Posts Tagged ‘Michael Jordan’

Forgiven James returns Cleveland basketball to relevance once again

LeBron James, 2007 (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

LeBron James, 2007 (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

LeBron James is going home to Cleveland. He thoughtfully explained his decision to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated. This is what makes him happy, he says, and who can begrudge a King that?

James made the emotional play. He swallowed hard to push past the Comic Sans bile of the jilted owner to seek redemption among his hometown fans who had embraced him since he was in middle school until they cursed him out of town four years ago.

The same fans he crushed that night on national television, with the passing of time, are eager to reunite with their Prodigal Son. All can be forgiven, and T-shirts printed earlier this week in anticipation of his return said so, stamped across the front with the very word — “FOR6IVEN” — James’ No. 6 he wore in Miami and potentially will in his Cleveland reboot, replacing the “g.”

It is indeed a homecoming, a ready-made script for the silver screen. The basketball fit, though, is less than Oscar-worthy.

The Heat, whose every flaw was exposed by the San Antonio Spurs in a blistering and abbreviated NBA Finals, are not necessarily the better fit at this stage, although a healthy Dwyane Wade considerably changes that equation. But James had other choices, more ready-made opportunities had he cared to explore them. He made it clear in his piece that he did not.

The 33-win Cavaliers offer an interesting package of two young players in Kyrie Irving and rookie Andrew Wiggins. New general manager David Griffin cleared out three players this week to squeeze James into a max deal, and now can infuse a roster that needs restocking with low-cost veteran talent and know-how. In an Eastern Conference that already lacks punch, Cleveland could realistically contend. Challenging any number of powers in the mightier West is a far greater undertaking.

James, who turns 30 in December, has committed to playing mentor. He is hitching his prime years to a score-first point guard in Irving — whose defensive work has holes, whose maturity has been questioned, whose injury history is concerning — and a 19-year-old potential phenom. These Cavs are not in the class of the James-Wade-Chris Bosh super team formed four years ago. James acknowledged as much in his piece: “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.”

James says he is eager to take on all the issues ahead of him, and feels more capable now that he’s a far more mature player and person then when he left Cleveland when he was just 25.

“I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go,” James said in his piece. “I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. And I can’t wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao, one of my favorite teammates.”

Cleveland fans had worked themselves feverish in the last week as it became apparent James was seriously considering a return. But, given the last time James faced free agency, the wait was pure agony.

That agony has burst into elation. The King is coming home. Cleveland basketball matters again.

Hayward must grow with new salary

Utah Jazz v Golden State Warriors

While much will be given to Gordon Hayward, much will be required, too. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Now that Gordon Hayward has the max offer sheet — four years, $63 million — courtesy of the buzzing Charlotte Hornets, there’s no reason to debate whether he’s worth such big bucks that will top $14 million in Year One.

The 6-foot-8 small forward/shooting guard will be one of just seven players at the wing positions under contract (at the moment) for next season to make at least $14 million: Kobe Bryant, James HardenJoe Johnson, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon and Kevin Durant.

But it hardly matters if Hayward is worthy of such a deal or not. It’s what he’s getting. A lot of teams have a lot of cap space to fill and the Hornets, who nabbed free agent Al Jefferson from the Jazz last summer and are eager to add more scorers after finishing 24th in offensive rating (101.2 points per 100 possessions) last season, didn’t see a better option so Michael Jordan green-lighted his front office to go all-in for Utah’s restricted free agent.

Hayward can’t sign the offer sheet until Thursday and then Utah will have 72 hours to match. The club has consistently sent signals that it plans to do just that. Hayward would then return as the face of the Jazz, a club that won 25 games last year and one he apparently would prefer to leave behind for the further-along Hornets, a surprise playoff team last season in the inferior Eastern Conference. (Hayward reportedly was in discussions with other teams including Phoenix, but chose Charlotte.)

If Hayward indeed returns to Utah (and our David Aldridge details why the Jazz are well-positioned to match), any personal disappointment must be kept private and dismissed quickly. A contract of this size must be owned.

