LeBron’s return to Cleveland Tuesday sparks more crazy “return in 2014” speculation

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If you don’t think some Cavaliers fans are a little bit over the top about the slim possibility of LeBron James returning to Cleveland in 2014, you didn’t see the shirt of the guy who ran on the court in the fourth quarter Wednesday night of the Heat’s dramatic win in Cleveland. The fool disrupted the game before he was hauled off in handcuffs, all while wearing a T-shirt saying:

“LeBron 2014 Come Back.”

After the game LeBron told reporters the guy said he missed him and asked him to come back.

Let’s put aside the fact that running on the court mid-game may not be the best way to convince a player your idea is a good one, this guy is a tip of a Cleveland iceberg. There is a real sense there — and in some other circles around the NBA — that this could happen.

LeBron didn’t quell that speculation Wednesday at shootaround when he refused to discuss it altogether. Here’s the quote, via Brian Windhorst at ESPN.

“My only focus now is to win another championship, I can’t worry about speculation or rumors,” James said recently when the subject was raised. “What we’re doing on the floor right now is what it’s all about. We’re playing good ball right now. We’re trying to win a championship.”

If you know anything about how over-zealous fans think, you know that not talking about it means you are tacitly confirming everything they are thinking.

Does a game like Wednesday then give the Cleveland fans more hope? In their minds you bet it does. Sure, LeBron got booed a little, but he saw that the Cavs have a good core of hard working players, right? He realizes he can win here, right?

No. Not to throw cold water on the shooter on the grassy knoll theory, but no. The reality is the Miami Heat remain far and away the leaders in the 2014 LeBron sweepstakes. Everyone else is grasping at straws.

It’s not hard to draw up the LeBron returns to Cleveland scenarios. Even regular Miami Heat beat writers like our friend Ira Winderman writing for NBC will help you connect the dots — LeBron can opt out in 2014, the Cavaliers have 2014 cap space, LeBron said he would consider coming back one day, his new agent/manager is based in Cleveland and LeBron spoke highly of Kyrie Irving at All-Star weekend.

All that can’t be a coincidence, right? It’s not like every coach and player in the NBA speaks highly of Kyrie Irving… oh, wait, yes they do. It’s not like LeBron’s new agent is both from Cleveland and has another client there (Tristan Thompson), so he would likely locate there anyway. It’s not like a bunch of teams have 2014 cap space, including the Lakers. It’s not like… oh, you get the idea.

LeBron is almost certainly going to opt out in 2014 — he will want the security of a longer five-year deal (and he can get more money, if he so chooses). Money is not a big factor — Lebron is a max player, he can get that or take less if he chooses, and he can get it anywhere (plus he makes far more off the court in endorsements anyway).

What he will do is make a decision based on his legacy and winning titles (which go hand-in-hand). The win streak they are on will be part of that Heat legacy.

So would jumping ship to another team, leaving another fan base angry, really help him with that legacy? While you can make a case it will be hard with the salary cap for Miami to surround LeBron with the same talent he has enjoyed so far. Of course, those same rules apply to other teams as well. Plus, convincing guys to come to South Beach for less money and to win rings is not all that hard.

Most importantly, do you really think LeBron is leaving his buddy Dwyane Wade, especially if they win another title or two here in the next couple years? With LeBron’s newfound maturity may be a sense of loyalty. To his friends, to the organization that got him rings.

But we are jumping the gun here. LeBron has to decide what to do by June 30, 2014, what to do. He doesn’t fully know what he will do then (things can change). Although next season he’s going to have to address this in a more concrete way than “I’m not going to talk about it.” Otherwise the distraction will be too big.

Bigger than crazy guys running on the court. But that’s where we are now.

Kenyon Martin: I once played high

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Former NBA commissioner David Stern said the league began testing for marijuana because players complained of other players playing high. Chauncey Billups said he knew teammates who played better high.

But Stephen Jackson is the rare former NBA player who admitted to playing high.

Now, he has company.

Kenyon Martin – who played for the Nets, Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Bucks in a 15-year career – via Bleacher Report:

We were playing in Indiana one day. I wasn’t feeling well. I had a hamstring, a hip or something. So, I smoked. I wasn’t going to play originally. So, we got to the arena, and I’m like, “I feel good.” I went and told the trainer, “I’m going to go today.” I went out there and had a great game.

If you want to guess which game this was, here are the possibilities.

This was part of a great feature on marijuana in the NBA and NFL. Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Gary Paton also participate. I highly recommend (pun intended) watching it in full.

Nuggets president Tim Connelly: Next season playoffs or bust

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The Nuggets have steadily improved over the last four years – 30-52 to 33-49 to 40-42 to 46-36.

But even 46 wins weren’t enough to get Denver into the playoff this season, extending the postseason drought to five years.

Nuggets president Connelly, via Gina Mizell of The Denver Post:

On if next season is “playoffs or bust”:

“I think we’re there. How many times can you be the bridesmaid? Our young core, three of our best players are 23 (Gary Harris), 22 (Jokic) and 21 (Jamal Murray), and they’ve proven they’re capable of doing it at the highest level. I think all of us are, quite frankly, sick of this time of the year having a press conference.”

There’s certainly something to be said for injecting urgency. The Nuggets are already good enough to make the playoffs. They just happened to play in a historically deep Western Conference. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take more responsibility.

Denver lost to the Hawks (twice), Grizzlies (twice without Mikey Conley), Mavericks, Kings and Nets this season. Flip any of those games, and the Nuggets would have made the playoffs.

