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.

Jordan Clarkson urges NBA to allow players to compete in more global events

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The NBA is trying to walk a fine line. On the one hand, the league and its owners want to globalize the NBA — it is the best, most watched basketball league on the globe and they want people in Europe and Asia to follow the NBA the way American soccer fans follow the Barclays’ Premiere League. That will make the owners more money, and never forget this is a business first, second, and third. With that, the owners allow players to compete for their native countries in major events, such as the FIBA World Cup or Olympics.

However, there is a “club vs. country” tug of war in the NBA. Players want to represent their countries — and sometimes are pressured to do so — while NBA teams see injury risk. They look at the story of Dante Exum blowing out his ACL playing for Australia as a cautionary tale.

So when the Cavaliers’ Jordan Clarkson wanted to play for the Philippines in the Asian Games (his mother is a native of that country, so he is allowed), the NBA shot it down at first saying this tournament was not part of the agreement between FIBA and the NBA that allows the league’s players to take part in major international events (the Olympics, the basketball World Cup, etc.). However, the league eventually flipped and allowed a “one-time exception” for Clarkson (plus Houston’s Zhou Qi and Dallas’ Ding Yanhuyang).

Now Clarkson says he wants the NBA to allow players to compete in more global events, he told Agence France-Presse at the Asian Games.

“After being told no so many times, I refused to give up. I kept fighting,” he said. “I’m here now, ready to compete.”

“I think they get the point — in Asia kids are picking up a basketball. I feel like the NBA is allowing us to do our thing.”

Basketball is a growing sport in Asia — it’s huge in the Philippines already, and it’s growing fast there and in countries such as China. The NBA wants its foot in the door there. It wants to be part of that market — the NBA plays exhibition games in China every year for a reason.

The Asian Games — the second largest multi-national sporting event in the world behind the Olympics — is a good exception to make. Clarkson and other NBA stars playing there — including in the future — is good for the NBA.

However, the league is going to face a challenge trying to find that line in future years between promoting the game and the NBA internationally and protecting its investments in its players.

Watch the top 60 blocked shots of last NBA season

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We love blocked shots. One player is attacking the rim, another gets in his way and rejects that shot. Frankly, we overestimate their importance on defense at points (because it’s a quantifiable stat in a world where defense is hard to quantify), but they matter.

And they are fun.

Check out the top 60 blocks from last season, as put together by NBA.com. It all starts with a chase down block by Kevin Durant (who has improved his rim protection in recent years) and ends with Anthony Davis showing why he is a beast.

It’s Sunday, and what else are you going to do? Watch preseason football?

Grizzlies expected to bring rookie Jaren Jackson along slowly

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Jaren Jackson was one of the standout rookies of Summer League. It started in Salt Lake City at the Jazz Summer League, where he looked like the future of the NBA five — knocking down threes, being athletic enough to run the court on the break, blocking shots, and being physical inside. In Utah, he averaged 15.7 points per game and five boards a night.

Expect the Grizzlies to bring Jackson along slowly, however, once the regular season starts. Jackson likely will come off the bench behind the starting frontline of Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green. That will not be popular with the fan base, but the Grizzlies want to trust their veterans and make a playoff push.

Look at what Grizzlies executive John Hollinger told the Peter Edmiston of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

I think whatever happens, we want it to happen organically, and not get ahead of ourselves, and make sure we’re taking all the right steps on him, and not getting too excited and skipping ahead….

“We don’t want to put him into overtly physical matchups yet because he’s 18 and his body is still filling out,” he said.

Strength is almost always the biggest challenge facing young big men in the NBA (and Jackson is still 18, he will turn 19 during training camp). These are grown men they are going against nightly, and while Jackson had plenty of strength to hang with the Summer League crowd, things are very different when the big boys come to play. Even in an NBA moving away from old-school power ball, it still matters.

While the Grizzlies will work to not rush Jackson, that plan is somewhat dependent on players with a history of injury issues staying healthy. Jackson is not going to get 30 minutes a night, he’s not going to get the touches that fellow rookies such as Trae Young and Luka Doncic will receive, and he may not be in the mix for Rookie of the Year. We’ll see how things shake out, but on a Grizzlies team looking to put itself in the playoff conversation, the coach likely will lean on veterans he trusts.

Where Jackson will rank in this draft class three years from now could be very different. He has the potential to be the star of this class (or at least one of a few breakouts, this is an interesting group).

Victor Oladipo: ‘I play nothing safe now’ because ‘that really didn’t get me anywhere’

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Victor Oladipo transformed last season.

Traded to the Pacers, he showed up to camp in better shape than he had ever been before, and with a new confidence in his handles and shot making. Coach Nate McMillan realized what he had, put the ball in Oladipo’s hands, and got out of the way. The result was a 48-win Pacers team where Oladipo was the league’s most improved player, made an All-NBA Team, the All-Defensive Team, and was an All-Star for the first time.

Oladipo, after going to the USA Basketball mini-camp in Las Vegas, is back in a Miami gym with the same team of trainers and staff who transformed his body and game a year ago. In a fantastic profile by J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star, Oladipo talks about the mental transformation he has undergone as well.

“I push the envelope. I play nothing safe now,” Oladipo says. “I’m the guy if we’re down two, I’m pulling up for three. I work too hard to not push the envelope. I used to be conservative but that really didn’t get me anywhere.”

His trainer, Al Watson, talked about getting Oladipo better prepared for defenses that focus on him and late-game situations.

“Last year we started doing a lot of tightening up his ball-handling skills. This year we took it to another level because I watch a lot of film on him,” Watson says. “In the fourth quarter, he’s like the point guard. Wanted to focus on a lot of combination moves, working on traps. It’s no secret now. They’re going to be double-teaming him.

“You look at the great players, Kobe, they had to do a little bit of everything. His shot from the perimeter may be off so he’s got to learn, ‘Let me get myself going, get to the mid-post, get some fouls.’ He’s got to be able to attack with all different facets of the game. We do a lot of sprinting, getting to your spots. Got to get open. I touch everything with in-game situation stuff.”

Oladipo’s team includes an off-the-court group trying to better position himself to make money off his stardom. He doesn’t want to play it safe off-the-court, either.

Indiana is going to lean heavily on Oladipo again. They added some depth — Doug McDermott, drafting Aaron Holiday — and are counting on more from players such as Myles Turner. However, by and large, the Pacers are running it back, and they are sneaking up on nobody this season. Internal improvement will be their key.

Oladipo is ready. He’s not playing it safe anymore.