LeBron, The HEAT and The Circus: The moment of truth is coming, the problem is it may not be today. After what could only be described as a circus of a day yesterday, things in South Beach took an interesting twist after a private jet said to be carrying a front office contingent from the Cleveland Cavaliers landed in Ft. Lauderdale for a supposed meeting with HEAT free agent LeBron James.
Immediately following said meeting, reports surfaced that James would be meeting with Pat Riley this week to resolve the situation and bring closure to the rampant speculation about James’ future in Miami.
There have been countless tweets and “sources” claiming to have it on authority that James would do this or James would do that, but the truth of the matter is that no one has a real sense of what James is going to do. Unlike 2010’s trip through free agency, where there was a wealth of information flowing from his side, this go around James’ camp has been mostly quiet, extremely guarded and absolutely non-committal to everyone on every subject.
Several NBA executives that are in Orlando for Summer League that tried to get an audience with James said frankly that they did not believe there was a window to obtain James away from Miami and that all the meetings and posturing from James’ side was more about agent Rich Paul using this uncertainty to get meetings for his other clients including restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe.
The holding pattern James has placed not only the HEAT but other would-be suitors in is real. No one wants to close off cap space or flexibility and then find that LeBron wants to seriously shop for a new team.
Equally, LeBron’s teammates in Miami have been holding the line on other conversations until James decided where he wants to be. There have been reports that HEAT forward Chris Bosh is in demand, and while that may rightly be so, Bosh himself has not taken any meetings or held any conversations.
Bosh’s agent Henry Thomas, who also represents Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem spoke with Ira Winderman in Orlando yesterday and did not seem to be buying into the hype surrounding the HEAT’s potential demise or more importantly his clients going elsewhere. Agents in their nature are not always the most honest and open people with the media, but there was a real ‘be careful what you buy into’ vibe.
There have been a lot of salary “demands” that have made their way into the process via the media that simply do not appear to be real, and league executive after league executive cautioned that everyone should slow down on this front and that the race to be in the front of the line on this story seems to be breeding some inaccuracies.
The prevailing thought around the HEAT as of yesterday was that Miami was not trying to clear cap space, that re-signing Wade, Bosh and James to large, market reflective contracts was always in the plan and that filling the roster out with cap exception type players was going to be the outcome. The HEAT still hold the Bird rights to all of their players, so exceeding the salary cap, including getting over the luxury tax line was always on the table.
The HEAT did approach players with a salary space based plan, but that was contingent on getting top tier guys to come to Miami. Plan A likely had the Big Three in Miami taking less to add a fourth upper tier player, but Plan B, which is likely what gets executed, is built around some of the names that have surfaced recently taking deals based on possible cap exceptions. That’s why guys like Marvin Williams, Anthony Morrow and Jameer Nelson are being linked to the HEAT because those guys could be had on Mid-Level and the Bi-Annual cap exception based deals.
The two most important things to know on this front are that nothing has been decided and there is a real rush to fill the void.
Closure on this subject is coming, hopefully this week, however there is no real sense of how this is going to play out, just a lot of people talking, and that’s not expected to stop until a decision is reached.
There is a void and it must be filled, because in the 24-hour news cycle, there can be no down time.
Carmelo, The Lakers and The Answer: So stop me if you heard this one. Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love walk into a gym together…
No, it’s not the set up for a joke, it’s the set up for a speculation filled day regarding the future of the Los Angeles Lakers and a free agent named Carmelo.
As much as things went chaotic in Miami yesterday, the same happened in LA when tweets and reports surfaced that Bryant, Anthony and Love all played a pickup game together at UCLA. The fine folks at UCLA, never missing a chance to use such a workout to help their recruiting, gladly tweeted about it.
And with Anthony still undecided, there was renewed enthusiasm that he could be seriously leaning towards taking a maximum contract from the Lakers and joining up with Kobe full-time.
Anthony has said from the beginning of the process that he would be taking the holiday weekend to mull his options before making a decision; most have believed that to mean a Monday decision, although there were no hard fast commitments made on an answer to the teams Anthony has met with.
The Bulls, Rockets and Mavericks have started conversations back-up plans if they miss out on Anthony. The Mavericks are targeting Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, while Houston is trying to catch Chris Bosh if he falls out of Miami. The Bulls have shifted to Pau Gasol in some ways and have tried to reengage Luol Deng.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported last night that should Bosh really have interest in Houston, that the HEAT would look to Anthony as his replacement in Miami, casting more clouds and doubt on an Anthony decision today, especially with James not expected to meet with HEAT president Pat Riley until later in the week.
Lost in all the hype of Anthony and Lakers, is the continued prevailing belief that the Anthony frontrunner is still the New York Knicks.
The redoubtable Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com is reporting that the Knicks see the Lakers as a real threat to land Anthony, but at the same time also acknowledge that the Knicks seem to be in the front seat regarding Anthony.
