The Truths Of The Miami HEAT: Four straight NBA Finals appearances, four Eastern Conference championships and two NBA championships.
Let that sink in for a minute. Then ask yourself, how was this a disappointing season for the Miami HEAT?
Sure, the HEAT did not come away with championship number three, but few teams have. How many teams have looked their best in a fourth straight Finals appearance? Not many. There is a reason we’ve never seen a four-peat in the modern NBA.
To get as deep as Miami has gotten, it eats up players. Most teams in Miami’s position stock up on older veterans so this happens to everyone, eventually. The HEAT were historically worn down, playing more postseason games over the last four seasons than any other team in NBA history over a four-year span.
Yes, the HEAT got worked by the San Antonio Spurs. So did the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers. The Dallas Mavericks were the only team that really made the Spurs sweat.
So let’s give a little credit to the Spurs for playing amazing basketball and maybe dial back the doom and gloom surrounding the HEAT.
There is no doubting that there are going to be changes in Miami, but the odds are that the three guys making the most money, you know the ones who delivered the championships for the previous two seasons, are going to be back and that a new, more balanced supporting cast will be brought in. So let’s dig into what’s next in Miami:
You Come To The King, The King Doesn’t Come To You
For whatever insane reason there is this belief that HEAT star LeBron James is packed and ready to move on to another team, that he has been secretly waiting for this summer so he can land somewhere else. Maybe a dysfunctional Cleveland Cavalier team? Who is their head coach today? Maybe he’ll bolt to the Los Angeles Lakers to be with Kobe Bryant and be the future of their franchise, but how many games did Kobe play last year? What is so attractive about their roster again?
There is a truth to be told here: The teams that could lure LeBron away do not have the means to lure him away. But before you even get to lure him away, you have to get him to believe that Pat Riley and Micky Arison are not going to re-tool this team to get right back to the Finals next year.
Who is closer to another Finals run in the East than the HEAT?
James has two years and $42 million left on his contract, a contract that will pay him $20.59 million next season and $22.11 million after that if he opts in.
He has options, which gives him power, and he will surely flex his muscle a little to ensure that the HEAT as a team and an organization do whatever it takes to re-fit and get back. That’s why it’s good to have contract options.
Dwyane Wade Is Not Dead
To listen to how people talk about Wade, it’s as if they didn’t notice he scored 17.8 points a game in the postseason and shot a scorching 50 percent from the field. Wade was the difference maker in a couple of the games against Indiana, but like most of the HEAT players, he did not play well against the Spurs.
News flash, Russell Westbrook didn’t play incredibly well against the Spurs either; he shot the ball about eight more times a game than Wade did.
Might the Spurs have had a little something to do with how effective Wade was?
There is no doubting that Wade’s body is breaking down and that going forward he’ll need to play a very different kind of role, but some talk about Wade as though he must retire or that LeBron can’t win with him. This overlooks the fact that LeBron did win with Wade. They won for the last four years all the way to the NBA Finals.
What has to happen for Wade is that he can’t make $20 million a year next year, so that the HEAT have the flexibility to add more support players. Like James, Wade has the option for free agency and has two years and some $41 million left on his deal that will pay him $20.164 million and $21.655 million respectively.
The question isn’t whether Wade can contribute, he clearly can, the question is how can Miami add to what Wade may no longer be able to do for 40 minutes a game.
Everybody Hates Chris
Fifty percent shooting from the field, 16.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, one block a game and a PER of 19.11. Who wouldn’t take that from their third option?
By the way, Chris Bosh’s best season in Toronto was 24 points and 10 rebounds a game on 51.8 percent shooting as the primary option. He is really not that far off production wise considering the role he plays. And by the way, he doesn’t get to choose the role he plays.
There is an underlying truth in this equation: There are only so many touches and shots in a NBA game, and when you want LeBron to lead the way he does, that means others won’t be as productive as they can be.
