Posts Tagged ‘Yahoo! Sports’

Report: Iguodala Agrees To $48 Million Deal With Warriors





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Free agent swingman Andre Iguodala‘s is moving to Northern California after all. Days after having a $56 million offer from the Sacramento Kings snatched off the table, Iguodala has agreed to a four-year, $48 million deal with the Golden State Warriors, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

This wraps up a wild week for Iguodala, who was considering his options with several different teams during the first week of free agency. In Iguodala, the Warriors get a versatile and veteran performer capable of playing multiple positions and defending at the highest level. Iguodala was a stalwart on a Denver Nuggets team that lost to the Warriors in the first round of the Western Conference playoff this season.

He was targeted by the Kings, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, Nuggets and Warriors, among others. The Warriors grabbing him forces all of those other teams to move on in their pursuit of other free agent swingmen on the market.

It is unclear what this move does to the Warriors’ pursuit of Dwight Howard, the top free agent prize on the market this summer. They would have had to execute a number of sign-and-trade deals to clear the way for Howard to join a fantastic young core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and All-Star power forward David Lee.

The Houston Rockets are considered the frontrunner for Howard, but there has been no indication that he has narrowed his list from the five teams — Rockets, Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and the incumbent Los Angeles Lakers — that made formal presentations to Howard this week in Los Angeles.

If the Warriors are Howard’s choice, they will have one significant chip to play in an potential sign-and-trade scenarios in the $14 million expiring contract of center Andrew Bogut. His expiring deal withe either Thompson or Barnes thrown in to sweeten the deal would certainly appeal to a Lakers tam that need to find its way in the event that Howard departs.

Report: Kings Offer Iguodala $56 Million … Then Pull Deal Off The Table?



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This is a bit of an odd one.

The Sacramento Kings threw a big wrinkle into the Andre Iguodala free-agent sweepstakes with a four-year, $56 million offer to the veteran swingman, an offer first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports early Wednesday morning.

Then, hours later, the Kings pulled the deal.

The Nuggets were apparently unwilling to match the Kings’ offer … but Iguodala was also reluctant to accept the offer, which led to Sacramento pulling the deal off the table.

This all means Denver is still very much alive in its hopes to re-sign the small forward who helped them to 57 wins and a franchise-best 38-3 home record, writes Wojnarowski:

After the Denver Nuggets expressed an unwillingness to match the Sacramento Kings’ $14 million-a-year proposal to free-agent forward Andre Iguodala, Iguodala’s reluctance to immediately accept the four-year, $56 million offer caused the Kings to withdraw the deal late Tuesday, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

With no major offers elsewhere, Iguodala could return to talks with the Nuggets on a five-year contract extension. Denver wants to keep Iguodala as part of its core, but has shown restraint in formulating potentially salary-cap crippling offers to re-sign him to a long-term deal, sources said.

When the Kings demanded an answer for their offer on Tuesday night, Iguodala’s desire to take more time to consider the deal signaled to Sacramento management that perhaps the free agent wasn’t eager to leave a Western Conference contender for the rebuilding project.

Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly and coach Brian Shaw presented Iguodala with a five-year contract offer and a pitch to convince him to re-sign at a meeting on Monday in Los Angeles. It is unclear if the Nuggets raised their initial offer on Tuesday night, but they clearly didn’t match the Kings’ surprisingly aggressive $14 million-per-season offer.

Iguodala was also one of the top targets of the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans Pelicans, Golden State Warriors and the incumbent Nuggets in the initial stages of free agency.

Sacramento’s pulling of the offer on Iguodala may well change how the Kings approach the $44 million offer sheet the New Orleans Pelicans offered former Rookie of the Year winner Tyreke Evans, too.

Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro recently left the Nuggets’ front office to become’ the Kings top executive and had been pushing hard to convince Iguodala to be a cornerstone for his franchise. Without Iguodala in the Kings plans, the organization could reconsider how it feels about matching the four-year, $44 million offer sheet that restricted free agent guard Tyreke Evans could soon sign with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Report: Splitter Sticking With Spurs


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Tiago Splitter finished the season coming off the bench for the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of The Finals against the Miami Heat.

