NBA Season Preview: The Miami Heat

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Thumbnail image for Heat_huddle.jpgLast season: 47-35, fifth seed in the East. Their reward for that? The Boston Celtics in the first round. Ouch.

Head Coach: Erik Spoelstra, who is one of the best young minds in the game and a Pat Riley protégé. Which means Riley is not going to go Stan Van Gundy on him this season (if he does the backlash will be insane).

Key Departures: Former No. 2 pick Michael Beasley (now in the basketball Siberia of Minnesota), Jermaine O’Neal (who could come back to haunt the Heat as part of the Celtics), Quentin Richardson (who could come back to haunt the Heat as part of the Magic, plus some other minor parts.

Key Additions: Don’t know if you heard, but LeBron James chose Miami. Hate the man if you want, he remains as good a basketball player as there is walking the face of the earth.

The Heat re-signed Dwyane Wade. They brought in Chris Bosh from Toronto, now people will see just how good Bosh really is (I’m not sure the general public gets it).

They brought in Mike Miller to be the sharp-shooting, floor-spreading guy they need with all those penetrators on the roster. They re-signed Udonis Haslem. They signed Zydrunas Ilgauskas to provide depth up front. The re-singed Joel Anthony to be the rim protector they need. The re-signed Carlos Arroyo. They brought in Juwan Howard and Jamaal Magloire to be the old guys on the bench.

Whew. That about covers it, we think.

Best case scenario: An NBA championship. Anything less and next summer be filled with “what’s wrong with the Heat?” stories. It won’t be the championship the Lakers/Celtics won, but the one the Heat lost somehow.

For that to happen: The Heat have to defend. They do not need to be the 2004 Pistons in defense, but they need to be good.

Look, they are going to score. The concerns about Wade/LeBron/Bosh being able to play together are overblown — these are not the crazy-high usage guys who never pass. All three are good teammates, guys who give up the ball (remember, when you climbed all over LeBron for passing to the open man with the game on the line?). This team is going to be an offensive force.

And all three are good defenders. The pressure that James and Wade can put on opposing wing players will be intense — the Heat are going to get turnovers and easy (occasionally spectacular) transition baskets.

But in today’s NBA, with no handchecking on the perimeter, Dwyane Wade can’t guard Dwyane Wade. The league’s best penetrating wing players are going to get to the rim, other teams will do it with crisp ball movement (see Jazz, Utah). In today’s NBA you need a big man to protect the rim and own the paint (and glass). You need Kendrick Perkins or Dwight Howard or (a healthy) Andrew Bynum to anchor that defense.

Joel Anthony is a shot blocker. He works hard and gets as much out of his game as anyone. He is still 6’9″ and other teams are going to try to exploit that. Not many can. The Heat have the talent to go stretches with Bosh at the center spot, to use Big Z, to get by just fine most nights. But there will be nights when the run into a roster like Orlando where they have a center and other big men to spread the floor making help defense much harder.

The Heat have a season to fine-tune the defense, to see what matchups and lineups work best. Because come the playoffs they will see teams that have the talent to go at their weaknesses and if the Heat have not figured it out they will pay.

More likely the Heat will: Be right in the mix for a title. Can they win it? The Magic 8 Ball says “ask later.” We don’t know. The legendary Lakers with Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain did not — this is no sure thing for the Heat. The Lakers, Magic and Celtics have the talent to hang.

But if the Heat can defend, if they get solid play out of Anthony and Chalmers and Miller, if they can stay healthy, yes they can get a ring. Both this year and several more in the next five years.

Prediction: 64-18, and the top seed in the East. (Forget the 72-win thing, you have to really commit to that and the Heat will commit to rest for the playoffs instead.) From there, it’s all about matchups and how far the Heat defense has come along.

Ex-Cavalier Sasha Kaun retires

CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 13: Sasha Kaun #14 of the Cleveland Cavaliers works against Joel Anthony #50 of the Detroit Pistons at Quicken Loans Arena on April 13, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Pistons defeated Cleveland 112-110 in overtime.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
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Accompanying their signing of Chris Andersen, the Cavaliers paid Philadelphia to take Sasha Kaun. Cleveland, facing a steep luxury tax, didn’t want to pay both big men. It was cheaper to send the 76ers cash and have them waive Kaun rather than the Cavs doing it themselves.

But perhaps the Cavaliers could’ve just waited out Kaun.

Gary Bedore of the Lawrence Journal-World:

Sasha Kaun, one of only two Kansas University basketball players, along with Hall of Famer Clyde Lovellette, to win an NCAA title (2008), NBA title (2016) and medal in the Olympic Games (2012 bronze), has decided to retire from pro ball at the age of 31.

“I was very blessed and fortunate to play as long as I have. I had a great experience for the (Russian) national team and professionally. Overall, it’s been phenomenal,” Kaun said Saturday in a phone conversation

Kaun said he started thinking seriously about retirement “toward the end of the season. I kind of feel my ankle has been bothering me awhile. With the amount of pain I was going through, I just wanted to be done. It’s something I’ve had all my career,” he added of right ankle problems. “It was definitely getting worse and worse, year by year. Especially coming here (one year in NBA after seven seasons in Moscow) … the intensity of the game I just kind of realized I don’t think I can go and do it any more.

“I said, ‘You know what? I’m not going to be happy playing. I’m not going to be happy not playing. I think it’s a good time to call it quits.’’’

Kaun joined the NBA at age 30 last year — eight years after being the No. 56 pick in the 2008 draft. He played just 95 minutes in 25 games for Cleveland in his rookie and only season.

Perhaps Kaun wouldn’t have retired if he had a roster spot on the defending NBA champions. At minimum, being a free agent made it an easier call.

