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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 Daily: Three-Point Champion is Just a Regular Joe

Joe Harris had his league-wide coming out at All-Star weekend when he shocked fans across the globe in upsetting three-point shootout favorite-Steph Curry.

Drew Maresca

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Joe Harris’ fortunes and those of the Brooklyn Nets appear to be traveling on the same trajectory. Harris’ personality and approach embody the softer side of the Brooklyn Nets’ team persona: he is loyal, hardworking and humble. And while Jared Dudley and DeMarre Carroll provide veteran leadership and Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson offer personality, Harris provides a grounded approachability.

No one would blame him, though, if he develops a small ego. After all, Harris just received his formal introduction to the world, having won the NBA’s three-point championship last weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s hard to deny that his star is rising.

And yet, Harris seems unaware that his status is rising.

“To be honest, I am solid in my role. That’s what I’m about,” Harris told Basketball Insiders before the Nets’ January 25 game against the Knicks. “I’m pretty realistic with where I view myself as a player. And I have the self-awareness to realize that I’m not a star player in this league by any means. I mean, I’m good in my role and I’m trying to take that to another level and be as complete as I can in my niche role that I have.”

While Harris’ comments could be misinterpreted as a humble brag, they shouldn’t be. He is simply a hard-working player who perhaps doesn’t quite realize everything he adds to his team. But let’s be clear, Harris’ presence absolutely improves the Nets’ play.

Harris boasts the second-best three-point percentage in the NBA (.471) through the first four months of the season; he trails only Victor Olapido and J.J. Reddick for top three-point percentage of all 48 players who have at least 10 “clutch” attempts from long-range and he’s ranked tenth in points per clutch possession (1.379).

He helps space the floor for teammates D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, who take advantage of his long-range acumen by attacking an often less congested pathway to the hoop — and drives account for 53.4 percent of the Nets’ points (third in the entire league).

It is no surprise then that the Nets are currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

“At the end of the day we’re just trying to go play good basketball.” Harris said. “The wins are a byproduct of that. It’s about staying locked into this process and how it’s gotten us here regardless of who is on the court.”

Harris’ dedication to the team and its process is becoming more unique each year as players hop from franchise to franchise more frequently than ever before. While Harris only joined the Nets in 2016, he was immediately seen as a key player by the Nets’ leadership, albeit one on a minimum deal – according to Kyle Wagner of the Daily News, Coach Kenny Atkinson saw a lot of Kyler Korver in his game and GM Sean Marks wanted him to study Danny Green.

And while Harris’ 2018-19 stats reflect similar production to the career highs of both of Korver and Green (13.2 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of .622 for Harris versus 14.4 points with an eFG% of .518 for Korver and 11.7 points with an eFG% of .566 for Green), at only 27 years old, he should only continue to improve.

A lot has changed in the two and a half seasons since Harris signed a free agent deal with the Nets, but one thing that hasn’t changed is his character.

“We had various deals that were shorter for more (money),” Harris said. “And some were longer and roughly the same, but this is where I wanted to be and I’m happy it ended up working out.”

Harris ultimately signed a two-year deal for approximately $16 million, which can be viewed as both cashing in, given where he was only two years ago (out of the league), and betting on himself, considering the short-term nature of the contract and his relative youth.

And what’s more, Harris will probably go down as a value signing for the Nets considering his versatility. After all, he is not merely a one-dimensional shooter. In fact, he is actually shooting slightly better than 60 percent on 3.2 attempts per game from the restricted area – which is better than All-Star teammate D’Angelo Russell (53 percent on 2.8 attempts). Further, Harris shoots a fair amount of his three-point attempts above the break, which is to say that he does not rely heavily on the shorter corner threes – which tend to be a more efficient means of scoring (1.16 vs. 1.05 points per possession league-wide from 1998-2018) as they are typically a spot where specialist players lurk awaiting an opening look.

The question is, how much more can we expect to see from Harris in the future? If you ask him, he’d probably undersell you on his ceiling and allude to steady progress that ultimately looks similar to what he’s done recently. But the only thing similar about Harris’ career production is that it has steadily improved – and that’s partially due to his process-oriented approach.

“We talked about it in the midst of the losing streak,” Harris said. “What are you going to change, what are you going to do (when you’re in a slump)? Not that we were going to do the exact same thing, but we felt like we were very process oriented. We felt like we were right there. Our whole thing was about being deliberate and doing it as consistently as possible.”

Harris sees the validity in repeating what works. And he’s figured that out, partially with the help of his teammates. Harris clearly values veteran input and team chemistry.

“You look at our team right now and we have really good veteran presences with Jared and DeMarre and Ed (Davis),” Harris said. “That’s the voice from the leadership standpoint. I’m learning from them just like DLo is. And all the other guys in the locker room are. They’re the guiding presence of what it is to be a professional and they keep everything even keel. They don’t go too low when things are tough, and they don’t let us get too high when things are going well.”

Harris is clearly a little uncomfortable taking credit for his team’s success, and he shies away from the spotlight a bit. He seems to prefer anonymity. But Harris should probably get used to the attention he’s received this season because it will only increase as his profile continues to rise as we enter the 2019 NBA Playoffs.

