Pat Riley on Heat: “Our small ball team is who we are now”

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The Miami Heat won a title going small. It worked. You can bet next season you are going to see a whole lot more Chis Bosh at the five and LeBron James at the four. The Heat will be going small.

And Pat Riley is okay with that. Mostly.

Riley was on with friend of this blog Orlando Alzugaray — The Big O Show on 640 Sports in Miami — and talked pretty frankly about how he is not totally comfortable with the evolution of the NBA to more of a small-ball league. Riley said he worries about the lack of size more than anyone in the organization because he played with Wilt Chamberlain and coached Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal and Patrick Ewing and he knows what a great center can do for a team.

That said, Riley also said he used to play some small ball as a coach — with the Lakers he used to used Bob McAdoo and Mychal Thompson as centers for stretches.

“I’m a small ball guy if you have guys like LeBron, or James Worthy and Magic Johnson, guys who are 6’8” 225, 230 (pounds) and are very versatile,” Riley said. “You can put that guy at power forward so to speak and surround him with perimeter guys and a non-scoring center. That’s the nature of today’s game. The game has evolved over the last 10 years away from the dominance of any one big man, that team because almost obsolete and archaic unless you had someone who was just truly great, and there’s only three or four of them in the league now.

“Our small ball team is who we are now, I just want to have both.”

Riley added that the small ball trend is playing out in the Olympics.

“It’s changed dramatically and I think we’ll see in the Olympics exactly how this all plays out because Spain is playing big.” Riley said. “They play Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol together, so they have 7’1” and 7’0” and they are starting with a conventional backcourt and small forwards. We’ve got Tyson Chandler, then we go down to Kevin Love who is about 6’9” and he’s playing a power forward at center. So we’ll see. If it comes down to it, if Spain and the USA are in the gold medal game then it is going to be small against big and you’ll see who probably wins out in that one.”

Some other highlights of the conversation:

• Riley on coach Eric Spoelstra:

“I’m different than Erik. And I’m different in a way that’s bad to his being different in a way that’s good. He’s as intense as I am, so we both carry that intensity. But I was more of an in-your-face guy every single day for 30 years….

“In today’s game you can’t do that. I think Spo has a perfect demeanor with the players. His confidence and how he handles them in practice, talks to them in team meetings, handles them in games. And I know for a fact if he has to get up in a player’s face he’ll do it in a way they will both get something out of it.”

• “First off, we don’t have guys like that, who are always going to challenge the coach. But we have players who will challenge philosophies and ideas and situations and I think that is where he collaborates very well with all of our players….

• On Spoelstra’s growth as a coach:

“So when we got the big three and we went to the finals the first year, he had to take a hard look at himself. Just like some of our players did. About what he had to do the next time he was in that situation. And I coached a little bit so I know what is going on out there on the court. To watch him evolve this year, like in Indiana when there was a tough situation and a confrontation with Wade. I mean he stepped up and handled that over the next two days.”

• On recruiting to Miami:

“The fact that we have LeBron and we have Chris and we have Dwyane (Wade), that’s a pretty good arsenal to bring to a negotiating table with any NBA player, especially after we won a championship. So there is not any magic words that come out of my mouth…

“But a player will make a decision based on how comfortable he feels about the organization. Whether or not it’s an organization that is going to waste his time or is he going to have a chance to win. And I think in the end that usually plays out. Going after Ray (Allen) and going after Rashard (Lewis), they both knew what they wanted and that was to play with us. So it was sort of an easy thing for us at the end because they wanted to be here.”

• “I am actually amazed anybody on this Olympic team thinks they could come within 10 points of the Dream Team. But I would love to see it. It would be speed against size because back then we had some big guys.”

Only high schoolers who would’ve been consensus draft candidates to receive $125,000 minor-league offer

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The NBA’s minor league’s plan to offer players $125,000 salaries straight out of high school sparked two major questions:

  • Who will receive that offer?
  • Who will take it?

Former NBA player Rod Strickland and former WNBA player Allison Feaster will run the program, and they’re answering the first question.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The NBA is limiting eligibility for the professional path program to prep players who would be considered consensus candidates for the draft if there were no early entry rule to prohibit them. Feaster will work with a group that includes Strickland and the NBA’s basketball operations and player development staffs to evaluate the potential players.

