Posts Tagged ‘Miami Heat’

A dozen stories to open training camps

Little has changed with the ageless Spurs since the confetti rained down on the champs, but much is now different with the rest of the NBA. So as the first handful of training camps open this week, here are a dozen storylines that will require immediate attention:

LeBron rocks, Cleveland rolls

LeBron James, 2007 (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Is it really as simple as putting the giant sign of LeBron James back up in downtown Cleveland and turning the clock back to the days of the Cavs as contenders for them to win it all? With Kyrie Irving‘s continued growth, his performance at the FIBA World Cup fresh in our minds, with the arrival of Kevin Love to be the third leg of the stool, it only seems a matter of time before the Cavs are on the main stage in June. Let’s remember that Irving and Love have never even been to the playoffs, let alone made a deep run. But let’s also remember that this is the Eastern Conference and that means the door is open.

Kobe vs. The World

Let’s face it. Nobody — not LeBron, not Carmelo Anthony, not Kevin Durant, not anybody — will have every step he takes on the court scrutinized and analyzed more than Kobe Bryant as he battles the calendar and what would seem to be common sense as he tries to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a knee fracture at age 36. He’ll be determined, defiant, maybe even destructive to his own well-being. More than anything, you have to hope he can stay healthy all the way through the long grind of the season, if for no other reason than to see how he drives and browbeats a ragtag collection of post-Pau Gasol era Lakers in a quixotic quest.

Big Man in the Big Easy

They’ve changed owners, changed their team name and solidified the face of the franchise for the first time since New Orleans was last in the playoffs. Now it’s time to see if Anthony Davis can build on his big dog experience with Team USA in the World Cup and put some bite into the Pelicans. Davis averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and made his first All-Star Game appearance last season. But based on the way he played in Spain, that might have only been scratching the surface. There are some ready to jump Davis over reigning MVP Durant as the next “best player in the game.” He’ll get up front support this season from Omer Asik, and if Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans can stay healthy, this could be the beginning of a whole new era.

Stuck on the launch pad

Until LeBron went back home to Cleveland, it was hard to top the last two offseason jackpots hit by the Rockets — landing James Harden and Dwight Howard. But that streak hit a wall when the Rockets went all-in to bring Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh to Houston. It was a bold and grand gamble that required trading away Omer Asik (to the Pelicans) and Jeremy Lin (to the Lakers) to create salary cap space. It also led to allowing Chandler Parsons to become a free agent and sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Now with neither prize free agent, the Rockets are a team that won 54 games a year ago, lost in the first round of the playoffs and have the depth of a one-night pickup at a singles bar. How much can they get from Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan? What does Jason Terry have left? How much of the weight can Harden and Howard realistically carry?

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Sept. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Suns, Bledsoe progress on contract talks | GM: Pierce was too pricey for Nets to keep | Bosh ready to return to low post

No. 1: Reports: Suns, Bledsoe make progress on contract talks — Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, the last big-name free agent left on the board, may be staying in Arizona after all. Late last night, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that Bledsoe and the Suns had re-started talks on a contract extension for the talented point guard. As Wojnarowski (and Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic) reports, today could be crucial in whether or not Bledsoe remains in Phoenix:

After a summer of stalled discussions, the Phoenix Suns and restricted free-agent guard Eric Bledsoe have progressed significantly in contract talks with hopes of reaching an extension before the start of training camp, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and Bledsoe’s representatives with Klutch Sports have gathered momentum in discussions over the past two to three days, and Wednesday is expected to be crucial in the push for the sides to finalize a deal, league sources said.

Bledsoe failed to find a maximum contract offer on the restricted free-agency market, and his reps spent most of the summer unwilling to negotiate off the $12 million annual salary the Suns had offered in July.

Minnesota tried to engage the Suns in sign-and-trade talks for Bledsoe in the past week, but those never gained traction.

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA starts strong | Brazil beats France | Spurs interested in Ray Allen? | A new hope in Minnesota

No. 1: Team USA Starts Strong — After weeks of practices and exhibition games, Team USA finally started tournament play Saturday in Bilbao, Spain, in the FIBA Basketball World Cup. And they did it with style, blowing out Finland 114-55 in a game that included a 29-2 run for Team USA. NBA.com’s Sekou Smith was on the scene in Spain and writes that despite the long and winding road they traveled, the U.S. players are embracing their roles in Coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s system…

With no Kevin Durant or Kevin Love or Paul George, superstars who were expected to serve as the leaders and anchors for this competition, the U.S. put on an absolute defensive showcase in their opener, smashing Finland 114-55.

