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NBA PM: Miami Moves on Without LeBron James

The post-LeBron James era has begun in Miami, but the HEAT are confident they can remain contenders.

Alex Kennedy

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Miami HEAT Move on Without LeBron James

Even after playing in four straight NBA Finals and having a target on their back in every season since 2010, the Miami HEAT enter the 2014-15 season as underdogs. That’s what happens when the best player in the world, LeBron James, leaves a team as a free agent.

However, even without James, Miami is still very talented and determined to prove that they still have what it takes to contend in the Eastern Conference.

Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Chris Andersen, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem were re-signed over the summer, and new players such as Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts and Shabazz Napier were added to the roster. Head coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff are back as well.

“We’ve got more of a chip on our shoulder,” Haslem said. “We’ve got more of a chip on our shoulder than any team in the league, I’ll tell you that. … We’ve got a lot of guys here who’ve been doubted.”

One thing that has been clear throughout the first few days of training camp is that Spoelstra doesn’t want to hear about his previous teams. He has shot down questions from reporters who want to compare this year’s squad to last year’s, and at one point even interrupted, “Who cares about last year? This is about this team.”

“The HEAT culture, the HEAT code, that’ll remain the same; our standards and expectations and what our culture is all about, that remains the same,” Spoelstra said. “That’s one thing that you can count on in a league where there’s constant change. … We like tough-minded players, tough-physical players. We felt we had it before and we feel the type of guys we were able to bring in this summer fit our DNA. It’s not a coincidence.”

This season, the HEAT are hoping to return to the identity that made them so successful during their championship runs. Spoelstra and his players admit that they got away from the tough, defensive-oriented approach that worked so well for them in the past. After finishing in the top five in points allowed per 100 possessions during the 2010-11 season and 2011-12 season, Miami dropped down to 11th in the league last year.

Now, they’re trying to become an elite defensive unit again. The first day of training camp was spent entirely on defense, and Spoelstra said that will be the focus the majority of time throughout camp because he’s trying to stress the defense-first mentality.

“I don’t think we’re as talented as years past, so we’re going to have to make up for it in toughness,” Bosh said. “Those are the areas that we really have to excel – defense and rebounding. We’re starting to bring that back, focusing on that. Not to say that we weren’t before, but we just had a lot of slippage before. We’re really trying to get back to that, and I think that’s really going to bring us over the top. If we want to be an elite team, defense, rebounding and toughness is really something that we’re going to have to do every night. … We’re doing defensive drills all the time, like we did before; before we got caught up in the offensive numbers. We had a lot of offensive firepower, sharing the ball and getting used to all of the talent on the floor offensively. But now, we’ve gotten back to how we were defensively in the first and second year, doing more defensive drills than offensive drills. Of course, we still want to score a lot of points and play fast, but we want to play off of misses.”

“Defense wins championships,” Napier said. “When they won championships here, I believe they were top five in defense. That’s where we want to be at. You have to be a good defensive team because, offensively, you’re going to get your points… It’s about how can you stop other people from getting their points.”

“I think mentally, we have the right approach,” Haslem said. “We’re going to be physical, we’re going to defend and we’re going to work our butts off. The basketball stuff will come, with time together on the floor, practice and time together off the floor building that symbiotic relationship. Those things will come, but mentally we’re approaching everything the right way.”

Miami’s biggest move the summer was replacing James with Deng, a fellow former All-Star who has been a part of some very talented teams. The HEAT believe that Deng will help them on both ends of the floor and perfectly fit in with their organization.

“I want to bring a lot of energy and just play hard,” Deng said. “That’s the team’s makeup. We’ve got guys who play really hard and that really fits my character, coming in and playing both ends of the floor. My main thing is always playing as hard as I can and the rest will take care of itself.”

“Lu brings so many of the things that we like in this organization, which is why we thought he’d be such a great fit and why we recruited him so hard,” Spoelstra said. “[We like] his defensive mentality, his toughness, his resolve, his ability to make multiple efforts defensively, his ability to guard multiple positions and, offensively, we feel like he’s a very underrated player. We like the things he brings to the table on that side of the floor. He’s really active without the ball, we think he’s an underrated shooter and he does a lot of intangible things on that end of the floor that we like.”

