ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Miami Heat

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Last season: The Heat won their second straight championship in an epic seven-game battle against a Spurs team that had every chance to take home the title instead. On their way, Miami flirted with history by stringing together a 27-game winning streak that lasted late into March, and finished the season by winning an incredible 53 of its last 61 games. LeBron James took home both the regular season and Finals MVP awards.

Signature highlight from last season: Miami was on the verge of losing Game 6 of the Finals, and a championship right along with it. After trailing by five points with 28 seconds remaining, the Heat had cut it to three and had possession of the ball. LeBron missed a three that would have tied it, but Chris Bosh fought for the rebound and kicked it to Ray Allen, who stepped back behind the three-point line and delivered the season-saving dagger that will go down as one of the biggest shots in NBA history.

Key player changes: Miami didn’t do anything too drastic in terms of shaking up its roster, which is to be expected from a team looking to win its third straight title. But they did say goodbye to a key veteran piece, and rolled the dice on two players that have been busts everywhere else.

  • IN: Greg Oden is the only player who’s been added on a guaranteed deal for the upcoming season. Michael Beasley is in camp on a non-guaranteed deal, as is Roger Mason Jr. Miami has 13 players on guaranteed deals; it’s unlikely they’d guarantee two more to max out their roster before seeing who might be available later in the season.
  • OUT: Mike Miller was waived using the amnesty provision, saving the team a total of $17 million in what was purely a cost-cutting measure.

Keys to the Heat’s season:

1) The health of Dwyane Wade: The Heat were able to win the title even with Wade playing at far less than 100 percent. He had offseason shock treatment to try to rejuvenate his ailing knee, which is something he’s done in the past that provided successful results.

Managing Wade’s health throughout the season so that he’s as ready as possible for the playoffs may be the single most important factor in whether or not Miami can make its fourth straight trip to the Finals — a feat which hasn’t been accomplished since the Boston Celtics did it during the 1984-87 seasons.

2) Pace yourself: For Miami to be playing deep into June once again, the team will need to carefully manage the minutes of not only its star players, but its aging crop of reserves, as well. Guys like Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, and Ray Allen are becoming ancient by league standards, and while Allen and Battier seem to come through with big shots when it matters most, the reality is that they both have declining overall skill sets.

The good news is that the Heat seemed to do this to perfection last year — not so much in terms of limiting guys’ minutes, but the team coasted a bit through the first part of the season. On February 1, Miami had a rather pedestrian record of 29-14. Five teams in the West had better records at the time, and two others had notched the name number of victories to that point in the season’s schedule. It was only then that Miami flipped the switch and reeled off that huge winning streak which propelled them into the postseason.

If they can similarly conserve effort during the first few months while winning enough to stay with the pack, the Heat will be poised to make yet another late-season run.

3) Will standing pat be enough against a reloaded Eastern Conference?: This is perhaps the ultimate question.

A cursory glance around the East shows that at least three teams — Brooklyn, Indiana, and Chicago — should all be vastly improved this season. The Nets added Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Pacers shored up their bench unit by bringing in guys like Luis Scola, Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson, plus they’ll see a healthy Danny Granger return to the lineup to boost the team’s offense. Derrick Rose is back for the Bulls, and by all accounts will be at full strength for the start of the season.

Those teams all got markedly better on paper, and we haven’t even mentioned the Knicks yet, who added Metta World Peace, Andrea Bargnani, and Beno Udrih to a team that finished last year with the second best record in the East.

Miami didn’t make any splashy additions in free agency, and preferred instead to return with the majority of last season’s roster intact. They may need either the Beasley or the Oden gamble to pay off to bolster the second unit, and both of those players are long shots at best given their respective career histories.

Why you should watch the Heat: LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world, and he’s in the prime of his career.

Prediction: 58-24, and a top-three seed in the East. Miami will be strong again this season, and while a third straight title given the way the top teams have improved certainly isn’t impossible, it does seem like a stretch. It may be foolish to count out LeBron at this stage of his career, but I see the Heat getting no further than the Eastern Conference Finals.

Timberwolves to unveil new logo at final home game

AP Photo/Jim Mone
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The Timberwolves’ were the trendy pick for a breakout team this season with Tom Thibodeau coaching Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.

Instead, Minnesota fell flat. At, 28-42 the Timberwolves will miss the playoffs for the 13th straight year – the NBA’s longest active postseason draught.

But they’ve shown progress lately and could carry that momentum into next season.

It’ll be a fresh start in at least one way.

Timberwolves release:

The Minnesota Timberwolves begin a new chapter in their franchise history by unveiling a new team logo as part of Fan Appreciation Night at Target Center on Tuesday, April 11. The Wolves will conclude the home portion of their regular season schedule that evening by hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder at 7 p.m.

The logo will be unveiled during a special halftime show and all fans in attendance will receive a commemorative t-shirt with the new identity featured.

While the new identity won’t fully take effect until the 2017-18 season, the unveiling marks only the fourth identity in the franchise’s 28-year history.  The announcement is also the beginning of an eventful summer as the Wolves brand continues to evolve. There will be several future announcements regarding the unveiling of the new team uniforms, new court designs and additional events throughout the coming months.

I’m glad these uniforms are coming out next year. I always enjoy when a style change coincides with a team changing on the court, and it seems the Timberwolves could truly do that.

