Pat Riley challenges LeBron James, sticks up for Micky Arison

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Pat Riley said he requires a week after a tough season-ending loss before he can speak coherently.

Four days after his Miami Heat lost in the NBA Finals, Riley addressed the media.

“Good morning, everybody,” Riley said. “You want to trend something? I’m pissed. OK? Get it out there.”

Pissed at LeBron James? If you want spin Riley’s comments that way, you easily could – though shouldn’t.

I don’t believe it’s coincidence reports have emerged in the last couple days LeBron wants the Heat to spend more. With an early-termination option giving him leverage, he’s challenging owner Micky Arison and Riley.

And Riley is firing right back.

“This stuff is hard,” Riley said. “And you’ve got to stay together if you got the guts. And you don’t find the first door and run out of it.

“We’ll find out what we’re made of here. It’s not about options. It’s not about free agency.

“There’s just looking around the room now and finding out who;’s going to stand up. This is time that you go home and take care of yourself and look at yourself and what are you going to do to come back and make the team better? Because we have a tremendous opportunity here for long-term success. But don’t think we’re not going to get beat again. So, just get a grip, everybody. That’s my message. That’s my message to the players.

“They’re hearing it right now. I’m sure they’ll hear it. We’ll make sure of it.

“You deal with it by doing what you have to do to make yourself better by taking accountability for yourself and your own actions and not laying it off on something else or somebody else.”

[RELATED: Clippers, Rockets to pursue LeBron if he becomes a free agent?]

Riley stuck up for Arison specifically, noting the owner’s commitment for keeping LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

“He will do anything to get those guys to come back,” Riley said “There’s been a perception out there that I think has been construed in some way about him not wanting to pay the tax. That’s BS. He’s been paying the tax for three years.”

That last line is true. However, the issue is how much luxury tax Arison is willing to endure.

Though Riley characterized amnestying Mike Miller and trading a draft pick to dump Joel Anthony as moves to better position the Heat for next season – which is fair, because both players were under contract for 2014-15 – they also cut costs. And the timings of the moves leave little doubt that money was a factor.

The Heat could have used Miller on the court this season and then amnestied him this offseason while receiving the same future flexibility. They also could have waited to deal Anthony until this summer, when his contract would have held less remaining money, therefore requiring less of a sweetener to move, and again received the the same future flexibility.

Instead, Miami made both transactions earlier than necessary to reduce 2014-15 payroll. But the earlier, the more savings this season.

So, maybe Riley’s emotions were directed at LeBron. After all, Riley made clear he was addressing the players.

[RELATED: Could LeBron, Carmelo end up together?]

But he also respectfully stuck up for LeBron’s right to exercise his contractually negotiated options. He said he wants to talk more with LeBron, Wade and Bosh and values their input. He emphasized their responsibility is to take best situation financially for themselves and families.

When LeBron left Cleveland, Dan Gilbert’s notorious letter showed a disgusting sense of entitlement. There was none of that from Riley.

“I love LeBron,” Riley said.

I don’t think Riley was challenging LeBron to overcome the Heat’s spending habits. I think he was challenging LeBron – and everyone else – to overcome a crushing Finals defeat.

Riley spent a lot of time on how often Duncan’s Spurs, Shaq’s and Kobe’s Lakers, Jordan’s Bulls, Larry’s Celtics and Magic’s and Kareem’s Lakers lost. It seems Riley can tolerate losing. He just can’t tolerate succumbing to it.

If anyone knows how to motivate and coax superstars, it’s Riley, who described his approach as “you don’t pander and you don’t punish.”

[RELATED: DeSean Jackson continues to troll LeBron James on Instagram]

In 2010, Riley famously flashed his championship rings to impress the big three. The players carried most agency in the super team’s creation, but Riley played a huge part – and he’ll again play a part in keeping it together.

“I don’t think we have to recruit Chris and LeBron and Dwyane again,” Riley said. “Four trips to the Finals and a great organization and two world championships – I’m not dropping championship rings on the table for those guys. They can drop their own.”

And if that’s not enough?

“Whatever it takes to keep them together, we’re ready for it,” Riley said.

At some point, Riley, LeBron and Arison must get on the same page about spending. As far as a will to win, Riley isn’t negotiating.

He’s demanding it.

Could that push LeBron from Miami? I guess it’s possible, but I’m betting Riley knows it won’t.

Dwight Howard still feeling ‘super’ expectations with Hornets

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DETROIT – Dwight Howard went from leading Orlando in the NBA Finals to playing in star-studded Los Angeles to joining a Houston team that also fancied itself a contender to being the highest-paid player in his hometown Atlanta to… landing in Charlotte, a small-market franchise with modest ambitions.

The spotlight finally off the former No. 1 pick, Howard doesn’t feel reduced pressure.

“Everybody expects me to be Superman every single night,” Howard said.

Howard is diving into his new situation – his third team in three years – headfirst. He’s leading pregame huddles and the Hornets onto the court.

“I have the most experience,” said Howard, in his 14th season. “So, it’s not to come in and fit in. It’s to come in and be a leader.”

This is the latest referendum on Howard. Despite eight All-NBA selections (most of them first-team) and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, he faces relentless criticism of his legacy.

His exit from the Magic was so ugly, it’s known as the Dwightmare. His feuding with the Lakers great is the stuff of legend in Kobe Bryant mythology. Howard never clicked with James Harden with the Rockets. The Hawks unloaded him for a paltry return in what was more salary rearrangement than salary dump, and his former teammates reportedly cheered.

Howard just seems to rub people the wrong way.

That makes his latest test in Charlotte so interesting. Howard is supplanting maybe Kemba Walker as the face of the team and definitely Cody Zeller as starting center. The Hornets have found success with Zeller, going 63-53 when he starts and 57-73 otherwise the last three seasons.

“The nature of his game, he plays in a way to help other people play better,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Zeller. “He is a screener. He is a ball-mover.”

In other words, the type of player teammates love.

Is Howard?

Howard is still solidly productive. In Charlotte’s season-opening loss to the Pistons, he posted 10 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks – and ruffled a few feathers. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

https://twitter.com/Vincent_Ellis56/status/921100491362365440

Dirty-work players who irritate opponents are revered. High-priced players who irritate their teammates are loathed.

Howard walks a fine line.

He returned to Atlanta with emotion and expectations. By the end of his time with the Hawks, everyone seemed unhappy. Still, Howard says he’s grateful for the opportunity to play in front of people, especially his grandparents, who watched him grow up.

“Atlanta is going to be my home,” Howard said. “The Hawks is always going to be my favorite team.”

It’s just never easy for Howard.

Even a career Basketball Reference pegs as 99% likely to end in the Hall of Fame based on his tangible accomplishments stirs controversy.

“He’s a Hall of Famer right now if he never played another game,” Clifford said.

Said Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who coached Howard in Orlando: “It’s mind-boggling to me that would be any debate there.”

It’s probably easier for Van Gundy and Howard to recall their time together fondly than it was to enjoy it while partnered. Clifford, who was an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles while Howard was there, is just getting into his time as Howard’s head coach.

It’s those middle moments, in the throes of long seasons, that have proven difficult for Howard and those around him.

Here he is in Charlotte, hosting the Hawks tonight, and facing another challenge. The Hornets would probably be happy just making the playoffs and ecstatic advancing, which would be their first playoff-series victory since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. Howard, who has reached three conference finals, is counting on himself to lead them there – even if nobody else is anymore.

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

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This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelicans Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.