“He’s a great two-way player and he brings stability to this team,” Wade said of Deng. “Defensively, he shows you don’t have to be the quickest guy or the most athletic guy [to defend well]. He’s come from a great system in Chicago, especially with Thibs the last few years, so he’s a great system defender. He’s a real big guy – I don’t think people understand how big he really is. On offense, he’s stable, he can hit the outside shot and he does a great job of cutting behind the defense.”

“He’s an all-around player and he’s going to do everything,” Danny Granger said of Deng. “He’s going to play defense. He’s going to rebound. He’s going to score. He does all the dirty work. He’s one of the best small forwards in this league.”

The HEAT won’t be under the microscope quite like they were in recent years, but it’ll be interesting to see how different this team will be without James making his presence felt on both ends of the floor. This is a veteran group that’s determined to prove their doubters wrong and remain a contender.

Pelicans Sign D.J. Stephens

The New Orleans Pelicans today announced that the team has signed D.J. Stephens to their training camp roster. Per team policy, terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Stephens, 6’5 and 188 pounds, began his professional career with Ilysiakos B.C. of Greece where he averaged 10.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. After appearing in 12 games, Stephens returned to the United States, signing a 10-day contract with the Milwaukee Bucks on March 26, appearing in three games and averaging 2.3 points and 1.7 rebounds. Stephens concluded the 2013-14 season in Turkey, appearing in seven games for Anadolu Efes, where the Texas native averaged 5.0 points and 2.4 rebounds.

Undrafted in 2013 out of the University of Memphis, Stephens ended his Tigers career earning All-Conference USA Third Team, Conference USA All-Defensive Team and Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year honors his senior season.

New Orleans’ training camp roster now stands at 19 players.

Cavaliers Sign Stephen Holt

The Cleveland Cavaliers have signed guard Stephen Holt, Cavaliers general manager David Griffin announced today from Cleveland Clinic Courts. Per league policy, terms of the contract were not released.

Holt, a 6’4 guard, played four seasons at Saint Mary’s and averaged 10.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 31.2 minutes over 127 games (95 starts). The Portland, Oregon native fell just one steal shy of the school record for a career with 173 to finish second, while also ranking fourth in made free throws (401), tied for fifth in games played (127), tenth in free throw percentage (.808), tenth in assists (305) and tenth in scoring (1,370 points). As a senior in 2013-14, he started all 34 games and was a first team all-WCC selection after averaging 15.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 37.5 minutes per game.

Holt went undrafted in this year’s NBA Draft and joined the Atlanta Hawks summer league team in Las Vegas where he averaged 8.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.2 steals in 23.8 minutes over five games (three starts). He also shot .455 (8-19) from the three-point line with the Hawks.

The Cavs training camp roster now stands at 18.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA

David Nwaba and the Road Less Traveled

David Nwaba speaks to Basketball Insiders about his unconventional path to the NBA.

David Yapkowitz

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A player’s path to the NBA usually follows the same formula: A star in high school, a strong college career, and then eventually being selected in the NBA Draft. However, there are times when a player’s path is more unconventional. In the case of David Nwaba, he definitely took the path less traveled.

He attended University High School in West Los Angeles, where he was named All-Western League MVP twice as well as being an all-league selection. He finished his senior year in 2011 putting up 22.0 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game.

He went to an NCAA Division 2 school, however, Hawaii Pacific University, but never suited up for them as he redshirted his freshman year. He played a year at Santa Monica Community College, where he was the Western State Conference South Division Player of the Year before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. According to Nwaba, the decision to leave Hawaii Pacific was made with the NBA in mind.

“It was always a dream of mine, it’s also why I left a Division 2 school that I started at,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I had bigger dreams of playing D1 and potentially the NBA. So that was a dream of mine. I never thought the journey would go like this but it is how it is.”

Behind Nwaba, Cal Poly made their first-ever NCAA appearance in 2014. They won the Big West Tournament as the seventh seed out of eight teams, and then knocked off Dayton for the right to come in as a No. 16 seed against No. 1 seed Wichita State. Cal Poly would go on to lose to Wichita State, but sparking that run to March Madness put Nwaba on the basketball map.

He didn’t get to the NBA right away, though. His first professional experience came with the then Los Angeles D-Fenders, now South Bay Lakers, the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate. He initially began with the Reno Bighorns, the Sacramento Kings affiliate, but his rights were traded to Los Angeles. His strong play in the G-League was what caught the Lakers’ attention, enough to give him a pair of 10-day contracts, and then one for the rest of the season.

