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.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.