It was a show of force that this particular crew was eager to display, if only to remind themselves what they are capable of when they lock down defensively and spread the wealth offensively the way coach Mike Krzyzewski demands.

“We prepared the last couple of weeks for this moment and every single moment that we play in,” James Harden said. “Practices are the same way. We go hard and when it’s time to go out there we take care of business. We don’t go out there to pace ourselves. We go out there with intensity from the beginning of the game.”

It certainly helps to have talent like DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Klay Thompson and even former NBA MVP Derrick Rose backing up the starters.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Harden continued. “That’s why I said we don’t pace ourselves. We go out there with the intensity from the beginning of the game and guys come off the bench with the same thing. It’s the beauty of this team. We’ve got 10-12 guys willing to go out there and contribute in any type of way.”

***

No. 2: Meanwhile, elsewhere in FIBA — Of course, while Team USA may be one of the favorites in Spain, they weren’t the only team tipping off yesterday. The loaded Group A began play in Granada yesterday, where NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was in attendance. According to Schuhmann, one of the big winners on the day was Brazil, who held on to beat France, 65-63…

Brazil was the big winner on Saturday, holding on for a 65-63 victory over France in the second game of the day in Granada. It was an ugly game throughout, with the two teams combining for 19 turnovers in the first half and shooting just 11-for-35 from 3-point range for the game.

But point guard Marcelo Huertas had enough in his bag of tricks to get the job done in the fourth quarter.

France actually led by nine late in the first, but scored just 10 points on its final 20 possessions of the first half, as Brazil took a two-point lead into the break. The Brazilians led by as many as eight early in the fourth, but couldn’t put France away, because they couldn’t put together more than two straight scores.

“The zone was back all the time,” said Tiago Splitter, who scored just six points on 2-for-5 shooting. “Nobody was getting easy shots. And our shooters didn’t have a good game outside. “

Huertas was basically the only guy who could get anything going offensively. He scored 11 of Brazil’s 19 points in the period, hitting a three off a Nene post-up, finding space around the foul line for a couple of runners against the sagging French defense, and sealed the game at the free-throw line in the final minute.

“They were deep into the zone,” he said afterward, “so we could attack, either for a shot or to find the open man.”

France got a big game from Boris Diaw (15 points, six rebounds, five assists), but Nicolas Batum (13 points) didn’t shoot well and the other French bigs didn’t get much done inside after the first quarter. Though they closed to within one in the final seconds, they never got a chance to tie or take the lead.

***

No. 3: Spurs interested in Ray Allen?LeBron James may have left Miami, but while Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen have stayed behind, the future plans of Ray Allen have remained a bit cloudy. Allen has said publicly he’s still unsure of what he’s going to do, but plenty of teams have expressed interest, including Cleveland and the Clippers. And now, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, we can add the defending champion San Antonio Spurs to the mix as well:

ESPN.com has learned that the Spurs are trying to barge their way into the race to sign Allen … which first, of course, requires one of the 39-year-old’s suitors to persuade him to play next season.

Allen announced last month that he’s still deciding if he wants to play what would be his 19th NBA season.

The uncertainty, mind you, has had zero impact on interest. The reigning champs from San Antonio join Doc Rivers‘ Los Angeles Clippers and, of course, LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers on the list of elite teams pursuing Allen. The Dallas Mavericks have also tried to make a play for Allen this summer, and there are surely other suitors yet to be identified since he remains available.

The Spurs have only one open roster spot at the moment but, as ESPN.com reported Friday, have also registered interest in Mexico star center Gustavo Ayon while remaining hopeful of re-signing reserve center Aron Baynes, whom Australia is relying on heavily at the FIBA World Cup in Spain with Andrew Bogut absent.

***

No. 4: A new hope in Minnesota: The Timberwolves may have traded away Kevin Love, one of the NBA’s best players, but in return they received a haul of talented young players, including Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young. Add to that crew first-round pick Zach LaVine and incumbent point guard Ricky Rubio (who is still just 23 years old), and the Wolves have a core of exciting young talent that has fans excited, writes the AP’s John Krawczynski 

After completing the long-rumored trade that sent Love to the Cavaliers and brought Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young to Minnesota, the Timberwolves have sold more than 300 full season-ticket packages in the last week.

That beats the previous record in 2011 that was set when Ricky Rubio announced that he was coming over from Spain to play for the team.

“The organization, from president-level on down has just been re-energized,” Timberwolves senior vice president and chief revenue officer Ryan Tanke said. “Part of it is hope, and you have this great new hope.

