Posts Tagged ‘Miami Heat’

How good can the Cavs be?


VIDEO: LeBron James: On Returning to Cleveland

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – LeBron James is back in Cleveland, leaving Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh behind and joining a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since he took his talents to Miami in 2010. Kyrie Irving is an All-Star, but he’s also just the second No. 1 pick in 10 years to not make the postseason in his first three seasons.

As he wrote on SI.com, James knows that this is a different situation than the one he had upon arriving in Miami.

I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach.

But the Eastern Conference looks to be wide open. And if you have the world’s best player and some decent talent around him, you have to be considered one of the favorites. But how good can the Cavs be this season? That’s a question that requires a two-part answer. To truly contend, you need to be very good on both ends of the floor.

Offense

The Cavs ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency last season, scoring just 101.3 points per 100 possessions. They improved on that end after trading for Luol Deng, but weren’t much better offensively with Irving on the floor than they were with him on the bench.

The Cavs’ coaching change could have changed things by itself. David Blatt has coached one of the best offenses in Europe over the last few years.

And obviously, the addition of James means that we can just throw last year’s numbers away. James’ teams have ranked in the top six in offensive efficiency each of the last six years.

The last two seasons in Miami were the best of those. The Heat found their space-the-floor offensive identity in the 2012 playoffs, complemented James with a bevy of shooters, and basically eviscerated opposing defenses for two years straight.

So, with the Cavs, just how good they are offensively (Top 10? Top 5?) is going to be a matter of how much shooting they can put around James.

Last season, the Cavs had two guys who shot better than 37 percent on at least 100 3-point attempts. Both of them – Spencer Hawes and C.J. Miles – have left via free agency.

So the pressure is on Irving (35.8 percent from 3-point range last season) and Dion Waiters (36.8 percent) to improve from beyond the arc. No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins should be adjusting his pre-camp training to work more on corner threes. And Cavs GM David Griffin obviously has to make shooting the priority as he pursues other free agents (like Ray Allen and Mike Miller).

Playing with James should make everybody a better shooter. According to SportVU, Waiters shot 41.6 percent (72-for-173) on catch-and-shoot threes last season.

Irving will need to learn how to play off the ball. The good news is that he can’t be a worse 3-point shooter than Dwyane Wade. But Irving was better on pull-up threes (38.8 percent) than he was on catch-and-shoot threes (32.1 percent) last season.

A huge key for Miami was having another forward (Shane Battier mostly, Rashard Lewis in the 2014 playoffs) who can spread the floor offensively and defend opposing bigs (somewhat competently) on the other end of the floor. Maybe that’s Anthony Bennett some day, but right now, Cleveland doesn’t have that guy.

With the best player in the world and a smart head coach, it’s hard to imagine the Cavs not ranking in the top 10 offensively. But without enough complementary shooting, it’s also tough to see them in the top five.

Defense

Cleveland was one of the most improved defensive teams last season, allowing 2.1 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did in 2012-13 (as league efficiency improved). They ranked 13th on that end of the floor overall, but got worse defensively (and ranked 20th) after the Deng trade.

Again, we can throw that all out with the coaching change and the addition of James, who has the ability to be the best defensive player in the league when he has enough in the tank to do it. If Blatt’s system can take some of the offensive load off his shoulders, James can get back to contending for DPOY after what was his worst defensive season in several years. It will help that Irving can play more games and carry a bigger offensive load than Wade could.

But Irving’s defense has to improve. If he isn’t staying in front of the ball, the Cavs’ defense will break down early and often. Also key is Anderson Varejao‘s health. He’s Cleveland’s best interior defender, but he’s played just 146 games in the four years since James left. (For comparison, James has played 381.)

Elsewhere, the Cavs just don’t have any proven defenders. With another coaching change, their young players have to learn a new system. And the fatigue factor (four straight years of going to The Finals) still applies to James.

Without that Battier-esque “other” forward, James will either have to defend bigs (which he doesn’t like to do) or play more at the three. Two true bigs on the floor could help with paint protection, but will hurt the offense. Still, this may be the end of the floor where they truly need a year or two to develop before they can call themselves title contenders.

James will make the Cavs much better. They will surely be a top-five team in the East. But as he said, his patience will be tested. The Cavs are likely a year or two (and a player or two) away.

2014 Free Agency — Still Going …

From NBA.com staff reports

Just because LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol and so many other high-profile free agent targets have already made their decisions doesn’t mean this summer’s free agent party is over. The center of the basketball universe is in Las Vegas for Summer League, that’s where the games are being played and the movers and shakers are stationed right now. But the grind of free agency continues all over the place. We’re not done yet …

Update, 1:17 a.m. — Take some quiet time, Pau

After a long day of team decision-making and contract-negotiating, Pau Gasol is ready to ponder his vacation and his future … quietly, of course.

Update, 11:42 p.m. — Rio still feeling the Heat

Another original “Heatles” member is getting closer to being back in the fold, with Mario Chalmers getting a couple more years in Miami.

Update, 11:33 p.m. — Three more years!

Looks like Pau Gasol is ready for the (semi) long haul in bringing a title to Chicago, working on a three-year deal for reasonable price.

