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David Stern: ‘Shame on the Brooklyn Nets’

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Brooklyn rested Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin and Trevor Booker for its final game this season, which had huge playoff implications. Not for the Nets, of course. They were long eliminated from postseason contention.

But the Bulls beat Brooklyn to reach the playoffs over the Heat, who also won that night.

Miami fans were obviously ticked, and they have company in former NBA commissioner David Stern.

Stern, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“I have no idea what was in the mind of the executives of the Brooklyn Nets — none — when they rested their starting players,” Stern, who still holds the title of Commissioner Emeritus, told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday on the NBA A to Z podcast. “If you’re playing in a game of consequence, that has an impact, which is as good as it gets (you should play your players). Here we are, the Brooklyn Nets are out of the running. They have the lowest record in the sport. But they have an opportunity to weigh in on the final game with respect to Chicago. And they sit their starters? Really? It’s inexcusable in my view. I don’t think the Commissioner maybe can, or even should, do anything about it. But shame on the Brooklyn Nets. They broke the (pact with fans).”

The resting dilemma takes slightly different forms when it involves a team like Brooklyn rather than a certain playoff team, but the underlying conflict remains the same:

The team is better off resting its players.

The NBA is worse off, at least in the short term.

The league was robbed of an important competitive game that could’ve drawn higher ratings. The Nets had just beaten Chicago a days prior, but that was with major contributions from Lopez and Lin. Without them, Brooklyn had little chance and lost by 39.

The Nets weren’t playing for anything, not even a higher draft pick. They owe their first-rounder to the Celtics and already clinched the worst record anyway. Brooklyn was better off resting those veterans at the end of a long regular season.

There’s no easy answer. If the NBA bans resting, teams will sit players and assign to minor or made-up injuries. If the league shortens the season, it will lose revenue.

The best solution is to improve at the margins – provide more rest days (which the league will do next season) and schedule nationally televised games outside of grueling stretches of the schedule. That’s obviously no silver bullet, though. Bulls-Nets wasn’t nationally televised, and Brooklyn had the day off before and the entire offseason off after.

Another potential solution: Shaming teams into playing their top players. Stern is giving that one a go.

Pat Riley: Friend talked me out of going Dan Gilbert when LeBron James left

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When LeBron James left Cleveland, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert released his infamous letter.

When LeBron left Miami, Heat president Pat Riley issued a classy statement.

The difference was nearly not as stark following Riley’s final meeting with LeBron in 2014 in Las Vegas.

Wright Thompson of ESPN:

Riley told his lieutenant, Andy Elisburg, to get the two championship trophies LeBron had won and pack them in their hard-shell carrying cases. Elisburg also brought charts and an easel for a presentation about the free agents the Heat would pursue. The day of the meeting, a hotel bellhop followed them with a luggage cart carrying the presentation and the two trophies. Riley brought wine from a Napa vineyard named Promise. It was the same label Maverick Carter had presented Riley with when they did the deal four years earlier. Riley respects Carter, and when he walked into the suite and saw James with agent Rich Paul and friend Randy Mims but no Maverick, part of him knew the meeting wasn’t sincere. He told Elisburg to keep the trophies and easel in the hall. James and his associates were watching a World Cup game, which they kept glancing at during the presentation. At one point, Riley asked if they’d mute the TV.

Riley flew home worried and got a text telling him to be ready for a call. About 15 minutes later, his phone rang and Paul was on the other end. The agent handed the phone to LeBron, who started by saying, “I want to thank you for four years …”

“I was silent,” Riley says. “I didn’t say anything. My mind began to just go. And it was over. I was very angry when LeBron left. It was personal for me. It just was. I had a very good friend who talked me off the ledge and kept me from going out there and saying something like Dan Gilbert. I’m glad I didn’t do it.”

The most shocking element of Gilbert’s letter wasn’t that he wrote it. People say dumb things, especially in the heat of the moment. But it was surprising nobody stopped Gilbert from publishing it. Of course, he runs the franchise. But nobody felt empowered to tell him it was a bad idea?

Riley was obviously fortunate to get that message and wise to heed it. But even he has let his disdain for LeBron leaving slip out a couple times.

Pat Riley says he wishes he gave Chris Bosh’s max contract to Dwyane Wade

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Heat president Pat Riley has said he should’ve given Dwyane Wade a max contract in 2014 after LeBron James left Miami.

Instead, Wade stayed with the Heat on what became two one-year contracts. That lack of long-term security bothered Wade, who took discounts in prior years, and contributed to his exit to the Bulls.

But paying Wade and Chris Bosh, who got a max contract from Miami two years ago, so much into their late 30s likely would have cost the Heat dearly. It’s nearly impossible to build around two declining max players.

Riley apparently has a retroactive plan for that – re-signing only Wade, not Bosh.

Wright Thompson of ESPN:

But of course, Riley says, almost immediately after LeBron left, Bosh’s camp wanted to reopen a deal they’d just finished, knowing the Heat had money and felt vulnerable. Bosh threatened to sign with the Rockets. In the end, Riley gave Bosh what he wanted. Now he wishes he’d said no to Bosh’s max deal and given all that money to Wade.