Hayward, 24 and entering his fifth season in the league, will have to be motivated to lead a quick team buy-in with new coach Quin Snyder, and establish himself as the voice inside the locker room. Hayward is admittedly the quiet type, and there’s nothing terribly wrong with that — it took Dirk Nowitzki time to turn up his volume — but on such a young team that includes second-year point guard Trey Burke and incoming rookie Dante Exum, Hayward is the player to which all eyes will turn.

An encouraging attitude and positive body language on the court will be essential, too. The youthful Jazz are going to struggle this season, there’s no way around it. For $63 million, Hayward will be expected to keep the team moving forward through tough times. He can’t hang his head or appear disengaged when things go wrong, as he did at times last season. He’s got the baby-face look, and there’s not much he can do about that, but he’ll be playing on a man’s contract, and expected to perform as such.

As for his production, hopefully Hayward will be spending the majority of the summer in a gym shooting thousands of jumpers. Each season his scoring average has increased and, in fact, he put up career-best numbers last season in scoring (16.2 ppg), assists (5.1) and rebounding (5.2).

However, his overall shooting percentage (41.3) hit an all-time low and his encouraging 3-point shooting from 2012-13 (41.5) dropped to a career-worst 30.4 percent last season as his attempts increased to a career-high 280.

Alongside Burke and Exum, especially as the rookie gains his footing as the season progresses, and Derrick Favors down low, the 3-point shot should be on high on Hayward’s menu on most nights. Utah last season finished 25th in the league in 3-point percentage (34.4) and 23rd in 3-point attempts per game (6.6). Hayward is capable of giving both categories a significant boost.

With the big pay day, come bigger responsibilities. Hayward must be prepared.

No takers in Chicago?


VIDEO: The Bulls were on Carmelo Anthony‘s short list of teams he visited

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If the answer was an easy one, Carmelo Anthony might have already committed to continuing his NBA future in Chicago. Or perhaps LeBron James would have chosen to take his talents to the Windy City in the summer of 2010 instead of to South Beach.

There is no question the Chicago Bulls offer the proper platform for any superstar looking to chase his championship dreams. The organization has a rich title-winning history (the Michael Jordan era remains fresh in the minds of many). There is a resident superstar, albeit one who is coming off two straight seasons of significant injury issues, in Derrick Rose. There is already an elite rim protector and defensive backbone in KIA Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. And there is a coaching savant in charge in Tom Thibodeau.

The Bulls have stable ownership, a shrewd front office led by Gar Forman and John Paxson, cap space, again, and with the league’s moratorium on free agent signings just days away from being lifted, the Bulls don’t have a taker for all that they offer.

The Bulls are not out of the ‘Melo sweepstakes yet. According to the Chicago Tribune they are still alive, but they are not the favorite to land him despite being the logical fit. The Bulls need an elite scorer to pair with Rose and Anthony can basically get 30 in his sleep.

Why is it so hard for the Bulls to snag one of these available superstars?

And I don’t want to hear anything about the harsh climate. Chicago is a world-class city and the Bulls don’t play outdoors. So we can toss the weather report out as a factor right now.

There are deeper issues at play here, in my mind, and they have more to do with the nuts and bolts components of the Bulls team awaiting the player who takes the leap.

  • Is it the trepidation about what Rose will be like in his latest comeback, the worry that his MVP days are over and perhaps he’ll be merely a good but not great player? Rose’s future is easily the most pressing issue for any superstar considering the Bulls. The Bulls couldn’t get over the hump when he was healthy, so there is no guarantee they’ll be able to do so now.
  • Maybe the prospect of playing for a grinder like Thibodeau, who is relentless in his approach to everything from practice to the postgame messages he delivers to the media, isn’t as attractive to the superstar crowd as it is to blue-collar studs like Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and others.
  • And even though we are two full NBA generations removed from the Jordan era, elite stars like Anthony and James have to wrestle with the vast shadow cast by the player considered by most to be the greatest that’s ever played. The prospect of trying to live up to his legend, in the same jersey, is added pressure no one needs.

