Posts Tagged ‘Sekou Smith’

Wizards’ culture shift in full swing


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 168) ‘After Dark’

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The center of the basketball universe these days is Las Vegas.

Yes, LeBron James has come and gone. So has Dwyane Wade. And they are no longer teammates (Chris Bosh stuck around in Miami).

But the party is still going.

So what better place for the Hang Time Podcast crew to convene for a timely summer interlude (Episode 168) than the NBA’s Summer League in Sin City? That’s right, we’ll be coming to you live from the Strip (well, close by) and on NBA TV on Friday, when we’ll broadcast tournament games from the event.

Our resident Renaissance Man, Rick Fox, is already there and hard at work on his new show, “After Dark,” which can be seen exclusively on NBA TV this weekend and Monday after the game action and The Starters.

Rick provides some details on “After Dark” and we discuss all of the free agency craziness, not to mention our ongoing debate (Bosh or Chandler Parsons), Summer League and whether or not the crew will make it through the weekend unscathed and more on Episode 168 of the Hang Time Podcast … “After Dark”

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Blogtable: L.A.’s long coaching search

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


BLOGTABLE: Free agency winners & losers | Thoughts on LeBron | Lakers’ coaching search



VIDEO: Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak talks about the Lakers’ coaching search thus far

> What is taking the Lakers so long to hire a coach? And who should get that gig?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Byron Scott is the right guy. Maybe he didn’t take his cell onto the golf course with him. Better send out Mitch Kupchak in a cart to intercept soon.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: They are too busy trying to assemble an NBA team. Your worst enemy.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The Lakers wanted to take a stab at landing a superstar before they hired a coach supposedly to reduce complications. Fact is, there was no one out there that blows their socks off. I mean, reports say they’re going to bring in Byron Scott for a third interview. A third interview? Give the man the job already.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Nothing is taking the Lakers so long that we weren’t told to expect. It was pretty clear from the beginning they wouldn’t make a hire before July, unless it was someone like Kevin Ollie or Tom Thibodeau. Maybe this has gone a few days or a week longer than you would have though, but it’s not like they’re on the clock now. Who are they racing for candidates? Byron Scott should get that gig.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Well, they obviously wanted their big free-agent signing to have the opportunity to choose the coach. And now that Jordan Hill is back on board for $9 million a year, the Lakers can go ahead and make his selection. Byron Scott has reportedly been the lead candidate, but I’d talk to George Karl first. That team is bound to be awful defensively, but Karl had a top-seven offense in each of his last five seasons in Denver (with and without Carmelo Anthony).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Why the Lakers are taking so long to hire Byron Scott is beyond me. He’s clearly moved to the top of the list, Kobe Bryant‘s list, and that should be more than enough to seal the deal. It made sense for them to wait on hiring a coach until after their free-agent haul was complete. Now that we know they won’t be landing any of the big dogs, it’s time to handle this business of finding a coach. Scott has Lakers ties, is crazy enough to want the job right now, when the franchise is at a true crossroads. He will have the full blessing of the legion of former Lakers who watch over the franchise from wherever they are (near and far). Scott knows what sort of outlandish expectations exist in Hollywood, which makes him uniquely qualified to at least dive in on a job that will no doubt provide the drama we’ve always enjoyed out of the Lakers.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I don’t know why they’re taking so long to hire a coach, although everything I’ve heard points to Byron Scott being their next coach. Who should be the coach? Well Kobe, obviously. He’s eating up most of their cap room, and because of that they can’t splash out cash for multiple free agents, so let Kobe run the show and let’s see what he can make of all this. And if not Kobe, I nominate my Hang Time Podcast cohost Rick Fox. Nobody rides for the Lake Show like Rick, so put him in charge of a Kobe/Linsanity/Swaggy P/Bobby Sacre/Jordan Hill team and let’s see Pretty Ricky fight for a title with them.