The Lakers are pitching a win-now scenario built around a core of Anthony, Bryant, a re-signed Gasol and incoming rookie Julius Randle. On paper this sounds great, however the total number of NBA games played by those players over the last two seasons minus Anthony is hardly confidence inspiring. Bryant missed all but six games last season, and logged 78 games the season prior. Gasol was good for 60 games last season and just 49 games the season before.
Much like James and the HEAT, the Lakers are in something of a holding pattern waiting on Anthony, and given the very fluid nature of what’s happening around the league, nailing down what he’ll do still remains very unclear and more importantly there is no real sense of when he’ll make his decision either.
Notes From Summer League: The annual Summer League in Orlando is entering its third day today and while it hasn’t been the prettiest basketball, it is basketball. In many cases, it’s been a chance to see some of the rookies get some run, and to see some of the second-year guys play bigger more expanded roles.
With a large chunk of the league’s executives in one place, getting fresh intel is one of the by-products of enduring summer ball.
The Sixers’ Plan: The Philadelphia 76ers have a plan. They have a plan for pseudo rookie Nerlens Noel and for first round draft pick Joel Embiid.
Last year, the 76ers traded for Noel, knowing that he may not play his first season in the NBA as he recovered from an ACL tear in college. The 76ers mapped out a set of milestones with Noel, and they worked towards them aggressively. Noel could have played the final 10 games or so of the regular season, but both Noel and the 76ers decided that it would be better to take the entire offseason and prepare from a fresh start with Summer League.
The Sixers are not going to be foolish with Noel in Summer action; they sat him yesterday simply to give his body time to recover from his first game action in 18 months. There is no point in throwing too much at Noel in Summer League, instead they’re going to ease him into game action over the course of the next few weeks. Philadelphia is playing in both Summer Leagues, so Noel is expected to log some significant game time, but not at the expense of over doing it.
The Sixers’ plan to use the same approach with Joel Embiid. The plan is to craft a series of accomplishments and milestones and when Embiid has cleared all of those milestones, he’ll play. There is no artificial timeline for that. It will happen when it happens and it will happen when its complete – other factors will not be a consideration as the Sixers take a long-term view of Embiid’s rehab and plan to be ultra conservative.
The sad news of Summer League is always injuries and the Sixers suffered a massive one to Pierre Jackson who ruptured his Achilles after about six minutes of game action on Day One.
The 76ers have flown Jackson back to Philadelphia to see their doctors and develop a plan for potential surgery and rehab. The Sixers are somewhat limited in what they can do for Jackson without signing him to a contract. The Sixers will likely take care of all of Jackson’s medical and rehab, but the question remains will they sign him to a contract and guarantee him a little money? That is very much up in the air at this point, but the expectation is that Jackson will get taken care of and given an opportunity to showcase for Philly once he’s healthy.
Ben Gordon And The Magic: On the surface, the pending signing of Ben Gordon in Orlando did not make a lot of sense. However, after talking with Magic sources and with Gordon himself, the decision makes a little more sense.
The Magic had identified an offseason need for a veteran shooter, someone they could put on the floor in limited minutes that could knock down shots. After watching guys like Jodie Meeks land monster paydays, the Magic sensed a pricey market for shooting was coming and made the deal with Gordon.
Gordon has some history with Magic executives, who had him in Chicago and Detroit respectively. There was a real comfort level with Gordon as a person, and they really felt like he would fit into their locker room without much issue.
There is no doubting that this is a low-risk contract even at $4.5 million, with the second year being an option year. The two comments that rang true about the pending deal is that Orlando does not expect Ben to play the veteran leader role, that’s just not who Gordon is as a player. They also don’t expect that he’ll play a ton of minutes.
There is a sense that Gordon needs this to work for his future in the NBA as much as Orlando needs the signing to pan out.
If Gordon becomes a problem, which the Magic don’t expect, they could always waive him or send him away, but both sides are coming into this with their eyes wide open and with an honest understanding of what is needed and what is happened in the past and the Magic seem to be giving Ben a fresh start.
Gordon talked with several reporters yesterday in Orlando including our own Alex Kennedy about his decision and what he expects from his time in Orlando.
Brooklyn’s Roster Spots: There were a couple of prevailing thoughts around the Brooklyn Nets’ summer squad. The first thought being that Brooklyn is going to have some open roster spots; and given where they are capwise, filling those spots with NBA minimum guys is expected.
Several guys on the summer squad commented that they were told that its possible Paul Pierce is gone, although Pierce is still weighing his future. Guard Shaun Livingston has already agreed to a deal with the Warriors and free agents Andray Blatche and Alan Anderson are questionable on their return as well.
The Nets have nine guaranteed contracts on their roster for the upcoming season worth a whopping $88.4 million. Any new money they give out to their free agents would be taxed, so that is said to be weighing on how aggressive the Nets will be in retaining guys from their roster last season.
Basketball insiders will keep you up-to-date on all things Summer League including news, notes and interviews. You can find all the summer league action here: 2014 NBA Summer League.
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NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.