But I’m not sure what “or bust” means.

Connelly said Michael Malone would return as coach next season. If Denver misses the playoffs, would he get fired? Would Connelly come on the hot seat? What if the Nuggets again produce a record that typically qualifies for the postseason?

Even if Denver misses the playoffs next year, the 2019-20 team would have a 22-year-old Jamal Murray, 25-year-old Gary Harris and probably a 24-year-old Nikola Jokic under contract. That’s still a pretty good place to be.

Because of Jokic’s rapid ascent, the Nuggets are trying to accelerate the timeline. They most notably signed Paul Millsap last summer. (Injury cost him most of the season and contributed to Denver falling short.) They could also emphasize the present by re-signing Will Barton this offseason.

But playoffs or not next year, the Nuggets have a bright future. Connelly just doesn’t want them leaning on that excuse, though following through on his edict could create complications if Denver again narrowly misses the postseason with a good record.

Adam Silver: NBA could eventually reseed in conference finals

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver has three major talking points on 1-16 playoff seeding (rather than the current system of 1-8 seeding by conference):

1. He likes the idea of it.

2. He doesn’t feel bound by the tradition of an East vs. West format.

3. Travel is a big impediment. Not only would there be more playoff series between teams farther away, the regular-season schedule would have to be balanced and therefore include more games between teams currently in opposite conferences.

(An important point I think Silver doesn’t raise nearly enough publicly in regard to a balanced schedule: That’d mean more away games that start at 10 p.m. for Eastern Conference fans and more away games that start at 4 p.m. for Western Conference fans. That can’t be good for TV ratings.)

The NBA commissioner added another consideration in the debate.

Silver on ESPN:

The other thing you could potentially do is reseed at the conference finals. And that deals with if your two best teams are in the same conference. So, there are some other approaches to deal with. You want the two best teams to meet in the Finals.

A balanced schedule wouldn’t be necessary with this setup. The semifinals would either be fairer and produce a better NBA Finals or have the same matchup we’d get in the current system.

Even more importantly, this could pass.

As fun as it is to debate the optimal postseason format, there’s no way enough Eastern Conference owners (at least five, necessary to create a two-thirds majority) approve. They want to protect their eight playoff spots and guaranteed Finals spot.

But what if Eastern Conference teams were still guaranteed eight playoff spots and two semifinals spots? That be enough. The Rockets and Warriors – two Western Conference teams – are the NBA’s best this season. In coming years, it could be the 76ers and Celtics – two Eastern Conference teams. That’s far more variable than which conference is stronger throughout.

If teams in championship contention feel the very top of their conference will be weaker than the other conference, they could resist. But that still leaves contenders that don’t feel that way and non-contenders that want the additional shared revenue a better NBA Finals would generate.

That’s a plausible path to 20 yes votes and something we should take seriously.

Knicks owner James Dolan: Jeff Hornacek ‘way behind’ in dealing with modern players

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The Knicks fired Jeff Hornacek as soon as they returned to New York following their season-ending win in Cleveland.

Then, they really unloaded on the coach.

Knicks owner James Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“I think Hornacek had the same kind of issue that Phil did in that he didn’t grasp how different the players are now in the way they think and deal with management and the coaches,” Dolan said. “I think he was way behind on that.

“But I think Jeff is a good coach and he’ll do well when he’s hired by another team.”

“The old-style coaching doesn’t work,” Dolan said. “A coach who tries to do everything himself isn’t going to be successful.

Knicks president Steve Mills, via Marc Berman of the New York Post:

“I think just as we observed the team, there were a lot of things that we just thought would be better at, from attention to detail to player accountability, and Jeff did a good job in some areas. In some areas he could have done a bit of a better job.

Knicks general manager Scott Perry, via Berman:

“The evaluation of Jeff for 82 games, we evaluated everything — practices to games to ability to connect with guys. I think we need to be better in that area and with adjustments. It’s something we could be better at with the expectations we have for our next coach.”

“We could have been a little bit better in situational basketball,” Perry said. “We understand the roster as much as anybody. In terms of consistency, we fell a little bit short in that area.”

This is atypical candor about a fired coach. Most teams just thank him and move on.

But I appreciate it. Don’t we all want to know more of what NBA teams are thinking internally? This is revelatory.

That said, I don’t blindly trust the Dolan/Mills/Perry triumvirate. The Knicks have misevaluated too many people for too long. This more about knowing how they viewed things than knowing this is how things are.

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

According to a source, Dolan last season sent an email to Hornacek saying he was disappointed in him for not buying fully into the triangle offense. This took place sometime around the All Star break. So we know that as recently as last season Dolan, who loves to tell you he’s not involved, was actually pushing Phil Jackson’s offense down Hornacek’s throat in a not-so-subtle way.

Dolan had Phil’s back. And then on Wednesday, Dolan trashed Jackson for being out of touch. Man, life comes at you fast.

To be fair, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough also cited Hornacek’s lack of connection with his players when firing him. This will be something Hornacek must answer for if he pursues future head-coaching jobs. Hornacek feuded with Marcus Morris in Phoenix and Joakim Noah, Kyle O'Quinn and reportedly Kristaps Porzingis in New York.

Not that the Knicks set up Hornacek to succeed. They didn’t.

Now, they must find a coach who will perform better in all the areas they just criticized Hornacek for. That’ll be more difficult than criticizing him on the way out the door.