NBA Season Preview: Miami Heat

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Last season: 58-24, second seed in the East. We all know how this turned out — Miami made it to the NBA Finals in its first season with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, but lost the title to Dallas in six games.

Head Coach: Erik Spoelstra, who interestingly enough has not yet been offered a contract extension, and will be coaching this season in the final year of his current deal.

Key Departures: Mike Bibby, who shared the starting point guard duties with Mario Chalmers, went to the Knicks as a free agent.

Key Additions: Shane Battier, who chose to to ring-chase as a free agent instead of re-signing with the up and coming Grizzlies, should help in several areas, especially with Mike Miller sidelined for a couple of months due to injury. Eddy Curry is in training camp, although it may be premature to call him a key addition just yet.

Best case scenario: The Heat are the favorites this season to win the NBA title, but it may be more due to changes in the other contenders than to any improvements the team made to its roster. While contending teams like the Mavericks, Lakers, Bulls, and Thunder either underwent major changes, got worse on paper, or simply stood pat to this point in free agency, Miami retained its core of James, Wade, and Bosh, and added Battier for some veteran leadership, on-ball defensive help, and semi-reliable spot-up shooting.

Wade and James reportedly showed up to camp in tremendous physical shape, as did Bosh, who added significant bulk to his frame. And the fact that the team is virtually the same may be an advantage for the Heat as the league is forced to play a compressed and shortened 66-game schedule. A trip to the Finals is certainly within reach once again for this Miami team, and the experience gained a season ago may be enough to get them over the top this time.

For that to happen: The regular season shouldn’t pose much of a problem for this talented Heat squad. And, with a healthy Udonis Haslem in the fold — a player who understands his role and how to fit in on both ends of the floor — Miami will be a little deeper on its front line than last season. It’s all about preparing for the postseason run, and for the Heat to reach their ultimate goal of a championship, the team will need to figure out its late-game, crunch time identity, and then stick with it as the postseason rolls on.

As you may have heard ad nauseam, the Heat struggled mightily to produce points down the stretch of tight games. LeBron James in particular seemed to defer more than observers would have liked late in fourth quarters, and the numbers substantiate what we all thought we were seeing.

The best teams in the league tend to have a Plan A in crunch time — Dallas with Dirk Nowitzki, the Lakers with Kobe Bryant, the Bulls with the ball in the hands of Derrick Rose. The Heat seem to go back and forth between Wade and James, and James seemed too hesitant, and even uncertain at times about his role and whether or not he should take it upon himself to produce when Wade was with him on the floor. If James and Wade can clearly define exactly who is Option One and who is Option Two when the game’s on the line (and it should be Wade and James, in that order), that will make it easier to perform late with that decision already removed from the equation.

More likely the Heat will: Do exactly that. With a season under their belt, and a shorter schedule in place that should allow for Spoelstra to make the necessary tweaks along the way with his core from last year intact, Miami should be able to get back to the Finals, with a better chance this time to take home the league’s ultimate prize.

Prediction: 52-14, best record in the East, and number one overall seed entering the playoffs.

Rumor: Lakers want to make Kurt Rambis associate head coach

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When Magic Johnson resigned as Lakers president, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss had an opportunity to be bold. Instead of empowering cronies, she could find the best available executive to lead the front office.

Instead, she’s apparently again leaning on the comfort of friends.

As the Lakers’ conduct their coaching search, Kurt Rambis (Senior Basketball Advisor) and his wife Linda Rambis (Executive Director, Special Projects) are quite involved.

Bill Oram of The Athletic:

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:

The goal is seemingly to move Rambis to the bench as an associate head coach. But if that doesn’t work, he could become the assistant general manager.

Kurt Rambis interviewing Monty Williams makes sense. Kurt Rambis works in basketball operations, after all. Linda Rambis’ presence makes less sense given her official role within the organization, but she is close to Jeanie Buss.

It’d be something else entirely to install Kurt Rambis as an associate head coach, though. He did poorly as Timberwolves coach and, as New York’s interim coach a couple years ago, made the Knicks into an even bigger mess than they already were.

This shines new light on Magic Johnson reportedly admonishing Luke Walton for not having an experienced coaching staff. Walton had Brian Shaw, a former Nuggets head coach (and someone with his own problems relating to players). Shaw wasn’t enough?

Maybe there was a preference from above, not for any experienced assistant coach, but Kurt Rambis specifically.

This should scare any Lakers coaching candidates. Not getting to pick your own staff is a negative. Having the owner’s hand-picked choice forced upon you is a huge red flag. That means management will be confident in an internal replacement if it’s considering firing you.