“But then there’s also the reality, which is it was a long, tough summer. For it to come to the head that it came to and have it be the outcome that we had, I think it creates this perfect storm environment for us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Brook Lopez says he’s confident he’ll be healthier than ever this season … DeMarcus Cousins says he expected to make Team USA all along … Golden State has reached an agreement with Leandro Barbosa on a one-year deal … The Sixers are unsure whether Joel Embiid will play at all this seasonManny Pacquiao would like to sign Metta World Peace to play for his team in the Philippines … Congrats to Dwyane Wade, who married longtime girlfriend Gabrielle Union Saturday …

Morning shootaround — Aug. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rose’s status for Team USA unknown; Cousins 50-50 vs. D.R.? | Report: Heat in pursuit of Barbosa | Report: Monroe’s agent sought sign-and-trade deals

No. 1: Rose’s status for next U.S. exhibition unknown — Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski gave point guard Derrick Rose a chance to rest during Monday’s practice in New York, but Rose again sat out most of yesterday’s practice, too. As our John Schuhmann reports from U.S. camp, Rose may not start tonight’s game against the Dominican Republic:

The U.S. National Team continues to take precautions with Derrick Rose, who sat out a second straight day of practice on Tuesday.

After Monday’s visit to the U.S. Military Academy, Team USA got back to work at the Brooklyn Nets’ practice facility. Rose was in practice gear and did some light work, but did not participate in the full practice, which included some scrimmaging.

Rose’s status for Wednesday’s exhibition against the Dominican Republic at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV) hasn’t been determined. He started at point guard against Brazil on Saturday and should do the same when the World Cup begins on Aug. 30, but if he plays Wednesday, he could be coming off the bench.

“Chances are he won’t [start],” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said Tuesday, “because the rule is if you don’t practice the day before, you don’t start.”

That rule “is just kind of an informal thing,” Colangelo added.

Asked if he knew if he would be playing Wednesday, Rose said, “Hopefully, I am.”

“Today was just another rest day,” he added, saying that it wasn’t planned. “I’m just seeing how I feel every day. There’s nothing wrong with rest. It’s not like it’s the season, so I’m not worried about it.”

So, there’s no need for panic, Chicago. Rose has played just 10 games over the last two seasons and has had surgeries on both knees. The status of his comeback was the biggest focus of the U.S. team’s first week of training in Las Vegas. But he has looked ridiculously quick and explosive every time he has taken the floor. And he doesn’t feel the need to push himself every day with the Bulls’ season still 10 weeks away.

Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com has some additional notes on Rose, as well big man DeMarcus Cousins saying he’s “50-50″ tonight:

Knee soreness kept Derrick Rose out of practice Tuesday, making it the third straight day he has not played any basketball. And that left Team USA officials wondering whether Rose will be capable of handling the rigorous World Cup schedule.

Also, DeMarcus Cousins practiced Tuesday but listed himself as 50-50 for Wednesday night’s exhibition game against the Dominican Republic, an assessment that appeared to catch Mike Krzyzewski by surprise when the comment was relayed to the coach.

But if Rose’s knees remain sore – officially, the team said he was held out for “precautionary reasons – and he does not play, the makeup of the final roster will be much more uncertain than it appeared it would be when this week began. If Rose cannot handle the workload of playing three games in three nights and five games in six nights when pool play begins in Bilbao, Spain, the roster would effectively be reduced to 11 1/2 players.

Tuesday’s practice marked Cousins’ first live scrimmage since he was injured last Thursday in Chicago, suffering a bone bruise in his knee.

“He did well today, he’ll play tomorrow … I’m expecting him to play,” Krzyzewski said before being informed of the “50-50″ comment. “He should be a guy who’s in the rotation. The fact that he’s come here and I’ve gotten to know him, I can push him better and I can understand him better. He gives us somebody different when Anthony (Davis) is out of the game. But we still have decisions about whether you might (have) Anthony at the 4 and one of the other bigs, DeMarcus or one of the others, at the 5.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the state of the U.S. National Team

***

No. 2: Report: Barbosa on Heat’s radar — The Heat re-signed point guard Mario Chalmers this offsesaon and still have his backup, Norris Cole, under contract. Could another point guard soon join Miami’s mix? According to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Miami has interest in former Suns guard Leandro Barbosa, especially after Toney Douglas officially inked a deal with a team in China:

The Miami Heat continue to distance themselves from some of last season’s roster in the wake of LeBron James’ free-agency departure to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The latest member of last season’s roster to relocate is point guard Toney Douglas, who has signed with play with the Jiangsu Dragons, the Chinese Basketball Association team that previously featured current Heat center Chris Andersen.

The Dragons will be Douglas’ sixth team in five seasons, having previously played over that span for the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings, Warriors and Heat.