To be fair, the Bulls didn’t enter free agency last week with all of the flexibility of some of the other major players on the market this summer, as K.C. Johnson of the Tribune pointed out:

Entering free agency, the Bulls always knew that, without a sign-and-trade transaction, they couldn’t compete with the Knicks’ five-year, $129 million offer or even the Lakers’ four-year, $96 million deal without gutting their team. But Anthony is the one who emphasized winning is a priority. And athletes often can maximize endorsement potential by doing exactly that.

Even the most jaded free-agency observer might agree the Bulls offer the best chance to win in 2014-15.

The fact Taj Gibson played an active part of the Bulls’ pitch played to Anthony’s desire to keep Gibson and possibly join a ready-to-win roster. A source familiar with the Bulls’ pitch said Anthony and Gibson “connected.”

Without a sign-and-trade and by keeping Gibson, the Bulls only can offer Anthony a four-year, roughly $73 million deal via salary-cap space. This is one of the many reasons acquiring Anthony via a sign-and-trade is more ideal. It can make Anthony’s offer far more lucrative and allow the Bulls to remain over the salary cap, thus allowing them to sign other players via exceptions.

Multiple outlets, including the Tribune, have reported that Knicks President Phil Jackson hasn’t shown much inclination for sign-and-trade talks. This, obviously, could change should Anthony inform Jackson he’s choosing the Bulls.

The Bulls have been used before in the post-Jordan era. Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill and even Tim Duncan all flirted with the Bulls in free agency and ultimately decided to go elsewhere, for whatever their specific reasons were.

I’m convinced the Jordan factor, no one wants to follow “The Man,” was at play for all of those guys. Trying to live up to that sort of standard would have made their basketball lives far more difficult than going somewhere else and establishing a championship legacy of their own (And Duncan has certainly done a fine job of that).

The challenge for today’s stars, however, is much more about Rose than the ghosts of Jordan, Scottie Pippen or even former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, whose reputation hurt the Bulls with big-time free agents for years after he was gone.

Rose is not only the Bulls’ resident superstar, he’s the hometown kid who will always have sway with the organization. He was the first Bulls’ star after Jordan to reach MVP status and put the team back into the ranks of the league’s elite. No one will ever forget that. And anyone who shows up trying to force their way into his realm will no doubt be viewed through that prism.

These superstar conglomerates require some shared sacrifices, financial and otherwise, among players who consider themselves friends and even brothers, in a sense. Rose has been a reluctant, at best, recruiter and a loner of sorts in a league where relationships between players are paramount this time of year.

Having grown up in a previous era of the league, I can appreciate Rose’s “we’ll win with or without you” approach.

But it’s become clear to me that perhaps the biggest impediment to the Bulls attracting another superstar is the superstar already in place …

Three reasons ‘Melo should pick …


VIDEO: Where will Carmelo end up? What factors will he weigh? GameTime has the lowdown …

NBA.com staff

Free-agent forward Carmelo Anthony embarked on a coast-to-coast ‘Melo Across America tour this week, stopping in four different cities to be courted by five different teams. Now, he’s expected to lay low for a day or so — maybe more — as he decides whether to sign a lucrative contract with the New York Knicks, his team for the past three and a half years, or take his talents … elsewhere.

We asked five NBA.com writers across the nation to boil it down for Carmelo. So here are three reasons that Anthony should pick …

CHICAGO

1. The Bulls offer the best fit for his game. He’d be the cymbalist to their John Phillip Sousa, the finisher their ball-sharing offense needs. Only Michael Jordan and Al Capone, in Chicago history, have had greener lights to shoot. And coach Tom Thibodeau‘s team concepts would put lipstick on his defense.

2. Ring, or at least reputation: If he truly wants a championship, Chicago’s supporting cast offers the best shot, with Derrick Rose as a dynamic sidekick, Joakim Noah‘s Defensive Player of the Year fire and Taj Gibson grinding. Just to be known for trying to win, rather than maxing out money … this is his move.

