentry, as they’ve suffered through injuries to nearly everyone, but they got their biggest scare yet last night, when young franchise player Anthony Davis went down with a knee injury following a collision with Chris Paul and had to be carried from the floor. Davis eventually returned to the bench, though not the game, and the Pelicans weren’t thrilled with the injury itself, writes John Reid of …

Davis did not return to play after he was taken to the locker room to be treated. The Pelicans were assessed three technicals following the play in which they apparently thought Paul took a cheap shot to cause the injury.

Pelicans officials said Davis suffered a right knee contusion and he initially was listed as questionable to return. Late in the fourth quarter, Davis returned to the bench, but did not get back in the game.

Davis was in obvious pain after it appeared Paul knocked knees with Davis, who was trying to defend him in transition.Davis fell holding his right knee in pain.

”I wouldn’t had put him back in, it’s not worth the risk,” Alvin Gentry told reporters after the game.

It appeared Paul didn’t avoid trying to collide into Davis near the midcourt lane after Clippers forward Josh Smith blocked Ish Smith‘s layup attempt with 2:48 remaining in the third quarter.

When Gentry was asked what he thought about the play, he said he didn’t have anything to say about it.

”You saw it, so make your own judgement,” Gentry said. ”When you are a great player, they are going to come at you. We just have to match the physicality and find a way to stay off the injured list.”

After the game, Paul admitted that he drew the foul on the play.

”We (Davis and I) knocked knees and I hope he is alright,” Paul said.

Davis’ status for Saturday night’s game against the Utah Jazz has not been determined. Before the injury occurred, Davis played 28 minutes, scored 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting and grabbed six rebounds.

Gentry said they will know more about Davis’ status after he gets evaluated by the Pelicans’ training staff on Saturday. It is the third injury Davis has suffered after the first 16 games.

Davis missed two games earlier this month with a right hip contusion. On Nov. 18, Davis missed the Oklahoma City Thunder game because of a left shoulder injury.

”It’s part of the NBA, he’s hurt and we’ll see where he goes,” Gentry said. ”If he doesn’t play, then we’ll put somebody else in and they’ll have to step up. That’s what it is.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: According to a report, Jahlil Okafor‘s recent incident in Boston wasn’t his late-night altercation … Luke Walton might get credit for the Warriors winning streak after all … No better how bad things get for the Lakers this season, Kobe Bryant won’t be getting benched … If O.J. Mayo and DeMarcus Cousins had a verbal spat earlier this week, Mayo isn’t talking about itJ.R. Smith was thinking of Shaquille O’Neal when he went one-on-one against Frank Kaminsky.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 7

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 6


Cousins likes his MVP chances | Whiteside a no-go tonight vs. Magic | Lakers’ youngsters lap up Bryant’s feedback | Booker, Hibbert scuffle in Hawaii

No. 1: Cousins says MVP is his ‘to grab’ this season — Success in the win column has been hard to come by for Sacramento Kings star center DeMarcus Cousins. While he was an All-Star last season, the Kings have never won more than 29 games in any of his five seasons with the team. A roster restocked with veterans and a full season under coach George Karl have given Cousins hope of not just the playoffs, but of the grandest piece of NBA hardware come season’s end. Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report has more:

The topic is the 2015-16 NBA MVP award and whether it could be reachable for DeMarcus Cousins.

“Reachable, man?” Cousins told Bleacher Report, his voice rising high. “It’s mine to grab.”

In five previous NBA seasons, Cousins has never gotten even a single fifth-place vote for MVP, and his vertical isn’t the kind to invoke visions of such a quantum leap over myriad more established superstars.

His approach transcends hard work on the court or powering ahead with a limp in camp despite a “real tender” left heel. Cousins has made a totally fresh commitment to being the best he can be, becoming a constant at the Kings training facility late in the offseason in search of every edge he can get for his team.

And if the professionalism continues, Cousins is right to believe he can be the best.

“It’s going to take a full team effort,” Cousins said. “I’ll try to play at a high level and bring my team along with me.”

New teammate Rajon Rondo floated the same idea during Kings media day, telling reporters: “Not to put any pressure on him, but I expect nothing less but MVP.”

“I don’t trust the rebuilding system in the NBA,” Karl said. “It has failed about 80 percent of the time.”

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive wants to win quickly, too; the franchise moves to a new arena next season.

Most importantly, however, this is what Cousins wants.

He said his new veteran teammates are “incredible.”

“You’ve got guys who know how to play the game, guys that know the game,” Cousins said. “Coming out and building chemistry is even easier. Trying to do that with younger guys? They’re trying to figure out their game and learn how to play.”

Even so, and despite their recent discord, Karl, who reportedly worked to trade Cousins over the summer before the team decided to unite behind the young center, can’t resist criticizing this facet of Cousins that “cheapened the game” and cost the team key possessions last season.

“DeMarcus has got to make a commitment just not to allow frustration to cause a disruption in the game,” Karl said. “I don’t like negative emotion in a game. I think it’s a sign of weakness.”

