Can the Miami Heat win it all this season?

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ljames_points.jpgAlready you were hearing it — guys were saying it on ESPN and talk radio shows across the nation even before LeBron made his announcement.

If the Heat don’t win it all this year, it’s a failure.

That’s a bunch of manure.

Winning a championship takes a lot of things, including luck with injuries and a few bounces to go your way. It’s hard. The Heat now have a wide-open five-year window, if they get no titles in that time it will be a failure.

But they are a long way from a title this year. Even with three of the best players walking the planet on one team.

Look at the teams that were in the Finals this year — both teams had a big three. Plus the Lakers had Ron Artest (or Andrew Bynum, if you count Artest in the three) plus they brought Lamar Odom off the bench. The Celtics are really a Big Four now, and they needed Big Baby and Nate Robinson off the bench to win them one of the finals games. It takes depth to win a title.

Pat Riley was a magician to get all three of these guys in one uniform. But he has a lot of work to do. He has to build a team around these three — and do it on the cheap. If he can move Michael Beasley he will have about $1.8 million to play with after the big three sign. If not, it’s all minimum contracts from here on out.

What does he need to do? One of my favorite basketball minds — David Thorpe of ESPN — broke it down in a Q&A at TrueHoop:

They need 3-point shooters off the bench, and in the starting lineup. They don’t need a point guard, necessarily, because Wade and James are both such willing distributors. And look at the teams that have won titles in recent years. Many have not had transcendent point guards. Jason Williams, Avery Johnson, Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar … they’re not lottery picks….

And then you have got to find some centers. They don’t need to score. They just need to rebound, play defense and race the floor.

One holdover on the Heat roster, point guard Mario Chalmers, could work in the Fisher-like point guard role — an untraditional point who does not handle the ball that much. But he needs to accept that role and step up to the challenge. Last season his game regressed. He only shot 31 percent from three. With these guys, he can get good looks spacing the floor, but he has to knock down the catch-and-shoot.

There are a lot of other catch-and-shoot guys out there — the better ones cost. But good scouting (here and Europe) could find some guys the Heat might be able to afford.

Centers are a bigger problem. Solid big men who can defend and rebound get big money. Brendan Haywood just signed for six years, $55 million. Teams want to give 38-year-old Shaquille O’Neal $5.8 million a year for two years. And he’s a shell of himself.

For what the Heat have to spend, they will not get much. This is where the multi-year plan comes in. They need to get younger players they can develop, Thorpe notes. Guys who may not help much in November but could in April and will next year.

But what about this year? Bosh is not a true center, he cannot bang with the bigs in the East like Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut and Jermaine O’Neal now in Boston. Not and have his knees hold up.

You can create a tempo game. You can aggressively trap. You can make it a game about aggressiveness, and those three will all have a great feel for that.

(Heat coach) Erik Spoelstra is a very bright guy. If he doesn’t have the roster for it, he’s not going to play a classic defensive scheme and get crushed. He will strategize with what he has….

This team, though, they might not have to go small. They can go unique. They can have James and Wade as the backcourt, with a couple of 6-8 athletic shooters, and Bosh, and then race the floor. That’s not a tiny lineup.

The Heat are going to be very entertaining this season. They are going to be figuring it out on the fly, and they can’t be traditional. They won’t be. We’ll see how easily egos can be set aside, especially when the inevitable rough patch comes.

But win it all this year? It takes depth to win. And that may take a year or two to build in Miami.

But it’s going to be fun to watch them get there.

Lakers owner on Lonzo Ball: “He’s going to bring an element that’s very similar to Magic”

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Lonzo Ball has yet to play a minute of professional basketball in the NBA, but fans in Los Angeles sure are happy to have him on board as they get ready for a new era in team history.

An exciting run through the Las Vegas Summer League in 2017 certainly showed us that Ball is ready to meet the challenges of a rookie in the NBA.

Ball won the LVSL MVP award while posting averages of 16.3 points, 9.3 assists, and 7.7 rebounds per-game. Ball and teammate Kyle Kuzma also helped the Lakers beat the Portland Trail Blazers in the championship game to close the tournament.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss is just as excited about Ball as fans in California are. Speaking on the Petros and Money Show in LA it recently, Buss compared the buzz around Ball to that of Kobe Bryant, saying, “No other draft pick, except maybe Kobe Bryant, has had this kind of excitement about him.”

Buss also has high hopes for Ball’s style of play.

Via Lakers Nation:

“There’s something special about Lonzo […] I think because he just wants to play basketball, he’s selfless. He has a certain charisma and I think the fact that his teammates at UCLA loved playing with him and all the nice things that they have to say about him, I think he’s going to bring an element that’s very similar to Magic Johnson.”

Whatever criticism of his father you want to muster aside, Ball does seem relatively at ease in Los Angeles and in the spotlight. While he will no doubt struggle as a rookie, as even the best do, but it is starting to look up for LA in the post-Kobe era now that Ball is in town.

They seem to have the right coach in Luke Walton to help develop him, and no doubt fans in LA will be hoping that Ball is a superstar sooner rather than later.

Blake Griffin on LeBron James: “I don’t see him coming to L.A.”

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Is LeBron James on his way out of Cleveland? Rumors have it swirled around The King’s exit from his kingdom as of late, which his camp has vehemently denied.

However, LeBron suffered yet another loss in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors in 2017 and his relationship with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has appeared to sour. The history between the two is well-documented, and recently Gilbert failed to renew GM David Griffin’s contract, all without consulting James.

Meanwhile, the rumor has been that James prefers to land in Los Angeles, where he keeps a second home. James can play either with the LA Clippers or Los Angeles Lakers, which would allow him to perhaps add some of his favorite players — Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, or Dwyane Wade. The banana boat crew, as it were.

