LeBron James Cavaliers

And so the LeBron returns to Cleveland in 2014 speculation begins…

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This has been a buzz around some NBA circles for little while now, but it’s starting to leak into the mainstream.

First it was my friend T.J. Carpenter (radio host at ESPN’s WHB Radio in Kanas city), who plays for me a clip of one journalist quoting an off-the-record remark from Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins saying he was 100 percent sure LeBron James will go back to Cleveland (although no timeline was given).

Then there is the column Friday in the Miami Herald by Greg Cote somehow spinning the likelihood of LeBron opting out of his deal in 2014, his new agent living in Cleveland and praise for Kyrie Irving during All-Star weekend into a feeling LeBron has one foot out the door.

Say it isn’t so that you will be heading back to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, or we can start the clock now on about 16 months of ever-increasing rumors and speculation gradually morphing into assumption.

This same rumor is all over Cleveland.

Ugh. Really? We need 14 months of LeBron speculation again? It’s starting up again as the Cavaliers face the Heat on Sunday.

Let’s try to separate some fact from fiction.

Fact: LeBron will opt out of his contract with the Heat in 2014. If there is one thing you can bet on in this saga it is that LeBron will use this chance to opt out of his contract after three years and get a new one, a real max deal (remember the last one was slightly less than max).

But that new contract most likely will be with the Miami Heat.

Fiction: That anyone, including LeBron, knows for sure what he will do in 14 months. I’m willing to rule out he’s going to go play for CSKA Moscow, but after that pretty much anything can happen and is on the table for the summer of 2014.

LeBron will be 29 when he opts out and at this point in his career it is about legacy and rings (which go hand-in-hand). Which is why he most likely stays in Miami — it’s a good bet he has one or two more rings by 2014 with the Heat. He’d be hesitant to walk away from that, and throw in the fact the Heat can offer more money and years and there are a lot of reasons to stay. If he’s still winning and it’s about the rings and the legacy, he’s not walking away from that in 2014.

But you say Dwyane Wade will be 32 — and an old 32 the way he throws his body around — and Kyrie Irving is young and good? No doubt about Kyrie, that’s not in question. But Wade is averaging 20.9 points a game this season and is showing a veteran’s ability to coast at points and turn it on when he needs to. He is still a top 12 player in the NBA (and that is being conservative), it’s not like he and Chris Bosh are chopped liver.

And if they need to get new players in Miami, don’t you think the lure of playing with LeBron, the lure of playing in South Beach (and Florida with no state income tax), plus the Jedi mind tricks of Pat Riley can get more impressive talent to come there?

The Cavaliers will have cap space in 2014, but it’s not just Dan Gilbert that has lined up 2014 cap space just in case. Kobe Bryant will be off the Lakers’ books and only Dwight Howard (after he likely re-signs with the team this summer) and Steve Nash will be on the payroll. The Lakers can offer the chance to play with the best center in the game on a big-name franchise. Dallas likely has cap space and a great reputation with players thanks to Mark Cuban. Heck a lot of teams will have max cap space and a solid core. If LeBron wants out of Miami, he will have options.

But I don’t think he wants out.

Legacy matters and his image already took a hit jumping once. He’s going to be very hesitant to do it again. He knows he can win in Miami, and he knows Pat Riley will put a team around him that can do it.

A lot of people who know LeBron better than I think he will go back to play for the Cavaliers. Someday. That he will close out his career there.

But don’t bet on that time being 2014.

Wife of former Pelicans coach Monty Williams dies in car accident

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 12:  Ingrid Williams, wife of New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams and other member of the Pelicans organization feed the homeless on December 12, 2013 at the New Orleans Mission in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
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There are no words to describe how sad this is.

Ingrid Williams, the wife of Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach and former New Orleans Pelicans head coach, Monty Williams, died Wednesday at the age of 44 from injuries suffered in a car accident the day before.

Williams’ car was hit head-on by another vehicle that had crossed over the center divider, according to the Oklahoman.

The Monty and Ingrid had been married more than 20 years and have five children, ranging in age from 17 to 5. Williams is one of the better respected and personally liked coaches around the league, and the tributes have just started to pour in.

