Kurt Helin

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Paul George says “I’m ready” to challenge LeBron James for supremacy in East


LeBron James is the best basketball player walking the face of the earth. The only guy who could start to challenge that supremacy the past couple of years has been Stephen Curry, and last season’s NBA Finals answered that question for now.

In the Eastern Conference, for years now it has been LeBron James and his team then a step back to everyone else — LeBron has been to six straight NBA Finals, four in Miami and the last two in Cleveland. Most pundits (myself included) think that’s going to be seven in-a-row because the Cavaliers are clear and away the class of the East.

Paul George says he and the Pacers are ready to change that narrative. Here is what he told Michael Lee of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“Honestly, I look at us challenging them. I’ve been in the East and I’ve been No. 1 with LeBron being on a team,” George told The Vertical in a recent telephone interview, harkening back to when the Pacers finished with the best regular-season record in the East in 2013-14, the season before his gruesome Team USA leg injury….

“I’ve always matched up with him like, ‘I know he can do this, I know he can do that,’ ” George told The Vertical about James. “Not in an awe fashion, but it’s more so, ‘I’m not supposed to win these games. This is supposed to be the best dude in the NBA. I’m trying to challenge him. I know what I’m up against.’ Now it’s, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready for you. I’m a veteran. I know you, you know me. Let’s meet here, let’s get this job done.’ I’m prepared. I’ve had time to figure this out. I’ve had time to lick my wounds. I’m ready.”

Good for George — this is exactly what you want an elite competitor and top player to say heading into the season. He sees Everest in front of him, and he wants to climb it.

I’m also higher on the Pacers than most; I think they are a top-four team in the East that can finish top two. They upgraded at the point with Jeff Teague, plus they added the underrated Thaddeus Young (although they will miss Solomon Hill) and depth up front with Al Jefferson. I don’t get Larry Bird pushing Frank Vogel out the door at all, but Nate McMillan is a solid NBA coach to take his place. I think the Pacers are taking a step forward this season, maybe a fairly significant one.

But they’re still not in the Cavaliers’ class.

The East is still Cleveland then everyone else. Last season Toronto won 56 games and had its best season in franchise history, and they were still a step or two below the Cavaliers. No team in the East — not the Raptors, not the Celtics, not the Pacers — are making up those steps. Unless injuries or something else unforeseen brings the Cavaliers back to the pack, the Eastern Conference once again will look like Secretariat at the Belmont.

Russell Westbrook says he will not kneel for national anthem “as of right now”

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Without question, some kneeling/raised fist protests of the National Anthem are coming to the NBA once preseason games start in a couple of weeks. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers has already come out saying “there’s no more American thing to do than to protest.” Teams are discussing the need for social change.

While the NBA has a rule that players must stand for the anthem, the NBA and players’ union are already discussing exactly how and if that rule should be enforced.

While some players will kneel, Russell Westbrook will not be among them. Probably. Here’s is what he told Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript.

Obviously, Westbrook is leaving himself some wiggle room here. Also, if there is one NBA star you can expect to be blunt about the situation when talking to the media, it’s Westbrook (when he feels like opening up to the media, anyway).

I expect few if any of the NBA’s top stars — the guys with the biggest international brands — will join the protests. However, there certainly will be players taking part. For a league that sees itself as progressive — and has a more politically progressive fan base compared to other American sports — how the league handles this will be watched.

Chris Bosh does not want to retire, which leaves Heat in a quandary

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Chris Bosh wants to return to the NBA hardwood. Badly. He believes he can find a way to manage the potentially life-threatening (if untreated) blood clotting issue that has ended his last two seasons early.

Bosh will not return to the NBA court in Miami this fall, however. Miami Heat doctors said Friday Bosh failed his team physical, that tests revealed the blood clotting issue has not gone away and showed up in his blood work. They will not clear him to play.

The two sides are at an impasse.

And it leaves the Heat with a quandary — if Bosh doesn’t want to retire, the team has no good options.

Let’s go over the potential ways this can play out.

1. Chris Bosh chooses to retire. This is likely the option the Heat would prefer. It’s also not happening. Here is what Bosh said on Instagram Friday night.

“Little setbacks happen but that doesn’t change my intentions and what I want to accomplish.”

Or, look at what Bosh said in his recent self-directed video about the process of his return:

“If a doctor tells me, ‘Hey that’s it and this is how that is,’ and I don’t buy that. I have the right to disagree with you. I know inside me I have a lot talent and a lot of ability. I have it. I know I have it. It wasn’t a matter of if I play again, it was when.”

Bosh will not go quietly into that good night. He wants to get back on an NBA court, and he is not giving up that dream.

2. The Heat let Chris Bosh play. This also is not happening (despite the fact that the Heat would be a much better team with him; without Bosh it’s hard to picture the Heat in the playoffs). After the latest failed physical, with another sign of the blood clotting issue that ended his last two seasons, Miami is not going to risk putting him on the court. Bosh and his doctors will likely sit down and try to convince the Heat to let him play, but for reasons ranging from concern for his health to liability, the Heat are not going down that road. This is rather simple in one sense: If Bosh is healthy enough to play the Heat should play him, but clearly the Heat don’t believe he is physically ready.

