Dwyane Wade in the middle of everything wrong with Miami

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Dwyane Wade remains the beating heart of the Miami Heat. He remains the focus, the center of the storm. The Heat are struggling in part because he is struggling — with his shot, with how to play along side LeBron, with the offense, and maybe with this coach.

And until he figures it out, the Heat as a team will not.

Quotes that have come out of Wade in the last 48 hours sound like a man who is frustrated — with losing and with his game. Those two struggles are interlinked.

Wade is struggling with his shot, and he is down across the board with it. Last season he shot 67 percent on shots at the rim, this season it is down to 55.7 percent (via hoopdata). He’s been good in the shorter midrange, but from beyond 16 feet things get worse, with him shooting 18 percent from 16 feet out to the arc and 25.5 percent beyond it. Both numbers are well down from last year. His percentage of shots assisted on has dropped as well.

Why is that? Well for one, Tom Haberstroh of ESPN got Wade to say some interesting things about his thought process on the court.

“We’re both kind of similar players,” Wade said of LeBron after practice last week. “On the court, we’re thinking too much. When we have the ball, we’re thinking about the other guy — we’re thinking about the other guys.”

And then he said something that no coach wants to hear from one of the most potent scorers in the league: “You don’t want to take two shots in a row.”

Yes you do. Do you think Kobe has qualms about taking two shots in a row? (Do you think Kobe has qualms about taking 15 in a row?) Do you think Dirk Nowitzki has that concern? Kevin Durant? Paul Pierce? And that’s just a handful of guys — the best couple scorers on 29 other teams (and a few who are not the best and should shoot less) don’t have those qualms.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has taken criticism for part of that hesitant Heat mentality, it is Spoelstra’s offense in which Wade is struggling. It is too reliant on pick-and-rolls. Wade even seemed to tell ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz he’d like to see more pure isolation over more P&R.

I think, at times, we get into a space where we let the whole team guard us because we run a lot of pick-and-roll. And we are letting guys off the hook. I want to see someone guard LeBron [James] one-on-one three or four times in a row down the court, because I know what they are thinking: “Somebody please help.”

I want to see them do that to Chris. I want to see them do that to me. So it’s about how we do it in spots in games, if all of us can be involved together. And it’s about how you do it where we are getting other guys involved as well.

Wade is right there — the constant 1/5 pick-and-rolls is allowing opposing big men to help put pressure on the ball. Opposing centers don’t fear getting beat by whomever is playing center for the Heat like they do Wade and LeBron, so you know where the focus goes. Add in the heavy ball-pressure defenses of teams like the Celtics and you have a problem for Miami. Pure isolation (four guys along the baseline, one guy out top) makes it harder to help and can open up passing lanes for a disciplined team. But are the Heat really that disciplined? Isolation is not really an efficient offense for anyone.

What’s interesting is Wade seems to — for the first time, really — have backed away from Spoelstra. Look at what he told Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.

“Players and coaches, it’s always that kind of weird type of relationship. You don’t look at him and say, ‘That’s my guy right there,’ in the sense of me. Yeah, I came in when Spo was early in his coaching career. He wasn’t even on the bench when I first came in. He’s grown to know me; I’ve grown to know him.”

And now?

“He’s a different person and I’m a different player than when we came in,” Wade continued. “So, I’m not going to say he’s my guy, but he’s my coach, you know. We listen to him and try to execute a game plan and sometimes players and coaches get into disagreements. In general, that’s life with people. It’s the nature of sports…”

“Right now, in my opinion, no one is doing a good job, we’re 9-8,” Wade said. “We’re all in this together. Players not doing a good job; coaches not doing a good job. As a whole. When success comes, we win as a whole. We win four in a row, Coach is going to look great.”

These comments are notable because Wade used to be the guy with Spoelstra’s back no matter what. But now the losing comes and nobody seems to have anybody’s back in Miami. There are people close to the players — and most likely from either LeBron’s entourage or CAA, the agency that represents all of the Heat’s Big Three — saying that the players are unhappy and Spoelstra is the reason. Of course, those same people have to put the spotlight on the coach, so as to keep their players looking good. Shift the blame.

But there is enough blame for everyone. The Heat don’t look good and Wade is right in that everybody can step up and accept a helping of blame.

That includes Wade. Because more than anyone else he is right in the middle of everything with the Heat.

What’s Kyrie Irving’s problem with LeBron James?

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Kyrie Irving reportedly requested a trade from the Cavaliers because he no longer wants to play with LeBron James.

But what does that actually mean?

Ramona Shelburne, Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Much of Irving’s disenchantment with James was rooted in game play, sources said. James, as a once-in-a-lifetime talent, controlled the ball more than any other forward perhaps in league history.

But there were ancillary issues that bothered Irving, too, such as how James’ good friend Randy Mims had a position on the Cavs’ staff and traveled on the team plane while none of Irving’s close friends were afforded the same opportunity.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

In registering his preference for a trade, league sources said, Irving divulged to Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert that he’s become increasingly uneasy about a future that includes a roster constructed to complement LeBron James — a roster that could be devoid of James come free agency in 2018.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Irving wants to take his show away from James so he can grow his career (his on-court acclaim and notoriety, his brand, his voice) outside of James’ shadow.

Numerous people who’ve talked to Irving over the past month have said to cleveland.com that he told them he wanted to leave to grow his career, and it was the message Irving sent to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert when he asked to be traded last week.

These can all simultaneously be true. There needn’t be one singular reason Irving wants a trade.

It can also be true that former general manager David Griffin might have soothed Irving’s discontent. It can also be true that the Warriors’ dominance influenced Irving, as he might have been more willing to remain in a secondary role if it were more likely to result in a championship.

