2012 NBA Finals Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade and the aura of two

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It’s not going to mean to him what it means to LeBron James.

It can’t. He didn’t go through the suffering year after year. He didn’t face the constant questions, the constant criticism. No matter what, Wade had cemented his legacy in his third season. He had a ring, and once you hit that level, you’re protected by shielding. That’s not to say Wade hasn’t taken criticism over the past two years. But the difference in what it means is significant. So no, this isn’t going to mean to Dwyane Wade what it means to LeBron James.

But in the aftermath of the Heat’s 121-106 win over the Thunder to win their first NBA Championship in the Triad era, we’re left with the revision to Wade’s legacy. Because two matters. And if you don’t think it does, talk to any member of the Boston Celtics, talk to anyone around the league. Multiple titles does put you on a different tier. One ring can be evaluated as a one-off, a sneak-in, it’s getting off the targeting of not having a title. But two? You’re legit. You’re someone you can build multiple titles around.

Wade’s path is different, and the Decision is always going to color that, but in a lot of ways, Wade’s second title was more difficult to accomplish than the first. Setting aside the level of difficulty the Heat faced in their opponents (and this should not take away from that ’06 Mavs team which was phenomenal), this was the first title where Wade had to figure out his role in a team, not the other way around. In 2006, everything was built around Wade. It was 15 Strong, but in reality, it was 14 complimenting one. And that’s a model for success. Putting a great player in a position to succeed has proven to be a path to the title.

But this was much more difficult. Wade had to figure out when to be the aggressor, the initiator, and when to move off-ball. He had to know when to operate as a decoy, and when to excel as a playmaker. He had to score, he had to play smart, and most of all, he had to defend.

These playoffs were far from the offensive brilliance of Dwyane Wade that we’re used to. He struggled with his shot, struggled with his touch, struggled with the toll on his body. But defensively, Wade was locked in. After a series of uncharacteristic whining episodes against the Pacers, he responded. It should not be understated that Wade had a fantastic series guarding James Harden. It’s spoken of as if Harden simply vanished, and like it was with LeBron James against the Mavericks in 2011, that wasn’t the case. It was a series of brilliant defensive adjustments and individual efforts that lead to Harden being limited, shut out, disappearing.

Wade may go down as the greatest shot-blocking guard ever, and this series was a showcase of that. His unique combination of elevation and timing for a superstar, especially given his overall output, makes him a gamechanger. If the Heat’s offense settled into a hierarchy of LeBron-Wade-Bosh-everyone else, the defense was a cloud of talent that played together. Wade was a huge part of that.

Let’s also not ignore the elephant in the room. We’ve seen superstars run coaches and other stars out of multiple teams. Wade could have balked at the role he was tasked with, he could have blown up Erik Spoelstra or had Bosh traded. He could have created a power struggle in defiance. He didn’t. He kept his head down, responded to bad games with good games, and made the little plays. He became the best complimentary player since Scottie Pippen.

Wade became a villain publicly more than ever these playoffs, which is a shame because of his contributions off the floor to charity and his overall maturity. But maybe that was necessary for the Heat to establish the identity they needed. He supported James at every moment, supported his coach, even after yelling at him in a game, supported the franchise.

Wade joins the fraternity of players with multiple titles, and when he retires, that will be the first thing we discuss about him. He gave us flashes, the one-handed runner, the finish after contact, the explosive transition plays. Wade has already made noise about how “father time” and how he can see it in the distance. We may have already seen the best years of Dwyane Wade’s career. But there’s every indicationto believe we haven’t seen the best of Dwyane Wade’s teams.

The star and the teammate. Dwyane Wade, 2-time NBA champion.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.