“It will be elite prospects with a readiness for a professional league,” Feaster told ESPN. “We want to target players who would not be going to a university if it weren’t for the NBA eligibility rule. That’s more or less what’s going to dictate this.”

Feaster expects a “handful” of players to be part of the initial group in the professional path. Feaster and Strickland emphasized that the program will be judicious in choosing those eligible for the pro path opportunity.

For reference, 17 high schoolers were picked in the final two drafts (2004 and 2005) before the NBA implemented its one-and-done rule. So, that suggests about 8-9 players annually will get offered the $125,000 deal.

That still leaves the other question: Who will take it?

Kevin Durant said he wouldn’t have. Shoe companies are still spending the most money, and they’re heavily invested in the visibility of college basketball.

But every prospect’s situation is unique. With Strickland and Feaster in place, we’ll soon see how players receive this new path.

76ers sound caught off guard about Markelle Fultz stepping away

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Markelle Fultz has played in all 17 of the 76ers’ games this season, starting until they traded for Jimmy Butler. A couple weeks ago, Fultz called himself generally healthy.

Then, Fultz’s agent, Raymond Brothers, informed the 76ers the guard wouldn’t play or practice until visiting a specialist Monday. Fultz will miss at least three games – against the Pelicans, Cavaliers and Nets.

76ers coach Brett Brown:

It’s kind of the first real sort of red-flag-type news.

This news about his shoulder, it did catch me off guard. But if it’s that real that he needs to go seek further consultation, then we support him. In my eyes, it’s not complicated. If that’s what it is, then we’ll support him.

76ers general manager Elton Brand:

We thought it was the regular bumps and bruises.

There’s nothing that we saw medically that didn’t allow him to play.

This yet another odd turn in a saga that already included plenty of contentiousness, animosity, rumors and cringe-worthy moments. At this point, it’s hard to be shocked by anything with Fultz.

It’s also hard to take the 76ers seriously when they suggest it seemed like business as usual. Fultz’s shot is disturbingly broken. There is clearly a problem. Maybe letting Fultz play without fretting over the issue was the right course, but how surprised can Philadelphia be that he took a more drastic measure?

Hopefully, the specialist helps Fultz identify and fix this issue.

Bulls’ Denzel Valentine likely to miss entire season

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Bulls wing Denzel Valentine has had a rough go of it.

A lottery pick two years ago, battled ankle injuries during his rookie year and underwent ankle surgery after the season. He stayed mostly healthy last year, but his season still ended early for knee surgery. Then, over the summer, he got torched in the Drew League by Frank “Nitty” Session, who questioned how Valentine was in the NBA:

And now…

Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago:

Denzel Valentine was originally expected to miss one to two weeks after suffering a sprained ankle on the second day of training camp. One setback led to another, and on Monday the Bulls announced that the third year guard will undergo surgical reconstruction on that left ankle. He’ll miss four to six months, the team announced, effectively ending his season.

The long end of that timeline will keep Valentine sidelined the entire season. The short end would allow him to return late in the year, but with Chicago so dismal, there’s little incentive to rush him back.

Valentine is under contract next season, the final year of his rookie-scale deal. He might need to prove himself to make Nitty’s question still relevant.

Report: J.R. Smith and Cavaliers separating as they seek trade

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DETROIT – Yesterday – yesterday! – J.R. Smith explained why he didn’t leave the Cavaliers when, a few weeks ago, they pulled him from the rotation and gave him the offer to step away.

“I can’t do that to the city and the fans,” Smith said. “A lot of people have been backing me since I’ve been here. I feel like it’s been a new start since I came here. The way the fans embraced me, the way that I’ve embraced the city, my teammates, I can’t do that to them.”

But Smith also said Cleveland is tanking and reaffirmed his desire to be traded. That probably set wheels in motion.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

Smith – who’s guaranteed $18.59 million on a contract that will surely end after this season – carries negative trade value. The Cavs shouldn’t attach the sweetener necessary to dump him. They’re better off just paying him for now.

Because just $3.87 million of his $15.68 million salary for next season is guaranteed, Smith’s contract could prove useful in a trade.

If Smith would reduce his guarantee with a buyout, let him go. But Smith probably shouldn’t do that without a new job lined up.

So, the stalemate continues.

If everyone is happier apart, all the better. Smith wasn’t making a difference on the court for a team he correctly identified as tanking.