But one player already in Los Angeles doesn’t think that LeBron is on his way to California.

Speaking on a recent podcast with the Sklar Brothers, forward Blake Griffin said he did not think that James would come to L.A. Instead, he thought the best place for James to land would be in New York with the Knicks.

Via View from the Cheap Seats, h/t Complex. The LeBron conversation starts around the 50-minute mark:

“Honestly, I don’t see him coming to L.A. period. Listen, again, I have no idea. I think something is brewing with him and his group of guys. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think something’s brewing and they’re going to try to make that work.”

“I could see him going to New York before L.A. I still think, when you go to the Garden, it’s a completely different feeling. The energy, there seems like there’s just a consistent buzz the entire game … even last year when you go play them, it’s still there.”

To give more context to this quote in case you aren’t able to actually listen to the podcast, Griffin is simply speculating based off of what he thinks could happen. He prefaces it by saying it is just a feeling, and my reading of his intonation makes me think Griffin believes there are too many roadblocks to get LeBron to Los Angeles. Couple that with an increasingly difficult Western Conference, and Griffin doesn’t think that The King will give up being able to get to the Finals every year just to come to L.A.

Given all that has happened with the Knicks over the last few decades, it also seems like a fair stretch to think the next best option would be to see LeBron in New York. Remember, with Steve Mills as president a lot of the people who torpedoed the Carmelo situation are still in place even with Phil Jackson gone. If LeBron does indeed want us to pair with Carmelo, or even if he is simply an influence on him as a friend, New York seems like an unlikely destination.

Still, it is interesting to hear the insight of other professionals in this context. It just goes to show you that even NBA players don’t know where LeBron is going to end up.

Report: Nerlens Noel switches agents in hopes of max deal with Mavericks

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Is Nerlens Noel worthy of a max contract? Not on your life.

But will he get it? That remains to be seen after reports that Noel recently fired his agent and will make the switch to Dan Fagen.

According to NBC 5 in Dallas, Noel has done just that and will be seeking a huge deal from Mark Cuban’s organization.

From NBC 5’s Newy Scruggs:

No other NBA clubs tried to sign the restricted 6-11 center. He has a one year qualifying offer of $5.8 million on the table but it’s not to his liking so he switched agents.

“We’re in a holding pattern,” is what Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle told me back in July on NBC Sports Radio when I brought up the contract talks between Dallas and Noel. The NBA salary cap didn’t go up has high as many previously projected, so the summer of 2017 was not a bonanza some players hoped for.

Even with the increase in the cap, and with big contracts flying around for young talent, Noel has done nothing to prove himself worthy of an offer like that for the Dallas Mavericks. Yes, his advanced numbers from his third season in the NBA looked much better, and that was great news as young big men often take time to develop.

Yet the body of work for Noel is simply not there. Fifty games of good play over a 200 game career does not, or should not, earn you a max contract.

Then again, this could simply be Noel preying on Cuban’s need to rebuild.

With Dennis Smith Jr. at the helm, an aging Dirk Nowitzki, and the team that could soon be irrelevant in a increasingly tough Western Conference, Noel stands as a future franchise piece if he does indeed fulfill his potential.

The question now is, especially after how this summer has gone, do you pay upfront for potential talent to an extent that seems unreasonable to a fault?

I would still doubt that Noel ends up with that max contract, but some positioning here could earn him a few extra bucks.

NBA confirms Lakers under investigation for potential tampering with Paul George

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Paul George is not a member of the the Los Angeles Lakers. Yet.

The California native has one year to go on his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder after being traded there by the Indiana Pacers. Rumors have been swirling for months about whether George would stay in Indiana, a new city, or if he would bolt for his hometown in LA after the upcoming season comes to a close.

Even more rumors have said that the Lakers have felt confident enough that they are going to get George in the summer of 2018 that they weren’t grabbing him wasn’t considered so urgent that it was a matter of life or death.

Meanwhile, the NBA has confirmed that the Pacers have filed tampering charges against the Lakers, and that the league has hired an independent law firm to conduct the investigation.

From the NBA’s press release:

At the request of the Indiana Pacers, the NBA opened an investigation into alleged tampering by the Los Angeles Lakers. The independent investigation is being conducted by the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The Lakers have been cooperative and, at this point, no findings have been made. We have asked both teams to refrain from commenting all the investigation is ongoing.

The rumor first broke this weekend when Peter Vecsey published it on his Patreon.

Magic Johnson has spoken publicly about George, explicitly stating that he knows he is not supposed to tamper with players. However, on an episode of the Jimmy Kimmel show, Johnson did say that he would give a wink to George if you happen to see him.

Via Jimmy Kimmel:

“I had to go to school. I had to go to CBA school, salary cap school and tampering school. You can’t tamper with somebody else’s player.”

“We gonna say hi because we know each other. You just can’t say, ‘Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,’ even though I’ll be wink-winking like, ‘You know what that means, right?’

Punishment from tampering charges are rare in the NBA but are not unheard of. In 2013, the Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings were fined for name dropping Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

According to ESPN, Johnson is at the center of the investigation for tampering with George. If evidence is found, the punishment could be significant for LA, and could include future restrictions when it comes time to acquire George.

Via ESPN:

The Lakers are denying the allegations filed by the Pacers, insisting that there is no evidence of tampering, and they expect to be cleared in the matter, a team source told ESPN.

If the league office’s probe can prove the Lakers were guilty of tampering with George while under contract with Indiana, Los Angeles can be punished in several ways, including a loss of draft picks, financial fines up to $5 million, future restrictions on acquiring George and possible suspensions of offending officials.

It’s still unclear at this point if anything is going to come out of this investigation, but it certainly does seem as though Los Angeles is confident that they are going to be able to sign George next summer.