Like Wade, Bosh clearly can be more for the HEAT than he showed against the Spurs – again maybe we need to credit the Spurs a little.
Like LeBron, Bosh’s contract has two more years remaining worth roughly $42 million; $20.59 million next season and $22.11 million after that.
Bosh has already said he’ll be back in Miami next year, meaning he either gets a new deal or he stays in his current one.
It’s easy to point to Bosh and say he has to go, but the truth is he has won the HEAT a lot of games, and while he’s highly paid as a third option, you got two championships out of it. That’s the cost of doing business.
Not Too Much To Deal With
Outside of the James, Wade and Bosh, the HEAT have three other contracts worth talking about.
Udonis Haslem has a player option worth $4.62 million; that’s a lot for what Haslem brings to the table. But let’s say he takes the option, does he really make any money the following year in the summer of 2015 or is he a minimum guy?
So he’ll make $4.6 million next year and maybe $1.2 million as a veteran minimum player next year. That gets him to two years and $5.8 million. Hold on to that number, we’ll come back to it.
Chris Andersen has a player option of his own worth $1.44 million. He already said he plans to opt out of that deal, so we can pull that off the books. That leaves Norris Cole’s guaranteed $2.03 million.
The HEAT have the 26th pick in next week’s NBA Draft and assuming they keep the player they draft there, that’s a $991,600 cap hold.
The HEAT are not in a tough spot salary wise, outside of the Big Three.
Time To Work The System
The solution for Miami isn’t overly difficult; in fact you may not even need a calculator to work this one out.
The Big Three have roughly two years and $42 million remaining. If all three opt-out and sign new five-year, $85 million deals, their first year salary drops from roughly $21 million to $14.04 million, and escalates up to about where they currently are today.
Not great for LeBron, but excellent for Bosh and Wade in that they get the $42 million owed to them and another $43 million for helping keep the band together.
Haslem has $4.6 million left as we covered above. He declines his option and gets a new three-year deal worth $6.2 million. His $4.6 million drops to $1.87 million, but he stays in the NBA and more importantly plays in Miami for three more seasons.
Assuming Andersen is off the books as he says, he could still be re-signed later as he is basically an NBA minimum guy anyway.
So let’s run the math: James ($14.04 million), Wade ($14.04 million), Bosh ($14.04 million), Haslem ($1.8 million), Cole ($2.03 million) and a draft pick ($992K) for a grand total of $46.94 million. Or, said another way, $16.05 million in useable cap space and the Big Three stay to together and can go shopping for teammates.
Those Last Years Are Ugly
So by this point you are saying, ‘Wait Bosh and Wade owed $43 million over three more years?’
Sure, and here is why.
Currently the salary cap is expected to be set at $63 million. Wade is expected to make $20.164 million or roughly 32 percent of the cap this year and likely 30 percent of the salary cap the following year.
The NBA is going to have a new national TV deal soon, and the salary cap is projected to continue to escalate and will likely be in the $75 to $80 million range as the Big Three get to the end of their newly minted deals.
Let’s say the cap gets to $77 million three years from now when Wade is slated to make $17 million again, that’s 22 percent of the cap. If it crosses $80 million as some suggest it may, then we’re talking 21.2 percent of the cap. He is making 32 percent now.
Sure, you back load what could be the ugliest years of Wade’s career and risk eating the last year, but is that worth it to the HEAT to keep the Big Three together and add potentially $16 million worth of new talent to the roster?
The HEAT are far from handcuffed if the Big Three want this winning train to keep rolling. Think about what $16 million could buy in free agency?
Here are the projected 2014-2015 NBA Free Agents; played the right way Miami could have as many as three.
The only guy that loses in this scenario is LeBron, because he could make $129 million this summer without breaking a sweat. He’d also tie himself to Wade and Bosh in ways he may not want to do.
But for the rest of the team, they kick the financial ball down the road a little and keep what’s clearly been working together.
