Posts Tagged ‘Shaun Powell’

Blogtable: The Kawhi conundrum

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: Next great international player | Kawhi and the Spurs | Pick a champ


> The Spurs have done a lot of things right in the last 15 years or so. What should they do, contract-wise, with Kawhi Leonard?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGet it done. Now. Acknowledge that Leonard has a rare bargaining chip (NBA Finals MVP) and move the “future” along. Either max him out now as reward and good will, in the hopes that eventually he’ll enter that “home team discount” realm of other Spurs stars in mid-to-late-career negotiations. Or at least pay him $1 more than the best offer sheet he can sign (max money, four years, lesser raises) as a restricted free agent next offseason. It’s time, and a lot of young NBA talent may be watching.

Kawhi Leonard (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Kawhi Leonard (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comNothing right now. At this point, there is no reason for Leonard to sign an extension for anything less than the max. He’ll get that kind of offer next summer from somebody. And at this point, there’s no reason for the Spurs to pay out the max ahead of time.  When he gets the max offer, as a restricted free agent, they’ll be able to match it. No panic. No worries.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Spurs should do the Spurs thing and sell Leonard on the benefits of being in a stable organization that remains a championship contender, hoping it will get him to lower his demands. It probably won’t. Maybe Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili can apply some pressure. And if nothing works, San Antonio has no choice but to meet the demands. Leonard is the next generation. If the Spurs don’t pay him now, they’ll certainly have to pay him later when an opponent hands Leonard a max offer sheet.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThere’s no need to panic, that’s for sure. The Spurs keep their payroll manageable, so even if another team throws a poison-pill contract at him, they can comfortably match. One way or another, I don’t see Leonard leaving the Spurs. He has the perfect team and town for his personality, and the perfect coach at this stage in his development. Duncan, Parker, Manu … the Spurs found a way to keep them all happy and in one uniform for their entire career. This team gets it done.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Ideally for the Spurs, they sign him now for a fixed amount, rather than a “max” extension, because the max (four years or five years if they make him their Designated Player) will rise with any cap jump next summer, and it could jump quite a bit if the league and NBPA agree on a smoothing procedure. So if Leonard is holding out for the max, it becomes a tough decision, because this team is going to need to reload when Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili hang ‘em up. Either way, I try to get something done now, so that the situation isn’t hanging over them this summer.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comSimple. Do the right thing by The Finals MVP. Kawhi is a franchise pillar for the Spurs. So they should have no problem figuring out the right number to get a deal done. The quintessential Spurs’ Draft find, Leonard’s game seems to have progressed even faster than some inside the machine in San Antonio expected. The Spurs have worked to craft a salary structure that keeps all of their core talent in the fold. And Leonard is certainly a critical piece of that core, perhaps the most critical if you forecast what they’ll be like in the future. So his new contract needs to be commensurate with what his role will be over the next four or five years as the Spurs transition from one era to the next.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Their dynasty has been built on the wisdom of reasonable contracts that work for both the player and the franchise. So far Leonard (like Rajon Rondo during the Celtics’ run of contention) has had the luxury of being their No. 4 player; the Spurs know better than anyone whether he has the temperament to be their Nos. 1 or 2 star someday. I don’t know what they should do; but I do know that the Spurs – better than any other team – have an established record of knowing what needs to be done, and how and when to do it.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe easy call would be to max him out. With the new TV deal in place and the requisite rise in the luxury tax figure on the horizon, singing Leonard — the reigning Finals MVP and man Gregg Popovich singled out as the future of the franchise — to a max extension might end up looking like a bargain. There’s just one thing, though, that would keep me from handing out a max deal is that being so cavalier with their cash just isn’t, at the risk of being glib, the quote-unquote Spurs Way. The Spurs stars have traditionally taken somewhat less than market value in order to be part of what has been one of the NBA’s premier franchise over the last few years. From Duncan, Parker and Ginobili on down, the Spurs players have proven their devotion to team over the individual starting with their wallets. Will that trend continue with the next batch of Spurs’ stars? Kawhi Leonard might make an interesting case study.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: Leonard will likely be the face of the Spurs for at least the next decade, so I think they should give him what he asks, even if that’s a maximum deal. That would send a message to Kawhi that the organization believes a lot in him, that they’re ready to make him their next superstar once Tim Duncan finishes his legendary career. And if your concern is money, don’t forget the salary cap is supposed to increase a lot in the next couple of season. He’s a potential superstar, probably one of the top 3 two-way player in the NBA: you have to believe in him.