Update, 9:48 p.m. — More shooting for SVG

The Detroit Pistons ranked 29th in 3-point percentage last season. And it’s been obvious from the start of free agency that priority No. 1 for new president and coach Stan Van Gundy is improving that mark. He started by adding Jodie Meeks (40.1 percent from three last season) and Cartier Martin (39.1 percent). Now, he’s adding more shooting with the additions of D.J. Augustin (40.1 percent) and Caron Butler (39.4 percent)...

None of these four guys can make a huge impact individually. But collectively, they will space the floor for Detroit’s bigs. And none of them break the bank, with contracts that can easily be worked into trades.

Of course, Greg Monroe remains unsigned as a restricted free agent. Butler probably shouldn’t be a starting small forward anymore, but he could definitely make Josh Smith more of a permanent four than he was last season.

One more note: The Augustin addition is bad news for second-year point guard Peyton Siva, whose contract would become guaranteed on July 20 if he’s not waived by then. Siva must not have made enough of an impression on Van Gundy in Summer League.

Update, 8:40 p.m. — Birdman back

LeBron James is gone, but the rest of the Heat’s rotation is quickly coming back together. Earlier Sunday, Miami reached an agreement with Mario Chalmers on a new contract. And now, it’s the Birdman who has re-upped.

Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and James Jones are still free agents, but the Heat are reportedly working things out with Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem.

Update, 7:02 p.m. — Three-way deal for Ariza

Before the Draft, the Houston Rockets agreed to send Omer Asik to New Orleans. On Saturday, they agreed to sign Trevor Ariza to a four-year contract. And on Sunday, those two deals came together in the form of a three-team sign-and-trade transaction.

Update, 6:30 p.m. — Mirotic is on his way

Pau Gasol isn’t the only international big man that the Chicago Bulls are adding this summer. Nikola Mirotic, a first-round pick in 2011 from Montenegro, announced that he’s on his way as well.

Update, 6:06 p.m. — His name is Rio

Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade may have lost Superfriend LeBron James, but they will still have Mario Chalmers to yell at …

Update, 5:58 p.m. — Rockets pass on Parsons

In a bit of a surprise, the Houston Rockets will let Chandler Parsons head to their division rivals, who have made some upgrades (Parsons and Tyson Chandler) this summer …

At one point, we thought the Rockets were going to have a lineup of Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Parsons, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard. As it turns out, they’ve dealt away their depth (Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin), swapped Parsons for Trevor Ariza, and helped three fellow Western Conference teams (Lakers, Mavs and Pelicans) improve. They’re also giving the Washington Wizards an asset…

Update, 5:16 p.m. — Champs in tact

Fourteen different Spurs logged at least one minute in the playoffs. We know now that at least 13 of the 14 will be back in silver and black (Aron Baynes remains a restricted free agent) …

Update, 5:07 p.m. — Together Forever

Kirk Hinrich once played for a couple of teams other than the Chicago Bulls. Really. But he won’t be leaving Chicago again, at least not this summer …

Update, 4:32 p.m. — Mavs get at least one SF today

The Dallas Mavericks are still awaiting word from the Houston Rockets on their offer sheet for Chandler Parsons, but that isn’t stopping them from signing a back-up plan. If you need size on the wings, you could do worse than Richard Jefferson, who has shot 41 percent or better from 3-point range in three of his last four seasons

Update, 4:20 p.m. — Hinrich will be a Bull forever

The Charlotte Hornets were in the market for Kirk Hinrich, but with their agreement to sign back-up point guard Brian Roberts, it appears that Kirk Hinrich will be back in Chicago for more years of being Derrick Rose‘s back-up and/or fill-in …

Update, 3:48 p.m. — Kemba’s new back-up

Much to the chagrin of Hang Time’s Sekou Smith, Luke Ridnour‘s services are no longer needed in Charlotte, because Brian Roberts is a Hornet once again. He’ll be the first guy to play for the Charlotte version after playing for the New Orleans version …

Update, 3:24 p.m. — Deng had choices

Joining Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra in sunny South Florida is a pretty good move, but Luol Deng had other options on Sunday…

Update, 2:30 p.m. — Filling LeBron’s shoes

LeBron James took Luol Deng‘s job in Cleveland. And now the Miami Heat have replaced James with Deng. Bosh, Deng and Wade isn’t a bad core to build around …

Update, 2:05 p.m. — Show Luol the money

There are a few teams still looking for a small forward who can play both ends of the floor. Luol Deng knows that and knows he can take advantage of the market …

Update, 1:55 p.m. — Trying to get (most of) the band back together

The Heat will have Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh back, but there are still some more roster spots to fill, and some guys they can bring back. The Birdman is one of them …

Update, 1:50 p.m. — Who?

The Bulls are moving on without that guy who scores 27 points a game …

Update, 1:30 p.m. — Wolves draw a line in the sand

The Timberwolves aren’t selling Kevin Love for pennies on the dollar …

Update, 12:35 p.m. — Melo’s City, Melo’s Heart

It’s not the most original concept, but you see the trend here …

Update, 12:21 p.m. — Still waiting on Rockets

Tick, Tock!

Update, 11:56 a.m. — Heat still a 50-win outfit?

Jeff Van Gundy says yes.

Update, 11:50 a.m. — LeBron Jersey of The Day

Welcome home!

Update, 11:26 a.m. — Evan Turner smiling through free agency

Jay and Bey don’t care about free agency!