The HEAT have options, especially if everyone wants to play ball. Before you write that concept off as improbable – that’s exactly what they did in 2010, not only to come together in Miami, but to create enough cap room to sign Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller.
Trading Up?: There has been some talk that the Philadelphia 76ers want to ensure they come away from the 2014 NBA Draft with Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins, so much so that they have talked with the Cleveland Cavaliers about trading up to the top overall pick or at least doing a deal where the Cavs draft Wiggins and a swap occurs later in the draft.
These kind of talks happen a lot in the week leading up to the draft and while the 76ers are sitting on the third pick and the 10th pick, they seem unwilling to part with both first rounders. The 76ers do seem open to giving up the third pick and some combination of second round picks they have amassed this year in trade and possibly forward Thaddeus Young.
The Cavaliers have yet to lock in on particular player and have worked out Kansas big man Joel Embiid and are set to workout Wiggins and Jabari Parker this week.
Unlike the NFL where there is sort of defined trade up value structure on draft picks, in the NBA it’s more fluid. Usually a trade up even from the third spot would require a first this year and some sort of future first. There is a sense that Cleveland might be more open to veterans in a trade up scenario if they can get a player they like in the draft and a roster player for a playoff run.
While the 76ers do seem willing to move up, they are not alone. There has been talk that the Utah Jazz would like to move into the top three and may be willing to give up some of the assets the acquired from Golden State last year for a shot at Parker.
There was also talk that guard Alec Burks could be had if it netted the Jazz Parker.
Expect the “trading of picks” chatter to pick up over the next week as teams begin to zero in on who they like.
As we do every year, we will have a NBA Draft Day Diary that will launch on Wednesday the 25, we’ll keep you up to date on all the news and notes surrounding the NBA draft and the potential trades and deals that come with it.
Look for that to drop next Wednesday.
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Emeka Okafor Impacting 2018 Western Conference Playoff Race
Sidelined for several years with a neck injury, Emeka Okafor is back in the NBA and helping the Pelicans fight for a playoff seed.
When DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles tendon, most people in and around the league assumed the New Orleans Pelicans would eventually fall out of the Western Conference Playoff race. It was a fair assumption. In 48 games this season, Cousins averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks while shooting 47 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Anthony Davis and the Pelicans had other plans. Davis put the team on his shoulders, played at an elite level and, arguably, has forced his way into the MVP race. Behind Davis’ efforts, the Pelicans are currently 39-29, have won 7 of their last 10 games and hold the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
While Davis has been carrying the team since the loss of Cousins, he has received significant help from his teammates, including Emeka Okafor.
More recent NBA fans may be less familiar with Okafor since he has been out of the league since the end of the 2012-13 season. For context, in Okafor’s last season, David Lee led the league in double-doubles, Luol Deng led the league in minutes per game and Joakim Noah made the NBA All-Defensive First Team. However, Okafor entered the NBA with a lot of excited and expectations. He was drafted second overall, right behind Dwight Howard. Okafor played in 9 relatively successful NBA seasons until being sidelined indefinitely with a herniated disc in his neck prior to the start of the 2013-14 season.
Okafor was medically cleared to play in May of last year and played in five preseason games with the Philadelphia 76ers but was ultimately waived in October, prior to the start of the regular season. However, with the injury to Cousins, the Pelicans were in need of help at the center position and signed Okafor to a 10-day contract. Okafor earned a second 10-day contract and ultimately landed a contract for the rest of this season.
Okafor has played in 14 games so far for the Pelicans has is receiving limited playing time thus far. Despite the lack of playing time, Okafor is making his presence felt when he is on the court. Known as a defensive specialist, Okafor has provided some much needed rim protection and has rebounded effectively as well.
He has been [helpful] since the day he got here,” Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said about Okafor after New Orleans’ recent victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. “I think his rim protection has been great. But, he’s capable of making a little jump shot and you can see that today. But just having him in there, his presence there has been great.”