Douglas’ deal in China has been reported at $1 million for one season.

Free-agent guard Leandro Barbosa, who currently is working with the Brazil national team in advance of the World Cup in hopes of showcasing his game for an NBA return, has drawn interest from the Heat.

A source familiar with the situation said Barbosa is on the Heat’s radar, but is one of several veterans the Heat are considering, with no signing imminent.

***

No. 3: Report: Monroe’s agent pursued sign-and-trade deals — Although it hasn’t officially happened yet, it’s just a matter of time before Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe signs a one-year qualifying offer with the team in order to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Monroe will be in Detroit for at least one more season, but according to a report by Michael Lee of The Washington Post, his agent tried to get him to the Western Conference via sign-and-trade deals:

The only leverage Monroe possesses is to take the qualifying offer and take control of his own destiny next year without the restrictions he faces now.

Monroe and his agent, David Falk, never sought an offer sheet from another team but pursued sign-and-trade proposals with at least five other teams, including Portland and Oklahoma City, according to person familiar with the discussions. Monroe denied receiving a reported five-year, $60 million offer – or anything close – from Pistons and would’ve been unlikely to accept either way.

His frustrations with the Pistons are understandable since he is about to have his fifth coach in five years with incoming coach Stan Van Gundy (who will also serve as team president) and Detroit is no closer to being a playoff team than it was when he arrived.

Monroe has until Oct. 1 to sign the deal and would essentially flip the tables on the Pistons. He would then have the right to veto any trade but would sacrifice his Bird rights in the process, making it more unlikely that he will move on before next summer. If a player wasn’t enamored with his situation in the past, he would typically take the money now — either from his current team or another suitor — and force a trade later.

The Pistons are aware of Monroe’s desires to leave and Van Gundy has alluded to the possibility of losing their talented big man in a year.

“I really don’t feel a real sense of anxiety about it,” Van Gundy told reporters last month. “I know I would love to have Greg long-term, that’s what I want. But you can only control what you can control. I’m fairly relaxed about it.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Thunder star Kevin Durant stands by his decision to pull out of Team USA play … ICYMI, Brandon Jennings got Twitter riled up yesterday after saying Kobe Bryant is better than Michael Jordan … Good news for New Orleans Pelicans fans: Jrue Holiday, Ryan Andersen and Eric Gordon are all said to be healthy … Ex-Knicks, Nets, Wolves, Celtics and Suns guard Stephon Marbury will play himself in a play about himself in China … Sixers rookie Joel Embiid recently became Twitter friends with WWE legend The Iron Sheik

 

Champ Spurs, LeBron, big All-Star break highlight NBA’s 2014-15 schedule

Tim Duncan and the Spurs will raise a fifth banner in October. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Tim Duncan and the Spurs will raise a fifth banner in October. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

After a familiar in-state Texas wrestling match to tip things off, the champion San Antonio Spurs will be living out of their suitcases for much of the first couple of weeks of the new NBA season. That’s just one of the wrinkles in the  2014-15 schedule, released Wednesday.

The 1,230-game marathon includes, for the first time in history, an extended All-Star break.  The last games before the break are scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 12, and the first ones after the hiatus won’t tip until Thursday, Feb. 19. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be held Feb. 15 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and a Spurs cast that includes 10 international players will celebrate their title with the traditional banner raising and ring ceremony on Opening Night, Oct. 28, when they host the Dallas Mavericks at the AT&T Center.  Also on the schedule that night will be Orlando at New Orleans and Houston at the L.A. Lakers.  The Spurs-Mavs and Lakers-Rockets  — with the likely return of Kobe Bryant — will be nationally televised by TNT. (Full national TV schedule)

HANG TIME: The 10 (or so) must-see games of 2014-15

Opening Night
Oct. 28, 2014, Orlando at New Orleans, 8 p.m., League Pass
Oct. 28, 2014, Dallas at San Antonio, 8 p.m., TNT
Oct. 28, 2014, Houston at L.A. Lakers, 10:30 p.m., TNT

Once they get through Opening Night, though, the Spurs — who finished with the league’s best road record last season — will be on the road for eight of their next 11 games.  Included in that is a four-game blitz through all four California teams, consisting of  a pair of back-to-back sets of Clippers-Warrior and Lakers-Kings.

Cleveland fans, ecstatic over the homecoming of LeBron James, will have to contain their excitement for a few days until the Cavaliers make their debut on Oct. 30 at Quicken Loans Arena against the New York Knicks. The Cavaliers will play the next night, too, at Chicago in Derrick Rose’s first home game after missing all but 10 games in the last two seasons because of knee injuries.  Rose will be joined in the Bulls lineup by Pau Gasol, who left the Lakers as a free agent over the summer.

