Heat organization, Spoelstra in particular standing up to LeBron

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We mentioned something that seemed quite clear in our post about Heat players being unhappy with Erik Spoelstra — that leak had to come from either LeBron James camp or CAA, the agency that represents all of the Heat’s big three. Just people trying to protect their players by shifting blame to the coach.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo confirms that in his latest anti-James screed, saying it was James’ right hand man Maverick Carter who planted the story. The reason was to distract from the build up of LeBron returning to Cleveland on Thursday.

You can believe everything Wojnarowski writes or not, that’s up to you, but it’s clear the James/Spoelstra relationship is not going swimmingly. James has said he’s not having fun and asked for other changes in how he is used. You don’t have two long sit-down meetings with your coach when everything is going well. And from the Heat’s 10-8 record, it’s clear things are not going well.

What’s different for James is the Heat are standing up to him as an organization in a way Cleveland did not. Spoelstra is on the front lines of this — telling James he can’t miss a team flight to stay an extra night in New Orleans, telling him he has to play point guard at times whether he wants to or not. Spoelstra is the one fighting the fight but you can bet he has the backing of Pat Riley and Micky Arison.

Brian Windhorst, who covered James in Cleveland and now is doing the same in Miami for ESPN, writes that standing up to James like this is key, something the franchise did not (and in some ways could not) do in Cleveland. Something the Cavs paid a price for.

Now is when the (Heat) organization — be it president Pat Riley himself or Spoelstra in one of their series of meetings or perhaps both — need to tell James that they won’t completely accommodate him. Spoelstra will remain the coach and the team is going to stay the course. That means James, whether he likes it or not, will to continue to be asked to sacrifice parts of his game.

It may be hard in the short term but this course of action will make a difference over the long haul. The evidence resides in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ recent history.

Windhorst’s point is that James has basically gotten his way wherever he has gone. Nobody wanted to offend, everybody wanted James on their side, everybody wanted to make him happy. If the Heat do that, they will pay, both on the court and in stability of the organization. Windhorst sees this as the James testing the organization and they can’t buckle or change.

The Heat likely won’t buckle. But until the team on the court gets on a little winning streak and beats some quality opponents, these tests and these questions will remain.

NBA reacts to Suns’ Devin Booker dropping 70 on Celtics

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Devin Booker was the story of the NBA Friday night.

The 20-year-old Suns’ guard — who never scored more than 19 points in a game at Kentucky in college — dropped 70 on the Boston Celtics in a losing effort. He becomes only the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 70 in a game. At the end the Suns were fouling and calling time outs to stop the clock and get the ball back to Booker, but as Phoenix coach Earl Watson said to those who complained, “You got a problem with that? Do something. Simple as that.”

NBA Twitter exploded at what Booker did.

Booker himself responded this way.

Lonzo Ball makes expected official, declares for NBA Draft

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There was no hesitation. None was expected.

After UCLA was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 by Kentucky, the Bruin’s Lonzo Ball — who is expected to be a top-three pick — declared for the NBA draft this June.

Ball is expected to go second or third in the upcoming NBA draft. Speaking with people around the league Washington’s Markelle Fultz is a clear No. 1, but after that if the Lakers — the team with the second-worst record in the league — have the No. 2 pick they are expected to snap up Ball. Depending on how the lottery shakes out the top of the draft, Ball could fall a little — there are teams that like Josh Jackson — but not much.

Ball is a 6’6″ point guard who averaged 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds a game for UCLA last season. He has fantastic passing vision, impressive shooting range (although he can take some questionable shots), and a great sense of floor spacing and how to run an offense, particularly in transition. However, his weaknesses were exposed in his final game some as De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky completely outplayed Ball. Defensive pressure took Ball (and the Bruins) out of rhythm, forced them to play in the half court (where Ball is not as strong), and it’s one of the things Ball is going to have to adapt to at the next level where everyone is more athletic. Also, he’s going to need to get more consistent defensively.

The potential for Ball to be special is there, which is why he will go high in the draft.

And no, the rantings of his father will not change that. Teams see the father as a distraction that can be handled, they aren’t going to let him get in the way of drafting talent.

Watch highlights of Shaquille O’Neal’s statue unveiling outside Staples Center

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Kobe Bryant said “Thank you. I learned so much from you as a player.”

Jerry West said he loved him like a son.

Jeanie Buss said “No one celebrates a championship like you, but please no more asking Mark Madsen to dance.”

The Lakers unveiled a new statue for Shaquille O’Neal Friday night, one flying high over a Staples Center entrance, and the stars were on hand for the event. Phil Jackson was there making Snoop Dogg jokes. Shaq and Kobe were sharing laughs. It was a big night for a big man with a big personality. And a big heart.

Check out the highlights above.

Report: Knicks’ Joakim Noah to be suspended 20 games for violating league drug policy

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Joakim Noah hasn’t set foot on an NBA court since Feb. 4, and his season was all but ended when he had knee surgery at the end of February. Last summer, Phil Jackson took a $72 million gamble on an aging Noah that has not worked at all, and left New York with an anchor of a contract for three more seasons after this one.

Tomorrow it will be official Noah is done for this season, but not because of the Knicks or his injury.

During his recovery, Noah violated the NBA’s drug policy and will pay for a 20-game suspension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Noah tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement that is prohibited under the outgoing Collective Bargaining Agreement, league sources said.

Noah, 32, is expected to serve 10 games of the suspension to finish out the 2016-17 regular season and 10 games to start the 2017-18 season, league sources said.

The National Basketball Players Association’s investigation concluded that Noah hadn’t “knowingly or willingly” violated the policy and cooperated fully with the league’s probe, league sources said.

According to reports, this is not a substance banned in the new CBA that kicks in July 1, but was covered in the previous CBA. Over-the-counter supplements could be something put in his regular workout recovery drinks that he was unaware of, although we are unsure of the details.

Traditionally, the player has to be healthy enough to play before the league starts the suspension. Noah has been out for more than a month, but if a league doctor says he is healthy enough to play the then the clock on the suspension can start. The 10 games this season is no big deal for the Knicks, he wasn’t going to play anyway, but the 10 at the start of next season could sting (depending on how they plan to use him).