Dwyane Wade-Udonis Haslem combo returns, but any dividends put in escrow

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BOSTON – Dwyane Wade had barely crossed halfcourt when Udonis Haslem streaked past him and all the way behind the defense. Wade tossed the ball toward the rim, and Haslem grabbed it and dunked, hanging on the rim an extra beat.

The Celtics called timeout, on their way to a 14-point deficit midway through the first half. Haslem would make his first six shots in the first quarter to go with four rebounds, two assists and two blocks in the period. Wade would lead the Heat in scoring.

The once the franchise’s most-dependable duo, Wade and Haslem were back in action, excelling together.

In three of the five seasons between 2005-06 and 2009-10, Wade and Haslem finished 1-2 on the Heat in win shares.* And in the other two years, Haslem came within a tenth of a win share of second place.**

*Shaquille O’Neal was definitely one of the Heat’s two best players in 2005-06, but he missed 23 games to Haslem’s one. As they say, the most important ability is availability.

**James Posey Haslem him 2006-07, and Chris Quinn edged him in 2007-08.

But besides 67 seconds two weeks ago – due only to a teammate’s foul trouble – Wade and Haslem hadn’t played together in Miami’s previous 27 games. Until tonight, Haslem’s first start since the Heat’s sixth game of the season.

“It was just like old times,” Wade said.

A bit too much, actually.

Of course, Haslem’s role has shrunk since Miami signed LeBron James and moved toward dynasty status. With LeBron out due to back spasms tonight, the Heat returned to their unsteady ways in a 101-96 loss to Boston.

This is Miami’s ninth loss to a team that currently has losing record, the most such losses among any of the NBA’s top 10 teams.

“That’s not good,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said with genuine-sounding concern. “That’s not good. We have to do better.”

Maybe tonight’s loss was an anomaly, though.

Not only was LeBron out with what seems like a relatively minor injury, Wade left the game with a nosebleed not caused by contact. He returned with a roll of cotton sticking out of his nostril and a noticeable uncomfortableness on the court.

“I didn’t feel right the whole time I was out there,” Wade said. “…I feel like a boxer. It wouldn’t stop.”

Wade led the Heat with 17 points. But unlike LeBron, who has averaged 37.0 points and scored at least 27 in the nine games Wade has missed since New Year’s, Wade hasn’t found his groove without LeBron.

Then again, does that really matter? If the Heat lose LeBron in the playoffs, they’re in deep trouble, anyway. And anything in between is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

The Heat still trail the Pacers, who lost to the Knicks tonight, by three games with 16 contests left for Miami and 14 for Indiana. It’s getting late to grab the No. 1 seed.

At this point in the season, the Heat should be focused on readying themselves for the playoffs – resting players like LeBron and dusting the cobwebs off players like Haslem.

Haslem played 27 minutes tonight – more than he’d played in Miami’s previous 20 games combined. He lost steam as the game progressed, finishing with 14 points and five rebounds, but this experience could serve him well if he’s called upon in the postseason. In the long run, it probably won’t matter the Heat lost tonight in Boston. It might matter whether Haslem found a rhythm he can carry into May and June.

“He’s been terrific. He’s been giving us incredible bottled-up energy and toughness. That’s what this group needs,” Spoelstra said. “We just didn’t do enough tonight to get the job done.”

That might just depend what the job is.

Report: Spurs hearing out Kawhi Leonard trade offers, including from Lakers

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The Spurs shot down Kawhi Leonard trade offers before the trade deadline. They brushed off Leonard trade offers earlier this offseason.

Then, the already strained situation got even worse.

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers. He met with Gregg Popovich this week in San Diego, reportedly directly telling the president-coach he wants out.

What are the Spurs doing now?

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

The Lakers are in that mix.

The Spurs can try to mend their relationship with Leonard. They could even use a super-max contract – projected to be worth $219 million over five years – to aid that process. They don’t have to trade him.

But the clock is ticking toward tonight’s draft, teams using their cap space in other ways and Leonard’s 2019 free agency.

San Antonio has no choice but to get more aggressive in handling Leonard’s future. This is a small step in that direction.