Okafor has never been known as an elite offensive player, but he did average 15.1 points per game in his rookie season and has shown glimpses of an improved jump shot in his limited run with the Pelicans.
“You know, I’m happy it’s falling,” Okafor said after he helped seal the victory over the Clippers. “Kept in my back pocket. I was invoked to use it, so figured I’d dust it off and show it.”
Okafor was then asked if he has any other moves in his back pocket that he hasn’t displayed so far this season.
“A little bit. I don’t want to give it all,” Okafor told Basketball Insiders. “There’s a couple shots still. But we’ll see what opportunities unveil themselves coming forward.”
Okafor will never have the elite offensive skill set that Cousins has but his overall contributions have had a positive impact for a New Orleans squad that was desperate for additional production after Cousin’s Achilles tear.
“It’s impossible to replace a guy that was playing at an MVP level,” Gentry said recently. “For us, Emeka’s giving us something that we desperately missed with Cousins. The same thing with Niko. Niko’s given us something as far as spacing the floor. Between those guys, they’ve done the best they could to fill in for that. But we didn’t expect anyone to fill in and replace what Cousins was doing for us.”
Okafor is currently averaging 6.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. While his averages don’t jump off the page, it should be noted that his per minute production is surprisingly impressive. Per 36 minutes, Okafor is averaging 13.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. Those numbers are nearly identical to his averages from the 2012-13 season, though he is averaging twice as many blocks (up from 1.4).
The Pelicans have exceeded expectations and currently are ahead of teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers in the extremely tight Western Conference Playoff race. Okafor is doing more than could have reasonably been expected when he first signed with the Pelicans, though he would be the first person to pass the credit toward Anthony Davis.
When asked about Davis’ recent play, Okafor enthusiastically heaped praise toward his superstar teammate.
“It’s to the point where it’s like, ‘Alright, he has 40 doesn’t he?’ It’s impressive,” Okafor said about Davis. But it’s becoming so commonplace now.
He’s just an impressive individual. He gives it all. He’s relentless. And then off the court too, he’s a very, very nice kid. He really takes the leadership role seriously. I’m even more impressed with that part.”
There is still plenty of regular season basketball to be played and even a two-game losing streak can drastic consequences. But the Pelicans have proved to be very resilient and Okafor is confident in the team’s potential and outlook.
“I think we’re all hitting a good grove here and we’re playing very good basketball, said Okafor.”
Whether the Pelicans make the playoffs or not, it’s great to see Okafor back in the NBA and playing meaningful minutes for a team in the playoff race.
NBA Daily: Nothing’s Promised, Not Even For The Warriors
The Warriors are wounded, and with Chris Paul, the Rockets may be equipped to take advantage.
The Warriors are wounded, and for those that thought their waltzing into a four consecutive NBA Finals was a given, the Houston Rockets may have other ideas. Especially when one considers that the beloved Dubs are trying to buck history.
Steph Curry has ankle problems, Klay has a fractured thumb and Kevin Durant—the most recent of the team’s lynchpins to find himself on the disabled list—has a rib injury.
Sure, the Dubs might shake off their injuries and find themselves at or near 100 percent once the playoffs begin, but seldom do teams in the NBA get healthier as the year progresses.
Winning in the NBA is difficult. In order to take all the marbles, teams need a bunch of different ingredients, chief among them are good fortune and health. And in many ways, the two are entwined.
Simply put: the human body isn’t built to play as often and as hard as NBA players do. Those that we recognize as being among the greatest ever—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James among them—had one thing in common. They were all exceptionally durable.
Over the years, we’ve seen attrition and fragility cost the likes of Anfernee Hardaway, Yao Ming and Derrick Rose what seemed to be careers full of accolades and accomplishments. And the simple truth is that you never know which player, players or teams will be next to be undercut by injuries and progressive fatigue.