Rodrigo Mendez, NBA Mexico: San Antonio has built a philosophy as good as any franchise: spend a little and make a team without superstars. Now San Antonio needs to make a decision, pay an absurd amount for Leonard or not. I am sure that Leonard isn’t the superstar of the future in the NBA — he’s just a different player — and he can bring 25 point each game in the next 10 years, but I don’t know if also Leonard can give them championships. San Antonio must be true its philosophy with which they were winners.

Blogtable: Picking the champions

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: Next great international player | Kawhi and the Spurs | Pick a champ


The Spurs (and Tim Duncan, center) celebrate their win in the 2014 NBA Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

The Spurs (and Tim Duncan, center) celebrate their win in the 2014 NBA Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

> Hey, this is simple: Who do you like to win the 2015 NBA Finals and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMy head says San Antonio, because of what they showed us in June, because none of the competition can play a pat hand quite like the Spurs and because that “2007” to “2014” gap in championship banners in their rafters speaks volumes about their ability to at least fend off Father Time. But then I see Manu Ginobili come down – hard – when he gets banged in the lane (and the thigh) against Dallas, and the prospect of San Antonio navigating 82 games without something debilitating looks slim. So … I’m going with the Spurs anyway. Tired of being wrong about them.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comSpurs.  The caveat, of course, is health.  If the Spurs still have all their pieces together and fit in April, they have the chemistry, experience, ability and definitely the know-how.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bulls. I’m counting on Derrick Rose to remain healthy, a risky move when the stakes are as high as a Blogtable prediction. But if he can deliver 70 games in the regular season and still be strong for the playoffs, that’s a team with depth, with defense, with experience, with coaching, with a mental toughness and now with increased scoring thanks to the return of Rose and the additions of Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The basketball gods will see to it that the Clippers sip champagne in June. It’s just to prophetic: Their first season without The Ex-Owner Who Shall Not Be Named, Chris Paul‘s playoff legacy on the line, and Doc Rivers putting it all together. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see how Steve Ballmer plans to celebrate?

Two reasons to like the Clippers: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Two reasons to like the Clippers: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t want to make a prediction based on the possibility of injury, and the Spurs old heads looked just fine in the opener on Tuesday. So I’ll guess that they repeat for the first time, because they’re simply the best team in the league, elite on both ends of the floor. And I’ll guess that they beat Chicago in The Finals, because the Bulls have the edge in both defense and continuity over Cleveland.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: While I’d love to see the Spurs chase history and their first back-to-back titles, I just don’t see how they can possibly make a third straight trip to The Finals. The Clippers are my pick and I think it all starts with Doc Rivers and my belief in the way he develops the culture of his team and the fact that they are loaded. Plus, I want to see some new blood in the championship circle this season. I know the Spurs, Cavaliers, Bulls and Thunder are probably much safer picks at this point. But as I told my main man Clipper Darrell this summer, if Doc could see them through all of the drama of last season, the Clippers would be my pick to win it all this year.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: No contender is hungrier than the Thunder. Kevin Durant will come back healthy, focused and fresh, and his teammates will have improved in his absence. They have three young stars with years of experience, and they’ve suffered enough in the playoffs that they’ll know how to win. This is their time. OKC beats Cleveland in the NBA Finals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I love the way the Cavaliers are constructed and think David Blatt will be a natural, but one stat keeps me from buying into the Cavs as a championship team this season: 0. That’s the number of combined career playoff appearances and wins from three of Cleveland’s starters (Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters). I don’t think that inexperience will keep them from making a splash in the postseason, but I do think experience matters, and I don’t know that these Cavaliers can overcome that in their first season together. That said, I will admit that I’ve learned my lesson, and instead of going trendy or flashy, I’m going smart: I’m taking the defending champs, the San Antonio Spurs. They brought almost everyone back from last year’s team, and in the Finals seemed to discover a transcendent level of basketball. They may chase that for a while this year but they know it’s out there.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: I’d like to see the Spurs do what they haven’t done so far: win back-to-back championships. This is likely Tim Duncan‘s and Manu Ginobili‘s final season, so I’d love to see them retire with one more ring. Winning back-to-back rings will add more fashion to the Spurs’ legend. And finally, as Italian, I’d like to see Marco Belinelli get another ring and Ettore Messina start (for real) his NBA career helping Pop win another ring.

