Looking At The HEAT Post-LeBron James:
When LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach in 2010, the Miami HEAT were placed under the microscope. With James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade teaming up, the HEAT were the most intriguing team in the league.
Earlier this offseason, James announced that he was returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after four years in Miami. In an instant, the fortunes of Miami changed and team president Pat Riley was tasked with putting the team back together after losing the best player in the league. So how did Riley do in reassembling the HEAT this offseason?
The HEAT are bringing back a big part of their main rotation from last year, as Chalmers, Wade and Bosh will hold three of the five starting positions as they did last year. However, one of the significant changes from last season will be at power forward.
Last season Battier—now retired—started 56 games at forward for the HEAT. Despite the fact that Battier was a small forward, he played interchangeably with James at both forward positions to provide defense and floor-spacing. But, in 20.1 minutes per game, Battier only provided 4.1 points and 1.9 rebounds, shooting 34.8 percent from beyond-the-arc. Not exactly top-level production, though he did bring intangibles that don’t show up in a box-score.
Presumably taking his place this upcoming season is McRoberts, who played last season with the Charlotte Bobcats (now called the Hornets).
Last season, McRoberts averaged 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game and shot 36.1 percent from three-point range. While McRoberts did not put up huge numbers last season, he brings to Miami an interesting mix of floor-spacing and play-making ability at power forward, and at 6’10 has good size to match up with opposing big men. At age 26, McRoberts still has room to improve his game, which he has done throughout his career, such as adding a consistent three-point shot to his arsenal.
While replacing Battier with McRoberts should be viewed as an upgrade for the HEAT, there was simply no way Miami could fill the giant void left by James’ departure. However, the HEAT managed to land Deng on a reasonable two-year, $19.9 million contract.
Last season, in 63 games played between the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers, Deng averaged 16 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists and one steal per game, and shot 46.8 percent from the field and 30.2 percent on three-pointers. Deng is a good perimeter defender and solid scorer, but a somewhat inconsistent three-point shooter (32.9 percent career average). While Deng is not James, he is a solid addition and makes for an interesting fit next to McRoberts, and forward/center Bosh.
The HEAT also added Granger to hopefully bring some offensive-punch off the bench. Granger, a one-time All-Star, has struggled the last two seasons with injuries. In 41 games played last season with the Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Clippers, Granger averaged 8.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and one assist per game, and shot 33.6 percent from beyond-the-arc. If Granger can recapture some of his old-form, it would be a huge boost to Miami and would help further solidify the void left by LeBron at the forward position.
Also returning are big men Andersen and Haslem. Andersen and Haslem bring stability and veteran experience in the front court. Haslem, a long-time member of the HEAT, has played for Erik Spoelstra since his first season as head coach (2008-09), while Andersen has been with the HEAT for the last two seasons.
Along with these veteran players, the HEAT are bringing in some young talent in Napier and Ennis. Napier, who was acquired in a draft-day trade with the Charlotte Hornets, was targeted by Miami in an attempt to cater to James, who is an outspoken fan of Napier. Napier had an incredible run in the NCAA Tournament and led the UConn Huskies to their second national title in four years. Napier improved in each of his four seasons at UConn, but will slot in next season as the third-string point guard behind Chalmers and Norris Cole.
Ennis, acquired by the HEAT last year from the Atlanta Hawks, spent time in Puerto Rico and Australia last season. This offseason, Ennis played in the Orlando Summer League and had some big performances. For example, against the Brooklyn Nets he scored 29 points and showed great range on his jumper as well as solid athleticism. However, as promising as Ennis is, he may be asked to help fill the void left by sharpshooter Ray Allen, who is reportedly considering signing with the Cavaliers or retiring. Not an easy task for such a young and relatively inexperienced player.
The HEAT lost some major pieces this offseason, but have filled in the gaps with an interesting mix of veterans and youth. However, the HEAT’s success this upcoming season will be determined more so than anything by Bosh and Wade. Bosh will need to embrace his heightened role and go back to the sort of franchise player he was with the Toronto Raptors. And Wade, who reportedly has slimmed down this offseason, will have to stay healthy and recapture some of his old form after sharing the ball with LeBron for four years, which may be difficult after struggling through injuries these last few seasons.
After losing James, Riley had the option of blowing the team up and starting a youth movement in Miami. Instead, he banked on Bosh, Wade, the incoming veterans and returning players to push on and compete in the East. With the additions of players like Deng and McRoberts, and the expanded opportunities for Bosh and Wade, the HEAT have a great chance at making the playoffs next season – maybe even slotting in as a top-four team in the East. The NBA microscope may not be on Miami anymore, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be in the playoff mix this upcoming season.
Clippers Introduce New Owner Steve Ballmer
For the last 33 years, Donald Sterling has been the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. However, earlier this year on April 25, TMZ released an audio tape of Sterling making racist comments during an conversation with V. Stiviano. In response, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling from the NBA for life, imposed a $2.5 million fine and said he would ask the NBA owners to vote Sterling out of his ownership interest in the Clippers.
Eventually, Sterling’s wife, Shelly Sterling, on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust, executed a sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for a record $2 billion. What followed was a legal battle between Donald and Shelly to determine whether Shelly’s sale to Ballmer was proper under the terms of the Sterling Family Trust.