Shaq on flat-earth claim: ‘I’m joking, you idiots’

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After Kyrie Irving claimed the Earth is flat, he doubled down and insisted he truly believed that.

After Shaquille O’Neal claimed the Earth is flat

Shaq on Art of Charm (hat tip: Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports):

The Earth is flat. Would you like to hear my theory?

The first part of the theory is, I’m joking, you idiots. That’s the first part of the theory.

This world we live in, people take things too seriously. But I’m going to give the people answers to my test. Knowing that I’m a funny guy, if something seems controversial or boom, boom, boom, you’ve got to have my funny points on, right? So now, once you have my funny points on, that should eradicate and get rid of all your negative thoughts, right? That’s what you should do when you hear Shaquille O’Neal’s statement, OK? You should know that he has funny points right over here, and what did he say? The guy had, boom, boom, boom. Add the funny points. You either laugh, or you don’t laugh. But don’t take me seriously. When I want you to take me seriously, you will know by the tone of my voice that I’m being serious.

Shaq is excellent at drawing attention to himself. The only surprise is that he didn’t keep this ruse up longer.

If Irving is pulling our collective legs to put the focus on him, at least credit the Cavaliers guard for maintaining the story longer. That Shaq lasted only a few days is revelatory.

Earl Watson, amid UCLA rumors, says ‘main focus’ is with Suns

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At least the college-coaching rumors surrounding the Celtics’ Brad Stevens and Thunder’s Billy Donovan are about an actual vacancy: Indiana.

With Suns coach Earl Watson, it’s a step removed.

But here’s the gambit: UCLA coach Steve Alford is an Indiana alum, and many believe he’ll fill the Hoosiers’ opening. That’d leave UCLA in the market for a new coach – maybe Watson, an alum.

Watson, via Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic:

“There’s no doubt that I love my school,” Watson said. “It took me out of a poverty situation and gave me hope. The school is an amazing place. I feel like it saved me. But I also feel like (former Memphis coach) Hubie Brown saved me in another way. Playing for the Utah Jazz, they were there during a difficult part of my personal life and they helped me a ton. And then, of course, the San Antonio Spurs, after the death of my brother, the love they gave me is what I needed most, and that love is genuine. So you have different points in your life where people and groups come into your life and none of them are family and they impact you for the positive.”

At the same time:

“I’m more focused on creating value for our (organization), to give management and ownership many options to build a championship contender here,” Watson said. “What I mean by that is, building the value of the young players so that their value and their game and their confidence give them the option to be financially secure in this league when they become free agents; giving our ownership the option to build around them or give ownership and management the option to make moves because their value is so high to put us in contention quicker. That’s all I can do is build value. The winning will happen. There’s a lot of questions with our program, but one thing I do realize is these players are playing amazing for their age. I love them, they’re like my little brothers. My main focus is here.”

There’s little evidence Watson is a good NBA coach. He’s 31-73 in a season and a half in Phoenix, and his players have looked especially undisciplined.

That said, the Suns are very young. Maybe they’d look even more undisciplined under another coach.

Watson’s player-development experience could suit him well for college. As little as he’s done to prove he’s a good NBA coach, he hasn’t done much to prove he’s a bad NBA coach, either.

If Alford bolts, Watson’s history with UCLA probably warrants an interview if he wants it. But if I were the Bruins, I’d also consider other candidates.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim keeps fabricating NBA draft stats

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Sophomore forward Tyler Lydon declared for the NBA draft, which Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim seized as an opportunity to spew more nonsense.

Connor Grossman of The Daily Orange:

Boeheim cautioned Lydon about jumping into the NBA Draft now, knowing he lacked the “monster year” it would’ve taken for him to get lottery pick consideration.

“He didn’t demonstrate this year that he can be a lottery pick,” Boeheim said, “but next year I know he can be. That’s what I told him. I think he can come back here and demonstrate that he can be a lottery pick.

“I think it’s a better way to go to the NBA. You make money, they draft you high, they play you. Half the picks between 20-30 are out of the league within three years.”

We don’t yet know whether anyone drafted in 2014 or later will last more than three years in the NBA. So, let’s examine the prior 10-year period: 2004-2013. I exempted Nikola Mirotic, who jumped late to the NBA and is in his third season right now (even though I’d be shocked if he’s not in the NBA next season).

In that span, 22% of players picked between 20-30 were out of the league within in three years.

That’s not even half of Boeheim’s stated figure.

A third of those picks who washed out so quickly were international players. NBA teams are pretty good at scouting and developing college players, who face fewer hurdles in translating to the to the league. So, Lydon being projected to go in the first round means something.

The most recent college player picked in this range to fall out of the league, Perry Jones, got paid for a fourth season. Even the cases that count for Boeheim are poor examples.

And who’s to say Lydon would develop into a lottery pick if he stayed another year at Syracuse? The only guarantee would be missing an opportunity at a year of NBA earnings. Lydon’s stock could fall, a precarious possibility for someone who doesn’t excel at creating shots. Lydon can develop with an NBA team, maybe even spending time in the D-League – while earning far more than the college-sports cartel allows.

Boeheim’s self-serving approach is painfully evident. He enriches himself on the backs of young college players, and when the most talented among them leave early, that hurts his stature. So, he makes up bogus figures in attempt to get what he wants.

It’s shameful.