Pro Basketball Crosstalk: Are the Heat good for basketball?

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bosh_wade_james.jpgAnother day, another edition of Crosstalk. Today’s topic: The Miami Heat.

Resolved: The Miami Heat (as we now know them) are good for basketball.
Rob Mahoney: It is better to be feared than respected. That’s the truism that LeBron James is betting on, as he single-handedly sabotaged his own image while creating one of the most intimidating teams in recent NBA history. The hometown(ish) hero who held press conferences at his high school is no more, and in his place is a narcissistic, attention-hungry superstar. 
A narcissistic, attention-hungry superstar that happens to play for the Eastern Conference favorites, a team that could conceivably shake the sport and the league to its very core.
The Miami Heat have a chance to be a truly transformational team in a lot of ways, and challenge a lot of what we think we know about the game. The unique combination of top-notch talent assembled on the Heat roster thus simultaneously acts as both basketball innovator and philosopher, ushering in the new while revealing the true nature of the old. That last part is particularly important, especially when we investigate the role the Heat will play in discussions of positional fluidity.
LeBron James may end up being the “point guard,” or maybe Dwyane Wade. Either way, should one of those two become the de facto point for Miami, the Heat would seem to be visionaries, driven by inspiration and necessity. However, is putting either LeBron or Wade in a position to make plays really anything groundbreaking? Wouldn’t either player really be going about business as usual, just with better teammates to share the load? In that way, LeBron or Wade as a point guard wouldn’t be re-defining the position or even blurring positional lines, necessarily. They’d just be spokesmen of the way that position has evolved, like Plato’s philosopher returning to the cave to assure us all that the images of traditional point guards on the wall really are just shadows.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are both phenomenally talented and successful players, but they’re not stretching the limits of position in ways that haven’t been done before. Still, the sheer magnitude of the Heat’s season will likely do more for the positional revolution than so many of their positional misfit predecessors. Many consider Miami to be the championship favorite (or at the least, a contender), and the affirmation of the Heat’s unbalanced roster means plenty. This isn’t some experiment in an underground Oakland laboratory. Miami’s dabbling in a more fluid positional set-up will take place on the NBA’s biggest possible stage. With that in mind, exposure and success are both extremely important for whichever basketball norms the Heat will eventually come to challenge, and regardless of just how good the Heat end up being, the first is an absolute certainty.
The Heat make us think about things like position, and even if they don’t culminate in any widespread, institutional change, that’s still good for the sport. Plus, it hardly stops with positions. They make us think about how teams do and should execute their late-game offense. They make us think about what kind of players can be successful in which roles. They make us think about the optimal way to put together a contending team. Miami will challenge so many different aspects of basketball convention, and turn the sport into a never-ending process of hypothesis testing that’s great for everyone involved. 
The value of a team with the power to find and emphasize the truths of the game cannot be overstated.
John Krolik: Man, you went straight to “The Heat are a fascinating basketball experiment,” which was like the third or fourth point on my list. 
Anyways, putting aside the fact that I’m supposed to be a bitter Cavs blogger (which I am, to an extent), I think the Heat are great for basketball. Of course I wish LeBron was still in Cleveland, but I can’t deny that the Heat help the league as a whole. First and foremost, the NBA is still somewhat of a niche sport when compared to the NFL, MLB, college football, and even college basketball. And yet people have been talking about the NBA all summer long, and that’s because of LeBron and the Heat. 
Some people love this team, most people hate this team, but the important thing is that they care about this team. That’s important, especially when you consider the looming CBA dispute/lockout next season. The NHL got relegated to Versus because it went away for a year and everybody realized they didn’t really need it, even with Crosby and Ovechkin coming in — if the Heat help the NBA avoid a similar fate, then long live the Heat. 
Every possible scenario involving this team leads to more interest in the NBA. If they win the next three titles and become a dynasty, people won’t be able to keep their eyes off of them. I remember a Stuart Scott chat in ESPN The Magazine a while back that went thusly:
(Random Person): My friend thinks Tiger Woods is bad for golf because he wins too much.

