And so the LeBron returns to Cleveland in 2014 speculation begins…

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This has been a buzz around some NBA circles for little while now, but it’s starting to leak into the mainstream.

First it was my friend T.J. Carpenter (radio host at ESPN’s WHB Radio in Kanas city), who plays for me a clip of one journalist quoting an off-the-record remark from Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins saying he was 100 percent sure LeBron James will go back to Cleveland (although no timeline was given).

Then there is the column Friday in the Miami Herald by Greg Cote somehow spinning the likelihood of LeBron opting out of his deal in 2014, his new agent living in Cleveland and praise for Kyrie Irving during All-Star weekend into a feeling LeBron has one foot out the door.

Say it isn’t so that you will be heading back to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, or we can start the clock now on about 16 months of ever-increasing rumors and speculation gradually morphing into assumption.

This same rumor is all over Cleveland.

Ugh. Really? We need 14 months of LeBron speculation again? It’s starting up again as the Cavaliers face the Heat on Sunday.

Let’s try to separate some fact from fiction.

Fact: LeBron will opt out of his contract with the Heat in 2014. If there is one thing you can bet on in this saga it is that LeBron will use this chance to opt out of his contract after three years and get a new one, a real max deal (remember the last one was slightly less than max).

But that new contract most likely will be with the Miami Heat.

Fiction: That anyone, including LeBron, knows for sure what he will do in 14 months. I’m willing to rule out he’s going to go play for CSKA Moscow, but after that pretty much anything can happen and is on the table for the summer of 2014.

LeBron will be 29 when he opts out and at this point in his career it is about legacy and rings (which go hand-in-hand). Which is why he most likely stays in Miami — it’s a good bet he has one or two more rings by 2014 with the Heat. He’d be hesitant to walk away from that, and throw in the fact the Heat can offer more money and years and there are a lot of reasons to stay. If he’s still winning and it’s about the rings and the legacy, he’s not walking away from that in 2014.

But you say Dwyane Wade will be 32 — and an old 32 the way he throws his body around — and Kyrie Irving is young and good? No doubt about Kyrie, that’s not in question. But Wade is averaging 20.9 points a game this season and is showing a veteran’s ability to coast at points and turn it on when he needs to. He is still a top 12 player in the NBA (and that is being conservative), it’s not like he and Chris Bosh are chopped liver.

And if they need to get new players in Miami, don’t you think the lure of playing with LeBron, the lure of playing in South Beach (and Florida with no state income tax), plus the Jedi mind tricks of Pat Riley can get more impressive talent to come there?

The Cavaliers will have cap space in 2014, but it’s not just Dan Gilbert that has lined up 2014 cap space just in case. Kobe Bryant will be off the Lakers’ books and only Dwight Howard (after he likely re-signs with the team this summer) and Steve Nash will be on the payroll. The Lakers can offer the chance to play with the best center in the game on a big-name franchise. Dallas likely has cap space and a great reputation with players thanks to Mark Cuban. Heck a lot of teams will have max cap space and a solid core. If LeBron wants out of Miami, he will have options.

But I don’t think he wants out.

Legacy matters and his image already took a hit jumping once. He’s going to be very hesitant to do it again. He knows he can win in Miami, and he knows Pat Riley will put a team around him that can do it.

A lot of people who know LeBron better than I think he will go back to play for the Cavaliers. Someday. That he will close out his career there.

But don’t bet on that time being 2014.

In wake of Mavericks’ scandal, Adam Silver warns other teams to eliminate harassment

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The sexual harassment and workplace environment scandal that engulfed the Dallas Mavericks shook other NBA teams and forced some internal reassessment long before the league and an independent investigator released their report on Dallas this week. As part of the deal, Mark Cuban is donating $10 million to “organizations that are committed to supporting the leadership and development of women in the sports industry and combating domestic violence,” and the team must subscribe to a number of new reporting procedures.

Just to hammer the importance of the issue home, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sent a memo to all 30 teams saying they need to think about diversity in management and have a focus on preventing workplace harassment.

While the money from the $10 million goes to good causes and is four times what the NBA could have fined Cuban itself under the current league bylaws, it is not going to hurt a man worth an estimated $3.9 billion. Cuban appeared both repentant and bothered by what was happening under his roof, but the punishment handed down came off as light, even though Cuban did quickly make changes within the organization — long before the report came out, starting at the top with the hiring of Cynthia Marshall as CEO — and was not personally involved nor did he have knowledge of the situation, according to the investigation. There is no right answer here. What would have really sent a message to teams was taking away draft picks, however, Dallas’ basketball side of the operations — players, coaches, etc. — were not implicated in the investigation, and it was instead the opposite, the basketball side was seen as a safe haven. Taking away draft picks felt like punishing the wrong people for the crimes, sort of like the NCAA. There were other options, but all seemed flawed.

Having it happen once can be spun as an outlier by the league, a one-off situation. If it happens again, the conversation changes. Silver does not want that to happen, hence the memo and reminder.

Jimmy Butler’s camp reportedly says concerns about salary “manufactured” by Wolves brass

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There are more spin doctors at work around the Jimmy Butler trade request than there are working congressional campaigns right now.

Among the flood of reports that came out was one that Butler’s primary issue was his salary — he wanted Minnesota to clear cap space so he could renegotiate his current deal to near a max contract, then extend him off of that deal. That the issue was less personal with Towns and more about the money.

Not true, reports Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

To add to the Butler drama there have been multiple reports in the Minneapolis area to come out this week that money was the main sticking point for Butler to demand his departure, but a source in his camp told the Sun-Times on Friday that it was “manufactured’’ by “ownership mouthpieces’’ to make Butler look bad….

