With LeBron’s free agent decision looming, Heat try to appreciate what was accomplished

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SAN ANTONIO — LeBron James was the best player on the floor in Game 5 of the Finals, and opened it with a blistering 17-point, six-rebound first quarter that briefly delayed what would become the inevitable — another blowout victory for the Spurs on the way to becoming the NBA champions.

“LeBron James is a great player,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said afterward. “He’s a great competitor. He’s a class act. And I know he’s feeling what we felt last year, and I don’t wish that on anybody. It’s tough. Most people never even have that feeling. Either the feeling of elation or the depression that goes with a loss. But he hangs it out there, and he’s still the best player on the planet.”

Being the best has its privileges — like getting to choose virtually anywhere in the league you want to play, for the maximum salary figure allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.

The Heat were dismantled thoroughly in this series, and very soon, there is at least the possibility that they may be taken apart quite literally.

James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all able to opt out of the final years of their deals to become unrestricted free agents this summer, thereby concluding what has been a glory-filled journey together to four straight appearances in the NBA Finals.

But still stinging from a loss in the championship round after taking home titles in each of the last two seasons, LeBron wasn’t willing to even begin to consider that option.

“I haven’t even really thought about that just yet,” James said. “Not disappointed in any of my teammates, just wish we could have came through, played a better series, but obviously we ran up against a better team this year. Like I said, I haven’t even thought about it yet.”

With a player of his stature potentially changing the face of the league by choosing free agency, the questions kept coming — even though LeBron wasn’t going to answer them.

“I’m not even nowhere near at that point,” he said, when asked if the team had enough to come back and win as currently constructed. “You know, we went to four straight Finals in four years. We’re not discrediting what we were able to accomplish in these four years. We lost one, we won two, and we lost another one. I’ll take 50 percent in four years in championships any day.  Obviously, you want to win all of them, but that’s just the nature of the game. You win some; you lose some. You’ve just got to come back the next year and be better as an individual, as a team, and go from there. But I know me and D. Wade and C.B., not proud of the way we played. All three of us, that’s the last thing we’re thinking about is what’s going on this summer.”

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra echoed the sentiment of appreciating what was accomplished, even on a night where it would seem extremely difficult to do so.

“Even as painful as it feels right now, you have to have perspective,” Spoelstra said. “Even the team we’re playing against has never been to the Finals four straight years. You can’t be jaded enough not to appreciate that.”

Wade, perhaps more than James or Bosh, has the most intriguing choice. He looked physically like a shell of himself in these last two games, which could affect his value when it’s time to talk contract this summer. He reflected on the group’s journey, however, and similarly was able to talk up its relative success.

“I mean, we didn’t know what to expect when we decided to become teammates years ago,” Wade said. “We just knew that we felt as individuals that we could do it, that we could put our egos to the side and not care about the individual part of the game and become a great team and become two leaders of that team.”

“It’s been a hell of a ride in these four years,” he continued. “And when we decided to play together, we didn’t say, okay, let’s try for four years. We said let’s just play together and let’s see what happens.”

Those four years have now come to an end, and it’s decision time for everyone once again.

The odds are that James stays in Miami — he’ll opt out of the final year of his deal, and re-up with the team on a brand new one for five years on a max contract this summer. The stability of the Heat front office is the primary reason, and it’s what gives the team an advantage that is unmatched anywhere in the league, except (somewhat ironically) by these same Spurs that are the newly-crowned champs.

Pat Riley is as respected a team president as there is, and has a long-term track record of proven, sustained success. Spoelstra has emerged as one of the game’s top coaches, and his competency has him locked in at that position, further solidifying the Heat’s team vision — one that makes them the heavy favorites to retain LeBron’s services.

Once James commits, Wade and Bosh are likely to, as well. The years and dollars on those deals will be beyond interesting, because more than one if not all three will need to sign for less than the max in order to leave the team in a position to make the necessary upgrades to the roster.

But none of that has to be sorted out until July 1. And LeBron certainly wasn’t willing to get into it Sunday night.

“I will deal with my summer when I get to that point,” James said. “Me and my team will sit down and deal with it. I love Miami. My family loves it. But obviously right now, that’s not even what I’m thinking about.

“You guys are trying to find answers, but I’m not going to give you one,” he said. “I’m just not going to give it to you. I’ll deal with it when it gets to that point.”

Three questions the Detroit Pistons must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 37-45, missed the playoffs following Detroit’s first postseason berth in six years

I know what you did last summer: The Pistons paid the price of Marcus Morris to upgrade from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Avery Bradley, who’s still on a relatively cheap old-TV-money deal for one more season. Detroit also seemingly spent well above market rate (three years, $21 million) for Langston Galloway, who plays the same position as No. 12 pick Luke Kennard. Anthony Tolliver returned after a season with the Kings.

THREE QUESTIONS THE PISTONS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Reggie Jackson revert to form? Two years ago, Jackson was a solid starting point guard propelling the Pistons on an upward track. He started last season injured then never found his footing.

Jackson wasn’t exactly the Pistons’ problem last year. But he was central to all the Pistons’ problems last year.