Guillermo Garcia, NBA Mexico: San Antonio, because it has the best coach in the league, because it dominates a system and has the same team from the previous year that brought them the title.

Blogtable: International next up

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: Next great international player | Kawhi and the Spurs | Pick a champ



VIDEO: Inside Stuff rides along with the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo (April 2014)

> Not counting Andrew Wiggins (too easy), who’s the next foreign-born player you see making an important impact on the league?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to be the sponge for this game and league that he has been so far, the Bucks’ “Greek Freak” could do for the No. 15 spot in the draft what Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have done for Nos. 28 and 57 spots, respectively. I’m not sure that indulging or dinking around too long with Antetokounmpo as a “point guard” is the quickest way for him to have his impact, however. Jason Kidd and his staff need to focus on getting him to max out his All-Star potential as a pure wing.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Don’t know how you’re qualifying “making an impact.” Serge Ibaka certainly hasn’t maxed out his game and will probably have to step up big in Kevin Durant’s absence to keep the Thunder around top of the West. If you’re looking for a very young player, I’ll put my chips on Joel Embiid.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThis season: Nikola Mirotic with the Bulls. Nik Stauskas would be a consideration as well, but Mirotic gets the edge because he can become part of the rotation for a title contender. Next season, and with a bigger impact than either of the 2014-15 choices: Joel Embiid and Dante Exum. Both were in the 2014 draft and both are a season away, Embiid because of injury and Exum because he needs the experience of 2014-15 in Utah.

Joel Embiid (Brian Babineau /NBAE)

Joel Embiid (Brian Babineau /NBAE)

Shaun Powell, NBA.comDante Exum might not even be the best young foreign-born player on his own team at the moment; Rudy Gobert could put up decent numbers this year for the Jazz. But, really now: Exum is very young, gifted and intriguing. In time, this Aussie import could grow in leaps and bounds, like a kanga … wait, I can’t believe I was going to write that.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: In a few years, the combination of Joel Embiid (Cameroon) and Dario Saric (Croatia) will have Sixers fans forgetting these two abysmal seasons and have everyone else realizing that the Sam Hinkie‘s plan and patience has paid off. Hinkie didn’t go into the 2014 Draft looking to take two guys that wouldn’t play this season, but Embiid’s injury and Saric’s contract in Turkey allowed the Sixers GM to get two really talented players at picks where they wouldn’t have been available if they were going to be ready for the start of the season. A healthy Embiid will be an anchor on both ends of the floor, and Saric is a big forward with guard skills.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comGiannis Antetokounmpo is my pick. I know he’s a bit under the radar in Milwaukee and I know the Bucks are still working to figure out where he fits best. But there is so much talent and potential to work with where the “Greek Freak” is concerned, the options are limitless. He’s a game changer waiting to happen, provided the Bucks find the right niche for him as he continues to mature physically and in his understanding of how he can be effective in the NBA. Playing alongside another potential young star like Jabari Parker gives the Bucks an opportunity to take their player development to another level.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Joel Embiid would have gone No. 1 last spring if not for his injury. So long as he stays healthy – a capital IF, when you look at the recent histories of Embiid and other potential stars of his size – he’ll have a chance to be not only the best international star, but to also rank among the NBA’s top 10 overall based on his size, athleticism, skills and fiery disposition.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: One guy I was excited to see in the preseason was Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic. He’s certainly arrived in the States with the requisite accolades — he was the Spanish League MVP and Spanish Cup MVP, and was twice named Euroleague Rising Star. When we saw him play during the Hang Time Road Trip, he was bigger than I anticipated, and he also seemed a bit hesitant. The hesitancy will abate with time, and being able to play behind Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah is a dream for a young post player, not only from a learning standpoint but also because it gives Mirotic the luxury of playing against second-team rotations players. Best of all? Mirotic is still just 23 years old. He hasn’t come close to prime yet. I’m looking forward to seeing it happen.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com Italy: What about Joel Embiid? Yes, he’s probably going to sit out the entire 2014-15 season, but I think he has the talent to become the next big thing. This big man has been playing basketball only for 4 years, and he has turned from a Mr. None to a 3rd overall pick. His potential is huge, could turn him into a dominant center. I’m looking forward to see him playing