Update, 11:09 a.m. — Gilbert explains how he and LeBron cleared the air

The greatest rebound of Dan Gilbert‘s professional career has to be coming back from his dreaded letter after “The Decision.” Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press weighs after talking with Gilbert, who took Albom through his reconciliation process with LeBron:

He pondered that as the plane descended into Florida. He and James hadn’t spoken since that night. Four years. They’d seen each other a few times. “I’d sit on the baseline when he came back to play in Cleveland. He’d look at me from the free-throw line. Not good. Not bad. Just look.”

Now he was scheduled to meet James, in secret, to discuss what seemed impossible just days earlier — a return to the Cavs. The whole world was hanging on the news. But as Gilbert glanced out the window, for a moment he wasn’t a billionaire Detroit businessman or an NBA owner. He was every guy seeing his ex-wife after the divorce, every teen guitarist seeing a former friend who broke up the band.

“I had told LeBron’s guys, whether he comes back or not, I really want to clear the air. It shouldn’t be like this.”

He hoped that part would go smoothly. Then someone on board yelled the media had discovered his plane was en route, and a new airport had to be quickly found.

Gilbert realized nothing was going to be easy.

The moment of truth

But then, saying you’re sorry never is. You do it anyway. Long after the basketball smoke clears from this story, that’s the human part we ought to remember.

You shouldn’t be known for the worst thing you ever did. Gilbert entered that private home meeting by himself, no assistants, and sat down at a dining-room table across from James and a few associates.

“First thing I said to him was, ‘LeBron, you know this is true. We had five good years and one bad night. Like a marriage that’s good and then one bad thing happens and you never talk to each other again.

“ ‘I’m just glad we’re here, whether you come or not, LeBron. This has been hanging over my head.’ ”

To his surprise, he soon heard James saying the same thing. The superstar said he regretted the infamous “The Decision” broadcast. He said he didn’t think it out properly. In short, many of the things Gilbert was thinking about his own actions.

“I apologized and we talked and it took maybe 15 or 20 minutes. That’s it. Then I said, ‘Is that enough about the past?’ And we started talking about the future.”

Update, 10:40 a.m. — Wizards replace perfect fit with a Hall of Famer

Even swap?

Update, 10:38 a.m. — Mavericks-Rockets rivalry extends off the court

Never let business get personal.

Update, 10:20 a.m. — Rockets on the clock for Parsons

This is going to be a long day in both Houston and Dallas as the Rockets consider their options on Chandler Parsons. The countdown clock is ticking for Daryl Morey and Co. Do they match the Mavericks’ offer sheet to Parsons now that Trevor Ariza is in the fold?

They have until 11:59 p.m. to decide.

Update, 9:50 a.m. — The ultimate power

The power of LeBron!

Update, 9:40 a.m. — Deng, Heat far apart

The Heat can close the gap and stay relevant in the Eastern Conference chase with Deng in the fold.

Morning shootaround — July 13


VIDEO: Daily Zap: July 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Decision day for the Rockets | Only a two-year deal for James | Pierce keeps it moving | Deng the next domino?

No. 1: Decision day for the Rockets — The Houston Rockets have a new small forward, having agreed to a four-year deal with former Wizard Trevor Ariza. Does that mean that they’re ready to part ways with their old small forward? Not necessarily. The Rockets have until 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday to match the three-year, $46 million offer sheet that Chandler Parsons signed with the Dallas Mavericks. And they may feel like Ariza and Parsons could play together, as Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes:

The Houston Rockets are still strongly considering the Dallas Mavericks’ offer sheet for Chandler Parsons after reaching agreement on a four-year, $32 million contract with free-agent forward Trevor Ariza, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Ariza’s contract is on a declining scale, paying him $8.6 million, $8.2 million, $7.8 million and $7.4 million over the next four seasons, sources said.

The Rockets are expected to take until 11:59 p.m. ET Sunday to match the three-year, $46 million offer sheet the Mavericks gave Parsons, sources said. The Rockets could give Parsons some minutes at power forward, allowing them to play him and Ariza together.

***

No. 2: Only a two-year deal for JamesLeBron James could be a free agent again next season. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that James only signed a two-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it has a player option for 2015-16, allowing him to look for a new deal again next summer. But Windhorst writes that it isn’t about James not being truly committed to Cleveland. It’s about the additional money he could make with a new deal in a year or two:

Depending on how the new television contracts are put together, the salary cap is projected to leap to as high as $80 million in 2016. There is also uncertainty with the current collective bargaining agreement starting in 2017, another reason James wanted to keep his long-term options open when it comes to the structure of his contract.

James’ off-court earnings, which top $40 million per year according to some estimates, allow for him to take some short-term risk to maximize long-term earnings.

James has earned $129 million over his 11-year career but has only earned the max salary three times during that span.

***

No. 3: Pierce keeps it moving — It was weird seeing Paul Pierce in a Brooklyn Nets uniform last season. It may be even weirder seeing him in the Washington Wizards’ red, white and blue this year. In a bit of a stunner, Pierce and the Wizards agreed on a two-year deal (for the mid-level exception) on Saturday night. Michael Lee of the Washington Post has the story:

Refusing to stagger after the stunning defection of Trevor Ariza to the Houston Rockets, the Washington Wizards shook off the disappointment and made a shocking deal of their own by landing Paul Pierce.

Pierce, a 10-time all-star and likely Hall of Famer, agreed to sign a two-year deal for the full mid-level exception worth $10.8 million, according to a multiple people with knowledge of the situation. He has a player option for the second year.

