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NBA PM: Will Pat Riley Dig Into Bag Of Tricks?

Miami is back in the Eastern Conference’s playoff mix. But will the HEAT be active at trade deadline?

Lang Greene

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Will Pat Riley Dig into Bag of Tricks at the Trade Deadline?

The Miami HEAT (25-21) currently sit seventh in the Eastern Conference standings, but only a game behind the fourth-place Atlanta Hawks for the Southeast Division crown. If it weren’t for a rash of injuries decimating the team’s roster (and an extremely hard schedule this month and next), Miami would have much better footing in the conference’s playoff race.

Mind you, this comes just a year and a half after four-time league MVP LeBron James opted to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency after four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals as a member of the HEAT. While most teams would have plummeted to the league basement for years and years after losing a talent like James, team president Pat Riley was able to retool and avoid a lengthy rebuilding project.

A few of Riley’s biggest wins over the past 18 months involved persuading Chris Bosh to re-sign with the franchise, luring former All-Star Luol Deng to town and finding emerging center Hassan Whiteside (as well as guard Tyler Johnson) off the scrap heap.

With just a few weeks remaining before the trade deadline, all eyes are on Riley and his next objective to strengthen his roster. At least year’s deadline, Riley was able to secure guard Goran Dragic from Phoenix to solidify Miami’s backcourt.

But what will the team do at this year’s deadline?

From a salary standpoint, the HEAT currently have $90 million on the books, placing them in luxury tax territory. However, the squad has just $48 million in guaranteed salaries on the books for next season.

Dwyane Wade ($20 million), Deng ($10.1 million), Chris Andersen ($5 million), Udonis Haslem ($2.8 million), Beno Udrih ($2.2 million), Whiteside ($981,000) and Amar’e Stoudemire ($947k) will all be headed to unrestricted free agency this summer.

The amount of expiring money in hand, in typical situations, would give Riley more than enough ammunition to potentially pull off a meaningful deal at the deadline. But the squad must be careful about adding significant future money to the books because of Whiteside’s impending free agency and not possessing his full Bird rights. This means they will have to use cap room to re-sign him – limiting their chances of signing another big name if they keep the promising big man.

Riley has consistently made it known that his vision for the franchise is competing at a title contention level. The veteran executive has a history of making deals or refurbishing discarded talents. Will he add another one to the mantle at the deadline?

LeBron James: Coach Killer?

In many ways, former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt was doomed to fail. He was hired before the franchise signed four-time league MVP LeBron James in free agency and acquired Kevin Love. The team got off to a slow start last season and he made numerous miscues in the playoffs that left many scratching their heads.

However, the Cavaliers came up just two wins short of a NBA title and were leading the Eastern Conference when team management decided to remove him from power.

In the aftermath, there have been numerous reports tackling the involvement level of James in the process of Blatt’s departure. Cleveland’s front office maintains James wasn’t consulted. James has held the same public stance. But a recent comment from Miami HEAT minority owner Raanan Katz implying James once attempted to have Erik Spoelstra removed during his time with the team cast a cloud over his image.

HEAT team president Pat Riley denies James ever expressed an interest in having Spoelstra removed from his position during his time in Miami, where the team reached four consecutive NBA Finals – winning two titles.

“Not from him to me, ever,” Riley said according to Michael Wallace of ESPN. “So a lot of stuff is following him out the door. Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s just the nature of it. But as far as that goes, no, he never, ever walked in and said anything.”

While Katz has recently backpedaled away from his original comments, saying they were taken out of context, the court of public opinion has continued to ride the “James as a coach killer” narrative.

Mike Malone Redeeming Himself in Denver

The Denver Nuggets (18-29) are a rebuilding team that will likely miss out on the playoffs this season and be a participant in the draft lottery. However, for head coach Mike Malone, he’s been able to redeem himself after being unexpectedly fired by the Sacramento Kings last season.

“I’m definitely motivated. No one ever wants to get fired. I don’t care what your job is. I don’t care if you’re working the graveyard shift at the junkyard,” Malone said according to Michael Lee of Yahoo! Sports. “But the way it turned out in Sacramento was kind of a blessing. You couldn’t have asked for a better script, the way their season turned out … it became a nightmare. By the end of it, I became John Wooden.”

From a year-by-year results standpoint, the Nuggets are faring worse in the win-loss column. However, veteran guard Jameer Nelson believes the team’s trajectory is headed in the right direction regardless of the mounting losses.

“It’s funny because I told him in my eyes, I feel like the team is better,” Nelson said. “Even though we’re not winning like we want to win, the team is better. Some of the games we were involved in last year, we would’ve given up. We haven’t given up any games this year. We’ve fought to the very end.”

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

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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