Riley says that Wade’s agent asked to deal directly with the owners instead of Pat, so he merely honored that request. Mostly, he just wishes the whole thing had gone differently. “I know he feels I didn’t fight hard enough for him,” he says. “I was very, very sad when Dwyane said no. I wish I could have been there and told him why I didn’t really fight for him at the end. … I fought for the team. The one thing I wanted to do for him, and maybe this is what obscured my vision, but I wanted to get him another player so he could end his career competitive.”

When he describes his reaction to Wade’s leaving, it’s always in terms of how sad it makes him feel

Riley has done a much better job explaining to the public how sad he is about Wade leaving rather than actually doing something while he had the chance or even expressing his regret to Wade after the fact.

It’s almost as if Riley knew excommunicating a Heat Lifer would be both good for the franchise long-term and a terrible look in the short term and is trying to mitigate the damage. Wade might even realize that, too.

To a certain degree, Riley could be speaking in hindsight. Bosh’s deal has not worked out, with Riley believing the big man’s career is over due to blood-clot issues. But hindsight also says giving Wade, now 35, a five-year contract two years ago would’ve been disastrous.

There’s sentimentality at work here. Wade is the greatest player in Heat history. Riley drafted him, groomed him and built three championship teams in two eras around him.

I just can’t figure out how much Riley is exploiting that sentimentality to warm Miami fans after coldly letting Wade walk and how much Riley genuinely regrets contract negotiations with Wade. This is almost certainly shades of both.

Pat Riley’s new approach to building Heat: ‘You don’t have have to go whale hunting’

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Last summer, Heat president Pat Riley stated his desire to land a “whale,” seemingly meaning Kevin Durant.

This year, Riley is taking a more modest approach to Miami’s offseason.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

On pursuing whales, Riley said: “I regret ever making that statement. The collective bargaining agreement is going to dictate a lot of things about free agency…. Today it’s a lot different than [2010]. Any great player will have to give great pause to walk away from $65 million to $70 million to walk away.”

“We are going to focus on our guys, really focus on this group of guys. We have found something about three of these guys, I felt they had something but never really had the platform. We will always observe what’s going on in free agency. We have that flexibility. When you have a draft pick and a lot of players on your team you like, you are in good position to move forward.”

“If you are looking at Golden State and Cleveland, those teams and Houston and San Anontio, the top four teams in the league, what happens to the other teams in the Eastern Conference, yes, you have to say to yourself, I want to get there as quickly as I can and contend,” he said.

“Even if you brought all of these guys back with the 14th pick and some kind of room exception, can you beat those teams? You will never know until you get there. I think the fans here appreciate what we do. They also appreciate we want to bring more quicker to the table. I want to play for that [championship]. That’s what we want to compete for. That’s what it has always been about. You don’t have have to go whale hunting. You can acquire key players via trade, instead of laying out $38 million for a guy. Some of these max numbers are ridicluous. That’s the nature of the collective bagraining agreement.”

The Heat emerged as a feel-good story with their incredible second-half turnaround. Role players like Dion Waiters and James Johnson clearly bought into Miami’s culture, and Waiters has already said he wants to re-sign.

And,  yes, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s designated-veteran-player rule will make it more difficult for the Heat to land star free agents.

But if the Heat win their eventual case that Chris Bosh can no longer safely play basketball, they’ll be guaranteed to have his salary removed from the cap only this offseason. This is their opportunity to upgrade the roster.

I’d caution against assuming this group of overachievers will overachieve again. Hassan Whiteside is a foundational piece, and Goran Dragic found his groove later in the season. Justise Winslow will return, too. But that’s not close to a championship core, and locking up Waiters and Johnson isn’t the ticket, either.

If the Heat are content being merely good right now, sure, keep this core together. They compete hard, and chemistry matters. This could be a fine team next year if it returns mostly intact.

But Miami is a market – with championship pedigree, no state income tax, warm weather and quality nightlife – that can dream bigger. This is a place that attracted LeBron James, Dwyane and Chris Bosh and, before that, Shaquille O’Neal (who approved his trade from the Lakers). Will Riley really shift his strategy so significantly?

What changed for Dion Waiters in Miami? He says conditioning (using pictures)

Associated Press
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Dion Waiters and his scoring were at the heart of Miami’s second-half surge, and the ankle injury that sidelined him the final 13 games of the season — when the Heat went 7-6 — was a key reason the Heat just missed the playoffs.

Waiters had a renaissance in Miami, scoring a career-best 15.8 points per game on an improved true shooting percentage of 50.6, with a career best PER of 14.5. After a career where he was a frustrating inconsistent gunner, he had the ball in his hands and was making plays, and was showing off improved catch-and-shoot skills — and filling up Waiters’ Island with converts in the process.

What changed? Waiters said it was conditioning and the reason was the Heat and their process and staff.

How much the Heat, or another team will pay the new-and-improved Waiters this summer is going to be an interesting story line (Waiters had a $3 million player option but will wisely test the market). What teams believe his transformation is permanent, and what are his scoring skills worth on the open market? The Heat liked what they saw from Waiters and Pat Riley has said he wants to bring this entire team back, but if you don’t think money will impact that think back to the Dwyane Wade negotiations. Will another team come in over the top to snag him?

Waiters island seems to have found a home off the waters of Miami, but like the island on Lost, you never know when it could be on the move.