“He’s not just a shooter,” Atkinson told NBA.com last April. “He’s worked on his drive game, he’s worked on his finishing game. I think he’s worked on his defense. So just a complete player who fits how we want to play. He’s one of our most competitive players. Not a surprise watching, from the first day we had him, how locked in he was, how hungry he was. On top of it, he’s a top, top-ranked human being.”

So expect to see more of Joe Harris this April and beyond, but don’t be surprised by his humility. It’s one aspect about him that won’t change.

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NBA Daily: Danuel House Optimistic About Future

David Yapkowitz speaks to Danuel House about life as a two-way player for the Houston Rockets & what he hopes comes out of his time in the G League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

David Yapkowitz

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Opportunity is everything in the NBA. Last season’s implementation of two-way contracts gave a lot more players potential opportunities in the league that may not have been previously available.

One player who has used two-way contracts to showcase himself and really prove that he belongs in the NBA is Danuel House Jr.

House actually began his career two years ago as an undrafted rookie with the Washington Wizards. However, he suffered a wrist injury only about a month into the 2016-17 season.

He was subsequently cut by the Wizards and used the summer to heal up before joining the Houston Rockets for training camp prior to the start of last season. He ended up being one of the final cuts in camp, and he joined the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

His strong play earned him a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns after only two months of G League play. This year, he rejoined the Vipers, only to earn another two-way contract with the Rockets. Having had some experience now with a two-way, it’s something that House sees as being beneficial.

“It’s got its good perks and its bad perks. But then the NBA is just trying to open more doors for more guys to be seen and have an opportunity,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s a good idea, it’s gonna work the kinks out so it can be more beneficial to the players. It’s still new and it’s still trending and working itself through the NBA.”

This season has been a bit of a whirlwind for House. He initially joined the Golden State Warriors for training camp, only to have them cut him before the start of the season. After spending about a month with the Vipers, the Rockets called him up, only to cut him and then eventually re-sign him to a two-way deal.

Due to injuries in the Rockets lineup, House saw meaningful minutes right away, even being placed in Houston’s starting lineup. He had some solid performances down the stretch of last season with the Suns, but this season he really looked the part of a legitimate NBA rotation player.

When a player signs a two-way deal, they are allotted a maximum of 45 days of NBA service, meaning that the rest of the time they must remain in the G League. If a player exceeds the 45-day limit, they must be sent back down to the G League unless they’re able to reach an agreement on a standard contract with the NBA team.

Because of the Rockets’ necessity of House in the rotation, he used up his NBA days last month. He and the Rockets were unable to agree on a contract, so he returned to the G League with the Vipers. While there haven’t been many updates as of late, he’s still hopeful that something can work out with the Rockets.

“Hopefully I can go back to Houston and compete for a title. There’s nothing like learning from James [Harden] and Chris Paul, Gerald Green, Eric Gordon and those guys,” House told Basketball Insiders. “And now with the additions of [Iman] Shumpert and Kenneth Faried, I’m just excited to hopefully get something done so I can be out there and competing with those guys.”

Initially, House wasn’t playing with the Vipers upon returning to the team. But he made his return to the court a few weeks ago on Feb 8. In that game, House shook off some initial rust and ended up having a solid performance including hitting the game-winning free-throws.

In the past, the G League was often times seen as a punishment for NBA players. The league didn’t have that great of a reputation, but over the past few years that image has started to change. The competition has gotten a lot stronger, and according to House, there are plenty of guys who are that close to making it to the NBA.

“The competition here is real. There’s a lot of dudes out here that got a lot of talent that they can showcase. They just want their one opportunity, their one chance that I was so fortunate and blessed with,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I know not to come out here and take it for granted, that’s why I’m playing hard and of course still trying to be a student of the game and learn.”

Recently, during a media availability session, Rockets star and perennial MVP candidate James Harden expressed hope that the Rockets and House could work something out. Harden told reporters that they all know how good House is and what he brings to the team.

In 25 games for the Rockets this season – including 12 starts – House put up nine points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 39 percent from the three-point line. He’s in the mold of a three-and-D type player, but he also moves well without the ball on cuts to the rim and can attack the basket as well.

“My role was to play defense and make the right read,” House told Basketball Insiders. “Shoot when I’m open, drive, attack the rack, and run the floor. Of course, defend and rebound and make good reads. It was easy.”

As it stands, the Rockets have 12 players on their roster, and a pair of two-way deals for House and Vincent Edwards. House is not eligible to rejoin the Rockets until the G League season concludes. Even then, he won’t be eligible to play in the playoffs as per two-way deal restrictions.

The Rockets will need to add at least two players to get up to the league-mandated 14 players on the roster. House would appear to be a good candidate for one of those spots, but that remains to be seen. But regardless of whether or not it works out in Houston, House is confident that he’s done enough to prove he belongs in the NBA.

“It gave me the utmost confidence, but my hard work, my passion, and my faith in the man upstairs gave me the ability. I asked him to guide me through the journey and he’s been taking care of me,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I’m so grateful that the opportunities and I used my ability to perform and do something I love to take care of my family.”

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PODCAST: Checking In On Clippers & Lakers, East Arms Race, Warriors’ Challengers

Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

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