3. New York is full of celebrities. Chicago would be his. This city is aching for star power beyond linebackers and anchormen, and it doesn’t overdo off-court scrutiny or paparazzi. His wife La La Vasquez could be Queen of the Windy City now that Oprah‘s gone.
Steve Aschburner

HOUSTON

1. He would be sliding into a lineup that already includes an All-NBA first team guard in James Harden and All-NBA second team center in Dwight Howard.  Never mind quibbling over last shots.  There wouldn’t be a better collection of three young talents all in their prime.

2. No state income tax makes up for a large portion of that $34 million he’d be leaving on the table in New York. And money, like everything else, just spends bigger in Texas.

3. If prematurely giving him Jeremy Lin’s jersey — with Lin’s warm corpse still in it — wasn’t enough of a “we’ll-do-anything” mentality, Carmelo could probably just ask and the Rockets would chisel his name right over Hakeem Olajuwon’s on that statue in front of the Toyota Center.
Fran Blinebury

DALLAS

1. The Mavs won 49 games in a tough Western Conference with one of the most efficient offenses in the league. Add Melo to Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, plus newly reacquired Tyson Chandler to bolster the defense and Dallas could be cooking.

2. Coach Rick Carlisle continues to prove he is among the elite tacticians in the game. He’s made the most of nearly fully flipped rosters over the last few seasons. He could be scary good with additional star power and continuity.

3. As controversial as Mark Cuban‘s decision was not to bring back the 2011 title team and plot instead to create cap space under this CBA, Dallas is positioned to add another big-salary free agent in 2015.
Jeff Caplan

LAKERS

1. The Lakers have proven they can not only build a championship roster, but win a title and then rebuild. Anthony is 30. If he’s looking at a four- or five-year contract, depending where he signs and whether it is a sign-and-trade, he needs to know the organization will be able to get somewhere pretty fast. L.A. is farther down the standings than any of the other West options listed and in a better place today than only the Knicks, but the Lakers know how to get back, and fast.

2. “Who else would you like on the team? We’ll still have spending power in the future. A big free-agent hit this summer — you — plus a big free-agent hit next summer. Oh, and any thoughts on the coach?”

3. It’s L.A. If Melo is leaving New York, no other place gives him a better platform for marketing opportunities or entertainment connections for his wife. The butler won’t have to shovel snow in the winter, unless it’s at the weekend-getaway mountain retreat. And don’t worry about the traffic. Get a place near Kobe in Orange County and share the chopper ride to downtown.
Scott Howard-Cooper

NEW YORK

1. If we could have soundtracks for blog posts, you’d hear the bass line from the O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money” playing right now. The Knicks can give Melo more than $129 million over five years. The most any other team can give him is about $96 million over four. And since he’ll be 34 years old when that fifth year comes around, having $29 million more guaranteed would be a nice thing. Little Kiyan needs a new pair of shoes.

2. The 2014-15 season could be a little rough, but the Knicks can bring in another good player or two next summer, when both Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani come off the books. Of course, if they sign Melo for the max now, the Knicks might not have enough cap space to sign a Kevin Love or a LaMarcus Aldridge to their own max deal next year (with Anthony, Jose Calderon and J.R. Smith taking up about 60 percent of the cap). But hey, read No. 1 again.

3. A happy wife is a happy life. Also, New York has the best pizza, bagels and Chinese food. Also, see No. 1.
John Schuhmann

Duncan comes back for the fun of it


VIDEO: Tim Duncan opts to return

Tim Duncan has said for several years now that he would stop playing basketball when it was no longer fun.

Did you see Duncan in the Game 5 clincher against the Heat? Making buckets, making plays and making sure that he nodded appreciatively at his teammates.

Did you see Duncan after Game 5 and the fifth championship was complete? Standing as the confetti rained down from the rafters, helping Kawhi Leonard adjust his one-size-fits-all cap like a proud big brother, hugging and dancing and laughing with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, exchanging that knowing look with coach Gregg Popovich.

It’s still fun.

