Miami Heat v Washington Wizards

NBA Finals: Go ahead and hate Heat, but respect them

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LeBron James’ decision — and by extension LeBron himself — has become the most polarizing figure in the NBA.

That can be good for business. Heat game television ratings are through the roof — because half the people tune in to root against them. Not that ABC cares much, they just want you to tune in for the finals. But the Heat are celebrity basketball players now.

I’m not sure I get why all the LeBron hate. Because he dared go team up with other stars? As if Magic Johnson didn’t have Kareem and Worthy, or Larry Bird didn’t have Parish and McHale, as if Jordan didn’t have Pippen and a bevy of others.

Maybe it’s because LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade inverted the NBA power grid — they had the temerity to decide to team up of their own accord, rather than having some GM or rich owner do it for them? That doesn’t bother me, I like the players having more power, but maybe that’s it.

Maybe it’s that the way LeBron handled The Decision, because for some it was egotistical? It was. It left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth. But if you’re going to pick your favorite sports stars based on them not having an ego you’re going to have about two to cheer. Across all sports.

Whatever the reason you hate them doesn’t really matter. Go ahead. Having heroes and villains and playing out the drama of sports through that lens is at the heart of being a fan. Arrange people in those categories however you wish. But you had better also do this:

Respect the Heat.

Because while it took most of a season they have figured it out. They have gone from playing next to each other to playing off each other. They are playing smart, good basketball. They are a team, and potentially a special one playing beautiful basketball.

Did you watch LeBron the distributor in Game 4 against the Bulls? He made smart decisions with the ball virtually ever time down. It felt like Magic at times. Did you watch him on defense shut down Derrick Rose at the end of games? Shutting down the opponents best was like Jordan. When the moment called for it, did you watch him drain three pointers? That felt like Bird.

Beyond LeBron, Bosh has figured out how to step up when the other two are defended well or have focused on other tasks, he has figured out how to mesh with them. Wade remains as good a penetrator as there is in the league, as good a leader as the league has now.

Now you see the Heat going to a LeBron and Wade pick and roll at key moments. You see Bosh working hard off the ball and slashing to the rim. You see them all trusting Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller (and even Mike Bibby). You see LeBron and Wade taking on rebounding when the Heat needed it after Game 1 against the Bulls.

You see a team. All three are versatile. All three can play at both ends of the floor. All three — and by extension the Heat — have evolved into a dangerous team. Not a collection of stars, but a team.

You don’t have to like that. But you have to respect it.

Watch Jamal Crawford drop an effortless 44, hit game winner at Seattle pro-am

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Jamal Crawford knows how to get buckets.

He does it against NBA level defenders, so put him in a free-flowing pro-am — let’s say the Seattle pro-am in his hometown — and he barely breaks a sweat dropping 44. And nailing the game winner.

Doc Rivers hopes to see a lot of that next season.

Report: Blazers re-sign Moe Harkless for four years, $40 million

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 01:  Maurice Harkless #4 of the Portland Trail Blazers walks back to the bench during a time out of their game against the Golden State Warriors during Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 01, 2016 in Oakland, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The biggest restricted free agent left on the market is now off the board. Moe Harkless, who had a solid season in his first year in Portland, has agreed to a deal to return to the Blazers for four years, and $40 million, according to a report from The Vertical‘s Shams Charania:

It’s been an expensive offseason for the Blazers, who signed Evan Turner to a four-year, $70 million deal and Festus Ezeli for two years and $16 million, as well as re-signing two more of their own free agents, Allen Crabbe (matching a four-year, $75 million offer sheet from Brooklyn) and Meyers Leonard (four years, $41 million). On Monday, they agreed to a four-year, $106 million max extension with C.J. McCollum that begins in the 2017-18 season.

They’re going to be in the luxury tax now, but after last year’s unexpected playoff run, Blazers GM Neil Olshey has decided to go all-in on this group and see if that success can be replicated. The fit of Turner is still a bit of a question mark, but the Blazers have kept their core together and should still be a playoff team in the Western Conference. If Paul Allen is willing to pay the luxury tax, and there’s nothing to indicate that he’s not, it’s worth it.

Amar’e Stoudemire signs with Knicks, retires

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25:  Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks stands on the court in the first half of their game against the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden on December 25, 2014 in New York City.  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 Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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When Amar’e Stoudemire signed with the Knicks in 2010, it was supposed to precede bigger things — both for New York and Stoudemire.

The Knicks were still in the running for fellow free agents LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Stoudemire was just 27 and had already made an All-NBA first team and three second teams.

But it wasn’t to be.

LeBron and Wade picked the Heat. Stoudemire had only one monster season in New York before being overcome by injuries. After teaming up with Carmelo Anthony, Stoudemire won just one playoff series with the Knicks.

Stoudemire returns to New York, but this time, there are no grand expectations. Just a quiet ending.

Knicks release:

NBA great Amar’e Stoudemire announced his retirement as a player in the National Basketball Association today, after signing with the New York Knickerbockers for his final contract in the league.

“I want to thank Mr. Dolan, Phil [Jackson] and Steve [Mills] for signing me so that I can officially retire as a New York Knick,” Stoudemire said. “I came to New York in 2010 to help revitalize this franchise and we did just that. Carmelo [Anthony], Phil and Steve have continued this quest, and with this year’s acquisitions, the team looks playoff-bound once again. Although my career has taken me to other places around the country, my heart had always remained in the Big Apple. Once a Knick, Always a Knick.”

Stoudemire might think of himself as a Knick, but many of us will remember him with the Suns. He spent eight — and most of his best seasons — in Phoenix.

Entering the NBA straight from high school, Stoudemire faced numerous questions about his maturity and readiness. He answered those by winning Rookie of the Year.

Eventually, Stoudemire became the center for Mike D’Antoni’s seven-seconds-or-less Suns, thrashing opponents inside with Steve Nash as a pick-and-roll partner. Stoudemire got a bigger stage in New York, but his body broke down, and he became known for his albatross contract.

He spent the last couple seasons with the Mavericks and Heat, seemingly erasing memories of his early dominance.

Stoudemire has a decently strong Hall of Fame case. At his peak, he was in the running for the league’s best center behind Shaquille O’Neal. Retiring at age 33 won’t give Stoudemire many longevity points, but because he jumped straight from high school, he still played 14 pro seasons.

As distance grows between Stoudemire’s career and the present, we’ll gain perspective and think more about his prime than his decline. History will treat Stoudemire well.

Kings’ new arena to be on street named after David Stern

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 30:  NBA Commissioner David Stern received the key to the city from former NBA player and now Mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson during an NBA gam between the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena on October 30, 2013 in Sacramento, California. 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Former NBA commissioner David Stern pitted Sacramento and Seattle against each other. Sacramento made a more lucrative offer, so it kept the Kings.

For that, the Kings are honoring Stern.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings will announce Tuesday that they are naming the street leading to the front door of the new downtown arena in honor of former NBA Commissioner David Stern, whose persistent, decades-long efforts helped keep the franchise in Sacramento.

Officially, the address of the Golden 1 Center – to be submitted to the city Tuesday for approval – is 500 David J. Stern Walk.

“When I learned we would have the option of naming the road, it was a no-brainer for me,” Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive told The Sacramento Bee on Monday. “There were no other names on my list. David took the NBA to the global level and started the WNBA, but he is about so much more than basketball. He is one of the greatest leaders in the world, and on top of that, the team would not be in Sacramento without David Stern.”

OK.