Stu: I think your friend is stupid.
I tend to agree with Stu on this one: dominance is fascinating. We’re drawn to it, we love it. If the Heat can become a Bulls-like team that wins nearly every game, dominates every June, and become a team that makes every road game A Happening in whatever city they go to, that’s great. The only time we’re not drawn to dominance is when it’s associated with a Sampras/Federer/Klitschko-like lack of personality or national identity, and the Heat certainly don’t lack for that. Floyd Mayweather, perhaps the best technical boxer of his generation, didn’t become a pay-per-view draw until he embraced the “Money” Mayweather persona and started pissing people off — If “I’m taking my talents to Miami” is what keeps people interested in the aesthetic and technical brilliance of the best basketball players on the planet, then I’m all for it. 
And if the Heat lose, it might be even better for the NBA — the NBA keeps the eyeballs the Heat bring, a clear babyface/heel dynamic gets reinforced, and people get to keep believing that Truth, Justice, and the American Way always prevail in sports. In some ways, the current Heat are the best of both worlds for anyone marketing the NBA: they’re going to be dominant force, and they haven’t even won anything yet. For one season (at least), they provide something that might dominate, might lose, and everyone will want to see succeed or fail. Maybe they’re the evolution of the NBA; maybe they’re the embodiment of all the wrong ways to become true champions. They’re a Rorschach blot of greatness, and everybody is seeing something interesting.  
As to your point, I don’t see how you can deny that the Heat are a fascinating basketball experiment. You’re talking about a (runaway) two-time MVP hooking up with the best player on a championship while both of them are in their primes. Plus the best young power forward in basketball, who seems to be content with playing the Iago to LeBron’s Jafar. LeBron is the most versatile great player since Magic, and for the last seven years he’s been forced to play the role of the Alpha and the Omega for the Cavaliers. Now he gets to play an actual role with players that are close to his level, and the results should be absolutely fascinating. Forget
who’s going to be a man, th
e man, or THE MAN IN ALL CAPS INSTEAD OF STANDARD-SIZED HELVETICA FONT  — It’ll be fascinating to see who handles the ball, who sets the screen, who makes the cut, and who finishes the play on any given Miami possession. 
That Miami’s centers are Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Joel Anthony only make everything more interesting: their lack of quality size in the middle will force the Heat to beat teams with their game, as opposed to being able to out-talent everybody and beat them at their own. My general point is this: I don’t know how this Heat experiment will turn out, but can you imagine anyone not watching? 
RM: Of course not. Everyone will want to know how the Heat are doing, what LeBron is saying, how the Lakers match-up. Moves like this reach out to casual basketball fans in ways that aren’t fully measurable, and the collection of talent in Miami could do more for the NBA as a business than anything we’ve seen in a decade. 
Plus, on top of that, having LeBron James as a hated figure is a huge marketing boon. Kobe Bryant just wasn’t cutting it as the archetypal villain anymore, and the league needs some elite player to play the part. LeBron kind of stumbled into that role by way of his own remarkable PR failures, but he’ll do wonderfully as the big bad.
Dominance really is fascinating, but it’s even more so when a player of LeBron’s caliber is there to laugh maniacally from the shadows. People despised the dynasty Lakers. They complained endlessly about Tim Duncan’s Spurs through San Antonio’s best years. Even Michael Jordan’s reign left countless fans angry and impatient, enamored by his success but perfectly willing to put him at the center of their dart boards. The Heat have the kind of foundation to match those squads, to become a historically great team, and to bring home the ‘ships. Now, with LeBron as a public enemy, they also have that face at which everyone can take aim, even if it’s no more “his team” than it is Dwyane Wade’s. The only thing more fascinating than dominance is watching a dominant team or player fail, and you’d better believe that the Heat will have plenty of newly christened basketball fans rooting for their demise.
Odd though this may sound, that kind of negative fanhood is a huge positive for the league. Teams like the Heat not only bring in more fans, but also more invigorated fans. Suddenly everyone cares what’s going on in Miami, and they’re opinionated and heated, even if they needn’t be. The fact that this beautiful game devolves into a water cooler talking point may irk hardcore NBA heads, but infiltration into that level of the public consciousness is how the Heat could, as you mention, affect a potential lockout. 
The Heat will boost ratings. They will bring in more league and team sponsors. They’re not going to pull the owners and the players in for a group hug at the CBA negotiations, but they can make the game and the league a product too good to miss out on from a financial standpoint, even for a season. If the league as a whole sees an uptick in interest and fan consumption because LeBron, Wade, and Bosh decided to play together in a major market, then we — as followers of the game — all win.

Report: Doc Rivers says Clippers not interested in moving Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin, Jason Smith
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NBA general managers are vultures — if they see an opportunity to buy low on a player, they circle and hope to pick off a meal.

You can be sure Clippers’ GM Doc Rivers phone was full of those calls starting soon after the word leaked of Blake Griffin required surgery on his hand after punching a team employee. The vultures have called with lowball offers, and even when shot down some teams have made sure word of their call leaked out in a “look how hard we are working to get you a star” kind of way. It’s good for PR.

The Clippers are not looking to trade Blake Griffin. Right now, at least.

From Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times.

Bolch expanded upon that in an article.

The Clippers have fielded calls involving various trade proposals but remain reluctant to part with a cornerstone of their franchise and a player who, at age 26, was having possibly his best season before he was sidelined by a quadriceps injury the day after Christmas and subsequently a broken hand sustained in a scuffle with assistant equipment manager Matias Testi.

Right now the vultures are circling, and lowball offers are all the Clippers will get — they couldn’t come close to getting value back. This season the Clippers will get Griffin healthy and hope they can make a deep playoff run.