Kaun was best known professionally for playing for David Blatt both with the Russian national team and the Cavs and not being Kendrick Perkins.

Jarron and Jason Collins address Democratic National Convention (video)

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Former NBA player Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete in major North American team sports and a longtime friend of the Clinton family, spoke at Democratic National Convention. Collins touted Hillary Clinton’s ability to help the LGBT and African-American communities.

He was preceded at the podium by his twin brother, Jarron, a Warriors assistant coach. Jarron discussed the dangers of Donald Trump before turning it over to “my less handsome twin brother.”

Report: Heat gave Dion Waiters player option in two-year contract

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Dion Waiters #3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder dribbles as Andre Iguodala #9 of the Golden State Warriors defends him during the first half in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Heat got Dion Waiters cheaply.

Just not as cheaply as initially reported.

Turns out, Waiters didn’t sign a one-year deal. It’s a two-year deal with a player option.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Waiters holds a player option on the 2017-18 season

If Waiters received the full room exception and maximum raise, his 2017-18 salary is slated to be $3,028,410. Given his self-confidence, there’s a good chance he’ll opt out.

But Miami loses flexibility by putting the decision in his hands.

The Heat now project to have just about $14 million of cap space in 2017.

That counts the guaranteed salaries of Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson, player options for Josh McRoberts, Waiters and Willie Reed, a team option on Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson‘s unguaranteed salary and the No. 15 pick.

So, there’s a lot of wiggle room. The cap could land higher than expected, especially because a new Collective Bargaining Agreement could dictate terms. Miami could trade. McRoberts, Waiters and/or Reed could opt out. The Heat could get a lower draft pick.

But Waiters’ contract ties up just a little more 2017 cap room. It’s still probably worth the flier on the talented, though woefully inefficient, 24-year-old. The downside is just a little sharper.

Which leads to the bigger question: Was it worth letting Dwyane Wade leave in the name of maintaining flexibility if that flexibility is only moderate anyway?

Obviously, it’ll be easier to handle Waiters’ $3 million player option than Wade’s requested $25 million salary in 2017. But the Heat won’t have substantial cap space regardless. And this way, they also won’t have Wade.

Carmelo Anthony gathers athletes, cops, kids in conversation

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 22:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the United States stands on the court as the American national anthem is performed before a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game against Argentina at T-Mobile Arena on July 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The United States won 111-74.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) Carmelo Anthony spent the U.S. Olympic basketball team’s precious day off running a two-hour town hall meeting at a South Los Angeles youth center because he can’t sleep anymore.

With only a few spare hours Monday before jetting off to continue the Americans’ pre-Olympic tour, Anthony gathered basketball stars, community leaders and police officers to speak with teenagers and young adults about the importance of respect, communication and safety. Roughly 200 people came together for the meeting, and Anthony believes everyone left with something to contemplate.

“We really got a lot of messages out of today,” Anthony said. “Hopefully we can continue this dialogue, and we created something today that will continue on.”

Anthony shares many Americans’ profound disquiet with gun violence after this year’s series of increasingly dismaying shootings. With both the men’s and women’s Olympic teams in Los Angeles at the same time, the New York Knicks star recruited fellow Olympian Tamika Catchings and other like-minded athletes at the Challengers Boys and Girls Club to begin a badly needed nationwide conversation.

“There were some very, very powerful messages that were being talked about,” Anthony said. “Not just amongst us as athletes, but among the youth. The youth really spoke out today about how they feel about their community, how they feel about police officers, how they feel about relationships and how we can mend these relationships.”

Anthony’s awakening interest in social activism was piqued after he spent a day watching news coverage of the latest shootings earlier this month. He awoke in the middle of the night and wrote a 280-word Instagram post declaring that the “system is broken” and calling on sports figures to lead change.

“The first thing that came to my mind was, I have to get my athletes, my fellow athletes, to step up and use their voice and use their platform in the best way they can,” Anthony said.

Two weeks ago, he took the stage at the ESPY Awards with Chris Paul, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The four superstars decried violence and called for open conversation on racial issues.

Anthony backed up the group’s words before Team USA left Los Angeles following an exhibition game on Sunday night. He plans to keep finding ways to facilitate communication after this gathering led to frank discussions.

Catchings recalled young adults telling police officers about the fear they feel when approached by officers with their hands on their guns. One young woman told officers: “Just smile! A smile goes a long way.”

“Definitely tension, and definitely some tears,” said Catchings, the three-time Olympic gold medalist and former WNBA MVP. “One young lady said that when she got off the bus and saw the (police) uniform, right off the bat, she was scared.

“But coming into this environment and hearing everything, she (said), `I doubted if I really wanted to be a part of it, but I’m so glad I came, because now I feel like I’m walking away with so much more than I thought I was going to get.’ When you have conversations like that and you get feedback like that, we know we’re going in the right direction.”

The community leaders invited by Anthony echoed his confidence in the importance of communication, particularly between police and young black men. Deputy Chief Bill Scott of the LAPD brought a large group of officers to join the meeting.

“Many of the kids in our group said, `We’re thrilled to be here,”‘ said Calvin Lyons, the CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles. “`We have a higher level of respect for the officers because of what they’re sharing.’ There was no fear.”

Anthony hopes to be a three-time Olympic gold medalist at this time next month, possibly capping a remarkable international career with another title in Rio before he heads back to the Knicks. He knows his work in American communities will go on much longer than even his NBA career, but he welcomes the challenge.

“We know that nothing is going to happen overnight,” Anthony said. “But what we wanted to do was create something that we could start right now, and continue on when we leave here today.”