He just didn’t attack the rim the same way, which hindered Andre Drummond‘s abilities in the pick-and-roll and Detroit’s other players getting as much space on 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Jackson stuck with the heavy-dribble, high-usage style he had grown accustomed to. Considering he was far less effective while still dominating the ball, that might have contributed to some infighting.

But if the worst thing about Jackson is that he doesn’t know how to adjust when not fully healthy, that doesn’t matter if he’s fully healthy.

2) Will Avery Bradley make the Pistons eager to invest in him long-term? Instead of paying Kentavious Caldwell-Pope this summer, Detroit set itself up to pay Bradley next summer.

This could go a few ways. Bradley could play poorly and not be welcomed back, which would be troubling very soon. But as long as he plays at least moderately well, the Pistons will probably pony up. They’re on track to be capped out even if he leaves in unrestricted free agency, and they’ll also likely want to save face on this summer’s moves as long as it’s feasible.

If Bradley merely meets the lowest expectations Detroit has for him and then re-signs on a lucrative contract, that wouldn’t be so bad. He’d probably be overpaid, but that’d likely be a manageable deal for the Pistons.

If Bradley truly thrives, though, that’d be a boon for Detroit in the short and long terms. In this cap environment, his salary probably wouldn’t climb much higher, and the Pistons would have a really good player.

The 26-year-old Bradley will get his chances. A lockdown perimeter defender, he’s likely in line for an expanded offensive role. This is a great situation for him entering free agency.

3) Will Andre Drummond take the next step? Drummond’s flaws are glaring. He’s an all-time bad free-throw shooter. He posts up far too much with ugly post moves. His effort and focus can wane.

But he’s still darned effective. With elite physical tools and a nose for the ball, Drummond is an elite rebounder. He finishes well in the pick-and-roll, and he can be disruptive defensively.

Despite the complaints of his detractors, Drummond is worth having on the floor. The good outweighs the bad.

That isn’t enough, though. The Pistons have treated him like a franchise player – max contract and a roster built around him. For their season to truly be a success, they need him become a star.

That starts defensively, where Drummond has shown flashes but taken just baby steps overall. If he locks in mentally and plays more energetically on that end more consistently, Detroit would be in far better shape.

Kevin Durant YouTube comment presaged Twitter/Instagram fiasco

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Kevin Durant admitted he went too far on social media, though he didn’t quite admit to the clear revelation: He has additional Twitter and Instagram accounts he used to anonymously fire back at his critics.

Who does that? More specifically, what kind of millionaire NBA-champion superstar does that?

Durant provided a glimpse into his mindset last week, when he replied to this YouTube comment about the insoles of his Finals shoes:

Who cares what people think . Just do you. Someone of stature, shouldn’t worry about stuff like that.

Durant:

of my stature, I play basketball, I got acne, I grew up with nothing, in still figuring myself out in my late 20, I slide in DMs, I make fun of my friends, I drink beers and play Xbox. I’m closer to you than u think

That Durant was interacting in YouTube comments – YouTube comments! – says plenty on its own. That’s the cesspool of internet commenting.

But the content of the reply is also illuminating. Durant is insecure. I think that’s pretty clear at this point.

There will always be people who accept nothing less than the ruthlessness of Michael Jordan from NBA stars. But maybe, once this scandal passes, some will find Durant’s vulnerability endearing.

Steve Kerr: Warriors haven’t been invited to White House, to meet on plan

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Steve Kerr reportedly stated a plan for the NBA-champion Warriors to decline an invitation to visit President Donald Trump’s White House. Then, Kerr espoused the virtues of going.

Kerr, via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

“We will meet as a team to discuss it and make a decision,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told ESPN.

“The league isn’t going to tell us what to do. They know it’s our decision and that, for me, really, it’s the players’ decision.

As yet, Kerr confirmed that no such invitation has been extended by the Trump administration.

If the Warriors commit to attending, they’d probably get invited. It seems the White House just doesn’t want egg on its face by extending an invitation that could get declined.

Regardless, Golden State almost certainly isn’t going.

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala have publicly stated their opposition. Even if there’s a player in that locker room who wants to go – and I’m not sure there is – who has the clout to stand up to those three? The tone has already been set.

Knicks say they expect Carmelo Anthony to open training camp with them

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Carmelo Anthony trade rumors have picked up steam the last couple days, the talk centered on the Knicks trading him before training camp opens Monday.

They clearly want to move on. He wants to move on – at least if he can join the Rockets. But a Houston deal appears to have dead-ended.

So…

Ian Begley of ESPN:

This is, by far, the most likely outcome.

There’s always a chance Anthony, who holds a no-trade clause, approves a trade to a team outside Houston. The Knicks might be attempting to gain leverage for that scenario. But I’m unconvinced he’s eager to leave the New York market for just anywhere, and that’d still require two teams agreeing to terms. It’s a lot to overcome.

Anthony has remained professional amid the chaos, and I expect he’ll remain so. Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said Anthony would still hold a major role on the court, even if the focus is long-term (the reason Mills gave for omitting Anthony from his offseason write-up).

It’s not ideal to have a highly paid 33-year-old who can still contribute at a high level on a rebuilding team, but that’s where Anthony and New York are – and probably will be next week.