Just to keep things in perspective, the Warriors are attempting to become just the fifth team since 1970 to win at least three NBA championships in a four-year span.
The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Finals in 1985, 1987 and 1988 before Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls completed their three-peat from 1991-93. The Bulls would again do the same between 1996 and 1998, and Shaquille O’Neal and his Los Angeles Lakers accomplished the same from 2000 to 2002.
There are reasons why so few teams have been able to win as frequently as the Lakers and Bulls have, and health is certainly one of them. That’s especially interesting to note considering the fact that the Warriors may have been champions in 2016 had they had their team at full strength. Mind you, both Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala were severely limited in their abilities, while Andrew Bogut missed the fateful and decisive Game 6 and Game 7 of those Finals with injuries to his left leg.
At the end of the day, injuries are a part of the game. The best teams are often able to overcome them, while the luckiest teams often don’t have to deal with them. To this point, the Warriors have been both the best and incredibly lucky, but at a certain point, the sheer volume of basketball games is likely to have an adverse effect on at least a few members of the team.
We may be seeing that now.
En route to winning the 2015 NBA Finals, the Warriors turned in a playoff record of 16-5. In 2016, they were 15-9 and in 2017, they were 16-1. In total, the 62 playoff games would have worn a bit of tread off of their collective tires, just as their 73-9 regular season record may have. In becoming a historically great team, the Warriors have expending the energy necessary of a team wishing to remain a contender, and that’s not easy.
As an aside, those that understand the difficulty in competing at a high level every single night are the ones who rightfully give LeBron James the respect he’s due for even having the opportunity to play into June eight consecutive years. Win or lose, in terms of consistent effort and constant production, James has shown as things we’ve never seen before.
Today, it’s fair to wonder whether the Warriors have that same capability.
We’ll find out in short order.
* * * * * *
As the Houston Rockets appear headed toward ending the Warriors’ regular season reign atop the Western Conference, there’s something awfully coincidental about the fact that the team seems to have taken the next step after the addition of Chris Paul.
Paul knows a thing or two about attrition and how unlucky bouts with injuries at inopportune times can cost a team everything. As much as anything else, it probably has something to do with why Paul continues to believe in the ability of the Rockets to achieve immortality.
On the first night of the regular season, mind you, in one horrific moment, Gordon Hayward and the Boston Celtics reminded us that on any given play, the outlook of an entire season—and perhaps, even a career—can change.
A twisted knee here, a sprained ankle there, and who knows?
With just over three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Warriors—the team that everyone knew would win the Western Conference again this season—has some concerns. Their primary weapons are hurting, their chances of securing home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs are all but nil and their road to the Finals may end up being more difficult than they could have possibly imagined.
If the season ended today and the seeds held, the Warriors would draw the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round before squaring off against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.
Of all teams, the Spurs are probably the last team the Warriors would want to see in the playoffs, much less the first round. While the outcome of that series would be determined by the health of Kawhi Leonard, there’s no doubt that Gregg Popovich would at least be able to effectively game plan for Golden State.
While the Blazers might not provide incredible resistance to the Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder will enter play on March 18 just two games behind the Blazers for the third seed out West. With the two teams squaring off against one another on March 25, it’s possible for Russell Westbrook and his crew having the opportunity to square off against the Dubs in the playoffs.
For Golden State, their path to the Finals having to go through San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston would absolutely be a worst case scenario. The only thing that could make it even more terrible for Steve Kerr would be having to do it with a platoon that was less than 100 percent.
Funny. In yet another season where everyone thought that it was the Warriors and everyone else, there are quite a few questions facing the defending champs heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.
Indeed, the Warriors are wounded. And whether they can be nursed back up to full strength is perhaps the most interesting thing to watch as the calendar turns to April and playoff basketball draws nearer.
NBA Daily: The Golden State Warriors Need to Enter Rest Mode
With a bevy of injuries to their stars, the Golden State Warriors should rest up the remainder of the regular season to avoid any playoff letdowns.