The 36-year-old Pierce spent the first 15 years of his career with the Boston Celtics, winning a championship in 2008, and his former teammate and current Wizards assistant Sam Cassell played a huge role in recruiting him to Washington. He averaged a career-low 13.5 points last season in Brooklyn but gives the Wizards a proven big-game performer and another veteran mentor to help expedite the progression of franchise building blocks John Wall and Bradley Beal.

***

No. 4: Deng the next domino? — Ariza, James and Paul Pierce have found new homes, while Parsons will either be a member of the Dallas Mavericks or Houston Rockets when the clock strikes midnight on Sunday. But where does Luol Deng land in this game of small forward musical chairs? The Miami Heat have been trying hard to make him James’ replacement and stay near the top of the Eastern Conference, but other teams (Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix) are still in the mix for Deng, as ESPN’s Marc Stein reported late Saturday:

Sources say it’s possible Wade’s looming deal with the Heat might not be finalized until next week while negotiations with Deng continue. But Miami’s current aim is assembling a core that features Wade and Bosh with newcomer Josh McRoberts and Deng if they can complete a deal with the former Chicago Bulls All-Star.

Dallas and Atlanta remain interested in Deng as well, with sources saying Saturday that the Phoenix has also jumped into the mix for Deng, who was traded from Chicago to Cleveland in January after years of trade rumors.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Nets could still be a playoff team this season, but championship dreams are basically out the windowIt’s a “wait ’til next year” situation in BostonIs LeBron Melo’s Jordan?The Thunder got what they needed in Anthony Morrow … The Kings and Isaiah Thomas weren’t on the same page.

ICYMI of The Night: After his Summer League debut, Jazz rookie Dante Exum sat down the The Starters:


VIDEO: Starters: Dante Exum

Morning shootaround — July 12


VIDEO: Gasol close to deal with Bulls

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Gasol headed to Chicago? | ‘Melo back to Knicks | Wade, Haslem next for Heat | Wiggins for Love? | New Cavs coach ecstatic to coach the King

No. 1: Gasol, Bulls getting closer — After he turned down contract offers from the Lakers, it appears 7-foot center Pau Gasol, and not Carmelo Anthony, could be headed to play for the Chicago Bulls. Gasol is considered the Bulls’ top choice if they were unable to land Anthony. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has the details of a story broke in the wee hours of Saturday morning:

Pau Gasol is inching closer to becoming a Chicago Bull, according to the Spanish newspaper Marca and other media reports.

The paper first reported late Friday that the Bulls are closing in on a deal with Gasol despite the absence of a sign-and-trade agreement with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne late Friday that a sign-and-trade arrangement had not been struck, with the Lakers still looking for draft compensation — as they received in Friday’s earlier trade with the Houston Rockets to take back the contract of Jeremy Lin — as the primary return for Gasol.

ESPN.com reported earlier Friday that the Bulls and San Antonio Spurs had emerged as the two leading candidates to land Gasol, with San Antonio poised to land the Spaniard if the Bulls and Lakers could not finalize a sign-and-trade deal.

Sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein late Friday that the Bulls were prioritizing their pursuit of Gasol even ahead of their long-running efforts to sign Carmelo Anthony, fearing that Anthony is likely to stay with the New York Knicks.

The Lakers appear resigned to seeing Gasol exit after a successful six seasons together. Prior to Friday, the Lakers offered Gasol two deals: two years worth $23 million, and three years worth $29 million, a league source told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin. Gasol turned down both offers, according to the source.

***

No. 2: Melo preparing for New York return — The process has taken longer than anybody expected, but it appears the end result will be what everybody expected, and that’s Carmelo Anthony returning to the New York Knicks. Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reports that forward will reveal his plan in the next 24 to 48 hours:

Carmelo Anthony will be competing against LeBron James for at least five more years but he wasn’t about to begin battling James for the national spotlight on Friday.

With James stunning the basketball world by announcing he was leaving the Miami Heat to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a source close to Anthony said that the free agent forward would reveal his plans within the next “24 to 48 hours.” The same source said that Anthony was preparing to re-sign with the Knicks.

When reached in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Anthony told the Daily News that he would make a decision on Thursday. The News reported that Anthony, according to a close friend, was committed to re-signing with the Knicks. However, the Chicago Bulls made another strong push early Thursday, and Anthony postponed his announcement.

If Anthony agrees to return to the Knicks, he will sign a five-year contract worth $129 million. The Bulls can offer only $75 million over four years. For the past two days, however, the Bulls have been trying to orchestrate a sign-and-trade with the Knicks that could potentially increase Anthony’s deal to $90 million.

But the same source claims that a sign-and-trade is unlikely. If the Bulls are unable to acquire Anthony, they will shift their focus to signing Lakers free agent Pau Gasol, whom Knicks president Phil Jackson is also pursuing.

***

No. 3: Riley begins reconstruction job — The headline on the website of the Miami Herald screamed “ALL IS NOT LOST” and that’s because hours after the news broke that LeBron James was leaving the Miami Heat to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Heat president Pat Riley secured All-Star forward Chris Bosh and will also bring back Dwyane Wade plus Heat lifer Udonis Haslem, who had also opted out of his contract prior to the start of free agency. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald has the story:

James’ pending decision had put the Heat’s free agency plans on hold for several intense days, but the rebuilding process moved quickly for team president Pat Riley after the stunning announcement. It didn’t take long for Bosh, Wade and Udonis Haslem to sign off on returns to the Heat.