That’s why there was never really a doubt that the 38-year-old would exercise the contract option and return in the fall for his 18th NBA season. Thoughtful, introspective and deliberate, Duncan knows that these are the kind of experiences that he’ll never be able to duplicate once he takes off that Spurs jersey for the final time and steps outside the locker room.

The sports landscape is filled with stories of the athletes who stayed too long and did damage to their reputations at a time when their skills had faded. That was the thought behind those who suggested that Duncan could and should go out on top.

But it’s easy for us on the outside to say that enough is enough and it’s time for a player of Duncan’s stature to simply walk away from a game that has given him so much pleasure, such sheer joy and satisfaction for the largest part of his life.

If there is a plain and simple goal, it is for Duncan to come back with his teammates and try to do the one thing that has eluded the Spurs in their 15-year span of excellence — go back-to-back. Take one more shot and claim one more Larry O’Brien Trophy next June and the Spurs will slam the door shot on even the last bit of criticism from the nitpickers about their worthiness to be called a dynasty.

However, there is also the matter of just not wanting to leave one last drop of that shared camaraderie in the bottom of the bottle before walking away.

In his wonderful biography on Michael Jordan The Life by Roland Lazenby, the author tells the story of coach Phil Jackson asking each of the Bulls to write down a thought, a memory, a poem, anything about their experience and bring it to the team’s final practice at what they all knew was the end of the road in 1998. After each player stood up and spoke his memory, Jackson gathered all of the slips of paper, put them in a can and lit them on fire with a match.

“They’re ours,” he told the Bulls.

That’s what ties a true team, the shared work and sweat and practices and games and unique bonds that can make a champion. And no matter what successes Duncan — or any of them — can accomplish after their playing careers are through, it will never be this.

If Duncan was concerned with his age and the sharp edges coming off his game, he would have walked away in 2011 when the Spurs were eliminated in the first round by Memphis and Duncan looked tired, spent.

Instead, he rededicated himself to getting back into shape, a different kind of shape. He changed his body, shedding weight and making himself more lithe. Then he returned to a Spurs team where Popovich asked him to change his game, moving out from an existence in the low post and giving up his role as the centerpiece of the offense to Parker.

It was still a challenge, still motivating, still a reason to get up in the morning. Still doable, as the fifth championship attests.

Look at the photos of Duncan all through the Spurs’ march through the playoffs and tell me he was ever going anywhere but back to the locker room in October.

It’s still fun. The only reason that matters.

Five teams LeBron should, but won’t consider

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pat Riley discusses the Big 3 staying in Miami

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Even before Pat Riley went all Clint Eastwood — Stay, “if you’ve got the guts” – during his entertaining Thursday news conference, my money was on LeBron James understanding that island hopping for titles on the backs of fans’ emotions isn’t a good look. And so he will ultimately keep gunning for not three, not four, not five … in sun-kissed South Florida.

Of course, Dan Gilbert never dreamed LeBron would dump his Cleveland Cavaliers, but he did. So until he says otherwise, there is always a chance The Chosen One will think his work is done here and seek a new hoops metropolis to conquer.

It certainly would be unprecedented, the most dominant player in the game packing his bags yet again, and this time after leading his last franchise to four consecutive Finals and two championships. Who in the history of the game has ever done that?

And yet, there’s something devilishly fascinating about that very prospect.

Could LeBron lift a third team to the NBA Finals? Could he win a third title? A fourth, a fifth?

And for which team would he play?

Forget the Knicks, that move would have to wait until the summer of 2015 when New York has cap space. The Lakers? Always a possibility, but how rewarding would it really be to hang a 17th championship banner in Staples Center all the while being Kobe Bryant‘s personal valet to a sixth ring and even him up with Michael Jordan?

I’ve got five teams — three in the East and two in the West — that LeBron could vault to instant contender. Three of the five franchises have never won an NBA title, and of the other two, neither has won one since 1983. So LeBron would be a sight for sore eyes, and a boon for business in any one of these locales.

I call this list, The Teams LeBron Should, But Won’t Consider.