3. The Heat trade Bosh. This comes up in my Twitter timeline every time we write about Bosh, as if this is some easy fantasy league swap. Here’s the problem: it takes two to tango. What team is so desperate as to give up quality assets so they can take on the three-years, $75.8 million remaining on a contract of a player who may never be cleared by the league to play? And even if he is cleared may not be able to finish seasons? What other team’s doctors are going to say the Heat doctors were flat-out wrong? Even if a team did step up, the NBA has to approve every trade and if it and its doctors think some team is ignoring serious medical issues just to land an All-Star level player, are they going to let the trade go through? Not if the league’s doctors think Bosh is risking his life to play. To put it kindly, the trade option seems highly unlikely.

4. The Heat and Bosh agree to a buyout and he becomes a free agent. This is unlikely from the Heat’s persepective because it is a severe salary cap hit. Remember, Bosh is owed $23.8 million this season and that number just goes up the next two. For argument’s sake, let’s say Bosh agrees to a buyout where he only gets half of the $75 million guaranteed he has coming (and there’s no reason for Bosh to do that), that is still an $11.9 million anchor on the Heat cap this season, and about $13 million each of the next two years. That will hurt their ability to land other free agents and rebuild this team. Miami isn’t going this route (unless Bosh agrees to a ridiculous buyout just to get away from Miami).

5. The Heat waive Bosh then in February apply to have his salary wiped off the books. This is what I think the Heat want to do (they could leave him on the roster until February then waive him, too), but this route also could leave the Heat with a massive salary on the books if Bosh does play eventually. One thing to be clear about here — Bosh would still get paid his full $75.8 million whether he plays or not. Miami still would write the checks, but if the league gets this ruling Bosh would come off the team’s official books, and that salary would not count against the salary cap.

Former Nets executive and now writer for The Vertical at Yahoo Sports Bobby Marks explained this option better than I could:

The Heat would waive Bosh, and on Feb. 9, 2017, apply to have his salary excluded because league rules stipulate that a team must wait one year from the date of the player’s last game. The determination on whether Bosh has suffered a career-ending illness will be made by a physician designated by the NBA and the players association and will not occur until Bosh has been waived and Miami applies to have the salary removed.

As noted above, I believe this is the Heat’s preferred course of action. But here’s the catch — and it’s a massive one for Miami:

If Bosh eventually returns from his career-threatening injury, the salary will be included back on the Heat’s salary cap. There is, however, a grace period of 25 games after the player returns to determine if he’s healthy enough to continue.

If Bosh does eventually return and play more than 25 games, Bosh’s entire salary goes back on the Heat’s books. All $75.8 million of it. Considering Bosh’s sincere determination to play again, can Miami take that risk?

My best guess is that the NBA, and likely the players’ union as well, will step in and help negotiate a solution that works for everyone. Maybe. If they can find a compromise. But if Bosh is unflinchingly determined to play and finds a doctor that backs his plan (and there are a lot of doctors out there with varied opinions), while team/league doctors are convinced it would be a life-and-death health risk to allow him back on a court (and to put up with the grueling NBA grind of travel and games), there will be no easy answers. For the Heat or Bosh.

Karl-Anthony Towns says he’ll miss Garnett, will pick up torch

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The greatest seasons in Minnesota Timberwolves history were led by peak Kevin Garnett, a team that could have made the NBA Finals had it not been for the Shaq/Kobe Lakers.

After going to Boston and winning a ring (then a couple forgettable seasons in Brooklyn) Garnett returned to Minnesota to end his career. On his return, Garnett was more mentor than player for a young team on the rise, and KG formed a particular bond with Karl-Anthony Towns.

Friday Kevin Garnett announced his retirement. Later that day KAT said he would pick up the torch from KG.

Chris Bosh: “Little setbacks happen but that doesn’t change my intentions”

Associated Press

Earlier this week on The Uninterrupted, Chris Bosh released the first of his self-directed videos about his efforts to get back on the court following the blood clotting issue that kept him out the second half of last season (and ended the previous season early for him as well).

Bosh said in an Instagram post late Friday night he planned to release the second installment earlier in the day, after he was cleared to play in training camp with the Heat. However, that didn’t happen — due to results from the blood test of his physical that showed the potentially dangerous clotting issue has not gone away, the Heat have not cleared him to participate in training camp.

Bosh instead said he would continue to share his story, and that “little setbacks happen but that doesn’t change my intentions and what I want to accomplish.”

@chrisbosh offers an official response to today's news. #BoshRebuilt

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The Heat believe Bosh may never step on an NBA court again. Bosh, as he has said before, believes he can overcome this and play again. The two sides are at an impasse. (And if you are about to comment “just trade him” answer me this: what team is going to give up quality assets to take on the $75 million contract of a guy who may never play again?)

This story is not going away for a while. And the Heat do not have many good options.