Bosh – who all along said he wanted to stay in Miami but was considered by many a lock to sign with Houston after James’ departure – agreed to stay with the Heat and will get a five-year deal worth a reported $118 million. Deals were also being worked out for Wade and Haslem.

Wade, who brought Bosh and James to Miami four years ago and helped keep Haslem in the fold, attempted to engineer magic at the 11th hour for the Heat on Thursday. He attended James’ basketball camp in Las Vegas and then flew back to Miami with James on Thursday night. At that point, the around-the-clock coverage of the Heat’s saga appeared to be playing out positively for Miami. But behind the scenes, James had already made up his mind. He was going home.

***

No. 4: Wiggins in deal for Love? — The Cavaliers would love, no pun intended, to pair Kevin Love with LeBron James. But to get the discontented Timberwolves star in a trade, the Cavs will have to knock the socks off Minnesota president and coach Flip Saunders. And that means making No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins the centerpiece of the deal. There’s been conflicting reports as to whether the Cavs will be willing to do that. Ken Berger of CBSSports.com is hearing they just might:

A new superteam could form soon in Cleveland. CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger reported that there’s a feeling that the Cavaliers could make No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins available in a Kevin Love trade.

In addition, ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that Love is “intrigued” by the idea of playing with LeBron James and would sign a long-term deal with the Cavs.

Meanwhile, according to Yahoo Sports’ Marc Spears, Wiggins’ camp doesn’t believe he’ll be moved to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It’s a tricky situation, as teams generally don’t like to trade 19-year-old potential stars. Generally, teams like Cleveland don’t get them, though. With James back in the fold, the Cavaliers are looking at contending for championships, and acquiring Love would get them to that point much faster than waiting for Wiggins to develop.

One has to wonder what James’ preference is. He obviously knows how great Love is, and has played with him on Team USA. He’s also known Wiggins since he was a high schooler, and discussed being a mentor to Cleveland’s young players in his announcement. Then again, he didn’t mention Wiggins by name in that story.

Thinking logically, it shouldn’t be surprising if a Love-Wiggins blockbuster is one of the moves set in motion by James’ signing. Love wants to win, and would have a great chance of doing that in the Eastern Conference alongside the best player in the world. Minnesota needs to get some young talent with star potential if it’s going to trade Love, and that’s exactly what it could get with Wiggins. It’s not the talented rookie’s fault he’s being mentioned in trade rumors, he’s just found himself in an extremely unusual situation.

***

No. 5: Cavs coach ecstatic to work with LeBron — Four years ago, Byron Scott took over the Cavaliers, surely expecting to coach LeBron James, who was a free agent. Scott never got the chance. When new Cavs coach David Blatt recently signed on, he had no inkling that he would coach James. Now he will, and he’s thrilled about the opportunity. The Associated Press caught up with Blatt at the Las Vegas Summer League:

“First and foremost I’m happy for LeBron, because he made a very difficult decision,” said new Cavaliers coach David Blatt after his team’s 70-68 win. “Obviously he made a decision from the heart more than anything else and I respect him for it and I’m joyful for it.

“Second of all, for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the state of Ohio – if you were around Cleveland today you would understand what I’m talking about – he just lifted a whole state by himself.”

Blatt said he learned the news at 9:45 a.m. Las Vegas time – 12:45 p.m. Cleveland time, about 30 minutes after the news broke — during his team’s shootaround.

Friday night, from media row, to fans in the stands, Summer League staff, to the person pushing buttons in the freight elevator — everyone was talking about King James.

“When I learned about it, I wasn’t altogether surprised, particularly after reading what LeBron wrote, which was heartfelt and so indicative of the kind of person that he is; that just made it all the sweeter,” Blatt said. “I thought ‘I’m gonna have an awfully good seat to watch the best player in the world play this year.'”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After LeBron news, Cavs sell out season ticketsMemphis steals Vince Carter from Mavs … LeBron reaches out to friend, former Heat teammate Mike MillerJeremy Lin gets fresh start with the Lakers … Hawks sign Lakers swingman Kent Bazemore to two-year deal … Rookies Parker, Wiggins make Summer League debut in front of packed houseLamar Odom‘s comeback bid with Knicks ends quicklySuns acquire Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas in trade.

Choosing Cleveland makes James’ story bigger, better than basketball

Because of his connection to Ohio, LeBron is heading back to the Cavs (David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images).

LeBron’s connection to Ohio is the driving force behind his return. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – Root for the story. It’s an ethos of this sports media business that gets neglected too often in these modern times, what with the fan blogs and team-specific Web sites. But it’s a line straight and true to covering this stuff professionally, avoiding any partisan tilt and occasionally having something special about which to cover, report and write.

LeBron James choosing to leave Miami and return to the team for which he previously played is the better story because…

Cleveland.

And home.

And loyalty and identity and a few other things that lift this beyond basketball.

Who chooses Cleveland? More specifically, who among the sports and entertainment world’s biggest names and brightest stars chooses Cleveland? The shore of Lake Erie in northeast Ohio is the place you take your talents from, whether you take them to South Beach or not.

Miami will always have the 2012 and 2013 titles and four Finals in four years. As Dr. Seuss said, “Don’t cry that it’s over, smile that it happened.” But Cleveland is home for James (well, Akron but close enough). And home was where James’ heart was when he announced his decision Friday in a letter on SI.com to return to the Cavaliers next season in search of NBA glory, yes, but something even greater.