Guillermo Garcia, NBA.com Mexico: I believe that Nikola Mirotic for the Chicago Bulls, because that is a very complete player who adds many options to the offensive end.

Time To Vote … DPOY?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Much like the debate that goes on every year regarding the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award,  selecting a Defensive Player of the Year is an exercise based largely on the subjectivity of the voters.

Without a clear-cut set of statistical markers a player can reach to solidify his case, the issue is left to the discretion of those with ballots. And that means 2.4 blocks per game by one player might be seen as defensive prowess while 2.4 blocks per game by another player are simply digits and a decimal attached to a name and little else.

NBA.com’s Shaun Powell had to try to make sense of the minutiae while crafting his ballot, which includes a list of the expected names (Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, LeBron James and Serge Ibaka). But instead of riding with the obvious and incumbent choice, Howard, Shaun went in a different direction:

Is it possible to be the team MVP when Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudamire wear the same uniform? If so, then Chandler’s that guy. The Knicks didn’t become a better team until they took a cue from their center and began to make defense a priority.

Chandler is indispensable because he means so much defensively. He bails out teammates, starts the break and does what others cannot do or will not do. He ranks in the top 20 in rebounds per game (10.0, ninth), rebounds (607, 11th), blocks per game (1.44, 18th) and blocks (88, 16th).

“Tyson is our anchor,” Anthony said. “He gets us going.”

TNT’s David Aldridge picked Serge Ibaka as his winner, giving the nod to the league’s shot-blocking king rather than the incumbent. He makes the case for Ibaka:

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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 64)

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You want to talk Washington politics, go somewhere else.

But if you want to talk Washington basketball, everything from the Dallas Mavericks’ visit to the White House to whether or not John Wall and the Wizards can keep Flip Saunders from getting stuck on the hot seat, you have come to the right place.

Episode 64 of the Hang Time Podcast has a decidedly Washington flavor, courtesy of two of our guests:

– Our main man Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com joins us to talk about the reigning world champions and their recent visit to the home and workplace of President Barack Obama, among other things. (He comes on after our debate about what the Magic need to do with Dwight Howard and what the Chicago Bulls could have to do with it, courtesy of our guy Shaun Powell from NBA.com)

– Michael Lee of The Washington Post put the finishing touches on this episode, helping us break down what’s gone wrong with the Wizards, who still have issues to sort through after winning their first game of the season.

– Sandwiched between those two is an entertaining stint with Denver Nuggets strength and conditioning coach Steve Hess, who is a must-follow on Twitter (and who is trying to get to 10K followers — help the man out!). Hess gives us the scoop on the challenges teams are facing in regards to keeping their players healthy and energized on a nightly basis during this abbreviated season with the compressed schedule.

There is also a new item on the agenda (you need to listen to find out) that we’ll need your help with. So make sure to share your feedback with everybody in the comments section and on Twitter.

LISTEN HERE: 

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Lang Whitaker of SLAM Magazine and Sekou Smith of NBA.com, as well as our superproducer Micah Hart of NBA.com’s All Ball Blog.

– 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.

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A Whole New World

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – With the trade deadline behind us now and the winners and losers being debated around the globe, we have a chance to sit back and survey the landscape here at the hideout.

Whatever certainty we had about a Lakers-Celtics rematch in the NBA Finals faded when the Celtics shipped off Kendrick Perkins, and even Nate Robinson, to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. In fact, the Celtics and all the other trade-happy teams have created a whole new world in the NBA for the rest of this season.

