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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NBA AM: Was Watson Setup To Fail or Just Ill Equipped?
Was Phoenix’s Earl Watson setup to fail or did he just not have the tools and experience to overcome the tenuous job of a rebuild?
Set Up To Fail? Maybe
The Phoenix Suns have parted ways with head coach Earl Watson just three games into the 2017-18 season. Associate head coach Jay Triano is expected to be his replacement as interim head coach.
Some have suggested that Watson was set up to fail, but let’s be honest for a minute. Was Watson really the best option the Suns had after parting ways with Jeff Hornacek during the 2015-16 season? Watson was well liked and that an easy and intoxicating concept, but even as an interim coach Watson won just nine games in 33 tries.
It’s not as if Watson took the team in a totally new direction; the Suns were a bad team when they took the gamble on Watson. Moving the needle wasn’t exactly likely when the massive inexperienced Watson took over the team. Is anyone really surprised he couldn’t make it work?
Sure, the roster and the priorities of the franchise were an uphill climb, but let’s be real for a minute: The Suns couldn’t have expected Watson to have the tools to bring it all together. Rebuilding is hard all by itself, and doing so with a head coach that has never coached isn’t exactly smart. In fact, it rarely works out.
It’s easy to say Watson was set up to fail, but equally easy to say he never had the experience to believe he’d be successful. It was a gamble on the Suns’ part, a gamble that ran its course.
So What Next?
The Suns are not very good, as three straight blow out losses have proven. It’s possible that Triano can make enough changes to at least get the Suns to compete, but the word in NBA circles was the Suns locker room had basically quit after three games, so Triano’s task may be tough for even a coach that been around the block a few times.
Like Watson, Triano is incredibly likable and approachable, but unlike Watson, Triano has experience. Triano has experience not only as a head coach, having coached the Toronto Raptors for three years, but he is the head coach of the Canadian National Team and has been on the Team USA and Portland Trail Blazers staff as an assistant. While Triano’s stint in Toronto looked a lot like Watson’s stint in Phoenix, the big difference is Triano has been around a lot more situations and may be better equipped to put a system and structure in place that could yield improvement, or at least that’s the newest bet the Suns are making.
With Triano at the helm, it’s also likely that the front office will have a better relationship than what’s emerged in Watson’s time in Phoenix. General Manager Ryan McDonough and Watson haven’t exactly been on the same page, and Watson had grown emboldened enough to make it clear in the media somethings were not in his control, often taken subtle shots at decisions made by the front office.
It is rare for inexperience and dysfunction to yield success. The hope is Triano will smooth some of that over.
“I Dont wanna be here.”
As news of Watson’s firing began to leak Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, who had a very good relationship with Watson, took to Twitter to announce “I Dont wanna be here.”
Bledsoe has been a constant name in NBA trade circles for the last few years, and with Watson out of the picture, Bledsoe seems to be looking for the door too.
The 27-year-old Bledsoe has two more seasons remaining on his deal, $14.5 million this season and $15 million owed for next season. The Suns have listened to offers on Bledsoe off and on for some time, with many in NBA circles believing this would be the season the Suns would finally trade him.
With Watson, a long-time champion of Bledsoe, out of the picture, there is a belief that Bledsoe’s role is going to decrease, which is likely why Bledsoe took to Twitter.
Pulling off a trade three games into the season seems highly unlikely, especially given that Bledsoe has likely killed his own trade value. There have been several teams over the last two seasons with interest in Bledsoe; the question is, will the Suns close this chapter or try and see if Bledsoe can help them right the ship under Triano and rebuild some trade value when the trade market opens up in December?
Of the Phoenix Suns’ $85.448 million in guaranteed contracts, $41.11 million belongs to Bledsoe, injured guard Brandon Knight and center Tyson Chandler. You can toss $10 million more for injured forward Jared Dudley. While Bledsoe and Chandler have played in all three regular-season games, both are not part of the long-term future of the team.
The question becomes, what role will they play under Triano?
The Suns are truly a tale of two teams. There is the old veteran squad that is clogging up the top of the Suns salary cap chart, and there are rookie scale players that are the future, and not coincidentally the players performing at their worst so far this season.
Will the Suns just let the $41.11 million owed at the top just sit, or will the Suns try and fire-sale some of those veterans? The belief is they would like to do the latter.
As much as people may want to say Watson was set up to fail, the evidence in the situation is he was never proven enough to succeed.
The Suns are in a dreadful no-man’s land of bad contracts and underperforming players. Maybe a more proven established coach could have set this situation in a better direction, but the reality is Watson was never experienced enough to handle a rebuild like this because getting the most out of players while losing is a very tough job even for the most experienced of coaches.
Watson, like many before him, will find another job in the NBA. Maybe like Triano who is replacing him, he can take the lessons learned in Phoenix and become a better coach somewhere down the road and get a shot with a team that wouldn’t require as much as the Suns desperately need.
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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise
The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.
He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.
He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.
Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.
The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.
“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.
“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.
So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.
As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.
In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.
But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.
So is Porzingis.
Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.
In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.
Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.
And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.
“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.
“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”
Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.
Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.
The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.
So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.
Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.
If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.
So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.
Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.
To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.
When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.
He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.
And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.
With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word.
It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.
For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.
In this town, that’s more than half the battle.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.