LeBron James’ seven most likely landing spots, which starts with Miami

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LeBron James is opting out of his contract in part to threaten Pat Riley and the Miami Heat — “you need to upgrade this roster or else.”

But that’s the thing about a threat, you can’t make it unless you are willing to follow through. You have to mean the “or else” part.

Does LeBron really mean it?

Maybe. Starting July 1 he is a free agent and you can bet 30 teams will make some kind of move to see if there is interest, but only a few have a real chance. Here are his top seven potential landing spots.

1) Miami Heat. They are still easily the leaders here. By a mile. He won two titles here and he has a level of trust with Pat Riley he never had in Cleveland. As mentioned above, LeBron was threatening Pat Riley to upgrade but there is another key thing LeBron knows — Pat Riley couldn’t upgrade unless he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all opted out and made a financial sacrifice. If all three opted in this season, along with Mario Chalmers, the Heat were already right at the salary cap number and Riley’s hands would have been tied.

LeBron opted out early and how much he consulted with Wade and Bosh is not known (it is very likely he told them his plan, but regardless they reportedly will meet soon). But the message to the other two members of the big three is unmistakeable — this is LeBron’s team. They don’t win without him, and if they choose getting paid  as their top priority, he can and will leave.

Expect them all to opt out and re-sign in Miami. For example, if LeBron and Bosh take $17-$18 million a year and Pat Riley can convince the aging Wade that he will get more money long term if he signs for four years, $48 million (he gets $7 million more guaranteed) then Riley would be roughly $9 million under the cap (counting place holders) and he could chase a couple quality free agents plus have his mid-level exception to spend. The Heat could bring in talent that would help.

Is Wade really going to do that? He is the wild card.

[MORE: There’s a simple explanation for LeBron opting out]

However the big three choose to work out the money, this remains by far the most likely scenario.

2) Chicago Bulls. If LeBron is going to leave, he is in full legacy-building mode now — he needs rings. This is the best place to get them. The Bulls have chased the idea of Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love as their power forward, LeBron is a big upgrade over either of those. This takes a lot of pressure off Derrick Rose to create all the offense, the Bulls’ defensive system would become shut down and they would be a threat to any team that came out of the West. LeBron would take a public relations hit (he will take one no matter where he goes other than Miami) and be accused of being in Jordan’s shadow, but he could build a legacy there.

3) Los Angeles Clippers. LeBron can pretty much force his way anywhere, if he so chooses. This would be him forcing an outcome on Pat Riley — LeBron would love to play with Chris Paul and for Doc Rivers, but the Clippers do not have the cap space to sign him. This would have to be a sign-and-trade and LeBron is going to have to take a pay cut ($17 million a year, maybe a little more). If I’m Riley, I push hard for Blake Griffin in that trade coming back. Would the Clippers do that? They say no. Griffin is the fan favorite and the heart of the marketing program in Los Angeles. He gets announced last in pregame, not CP3. Griffin is not yet in his prime. But this is LeBron we’re talking about, if he will take the pay cut the Clippers should pull the trigger.

4) Houston Rockets. This is the same idea as Chicago — they are trying to add a star and if you put LeBron James with James Harden and Dwight Howard you are the best team in the West on paper. There are a million hurdles with this one — the Rockets have to dump Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, and Chandler Parsons has to be allowed to walk, but if you can create space you have a big three. Now, this big three isn’t as smooth — it’s hard for LeBron to drive the lane with Howard in it, plus Howard pouts when he doesn’t get his touches — and we can question if Kevin McHale is the coach who can make all the pieces fit, but this is an option. Also, LeBron has no ties to this market at all and it’s not one of the handful of large markets he would like.

5) Cleveland Cavaliers. We have moved from the “unlikely” to “crazy long shot” portion of the program. While a lot of fans think LeBron returning to Cleveland is the only non-Miami option, I think it would be a disaster. First, it is a half-hearted apology to return at this point (to borrow Matt Stroup of Rotoworld’s phrase). Next, this team is not ready to take on the best out of the West — Kyrie Irving and the No. 1 pick and LeBron with Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson get swept by the Spurs or the Thunder or the Clippers. If you’re dreaming of Kevin Love and LeBron in Cleveland with Kyrie, I suggest you stop eating the “special” brownies.

6) Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers have the cap space and they have the best brand in basketball in a major market. They have whatever’s left of Kobe Bryant. But they are in the Western Conference which means just to get back to the Finals the Lakers have to get past the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Grizzlies, Rockets, Warriors and Blazers. They could in theory get Carmelo Anthony and LeBron, but again that big three has to fight its way out of a brutal West. Plus, does LeBron really want to come play in Kobe’s shadow (this is still Kobe’s team)? Long shot at best.

[MORE: LeBron’s wife causes Internet stir with Instagram post]

7) Atlanta Hawks/Phoenix Suns. LeBron is not going to go to these teams in these markets, but they would be fascinating. I love the Atlanta idea, they could have in the ballpark of $17 million if they trade Lou Williams and that would give the Hawks a starting five of Jeff Teague (better than any Miami point guard), Kyle Korver to space the floor, LeBron at the three, Paul Millsap at the four and Al Horford at the five. That’s a good team. The Suns could sign Lebron to a near max and if you put him with Eric Bledsoe and shooters on a fast-paced teak it would be fun to watch. Probably not good enough to get out of the West, but fun. The other interesting team in the West would be the Dallas Mavericks, but again like these teams not sure they have enough.