Immediately when the news hit Friday, an increasingly anxious but committed sports fan base in Cleveland erupted in joy, excitement and redemption – counterweights, all, to the angst, sadness and anger left in James’ wake when he exited four years ago.

And because he was one of them, James had context to get over Cavs owner Dan Gilbert‘s heated, foolish, mocking public letter in the aftermath of “The Decision” in 2010. He so identified with the people whose hopes and dreams were invested, probably too heavily, in him and the Cavaliers that he could look past the flaming jerseys, the snarky placards and the boos that descended on him each time he played at The Q.

James even told those people that in his expressive, heartfelt letter on the Sports Illustrated Web site, a far classier way this time to make his free-agent decision known to the world:

It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?

So much for those clinging to hope, in the media or out, inside the Heat organization or out, that hard feelings from Gilbert’s silly Comic Sans rant would trump the big-picture values James wrote of (with the assistance of SI’s Lee Jenkins). Petty in the first place, that sort of outlook on life or even just business seems childish next to the things that helped make up James’ mind. Of the folks back home:

I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.

James knows all about the love those Cavaliers fans – and those of the MLB Indians and the NFL Browns and Ohio State and more – have for their teams and sports stars. He knows well the suffering they have endured, with no major sports title since Jim Brown ran the Browns to their 1964 championship. He took heat for rooting for the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees, looking like a frontrunner but easing the frustration of the inevitable letdowns closer to home.

James knows this too:

These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man.

That’s something Cavaliers fans really need to chew on, especially the last part. They might not have liked what they would have gotten over the past four years had James stayed in Cleveland. The pressure to win there, and presumably futility similar to what he and they went through from 2007 through 2010, slowly and surely could have wrung the fun out of 156 more regular-season home games of LeBron. So, too, could the pull from other teams trying to pry him loose, the incessant questions from media at every NBA stop.

The drum beats of bigger markets and something akin to the “Big 3″ maneuver – had that particular “Big 3″ version not happened – might have swamped the basketball and been too much for that guy to handle. They would have not been the best of years with LeBron in place.

These have a chance to be the best of years, now, with LeBron back home. The siren song of free agency is over. He needs to go nowhere. James has his rings and the Cavs have their pieces for a real future, thanks to the heights-to-depths dynamic that seems the surest way to NBA rebuilding.

James’ omission of No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins‘ name in his published explanation Friday was a little curious, leading to instant parsing (and rumors that Wiggins might be traded for, say, the immediate help of Minnesota’s Kevin Love). But taken in whole, it is nothing short of a mission statement for him and his career going forward.

James sounds like he’s not going anywhere. Friends, rivals, All-Stars, they’re all welcome to join him as he chases as many rings in Cleveland as he can. But the work he has staked out for himself goes far beyond the Larry O’Brien Trophy he wants to deliver:

I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.

I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.

The NBA is going along for the ride, and gets itself the better story.


VIDEO: David Aldridge on LeBron returning to Cleveland

With no LeBron, what’s next for Miami?

LeBron James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — With just one tweet, the Miami Heat went from being next season’s Eastern Conference favorites to most likely being out of the race to win their own division.

Today’s announcement that LeBron James is taking his talents home to Northeast Ohio effectively ends what has been a feverish run by the Miami Heat: four seasons, four NBA Finals appearances, two NBA titles. But LeBron’s exodus not only breaks up the Big Three. It throws the franchise into flux.

With LeBron gone, the next domino that seems to be teetering is Chris Bosh, who is reportedly in talks to join the Houston Rockets. With James and Bosh gone, the cupboard in South Beach will be left mostly bare.

What happens to Dwyane Wade? As part of his season-ending news conference, Heat president Pat Riley made clear that Wade, who has played his entire career in Miami, was something of a made man. Just two weeks ago, when Wade opted out of his contract, presumably as part of an effort to create financial room to help keep the Heat competitive, Riley said, “Dwyane has been the cornerstone of our organization for over a decade, and we hope he remains a part of the Heat family for life.”

It’s a nice idea, but at this point in his career, Wade isn’t the type of player a franchise builds around. After missing 28 regular-season games last season to rest his ailing knees, Wade seemed to wear down in the postseason, to the point where he didn’t have much let in the tank during the NBA Finals.

Yet Wade could still serve as the franchise face while the Heat reload. They’ve already reportedly agreed to deals with free agents Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger, two players who should (or at least could) be solid contributors. They will join incumbents like longtime Heat big man Udonis Haslem, who will likely re-up, and guard Norris Cole. Rookie guard Shabazz Napier will give them some youth in the backcourt.

While James and Bosh may be gone, the allure of South Beach and the Heat’s organizational championship pedigree still could serve as a siren’s song for available free agents. And with Bosh and James off the books, even if the Heat sign Wade to a modest long-term extension, the Heat will have plenty of cap space to throw at other free agents. Would a core of Wade and a couple of free agents like Luol Deng and Pau Gasol be enough to contend in the East? What about Wade with Isaiah Thomas and Lance Stephenson?

Or, do the Heat step back, not immediately use their cap space, and try to reload down the road? The Heat’s first round pick next summer belongs, ironically, to Cleveland, though it’s top-10 protected. After that, the Heat own all their own first round selections going forward. And if the Heat can hang on to their cap space for one more year, the 2015 free agency class could include names like Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo and LaMarcus Aldridge (who has expressed his hope of staying in Portland).