“It was a perfect spot to start up my professional career The G-League is a place to develop your game, and I think I developed a lot,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I learned a lot about the game, and I think it was a good place for me to start just out of college.”

Although he made a strong impression on the Lakers, Nwaba found out that nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. Due to a roster crunch when the team signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over the summer, the Lakers ended up cutting him. He didn’t stay unemployed for long though. Before he had a chance to hit the open market, the Chicago Bulls claimed him off waivers.

He’s since carved out a role as one of the Bulls most dependable players in the second unit. And just like his path to the league, his role is a bit of an unconventional one as a shooting guard. He’s shooting 51.7 percent from the field, but most of his shots come from in the paint. He only shoots 26.3 percent from three-point range. It’s been effective for him though.

“It’s just bringing energy off the bench and just being that defender,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “For the most part, I just try to be aggressive going to the basket, finishing at the rim, making the right plays, just defending and playing hard.”

The Chicago Bulls got off to a slow start this season. They lost 17 of their first 20 games. In December, they started to pick up their play, winning 11 of their 20 games including a seven-game win streak. However, they’ve now dropped eight of their last 11 games. Despite that, Nwaba does see some encouraging signs. And in the Eastern Conference, he’s not quite ready to count out another run.

“We’re developing every game, just building chemistry amongst each other,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “Who knows, all it takes is just a streak of eight to ten games or something and we’re already back in the playoff race. You never know, anything can turn around. It’s still a long season, a lot of games to be played, and a lot of time to develop our game. We’ve still got a lot of time with each other.”

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NBA Daily: The Los Angeles Lakers Could Be Up Next

The Los Angeles Lakers may not make the playoffs this season, but they’re trending in the right direction.

Dennis Chambers

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The Los Angeles Lakers are coming.

They may not be playoff-bound this season as some of their purple and gold faithful hoped for, but the prestigious franchise occupying the Staples Center is showing improvement from their young players. Perhaps even enough to lure the likes of established stars come summer time.

In Luke Walton’s second season as the Lakers’ head coach, he hits the All-Star break with his team holding a 23-34 record. Granted, that’s not the level of success he was used to during his time with the Golden State Warriors, but it is only three fewer wins than his team had all of last season.

Prior to limping into the break on the back of a three-game losing streak, the Lakers had won eight of 10. During that stretch, they’d beaten the likes of Oklahoma City (twice), Indiana, and Boston. Along with making the most of their performances over that span, the Lakers were also doing so without 2017’s second overall pick, Lonzo Ball, who’s sidelined with an injury.

But Ball isn’t the only Los Angeles darling who has shined this season. In fact, it’s arguable that he’s not even the most impressive youngster on the team.

Drafted second overall last season, Brandon Ingram is showing the improvement this season that warranted such a high selection. His play thus far suggests he’s one of the building blocks of the Lakers’ next era in contending for a championship.

In his 53 games this season, Ingram is averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. His shooting from the floor and from beyond the arc have both seen dramatic increases as well this season. Over the same stretch that saw the Lakers go 8-2 with wins over cemented playoff teams, Ingram upped his assists per night to 5.2, taking the place of facilitator with Ball sidelined.

Though Ingram and the Lakers haven’t been setting the win column on fire all season, the steady growth and improvement show to him that the team is moving in the right direction, under the right coach.

“I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job,” Ingram said to reporters during All-Star weekend. “I think guys have gotten better every single day. I think we come in with the mindset that we have a really good coach that pushes us every single day. I like the progress of what we’re doing in our organization.”

Walton, this season more than last, has shown the ability to get the most out of the players he has. Ingram’s improvement, plus the capability as a point guard Ball has shown, are the givens. They were highly selected players, expected to contribute immediately. But it’s the production of the players who were afterthoughts that are a major testament to Walton’s teachings.

Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart were selected with the 27th and 30th picks in last June’s draft. Both were collegiate upperclassmen with noted handicaps in their respective games that led to teams selecting younger, or more athletic, or sweeter shooting players in their place.

A few years from now when everyone looks back, that could prove to be a silly mistake.

All Kuzma has done this season is keep his name consistently in the Rookie of the Year award race by averaging 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and shooting nearly 36 percent from beyond the arc. He’s been a lightning rod of scoring for the Lakers on nights where they desperately need it, racking up 13 games where he’s reached at least 20 points, and three games breaking the 30-point plateau.