He will start the 2013-14 season as the Spurs’ third-highest paid player when his representatives and the franchise put the finishing touches on a four-year deal worth slightly over $36 million, a deal first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

Splitter, who became a restricted free agent Monday after the Spurs extended him a $3.49 million qualifying offer, turned out to be a must-get for a Spurs team trying to keep its core intact.

But after producing his best season in the NBA during regular season, he struggled during the playoffs. He averaged just 6.1 points and 3.1 rebounds during the postseason and was relegated to that reserve role against the Heat after both teams deployed small lineups.

Still, Splitter’s new deal suggests that Spurs general manager R.C. Buford and coach Gregg Popovich have not soured on the Brazilian big man. Only All-NBA picks Tony Parker ($12.5 million) and Tim Duncan ($10.4 million) will earn more than Splitter next season.

The Spurs still have free agent business to tend to this summer. Veteran swingman Manu Ginobili is an unrestricted free agent. But the Spurs, according to sources familiar with the negotiations, are in the midst of trying to find a way to re-sign Ginobili at a more reasonable price than the $14.1 million he earned during the final season of his most recent deal.

Celtics-Nets Talking Trade … Celtics Already In Full-Blown Rebuilding Mode?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That rebuilding process Doc Rivers was trying to avoid in Boston is apparently already in effect for the Celtics, who are reportedly exploring their trade options for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce with their Atlantic Division rivals in Brooklyn.

The complex deal, first reported by Yahoo! Sports and later confirmed by both ESPN.com and The New York Times, would not be finalized until July 10, at the earliest, which is after the end of the NBA’s moratorium on signing new contracts during the free agent season. In order to get a deal done the Celtics need to wait until after July 1, when the final year and $15.3 million of Pierce’s contract becomes guaranteed and then wait until the moratorium is ends to complete the proposed deal.

In it’s current form, the deal would involve the Celtics trading Garnett, Pierce (and possibly Jason Terry) to the Nets for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humprhies and his expiring contract and multiple first-round Draft picks.

Of course, the entire deal would be contingent on Garnett waiving his no-trade clause and agreeing to join Pierce on a Brooklyn team coached by Jason Kidd and already boasting stars Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson.

This is a twisted end to Garnett’s six-year run in Boston. Pierce has spent his entire career with the Celtics. But Celtics boss Danny Ainge made it clear Tuesday, when he discussed Rivers and his departure for the Los Angeles Clippers, that no concrete decisions had been made about the futures of the remaining members of Boston’s famed “Big 3″ that helped them to the 2008 NBA title.

Ray Allen was the first to leave, bolting for Miami and another title in free agency last summer. Rivers opted for a chance to take the Clippers to the same plateau he reached with the Celtics in the final six of his nine seasons with the team. Ainge is clearly trying to make the next move by engaging in these talks, and what sources indicate are many more, in regards to the remaining members of his core.

Not even Rajon Rondo, the Celtics’ injured All-Star point guard, is off-limits, according to a league executive who informed NBA.com that Rondo is waiting to see who Ainge replaces Rivers with and what happens this summer before deciding if he wants to be a part of the rebuild that the other members of the core are clearly trying to avoid.

Ainge, one of the league’s true, front-office risk takers is willing to push the envelope to see what he can salvage for the aging stars who helped lead the Celtics back to prominence. Rivers netted them a first-round Draft pick in 2015. Moving Pierce and Garnett will potentially a couple more and Ainge would have a stockpile of assets to work with in two seasons in the Draft and free agency.

For the Nets the future would be now if this deal were to get done. For the Celtics, the necessary assets to rebuild for the future would be the key.

Report: Rivers To Clippers Done Deal?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Doc Rivers coaching the Los Angeles Clippers is apparently back on and, this time, it’s all but a done deal.

The Clippers have reached an agreement in principle with Rivers to become their coach in exchange for a future first-round Draft pick, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, salvaging a week’s worth of talks by reviving and then reaching the deal by Sunday afternoon:

The Los Angeles Clippers have reached an agreement in principle to send an unprotected 2015 first-round draft pick to the Boston Celtics for the rights to hire coach Doc Rivers, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

Rivers has agreed to a three-year, $21 million deal with the Clippers, league sources said.

Talks started again on Sunday when the Clippers offered the Celtics the first-round pick to free Rivers from his contract with Boston, sources said.

