Now we have what we want: Miami vs. Boston

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Give the people what they want.

And this is the series nearly everyone wanted.

Old school big three vs. new school big three. LeBron James against the Celtics again — but this time he has new friends with him for backup. Tradition rich New England vs. modern and stylish Miami.

Celtics vs. Heat.

A seven-game series nearly as anticipated as the NBA finals (certainly by television executives, at least). This series felt destined from the moment these two teams faced off on opening day. The Heat’s path to legitimacy has always seemed to run through Boston.

Now is when we find out if Miami can live up to the hype. Or if Boston’s veterans and defense are still too tough. We find out if the Celtics can execute at the end of games better than Miami, or if the ridiculous athleticism of the Heat will prove to be too much.

It’s a series of fun matchups — Chris Boshvs. Kevin Garnett, Paul Piercevs. LeBron, Dwyane Wadeand Ray Allen, Joel Anthonyvs. Big Baby… OK, not so much the last one. But across the board the matchups are fascinating.

This is a series that is going to be about defense — two of the top five defenses in the NBA. Boston owns the paint and brings help early, Miami relies on athleticism on the wing to pressure the ball handler, it traps and disrupts. These two teams’ regular-season affairs were largely low-scoring, half-court, grind-it-out games that looked like playoff basketball even though the playoffs were a distant dream at the time.

But in a lot of ways this series will be about the Celtics’ ability to exploit their mismatches. Can Rajon Rondo rip up Mike Bibby? Can the Celtics’ bench extend leads? Will Shaquille O’Neal play, and if he does how much does he have to really give?

Usually in the NBA teams have to struggle a little in the playoffs to advance, they need to learn how to win together before a title can be theirs. This Boston team — with its veterans when they got together — was the exception to the rule. They won out of the gate (and taught the Lakers hard lessons about winning together, something L.A. clearly took to heart).

It feels like Boston could teach Miami that same lesson. But it will not be simple. Wade has learned that lesson — he has a ring, too — and will steady the ship. LeBron is hungry and is still the best player in the game. Bosh is just happy to be out of the first round, so he doesn’t fit with the others. But you get the idea.

This is what basketball is about. A clash of athleticism and style, a battle of systems and guys who just destroy defensive systems with their skill.

This is what we’ve all been waiting for. We got what we wanted, which means the winner of this series is the fans.

LeBron James will play in opener against Celtics

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Did we really expect anything else?

LeBron James was a game-time decision for the season opener in Cleveland against Boston and Kyrie Irving due to a sprained ankle. We expected he would go, but ankles can be tricky and are easy to re-injure once sprained, so the Cavs wanted to be careful.

He’s going to play. Coach Tyronn Lue made it official.

LeBron is the best player on the planet, but he can coast through the regular season at times. What teams try to avoid is giving him extra motivation… say bringing in a guy who left the team last summer on opening night. Expect full force LeBron tonight.

LeBron James, do you owe Cleveland anything? “I don’t owe anybody anything”

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It will be the biggest off-court topic of the NBA season: Will LeBron James stay with the Cavaliers after this season?

Right now, LeBron doesn’t know the answer to that question for sure. I’m sure he has ideas, but he wisely leaves all his options open, then can make a call next summer when the time comes.

When that time does come, does he owe his hometown Cleveland anything? LeBron answered that question in the latest issue of GQ, and he answered with an emphatic no.

“LeBron James owes nobody anything. Nobody,” he said. “When my mother told me I don’t owe her anything, from that point in time, I don’t owe anybody anything. But what I will give to the city of Cleveland is passion, commitment, and inspiration. As long as I put that jersey on, that’s what I represent. That’s why I’m there — to inspire that city. But I don’t owe anybody anything.”

That’s not what Cavs fans may want to hear, but it’s also spot on. LeBron has given this franchise everything he has, he has brought them the first title the team has had in 50 years, and nobody sane can question his passion or how hard he plays.

LeBron could well get to his eighth straight NBA Finals, feel he’s on a team that can push the Warriors, then look at his options — the Lakers and a young core that doesn’t defend well, for example — and think maybe he’s best where he’s at. Perhaps he teams up with another star in Los Angeles or somewhere else. If LeBron called up 28 teams and said “I want to come there” those teams would make whatever moves they needed to for the deal to happen. (I say 28 because the Warriors wouldn’t, and even they’d think about it.)

LeBron has the leverage, and he is always a guy who keeps his options open. He will be asked about his future in every road stop, he will dodge the questions, and we’ll try to read the tea leaves, but as of right now LeBron doesn’t know for sure what LeBron will do next summer. Neither do we.

Report: Final season of LaMarcus Aldridge’s contract extension just $7 million guaranteed

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Spurs big LaMarcus Aldridge, who will earn $21,461,010 this season, agreed to exercise his $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19 in conjunction with signing a two-year, $50 million contract extension.

As usual, the devil is in the details.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Guaranteeing Aldridge just $7 million in 2020-21, when he’ll be 35, is obviously to San Antonio’s advantage relative to fully guaranteeing his extension. But it sets up an uneasy choice for the Spurs. Their three options for Aldridge will be:

  • Pay him $24 million in 2020-21 to play for them
  • Pay him $7 million in 2020-21 not to play for them
  • Pay him $2,333,333 in each 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 not to play for them

There’s a solid chance that none of those are appealing.

Some speculated San Antonio extended Aldridge to facilitate a trade, removing uncertainty stemming from Aldridge’s player option. Though the Spurs now can’t trade him before the deadline, they could move him in the offseason.

But that 15% trade kicker is a significant inhibitor. His salary is already lofty for his age. An increase would only dissuade teams.

The simplest explanation is probably correct: The Spurs value the stability of their core, no matter how old it is, over flexibility.

Thunder give P.J. Dozier No. 35, Kevin Durant’s old number

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The Thunder signed P.J. Dozier, who went undrafted out of South Carolina, to a seemingly innocuous two-way contract.

Then, they let him pick No. 35 – previously worn by Kevin Durant.

Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

Honoring Reggie Lewis seems like a valid reason for Dozier, who probably didn’t want to get swept into what has become a minor controversy.

Personally, I don’t mind a player wearing any unretired number. Even numbers that will clearly be retired can be fair game until the jersey goes into the rafters. This is a non-issue to me.

But people care about this stuff. Many see it as a sign of disrespect to Durant, who left Oklahoma City on bad terms when signing with the Warriors. The Thunder lose deniability about not caring, considering they told Dion Waiters he couldn’t wear No. 13, which was previously worn by James Harden.

Will Oklahoma City eventually retire Durant’s No. 35? He spent a fantastic eight years there (and another season with the Seattle SuperSonics before they moved). Time will ease the bitterness of his exit. It’s certainly possible he’s honored that way.

In the meantime, let Dozier wear No. 35 in peace. It should have nothing to do with Durant.