Miami Heat's LeBron James talks with head coach Erik Spoelstra during the second half of their NBA basketball game in Miami

Eric Spoelstra talks embracing LeBron, positional versatility

3 Comments

Heat coach Eric Spoelstra calls what the Heat do position-less basketball — the idea is to have any player be able to play in any spot on the floor if it creates and/or takes advantage of a mismatch. For example, Chris Bosh is the center, but he can knock down threes and you have to defend him out to the arc.

The idea is to put together a team of versatile players and let them just play basketball. Stop thinking in terms of traditional positions. Chris Bosh isn’t just a four or a five. LeBron James isn’t just a three.

In a fantastic, must-read post at ESPN’s Heat Index, Spoelstra talks about how he and the Heat got there and the lessons of LeBron and the 2011 season.

“Thinking conventionally that first season with LeBron — that was my biggest regret as a coach,” Spoelstra said. “I put LeBron in a box. And that’s the worst thing I could have done….

“LeBron was a small forward, that’s what we knew,” Spoelstra said. “That was how we built and ran the team (in 2010-11). But after the Dallas series, we decided to start from scratch.

“We always talked about how versatile our team was, but we never thought about what it meant. We had to do away with convention.”

This organizational change couldn’t have taken place just anywhere, but it could under Heat president Pat Riley, a guy who won rings with a 6’9” point guard — a guy like LeBron who broke the mold of his position and made other things possible.

But part of this was also LeBron embracing the fact he was more than just a three — if he played more like a big, more like a power forward good things happened. And he had the best of both worlds, he could bang inside but if his defender was big and slow he could go outside and take him off he dribble.

The Heat then built a roster that fit the style. Bosh and Dwyane Wade already did. They went and got guys like Shane Battier that can play multiple positions. Even Ray Allen can be fit into it — he is taking guys off the bounce in the preseason.

This is not for every team. The Lakers are more conventional, but with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash they should be, those guys play more conventional roles. But when you look at the Thunder and Kevin Durant, you see a team where the roles of old again do not apply.

“We’re not trying to make a catchphrase or start something up in the league or be innovative with it,” Spoelstra said. “It was just something for our guys, our staff and including me to put our arms around the strength of our team.”

When you have the talent the Heat do and you play to your strengths, things like a ring follow. And very possibly more than one.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

Leave a comment

Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments

This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.

Drake congratulated LeBron James in hallway after game

7 Comments

Drake is a Toronto native and a huge Raptors’ fan. He’s officially the team’s “global ambassador,” although nobody knows what that actually means.

Drake is also tight with LeBron James.

As LeBron is running down the hall to get to the locker room and celebrate making a sixth straight trip to the Finals Drake stops him to congratulate him. And Drake is one of the handful of guys LeBron will stop and talk to.

Nothing wrong with this, either. Drake has walked a line the whole series — he’s a Raptors fan, he’s trolled LeBron and Kyrie Irving on social media after Toronto wins, but he’s close with Cleveland’s players and has been seen in the Cavaliers locker room plenty the past few seasons.

Some fan bases (we’re looking at you, Philly) would flip out over this kind of divided loyalty, but not Canadians who will just forgive and move on.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

3 Comments

LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.