What Heat-Celtics means to the Miami Heat

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The Miami Heat want to be great.

Greatness is such a bizarre concept. How often is it used outside of sports? Politics. Spirituality. Business. Show-business. And all those things are complex and contextual. But it’s what we pursue. If the Boston Celtics symbolize that single-minded obsession with gold, the Heat are pursuing something that almost goes beyond rings. They want to cement themselves as great. It takes a special kind of arrogance to pursue that as a goal in and of itself, but then, that arrogance is a product of talent and ability. It is that drive for greatness that brought the Triad together, it is what turns so many off of them. But it’s there, and if we want to talk about them as adults and not self-righteous judge and jury, we do need to recognize it. The Heat want to be great.

The Miami Heat can’t be great without beating the Boston Celtics.

You have to have a villain, and guess what? The Chicago Bulls don’t work because of their youth and relative unknown identity. The Lakers don’t fit because there’s no counter of identity. But the Celtics? The Celtics eliminated James’ Cavaliers. They eliminated Wade’s Heat. And they have made it clear that they neither respect, nor acknowledge any team that lays claim to the East, especially the Heat.

The Celtics represent the old guard, the Pistons to the Heat’ Bulls, the Pistons to the Heat’s Celtics, the team that stands in their way. It doesn’t matter that this is the conference semifinals, not the conference Finals. It doesn’t matter that the Bulls await the winner, licking their young chops while the two go to what will likely be an abject war. This is what they’ve waited for, and this feels like the kind of drama they have to experience.

The Celtics are Miami’s mirror image. Three stars, one the franchise icon, who unite to try and do something extraordinary. The Celtics adopted chemistry and commitment. The Heat have preached chemistry and a commitment to business. The versatile small-forward. The iconic shooting guard. The long power forward. The Celtics are so much like the Heat, but just a little bit closer, a little bit of a better fit, a little bit able to mesh. And if the Heat want to advance, they have to come together like the Celtics did.

The Celtics hate this team. They’ll act dismissive. They’ll talk about it being just another opponent, and how it’s on to the next one if they were to win. But this team hates how they celebrated while the Celtics were still smarting from losing Game 7 of the Finals by a quarter without their starting center. They hate the adulation of the individual over the team. This is more than just a playoff series, it’s a validation of Ubuntu versus the most talented team the Celtics have ever faced. Miami can’t allow a team that disdains them to get this win. If the Heat have been driven to shut up the haters, losing to the Celtics would mean surrendering to the biggest collection of them all.

The Celtics are the villain, the bad guy, the team that took it to them in the regular season and exposed them early and often. The Heat need this series to vanquish those demons. The confidence they’ll have were they to beat Boston, the big bad Boston Celtics, would be enough to carry them as far as they want to go. That’s not a dismissal of the very talented Bulls and Lakers, it’s a testament to the mental edge Boston has carried over Miami.

The Celtics bring defense. The Heat bring defense. The Celtics are individually magnificent. The Heat have some of the most talented players in the league. The Celtics return to their team concept just as the Heat do, for strength and guidance. The identities of these teams are not so different. Garnett whispered in LeBron’s ear after the Celtics defeated the Cavaliers last year. What he said isn’t known. But you have to wonder if it is the way these Celtics have tortured James for three years that drove him to abandon his home and responsibilities as the franchise player (as was within his rights to do) and join Wade and Bosh. The Celtics will make you crazy. They just keep coming, just keep hammering, and just keep challenging you at every position.

The unstoppable force meets… the unstoppable force.

No team embarrassed the Heat like the Celtics did this year, not even the Bulls. This matchup has it all for the Heat. Revenge. Vendettas. A philosophic difference between basketball for basketball’s sake, and basketball as a portal to fulfillment of all life has to offer, including, yes, greatness.

The world does not exist past this series for Miami. It is their entire universe. They may simply not be ready for this challenge, they may not have had enough time together. That doesn’t matter. The moment is here by which they’ll be jumped, their careers put into perspective. The game is the same it was at the start of the year.

You want to be great?

You gotta beat Boston.