Report: Nets to buy out Dwight Howard

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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The Magic, Lakers, Rockets, Hawks and Hornets all grew tired of Dwight Howard.

The Nets did it in record time.

After acquiring Howard in a trade from Charlotte yesterday, Brooklyn is moving toward shedding him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

In the trade, the Nets dumped Timofey Mozgov‘s $16.72 million salary for 2019-20. Now, they could get a reduction on Howard’s $23,819,725 expiring contract. Brooklyn is doing a great job of unloading bad money.

Next year, the Nets will have their own first-round pick for the first time in six years. Though he has declined considerably from his Hall of Fame peak, Howard can still play some. Brooklyn didn’t need him interfering with its tanking and culture.

Instead, the Nets can focus on developing Jarrett Allen and losing enough to secure the best draft position possible.

It’ll be interesting to see how much Howard surrenders and where he goes. Again, he can still play. But the league is moving away from traditional centers, and he’s high maintenance.

Report: Cavaliers not planning to trade Kevin Love, no matter what LeBron James does

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
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The Cavaliers spent considerable time bemoaning a Kevin Love trade last summer falling through.

Will they deal him this offseason?

The No. 8 pick and Love are Cleveland’s best assets for upgrading their roster around LeBron James. If LeBron leaves, moving Love could jumpstart a rebuild.

But apparently the Cavs are now projecting attachment to Love, either way.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

The Cavaliers are not actively shopping All-Star forward Kevin Love heading into Thursday’s NBA draft, multiple sources told ESPN on Wednesday. Furthermore, regardless of what decision LeBron James makes about his future in Cleveland, the Cavs have interest in keeping Love next season, sources said.

File this under what else are they supposed to say? Even if the Cavaliers want to trade Love, insisting they won’t maximizes his trade value, forcing other teams to offer enough to pry him away.

But I also believe this accurately reflects the Cavs’ plans.

They just seem so determined to compete if LeBron leaves, and Love is their only other star. Love proved himself worthy of being the best player on a good team with the Timberwolves. (They were playoff quality when he played. They just completely fell apart whenever he sat.) In Cleveland, Love has fluctuated in his ability to bend his game around LeBron. If LeBron leaves, that’d no longer be a problem.

But Love will turn 30 before the season. He has declined out of his athletic peak, and I’d bet against him ever nearing his Minnesota levels again. And the other Cavs stink. It’s hard to see a LeBron-less Cavaliers team, even with Love, competing for the playoffs.

If LeBron stays, keeping Love makes some sense. With his $24,119,025 salary for next season and $25,595,700 player option for the following year, he probably doesn’t hold elite trade value. He doesn’t match up well with the Warriors, but good players who do come at a major cost.

Report: Lakers call meeting to warn employees about tampering

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Magic Johnson got the Lakers fined for tampering while still holding a ceremonial title. Once he actually took over the front office, he really got to work tampering. He got warned for blinking at Paul George on national television. Then – due to general manager Rob Pelinka’s communication with George’s agent and Johnson’s previous warning – the Lakers received one of the largest fines in NBA history. Johnson himself got the Lakers fined for praising Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The league investigated and cleared assistant coach Brian Shaw for tampering with George.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said the Lakers’ previous transgressions have put them under tighter scrutiny.

The Lakers just want this to end.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

Lakers co-owner and governor Jeanie Buss called the meeting, which was led by president of basketball operations Magic Johnson.

Sources said Johnson and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka spoke to a large group of team employees, warning them about tampering.

Other employees received written notices on the matter that referenced possible termination as punishment for anyone who does not adhere to NBA rules.

Tampering often takes much more benign forms than a president or general manager recruiting a star player before free agency. It could be an offhand comment by a coach, an overzealous ticket pitch or a speculative article on the team website.

If Johnson’s and Pelinka’s tampering increases the Lakers’ odds of landing a star, that’s just the cost of doing business. If a lower-level staffer tampers, that’s an avoidable mistake.

Really, it’s comical this meeting is even newsworthy, and that’s a product of the Lakers’ previous violations.

But, as they pursue stars, they don’t want to chance the league imposing any additional restrictions.

So, the Lakers, in some ways are right back where they started.