No matter which way they go, what the Heat already have in place is a strong organizational structure. Riley may have swung and missed on keeping the Big Three together, but he did put them together to begin with and has the bona fides to build another championship organization. Coach Erik Spoelstra has spent just six years on the Heat sideline but has won two titles and never missed the playoffs, even when the Heat were setting up to go after the Big Three.

The Heat may be waning in Miami, but if there’s anything we’ve learned from watching how they operate, things likely won’t be cool for too long.

Report: LeBron James back to Cavs

From NBA.com staff reports

After several days of hemming and hawing, LeBron James is going back to where his NBA career began: the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Sports Illustrated‘s Lee Jenkins broke the story that had been at the forefront of the NBA nation’s mind with his report that was filed shortly after 12:20 p.m.

Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.

Remember when I was sitting up there at the Boys & Girls Club in 2010? I was thinking, This is really tough. I could feel it. I was leaving something I had spent a long time creating. If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently, but I’d still have left. Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids. These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. I learned from a franchise that had been where I wanted to go. I will always think of Miami as my second home. Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.

I went to Miami because of D-Wade and CB. We made sacrifices to keep UD. I loved becoming a big bro to Rio. I believed we could do something magical if we came together. And that’s exactly what we did! The hardest thing to leave is what I built with those guys. I’ve talked to some of them and will talk to others. Nothing will ever change what we accomplished. We are brothers for life.  I also want to thank Micky Arison and Pat Riley for giving me an amazing four years.

I’m doing this essay because I want an opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted. I don’t want anyone thinking: He and Erik Spoelstra didn’t get along. He and Riles didn’t get along. … The Heat couldn’t put the right team together. That’s absolutely not true.

I’m not having a press conference or a party. After this, it’s time to get to work.

Twitter, of course, was quick to chime in on the move and notable NBA folks had this to say about the move:

 

Morning Shootaround — July 11


VIDEO: Like the rest of us, Phil Jackson is waiting to see what happens next in free agency

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Wade served as late Heat pitchman? | Report: Bulls staying in ‘Melo chase | Rockets face Parsons dilemma | Journeyman Wallace questions LeBron’s ‘fight’

No. 1: Report: Wade as last-minute Miami pitchman for LeBron?LeBron James finished up his skills camp in Las Vegas yesterday, concluding an eventful few days for the NBA star in the desert as he met with Heat boss Pat Riley out there a few days ago. The hubbub yesterday that James was all-but certainly headed back to Cleveland reached a boil yesterday, but by the end of the night, no word had come from LeBron about his choice. The Associated Press and other outlets reported that James had left Vegas with Heat teammate Dwyane Wade to fly back to Miami. But did that flight include a final Heat pitch from James’ longtime friend? Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has more:

Hours after the Cleveland Cavaliers believed they were on the cusp of a commitment out of LeBron James, the superstar free agent jetted 30,000 feet over America with Dwyane Wade on his way back to Miami.

The fight for the generation’s biggest free agent raged out of the desert and back to the shores of Biscayne Bay on Thursday night, with James tempering a brimming belief within the Cavaliers into a trepidation that Wade could be playing the part of Pat Riley’s closer for the Miami Heat.

Cleveland had been carefully listening to the direction of James’ agent Rich Paul, who has been privately telling people for weeks – even months and years – that he has been determined to deliver the prodigal son of Northeast Ohio back home.

In the late morning, the Cavaliers operated with a belief James would soon commit to them, that it was only a matter of time. They had word out of everyone, except as one high-ranking source said, “It still hasn’t been confirmed by the only man whose confirmation counts.”

If James had left the free-agent process to his agent in the days after July 1, leaving him to meetings described as “a tremendous waste of time,” by one executive pitching the Cavaliers, James had returned and taken over the process himself. For all Paul’s leveraging and positioning with teams, James was back and he was running things again. Suddenly, there was no commitment on Thursday.

James played in games in his skills camp in Las Vegas and found himself photographed throughout the day with Wade. Twenty-four hours earlier on Wednesday, Heat president Pat Riley and assistant general manager Andy Elisburg met with Wade and Paul for an hour, discussing the possibilities of a Heat extension and roster overhaul. James left unconvinced, and Riley stayed with the franchise’s cool, nonplussed disposition over the James’ free agency. Riley hasn’t been bombarding James with text messages and calls, but ultimately left Wade as a most intriguing, last-gasp suitor in the desert. As much as anything, Wade’s bad knees could be chasing him out of Miami, and suddenly he had been cast back into the recruiter’s role.

Only there was no contract signed on late Thursday night, sources said. Chis Bosh remained committed to staying if James commits to Miami, or moving onto the Houston Rockets should James leave for the Cavaliers, sources said.

For a fleeting few hours on Thursday, Cleveland awaited a telephone call that never had come out of LeBron James four years ago. The Cavaliers believed they had James again, and perhaps maybe they still do. James did one more victory lap with Wade in Vegas, flew back to Miami and his next call might be the hardest of all.

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Live Blog: James back to Cleveland

From NBA.com staff reports

Free-agents could sign deals yesterday and we saw some movement on that front Thursday, but the guys everyone is waiting to hear from — LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony — still haven’t revealed their choice. We’re here to keep up with everything going on in the free-agency world, so be sure to check back often …

Free Agent Tracker | More Free Agency updates

Update, 12:17 p.m. — LEBRON IS GOING TO CLEVELAND

He tells Sports Illustrated in an exclusive.