Blogtable: Free agency winners & losers

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


BLOGTABLE: Free agency winners & losers | Thoughts on LeBron | Lakers’ coaching search



VIDEO: Carmelo, LeBron, Pierce … The Starters review the big offseason deals

> Who are the winners & losers in free agency thus far? Also, which free agent on the market is still ripe for the picking?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’d like to get clever here, but I’ll leave that to the crew below and stick with the “A” material here. LeBron James made the Cavaliers the biggest free-agency winners since the Heat four years ago. Losers? Either the Lakers, who got snubbed as if they still were back in Minneapolis, or the Rockets for their mighty whiffs on Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, and what I think were shaky decisions adding Trevor Ariza (contract year!) and subtracting Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. Best guy left? I understand why he’s still on the board – can you say “restricted?” – but as an impact addition, if someone managed to pry him loose, I’d go with big man Greg Monroe of Detroit.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Winners: Cavs, obviously. Champion Spurs kept their core together for another run in 2015. Bulls didn’t land Carmelo, but that’s a nice consolation prize in Pau Gasol.  Mavs did a good job with combined salaries of Dirk and Chandler Parsons and plugged that hole in the middle with Tyson Chandler. Losers: Pat Riley and the Heat. Despite keeping Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, then signing Luol Deng, you are always losing when the best player in the game gets away. The Rockets were left holding an empty bag when Bosh spurned off and also let Parsons go to Dallas. Lakers wind up with Jeremy Lin, but still have no coach and are without Gasol. Hard to see them being relevant again by October. Eric Bledsoe is now the top name still out there, but the Suns insist they’ll spend what it takes to match and keep him. Since Stan Van Gundy also insists he’s keeping Greg Monroe and Lance Stephenson is headed to Charlotte, who else is out there?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Obviously the big winner is Cleveland. They got the King Fish. Chicago nabbing Pau Gasol and Dallas winning a restricted free-agent game of chicken with rival Houston to get Chandler Parsons are also winners. Miami, Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers are the big losers. As for free agents still out there, Phoenix point guard Eric Bledsoe has yet to receive an offer sheet, and probably because teams know the Suns will match. As for unrestricted free agents, Andray Blatche is a pretty talented big man, who comes with baggage, and there seems to be very little talk of him. There’s also 36-year-old Shawn Marion, who seemed to be a perfect fit in Miami had LeBron strayed, but now appears to running short on options.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Cavaliers are obviously the winner. Getting LeBron James not only changes a roster, it alters the mood of an entire organization. Plus, while Kyrie Irving was not a free agent, getting his extension done at the same time, and done quickly in another positive statement, made it the best July possible. Loser: Rockets. Most every team misses on a free agent, but Houston moved assets and still came up empty on Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony, lost Chandler Parsons and turned to Trevor Ariza as a save. We’re still waiting to see what happens with Eric Bledsoe and Phoenix.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The biggest winner is obviously Cleveland. The biggest loser is Houston. Not only did the Rockets miss on the big free agents they were targeting, but they traded away their depth in order to do so. Defense and shooting should be priorities across the board, so Shawn Marion and Mo Williams are two available guys that could contribute meaningful minutes. Either would be a good fit in Houston and Williams could also help Atlanta’s backcourt. (For the record, my original answer was Anthony Tolliver, writing that he’d be a good fit with the Suns. Right after I sent that in, he agreed to terms with them.)

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think it’s still a bit too early to declare an extended list of winners and losers. But there is no doubt the Cleveland Cavaliers came up in a major way with LeBron James deciding he was ready to come home. Anytime you score the No. 1 player on the planet, you’re the official winner of free agency. Surprisingly, the Heat rank high on my list. They rebounded nicely from losing LeBron by keeping Chris Bosh from going to Houston. The Bulls make my winners list, too, snagging Pau Gasol. The Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, two of the biggest aggressors for superstar players on the market this summer, came up empty. And while I love risk takers, they’ve landed themselves on top of the losers list for me. This list is fluid, though, and could continue to grow depending on how several teams finish off their free agent summers.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe loser has to be Houston. (Well, Miami, too, but other than that.) The Rockets gave away Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, and let Chandler Parsons go as well, all to clear room for Chris Bosh, who stayed in Miami. Then they overpaid (for a second time) Trevor Ariza to fill that void. For a winner, how about Washington? They lost Ariza but picked up Paul Pierce, who will be terrific to be in John Wall‘s ear for two seasons, at a completely reasonable price. I also like Atlanta getting Thabo Sefolosha, the Human Lisp, at a reasonable price, giving them two (with DeMarre Carroll) stoppers on the wings. And I love Memphis getting Vince Carter to fill that wing scoring void they’ve had forever.

