Report: If LeBron's friends get jobs with the Heat, the NBA may investigate

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Thumbnail image for bosh_wade_james.jpgIn Cleveland, LeBron’s posse had the run of the place. They were VIPs in the arena and in the city. Some of his friends even got jobs within the Cleveland organization.

It is rumored that one of the things that really hurt Chicago in talks with LeBron James was a clear line in the sand from Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf on just that — if we didn’t give Michael Jordan’s friends all jobs, we’re not doing it for you. It may or may not have been a big deal with James himself, but you can bet the friends that have his ear talked to him about it.

In Miami, Wade met with members of LeBron’s inner circle a couple of times, according to a long report on the inner workings of LeBron’s decision by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo.

If jobs were promised to LeBron’s friends, the NBA may investigate, he reports.

“The bigger issue is salary-cap circumvention,” one top NBA front-office executive told Yahoo!. “You can’t promise jobs or preferential services outside of a contract or a job for a friend. If that’s part of the deal, it’s a violation.”

It’s also very, very hard to prove. These friends had jobs in the Cleveland organization, or may have other skills the Heat can say are useful to them in whatever capacity. If a person had a job with one NBA team, it will be very hard to legally prove they were hired by the Heat just because of LeBron.

That is just one of the interesting tidbits from Wojnarowski’s opus. It is long, it has a lot of details, and it is worth reading.

It is also worth taking with a grain of salt. While Wojnarowski is as plugged in as any reporter out there, nobody has the entire picture. Nobody has all the people on the inside of the decision talking. The report talks about how LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came up with this idea at the Beijing Olympics two years ago, but other people who traveled with the team said that while the three talked they were really in different cliques of the team much of the time. We could try to poke holes in other parts of the story as well, but nobody really knows. Again, just read everything with a critical eye.

Three other things of note. One is saying that current Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has to win a title this season, or he will be gone.

Nevertheless, the pressure on Spoelstra to win a championship in 2011 promises to be immense. To keep his job, he’ll probably have to win it all, especially because Riley has his eye on Doc Rivers to someday coach the Heat. Rivers has one year left on his Celtics contract, and has been heavily affected by the distance between him and his family still living Orlando.

I’m not sure I totally agree — what matters most this first year is that he gets total buy in from all three stars. That he gets them really working together. I can see a scenario where he does that and they still don’t win a title — because Joel Anthony is not a center who can stop Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum deep in the playoffs, for example. It may take another year to get all the pieces around the big three to make it really work.

Another was just how big an impression Riley made on LeBron. How it was Riley that brought this deal together.

Riley never did pitch James on his own return to coaching, and yet bringing those five championship rings into the meeting were his way of selling James on the fact that Riles’ prints would be all over the team. No other basketball executive in the process could tell James they understood what a title team needed, what it looked like and how they had already done it like Riley could. Riley had such credibility, such presence and he completely captivated James.

That I believe. Riley does carry that aura.

Finally, there was the other reason Chicago fell out of favor — Derrick Rose.

For everything the Bulls tried to sell – from owner Jerry Reinsdorf to GM Gar Forman to coach Tom Thibodeau – there had been one thing that troubled James’ about the Bulls pitch: Derrick Rose(notes) never called and tried to recruit him.

Chicago officials never directly requested Rose to reach out with a call, and the young point guard felt James could’ve always reached out to him had he wanted to discuss the possibility of playing together. James needed to be courted, needed to be wooed and apparently it surprised him there was a star who wasn’t falling over himself to do that.

Jordan Bell spectacularly missed dunk, but Warriors reaction was perfect

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Golden State was starting to make its comeback, cutting the lead to eight midway through the third quarter when Draymond Green found Jordan Bell for the breakaway dunk and…

Ouch.

What was impressive though was the Warriors reaction. First, Steve Kerr didn’t take him out. Didn’t bench him, instead left him in and with that showed confidence.

Then there was Draymond Green, who was on ESPN’s Mic’d Up, and was heard encouraging Bell.

Then there was assistant coach Mike Brown, who tried to get Bell out of the moment, in a great story relayed by Ethan Straus of The Athletic.

“So Jordan played against my son Elijah,” Brown explained. “My oldest son played at Mater Dei High School in Orange County and Jordan played at Long Beach [Poly]. So they had a lot of games back in the day. So I went up to him and he thought I was serious, because we took the time out. He’s about to walk out of the huddle and I walk up to him and say, ‘Jordan, listen, don’t worry about the dunk. I saw about three or four of them back in the Long Beach days and you bounced back.’ He fell out laughing. He said, ‘Ah, MB, I didn’t do that back then!’ I said, ‘Yea you did! It’s all good, though!’”

It worked. Bell never lost confidence, never stopped playing the way he plays, and soon enough there was this.

With Portland going smaller and counting on their offense more, Bell is going to have a larger role in that matchup. This is exactly how you build up the confidence of a player so he will come through for you in those moments.

 

Damian Lillard reportedly playing through separated ribs suffered in Game 2

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Midway through the third quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Golden State’s Kevon Looney both dove for a loose ball near midcourt. Looney got it, threw the ball ahead to Stephen Curry, and in the process rolled over Lillard.

Lillard suffered separated ribs on that play, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Here is the play.

Lillard has shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) since the injury, including 5-of-18 in the Trail Blazers’ Game 3 loss.