On August 12, Judge Levanas of the Los Angeles Superior Court entered his statement of decision in favor of Shelly Sterling, confirming that the sale to Ballmer was valid. Shortly after this, the NBA officially approved Ballmer as the new owner of the Clippers.
Earlier today, Ballmer was introduced to fans for the first time as the official owner of the team at Staples Center. At the rally, Ballmer came out with his normal energy and enthusiasm.
“Everything is about looking forward from this day on,” Ballmer said, adding that the Clippers “will win many, many, many, many more Larry’s (referring to the Larry O’Brien championship trophy) in the next 26 [years], than the last 26.”
Ballmer ensured that the Clippers would not be moved to Seattle, something that had been suggested by some since Ballmer is from Seattle and was part of an investment group that tried to buy and move the Sacramento Kings to the city.
Several other people spoke at the rally, including Blake Griffin, long-time broadcaster Ralph Lawler and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
“Sometimes you’ve got to go through a little adversity to become better and to come out on the other side, to be stronger,” Griffin said. “We want to thank Ballmer, we want to thank all of you (the fans) for sticking with us.”
“We’re here to stay, we’re here to play, we’re here to win championships,” Lawler said.
“Welcome to the future,” added Garcetti.
Ballmer is the latest significant change for the Clippers over the last five years. Starting with the drafting of Griffin in 2009, the Clippers have added a significant piece to what they hope is their championship puzzle almost each season. In 2011, the Clippers traded for star point guard Chris Paul. Then in 2013, the Clippers hired Doc Rivers to take over as head coach and re-signed Griffin and Paul to five-year deals.
Now, the Clippers have a new owner with deep pockets and enthusiasm. Perhaps most importantly, they have a fresh start to begin a new era for the Clippers and their fans.
Last season, the Clippers won 57 games, but were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Clippers added point guard Jordan Farmar and center Spencer Hawes this offseason.
Monte Morris: Waiting for his Chance
Nuggets two-way guard Monte Morris talks to Basketball Insiders about his time with Denver.
Monte Morris has only seen action in three NBA games with the Denver Nuggets this year. While most players who receive little playing time spend most of their time at the end of the bench cheering their teammates on, Morris’ situation is a bit different. He’s spent the majority of his rookie year in the G-League.
The NBA’s minor league has grown tremendously since it’s inception in 2001. All but four NBA teams have a G-League affiliate now. There are plans for the New Orleans Pelicans to have their own team by next season, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken about having a team in Mexico.
As part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, they expanded the partnership between NBA teams and their G-League affiliates even more by adding two-way contracts. Essentially creating a 16th and 17th roster spot, two-way players are allowed to split time between an NBA team and the G-League.
For Morris, two-way contracts are an added opportunity for players to make an NBA roster.
“It’s a good chance for guys to make a roster, especially second-round picks to get a chance,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “With two-way contracts, I feel like they’re going to get a lot better as far as rules and things like that go. This is the first year so they’re testing it out, but it’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing at the end of the day.”
Morris was drafted by the Nuggets with the 51st overall pick in last summer’s draft. Second round picks are not afforded the guaranteed contract stability that comes with being a first-round pick. He was tabbed for a two-way contract almost immediately after he was drafted.
He had a stellar four years of college at Iowa State, where he was one of the top point guards in the nation as a senior. He also had a strong showing in Las Vegas with the Nuggets’ summer league team.
The Nuggets were a little crowded in the backcourt to begin the season with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of Morris in the rotation. When Mudiay was injured and out of the rotation, Mike Malone opted to go with Will Barton as the backup point guard. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition of Devin Harris pushed Morris farther back on the depth chart.
“The toughest thing is just staying mentally tough, staying true to yourself, and developing your own craft,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “Just not losing that self-confidence cause you might not play when you go up. When you come down here [G-League], take advantage of it, have fun, and keep getting better.”
Morris has definitely done his part to stand out in the G-League. The Nuggets are without a sole affiliate, so they’ve used the Houston Rockets G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to get Morris additional experience. In 36 games with the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 18.2 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, 35.6 percent from the three-point line, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals.
He believes that if called upon, he can be a major contributor for the Nuggets. There are certain aspects he can bring to the team and he thinks it’s possible for him to play with Murray in the backcourt together.
“I think I can bring energy off the bench. I feel like me and Jamal Murray, the way the game is going you can play small ball. I feel like I can bring pace to the game and play defensively,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “I like getting after it when I’m up there with those guys on defense and getting guys open shots. I know we got a lot of scorers, my goal would be getting everybody their shots.”
Morris has been able to show he can produce at the NBA level, even if it’s a small sample size. On Feb. 9, only the second game he’s played in with Denver, he scored ten points on 4-5 shooting from the field, dished out six assists, and nabbed three steals against the Rockets.
Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with the NBA team. Those days are not solely game days; they include practices and travel days as well. Once those 45 days are up, NBA teams have the option of converting a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal provided they have roster space.
If a player uses up the 45 days and does not have their contract converted, they go back to the G-League. They can rejoin their NBA team once the G-League season ends but are not able to play in the playoffs.
For now, Morris is just biding his time, waiting for his opportunity. He’s staying ready for when the Nuggets might need him. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take advantage of what the G-League has to offer.
“It’s definitely a good starting point. It’s just all about how guys attack it on and off the court,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just being a pro and not losing confidence in your ability when you go up and don’t play. You just got to be ready, you’re really one injury away, one call away to step on and have to play.”
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.