The Spurs and Cavaliers will both be headline attractions in the NBA’s annual Christmas Day spectacular that features five different matchups, coast-to-coast.  San Antonio will be at home to face last season’s Western Conference finals opponent, Oklahoma City (2 p.m. ET, ABC). James will make his first trip back to Miami, where he won two titles in four years with the Heat, for an afternoon game (5 p.m. ET, ABC) against friends Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat.

Christmas Day (All times listed are ET)
Dec. 25, 2014, Washington at New York, 12 p.m., ESPN
Dec. 25, 2014, Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 2 p.m., ABC
Dec. 25, 2014, Cleveland at Miami, 5 p.m., ABC
Dec. 25, 2014, L.A. Lakers at Chicago, 8 p.m., TNT
Dec. 25, 2014, Golden State at L.A. Clippers, 10:30 p.m., TNT

San Antonio once again will face its annual Rodeo Trip, so named because the Spurs must vacate their arena for an extended stretch for the San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo.  It’s a nine-game stretch that will keep the Spurs off their home court from Feb. 6 until March 4. It is broken into two legs before and after the All-Star break. But the Spurs aren’t the only team who face long stretches away from home.

The Brooklyn Nets, under new coach Lionel Hollins, will also straddle the break with eight consecutive games away from the Barclays Center. And the longest single road trip of the season belongs to the Clippers, who’ll have an eight-game excursion Jan. 29-Feb. 9 through three different times zones that includes three sets of back-to-backs and ends up  against potential playoff challengers at OKC and Dallas.  The Clippers will also have to endure a seven-game trip starting Nov. 19 at Orlando that includes three back-to-backs.  The Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings also have seven-game road trips.

As part of the NBA’s annual Martin Luther King Day celebration, four games will be nationally televised.  The Detroit Pistons will play at Atlanta (2:30 ET, ESPN), followed by the Bulls at Cleveland (8 ET, TNT) and Lakers at Phoenix (10:30 ET, TNT).  The Mavericks at Memphis (5 ET) will be shown on NBA TV.

Martin Luther King Day (All times listed are ET)
Jan. 19, 2015, Minnesota at Charlotte, 2 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Philadelphia at Washington, 2 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Detroit at Atlanta, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Jan. 19, 2015, Boston at L.A. Clippers, 3:30 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Denver at Golden State, 4 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Dallas at Memphis, 5 p.m., NBA TV
Jan. 19, 2015, Indiana at Houston, 5:30 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, New Orleans at New York, 5:30 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Toronto at Milwaukee, 8 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Chicago at Cleveland, 8 p.m., TNT
Jan. 19, 2015, Sacramento at Portland, 10 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, L.A. Lakers at Phoenix, 10:30 p.m., TNT

The NBA Global Game schedule will again include two regular-season games played at international sites.  The Timberwolves will face the Rockets at Mexico City Arena on Nov. 12 and the Bucks and Knicks will meet at London’s O2 Arena on Jan. 15.

The teams with the toughest finishes to the season would seem to be Portland, Toronto and Washington. The Blazers wrap up their schedule with three of their last four on the road, including stops at potential playoff contenders Golden State, OKC and Dallas.  The Raptors play six of their last eight on the road. The Wizards have five of their last six away, with a finale at Cleveland.

The regular season concludes on April 15. The 2015 NBA playoffs will begin Apr. 18.

The Bulls, Cavaliers and Thunder lead with 25 appearances on TNT, ESPN and ABC national telecasts, followed by the Clippers with 23, the Lakers with 20 and the Spurs and Warriors with 19 apiece.

NBA TV will show every team as part of a 97-game schedule that includes 22 Fan Night Games.  Fans will vote on NBA.com  each week to determine which games will appear on NBA TV for the Tuesday Fan Night Games.

Blogtable: Playoff teams falling

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Best place for Wiggins | Playoff team due for a fall | Superstars without a wingman


> Which of last year’s playoffs teams is in for the biggest dropoff in ’14-‘15? One in each conference, please. And to make it tougher, let’s not include Indiana in this discussion.

