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NBA PM: Dragic Discusses State Of the HEAT

Goran Dragic on the loss of Dwyane Wade, chemistry with Hassan Whiteside, injuries and Miami’s playoff goal.

Lang Greene

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When the Miami HEAT acquired point guard Goran Dragic at the trade deadline during the 2014-15 campaign, the franchise was still reeling from the impact of losing four-time MVP LeBron James in free agency the previous summer.

Miami was desperately seeking reinforcements after losing arguably the best player in the game for nothing in return and the prevailing thought was that Dragic would become a key supporting cast member alongside All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Team president Pat Riley had also given center Hassan Whiteside a chance to salve his NBA career.

Fast forward almost two years. Wade is now lacing his high tops for the Chicago Bulls after departing in free agency this past summer and Bosh’s future is uncertain due to a recurring blood clot condition. The team is now being led by the duo of Dragic and Whiteside, who are now the team’s best players.

Ready or not, the HEAT are now carving out a new identity. But the 2016-17 campaign has gotten off to a rough start. As if overcoming the absences of Bosh and Wade wasn’t daunting enough, the roster has been ravaged by injuries to start the season.

Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Dragic to discuss the departure of future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade, being thrust into an expanded role, injuries ravaging the HEAT, his chemistry with center Hassan Whiteside and whether he thinks the team can still make a run at the playoffs.

Basketball Insiders: Goran, have you ever been a part of something like this? With all the injuries, how are you guys getting through this?

Goran Dragic: “If I’m honest, no, never. This is the most injuries that I was a part of and we just need to play. I know we don’t have enough guys, but we never use excuses. So, hopefully after this road trip, the guys are going to come back. It is what it is – this is part of the business, part of the NBA – and we’re going through some tough times. We just need to be focused and look [at the] positive.”

Basketball Insiders: You were banged up earlier in the season and are playing a lot of minutes now. How are you holding up?

Goran Dragic: “I’m good. The body isn’t a 100 percent of course, but I feel pretty awesome. I’m in good shape. I had some problems at the beginning of the season, but now I’m okay.”

Basketball Insiders: Now, with Wade leaving, of course, and Bosh not being around, a lot of this team’s offense is about the chemistry between you and Hassan Whiteside. How do you think you two guys are getting along together on the court? Do you feel like the cohesion is getting stronger?

Goran Dragic: “Yeah. Me and Hassan, we have a good chemistry. We worked on it a lot last season and we feel like that every game is better and better. Even now, I know what he’s going to do, he knows what I’m going to do, so we’re on the same page.

“But still, this is a young team, we have a lot of newer faces than last year, and we just need to find that good chemistry that we had in the preseason. But, it’s kind of hard because with all those injuries, players are out [so] it’s always a different starting lineup or different players on the floor. Hopefully, that won’t happen in the future.”

Basketball Insiders: Obviously, when you got to Miami, Wade was such a big part of the culture. When you found out he was leaving, were you in a bit of a shock?

Goran Dragic: “Yeah, I was in shock because he was there 13 years. I would never imagine he was going to go somewhere else because, the Miami HEAT, everyone knows that was D-Wade’s team. But I understand, this is a part of the business. When that happened, I was talking with him and I wished him all the best in Chicago. He’s a good friend of mine, and it is what it is. We’re all professionals, so we need to do our jobs and I had to embrace a new, bigger role, but I’m fine with that.”

Basketball Insiders: I know you guys are still just trying to work through some things and trying to get healthy, but do you think this squad has the talent to make a playoff run this season?

Goran Dragic: “I think so. We’ve shown how we can play. I know the record doesn’t show that, but most of those games were real close, it was only like three or four points difference. It’s just those little things that we need to correct. But, like I said before, with all those injuries it’s really hard to find continuity with all those players. Hopefully, we’re done with injuries and we can focus on that.”

Miami is currently 7-15, which puts them in the 13th seed in the Eastern Conference. The HEAT are ranked 14th in defense (allowing 103 points per 100 possessions) and they’re ranked 24th in offense (scoring 100.4 points per 100 possessions).

Miami will face two familiar faces today and tomorrow, as they play LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers tonight and then Dwyane Wade and the Chicago Bulls tomorrow – with both games being on the road.