Damian Lillard says Paul George being a poor sport: ‘If anything, it was bad defense’

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Damian Lillard made the coldest shot the NBA has seen in years – a buzzer-beating, series-winning, 37-foot pull-up 3-pointer over Paul George.

George called it a “bad shot.”

Lillard on the Pull Up podcast:

It was a good shot.

I think a lot of people don’t know what goes into the moments. That’s because they’re not the ones that’s there. I literally work on those shots. And I don’t work on it so I can just come out and just shoot it for the whole game. I work on it just because, over my career, I know how much attention I’m going to get from defenses. So it’s just like you’re just keeping stuff, adding more things, adding more and more, keeping stuff in your pocket, in case these types of situations do present itself. Even if it’s not something you want to lean on, it’s something that you have there, that you worked on, you spent time doing. So, you’ve got confidence in it when the time does come. That’s why, when I was just standing there, I was like, well, it’s probably not good in a lot of people’s eyes. But I’m comfortable with this, and I’m confident in this. So, to me, it’s a solid shot.

For him to say that’s a bad shot, that’s just kind of being a poor sport. If anything, it was bad defense, because I had the ball in my hands with two seconds, and I wasn’t going to drive, so maybe he should’ve just bodied up.

Whether a shot is good or bad depends on the context. With the game tied, the Trail Blazers wanted to ensure they took the last shot of regulation, make or miss. The Thunder’s defense was set. Lillard has tremendous range.

In a good shot/bad shoot binary, I’d call this a good shot. It certainly wasn’t a great shot. But in that situation, I think it passes the test (though I’m obviously biased by seeing it going in).

The fact that it was such a difficult shot doesn’t take anything away from Lillard. It only adds to the accomplishment.

I’m loving his victory lap. After Portland got swept by the Pelicans in the first round last year, he faced questions about his ability to perform in the playoffs. It’s time to put those to rest.

There’s plenty of room to debate whether that incredible basket was a good shot or a bad shot by process. But Lillard is built for these moments. There’s no doubt.

NBA, Kings investigating sexual-assault allegations against Luke Walton

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Kings coach Luke Walton is being sued for sexual assault. He is not facing a criminal investigation.

Kings release, via NBC Sports California:

The Sacramento Kings and the National Basketball Association announced today that they have commenced a joint investigation into the allegations contained in a civil lawsuit filed Monday against Kings Head Coach Luke Walton.

The Kings have hired Sue Ann Van Dermyden, founding partner of Sacramento law firm Van Dermyden Maddux, who is an expert on employment law with decades of experience in conducting investigations, and Jennifer Doughty, a veteran investigator and senior associate attorney at Van Dermyden Maddux. They will lead the Kings investigatory team.

The NBA’s investigatory team will be led by Elizabeth Maringer, Senior Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, Integrity and Investigations. Prior to joining the NBA, Ms. Maringer served 12 years as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, including three as Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division.

The Kings and the NBA take these allegations very seriously and will collaborate to conduct a complete and thorough investigation.

In 2016, Derrick Rose was sued – and found not liable – for sexual battery. The NBA did not investigate that situation as the lawsuit unfolded.

Why did the league change its approach now?

Rumor: Jeanie Buss mistakenly CCed Magic Johnson on Rob Pelinka’s emails critical of Johnson

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As he stunningly resigned as Lakers president, Magic Johnson bemoaned “the backstabbing, the whispering.” It seemed he was talking about general manager Rob Pelinka. And maybe he was.

But perhaps Johnson was also referring to owner Jeanie Buss.

Ric Bucher of FS1:

My understanding is is that there were some emails that were exchanged between Rob and Jeanie … about Magic and about what Magic was and wasn’t doing. They were critical emails. And somehow, some way – Jeanie, from what I understand, was CCing or blind CCing Magic on everything. That was sort of protocol, standard issue. Somehow, the exchange between Rob and Jeanie ended up on that string of the blind CCs that were going to Magic. So, Magic now is seeing emails from Rob to Jeanie that were critical of what he was doing.

And maybe most important in all this is that there was no indication that Jeanie was backing Rob up in terms of either going to Magic and letting him know that this was going on or going back at Rob and defending Magic. That was not happening. And so when he talked about the backstabbing, to me, my understanding is that’s what started it. And the fact that Jeanie waved goodbye and said, “Thank you for all that you did,” was that she didn’t necessarily disagree with what Rob was saying.

The problem with this story: It’s believable, and a lot of people want it to be true. I want it to be true! It’s hilarious.

But that opens the door for people spreading it, even if it’s untrue. It’s a lot of fun to pile on the Lakers right now.

Back to the believability. Johnson, even while resigning, has frequently called Buss his sister. Would she really participate in email chains critical of her own brother?

Oh, right.