Dwight Howard and James Harden (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Dwight Howard and James Harden (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: It’s important to know what constitutes a bigger dropoff: A slide of several spots while staying in the bracket or a fall of a place or two that takes a team out of the postseason entirely. In the East, I think Miami drops a few spots with LeBron gone and has to play from down under in the first round. But Brooklyn, whose weird one-season mojo needs an overhaul now, might slip out of the top eight entirely. In the West, Houston looks ripe for a fall to seventh or eighth after its poor offseason harvest. The Rockets’ best players bring talent but that team needs more heart and better locker-room leadership. Roll up your sleeves, Trevor Ariza.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comBrooklyn. Paul Pierce is gone, Kevin Garnett is wavering and Deron Williams might be through. Welcome back, Lionel Holllins.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comIn the East, isn’t the obvious answer Miami? I mean, there’s no LeBron. And Luol Deng, while a solid two-way player, is no LeBron. Really, every other East team in the playoffs last season, with the exception of the aforementioned Pacers, should be on the rise. The West is a tougher call, but let’s go with Houston, which loses perfect-for-its-system small forward Chandler Parsons and a huge chunk of its bench. The pressure is on James Harden and Dwight Howard to be team-first leaders.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Western Conference: Houston. I don’t think it will be a big drop off, but Chandler Parsons is a hit for a team that was facing increased scrutiny anyway after losing in the first round despite home-court advantage. Eastern Conference: Miami. If the Pacers are removed from consideration because it’s too obvious an answer with the Paul George injury, the Heat are not far behind for a quick response.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: In the East, it has to be Miami, for obvious reasons. They should still be a very good team, but without LeBron James and if Dwyane Wade misses another 20-plus games, they’re probably not in the conference’s top four anymore. In the West, Houston will suffer offensively with the departures of Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons, two of their best playmakers last season. And if either James Harden or Dwight Howard misses 10-plus games, they could be in serious trouble, because neither of those guys has a legit back-up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This is a tough one without Indiana in the mix. In the Eastern Conference, Miami has to be the candidate to take the biggest tumble based solely on the loss of LeBron James and the fact that no one will be slotting them in the top two for the 2014-15 season. That said, I think the Heat will remain among the playoff elite in the East. They just have to get used to life on a floor other than the penthouse. No one in the Western Conference wants to give up an inch, making it much tougher to crack the top eight on that side of the conference divide. The top three — San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the LA Clippers — should remain the same, in whatever order. That leaves the Houston Rockets as the most vulnerable to an attack from teams trying to climb into that top four. The Rockets could conceivably be just as good or better than they were last season and finish lower in the pecking order in 2014-15.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogMiami in the East. I really like Luol Deng and feel like he was one of the more underrated free agents this summer, but replacing LeBron and everything he did on both ends of the court is basically impossible. And can Dwyane Wade stay healthy enough to produce for 82 games, or is he only going to be able to play 50ish games again this season? And in the West, well, I don’t know. I feel like those teams are pretty much locked in atop the conference. The one team I think will be most interesting to watch will be Golden State. Mark Jackson brought so many intangibles to that team, and I am curious to see how Steve Kerr uses Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and how he’s able to get that roster to buy into his system.

Morning Shootaround — July 31


VIDEO: Take a slow-motion look at Day 2 of Team USA’s practice

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Love talks narrowed to Cavs | George: Pacers should have won title | Rose draws rave reviews in Vegas | Scott could have coached Lakers earlier

No. 1: Report: Wolves working solely with Cavs on Love deal – The Denver Nuggets. The Boston Celtics. The Golden State Warriors. The Cleveland Cavaliers. At various points this offseason, those four teams — and perhaps others — have been involved in talks to acquire Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love. That list has apparently been narrowed to just Cleveland as a seemingly inevitable pairing of Love with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving grows closer. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, who first reported this bit of news, have more:

The Minnesota Timberwolves were engaged in serious Kevin Love trade talks with no teams other than the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, adding to the growing belief around the NBA that Love teaming up with LeBron James is inevitable, according to sources briefed on the situation.

After ESPN.com reported last week that the Cavaliers remain the front-runners to acquire Love in a trade co-headlined by No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins, sources this week have described the Cavs as the only team in contention for Love. Sources say the Chicago Bulls have become increasingly pessimistic about their chances of trumping Cleveland’s offer, while the Golden State Warriors remained unwilling to bend on their longstanding refusal to surrender Klay Thompson in a deal for Love.

Wiggins is not eligible to be dealt until Aug. 23 after signing his rookie contract last week, but numerous league insiders — some of whom are gathered in Las Vegas for this week’s Team USA training camp — have begun to describe a Love-to-Cleveland trade as a “when” transaction as opposed to an “if.”

The expectation remains that the Wolves will emerge from this saga with no less than Wiggins, 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and a future first-round pick from the Cavs in exchange for Love before August is out.

