Miami Heat v Detroit Pistons

Miami gets cakewalk early (and other schedule thoughts)

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The NBA’s schedule for the season is out and for at least one day we are going to ignore those ominous lockout clouds and pretend it’s just another sunny July day. With a full season ahead of us.

With that, some follow up thoughts after our first glance post earlier today.

• The Miami Heat are not going to get off to a slow start this time around. Remember last year they started 9-8 and everyone convinced Pat Riley was going to walk down out of his office, smack Erik Spoelstra around like the criminal in a Dirty Harry movie, then take over? Never happened and things worked out well enough for the Heat to make it to the NBA finals.

Next season, there will be no slow start thanks to the schedule maker. After a tough back-to-back to open the season (at Knicks then the Magic) the Heat have four of their next six against teams that didn’t make the playoffs. Nine of their first 12 are at home. This time around look for the Heat to get off to a fast start, but they have only 16 home games the last three months of the season.

• Hey, Kyrie Irving, congratulations on being the No. 1 overall pick. As a welcome to the NBA your career opener will be Nov. 2 against the Boston Celtics. Second best defensive team in the NBA last season, with a very long, aggressive point guard to go against. Have fun!

• Ricky Rubio enters the NBA taking on the Atlanta Hawks and Jeff Teague. Much easier road than Irving. (And Teague had better be the starter, unless the Hawks want to bring Bibby back again just to torture everyone.)

• The games before and after Christmas are pretty good presents as well (as always, Christmas has some marquee games with Heat vs. Mavericks, Celtics vs. Knicks and Bulls vs. Lakers). On Dec. 23 it is the Miami Heat vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder — not only two title contenders but also two very athletic, entertaining teams. That should be a good one. Then on Boxing Day (Dec. 26 for you non-Canadians) it is San Antonio vs. Memphis in a rematch of one of the best series of last year’s playoffs.

• If you’re looking for the day the New York media freaks out, the answer is Feb. 17 when Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets come into Madison Square Garden. The entire city of New York is convinced he is coming there after the season. I mean there was a wedding toast and everything. New CBA? What new CBA?

• Boston and Dallas lead the way with the most nationally televised games (30) with New York and Chicago just behind them (29). Three good teams and an entertaining one in the Knicks, but they are on more than the Heat and Lakers? Surprising.

• Man, I just hope there is a season.

Gregg Popovich pins Spurs’ effort problems on players: ‘I don’t remember playing tonight’ (video)

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gives instructions against the Detroit Pistons in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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The Spurs fell behind by 18 and eventually lost to the Bulls, 95-91, last night – which begged the question:

Does San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich bear any responsibility for his team’s lack of early intensity?

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

Popovich:

I don’t remember playing tonight. I didn’t play. Guys get a lot of money to be ready to play. No Knute Rockne speeches. It’s your job. If you’re a plumber and you don’t do your job, you don’t get any work. I don’t think a plumber needs a pep talk. If a doctor botches operations, he’s not a doctor anymore. If you’re a basketball player, you come ready. It’s called maturity. It’s your job.

Like it or not, motivation is part of an NBA coach’s job.

But that’s also precisely what Popovich is doing.

His credentials dwarf any other coach’s. He can play to his own ego and absolve himself of responsibility – and players will seek to please him. His years of success have earned him the ability to motivate this way, a method no other coach could use without alienating his team.

Donatas Motiejunas signing four-year, $35 million contract with Rockets

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets is helped to his feet by teammates James Harden #13 and Patrick Beverley #2 of the Houston Rockets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Once the Rockets let Donatas Motiejunas back into free agency, this was only a matter of time.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This sounds remarkably similar to the salaries and incentives set in the original offer sheet from the Nets. But remember, the Rockets didn’t match some of those bonuses that Brooklyn would have been bound to.

So, why not hold Motiejunas to what became a four-year, $31 million offer sheet once matched? Houston got something in return – a later trigger date on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ 2017-18 salary. Originally, that decision had to be made March 1 – which would’ve meant dropping Motiejunas from the team this season to prevent his salary from counting next season. Now, the Rockets can make that call in July, after this season is complete.

The following two Julys, Houston will also have a choice on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ upcoming salary or dropping him.

Essentially, Motiejunas is signing the most lucrative Hinkie Special in NBA history. If he plays well and stays healthy, the Rockets have Motiejunas at an affordable rate. If he struggles or his back injuries flare up, they can drop him with little to no penalty.

After they backed themselves into this corner, Motiejunas and his agent, B.J. Armstrong, didn’t do so bad. Considering the similarity between this contract and the Nets’ original offer sheet, it seems Houston helped Armstrong save face after a bungled free agency (which is easier to accept when you’re adding a talented reserve to a formidable team).

But for how little is guaranteed and how much control the Rockets hold over the next four years, wouldn’t Motiejunas have been better off accepting the $4,433,683 qualifying offer?

Report: Rockets return Donatas Motiejunas to restricted free agency, working on new contract with him

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Rockets had Donatas Motiejunas in a bind.

He was beholden to them on a four-year, $31 million deal and unable to sign with other teams. Motiejunas’ choices: Report for a physical or wait in limbo.

But apparently Houston has allowed him out of that constraint.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

This means Motiejunas can’t sign with the Nets, who signed him to the original offer sheet, for one year.

I bet it also means Motiejunas and Houston have agreed to a new contract. Otherwise, why release him from the offer sheet? The Rockets would be giving up a tremendous amount of leverage out of the goodness of their hearts – unless this is just a prelude to a new deal with Houston.

John Wall pushes down Jusuf Nurkic from behind in retaliation (video)

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John Wall didn’t like how Jusuf Nurkic bumped him, so Wall shoved the Nuggets center from behind and sent him to the floor.

An overreaction to the bump? Probably. Wall got hit with a technical foul.

But I’m mostly just impressed Wall was strong enough to push over Nurkic.