The NBA still needs to grant approval to the deal, but the teams have been led to believe that won’t be a problem, sources said.

The Clippers and Rivers believe Rivers’ arrival will solidify star free agent Chris Paul‘s commitment to sign a five-year contract extension in July, sources said.

Rivers told the Clippers that he was no longer interested in the position on Friday, but pressure from Paul stayed strong on Clippers management over the weekend and Los Angeles reconsidered its unwillingness to give Boston a first-round pick, sources said.

The key language to pay attention to here is that the “league has to approve the deal,” something that didn’t seem possible when Rivers was linked to the trade between the Clippers and Celtics that would have also included Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan, Celtics All-Star Kevin Garnett and future draft picks.

Concerns about Clippers owner Donald Sterling‘s willingness to pay top dollar for a coach will be silenced with this deal, as Rivers will receive the exact same compensation from the Clippers he was due from the Celtics.

This move also signifies the change in direction that has been rumored for the Celtics, who could be in the process of turning the page completely on their “Big 3″ era. Celtics boss Danny Ainge is preparing for a franchise rebuild that not only does not include Rivers or Garnett, but also veteran All-Star forward Paul Pierce, whose entire career has been spent in Boston.

If that is the case, this is a loud start to what could be a wild summer for all involved. The Clippers have plans of their own, designs on being a championship-caliber team for the 2013-14 season in what should be a wide-open Western Conference race.

Rivers, Paul and All-Star forward Blake Griffin are excellent pieces to start with. But the Clippers have their sights set on even more splashy moves. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see how much of what they are planning actually gets done.

The Celtics-Clippers Saga Continues …





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Admit it, you’re going to miss DeAndre Jordan in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform. You’re going to miss the dunks and the off-court comic pairing with Clippers All-Star Blake Griffin.

But if we are reading this Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Clippers-Doc Rivers trade situation right, Jordan is headed to Boston in one part of a complex potential trade scenario that also will include Rivers departing Boston for the Clippers and the chance to chase championships with a few familiar faces (Kevin Garnett and perhaps Paul Pierce) as well as a few new ones (Griffin and potentially Chris Paul).

Monday’s hot name, Eric Bledsoe, the player both sides refused to budge on, is apparently out of the deal now.

It’s complicated, I know. But aren’t these blockbuster scenarios always a bit more complicated than the average trade?

The latest from around the basketball world on this saga …

Celtics ready to deal for Jordan and two first-round Draft picks …

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: After pushing for the Clippers to take back long-term contracts, the Celtics relented and have shown willingness to complete the deal for DeAndre Jordan and two first-round draft picks, sources said. The Clippers are willing to give the Celtics Jordan and one draft pick, but were resisting a second future pick, sources said.

The two teams are planning to talk again on Tuesday morning, and the fragile negotiations could climax over the draft pick compensation, sources said.

If the Clippers become the championship contenders that they expected this trade will make them, the additional draft pick would likely be near the end of the first round.

 The financial investment in this deal for Los Angeles is unprecedented for the franchise, and it could be giving it 11th-hour pause. The Clippers must pay a $3.5 million trade kicker on Jordan’s contract and finalize an agreement with Rivers on a five-year deal worth approximately $35 million, league sources said.

Serious talks but still no deal …

Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com: Sources close to the process told ESPN.com that the Celtics and Clippers held “substantive discussions” Monday on the proposed multilayered transactions that would send Rivers and Celtics star Kevin Garnett to Los Angeles. But the teams, sources say, remain unable to agree on a final trade framework to go through with the two deals, even after Boston relented on its insistence that the Clippers include prized young guard Eric Bledsoe as part of the package for Rivers and Garnett.

Another element of the talks, sources said, is the negotiations between Rivers and the Clippers on a coaching contract. Rivers has three years left on his original five-year, $35 million deal with the Celtics and will be looking to stay in the same salary range if Boston ultimately receives what it deems sufficient compensation to let the 51-year-old out of that deal.

So the Clippers, in what NBA coaching sources are terming a “separate process,” have moved ahead with their coaching search just in case, for one reason or another, they’ll be unable to pry Rivers out of Boston. They’ve arranged sitdowns this week for Byron Scott (Tuesday) and Brian Shaw (Wednesday) with Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Lionel Hollins, the other finalist for the Clippers’ job before the pursuit of Rivers got serious, already met with Sterling.