ESPN.com reported last week that the Bulls had re-emerged as a serious suitor for Love, despite the fact they had a few more trade assets to offer Minnesota before last month’s NBA draft. But sources said this week that Chicago essentially has conceded to the Cavs, knowing it can’t furnish a player with both Wiggins’ superstar potential and his favorable rookie-scale contract.

The Wolves also signed veteran guard Mo Williams this week, making fellow vet J.J. Barea — who sources say Minnesota is determined to offload as part of a Love deal — more available. It’s believed the Wolves hope to convince Cleveland to take Barea as part of a Love trade or find a third team to absorb Barea’s expiring contract.

The Warriors conceivably could still give Cleveland something to worry about if they suddenly put Thompson on the table while the Cavs are waiting for Wiggins to become trade eligible, but sources say Taylor prefers a package headlined by Wiggins to a Thompson-led haul for Love.

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His own man, KD will make own decision

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Take a look at Kevin Durant and Team USA as they practice

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Here’s what we’ve learned about Kevin Durant through his first seven seasons in the league: He’s his own man, capable of independent thought and making intelligent, well-reasoned decisions.

He chose to sign a five-year extension in 2010 without demanding an option for an early out. To ensure maximum appeal as a corporate pitchman, he strategically didn’t tattoo areas of his body visible when in uniform. A few years ago a stunned public discovered that Durant’s uniform-covered torso resembles Allen Iverson.

He is the league’s reigning MVP coming off a grueling season in which he logged a league-high 3,121 regular-season minutes followed by a postseason-high 814 minutes (even though his Oklahoma City Thunder lost in six games in the Western Conference finals), yet he remained committed to Team USA, currently holding camp in Las Vegas. Remember, this squad will compete in the upcoming world championships in Spain (recast as the FIBA World Cup). This is not an Olympic year or even an Olympic-qualifying year. Durant doesn’t have to be here. He chose to be here.

And he’s a big story in Vegas. Everybody wants to know if, inspired by LeBron James‘ homecoming, he’ll leave the Thunder for his long-suffering hometown Washington Wizards in 2016 when he becomes a free agent.

In the NBA it’s never too early to spin theoretical free-agent story lines. Mostly because NBA front offices are actively planning for the Durant sweepstakes. Teams have to align contracts today to ensure available salary cap in two summers just to be in the chase. The NBA is a star-driven league and Durant (with potential 2015 free agent Kevin Love likely headed to Cleveland in a trade) is the next available fast track to contention.

And yes, the up-and-coming Wizards are preparing. Who wouldn’t love to add Durant to the promising backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal? Washington’s books are in line for summer ’16, and you might have heard they hired a new player development assistant, David Adkins. Adkins? He was an assistant at Durant’s alma mater Montrose Christian in Maryland, and is said to be close to Durant. The plot thickens.

Fine, but any insinuation that Northeast Ohio’s re-embracing of LeBron tugged Durant’s heartstrings toward D.C. is a reach. The Cavs drafted the locally loved Akron phenom out of high school. He elevated the hometown NBA franchise to a Finals appearance in 2007 and three years later stomped on the hearts of his faithful with the incredibly insensitive “Decision.” Four Finals runs and two championships with the Miami Heat later, LeBron, all grown up, decided it was time to mend fences. Great story.

It’s not Durant’s story. Durant did tell reporters Tuesday that he grew up taking the train to Georgetown games, although he left home to play college ball 1,300 miles away at Texas. He was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007 and the next season moved with the franchise to Oklahoma City, a close-knit town he’s professed his love for countless times, and as recently as his MVP speech for the ages.

The Thunder are perennial contenders. Durant holds close relationships with coach Scott Brooks, as well as teammates Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka and many others in the organization. Most of all, Durant willingly immersed himself in the community. When he won the MVP, the city declared him “OKC’s MVP.” The governor and state representatives attended the ceremony.

If he were to leave OKC, it’s not a stretch to suggest that community will be more devastated than D.C. will be elated. With Durant, 25, in a Thunder uniform, the championship window is open-ended.

But hey, a lot can happen in two years. The Thunder could win a championship. Or two. Or maybe they don’t and Durant’s patience runs thin, after all he’ll be nine years in by the summer of ’16. Maybe the Durant-Westbrook relationship sours. Maybe Brooks gets fired. Maybe Durant ultimately decides he wants to play for a billionaire owner more responsive to spending when the moment calls.

So maybe Durant does go home, even though the number of stars who have gone home pales to those who never do when given the chance. We’ve seen Durant don Washington NFL gear and — not sure if anybody’s pointed this out — he’s got a Washington Nationals logo tattooed above his belly button. Durant does love his D.C. sports.