Update, 11:58 a.m. — Report: Letter a non-issue?

News about LeBron James, Dan Gilbert and the impact of Gilbert’s letter posted to the Cavs’ website four years ago are flying about. Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Wetzel has an update on just what that letter might actually mean to LBJ …

Update, 11:55 a.m. — That ‘other’ contender in the East

While folks are worrying where you-know-who might be headed, let’s not forget the team that did finish with the best record in the East, the Indiana Pacers. Coach Frank Vogel had a couple of things to say about LeBron, the team’s efforts to land Lance Stephenson and more

(And, ICYMI, the Pacers added to their roster today by adding C.J. Miles and Damjan Rudez and re-signing Lavoy Allen)

Update, 11:03 a.m. — Report: Wade unsure of James’ leaning

LeBron James reportedly boarded a flight to travel from his basketball skills camp in Las Vegas to Miami with his Heat teammate, Dwyane Wade, who was said to be on the flight. Who knows what they talked about, but Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski ventures a sourced report that Wade may have been there to provide a last-minute sales job to James on staying in Miami

Wojnarowski provided another update on that flight and chat, which basically keeps the LeBron decision as ambiguous as its always been …

Update, 10:56 a.m. — Magic officially ink Gordon

The Orlando Magic aren’t expected to make a lot of noise in free agency this summer, but they’ve made one move official that was one of the early shockers of the offseason — signing Ben Gordon to a multi-year deal:

Update, 10:34 a.m. — Pierce out at WSOP

Paul Pierce is one of those many, MANY free agents waiting to make his next move in terms of a roster decision. While he was doing so, he spent some time participating in the World Series of Poker tournament, but, alas, he’s out of the running.

ESPNNewYork.com’s Mike Mazzeo has more:

Paul Pierce made a remarkable run in the 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event.

But his dreams of cashing were squashed early Friday morning, when he was eliminated just shy of the money.

According to ESPN.com’s poker expert Andrew Feldman, Pierce finished in around 800th place. The top 693 finishers get paid.

Nevertheless, Pierce has nothing to be ashamed of. This year’s tournament field featured 6,683 entrants, and the future Hall of Fame forward, who played last season with the Brooklyn Nets, nearly made it to Day 4 in the $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em event.

Pierce was ousted in tough fashion. He went all-in with a board of A-J-3-6-4. Pierce held A-4, two pair, but his opponent, after thinking for a few minutes, called and showed A-J, top two pair. (You can find more details here).

Update, 10:27 a.m. — Hulk Hogan & LeBron James, world changers

Fans of the NBA (and late 1990s pro wrestling) might like this little piece from SI.com’s Extra Mustard crew about how the decisions Hulk Hogan and LeBron James made forever changed sports fandom …

Update, 10:12 a.m. — Morrow getting attention

Most free agents are waiting it out to see what Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James do next. One free agent that continues to draw interest — as our David Aldridge tweeted last night — is New Orleans Pelicans sharpshooter Anthony Morrow

Update, 10:02 a.m. — Some dollars-and-cents facts on LBJ

If LeBron James ends up shifting from Miami to another destination, how does it affect the Heat’s bottom line? ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell spells it out a bit …

Update, 9:18 a.m. — A little look inside the LBJ’s Vegas Camp

The main reason LeBron James was in Las Vegas the last few days was to hold his LeBron James Skills Academy for top-flight high school and college players. The folks over at BallIsLife.com and PointGuardU provide some insight into what went on at the actual camp on the court …

Update, 9:05 a.m. — Just in the neighborhood

He might be in Miami (or who knows where), but hopeful Cavs fans have set up a camp of sorts near LeBron’s home in Ohio

Update 8:46 a.m. — Cleaning up the Bath …

One of the big storylines last night in regards to a potential LeBron James-Cleveland Cavaliers reunion was that the police in Bath Township, Ohio, had been notified by LeBron’s crew to alert them to an announcement last night.

The Akron Beacon-Journal‘s Jason Lloyd clears up what that was all about:

Update, 8:15 a.m. — Report: Gilbert’s letter still an issue for LeBron

Shortly after LeBron James famously made his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in 2010, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert authored a scathing takedown of James that was published on the Cavs’ website. The letter lingered on the site for years and was recently removed (SB Nation details the process here), but it seems that letter might be hurting the Cavs’ chances of getting James back.

Chris Broussard of ESPN.com has more

One reason, if not the major reason, that LeBron James has taken so long to decide whether to play in Miami or Cleveland next season is the infamous letter Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert penned about James after the superstar left Cleveland in 2010, sources said.

In the letter, written in Comic Sans font, Gilbert called James a “coward” and mocked the many nicknames and catchphrases attached to James, such as “King James,” “The Chosen One” and “Witness.”

The letter remained on the Cavs’ website for the past four years until the team removed it earlier this week.

While James recognizes that informing Cavs fans and Gilbert, who was told of James’ decision to leave Cleveland in a telephone call five minutes before it was announced, on national television was a mistake, he is still wrestling with whether or not to return to play for Gilbert’s team.

“If it wasn’t for that letter, this would’ve been done awhile ago,” one source said.

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Morning Shootaround — July 10


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

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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