San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat - Game 7

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade stick together to lead Heat to championship

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LeBron James stood on the American Airlines Arena stage and clutched the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP trophy. To his left, Dwayne held the the Larry O’Brien Championship trophy and rubbed it in amazement.

Friends, teammates and superstars, LeBron and Wade ended the 2013 season side by side as NBA champions, just as they’d always imagined.

LeBron wrapped his left arm around Wade’s shoulders and leaned in to share a few words with his partner in crime. They tucked their heads so close together, their eyes disappearing from view beneath their hats, it was tough to tell where one ended and the other began.

It was as if they were one.

The Heat have always marketed themselves as a three-superstar team, but only LeBron’s and Wade’s rising tide has elevated Chris Bosh to their status. Bosh has never been capable of leading a team to a championship the way LeBron did last season or Wade did in 2006. As important as Bosh is, this grand experiment in Miami was always more about LeBron and Wade.

And in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, it was LeBron and Wade out front, leading the Heat to a 95-88 victory and their second straight championship. LeBron (37 points and 12 rebounds) and Wade (23 points and 10 rebounds) posted double-doubles in the same game for the first time since March and for the first time in the playoffs since their very first series together, a first-round matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers way back in 2011.

It was a fitting shared honor for two players whose play together had received intense scrutiny lately. Perhaps, you’ve seen some of these numbers:

LeBron in Games 1-6:

  • With Wade: 17.3 points per 36 minutes on 38.9 percent shooting, 100.8 offensive rating
  • Without Wade: 27.3 points per 36 minutes on 54.1 percent shooting, 131.7 offensive rating

Wade in Games 1-6:

  • With LeBron: 17.4 points per 36 minutes on 43.8 percent shooting, 100.8 offensive rating
  • Without LeBron: 32.7 points per 36 minutes on 62.5 percent shooting, 115.2 offensive rating

Many called for Erik Spoelstra to organize his rotation so LeBron and Wade each spent as much time as possible on the court without the other. Instead, Spoelstra went the other direction, playing LeBron and Wade together for 36 minutes in Game 7, more than they’d averaged together in the series’ first six games.

They didn’t necessarily get it done in tandem – Miami’s offensive rating in Game 7 with LeBron and not Wade on the court was 134.6 and with both on the court was 93.1, an even more extreme difference than in Games 1-6 – but they got it done together.

LeBron and Wade both scored at least the 23 points Wade had tonight in just three games after March 6. All three were in the Finals.

“They played Hall of Fame basketball tonight,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said in his postgame press conference. “That’s some of the best basketball they both played at the same time throughout the entire playoffs.”

The truth is LeBron and Wade still haven’t completely figured out how to play together.

But they’ll be back next year to go through the process of learning how to complement each other – just as they’ve wanted to navigate this journey with the Heat, just as they’ve conducted nearly every interview in the last three years, just as they sat tonight while posing for celebratory post-game photos:

Side by side.

Friends, teammates and superstars, LeBron and Wade have helped each other top the NBA world once again.

Gregg Popovich pins Spurs’ effort problems on players: ‘I don’t remember playing tonight’ (video)

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gives instructions against the Detroit Pistons in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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The Spurs fell behind by 18 and eventually lost to the Bulls, 95-91, last night – which begged the question:

Does San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich bear any responsibility for his team’s lack of early intensity?

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

Popovich:

I don’t remember playing tonight. I didn’t play. Guys get a lot of money to be ready to play. No Knute Rockne speeches. It’s your job. If you’re a plumber and you don’t do your job, you don’t get any work. I don’t think a plumber needs a pep talk. If a doctor botches operations, he’s not a doctor anymore. If you’re a basketball player, you come ready. It’s called maturity. It’s your job.

Like it or not, motivation is part of an NBA coach’s job.

But that’s also precisely what Popovich is doing.

His credentials dwarf any other coach’s. He can play to his own ego and absolve himself of responsibility – and players will seek to please him. His years of success have earned him the ability to motivate this way, a method no other coach could use without alienating his team.

Donatas Motiejunas signing four-year, $35 million contract with Rockets

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets is helped to his feet by teammates James Harden #13 and Patrick Beverley #2 of the Houston Rockets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Once the Rockets let Donatas Motiejunas back into free agency, this was only a matter of time.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This sounds remarkably similar to the salaries and incentives set in the original offer sheet from the Nets. But remember, the Rockets didn’t match some of those bonuses that Brooklyn would have been bound to.

So, why not hold Motiejunas to what became a four-year, $31 million offer sheet once matched? Houston got something in return – a later trigger date on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ 2017-18 salary. Originally, that decision had to be made March 1 – which would’ve meant dropping Motiejunas from the team this season to prevent his salary from counting next season. Now, the Rockets can make that call in July, after this season is complete.

The following two Julys, Houston will also have a choice on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ upcoming salary or dropping him.

Essentially, Motiejunas is signing the most lucrative Hinkie Special in NBA history. If he plays well and stays healthy, the Rockets have Motiejunas at an affordable rate. If he struggles or his back injuries flare up, they can drop him with little to no penalty.

After they backed themselves into this corner, Motiejunas and his agent, B.J. Armstrong, didn’t do so bad. Considering the similarity between this contract and the Nets’ original offer sheet, it seems Houston helped Armstrong save face after a bungled free agency (which is easier to accept when you’re adding a talented reserve to a formidable team).

But for how little is guaranteed and how much control the Rockets hold over the next four years, wouldn’t Motiejunas have been better off accepting the $4,433,683 qualifying offer?

Report: Rockets return Donatas Motiejunas to restricted free agency, working on new contract with him

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Rockets had Donatas Motiejunas in a bind.

He was beholden to them on a four-year, $31 million deal and unable to sign with other teams. Motiejunas’ choices: Report for a physical or wait in limbo.

But apparently Houston has allowed him out of that constraint.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

This means Motiejunas can’t sign with the Nets, who signed him to the original offer sheet, for one year.

I bet it also means Motiejunas and Houston have agreed to a new contract. Otherwise, why release him from the offer sheet? The Rockets would be giving up a tremendous amount of leverage out of the goodness of their hearts – unless this is just a prelude to a new deal with Houston.

John Wall pushes down Jusuf Nurkic from behind in retaliation (video)

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John Wall didn’t like how Jusuf Nurkic bumped him, so Wall shoved the Nuggets center from behind and sent him to the floor.

An overreaction to the bump? Probably. Wall got hit with a technical foul.

But I’m mostly just impressed Wall was strong enough to push over Nurkic.