Numerous sources connected to talks continued to express optimism Monday that the Celtics and Clippers will eventually agree to terms this week, with some interpreting the Clippers’ plans to resume talks with the likes of Shaw and Scott as their latest thinly veiled message to the Celtics that they aren’t afraid to walk away from the table.

“It’s a dance right now,” said one source close to the process. “I think it’ll eventually happen. They’re just staring at each other.”

Is Ainge satisfied with this haul?

Sam Amick of USA Today: The only question that matters at the moment is whether Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge eventually will decide that acquiring fifth-year center DeAndre Jordan and two future first-round picks is fair compensation for losing his coach and his 37-year-old big man.

If he does, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, this deal will likely get done. If he doesn’t, and instead insists that third-year Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe must also be in the trade, then Rivers and Garnett would stay put and the Clippers would simply hire one of the coaching candidates who have interviewed for their vacant job (former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins and Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw lead that group).

While Celtics small forward Paul Pierce is not part of the trade talks, he could be bought out of the final year of his contract this July ($5 million of his $15.3 million) and join Rivers and Garnett with the Clippers as a free agent if this deal went down. The people spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks.

While Rivers would not technically be part of the trade, the Celtics would allow the Clippers to sign him as part of the agreement. Rivers has a non-compete clause in his contract that would be nullified, and he would forgo the three years and $21 million remaining on his Celtics contract.The Clippers are prepared to pay him just less than $7 million annually, but only if they can bring him in without mortgaging their future by losing Bledsoe.

Yet if Rivers were willing consider giving back some of his earnings as a way to ease Ainge’s pain, that could be a way to nudge these negotiations along. The Celtics could move forward with a new coach whose salary would be, in essence, paid for by the old coach.

Rivers still grappling with his decision?

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: If the Celtics plan to part with Rivers, they want a young piece, draft picks and salary cap relief. Realizing that signing [Jason] Terry and [Courtney] Lee to multiyear deals at the mid-level exception (5-plus million) was a mistake, the Celtics would prefer the Clippers accept those deals to facilitate clearance to negotiate a contract with Rivers.

Meanwhile, a source close to Rivers told the Globe that Rivers is still grappling with the decision, especially as the trade gets more complicated and negotiations more contentious. The talk of the Clippers acquiring Paul Pierce in the trade are remote, especially since the Celtics would have to honor his deal and send him to the Clippers with a $15 million salary.

And don’t expect the Celtics to waive Pierce just to see him sign with the Clippers during free agency. If they decide to trade Pierce, and NBA sources said the team is open to the possibility, they want a return for his services unless waiving him will allow him enough salary cap space to sign a solid free agent.

The consensus around the league is that a decision on this has to be made this week and Rivers is looking worse by the day because of his indecisiveness.

Key decision makers, Ainge and Sacks, stuck in neutral … 

Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times: The main characters are Boston Coach Doc Rivers and All-Star forward Kevin Garnett, trying to get to the Clippers as a duo. The men calling the shots — Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and Clippers vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks — can’t seem to reach agreement on a mutually satisfactory deal.

So both organizations were stuck in neutral by Monday evening after player names were tossed back and forth, the talks at a standstill but not completely over, according to NBA executives who did not want to be identified by name because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the situation.

The two sides intend to keep the talks alive Tuesday. But the Clippers also plan to have coaching candidates Byron Scott and Brian Shaw meet with owner Donald Sterling this week in case the team can’t make a deal to get Rivers, executives said.

Shaw, associate head coach of the Indiana Pacers, on Tuesday is scheduled to meet for the second time with the Denver Nuggets about their head-coach vacancy. Then Shaw is to meet with Sterling on Wednesday. Shaw interviewed face to face with the Clippers last week, but this will be his first sit-down with Sterling, executives said.

Scott, former coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets and New Jersey Nets, is scheduled to meet with Sterling on Tuesday afternoon, the executives said. Scott also met with the Clippers last Tuesday but didn’t talk with Sterling.



Marquee Coaches, Players Continue To Rule NBA’s Bizarro World



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Good luck deciphering what’s real and what’s patently absurd in regards to the on-again, off-again saga that is the Los Angeles Clippers’ pursuit of Doc Rivers as their next coach.

