Can the Miami Heat win it all this season?

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ljames_points.jpgAlready you were hearing it — guys were saying it on ESPN and talk radio shows across the nation even before LeBron made his announcement.

If the Heat don’t win it all this year, it’s a failure.

That’s a bunch of manure.

Winning a championship takes a lot of things, including luck with injuries and a few bounces to go your way. It’s hard. The Heat now have a wide-open five-year window, if they get no titles in that time it will be a failure.

But they are a long way from a title this year. Even with three of the best players walking the planet on one team.

Look at the teams that were in the Finals this year — both teams had a big three. Plus the Lakers had Ron Artest (or Andrew Bynum, if you count Artest in the three) plus they brought Lamar Odom off the bench. The Celtics are really a Big Four now, and they needed Big Baby and Nate Robinson off the bench to win them one of the finals games. It takes depth to win a title.

Pat Riley was a magician to get all three of these guys in one uniform. But he has a lot of work to do. He has to build a team around these three — and do it on the cheap. If he can move Michael Beasley he will have about $1.8 million to play with after the big three sign. If not, it’s all minimum contracts from here on out.

What does he need to do? One of my favorite basketball minds — David Thorpe of ESPN — broke it down in a Q&A at TrueHoop:

They need 3-point shooters off the bench, and in the starting lineup. They don’t need a point guard, necessarily, because Wade and James are both such willing distributors. And look at the teams that have won titles in recent years. Many have not had transcendent point guards. Jason Williams, Avery Johnson, Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar … they’re not lottery picks….

And then you have got to find some centers. They don’t need to score. They just need to rebound, play defense and race the floor.

One holdover on the Heat roster, point guard Mario Chalmers, could work in the Fisher-like point guard role — an untraditional point who does not handle the ball that much. But he needs to accept that role and step up to the challenge. Last season his game regressed. He only shot 31 percent from three. With these guys, he can get good looks spacing the floor, but he has to knock down the catch-and-shoot.

There are a lot of other catch-and-shoot guys out there — the better ones cost. But good scouting (here and Europe) could find some guys the Heat might be able to afford.

Centers are a bigger problem. Solid big men who can defend and rebound get big money. Brendan Haywood just signed for six years, $55 million. Teams want to give 38-year-old Shaquille O’Neal $5.8 million a year for two years. And he’s a shell of himself.

For what the Heat have to spend, they will not get much. This is where the multi-year plan comes in. They need to get younger players they can develop, Thorpe notes. Guys who may not help much in November but could in April and will next year.

But what about this year? Bosh is not a true center, he cannot bang with the bigs in the East like Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut and Jermaine O’Neal now in Boston. Not and have his knees hold up.

You can create a tempo game. You can aggressively trap. You can make it a game about aggressiveness, and those three will all have a great feel for that.

(Heat coach) Erik Spoelstra is a very bright guy. If he doesn’t have the roster for it, he’s not going to play a classic defensive scheme and get crushed. He will strategize with what he has….

This team, though, they might not have to go small. They can go unique. They can have James and Wade as the backcourt, with a couple of 6-8 athletic shooters, and Bosh, and then race the floor. That’s not a tiny lineup.

The Heat are going to be very entertaining this season. They are going to be figuring it out on the fly, and they can’t be traditional. They won’t be. We’ll see how easily egos can be set aside, especially when the inevitable rough patch comes.

But win it all this year? It takes depth to win. And that may take a year or two to build in Miami.

But it’s going to be fun to watch them get there.

Counter-report: Kyrie Irving has been ‘communicative and forthright’ with Celtics

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Kyrie Irving, according to a report, has ghosted the Celtics as free agency approaches.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Whoever leaked the initial information wanted to make Irving look bad. Whoever leaked this wanted to make Irving look good. Who’s telling the truth?

Who knows?

Maybe Irving’s and Boston staffers have differing definitions “communicative and forthright.” They could each be telling their own truths. But neither side is above spreading inaccurate rumors to sully someone else’s reputation.

Breakups get messy, and it appears this one is already there.

Beyond all the noise about how Irving is leaving, the most important detail: This is yet another report he’s leaving for the Nets.

Report: Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist opting in for $13 million

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The Hornets’ last hope for super-maxing out Kemba Walker and avoiding the luxury tax without trading or stretching anyone has been extinguished.

With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s $13 million salary locked in for next season, Charlotte faces hard choices.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

If the Hornets re-sign Walker to the super-max, sign their draft picks (Nos. 12, 36 and 52) and add no other free agents, they’d project to be about $9 million over the tax line.

Would Walker take that large of a discount? That $9 million below the super-max would be for just next season. Over a five-year contract with max raises, he’d be leaving about $54 million on the table. And that’s all to maintain a lottery team that’s not really upgrading.

Would Michael Jordan pay the tax? He never has, and I doubt this mediocre team sways him.

The most likely outcome if Walker re-signs: Charlotte trades an undesirable contract – Kidd-Gilchrist’s, Nicolas Batum‘s, Marvin Williams‘, Cody Zeller‘s) – or stretches Bismack Biyombo. Trading those rotation players would probably require a sweetener. Stretching Biyombo would create a cap hit through 2022.

So, the Hornets get even more depleted in the long-term, maybe also the short-term.

That’s the cost of overpaying so many players – including Kidd-Gilchrist, who plays hard and defends well but hasn’t developed enough of an offensive game.

Report: After working out Darius Garland, Knicks set on R.J. Barrett with No. 3 pick

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R.J. Barrett is the consensus No. 3 prospect in this draft. The Knicks have the No. 3 pick.

A potential snag  – New York working out Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland today – apparently won’t keep Barrett from his desired Knicks.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The top of the draft looks clear:

1. Pelicans: Zion Williamson

2. Grizzlies: Ja Morant

3. Knicks: R.J. Barrett

New Orleans has the No. 4 pick but is looking into trading it. I rate Garland as the top available prospect, but the Pelicans already have Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. They could still take Garland, but the fit would be tricky.

Will New Orleans pick Garland? Take someone else? Trade the pick?

The draft will get interesting at No. 4.

Trade who? Wizards reportedly will offer Bradley Beal three-year, $111 million contract extension

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Predicting what the Wizards will do this off-season — from the No. 9 pick in the draft on Thursday through what to do with Jabari Parker‘s $20 million team option — is difficult because they do not have a permanent general manager. The Wizards have made a run at Toronto’s Masai Ujiri (something sources told me is true despite owner Ted Leonsis’ denials), but for now in-house candidate Tommy Sheppard is running the show (and will for a while longer).

The biggest question: What will the Wizards do with Bradley Beal?

While every team in the league has called to try and feel out trade possibilities, the Wizards are leaning toward offering him a three-year, $111 million extension to his current contract, something reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“He’s eligible for a three-year, $111 million extension. I’m told it’s the team’s intention to offer that up to him and try and move forward.”

The Wizards should offer it up.

It would be a surprise if Beal accepted it.

In part because he will want to see who is in charge and what direction this person takes the franchise before he commits to it, but also in part because it doesn’t hurt him financially. Beal can get a larger-year four-year extension in the summer of 2020, or become a free agent and sign a max five-year contract in 2021 (or, he could bolt them to another team that summer). Beal is just 25 years old and has not had the kind of injury issues that would make him think he needs to take the security now (he has played 82 games the last two seasons).

This little dance will go on in our nation’s capital, but it signifies nothing. Meanwhile, Beal will gear up for next season, another without John Wall where Beal will once again be the focal point of the office.