Karl’s free-flowing offense figures to help Cousins tremendously with spacing on the floor, yet already in camp it has been Cousins often jacking up desperate three-pointers.

In ways big and small, Boogie’s poise and professionalism are going to decide this season in Sacramento.

VIDEO: Take an All-Access look at DeMarcus Cousins at training camp

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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.


Morning shootaround — June 30

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Knicks star Carmelo Anthony has already called Aldridge, sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard. reported in May that both the Spurs and Mavericks strongly believe they’ll have a great shot to lure Aldridge back to his home state of Texas. But sources said last week that Aldridge is actually thinking more and more about a free-agent jump to the Lakers.

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

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

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Report: Heat preparing for Wade to opt out of deal; Deng opting in for ’15-16

VIDEO: Dwyane Wade’s top 10 plays from 2014-15

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Miami Heat won’t give Dwyane Wade up without a fight.

The Heat are prepared to re-recruit the face of the franchise the past decade like the franchise cornerstone they believe him to be, according to Michael Wallace of

If that means showing up on his doorstep the moment the July 1 free agency free-for-all begins, so be it. First up, though, is tonight’s deadline for Wade to officially declare his intentions to opt-in for the final year of his deal or join this summer’s free agent crop. More from Wallace:

As the clock ticks toward Dwyane Wade’s midnight contractual deadline, the Miami Heat are preparing for the most decorated player in franchise history to enter free agency.

The Heat are still awaiting word from Wade and his representatives as to whether the perennial All-Star and three-time NBA champion will opt in to a final year at $16.1 million. Wade has until 11:59 p.m. Monday to notify the Heat if he will pick up the option for next season.

Should Wade decide to not take any action by midnight, he will automatically become a free agent Wednesday.

Neither Wade, 33, nor agent Henry Thomas immediately responded to a messages seeking comment Monday. A league official told on Monday that nothing has changed regarding Wade’s stance with the Heat, with both sides expecting to discuss parameters of a new contract later this week.

The status of another Heat player possessing a player option, star forward Luol Deng, also hung in the balance Monday afternoon. But per our David Aldridge, Deng is opting in for the 2015-16 season:

The Heat have other business to tend to in free agency, with Goran Dragic topping the list of priorities. But they are clearly prepared to battle any outside advance to keep Wade in the fold.


Morning Shootaround — April 13

VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 12


Too much Westbrook not enough for Thunder | Budenholzer: Ferry deserves most credit for Hawks’ roster | Confident Warriors waiting on first round opponent | Monroe to Knicks not a done deal

No. 1: Too much Westbrook not enough for Thunder — They couldn’t get the win on a night when Russell Westbrook went off for a career-high 54 points. And now the Oklahoma City Thunder might have to continue their chase for a playoff spot without their superstar point guard, for at least one game. It’s the disaster scenario Thunder fans have been dreading for weeks with the losses and technical fouls from Westbrook piling up. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has more:

C.J. Miles lined up the corner three and knocked it in – the ensuing swish, ovation and OKC timeout putting a fitting bow on the most nightmare sequence of the Thunder’s nightmare season.

With only 5:20 left, Miles’ dagger gave the Pacers a 12-point lead in their eventual 116-104 win over the Thunder. At the same time, the Pelicans were holding steady to a surprising advantage down in Houston, a result that would have put OKC on the brink of playoff extinction.

A potential disaster scenario was unfolding. And it was only worsened by what had happened moments earlier.

With the Thunder still in the game – trailing by five with 5:56 left – Russell Westbrook was called for a foul at the top of the key. Luis Scola and Westbrook had collided, Westbrook drew the whistle and didn’t agree. He chirped a little at referee Ed Malloy. Malloy, peeved at the argument, nailed Westbrook with a technical.

In most cases, not a disaster. A small fine for Westbrook, one free throw for the Pacers and the game resumes. But this technical, potentially, came with far greater consequences.

It was Westbrook’s 16th technical of the season, which, per NBA rules, comes with an automatic one-game suspension, meaning he will miss OKC’s crucial home tilt against the Blazers on Monday night.

“He was aware (that he was at 15),” coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s been aware for a while now.”

The Rockets came back to beat the Pelicans, tossing the Thunder a temporary life raft during this tidal wave of bad decisions and bad luck. But Westbrook’s potential absence in a near must-win game against Portland could still be the death knell.

“I got no view on it,” Westbrook said of the technical. “He called it, and we’ll move on.”

The Thunder, though, remain hopeful Westbrook’s suspension will get overturned. Last month during a road game in Phoenix, Westbrook was called for a questionable technical. The next day, the league rescinded it.

Following Sunday night’s loss in Indiana, Brooks, who was standing directly in front of Malloy and Westbrook when the brief argument occurred, said he believed the league would take this one back, too.

“I’m pretty confident that one will be rescinded,” Brooks said. “That’s not my decision, but I’m pretty confident about it.”

VIDEO: Russell Westbrook could care less what you think

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