Franchises making trades to appease coaches, who in turn will walk away from one team to coach another … it’s news from basketball’s bizarro world. And free agency is still two weeks away.

As of this morning, Rivers remains the Boston Celtics’ coach, with three years and $21 million on a contract that the Celtics would love for him to see through. The Clippers have two other prime choices, Indiana Pacers assistant coach Brian Shaw and former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, ready and willing to take over the reins of a franchise coming off its finest season in history.

But how long Rivers remains the Celtics’ coach could be up in the air, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The sides have reportedly rekindled talks that stalled over the weekend and trying to put the finishing touches on a deal that would send Kevin Garnett and Rivers to the Clippers in a deal that would include Eric Bledsoe and perhaps DeAndre Jordan, along with other assets:

Discussions over a blockbuster deal reached an impasse on Saturday when Boston general manager Danny Ainge held firm that Bledsoe had to be a part of package that included DeAndre Jordan and a first-round pick, but sources say that Boston has shown a willingness to find another asset to supplant Bledsoe and complete the complicated deal, sources said.

 The Clippers are prepared to give Rivers a five-year deal to coach and believe acquiring Rivers and Garnett – who will waive his no-trade clause – will lock up the re-signing of free-agent superstar Chris Paul, sources said.

The prospects of bringing Rivers back to the Celtics have become less appealing for Boston, who understand, as one league executive said, “There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. You can’t pretend this didn’t happen and just go back to work.”

Even if we are to believe that a Clippers-Celtics trade is contingent upon the Celtics getting their hands on Bledsoe, we all have to swallow the reality that this is still a system where marquee coaches and players continue to rule the world. Because no fringe player should ever hold up a slam-dunk deal that involves a franchise starving for direction and leadership missing out on a leader like Rivers.

The complications arise when you try to figure out what Rivers has in mind without hearing him explain it. He hasn’t uttered a public word about his intentions, leaving others to speculate about what it is he plans to do regarding his future — with the Celtics and in coaching altogether.

With a report surfacing that Rivers could opt for a return to the broadcast booth either way, the Clippers and Celtics could be going through all of this for nothing (according to A. Sherrod Blakely of the CSSNE.com):

The potential trade with the Los Angeles Clippers that would have freed up Doc Rivers to coach them is still considered a no-go.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Rivers will be back on the sidelines as the Celtics head coach this season.

A league source tells CSNNE.com that Rivers has not entirely ruled out taking some time off to resume his broadcasting career and return afterwards to coach.

“You guys (media) have been around Doc long enough to know that’s always been something he’s talked about,” the source said. “So it shouldn’t come as a surprise. And frankly, now is probably as good a time as any for him to go that route.”

If Rivers needs an escape route for the rebuilding process that seems inevitable in Boston, rekindling his broadcast roots might be the best route. The ill will a potential move to the Clippers’ bench will foster in Boston will be severe.

But if the Clippers are serious not only about acquiring Rivers, Garnett and Paul Pierce to pair with Paul, but also pursuing and eventually adding Dwight Howard, who is central to Phase II of this fantasy basketball plot, consider me impressed by the audacity of the Clippers to dream this big.

Never mind that the Lakers still believe that Howard will stick around. Building a future around the game’s best big man is much easier to do than building around an All-Star like Blake Griffin, who would have to be a part of any theoretical sign-and-trade deal.

(The Lakers doing this sort of business with the Clippers is yet another patently absurd idea that, in this environment, is every bit as plausible as anything else we’ve heard.)

If all of this hinged on the return of an injured stars like, say, Kobe Bryant or Rajon Rondo, all of the hand-wringing over the minutiae would make a little more sense. Any time there is a potential blockbuster deal to be made, you have to be willing to listen. Ainge has always been willing to do so and the Lakers and Clippers have not been strangers to the blockbuster in recent seasons (both Paul and Howard were acquired via blockbuster deals).

But for all of this to rest on the shoulders of Paul’s backup, albeit a talented young player in his own right, just doesn’t seem right.

Report: Sixers’ Collins To Resign



HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – After an experiment gone terribly wrong, Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins could be gone.