Blogtable: Thoughts on LeBron?

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


BLOGTABLE: Free agency winners & losers | Thoughts on LeBron | Lakers’ coaching search



VIDEO: Cavs GM David Griffin talks about LeBron James’ return to Cleveland

> It’s been five days since LeBron James shook the NBA with his latest decision. What are your last thoughts on his move and its effect on the NBA?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Even commissioner Adam Silver said he was “moved” by James’ homecoming essay. That’s great, and because of it, I trust the two-year term of his Cavs contract is solely about signing a fresher, bigger one in 2016 – he cannot leave Cleveland again that quickly and have a shred of credibility left. But I think this was about basketball more than James let on, because the Cavs have a budding supporting cast on the fast track now. Impact on the NBA? We’re back to a “tandem” rather than “trio” world again, as far as superstars congregating. With 30 needy teams, spreading the firepower thinner is a good thing.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The two-year contract he signed in Cleveland with an out next summer could have the longest-lasting effect. It signals that he’s playing year-to-year from now on and it could be the first step toward the elimination of max contract ceilings in the next collective bargaining agreement.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: He definitely took the sentimental approach over the business approach in terms of picking a team. He took the business approach in terms of structuring a two-year contract in which he can opt out after NEXT season. Now, the thinking on this is to maximize his salary as the salary cap increases with each season, and perhaps by leaps and bounds once the league’s new TV deals are secured. But if James hesitates at all to re-sign with the Cavs, his talk about coming home for all the reasons he listed will be hot air. The effect on the league is that now Cleveland holds the ace and not Miami. Veterans seeking a ring will be drawn to the Rust Belt instead of South Beach.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That there can’t be any last thoughts yet. James’ decision could still have a ripple effect, with players who previously might not have been interested in signing for less to join the Cavs now more open to the possibility. Kevin Love wouldn’t have sent Cleveland a signal before that he would be very interested in staying as a free agent next summer. The presence of LeBron changes that.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The reason I was surprised LeBron left Cleveland in 2010 is the same reason I wasn’t surprised he returned in 2014. He’s a loyal dude. Akron and his friends and family from Akron/Cleveland have always been close to his heart. He knows that he needs more than one more championship to get in Michael Jordan territory, but he also knows that Cleveland hasn’t won a championship in 50 years. To bring a title to that city would mean more (to him and to the people he cares about) than winning two or three more somewhere else.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: In retrospect, and after reading LeBron’s own words, his return to Cleveland should not come as a surprise to anyone. It’s clear that even while he was taking the Miami Heat to The Finals year after year, his heart was actually somewhere else. Northeast Ohio in particular. It’s a game-changer for the league, no doubt. The Cavaliers go from afterthought to an Eastern Conference contender with LeBron’s return. In fact, the impact his homecoming will have cannot be quantified in any traditional manner. Just by returning to Cleveland, this guy is going to lift the spirits of an entire fan base, region and, really, a state. I lived in Cleveland (for a short 14-week stint) when LeBron was still in elementary school. And I’ve had family there my entire life, so I know how serious they take their sports teams and heroes. They’ve never had anyone like LeBron, homegrown, to latch on to. So to lose him four years ago in dramatic fashion only to see him win it all twice in Miami, their joy in getting him back now cannot accurately be displayed in words. If he actually comes home and wins a title, brace yourself for absolute pandemonium.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: It makes the East much more competitive from top to bottom. There isn’t that same excellence in the top teams as in the West, but it makes it much harder to delineate the best teams in the conference. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chicago, Indiana, Cleveland, Toronto or Washington won the Conference, with Atlanta, Brooklyn, Miami and Charlotte in the mix as well. LeBron returning home is a nice narrative, but that doesn’t give Cleveland a rim protector or a coach proven in the NBA just yet.

Bulls (finally) amnesty Boozer

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Chicago Bulls fans will have to find someone else to complain about now that Carlos Boozer is no longer an option.