Hart, on the other hand, hasn’t been as steady a performer as his fellow late first-round selected teammate. But when called upon, especially since Ball has been out, Hart’s shown the all-around game that made him one of the most decorated players in college basketball while at Villanova.

Over the last month, Hart has averaged 8.8 points and five rebounds per game, while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. During that same stretch, Hart’s scored in double-figures six times and registered three straight double-doubles at the beginning of February.

Moving forward, as the Lakers look to add high-priced free agent in the coming summers, having guys like Kuzma and Hart on cost-effective rookie contracts is a luxury teams around the league hope to have.

Diamonds in the rough like Kuzma and more than capable contributors like Hart are nice, of course, but the real reason for optimism in L.A. is Ingram. He’s the player with a star power ceiling. He’s the guy that the likes of LeBron James and Paul George look at when they weigh their free agent options, as a guy who can handle the workload on the nights they may not have it.

Ingram’s game isn’t finished, though; far from it, in fact. But he knows that, and he’s aware of the steps he needs to take to get to that next level.

“To improve my game I think from a shooting standpoint,” Ingram said. “If I get that down, I think it would be a lot more easier for me to drive to the basket, break down a lot of guys, make plays for my other teammates. I think it would take me to a whole other level.”

Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers doesn’t come void of expectations. There, in Hollywood, everyone is always watching. Fans, other teams, the media, everyone is waiting for the next time a Laker championship comes around. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, Ingram thinks the current legend captaining the ship is the young team’s best asset to achieving that ultimate success everyone in Los Angeles is accustomed too.

“Magic Johnson,” Ingram said. “He’s in our front office. He’s at most of every practice, every single day. For any advice why not go to him, with the caliber of player he was and how many championships he won, the way he carries himself. He always there for just information on anything we need.”

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NBA All-Star Friday Recap

Simon Hannig recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2018.

Simon Hannig

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NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game was highlighted by many stars this year, including Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Nate Robinson, Candace Parker, Bubba Watson, Rachel DeMita and many more. Team Lakers was led by head coach, Rachel Nichols. Team Clippers was led by Katie Nolan.

Quavo, of hip hop group Migos, had the first the two points for Team Clippers, and Justin Bieber had the first three points for Team Lakers.

Team Clippers defeated Team Lakers 75-66.

Quavo led the way for Team Clippers with 19 points on 7/10 shooting, with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse had 17 points on 8/14 shooting and 6 rebounds. Actor and social media star Brandon Armstrong finished with 16 points on 6/17 shooting, 11 rebounds and 3 assists for Team Clippers. Both wereamong the top three leading scorers for Team Clippers.

NBA2KTV host, actress and model, Rachel DeMita led the way for Team Lakers with 17 points on 6/12 shooting and 2 rebounds. NBA legend Nate Robinson was the second leading scorer for Team Lakers with 14 points on 4/11 shooting, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

Other notable NBA and WNBA legends stats from tonight’s game — Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky) had zero points. Paul Pierce had 4 points on 2/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Jason Williams had 2 points on 1/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Tracy McGrady had 3 points on 1/3 shooting, 3 assists and 2 rebounds. Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) had zero points.

Quavo was named MVP.

BBVA Compass Rising Stars Game

There is a ton of young talent in this league, and the league will be in good hands for years to come. The talent was put on display tonight in Los Angeles.

Utah Jazz rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell gave us an early preview of the dunk contest tomorrow by throwing an ally-oop pass to himself off the backboard in the first half.

However, it was all Team World in the first half as they led 78-59 at the break. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings each had 14 points to lead Team World. Jaylen Brown led the way for Team USA with 16 points at the half.

It felt like a three point contest throughout the entire game, as there were 96 combined three point attempts. Bogdanovic led the way with seven three pointers made for both teams.

All in all, Team World defeated Team USA 155-124. Hield led the way for Team World with 29 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics led the way for Team USA with 35 points and 10 rebounds.

The MVP of the game was Bogdan Bogdanovic, who dazzled the crowd with his three point shooting. He had 26 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds with seven made three’s.

Next up for the NBA in this fun-filled weekend is NBA All-Star Saturday Night with the dunk contest, three point contest and much more.

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