Heat return Mario Chalmers, James Jones, and Juwan Howard for another go-around

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Although the Miami Heat’s failure to win the NBA title made them a frequent punchline, let’s not soon forget just how quickly the Heat were able to rise to the top of the league. Miami is an altogether incredible team, and though they squandered an opportunity in the NBA Finals, they likely need only to make minor tweaks here and there while building on last season’s excellence in order to return to that stage.

The Heat took a step in that direction on Friday, as Mario Chalmers, James Jones (according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com), and Juwan Howard (according to Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports) are set to return for another campaign in Miami. The status quo that earned Miami the Eastern Conference championship has been preserved, and the addition of Shane Battier (along with hopefully healthy seasons from Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem) will only push them forward.

Howard wasn’t terribly essential (or even all that useful, if we’re being blunt), but both Chalmers and Jones were important pieces for the Heat’s spacing and perimeter defense. Chalmers gets a lot of flak for his perceived failings as a point guard, but he harasses opposing ball handlers and brings a solid three-point stroke. Jones is even more accurate from the perimeter and just as stingy on defense, but has a tendency to be overlooked thanks to his shiny, superstar counterparts at both wing positions. He may not command much attention, but Jones is exactly what the Heat need him to be, and losing him in free agency would’ve been a hit to an already shallow roster.

The interesting thing with the Heat: with the exception of Jones, the length and cost of the rest of their off-season deals are not yet known. Miami is a player for veteran minimum signings regardless, but depending on how much is committed to Battier and Chalmers, the Heat could conceivably have room with their mid-level exception to sign another player. It’s unlikely considering that the amnesty clause has not been used on Mike Miller (which would make Battier’s deal a virtual shoe-in for the taxpayer mid-level exception), but at this point we can’t be absolutely sure without knowing what the precise parameters of these deals are.

Rumor: Patrick Beverley may meet with five teams before Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers want to bring Patrick Beverley back next season, his spark was at the heart of why this team made the playoffs and impressed with their potential.

First, however, the Clippers are going big game hunting for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant (even with the Achilles injury). Beverley isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them, reports longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney Tweeted.

The Bulls need a point guard and Beverley — a Chicago native — has said he is interested.

The Lakers also are reportedly big game hunting, but Beverley is the kind of guard they could use around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Phoenix and other teams have been mentioned.

Beverley is going to have options, but he loved his time with the Clippers last season, and that means something.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

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David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.