Our thoughts are with Williams and his family.

Kobe reflects on LeBron before final matchup in Cleveland

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 15:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers greets LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers after the game on January 15, 2015 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)
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CLEVELAND (AP) — Kobe Bryant remembers giving a pair of his sneakers to LeBron James as a gift and offering the teenager some advice.

The years in between have passed in a blur.

On his final visit to Cleveland to play against James on Wednesday night, Bryant reflected on his relationship with a player who once hung a poster of him on his bedroom wall in Akron, Ohio, and has grown into a valued friend.

And as gets ready to say goodbye to the NBA after two decades, Bryant was stunned to learn that James, too, is on the back half of his career.

“Is this his 10th year?” Bryant asked, before being told that James has been in the league longer. “Eleventh year? Thirteenth year! He’s a true, true vet. It’s strange. To me, it still seems like he just got into the league. Pretty crazy. … He might retire soon, too.”

Bryant was at ease during his interview session with reporters before the Los Angeles Lakers played the Cavaliers. This is Bryant’s sendoff, his farewell tour, and the 37-year-old is trying to savor every moment.

When he was in high school and on the verge of becoming a household name, James met Bryant before playing against Carmelo Anthony in an All-Star game in Philadelphia. It was then that Bryant dropped some knowledge on James.

“I remember sitting down and talking with him,” Bryant said. “The advice I gave him, because he would have so much coming at him, was focus on the game. Stay true to the craft. Everything else would sort out. That was the most important piece of advice I could give him.”

On several occasions this season, James has spoken with reverence toward Bryant, one of the game’s most celebrated players with whom he is often compared. The two didn’t always have the strongest connection, but is has matured over the years, helped by them playing together on the U.S. Olympic team.

Bryant and James once seemed on a collision course to meet in the NBA Finals, but the matchup never materialized, disappointing a basketball world wanting to see the greats go head-to-head with everything on the line.

“We never crossed paths unfortunately,” Bryant said. “I just wanted to win the damn thing. I didn’t care who we played. For the fans it probably stinks because it would have been a great matchup, but from a player’s perspective it doesn’t matter who you play. … Just want to win the championship.”

Bryant recalled previous visits to Cleveland, including the 1997 All-Star Game when he participated in the dunk contest as a rookie. That year the showcased the game’s Top 50 players, a who’s who of hoops immortality that had Bryant in a daze.

“Man, I remember walking around the hotel, I remember walking around this arena, and just running into a great after great after great after great after great,” Bryant said. “I grew up watching all of these players. So I watched all of the classic videos, the films, the books. So to see these players all walking around, it was pretty amazing.”

This weekend, Bryant will take his All-Star bow. It will be the last time he mingles with his peers, who will undoubtedly honor him throughout the festivities in Toronto.

Bryant’s career has come full circle.

“I can’t wait to be around them and talk to them and see how far the game has progressed, see all this young talent the different generations of players,” said the 16-time All-Star. “To me, LeBron is still young. I can’t fathom this is his 13th season and the generations that come after him – the Durant generations, the Curry generations. There are so many generations in between that. It’s going to be fun for me to be around.

“When I first played in an All-Star game, imagine an 18-year-old, 19-year-old kid walking into a locker room and here’s John Stockton with his little itty-bitty shorts. There’s Barkley. There’s Clyde Drexler. There’s Gary Payton. I was a 19-year-kid.”

Report: Grizzlies want to pitch Kevin Durant. Join the long line.

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in New York. Durant had 32 points but the Nets upset the Thunder 116-106. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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If Kevin Durant makes his intentions known he plans to leave Oklahoma City — and that is far from certain, if anything the odds still lean toward him staying — you can expect 29 teams to line up trying to make their pitch. We are talking about a top-three NBA player, a franchise-changing force, a guy that turns a team into an instant contender.

Consider the Memphis Grizzlies in that group.

From Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

They are working to keep Conley in summer free agency, with Memphis planning to be one more contender with two stars that will try to persuade Kevin Durant to make it a Big Three, league sources said. Durant’s the longest of long shots in summer, but the short-term trade deadline directives are unchanged: The Grizzlies are determined to use the trade deadline to better the roster for a playoff push.