It dawned on us last night, as we were watching the Bulls’ comeback win over Miami (above). And as crazy as it might have sounded before the trade deadline, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think we could see a Bulls-Thunder NBA Finals this season (as opposed to 2013 or 2014). We’re not guaranteeing it or even predicting it. All we’re saying is it is within the realm of possibility.

Night after night, the Bulls are making it clear that they do not fear the Heat, Celtics or anyone else (you remember the way they handled the Spurs before the All-Star break).

Ask most anyone about the Bulls and Thunder before the trade deadline and they’d have told you that they were both poised to be the next teams in line to contend for titles, considering the way they’ve been built. But there’s no sense waiting in line or trying to be next when you can be right now.

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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 34)

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Did we throw too much at Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder too soon?

Should Pat Riley have replaced Erik Spoelstra months ago?


And why are we just wasting our time with all these regular season games when we all know that the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are going to do their NBA Finals dance all over again in June?

Those are just three of the questions we tackled, there’s plenty more, on Episode 34 of the Hang Time Podcast with special guests Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express News and NBA.com’s very own Shaun Powell, two of the most seasoned NBA observers on the planet.

Listen Here:

Our guests weren’t short on opinions as we looked back at the first month of the regular season and revisited some summer time predictions to see how ridiculous they must seem right now.

Some of them (the Bucks were supposed to be ready for a move into the Eastern Conference penthouse) are bit more egregious than others (the Thunder will be the second best team in the Western Conference this season). But we’re not cutting any corners around here. We’re calling anyone out that needs it.

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast Lang Whitaker of SLAM Magazine, our super producer Micah Hart of NBA.com’s All Ball Blog and your host Sekou Smith on Twitter.

– To download the podcast, click here and here . To subscribe via iTunes, click here.

Nash Speaks On Trade Rumors

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It seems a bit ridiculous now, Steve Nash having to address trade rumors a whopping seven games into the season.

But all it takes is someone raising the question, as my main man Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic did in the video above (fast forward to the 4 minute mark and see Nash’s response).

Nash responded the way you might expect, with the perfect blend of respect for the man who posed the question and disdain for the premise. Nash squashed any rumors and politely explained that he’s still in a Suns uniform because he wants to be. As for the rumors, Nash labeled them as “a lot of chatter, nothing really substantial.”

That won’t slow the conversation surrounding Nash’s future, a debate no doubt stirred by NBA.com’s Shaun Powell a couple of days ago when he legitimately raised the question about where the Suns go from here:

For a franchise that doesn’t seem willing (or able?) to spend money on big-ticket free agents, the only way to rebuild is through the Draft or with promising young players. The only way to do that is to trade an asset. Do the Suns keep Nash around for sentimental reasons and to win 45-50 games (which takes them out of the Draft lottery) and play a round or two in the playoffs? Or do they trade him and get something in return before it’s too late?

With Goran Dragic as a capable replacement for Nash, at least until they get somebody better, the Suns owe it to themselves to study the situation between now and the trade deadline.

Shaun suggested several options for the Nash and the Suns, including the Heat and Magic, needing what he brings. It’s an intriguing premise, even if it is all just hypothetical chatter.

We all play armchair GM anyway (sorry Steve, but this is what some people do in between games) and no one is off limits.

Getting a grip on rules ‘change’

I go back and forth on the new rule that puts a muzzle on players who feel they’ve been shortchanged by the refs. On one hand: They really should shuddup and play. On the other: It’s hard to bite your lip in a tense, emotional moment. Somewhere, there’s a compromise that should satisfy everyone.

But that’s really not the point here. I wonder if eventually, say in about a month or two, this new “rule” will suddenly grow old and quickly vaporize. You know, like the NBA’s supposed crackdown on palming violations 10 years ago. Whatever happened to that rule?

Back in the Allen Iverson days, the league became alarmed with the evolution of the dribble. You can blame it on Tim Hardaway, the unofficial inventor of the crossover. Hardaway’s sleight-of-hand was perfectly legal, if you saw it in slo-mo, because he was that good at pulling it off. But it spawned millions of poor imitators who lifted the ball underneath while changing directions. That’s a palm, or a carry, as they called it back in the day.