So maybe he does go home. Or perhaps, as was speculated when Durant hired Jay-Z to represent him, he goes to the Knicks or Nets. They’ll all be in line (yep, even the Nets will be flush with cap space by then).

Yes, the script that has Durant riding a white horse into Washington, where the Wizards/Bullets haven’t won a title since a decade before Durant was born, is real. It could happen. Durant could also play 20 seasons in OKC.

“I’m going to do what’s best for me,” Durant told reporters in Vegas. “It’s hard to talk about that right now when I’ve got two years left in Oklahoma City. I’m just going to focus on that. I’m not going to make a decision based on what anybody else does.”

Durant might as well memorize those lines. He’ll need to cue them up over and over during these next two years.

But what we’ve learned of him over the last seven years is Kevin Durant is his own man.

LeBron will wear No. 23 in Cleveland


VIDEO: LeBron’s top 10 plays from his first seven years with the Cavaliers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The reinvention of LeBron James is almost complete now.

He’s going home and going back to No. 23. After four years in Miami wearing No. 6 for the Heat, LeBron announced today via Instagram that he will wear the same No. 23 he wore in high school at Akron’s Saint Vincent-Saint Mary and during his first seven seasons in the NBA with the Cavaliers.

It’s the same No. 23 that Michael Jordan made famous with the Chicago Bulls, which was retired in Miami. LeBron already knows that 23 looks good on him from his first stint in Cleveland. So it couldn’t have been too tough a decision.

Wizards’ culture shift in full swing


VIDEO: Glen Rice Jr. ties the game with a 3-pointer from the corner for the Washington Wizards

LAS VEGAS — That breakthrough season and playoff run was just the beginning for the Washington Wizards.

That flash we saw from the John Wall and Bradley Beal-led Wizards in the Eastern Conference semifinals is still going strong into both free agency and here in the Samsung NBA Summer League, where youngsters like Glen Rice Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. are busy doing work with their veteran peers keeping a watchful eye.

Wall and Beal were in attendance at the Thomas and Mack Center Saturday night when Rice went off for 36 points in a triple-overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs. Veteran free agent Al Harrington is working the sidelines as a volunteer assistant under Wizards assistant Sam Cassell, keeping his finger on the pulse of a team whose culture shift is clearly in full swing after years of building to this point.

“We’re trying to get our hands on that trophy,” a smiling Harrington said after the win over the Spurs. “It’s just a good vibe all around since the season ended. All of our guys, the young guys and the older guys, are grinding and trying to get to that next level. Everybody recognizes the opportunity that is staring us in the face and we have to be ready. Everybody has to be ready.”

In a summer that began with the Wizards making the first big splash by keeping free-agent center Marcin Gortat on $60 million deal, the hits have kept on coming for this crew. Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker departed in free agency, but  Wizards boss Ernie Grunfeld went to work and rebounded by acquiring former Finals MVP Paul Pierce on a two-yer deal and veteran big men Kris Humprhies and DeJuan Blair in sign-and-trade deals to bolster the bench.

And for anyone dismissing the moves — the Pierce deal in particular, due to the mileage Pierce has piled up over the course of his stellar career — his coach in Brooklyn last season, believes the Wizards have taken a major step forward this summer with the acquisition of these veterans.

“Washington got better,” Kidd told reporters here last week. “You’ve got a veteran guy who understands what it means to be a professional, comes to work every day and understand what it takes to win a championship. … He won’t have any problems [fitting with the Wizards]. He’ll be fine.”

The Wizards will be, too, based on the busy work they have done this summer. Teams either get better or worse with their offseason work. Staying the course, for anyone other than the champion Spurs, simply doesn’t work.

“It’s just a matter of the process of getting better,” Kidd said. “You see that with Gortat coming back. The backcourt is very talented. So they lose a player, a piece, but they’re not afraid to go out and get a player that can help them. They’re going to be one of the top teams in the East.”

That’s the plan. Harrington said that was the vision of all involved when the season ended. They felt like they let the Pacers off the hook in the playoffs. “Trust me, it won’t happen again,” he said. “Our guys are better now because of what we learned about ourselves in that series.”

LeBron James heading home to Cleveland leaves a void at the top of the Southeast Division. And much like the work the Wizards’ summer league squad is putting in to capture top honors, when the regular season begins the varsity crew will battle for the No. 1 spot with the Heat, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets.

“It’s there for the taking,” Harrington said. “You see the way we are working now in the middle of the summer. We changed the culture. And now we’re feeding the beast, making sure everybody knows what goes on when the lights come on in the regular season. We need [Rice Jr.] and Otto ready to go from the start. Our depth is going to be our strength. It’s go time from the first day of training camp.”