The Bulls used the amnesty provision on the veteran power forward today, ending Boozer’s four-year tenure with the team. Boozer played in 280 games with the Bulls and averaged 15.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists as a mainstay in Tom Thibodeau’s starting lineup. But he remained an easy target when the Bulls repeatedly came up short in the postseason.

The Bulls thanked Boozer for his work, of course, praising him as they amnestied him.

“Carlos epitomized professionalism in everything he did for the Bulls both on the court, and in the community, during his time here in Chicago,” Bulls GM Gar Forman said in a statement released by the team.  “Over the last four seasons, Carlos’ productivity helped elevate our team to another level.  I have nothing but respect for Carlos, and certainly wish him the best as he moves forward.”

The Bulls did get a quality run out of Boozer, who now becomes a free agent in a bidding process for teams with salary cap space. Interested teams need to have at least $1.5 million, Boozer’s minimum salary, in cap space to sign bid on hid on him.

Boozer was a part of a core group in Chicago under Tom Thibodeau that included Derrick Rose, who won MVP honors in 2011, and reigning Kia Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. As Sam Smith of Bulls.com, who first reported the Boozer news, points out, the Bulls enjoyed loads of success with Boozer in their mix:

Since Carlos Boozer was signed by the Bulls as a free agent in 2010, statistically one of the most successful free agent acquisitions in franchise history, the Bulls were just one of four NBA teams to win at least 200 games. The others were the Spurs and Heat, who won three of the four championships, and the Thunder, who went to one Finals.

Since Boozer signed with the Bulls in the summer of 2010, he started more games than any other Bulls player, he averaged more points than anyone other than Derrick Rose, who played in just two of those four seasons, and Boozer had rebounds than everyone but Joakim Noah and was tied with Noah for the top shooting percentage at 49 percent. Boozer was second to Noah in most free throws made in that four-year period and averaged almost five minutes fewer per game than Noah. Noah was a star passing center averaging 3.7 assists the last four seasons. But Boozer averaged more than two assists per game.

The Bulls Tuesday announced they had exercised the amnesty provision to release Boozer from his contract with the Bulls. He will be in a waiver period where teams can make bids for him with the highest dollar amount winning. Then that money would reduce the $16.8 million the Bulls owe Boozer for next season. Only teams with salary cap room can make bids. If none do, only then would Boozer become a free agent and be able to sign where he chooses.

But in leaving the Bulls after four seasons, Boozer deserves praise for the job he did and perhaps a bit of an apology from some amongst a critical group who often have decried his play.

All Boozer did was what he was asked. And perhaps even more.

Atlanta and Charlotte, two teams in need of veteran depth in the frontcourt, are considered two of the early frontrunner’s in pursuit of Boozer.

Atlanta determined to change its free-agent standing in NBA

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks' core.

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks’ core.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Perception and reality have a strange way of intersecting during the summer for the Atlanta Hawks.

A franchise “on the rise” in a world-class city and a robust free-agent crop would appear to be a match made in basketball heaven. NBA players love Atlanta and the proof is in the countless number of current and former pros who call the city home — even the ones who never wore a Hawks jersey during their playing days.

Yet the perception around the league is that the Hawks struggle annually to lure big-name free agents, while the reality is they are currently not in the business of chasing free-agent ghosts for the sake of changing perceptions.

Yes, the past two summers the Hawks have had the cap flexibility to be major players in free agency. And they’ve explored all of their options, with names both big and otherwise. They have also shown the restraint many teams can’t in throwing money at a name whose game doesn’t fit the system and program they are building under general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer.

Both men have deep ties to the San Antonio Spurs and they’ve brought many of those sensibilities with them. That includes being extremely selective in the players they consider for inclusion into their program. But if the Hawks are going to shed their not-ready-for-prime-time label, they need a watershed moment (making a conference final) or signature player (the statute of limitations on Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins is up) to propel the movement.

The Houston Rockets won the free-agent sweepstakes last summer by snagging Atlanta’s own Dwight Howard. But it was a hollow victory after Howard and Co. had a disappointing first-round effort against the Portland Trail Blazers, proving that there are no guarantees when trying to make a roster splash.

The Hawks pursued Howard, who quite frankly never had any interest in returning to his hometown to play for various reasons that had nothing to do with the Hawks, and were first-round playoff fodder as well. But they did so after pushing the No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers to a Game 7, coming four quarters from shocking the basketball world. It gave the Hawks a momentum that has lingered around Atlanta and is spreading beyond the city limits.