Lillard shot 7-of-19 (36.8 percent) before the injury — the Warriors trapping him and forcing the ball out of his hands has been an issue for Lillard in this series, long before his collision with Looney.

Lillard himself did not bring the injury up, it was leaked. When asked in his postgame press conference Saturday night, Lillard admitted to being tired but would not use it as an excuse.

“Everybody’s tired,” Lillard said. “It’s the third round of the playoffs after a long season. Our last series, I got a lot of attention. The team was giving me a lot of attention and same thing in this series. It takes a lot to deal with that and then go out and chase guys around on the defensive end.

“But everybody’s putting that effort out. I mean, I feel fine enough to go out there and play 40 minutes like I have been, but you know, it’s definitely tiring.”

And he’s playing through pain on top of it.

Portland is already down 0-3 in this series and faces a win-or-it’s-over Game 4 on Monday night at the Moda Center.

Game 3 Déjà vu: Warriors slow down Lillard, come from behind to win, take 3-0 series lead

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It was Déjà vu all over again for the Warriors and Trail Blazers. And it all started with Damian Lillard.

The Warriors didn’t re-invent the wheel in this playoff series, they just have aggressively executed the game plan that has troubled Portland in the playoffs for years:

Take the ball out of Damian Lillard’s hands, dare anyone else to beat you.

Oklahoma City and Denver could not do it, but Golden State has. Every chance the Warriors get they trap Lillard off the pick-and-roll, and even when they don’t do that the Warriors show the second defender early. Lillard has struggled with his shot against that, he was 5-of-18 shooting in Game 3, and in the series he is now 15-of-46 (32.6 percent).

What Lillard is doing right is making the smart pass to the big on the short roll at the free throw line, creating a 4-on-3 (or sometimes 3-on-2) for the Trail Blazers to attack, but they have not consistently taken advantage of that.

“I think what they want me to do is make the correct play, and for me, I try to do that for as long as possible,” Lillard said. “You know, as long as I can do it and we can stay in the game or have a lead like we have the last two games when I’m just making the right plays, and guys are doing what they’re supposed to do on the weak side.

“But I think in Golden State’s minds, they know at some point, if we’re going to beat them, I’m going to have to be rolling. They are just kind of banking on the fact that we’ll just live with what’s happening right now. Keep getting the ball out of his hands and you know, at some point, we’ll probably be able to take over the game.”

Golden State did take over the game, in part bucause they have a playmaker as good as Draymond Green.

Green is the master of the short roll, and on Saturday night he was doing that, plus driving end-to-end, owning the glass, and generally being the best player on the floor on his way to 20 points on 12 shots, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists.

“I don’t even know what to say about Draymond, he was like a wrecking ball out there,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said postgame. “He was just destroying every in his path. The pace he was generating was incredible and it seemed like he never got tired.”

Green was critical to another dominant Golden State third quarter that sparked a comeback from 18 down in the third to win 110-99.

Golden State now has a stranglehold on the series, up 3-0. Game 4 is in Portland on Monday night.

The Warriors are now 4-0 without Kevin Durant, still out with a strained calf (he’s not expected to return this series). Stephen Curry, who had 36 in this win, has scored at least 33 in each of those wins.

In the most important ways, Game 3 felt like a replay of Game 2, just in a different arena.

Feeding off that home crowd and energy, the Trail Blazers raced out to an early lead and were the better team through the first 24 minutes. Portland shot 11-of-22 outside the paint in the first half, compared to 9-of-27 for Golden State. Portland had a 125.7 offensive rating in the first half thanks to that shooting, plus grabbing the offensive rebound on 34.8 percent of their missed shots.

More than the offense, Portland played good half-court defense in the first half, taking the Warriors out of their rhythm. They trapped Curry and Thompson with size — Moe Harkless and Myers Leonard if possible — and the Warriors struggled to adapt

Leonard played the best basketball of his career in the first half, with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (he finished with 16 points) and making plays like this:

All that had the Trail Blazers up 13 at the half. It was impressive, then again they were up 15 at the half in Game 2. The Warriors were not fazed.

“It all started with our second half defense, we held them to 33 points,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “We had amazing contributions off the bench, every single guy came in and made an impact.”

That bench mattered. The Golden State starters and core lineups got back in the game, taking a small lead, but when Green and Curry rested to start the fourth, Portland left their starters in and were still -3 in those critical minutes.

Curry and Green came in rested, and the Warriors leaned on them heavily the rest of the way with the Curry/Green pick-and-roll — Portland has no answers for that.

The Warriors run also seemed to shake the Portland offense. The Trail Blazers shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) from three after the first quarter, and for the game the Blazers missed 13 free throws (they shot just 60.6 percent as a team from the stripe).

Portland was led by CJ McCollum, who had 23 points on 20 shots.

He’s going to have to do better, Lillard is going to have to do a lot better, and the Blazers are going to have to find something special in the third quarter Monday night, or they will be swept right out of the playoffs.

Blazers passing impressive as they push first-half lead to double digits (VIDEO)

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Back home, the Portland Trail Blazers looked far more comfortable.

Feeding off the energy of a loud crowd at the Moda Center, the Trail Blazers stretched out to a first-half lead thanks to a level of impressive ball movement and energy we have not seen from them all series. Check it out.

This may go down as the Myers Leonard game, he had 13 points in the first half.

Portland stretched their lead to as much as 18 and was up by 13 at the half. I wouldn’t call that comfortable because, well, Golden State, but it’s the best the Blazers have played all series.