Collins has already informed ownership that he does not plan to return to the Sixers’ bench for the final year of his contract, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

Collins, 62, has one year left on a four-year deal, but has told management he won’t return in that job. Collins’ possible return to the franchise in another role – perhaps in the front office – hasn’t been ruled out, a source said.

Ownership wanted him to return for the final season of a contract that would’ve paid him $4.5 million, one source said, but Collins informed owner Josh Harris of his decision to leave in recent days.

The news comes just hours after USA Today reported that John Langel, Collins’ agent, said: “[Doug is] the coach, and he’ll continue to be the coach.”

A summer trade for Andrew Bynum forced the Sixers to take apart the team that surprised with last season’s run to the Eastern Conference semifinals. Andre Iguodala (Denver), Nikola Vucevic  and Moe Harkless (Orlando) helped form the nucleus of what was expected to be one of the most promising young teams in the Eastern Conference before the blockbuster trade, which also involved the Magic sending Dwight Howard to the Lakers.

But Bynum missed the entire season with knee issues that ultimately required surgery. The Sixers season fizzled as well; they are ninth place in the East, leaving a frustrated Collins to try and pick up the pieces.


Heat Still Hunting Worthy Adversaries



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – This is the Miami Heat team general managers around the NBA hoped they’d never see.

LeBron James at the zenith of his basketball powers, Dwyane Wade doing his best to match LeBron play for jaw-dropping play and Chris Bosh ready at all times to take advantage of the attention being paid to those superstars. The supporting cast, led by Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, Ray Allen and others appear to be settled in and braced for whatever comes their way between now and The Finals.

Sure, we’re still two months away from the end of the regular season. And anything can happen between now and The Finals. But you’re lying to yourself if you don’t admit that the Heat look like a team without a true equal in this league right now. Everyone else, even the mightiest of the mighty from the Western Conference, seem to be playing for second place.

The San Antonio Spurs looked like they were on a collision course for a while, but that was before Tony Parker went down with an injury and we learned he’d miss the next month with that sprained ankle.

Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder have shown themselves to a worthy foe, but they don’t appear to be appreciably better than the team the Heat took apart in The Finals last year (when Wade and Bosh were playing injured). Plus, the Heat swept the regular-season series with them after a 4-1 victory in The Finals last season.

Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks waxed the Heat twice earlier this season and had them on the ropes early Sunday at Madison Square Garden before folding under the relentless pressure the Heat applied.

The Indiana Pacers believe themselves to be a worthy adversary for the reigning champs. And we’ll find out for sure Sunday night in Miami when these two play their final regular season game. But believing you are ready and actually being ready for the challenge of dethroning this Heat team are two different things.

If you don’t believe it, check with the Boston Celtics, who possess all the confidence needed but lack the raw materials to complete the task.

Kobe Bryant and the reconstructed Los Angeles Lakers were built to deal with any team, including the Heat. But we all know how that plan has worked out to date.

We’d even held out hope that the Los Angeles Clippers, as fresh a story as we’ve had in the league in years, could vault themselves into the conversation of elite teams that could contend with the Heat. But we’ve seen the separation between Chris Paul and his crew and the truly elite outfits in some of their recent head-to-head matchups.

Have the Heat reached that point when they no longer need to look over their shoulder to see where the rest of the pack is in relation to them? Are they racing against history and their own dreams of a dynasty as opposed to the other teams with title dreams?

If the answer to those questions is yes, the Heat can point to one crucial change in their chemistry and makeup that has led them to their current dominant state of being (they’re going for a franchise-record 15th straight win tonight at Minnesota, 8 p.m. ET on NBA TV).

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has found the perfect mix to surround James with. Spoelstra has a system that allows the most dynamic and dominant force in the game today the freedoms to not only assert himself when need be (as he did in the fourth quarters in weekend wins over the Memphis Grizzlies and Knicks), but also to play his game without the need to conform to anyone else’s notion of what a superstar of his caliber in this situation should be.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports breaks it down beautifully here:

For everyone else who insists that Heat president Pat Riley is vital to James’ future, make no mistake: Staying with coach Erik Spoelstra will mean even more to James’ future.

Spoelstra’s been tough enough to stand firm with a mercurial star, and innovative enough to expand the Heat’s offense and defense to deepen James’ impact on winning and losing.