It got so bad that today, they actually teach “palming” (ahem, crossover) to little kids. Yes, pretty soon, an entire generation began lifting the ball, pulling the ball, dragging the ball, everything but legally dribbling the ball. And the high schools and colleges looked the other way. Eventually, so did the NBA, for a while.

When Iverson violated every dribble rule in the book to gain an unfair advantage on his defender, the NBA decided to crack down. The “Iverson Rule” was put to test during the preseason and, just like now, players protested. The rule was enforced for roughly two months. Then, it was back to business as usual. Only once in a while, when a palm is just too obvious to ignore, does the whistle blow. Never with two minutes left in a tight game, however.

Basically, the players took ownership of the dribble and rewrote the rule book, and the NBA essentially allowed it to happen. Jamal Crawford, the Sixth Man of the Year, owes his career to palming. So does Dwyane Wade and countless others. And it’s even gotten worse: Now players are lifting the ball for a split second, and just as the defender thinks the player is about to stop dribbling, that player continues his dribble, clearly gaining an advantage because the defender is now off-balance. Phil Jackson calls it the “discontinue dribble” and it is rarely enforced.

The league really needs to uphold the basic rules Dr. James Naismith created. Send a message to teenagers that palming will not be allowed on the highest level. And while you’re at it, clean up traveling, too (the two-steps-and-bunny-hop is especially insulting to the memory of Dr. James). And treat these obvious violations the same, whether the game is a minute old or there’s a minute left. The game will survive, because players will simply adjust, if they want to get paid.

And just think: calling players for palming will really get them steamed at the refs.

The Games Are Already Underway

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Who says you have to wait until training camp starts for the elbows to start flying?

The Magic and Heat are kicking things off early with some verbal sparring that we usually have to wait until the playoffs to enjoy. And the players on both teams haven’t even chimed in yet. All the scrapping going on now is coming from Magic GM Otis Smith (above), Heat boss Pat Riley and Magic (and former Heat) coach Stan Van Gundy.

It’s a soap opera befitting an unprecedented summer of free agent activity that will no doubt shape the league for at least the next six years.

My main man and NBA.com colleague Shaun Powell provides some of the highlights while also forecasting what is sure to be one of the league’s most heated rivalries in the coming years:

Smith said he thought LeBron was “more of a competitor” than someone who would join a stacked team, repeating sentiments expressed by Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. (My take: Magic and Jordan didn’t jump from their teams because those teams had Kareem and Worthy and Pippen and Rodman.)

Riley, in a conference call last week, said Smith “never made any kind of comment like that when he signed Rashard Lewis (to a) $126 million contract.” (My take: I’m not 100 percent sure, but sounds like Riles snuck an additional zinger in there, reminding everyone how Smith vastly overpaid for Lewis.)

Van Gundy, in an interview now up and running on the OrlandoMagic.com, said, “Pat getting on people for making moral judgments made me laugh. I was with Pat when we had all those Knicks series and he had no problem making moral judgments on my brother.” (My take: Don’t mess with family. Blood runs thick among the Van Gundys, the First Brothers of Basketball.)

While you can expect Smith, Van Gundy and Riley to suddenly tone down the rhetoric — only because that’s what people do almost by reflex — we know what bubbles underneath. We know there’s no love lost between Van Gundy and Riley partly because of what went down in Miami during the 2006 championship season. We know Smith, calm by nature, is feisty inside and ultra competitive. We know Riley just put together a potential monster threesome with [LeBron] James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and he feels the world wants to see the Heat crumble. We also have a fairly strong suspicion the road to the NBA Finals will travel down the Turnpike. Or up the Turnpike.

With so much attention on each other, we’d advise both the Heat and Magic to look out for the actual reigning Eastern Conference champions up in Boston.

They didn’t exactly take the summer off, though they have managed to stay out of the name calling parade … for now (Celtics big man Shaquille O’Neal has history in both Orlando and Miami as well, and you know he loves to trade barbs with anyone willing to step into the ring with him).

Training camp can’t get here fast enough.

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