Whether or not it spreads into free agency — so far Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore serve as the Hawks’ major acquisitions — is not the focus for the Hawks. They have a broader perspective than just this summer. (And in all fairness, the Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns all went into the summer swinging for the fences in free agency only to strike out on the biggest names as well.) (more…)

Heat take LeBron-sized hit, but they’re not done for yet


VIDEO: Chris Bosh stays put in Miami and assumes the No. 1 spot?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Chris Bosh has been saying it for a while now. He believes in his heart of (basketball) hearts that he is already a sure-fire Hall of Famer, not only one of the greatest players of his generation, but of all time.

With the free-agent dust finally settled a bitLeBron James heading to Cleveland, Carmelo Anthony sticking around in New York and many other moves — Bosh will get a chance to prove his point.

Bosh could have slipped off to Houston for their max offer and continued his career as the No. 2 or No. 3 option with the Rockets alongside All-Stars James Harden and Dwight Howard. But Pat Riley convinced him to stick around and keep it going in Miami to the tune of five years and $118 million, not to mention the challenge of proving to folks that he’s more than the third wheel he was for much of the Big 3 era.

As crazy as it sounds to some who didn’t pay attention to Bosh before he donned a Heat jersey, he is the man now like he once was in Toronto. And like everyone else in the post- LeBron era in Miami, he’ll get a chance to prove that the Heat was more than just a one-man show.

We all asked the same question when word of LeBron’s coming home letter spread. What’s next for the Heat? Will they fold up and head for the lottery the way Cleveland did in 2010 when the decision was made for James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade to join forces in Miami?

Riley, laying flat on his back after LeBron’s latest decision, quickly dusted himself off and saved the Heat from disaster. Wade and Udonis Haslem, who also opted out of their deals along with LeBron and Bosh to give Riley the flexibility to retool the Heat this summer, were never going anywhere. But Bosh had one foot out the door headed to Houston.

Riley, armed with $30 million more in cash than Houston was offering and the challenge of being “The Man,” went to work on Bosh and got the deal done. Free agents Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger had already agreed to join the party. He locked up Luol Deng on a two-year deal, not to mention Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Mario Chalmers, before the weekend ended, keeping the Heat in the thick of what should be a wide-open Eastern Conference race next season.

“He saved that franchise from who knows how many tough years,” said an executive from one of the Heat’s Southeast Division rivals. “They were on fumes Friday night after the LeBron news. Everybody goes into free agency with contingency plans. But that’s a death-blow, losing the best player in the game. But you have to give [Riley] credit, he didn’t flinch. He had to pay Bosh more than he probably wanted to or should have. But he held it together. He had to or else they were done for at least a year or two.”

Where this Heat team ranks in the Eastern Conference now is hard to tell. Chicago, with Pau Gasol on the way, suddenly looks a while lot better, provided Derrick Rose returns to form. The Indiana Pacers aren’t going anywhere. And the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks all plan on being in the playoff mix. Throw in LeBron and the Cavaliers and the field is suddenly as crowded as ever … and lacks a clear-cut favorite.

And that’s why Riley should be lauded for the work he did over the weekend.

The Heat aren’t going to be anyone’s favorite to win the East. But they’ll certainly be a viable playoff team and it wouldn’t surprise me if they climb into that top four, too. Especially if Bosh lives up to his own Hall-of-Fame hype and Wade plays with a chip on his shoulder (and through whatever pain is in his knees).

They’ve both carried teams before, with varying degrees of success.

It’s been a while, of course. And they won’t have that 6-foot-8, 250-pound security blanket they’ve relied on the past four years.

But Riley, defiant to the end, believes in the culture and crew, including coach Erik Spoelstra, that remains. He made that clear in the wake of LeBron’s departure.

“Over the last 19 years, since Micky (Arison) and I teamed together, The Miami Heat has always been a championship organization; we’ve won multiple championships and competed for many others,” Riley said in a statement released by the Heat. “Micky, Erik and I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to win and compete for championships for many years to come. We’ve proven that we can do it and we’ll do it again.”