His desire should be to stay in the Eastern Conference because it’s just a whole lot easier to get through the East than the brutally competitive West. Plus, with the Heat instantly weakened, the path to the East crown would truly be wide open. So here are my five:

1. Washington Wizards: The Wizards’ finances are in as good as shape as the Wizards’ backcourt with John Wall and Bradley Beal emerging as a dynamic duo. Washington needs to re-sign center Marcin Gortat to reproduce a front line with Nene. Add LeBron — who would come in as the elder statesman to the Wizards’ rising stars, so there’s no adjustment period as to who is the alpha dog (assuming Wall can handle it) like there was initially in Miami with Dwyane Wade – to this starting lineup and dare I call them Eastern Conference favorites.

2. Philadelphia 76ers: Don’t laugh. And, hey, if LeBron and Carmelo Anthony really want to team up, here’s their spot. There’s so little money on the books that Philly could sign both stars and still have enough left over to add some pretty good role players. These two could come in as the big brothers and lead one of the great youth movements of our time. Think about it, the Sixers already have Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams at point guard and 6-foot-11 Nerlens Noel is ready to roll after sitting out all of last season. With the third pick in next week’s Draft, they’ll add another high-caliber youngster, maybe Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. Then there’s consummate pro Thaddeus Young. Sounding good isn’t it?

3. Toronto Raptors: General manager Masai Ujiri has already overseen a couple minor miracles in shedding the salaries of Rudy Gay and Andrea Bargnani, so what’s one more? The books still aren’t as clear as in Philly, but it can work. Re-signing Kyle Lowry might be out the window, but how about Greivis Vasquez, budding, young star DeMar DeRozan, LeBron, Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas? I’m pretty sure coach Dwane Casey would be good with it.

4. Phoenix Suns: Imagine LeBron driving and then trying to decide if he should kick it out to Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Channing Frye or maybe Gerald Green. Imagine LeBron sprinting for fast-break dunks with a perimeter defense that includes himself and the dogged Bledsoe, and a team that stamped itself as one of the great hustling squads of last season. If we thought the old Steve Nash-Mike D’Antonio Suns teams were fun, whoa, this one could fly off the charts.

5. New Orleans Pelicans: There’s some work, not a ton, to be done on the payroll side, and there’s some tradable commodities despite multi-year deals in place (i.e. Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon) and nothing should be viewed as impossible when it comes to pairing LeBron with Anthony Davis, right? Greatest inside-out duo since Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal? This pairing has devastation written all over it. New Orleans would never be the same.

However, we all know that no one backs down from a challenge issued by Clint Eastwood.

LeBron’s next decision defines him


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

Pat Riley is right.

Now it’s about looking back and looking ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A jab at Phil and Spurs uniqueness

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Peter Holt talks with GameTime after Spurs win title

SAN ANTONIO – Spurs owner Peter Holt couldn’t help himself, or more accurately he simply didn’t want to. The opportunity to turn the sharp stick back on Phil Jackson, San Antonio’s longtime nemesis and Spurs dynasty denier, was much, much too delicious to pass up.

The smile that spread broadly across Holt’s face and the hearty chuckle that spilled from it revealed his satisfaction in doing so. Holt, basking in the immediate glow of his team’s fifth championship Sunday night, was asked if this title is the sweetest of them all. Holt said, yes it is, although the first in 1999 will always be special, and that’s when you could start to see Holt’s face light up and the smile begin to build…

“Even though it was a shortened, asterisked season,” Holt said, now sporting a full-on grin. “Phil, Phil, Phil, Phil, we all played the same amount of playoff games, didn’t we, Phil?”

Holt was quickly reminded that Jackson was retired that season, his first out of the league following a second three-peat with Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

“Yeah, uh-huh.” Holt said. “Well, he bailed out.”

Take that, Zen Master.

Jackson never seems to miss an opening to tweak the Spurs franchise and their loyal fans about winning the title in a lockout season shortened to 50 regular-season games and failing to collect rings in consecutive seasons. Funny, here they stand yet again, with Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich still commanding their posts, with another opportunity to snap up the final carrot out there.