As Sunday winds down, Miami heats up talk of Jimmy Butler trade

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There has been much speculation over the past 48 hours about where disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler will end up once owner Glen Taylor finds a suitable trade partner for him. We have already discussed at length where Butler might fit best, and Sunday morning saw an influx of new teams ready to come to the Timberwolves with an offer now that it is known that Butler is on the table.

As Sunday came to a close, it became apparent that yet another team is trying to work their way into the Butler sweepstakes.

According to multiple reports, the Miami Heat have been active and are trying to get a deal done for Butler. Once thought of as a middle-of-the-pack suitor, the Heat have apparently been one of the more engaged teams as a deal for the Timberwolves guard is sought before the team opens training camp on Tuesday.

Via Twitter:

Miami joins the Washington Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers, Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers in teams looking to exchange parts for the next season on Butler’s contract.

No doubt league GMs are trying to weigh the risk vs. reward when it comes to Butler. His contract has a player option for the 2019-20 NBA season, which he will almost certainly opt out of in order to become a free agent. That means that without a guarantee that Butler will re-sign, any team trading for him will need to be careful with what young assets they leverage for the present.

For example, one report out of Portland says that the Blazers are unwilling to give up who they see as their young main core for a one-year rental on Butler. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic are all off the table for the Blazers.

We still don’t know what the asking price for Butler will eventually be, or how the Timberwolves prioritize getting a solid return for him vs. shipping him outside of the Western Conference. For now, we have to wait and see what happens.

At least until Tuesday.

Elton Brand on 76ers contending for a championship: ‘I think we still need a piece’

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Elton Brand last played in the NBA in April of 2016. Now, in September of 2018 he is the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The 17-year NBA veteran helms one of the best young teams in the NBA, and takes over a GM position that has previously been under turmoil. Brand has perhaps been blessed with the departure of LeBron James from the Eastern Conference, but so too will other teams try to take over that perennial top spot.

The Boston Celtics have similar assets to Philadelphia, with proven stars mixed with an excellent supporting cast and young players who could develop into stars themselves. The Toronto Raptors are a very good team who just added a Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard. The road ahead will be tough.

But the Sixers still have cap space and they are still looking for a third star to fill a necessary role on their team. Brand said as much during a recent appearance on ESPN, and from all indications it looks like he’s not going to be shy about pulling the trigger either in free agency or in the trade market if he feels he can solidify the Sixers’ position in the east.

Via ESPN:

Everyone talks about free agency, but we may have to pull the trigger on something else before free agency. If we feel we can’t get one of those stars that I can’t name. I still think we need a piece. We’re close. If you ask Joel [Embiid] we have enough and if you ask Ben [Simmons] we have enough, because that’s the chip they have on their shoulder … they don’t want to hear that, but I think we still need a piece.

Brand went on to say that he felt like development was also important in this process, and that it’s possible that Philadelphia has their additional star in Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, or both.

Philadelphia has reportedly been one of the teams that has jumped into initial conversations with the Minnesota Timberwolves about trading for Jimmy Butler. Whether or not Butler is the right move for the Sixers notwithstanding, that Brand appear is ready to wheel and deal certainly is interesting.

Anthony Davis picks new agent, signs with LeBron James’ rep Rich Paul

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The NBA offseason isn’t over just quite yet, so people are naturally ready to jump at any rumor they can get their hands on. On Sunday, it was announced that New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis had signed with Rich Paul’s Klutch Sports Group, and the Twittersphere exploded.

Davis, 25, has two seasons left on his current contract until he can use a player option to end his deal early and choose another location if he pleases.

Of course, the rampant speculation here — which is baseless, I might add — is that Davis could be looking to jump ship from the Pelicans, with Paul helping to create pressure for such a deal.