If the Clippers are bounced in the first or second round this spring, they have some soul searching to do — can the core of Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan beat the Golden State Warriors? If they feel the answer is no, then they must consider changes. And if they were to shake up the core, Griffin may be the most movable piece — plus the Clippers have shown they can play well without him.

However, the Clippers may try to upgrade the pieces around that core and make one more run at the Warriors, then consider breaking things up in 2017 if it doesn’t work out. It’s hard to put together a core as good as the Clippers have right now, and breaking it up comes with great risk. They are not just going to leap blindly off that cliff.

The bottom line is, any Griffin trade rumors you hear up until Draft night, and likely beyond that, are more teams trying to look good to their fan bases than valid trade talks.

Robert Horry says Stephen Curry better offensively than peak Kobe Bryant

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, right, greets Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) prior to an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Stephen Curry has a long road ahead to walk away from the game with the resume and legacy that Kobe Bryant will leave with come April.

But is he already a bigger threat on offense than Kobe ever was?

Former NBA player, Kobe teammate, and Lakers studio guy Robert Horry said yes, while on SiriusXM NBA Radio with host Justin Termine. Here is his quote (hat tip Hoopshype):

“Kobe in his prime really wasn’t that great of a three-point shooter. He was a drive, get-to-the-hole, dunk-on-you type of guy. Steph can drive and float you. He can shoot it from half court. You have to guard him at all times.”

Peak Kobe on offense (the 2006-07 season, I would say) averaged 31.6 points and 5.4 assists per game, with a true shooting percentage of 58 percent and a usage rate of 33.6. This season Curry is averaging 29.8 points and 6.4

This season Curry is averaging 29.8 points and 6.4 assists, with a true shooting percentage of 68.2 percent and a usage rate of 32.3.

There are a lot of difficulties in comparing the apples and oranges of those seasons, but we can safely say that because of the three ball Curry is a more efficient scorer than Kobe ever was. He is certainly more dangerous that way. I agree that Curry creates more problems on offense because of how his shooting stretches the defense, plus he can drive the lane.

Kobe, at his peak, was a better defender than Curry. (Curry is better than some critics want to give him credit for, he led the NBA in steals last season, but he does it more within a team system where he is solid, he is not the lock-down wing defender Bryant was back in the day.)

I hate comparing all-time greats and saying X is better than Y, because the game evolves and situations are different. Kobe will walk away from the game this summer one of the all-time greats, no question. We’re a long way from knowing Curry’s final legacy, but it will be as probably the greatest shooter and one of the greatest offensive forces the game has known. A guy built for today’s NBA rules and style.

Maybe we could just try to enjoy both and not compare.

Snowed-out Jazz/Wizards game rescheduled for Feb. 18

Bradley Beal, John Wall
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We haven’t seen a back-to-back-to-back in the NBA since the lockout season, when the league tried to cram 66 games in after Christmas.

The Washington Wizards have one now.

The Utah at Washington game originally scheduled for Jan. 23, which was snowed out because of a major storm hitting the Eastern seaboard, has been rescheduled for Thursday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. Eastern at Verizon Center.

That makes the Wizards’ schedule:

Feb. 18: vs. Utah
Feb. 19: vs. Detroit
Feb. 20: at Miami

The Jazz have a back-to-back as well, facing Boston on the 19th.

Mike Conley does not crush Knicks free agent dreams, says everything on table

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) gestures after making a 3-point basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When you talk about the most underrated players in the NBA, especially with the casual fan, Mike Conley is at the top of the list. The Grizzlies’ point guard has played at an All-Star level for a few seasons now but hasn’t gotten the recognition, in part because it’s Memphis and in part because the West is stacked with quality point guards.

The New York Knicks desperately need an upgrade at the point.

Which has led to the latest fantasy of seemingly every Knick fan (and talking head in the city) — the free agent Conley coming to New York this summer. When asked about it Friday before the Grizzlies and Knicks squared off, Conley didn’t kill the rumors (which in New York is like throwing gasoline on them). Here are his quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“I think everything will be on the table when that time comes,” Conley said Friday morning after the Grizzlies’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t committed to anything…

“They’ve got talent, obviously,” he said. “I think [Kristaps] Porzingis surprised a lot of people. He’s going to be very, very good in this league. He already is pretty good. But he’s going to grow each year, and they already have one of the best small forward in Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. They’ve got a young team, so they’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

The smart money is on Conley staying in Memphis, the only NBA team he has ever played for. Conley was very active last summer in recruiting Marc Gasol to remain in Memphis, and has said it would be very difficult to leave him. Plus the Grizzlies can offer more money — one more guaranteed year plus larger raises.

The Knicks will need to lose some salary before July 1 just to offer Conley a max, which likely starts around $24 million (depends on the final salary cap number). What the Knicks can offer is a larger stage for his brand and the chance to bring that brand out of the shade of Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Conley — who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, is shooting 35 percent from three, is good on the pick-and-roll, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game — will have plenty of other suitors as well. He’s one of the best players on the free agent market this summer.