How does Holt feel about their chances?

“Kawhi’s 22, Patty’s 25, Tony’s 32 and Tim and Manu are going to play until they die,” Holt said. “So I think we’re in pretty good shape.”

Sounds like Holt believes Duncan, 38, has no plans to ride his latest trophy into the sunset. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard sits on the cusp of stardom and Patty Mills, a key role player, is a free agent but could be  back. Tony Parker has already announced that he won’t play for France in the FIBA World Cup later this month, which has to be music to Holt’s ears, and Manu Ginobili, who turns 37 in a month, played this postseason as if 27.

The credit for the Spurs’ sustained success cascades from Holt to general manager R.C. Buford to Popovich and his staff to the Big Three and the revolving role players over the years that surround them. Holt says his franchise is filled with “unique individuals.”

That uniqueness is found in the Big Three re-signing with the Spurs over the years for less than the market would bear elsewhere; in accepting Popovich’s adamancy to begin limiting their minutes seasons ago; to sacrificing roles and buying into wholesale changes in playing style and philosophy that ultimately has kept the Spurs a step ahead of the rest of the league.

“We’ve protected guys for many years minutes-wise,” Popovich said. “And I’ve said before I’ve often felt guilty because their lifetime stats are going to be worse than everybody else’s because of the way I’ve sat them over the years.”

Some players might balk, some might complain. Some might seek to find a way out. But that’s not the Spurs way.

But why?

“Because all three of us see the big picture; we want to win championships,” Parker said. “I think that’s the big key of our success here in San Antonio all those years is Timmy, Manu, myself, we never let our ego [get in the way], it was the team first and that’s the most important. I always trust Pop’s judgment. I trust the way he sees, you know, for our team the big picture to win at the end.

“So I don’t care about all that stuff, as long as we get the ring at the end, and so far he’s right.”

Spurs, Heat Have Questions (And More Offseason Queries)

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.cm

VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses what’s next for the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The San Antonio Spurs won their fifth championship since 1999, but it took 15 years for the most stable franchise in pro sports to play in back-to-back NBA Finals. What’s left to accomplish?

That’s right, back-to-back titles.

That’s only one reason to expect Spurs captain Tim Duncan to continue his brilliant career for at least a 18th season. The talk has always been about Kobe Bryant chasing Michael Jordan‘s six rings, but it’s now Duncan in his twilight years who has the greatest chance to get it done.

So why in the world would Duncan, his body holding up as strongly as his production, hang ‘em up now?

Versatile forward Boris Diaw, high-octane point guard Patty Mills and reliable-when-needed forward Matt Bonner are the only players not under contract for next season. While Diaw and Mills have raised their stock and will be attractive free agents, it’s certainly not out of the question that they’ll be back in the silver-and-black.

Even if the Spurs lose one, or both, their Big Three — plus Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and a couple new reinforcements for the bench — will have the Spurs as a favorite to make it three consecutive Finals appearances.

Duncan, 38, just completed a phenomenal postseason, averaging 16.3 ppg on 52.3 percent shooting and 9.1 rebounds while logging 32.7 mpg. That followed up a regular season in which he played in 74 games while coach Gregg Popovich again masterfully managed his playing time.

So, again, what would be the motivation to retire now? A man of similar body type, the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, won a championship with the Lakers at age 40 and played in The Finals at age 41.

While Duncan, for whatever reason, hasn’t come out and stated that he’ll be back despite still having one year and $10.3 million left on his contract, he has smiled through interviews while making statements lightly-sprinkled with hints that he has no plan of joining San Antonio resident David Robinson on the golf course quite yet.

Fortunately, the anticipation for a definitive answer won’t take long. Duncan has a June 24 deadline, that’s one week from today, to notify the Spurs of his plans.

The Miami Heat’s future won’t be resolved quite so soon. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can all opt out of their contracts and become free agents. What they decide to do will be the biggest story of the summer and whatever they decide will produce ripple effects across the league.

And that brings us to the biggest story lines of the summer:

(more…)