Before Miami, James could be so easily distracted in the 24-7 news cycle of minutiae. These days, ESPN analysts are baiting him with a $1 million offer to participate in the dunk contest on All-Star weekend. This isn’t the 1980s and early ’90s, when even superstars needed All-Star weekend to market themselves.

Those days are over, and James has come to understand that with him, less is more. Once, the contest was necessary for Michael Jordan, but today’s stars – least of all James – don’t need it.

“Right now, it doesn’t stand anywhere,” James said Sunday. “Right now, I’m focused on what we’re doing as a team.”

That would be focused on steamrolling the competition and running away from the pack, two things that have come into clear focus in recent weeks.

When they were introduced to the public, the Heat stars predicted they’d win multiple titles during their time together. Well, we’re not ready to hand over any hardware before it’s time … but surely you can understand why they’d be confident right now.

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Ball Is In Ainge’s Court Now



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That cold wind that blew through Boston for the second straight weekend — courtesy of a deflating development with one of the city’s beloved professional teams — was actually felt all over the NBA world.

Much like the news out of Chicago last spring when Derrick Rose tore his ACL, Sunday’s news that Celtics All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo‘s season had come to an abrupt end with the discovery of an ACL tear in his right knee forces a reshuffling of things in front offices league-wide.

With the Feb. 21 trade deadline approaching, any and every NBA GM who has Celtics boss Danny Ainge on speed dial is looking over their own assets as they prepare to call him and gauge his mood. Instead of taking his time and surveying the landscape as he attempts to rebuild the Celtics around Rondo, an All-Star starter for the first time in his career this season, Ainge now has to decide if it’s time to start over in Boston.

With all due respect to Celtics coach Doc Rivers, a longtime HT fave, the time to write that obit on these Celtics is upon us. This idea that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the rest of this inconsistent Celtics crew is anything other than a first-round out (provided they make the playoffs, of course) seems a bit far-fetched.

They were struggling with Rondo, their best player. To assume they’ll do anything other than that without him … again, far-fetched.

Ainge has never been shy about taking risks before, so we can’t imagine he’d go conservative this time around. Rondo will return from this setback and he should remain one of the cornerstones of the franchise’s rebuilding project. Ainge has to decide if Pierce, a Celtic his entire career, and Garnett stick around or not.

The Big 3 era in Boston ended last season when the Heat pushed past the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, so there is no need for some burial ceremony for these guys. This is strictly a business situation for Ainge. Find the best possible scenario to deal either Pierce or Garnett (one but not both) and whatever periphery pieces that need to be included to facilitate a deal, and then patch up the rest for the future.

The list of younger players available on the trade deadline market seems to increase by the day. Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, Josh Smith are all talented players who could be available by the Feb. 21 deadline. Add one or two of those impact players to a young core that includes Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and a healthy Rondo (whenever he returns) and you’re talking about a nucleus capable of keeping the Celtics in the playoff mix and beyond.

Assembling a championship-caliber team, however, will require Ainge to be much more ambitious. It also requires a more intricate long-term plan, with whatever Ainge does next just a small piece of that larger puzzle.

In the immediate aftermath of the Rondo news, Rivers suggested that the next man will step up and take over for Rondo. And maybe a man who stepped away — Keyon Dooling — will come back and try to help fill the void. While that’s showing an extreme amount of confidence in a roster that has struggled with adjusting to its roles all season, it’s an admirable stance to take. It’s also easier said than done.

Whatever happens, know that Ainge’s fingerprints will be all over it, as Ainge explained to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

“In our situation, you can’t just philosophically say, ‘We’re going to do this,’ ” Ainge told Yahoo! Sports. “You have to tell me what it is. You have to tell me what opportunities we have.”

“Here’s the thing: If I wanted to say, ‘Hey, let’s play for the future,’ that’s hard to do. And if I play only for the ‘here and now,’ that’s hard to do.”

Those kinds of trades are hard to do, Ainge meant.

“I’m going to look and see what opportunities are there, like any other year,” Ainge said. “Last year, I was close to making a change that I felt would give us a better chance in the here and now, and in the future. And those are hard to do.”

When Ainge goes looking to see what opportunities are out there, the rest of the league’s executives need to keep eyes on their phones, because something big is bound to happen.

The ball is in Ainge’s court now and the rest of the NBA world is on alert!