Rumors of the Heat’s demise might have been greatly exaggerated.

Only time will tell.

The new (LeBron) world order in the East


VIDEO: LeBron’s homecoming means a return to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference standings for the Cavs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Take the words of LeBron James as gospel on what will become of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the hometown hero back in the mix. As LeBron told SI.com, this is just the first step of the process:

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. 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. 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.

The Cavaliers’ metamorphosis from lottery outfit to true championship contender won’t happen overnight. While Las Vegas and everyone else seems to have forgotten about the San Antonio Spurs (the team that smashed the two-time defending champion Heat in The Finals last month), LeBron’s keen eye for history allows him to see that.

Even with LeBron, the Cavs might not be the best team in what could be a loaded Central Division next season.

Don’t forget, the Cavaliers couldn’t even make the playoffs in a watered down Eastern Conference last season. And the Atlanta Hawks made it to the playoffs last season with just 38 wins.

LeBron’s belief in the Cavaliers’ core group won’t necessarily be enough to push them past the Indiana Pacers, the team  that owned the best record in the Eastern Conference last season, or the potentially revamped Chicago Bulls, were they to secure the services of free-agent Carmelo Anthony and get a healthy season from one-time league MVP Derrick Rose.

No one should forget about the Toronto Raptors, winners of the Atlantic Division, or Washington Wizards, a surprise Eastern Conference semifinalist after knocking off the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Both teams retained their marquee free agents — Kyle Lowry in Toronto and Marcin Gortat in Washington —  and will both be a year wiser and better.

Still, LeBron’s arrival changes the Eastern Conference landscape the same way it did four years ago when he showed up in Miami and (along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) turned a middle of the road Heat team into a contender.

Forget what that Cavaliers’ roster looks like today. Focus on what it could look like when the Cavs are done exploring their options. Swing a Kevin Love deal and add veterans and LeBron-friendlies like Mike Miller and Ray Allen, and perhaps that process LeBron mentioned can be accelerated.

The one thing that was true in 2010 about LeBron and his approach remains true this time around: He cannot do it alone. Wade and Bosh were crucial then and Irving and Wiggins will serve as his chief aides this time around. Love would certainly be the X-factor, but with or without Love, there is a new world order in the East.

Here’s an early look at the top eight in the Eastern Conference (as of this moment):

1) Indiana – Even with all of their dysfunction at the end of the season, the Pacers remain the most formidable roadblock for contenders in the Eastern Conference.

2) Cleveland – They get a big edge from the LeBron bump … YES, he means that much to whatever team he’s on. And that’s before we see what else the Cavs can come up with this summer.

3) Chicago – Carmelo pushes them up to a near tie for the No. 2 spot. Toss in Pau Gasol and we’re talking about a possible new No. 1. But there is much work to be done in the Windy City.

4) Toronto — Masai Ujiri is in the midst of changing the culture in Toronto, the most important step being his successful effort to keep Lowry in the fold.

5) Washington — Trevor Ariza remains an important piece for the Wizards, but he’s replaceable if a deal cannot be struck. The Wizards have as strong a young backcourt tandem in John Wall and Bradley Beal as there is in the East.

6) Charlotte – The addition of Gordon Hayward, if the Utah Jazz don’t match the $63 million offer sheet, does not vault the Hornets into the top half of the playoff chase.

7) Atlanta – The return of Al Horford from injury is more important than just about any free-agent signing the Hawks could execute this summer.

8) Miami – They lost out on LeBron but will keep Bosh and Wade as Pat Riley tries to repair the damage of the departure of the best player on the planet.

LeBron James is headed back home to Cleveland.

LeBron James is headed back home to Cleveland.