The first thing that means: Despite the rumors, do not expect a Mike Conley trade. They will keep him at the deadline and make a major push to re-sign him in the summer. The Knicks and a host of other teams will be lined up to pitch Conley, and he said he will consider his options, but remember he helped recruit Marc Gasol to stay a season ago. And the Grizzlies can offer more guaranteed money than anyone.

The Grizzlies can make an interesting pitch. With him, they are legit title contenders so  Durant can chase his ring. Also, this is a small market — KD has had testy run-ins with the media playing in the smallest market in the NBA. The OKC media relations people do their best to shield him. Does he want the scrutiny that comes with New York or Los Angeles? Even Golden State? Memphis is a small market where he would be comfortable. Plus, awesome barbecue.

But the Grizzlies are just going to be in a long line to talk to Durant. If he even talks to anyone.

Wall has to work for recognition among top NBA point guards

Washington Wizards guard John Wall dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh off scoring 51 points against the Washington Wizards, reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry praised John Wall, who dropped a quiet 41 against the Warriors.

“He’s a top-tier point guard,” Curry said, “and it’s like that – not his caliber every night – but obviously at the point guard position you’re going to have some talent on the other side of the ball most nights.”

Wall has never played better in what is now a point-guard league.

It doesn’t stop with Curry. The talent pool includes Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, to name a few.

“I think I’m having a career year,” Wall said. “I can say I’m playing my best basketball, but not the way I want to play because it’s not equaling up to wins.”

Wall is an All-Star for the third time but gets lost in the packed field of “top-tier” point guards. His 20.1 points a game are sixth at the position, while his 9.9 assists are third behind only Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo and Westbrook.

But some nights there is just no denying his talents.

Like Tuesday at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Wall had 28 points and 17 assists to lead Washington past the Knicks. It was another showcase performance during a season that hasn’t gone the way he or the Wizards have wanted.

The Wizards will be a sub-.500 team and outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture at the All-Star break. Injuries to sidekick Bradley Beal and many others have hampered Washington this season.

But Wall is holding up his end and is playing like a top-five point guard.

He has an all-around game – the ability to beat defenders off the dribble, to spot up, pass, use his court vision and rebound. As Celtics coach Brad Stevens said recently, “you have to pick your poison” when defending Wall.

“Being able to shoot the ball off the pick and roll with great consistency – that’s what makes defenses choose what to do next,” Stevens said. “He’s been a great passer off the pick and roll.”

There’s no shortage of admiration around the league for Wall, who Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown deemed “the fastest guard in the NBA.” Brown compared Wall to a Maserati sports car and said the 25-year-old has improved because “you learn how to drive your Maserati better.”

Much of Wall’s game has improved in his six pro seasons since he was the first overall pick out of Kentucky in 2010.

“His speed is probably second to none in the NBA. … He’s a one-man fast break and it’s crazy because he logs so many minutes,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “His midrange jumper is also so much improved. You can tell he’s been working on his game a lot, and you like to see that from guys.”

Wall doesn’t get the headlines like Curry, Irving or even Thomas, of late. He has only scored the most points in a game he’s played in eight times this season, but Wall is the kind of player that teams have to game-plan against.

“You’ve got to build a wall against Wall,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said. “You let him play in open court one-on-one, he’s too fast, he’s too strong. He’s going to put your defense at bay.”

Opponents have tried to close off Wall’s drives to the basket and force him to take jump shots. At times, it has worked, like when the Trail Blazers limited him to 4 of 17 shooting in a victory last month.

“When you’re playing against an All-Star-caliber player like him, you work as hard as you can, you try and contain his penetration and hope he misses some jumpers,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

More often than not, Wall makes the most of his time and space. Even so, Washington coach Randy Wittman believes Curry should get more recognition than Wall because of team results.

“John’s body of work has been pretty good; he’s been recognized with that,” Wittman said. “You’ve got to go out and play, you’ve got to go out and win. Those are the two things in our league. You want recognition? Be a winner and play your butt off. That’s how you get recognition, and John’s gotten it.”

NBA writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.