(What about the New York Knicks? Good luck. Phil Jackson can dream but he can’t make this happen. The Knicks don’t have the cap room to sign him and Pat Riley isn’t taking on some combination of Amare Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler back in a sign-and-trade. The Knicks don’t have tradable assets — Iman Shumpert doesn’t count. Even if this trade happened, while LeBron and Anthony together is enough to get out of the East, it’s right back to the Miami situation of needing to find a way to build a team good enough to challenge the best of the West. It makes no sense for him to go to New York. But Phil will try.)

Shaq on free throws: ‘I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand’

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Rick Barry famously made 90% of his free throws while shooting underhand.

Shaquille O’Neal infamously shot just 53% on his free throws, inspiring hack-a-Shaq.

Why didn’t Shaq use Barry’s technique?

Shaq, via Emmanuel Ocbazghi, Noah Friedman and Graham Flanagan of Business Insider:

Shaquille O’Neal: Because it’s boring.

Business Insider: But it’s been proven to be somewhat effective.

O’Neal: No, it’s not. It’s not proven. Just ’cause a couple guys did it doesn’t mean anybody can do it.

I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand. I’m too cool for that.

O’Neal is somewhat trying to protect his larger-than-life, jokester image. But he’s also speaking to truth.

Barry would have been a good free-throw shooter overhand, too. Shooting underhand wasn’t necessarily going to fix Shaq’s problems at the line. Just because it worked for Barry doesn’t make it a “proven” technique.

Yet, every poor free-throw shooter – from Shaq to Andre Drummond to Andre Roberson – has been pestered about shooting underhand. It might be the right form for some players, but it’s no silver bullet.

Report: George Hill unhappy after Scott Perry promised him, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter that Kings would compete for playoffs

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After a recent Kings loss, George Hill tweeted:

Reading too much into vague tweets is often folly, but Hill hasn’t looked happy in Sacramento. Despite signing him, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter last summer, the Kings are 8-18.

Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune:

These are vets brought in to help a young team, and according to sources, were brought in with the promise of a team aiming to be playoff competitive.

But that promise was made to them by Scott Perry, who since left Sacramento and now makes personnel decisions for the New York Knicks. So the direction of the franchise has shifted since Perry left. An organization that brought in veterans aiming to win now is aiming to lose.

Not surprisingly, Hill isn’t happy, according to multiple sources

The Kings aren’t bad because they shifted direction after Perry left for the Knicks. They’re bad because they lack talent.

This team was mostly assembled by the time Perry departed, and it looked lousy. To whatever degree Sacramento is emphasizing youth post-Perry – Garrett Temple, Randolph and Hill rank in the top four in minutes – the won-loss record wasn’t changing much.

If Hill, Randolph and Carter didn’t know that, they have nobody to blame but themselves. Smart veterans like them should have understood the bargain they accepted.

Hill ($40 million guaranteed over two years), Randolph (two years, $24 million) and Vince Carter (one year, $8 million) took the money. In exchange, they’re stuck on a bad team. And that’s fine. Many of us prioritize salary in career decisions.

But now they’re dealing with the downside of that arrangement – grinding through a long, losing season. It’s disingenuous to sulk and blame Perry (though, if Perry pledged a team realistically competing for the playoffs, he overpromised).

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Sacramento isn’t making rapid improvement overnight. So, something might have to give with Hill’s mood.

Tristan Thompson: Cavaliers’ stated 3-4-week timeline for my injury was never realistic

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When Tristan Thompson suffered a calf injury early last month, the Cavaliers announced he’d miss 3-4 weeks.

More than five weeks later, Thompson still hasn’t played.

Tom Withers of the Associated Press:

Thompson:

Who said that was the real timetable? They told you guys three to four weeks. That was never the case. The first week, I was on crutches the whole time. So, there was no chance. So, I don’t know. I don’t know who told you three to four weeks. For that, I’m sorry.

Thompson sounds close to returning, so this issue should pass. But teams are usually conservative in these estimates so as not to expose their players to criticism for not working hard enough in rehab. Thompson was left hung out to dry here.

Maybe Thompson, who’s famously low-maintenance, doesn’t mind. But if a 3-4-week timeline was never realistic, I wouldn’t blame him for resenting the Cavs.

Poor communication on injuries might not be limited to only the 76ers.

Heat’s Dion Waiters: ‘I’m not coming off no bench’

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Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Dion Waiters must be more efficient.

But Waiters’ effective field-goal percentage this season (46.1) is nearly precisely his career mark (46.2). It appears last season’s career high (48.8) in a contract year was the outlier.

What if Waiters just can’t change? Could Miami bring him off the bench?

Waiters, via Tom D’Angelo of The Palm Beach Post:

“I’m a starter in this league, man, that’s who I am. We’re going to nip that in the bud right now. I’m not coming off no bench.”

This is peak Waiters, supremely confident/cocky. He’s not good enough to demand a starting spot, but here he is doing it anyway.

That make’s Spoelstra’s job trickier if he’s considering bringing Waiters off the bench. It might be the optimal basketball move, but NBA coaches must also deal with their players egos.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Waiters should come off the bench. Miami’s starting lineup – Goran Dragic, Waiters, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside – is outscoring opponents by 6.3 points per 100 possessions. (The Heat are -3.4 per 100 overall.) That unit defends, and Waiters eases the playmaking burden on Dragic.

But if I were the Heat, I also wouldn’t take the possibility of not starting Waiters off the table. At an underwhelming 12-13, they don’t have the luxury of never experimenting – even if it might upset Waiters.