Via Twitter:

There is some speculation that Davis could become trade bait as soon as next summer if the Pelicans fail to meet the expectations foist upon them after their first round sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers during last season’s playoffs. New Orleans no longer has the talents of DeMarcus Cousins, although they played spectacularly without him following his Achilles injury going into the end of the year. The West got tougher, and the Pelicans will also have to play without Rajon Rondo, currently of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The coming season will be Davis’ seventh in Louisiana, and it has long been rumored that he could be a trade prospect or might want to sign in a different market. Signing with Klutch Sports Group puts Davis at the center of speculation that he could join LeBron James on the Lakers, as James is a good friend of Paul and a fellow Klutch client.

Players exchange agents all the time, and just because an agent has a specific track record doesn’t mean that anything is set in stone. The NBA is weird like that. However, It’s not completely unreasonable to raise an eyebrow at Davis joining up with Paul after leaving longtime agent Thad Foucher earlier in September. What Paul does have a rep for is getting his players paid handsomely, which is probably the main thing Davis will be looking for.

New Orleans can offer Davis the vaunted super max contract once he is up for an extension.

New lottery rules change tanking incentives, starting this season

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This is the latest of NBC’s NBA season preview stories, and we will post at least one a day on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, and today we focus on the impact of the new lottery odds.

To paraphrase Jerry Tarkanian, the NBA is so mad at the 76ers, it’ll keep the Hawks losing another couple years.

The NBA finally enacted lottery reform that will take effect this season. The measures appeared designed to curb Sam Hinkie’s ambitious multi-year tank, but Philadelphia has already reaped the rewards of The Process. The 76ers, led by former high draft picks Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, are one of the league’s top teams and extremely unlikely to land in the lottery. It’s the next generation of losing teams, like Atlanta, that will feel the brunt of these changes.

Generally, the new rules reduce incentives to chase the league’s worst record. The very-bottom teams face greater variance and worse expected outcomes than previously. The top six seeds in the lottery became less valuable than before, the 7-14 seeds more valuable than before.

In the previous system, the three worst teams had 250, 199 and 156 of 1,000 lottery combinations. The top three picks were drawn then the next 11 picks were slotted in reverse order of record.

Now, the three worst teams each have 140 of 1,000 lottery combinations. The top-four picks are drawn then the next 10 picks are slotted in reverse order of record.

There are several ways to measure the changes, but here a few based on lottery seed in the old system (orange) and new system (blue):

Odds of No. 1 pick:

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Odds of top-four pick:

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Expected pick:

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The “big” change is the bottom three teams all have the same odds of getting drawn, creating an illusion there’s no difference between finishing last or third-to-last. But the last-place team still gets slotted ahead of the second-worst and third-worst (and second-worst ahead of third-worst) if none get drawn in the lottery.

Simply, teams are still incentivized to chase the league’s very worst record. The incentives aren’t as strong as they once were, but they still exist.

And the upside remains just as high. Top draft picks are so valuable – a chance to add elite young talent on a relatively cheap contract that comes with five years of team control that, practically, extends much longer.

So, how will teams handle this changing structure?

Decisions will be fascinating among more than just the lowest of cellar-dwellers. Several teams have traded first-round picks this season that contain protections within the lottery. The Mavericks owe the Hawks a top-five protected first-rounder. The Cavaliers owe the Hawks a top-10-protected first-rounder. The Grizzlies owe the Celtics a top-eight-protected first-rounder. The Nuggets owe the Nets a top-12-protected first-rounder. Those owing teams all face a new batch of decisions of when to give up on trying to make the playoffs and aim to keep that pick.

I mostly share the view that lottery reform won’t change much, particularly on a year-to-year basis. But the cumulative effect could be larger on some teams.

Hinkie’s 76ers were an anomaly. Few teams set out to tank for that long. Many more tanked for a season, knowing that would result in a high draft pick. With a new touted prospect in hand, those teams usually attempted to ascend.

But now, far less is guaranteed. Before, the second-worst team was likely to land a top-three pick and was guaranteed a top-five pick. Now, the second-worst team is likely to pick between No. 4 and No. 6. In that lower range, the team might get stuck with a lesser prospect who leaves it stuck losing again the following year.

At minimum, lottery reform adds uncertainty to a league that had grown familiar with the previous system and how teams proceeded within it. We can all guess how teams will act in the new system, but this season will provide much more tangible clarity.