After a three-year-long run of dominating the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are showing some cracks in their armor.
Granted, those cracks aren’t a result of a botched system or poor play, but rather the injury bug biting the team in full force as they come down the regular season stretch.
First, it was Steph Curry and the ankle that’s bothered him all season — and for most of his career — when he tweaked it yet again on March 8 against the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State announced he would miss at least four games. Then it was Klay Thompson, who fractured his thumb three days later against the Minnesota Timberwolves — he’ll miss at least two weeks.
Now it’s Kevin Durant. Last year’s Finals MVP suffered an incomplete rib cartilage fracture and was ruled out of Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Durant is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. The Warriors would go on to lose that contest 95-93.
In about two weeks time, the Warriors went from having one of the most formidable offenses and scoring trios in the entire league, to having Quinn Cook and Nick Young logging starter minutes.
Luckily for the Warriors, they’ve built up a big enough lead in the standings to achieve a 52-17 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. But the issue for the remainder of the season now becomes how healthy will the Warriors be come playoff time?
Curry and Durant have injury histories. Curry particularly has been bothered by this ankle since he entered the league. Without either of them, the Warriors — while still incredibly talented — will be on a completely even playing field with the Houston Rockets, and possibly other teams in the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs.
The bigger issue on top of the pending injury concerns becomes whether the Warriors should just pack it in for the rest of the regular season, and regroup for another expected title run.
Steve Kerr doesn’t seem to be thinking that way, however.
“All these injuries seem to be temporary,” Kerr told reporters. “A couple weeks, a week, two weeks – whatever. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to survive this next slate of games and hopefully, start getting guys back and get rolling again for the playoffs.”
That’s true. None of the aforementioned injuries seem to be anything more serious than a few weeks of rest and relaxation. But that’s assuming the best case scenario for these players.
Should we assume that the Warriors are without their scoring trio for the next couple of weeks as their health updates have indicated, that would put their return roughly around April 1. At that time, Golden State would have six games remaining on their schedule. Four coming against playoff teams (Oklahoma City, Indiana, New Orleans, and Utah) with the other two games against Phoenix.
After missing the last few weeks on the court, with injuries that most likely won’t be at 100 percent, tossing their most valuable contributors back into the fray against a slate of playoff teams probably isn’t the smartest idea.
At this point, the Warriors postseason position is locked up. They likely won’t take the top seed away from Houston, and their lead is big enough to keep their second seed intact regardless of who’s on the court. The only thing left now is the determining who Golden State will play in the first round. With the revolving carousel that is the playoff standings out West, that’s anybody’s guess right now.
The only thing that’s certain is whichever team coming into Oracle Arena for that first round will be battle tested and talented based off of the dogfight they had to survive just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Warriors need to be is a banged up in a postseason with their first opponent smelling blood in the water.
In all likelihood, the Warriors — should everything go according to plan — will play the Houston Rockets for a chance to return to their fourth straight NBA Finals. Only this time, a potential Game 7 won’t be at Oracle Arena. It will be in downtown Houston, at the Toyota Center.
An advantage as big as the Warriors’ homecourt can never be understated. Operating in a do-or-die situation away from home will be newfound territory for this bunch. Regardless of talent or team success, at that point, it’s anybody’s game.
It won’t be easy for the Golden State Warriors as they try to extend their dynasty’s reign. This might be their most difficult year yet.
Durant, in his own words, can’t even laugh right now without feeling pain. The league’s only unanimous MVP is operating on one and a half ankles, and the team’s second Splash Brother has an injury on his shooting hand.
Resting up the team’s stars should be the team’s top priority right now, at risk of entering the postseason hobbled. Track record means nothing if the Warriors don’t have their full arsenal at disposal when the games matter most.
Hey, a 16-seed finally won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible on a basketball court, and the Warriors should do everything possible to ensure they’re not the next major upset candidate in line.