 

Blogtable: NY’s plans with ‘Melo, without

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


BLOGTABLE: Idle summertime chatter | LeBron + Cavs = ??? | The Good & Bad of ‘Melo in NY



VIDEO: Howard Beck breaks down the news around the Knicks and free agent Carmelo Anthony

> You’re Phil Jackson. What do you do with the Knicks if Carmelo Anthony leaves? What if he stays?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I refuse to answer the first question because it ain’t happening – Melo’s going nowhere. The money, the attention and now the capability to claim he’s staying for Phil Jackson‘s “vision” (when it’s really the money and the attention) keep him right where he is. So with Anthony on board, Jackson will have to cue up some of the share-the-ball-you’ll-get-it-back teachings to Michael Jordan from back in the day. And he’ll need to lure Kevin Durant, LeBron James and/or Kevin Love to Manhattan because Jackson has limited experience with a roster that doesn’t boast one or two of the league’s top half dozen guys.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If Anthony leaves, you pat James Dolan and the Knicks franchise on the head and make a beeline back to Playa del Rey and Jeannie Buss.  If he stays, well, you might want to do that anyway.  New York is not a market that has the patience or the long-range vision to do what’s necessary, which is why with the exception of a couple blips on the radar screen the Knicks have spent the past 40 years peddling the false notion that they’re contenders.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comIf Anthony leaves, you celebrate? Really, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. A max contract is a cap-stuffer particularly as Melo plays into his mid-30s. Him leaving would totally free up Phil Jackson to remake the roster in 2015 when potential free agents include Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol and Goran Dragic. If Anthony stays, Jackson is already on the right track by trying to unload Amar’e Stoudemire‘s $23.4 million contract without taking much back. If Anthony returns, he knows 2014-15 is only a bridge to next summer when the Knicks, even with Melo’s max deal, will be flush with cap space to go nuts.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Nothing much I can do if he leaves. Square 1 is Square 1. Maybe try to extract a couple picks/player(s) if it’s a sign-and-trade, but draft choices wouldn’t be paid out for at least another season and maybe, if it’s the Lakers, several. I might like the appeal of something close to a blank slate lineup wise while still having salaries to untangle, but I would also realize that’s the positive spin on “Ummmm … errrrr … let’s see here….” If Carmelo stays, I know there’s a better chance to land free agents in future summers and a quicker path to wins. Anthony plus Jose Calderon’s shooting plus Tim Hardaway Jr. coming off an encouraging rookie season is a decent start on the re-build.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Listen, as much as I’d love to be rich, famous and have more rings than your neighborhood jeweler, I wouldn’t want to be Phil Jackson in New York if and/or when Carmelo Anthony spurns the Knicks for either Chicago, Los Angeles or that dreaded outfit in Miami. The haters will be merciless if ‘Melo bolts after receiving a max offer to stick around. If ‘Melo stays, Phil has to include his max-earning superstar on his rebuilding plan, which has to include making a monster splash in free agency in 2015 (Melo and Kevin Love is a great place to start with the East Coast Triangle). ‘Melo doesn’t get to choose his new teammates, but he at least needs to be consulted in some form or fashion, because he’s going to be right up there with Phil and James Dolan on the fall guy list if this experiment doesn’t work out.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCarmelo, you’re not leaving $30 plus mil on the table. We need you. But not for this season — the Knicks this season aren’t going to be much better than they were a season ago. Then again, they can’t be much worse. But after this season, Stoudemire and Bargnani come off the books and clear up about $35 million in cap space, and suddenly we can be players in free agency. The triangle offense starts to take hold, and now we’re in the mix, particularly in the weak Eastern Conference. By the way, Cleanthony Early is going to be a steal, and our system will make contributors out of guys who had been overlooked in the past. So it’s going to take some time, but be patient. What, ‘Melo, you thought the Lakers would contend right away?

Karan Madhok, NBA India: If Anthony leaves, I’ll be hoping that the always-expectant Knicks fans stay patient for one more year of awful basketball. By this time next year, the Knicks will have a ton of cap space and some interesting free agents (Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge, and, if he signs just a one year extension, maybe even LeBron James) available on the market to recruit to New York. If Anthony stays, I’ll be hoping to convince another contributor (like Pau Gasol, who has experience with Jackson) to sign for cheap, but still sell the team the idea of thinking the future before the present, and the idea of a big offseason in 2015 if they can suffer through a quiet one this year.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA Argentina: I would start a new age where “the team” would be more important than a star player. If Carmelo stays, it won’t be good for the Knicks. If he leaves, the Knicks have a better opportunity to rebuild, Jackson style.

Guillermo Garcia, NBA Mexico: If Anthony’s still on the team, I’ll try to reinforce the club with another big player … maybe one with the name Gasol?