 

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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NBA AM: LeBron James’ Quest For Eighth Straight Finals

Despite playing 30 minutes in preseason, LeBron James dazzled in the season opener with an impressive stat line.

Lang Greene

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Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star forward LeBron James has been known for his durability ever since entering the league in 2003. Despite an annual heavy workload, James has played less than 70 games just twice in 14 seasons. One of those campaigns was the strike shortened 2012 season, in which in he appeared in 62 out of 66 contests.

Heading into the season opener on Tuesday there were concerns that James wouldn’t be able to lace them up due to an ankle injury suffered during a preseason in which he logged only 30 minutes. However, James not only suited up but he was the primary driving force in the team’s 102-99 victory over the Boston Celtics.

James finished the contest with 29 points, 16 rebounds and 9 assists on 12-of-19 shooting from the floor. Yet, after the game James was transparent about his physical conditioning – or lack thereof.

“I’m out of shape, very out of shape for my expectations,” James told the press after the Cavaliers’ defeated the Celtics in Tuesday’s season opener. “Rightfully so. I haven’t been able to play during the preseason. I played one game [and] reinjured my ankle. I don’t like where I’m at right now.”

James has a reputation for going to extreme lengths to keep his body in tip-top shape, but Tuesday night’s performance didn’t appear to be the work of a man struggling to keep up.

While the Golden State Warriors are the favorites to once again hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at season’s end, the Cavaliers are expected to make their fourth straight appearance in the NBA Finals – representing the Eastern Conference.

But Cleveland has plenty of question marks to start the season.

The Cavaliers are still integrating former league MVP Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Jeff Green into the rotation. Two starters from previous seasons, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson, are now adjusting to roles off the bench and presumably reduced minutes. This doesn’t even take into consideration the impending unrestricted free agency status of James, Rose and Thomas next summer which will become a daily outlet of speculation.

James acknowledged the team is still adjusting on the fly and building chemistry where possible.

“The most important thing is we got the win,” James said. “It’s going to be a learning experience for us because we got seven new guys, putting in a new system and every game is going to be a learning experience.

James has been able to avoid serious injury throughout his career and the preseason ankle injury appears to be a thing of the past.

“It’s a little sore,” James said about his tweaked ankle. “But I’d figured that much.”

“We don’t play again until Friday, so I get a couple of days. But I have to get some conditioning in as well. So it’s going to be a fine line for me [Do I] rest my ankle trying to get in healthy or do I continue to get some conditioning in because I need it. We have a great support staff and I’ll be fine.

Other Opening Night Observations

Boston Celtics (99) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (102)

  • Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward, one of the team’s marquee offseason acquisitions, suffered a fractured ankle early in the first quarter
  • Celtics forwards Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum combined for 39 points and 16 rebounds
  • Celtics guard Kyrie Irving recorded 10 assists in his Boston debut. Last season with the Cavaliers he posted eight games of 10+ assists
  • Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson played 20 minutes off the bench. Last season the forward averaged 29,9 per contest

Houston Rockets (122) vs. Golden State Warriors (121)

 

  • The Rockets outscored the Warriors 34-20 in the fourth quarter to steal a victory at Oracle Arena on ring ceremony night
  • Rockets role players P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon combined for 44 points on 15-of-25 shooting from the floor in the victory
  • Rockets guard Chris Paul recorded 11 assists in his debut, but shot just 2-of-9 from the floor and totaled four points
  • Warriors forward Draymond Green left the game in the second half due to a knee sprain. At the time of his departure, Green had posted 9 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists
  • Veteran guard Nick Young led the Warriors in scoring with 23 points on 6-of-7 shooting from three-point range in the opener

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A Few Good Free Agents Left

David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.

David Yapkowitz

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The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.

A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.

For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.

David Lee

Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.

He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.

Deron Williams

Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.

After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.

Monta Ellis

Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.

He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.

Leandro Barbosa

The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.

He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.

Derrick Williams

The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.

During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.

With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year

Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.

Buddy Grizzard

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With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.

“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”

Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.

“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”

In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.

“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”

Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.

“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”

One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.

“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”

Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.

“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”

The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.

“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”

With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.

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