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.

Dwyane Wade does #SoGoneChallenge, calls for banana-boat buddies to join him (video)

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 29:  General manager Gar Forman of the Chicago Bulls (L) listens as Dwyane Wade speaks during an introductory press conference at the Advocate Center on July 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Rasheed Wallace isn’t the only NBA player doing the #SoGoneChallenge.

Dwyane Wade is also rapping to the music of 2003 Monica song “So Gone”:

Having alil fun haha!!! I challenge #TeamWade @kingjames @cp3 @carmeloanthony do this #Sogonechallenge

A video posted by dwyanewade (@dwyanewade) on

Wade also invites LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul to take the challenge. Will any accept?

John Wall: Bradley Beal and I ‘have a tendency to dislike each other on the court’

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 23:  Bradley Beal #3 and John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards talk in the first half against the Atlanta Hawks at Verizon Center on March 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Why is new Wizards coach Scott Brooks going so far out of his way to praise Washington’s backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal?

Maybe because the guards need positive reinforcement about their ability to excel together.

Wall, via J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

“I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court. … We got to be able to put that to the side. If you miss somebody on one play or don’t have something go right … as long as you come to each other and talk. If I starting arguing with somebody I’m cool. I’m just playing basketball,” Wall said in a sitdown interview with CSN’s Chris Miller that airs tonight, Wizards Central: Offseason Grind, at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Beal, via Michael:

“It’s tough because we’re both alphas. It’s always tough when you have two guys who firmly believe in themselves, who will bet on themselves against anybody else, who want to be that guy. We both can be that guy,” Beal said.

“Sometimes I think we both lose sight of the fact that we need each other. I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in without John. John wouldn’t be in the situation he’s in without me, without the rest of the team. It goes hand-in-hand so it’s kind of a pride thing. We got to (hash) out our pride, fiigure out what our goals are individually, help each other achieve those goals, figure out what our team goal is, where do we see ourselves five years from now, 10 years from now and go from there.”

Wall and Beal have spent four seasons together. Wall is locked up for three more and Beal five more.

This isn’t a fleeting problem.

In theory, Wall and Beal should play off each other well. Wall is more of a slasher and passer. Beal excels as an outside shooter.

But complementary skills matter only so much if there’s a personality difference.

Michael credited Alan Anderson and Garrett Temple with soothing tension, but both those veterans have left Washington. It’s time for Wall and Beal to handle this better on their own – or, without the right support around them, interpersonal issues could sink the Wizards.

Jazz sign second-rounders Joel Bolomboy, Marcus Paige

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 04:  Marcus Paige #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels prepares to shoot a three-pointer to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left in the second half against the Villanova Wildcats during the 2016 NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship game at NRG Stadium on April 4, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Jazz expedited their rise this offseason by trading their first-round pick for George Hill, using cap space to acquire Boris Diaw in another deal and signing Joe Johnson.

But Utah still has room for youth.

The Jazz signed two of their three 2016 second-round picks – No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboy and No. 55 pick Marcus Paige.

Jazz release:

The Utah Jazz announced today that the team has signed 2016 second-round pick forward/center Joel Bolomboy (Ball-um-boy).

He will wear jersey #22 for the Jazz.

Jazz release:

The Utah Jazz announced today that the team has signed 2016 second-round pick guard Marcus Paige.

He will wear jersey #16 for the Jazz.

Bolomboy is an energetic and athletic rebounder, and that should translate to the NBA. Will the rest of his game round into form? If not, will rebounding and hustle be enough to carve out a role? The power forward from Weber State was worth betting on late in the second round. He might not get much playing time behind Derrick Favors, Diaw and Trey Lyles, but it’s probably worth keeping Bolomboy on an NBA contract and monitoring his development.

Paige is in a similar situation, though point guard is even more crowded with George Hill, Dante Exum, Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto. After four years at North Carolina, how much untapped potential remains?

The Jazz have 14 players – one shy of the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries plus Jeff Withey and Chris Johnson. So, barring something unforeseen, there isn’t room for both Bolomboy and Paige (let alone unsigned No. 60 pick Tyrone Wallace) to stick. Utah could waive either rookie and assign his D-League rights to its affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars. But that player would become an NBA free agent.

That’s why I’m a little surprised the Jazz signed both. Perhaps, Paige forced their hand by accepting the required tender (a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum, teams must extend to retain a player’s draft rights).

Essentially, this sets up a training-camp competition between Bolomboy, Paige, Withey and Johnson with one NBA salary on the line. My money is on Bolomboy.

Kevin Durant wants to top Carmelo Anthony’s Olympic scoring record, still unsure about 2020

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Gold medalist Kevin Durant of the United States celebrates after defeating Serbia during the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The 2016 Olympics served a therapeutic purpose for Kevin Durant, who won gold with Team USA after facing immense backlash for leaving the Thunder for the Warriors.

What about 2020? What will motivate him to represent the U.S. in the Tokyo Games?

Maybe Carmelo Anthony‘s American Olympic scoring record. Durant is just 25 points behind the Knicks star.

Durant, via Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports:

“I can’t say right now,” Durant told The Vertical. “I’ll be 31, going on 32 …”

Overhearing the conversation, Anthony jumped in and shouted, “He’ll be playing in 2020 and 2024! I’m right. I’m right.”

Durant laughed and shook his head as Anthony darted ahead as the most decorated American Olympic basketball player. For now. “I want to pass him, for sure. Just because it’s ‘Melo, I would love to pass him. But I don’t know if I’ll play or not,” Durant told The Vertical. “Who knows? We’ll see. You never know what’s going to happen in four years. I’m just going to enjoy this one right now.”

Durant has already won gold medals (in 2008 and 2012). Potentially, he’ll rack up heavy mileage with multiple deep playoff runs with Golden State in the coming years. And as he said, he’ll be nearly 32 in four years.

That’s the type of record that usually leads a player to skip the Olympics.

But Durant would still be young enough that it’s plausible, and his game should age well enough that he’ll remain one of the top American players. Breaking Melo’s record could entice him, too.