But so much of this comes back to LeBron, a massive presence around whom everything in Cleveland revolves.

Being the top player on a team means so many things – dictating on-court action, having the supporting cast built around you, influencing team staff, building a larger sponsorship presence. Irving can’t get any of that while playing with LeBron.

Irving led the Cavs in shots and usage percentage last season, but that happened only because LeBron allowed it. LeBron obviously retook control in the playoffs. There’s no question whose team this is.

There is also no indication Irving is fighting that. He’s not trying to usurp LeBron’s power, and Irving has molded his game the last few years to fit with LeBron.

But now Irving his exercising his own power so he can get even more the only place possible – somewhere away from LeBron.

Did Cavaliers dropping David Griffin lead to Kyrie Irving’s trade request?

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Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said he had the NBA’s hardest coaching job. Following that thinking, former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin might have had the most difficult front-office job.

Not only did he face the same championship-or-bust pressure and oversee the same players (and their egos) as Lue, Griffin also reported directly to Dan Gilbert, the Cavs’ sometimes-difficult owner. The Gilbert aspect is often discussed, as is working with great/brilliant/passive-aggressive LeBron James. But it has probably been undersold how high-maintenance Kyrie Irving – who requested a trade – also was for Griffin before the general manager was ousted last month.

Ramona Shelburne, Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Over the previous few months, the Cavs had been worried about Irving’s mindset. They knew at times he’d grown unhappy with playing a secondary role on the team. Griffin had several conversations with Irving throughout the year, sources said, trying to find ways to work on the situation.

After the season, there was a desire to arrange a meeting to clear the air from all sides, sources said, but it didn’t take place. Unlike most teams, the Cavs did not have postseason exit meetings with their players.

What followed was a whirlwind, with the Cavs putting forth a series of trade packages looking to acquire either Butler or George. Some of these talks included Irving, which upset him even more when he found out about it, sources said. Previously, Griffin had worked to keep lines of communication with Irving open, but now Irving was in the dark.

Irving’s trade request had been building for years. The reported timing is vague, but Irving might have even requested a trade while Griffin was still in charge.

Either way, there’s no guarantee the Cavs keeping Griffin would have placated Irving. But it seems an experienced voice running the front office could have only helped.

Now, the task of trading Irving or mending fences falls to new general manager Koby Altman – who must solve this issue in a spotlight he never wanted.

If only Cleveland had Phil Jackson to insist on exit meetings. Maybe this would have been smoothed over a month ago.

LaVar Ball gets technical foul, pulls his AAU team off the court, forfeits game it was winning (video)

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Magic Johnson said he’s convinced LaVar Ball’s outlandishness is just marketing and that the father of Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball is truly committed to developing younger players.

This didn’t look like someone who put youth player development over his own image.

With LaVar Ball’s AAU team leading by nine, he got a technical foul then pulled his team off the court:

He (kind of) explained why after the game (warning: profanity):

He also touched on his reasons in a video that, of course, quickly turns to promoting his brand:

This doesn’t mean Johnson is completely wrong, but the Lakers president seemingly misdiagnosed Ball’s priorities. What if Johnson is also wrong about Ball staying clear of the Lakers? That could create problems – if it hasn’t already.

I was never convinced, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver predicted, LaVar would settle down after Lonzo was drafted. I still believe Lonzo’s talent justifies managing LaVar, but that appears increasingly likely to be a burden the Lakers must actually handle rather than just brush off.

James Dolan’s MSG threatens to sue Steve Ballmer’s Los Angeles Clippers

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This story requires a little background.

The Forum in Inglewood was best known for decades as being both fabulous and the home of the Los Angeles Lakers, back from the Jerry West era and through Magic’s “Showtime” teams. Then in 2001 the Lakers moved downtown to Staples Center, and after that the Forum went through some rough times. It was a number of things, including a mega church for a while, but mostly it was empty. Then several years ago the Madison Square Garden company (owned by Knicks owner James Dolan) bought the Forum, fixed it up, and started booking it again. Now the Forum is one of the hot major concert/event spaces in Los Angeles again, and it’s about to get a boost because it’s adjacent to where Stan Kroenke is building the new Los Angeles Rams stadium. Hello gentrification!

Now enter Steve Ballmer. The Clippers’ owner wants out of Staples Center and the Lakers’ shadow, so he has proposed to build his new arena in Inglewood in another space adjacent to the Rams stadium — land that MSG used to lease. As you might imagine, Dolan’s MSG is not thrilled — they are already battling with Staples to fill their space, now a state-of-the-art arena is moving in down the street.

In a proxy Knicks/Clippers battle, MSG may sue to Clippers and Inglewood in an attempt to block the new building. Here is what Dolan’s attorney in the case, Marvin Putnam, told the Daily Breeze in Los Angeles.

“The mayor made it extremely clear that he needed that piece of land back for a kind of ‘Silicon Beach,’ ” said Marvin Putnam, a partner with the law firm Latham & Watkins, which filed the damage claim that serves as a precursor to a lawsuit. “They’re attempting to flat-out trick people.”

(Inglewood Mayor James) Butts declined to comment, and there is no proof that he made those statements. But when Madison Square Garden Co. relinquished the parking lease to the city, its approved contract states that the land would not be used for anything that would hurt the Forum’s business, according to documents.

Right now the Clippers and Inglewood are in an exclusive negotiating agreement to come to terms on the sale and plans for the property. Putnam told the paper — and the Inglewood City Council — that if the deal goes forward they will sue to block it.

It’s impossible to say how this will turn out, although as a former government reporter I will say these cases tend to be decided in favor of the side about to spend a ton of money on a new building.