According to the source, this is about a philosophy in making an impact in the Western Conference, and in Butler’s mind you can’t run down a dynasty like Golden State when two of the so-called dogs in the pack are in fact kittens.

Two thoughts here. First, this report makes more sense — to give the Butler the kind of raise talked about would have required gutting the Timberwolves roster. Meaning the would have had to dump guys that have value such as Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson, or they would have had to find a sucker to take on the contracts of Andrew Wiggins or Gorgui Dieng, and to do that would have required sending out quality talent or picks as sweeteners. Butler is smart and understands the NBA business, he would know this was never going to happen, he realizes his money was going to come as a free agent next summer. The idea he demanded this always smelled fishy.

Second, Butler and a lot of people want to lump Towns and Wiggins together as players who don’t work hard, don’t have much of a motor, and don’t seem to love the game. Nobody who has watched Wiggins play — especially last season — is going to put up much of an argument about that in his case. Wiggins looks like an anchor contract, unless he suddenly sees the light.

Towns, however, is different. His game has improved year-to-year, he does have a good motor on the court (at least on offense), and he does put in work in the off-season. Maybe he is young and doesn’t wear it on his sleeve like Butler, and certainly Towns was taught some tough lessons in the playoffs by Clint Capela last season, but Towns is not Wiggins. Towns was an All-NBA player last season for a reason. Lumping him and Wiggins together is a mistake.

NBA approves three rule changes, including reset of shot clock to 14 after offensive board

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The three rule changes approved by the NBA owners on Friday are not going to have a dramatic impact on this NBA season…

Until in a close playoff game in May it’s a little harder for a team getting offensive rebounds to just kill the clock. Or in that same playoff game, when clear path foul is called because an offensive player outraced a defender down the court.

As had been expected, the NBA’s Board of Governors — the owners — approved three rule changes for the coming NBA season. They are:

• The shot clock will reset to 14 seconds after an offensive rebound rather than 24 seconds. This has been experimented with in the G-League, the WNBA, and Summer League this year with some success. The goal is to speed up the pace of play, not letting a team get an offensive rebound then back it out and pound the ball for 20 seconds to kill time. Thing is, that was not much of a problem last season, as was noted at Nylon Calculus.

 

<em>Over 30 percent of offensive rebounds result in putbacks (the 0 Duration value on the graph) and 75 percent of offensive rebounds result in a possession that is five seconds or less. Only 6 percent of all offensive rebounds resulted in possessions that are 14 seconds or greater last year. Given that the league average for offensive rebounds was the lowest ever this past season at 9.7 per game, this rule would apply to roughly half a rebound per team per game last year.</em>

When fans will notice it, when it will have the intended impact is end-of-game situations — rather than a team grabbing offensive rebounds then killing the clock for 20 seconds, they will have to get up a shot, which will lead to the other team getting an opportunity.

• The league “simplified of the clear-path rule. The NBA’s old clear path rule was overly complicated and it led to things that looked like clear path fouls not being, and things that clearly were not being fouls. Here is the NBA’s explanation of the new rule, with some video help below.

A clear path foul is now defined as a personal foul against any offensive player during his team’s transition scoring opportunity in the following circumstances: the ball is ahead of the tip of the circle in the backcourt; no defender is ahead of the offensive player with the transition scoring opportunity; the player with the transition scoring opportunity is in control of the ball (or a pass has been thrown to him); and if the foul deprives his team of an opportunity to score.

As part of the clear path foul rule simplification, referees will no longer need to make judgment calls as to whether or not a defender was between (or had the opportunity to be between) the offensive player with the transition scoring opportunity and the basket.  In addition, referees will no longer have to determine whether or not the defender was at any time ahead of the offensive player prior to committing the foul, nor will it be relevant whether or not a defender beat the offensive player with the transition scoring opportunity into the frontcourt.  Further, plays of this nature will no longer have to originate in the backcourt (since transition scoring opportunities can originate in the frontcourt).

• The NBA expanded what is defined as a “hostile act” so that replay can be triggered more easily. Currently, to be a hostile act according to the NBA rulebook it has to be an altercation between players that is “not part of a normal basketball play” or where a player “intentionally or recklessly harms or attempts to harm another player.” Broadening the scope of this will give referees more chances to review off-ball or other altercations, and these are the kinds of serious situations the league should review.

Dirk Nowitzki likely to come off bench this season, coach Rick Carlisle says

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Dirk Nowitzki said something this summer rarely seen from future Hall of Famers who are the best player in their franchise’s history, he was willing to come off the bench.

It looks like Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is going to take Nowitzki up on that offer, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

That might have been happening at the start of the season anyway, as Nowitzki’s injured ankle is not 100 percent and you can be sure the Mavericks are not going to push him.

Nowitzki off the bench just makes more sense for the Mavericks. DeAndre Jordan is the starting center, Harrison Barnes is really a four (56 percent of his minutes were at that spot last season), rookie Luka Doncic is a ball-handling three, Wesley Mathews is finally healthy and should be the two guard, and Dennis Smith Jr. is at the point.

Then the bench is a throwback to Mavericks favorites with Nowitzki, J.J. Barea, plus Yogi Ferrell, Dwight Powell, and Devin Harris.

Nowitzki is going to get the grand farewell tour this season, as he deserves. He’ll start a few games, particularly his final one at home. But for the team this season, which has dreams of a playoff spot (as long a shot as that may be in the West), this is the best move.