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Heat survive most pressure-packed season of all time

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LeBron James wandered around the American Airlines Center court in an apparent stupor – receiving congratulatory handshakes hugs and from Spurs players, surviving a bear hug from Juwan Howard and sharing a moment with Gregg Popovich.

If LeBron looked tired, it’s because he was.

LeBron said he couldn’t sleep the night before Game 7 victory, and he couldn’t fall asleep the afternoon of the game as he usually does, either.

“You’re nervous. You’re excited,” LeBron told NBA TV. “You’ve got anxiety.”

MORE: LeBron ‘stuck with it,’ named 2013 Finals MVP

But LeBron and the Heat overcame that burden, merely their latest in an exhausting three years, and now they have another championship.

The Heat’s challenges were deeper than just a sleepless night and a restless afternoon. No team has faced more pressure in NBA history, and the weight on LeBron’s shoulders was even heavier.

Of course, the Heat brought a lot of it on themselves. From “The Decision” to “Not two, not three, not four…,” LeBron drew even more scrutiny to what would have already been a controversial choice to team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

The Heat took their lumps, falling to the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals. And that was especially difficult to endure, considering the Heat received more media attention than any North American professional team ever has. Media outlets completely reorganized their coverage plans to devote more resources to the Heat beat.

MORE: LeBron, Wade stick together to win another title

Miami survived the gauntlet in year two, winning the title. Though that should have ended issues it didn’t – has any NBA champion, let alone a Finals MVP, received more questions about whether he can win the big one than LeBron did this year? – it brought a new level of difficulty.

“The second one is way harder than the first one,” LeBron told NBA TV. “I heard a lot, after I won my first one, they was like, ‘You know, they’re going to start getting easier and easier and easier.’ Absolutely not true. Absolutely not true. This was the hardest one by far.”

Not only were expectations higher and media attention greater, Miami leaned on a blitzing defensive system that, while effective, was physically exhausting. A 27-game regular-season win streak became mentally exhausting too, requiring the Heat to bring a tighter focus than most contenders summon in the dog days of February and March.

MORE: ‘Game 7 is always going to haunt me,’ Duncan says

The win streak also created unreasonable expectations that the Heat could cruise through the playoffs. In reality, Miami need 23 postseason games to outlast the field, a total topped just eight times before. Any thought this was going to be easy was delusional, but perhaps nobody realized how tough the Heat’s road would get near its end.

They could have succumbed after losing Game 3 of the Finals by 36 points – no team that suffered a 35-point loss in the Finals had ever won the series – but they didn’t.

They could have succumbed when they fell behind 3-2 San Antonio – they hadn’t won back-to-back games in the previous month – but they didn’t.

They could have succumbed when they entered Game 7 – San Antonio had never trailed in a Finals series, and only the 1988 Lakers had won two Game 7s as deep into the playoffs as the Heat, which also beat the Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals – but they didn’t.

After surviving their final challenge, the Heat celebrated their championship, and Doris Burke asked Wade what it took to reach this point.

“Everything,” Wade said. “It took everything we had as team.

“We’re a resilient team, and we did whatever it took.”

A few minutes later, LeBron, awoken from his stupor, stood in the locker room under a mist as steady as rain.

“I can’t see,” LeBron said squinting and grinning until someone got him a towel to wipe his eyes.

Several times this season, the Heat could drowned in the pressure, in the attention, in the physical exhaustion. But they never did, and now they’re swimming in champagne.

Rutgers uses NBA incomes of Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Andre Drummond, Steven Adams to pitch recruits

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MAY 24:  Ray Allen #20 of the Boston Celtics goes up for a shot over Richard Hamilton #32 of the Detroit Pistons in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs on May 24, 2008 at the Palace at Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan.  The Celtics won 94-80.  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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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College men’s basketball teams earn vast revenue on the backs of players while conspiring to pay those players no more than a scholarship and some expenses. In lieu of the market dictating player salaries, that revenue is funneled to administrators and coaches – like Rutgers’ Steve Pikiell, who earns $1.6 million per year.

But the money in basketball is real, and college players want a taste. So, many coaches try to sell players that they’ll prepare them for the NBA, where they can make millions.

Which led to this Rutgers tweet featuring former Connecticut players Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Andre Drummond and former Pittsburgh player Steven Adams:

The heck?

Rutgers’ only NBA players in the last two decades were Hamady N’Diaye and Quincy Douby. So, the Scarlet Knights got creative.

An assistant on Pikiell’s staff was an assistant at UConn when Allen and Hamilton played there. Another was an assistant when Drummond was a Huskie. Yet another was a Pitt assistant during Adams’ time.

Just when I thought college teams couldn’t get any cheaper when it comes to their players, here comes Rutgers using its barely earned currency in recruiting.

Connecticut took notice:

Here’s an idea: Instead of squabbling over who deserves credit for getting players paid later, use some of that revenue to pay players now.

(hat tip: Mark Sandritter of SB Nation)

Agent: Former Kansas star Perry Ellis to sign with Hornets

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Perry Ellis #34 of the Kansas Jayhawks handles the ball against Mikal Bridges #25 of the Villanova Wildcats and Josh Hart #3 in the second half during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Every 2016 college basketball consensus All-American has reached the NBA.

Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield, Jakob Poeltl, Denzel Valentine, Brice Johnson were drafted in the first round and received their guaranteed salaries. Tyler Ulis, Malcolm Brogdon and Georges Niang were picked in the second round and signed contracts. Jarrod Uthoff signed with the Raptors as an undrafted free agent.

And now Perry Ellis is headed to Charlotte.

Gary Bedore of The Kansas City Star:

Former Kansas basketball forward Perry Ellis, who had successful sports hernia surgery Tuesday in Philadelphia, will attend preseason training camp of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and attempt to make the team as a free agent, his agent, Mark Bartelstein, told The Star on Tuesday afternoon.

He’s expected to miss three to four weeks of individual workouts prior to training camp following surgery.

Ellis, who averaged a team-leading 16.9 points for 33-5 KU last season, does not have a guaranteed contract.

The Hornets have just 13 players – two shy of the regular-season limit – with guaranteed salaries. Ellis will compete with Aaron Harrison (unguaranteed), Mike Tobey ($75,000) and Treveon Graham ($75,000 guaranteed) for those final two spots.

I’d really like the chances of Ellis, who’s polished for a rookie after four years at Kansas, if he weren’t coming off an injury. Even if he’s fully healed to begin training camp, he’ll be rusty. As is, I still think he has a solid shot.

Ellis scored well in the post against college players, but the 6-foot-8 power forward has neither the size nor explosiveness to do that dependably in the NBA. He improved his mid-range and outside shooting during his college career, but he doesn’t have NBA 3-point range. He learned to play solid defense at Kansas, but his basketball intelligence won’t get him as far against NBA opponents due to his middling athleticism.

Sense a theme?

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ellis got a larger guarantee than Tobey or Graham. If the Hornets waive him, they can assign Ellis’ D-League rights to their affiliate. A small guarantee in his NBA contract could be designed to entice him to join the D-League despite its low pay if he gets cut.

But first, he’ll have a chance to earn a regular-season roster spot. And Charlotte has two of those, creating more opportunities than most NBA teams can present. There’s a reason Ellis, one of the most prominent undrafted free agents, picked the Hornets. Soon, we’ll see whether they were justified to pick him.

Serge Ibaka writes he didn’t want trade from Thunder, excited about Orlando opportunity

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts after a play in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016 in Oakland, 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.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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After nearly every major trade or free agent move, the spin starts. “He wasn’t happy with his role” or some other story line comes out about why said player decided to leave, with the team often spinning the negative.

In the case of Serge Ibaka being traded to Orlando, it was that he thought the Thunder promised him a bigger role then didn’t deliver, and he was frustrated. That may well be true — 98 percent of NBA players think they should have a larger role on their team and get more shots. Ibaka’s role with the Thunder did fade as Enes Kanter‘s increased, he likely did want a larger role.

As you had to expect, Ibaka said none of that is true, writing a diary of his summer for Sports Illustrated. He said he learned of the trade while in Paris.

I never asked to be traded, even though there was a lot of media conjecture that I was unhappy with my role. I had an exit meeting with Billy Donovan and Sam Presti after the season, and both went well. But this is still a business, everybody has to do what’s best for them, and I let my agent deal with the business side of things. I just focus on basketball. I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to go in and ask for a trade, and I would have been happy staying with the Thunder. Playing in the NBA was my dream, and I’d be happy playing anywhere…

Right now, though, I feel like a rookie again. I’m thrilled to be in Orlando. I know that might sound crazy to some people, that I’m excited to go from a contender like the Thunder to a rebuilding team, one that hasn’t made the playoffs in four years, but playing now for Frank Vogel, a coach who prides himself on defense, is very exciting for me. We have a core of like-minded, young, athletic players, which is going to be very fun. We are an old-school, smashmouth team, and I can’t wait to don a Magic uniform on opening night.

Smashmouth is a good word for it. The Magic are going to be a strong defensive team next season, the question is will they get enough points to get the wins they will need to be a playoff team? That’s where Ibaka is going to get the chances he craved — the Magic need him to space the floor and score, not just defend.

Ibaka can be a free agent next summer and he will have options, but in trading Victor Oladipo for him the Magic have made a big bet that Ibaka will stay. Of course, money will be the biggest factor, but if Ibaka likes his role and playing for Vogel, the odds of him staying in central Florida go up.

Craig Sager to get third bone marrow transplant thanks to anonymous donor

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  Legendary TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager talks with Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Sager is on a one game assignment for ESPN. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Craig Sager couldn’t be in Rio covering the Olympics for NBC, his cancer wouldn’t allow it. That didn’t stop Team USA from reaching out to him before they left. Or from Nike designing a sweet pair of shoes for him.

Now there is good news on his battle against leukemia — he will have a third bone marrow transplant, according to his son Craig Sager II.

This is fantastic news for a man and family who have been through a lot. Hopefully, this treatment is a step forward for Sager, a man beloved by everyone around the NBA.