Josh McRoberts to join Miami Heat for mid-level exception

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UPDATE 3:02 pm: Josh McRoberts has decided to bring his versatile game to South Beach, choosing Miami over the same offer from Charlotte. That was first reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.

It has since been confirmed by the Miami Heat.

McRoberts is the kind of player the Heat could have used in the Finals, he’s not great at any one thing but works hard on every possession and if you don’t think he’s athletic you will end up in one of his poster dunks.

Is that enough to sway LeBron James? Maybe not but it’s a step in the right direction.

And it’s a hit to a scrappy Bobcats team that used guys like McRoberts to maximize their talent last year.

—Kurt Helin

1:59 pm: When he sits down with LeBron James this week, Pat Riley will want to share some good news with the Heat’s biggest free agent.

Two rumored top Miami targets are off the market. Kyle Lowry will re-sign with the Raptors, and Marcin Gortat will re-sign with the Wizards.

How will Riley sell LeBron?

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

If the Heat give McRoberts the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception – $5,305,000 starting,$22,652,350 over four years – they’d be hard-capped at the apron ($4 million above the luxury-tax line).

They’d still have room to offer LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade max contracts, keep Norris Cole Cole and Shabazz Napier, use the full bi-annual exception and fill the roster with minimum-salary players. However, Miami would lose a little flexibility to accept trades that add salary.

That’s a small concession to make for a player the caliber of McRoberts, who averaged 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game while starting for the playoff-bound Bobcats last season.

But McRoberts, despite his overall ability, might not be a great fit in Miami.

Before opting out, he thrived next to Al Jefferson in Charlotte. McRoberts spread the floor with his shooting and passing, freeing Jefferson to work inside, and defended well enough to meet Steve Clifford’s demanding standards.

McRoberts’ defense might travel, especially considering I’m not sure what type of scheme Erik Spoelstra will implement as his team ages. But his floor spacing would be a bit redundant with Bosh. There’s nothing wrong with playing two perimeter-oriented bigs, but who are they clearing the paint for? Is LeBron driving that effected? Wade can’t get to the rim nearly as frequently as once did, though an offense built around LeBron posting up more often could be intriguing.

Beyond McRoberts adjusting to playing beside a very different center than Jefferson, there’s no guarantee the Heat get the same player Charlotte had last year. McRoberts, 27, just had the best season of his career. How long his prime lasts – the MLE can last up to four seasons – is a key question.

McRoberts’ main skills – shooting and passing for his size – generally age well, but he uses a sneaky amount of athleticism to position himself to take advantage of those skills. For Miami, though, impressing LeBron, Bosh and Wade now matters much more than a contract that might turn sour before its expiration.

In the last two years, Charlotte drafted a couple solid power forward from Indiana in the lottery – Noah Vonleh and Cody Zeller. The Hornets have a strong future at the position, but McRoberts is probably better than either youngster right now. As long as returning to the playoffs is a goal – and it should be – Charlotte might be most comfortable re-signing McRoberts as a stop-gap.

As long as they don’t sign Gordon Hayward to a max offer sheet, the Hornets have room to top an MLE offer from Miami for McRoberts. The questions are whether Charlotte wants to spend so much and whether McRoberts would accept less to join the Heat.

Most importantly: If Riley can lure McRoberts, what would LeBron think of the move?

Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin form NASCAR racing team with Bubba Wallace driving

Michael Jordan NASCAR
Brian Lawdermilk - Pool/Getty Images for NASCAR
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Michael Jordan is getting into the NASCAR game.

The North Carolina native has teamed up with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin to form a new NASCAR Cup Series race team — and they’ve signed Bubba Wallace to drive.

Wallace is the only Black man driving full-time in NASCAR’s top series (the previous three seasons he raced for Richard Petty Motorsports). Wallace has been at the forefront of bringing social changes to NASCARincluding the banning of the Confederate flags at NASCAR events and tracks.

“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Michael Jordan becomes the first Black owner of a full-time race team in NASCAR top series since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in the 1960s and early 1970s (he owned the team and drove the car). Bubba Wallace is the first Black full-time driver in the top NASCAR series since Scott.

Hamlin will be a minority partner in the new team and continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” said Wallace in a statement. “Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

The car manufacturer, number, sponsors and more will be announced at a later date.

Jordan is the primary owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

NBA executives pick Luka Doncic as best player under 25 to build around

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Luka Doncic, in his second season, made the leap into the NBA’s elite — fourth in MVP voting and First Team All-NBA. All at age 21.

Not surprisingly, he’s the player under 21 NBA teams would want to build around.

Michael Scotto of Hoopshype polled 15 league executives (including four general managers) and players under 25 they want to build around and Doncic was the unanimous choice.

“To me, Luka is the clear No. 1,” one scout told HoopsHype. “He’s a guy who can be a lead ballhandler. He’s good enough to score and create at a high level, has the right mental makeup and is incredibly smart. He’s been a winner everywhere and will probably be a winner in the league.”

It’s hard to argue when Luka Doncic is already doing this in the playoffs:

Boston’s Jayson Tatum came in second, Phoenix Devin Booker was third, followed by Ja Morant (Memphis) fourth and a tie at fifth between Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Bam Adebayo (Miami).

An interesting note about that top five: None of them was a No. 1 pick.

Zion Williamson had been on top of this poll a year ago, but after a season where he played just 19 games then looked a step slow in the bubble there are concerns about his long-term health.

“He’s just a special player inside the arc who’s an elite finisher,” one executive told HoopsHype. “Offensively, he can finish at an elite rate. He’s one of the best finishers behind Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and LeBron (James). He can hit the open man. He’s so physically dominant. His shooting shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see. I think he’s always going to be hurt, though.”

One healthy dominant season from Williamson and those opinions could shift, but even then Doncic will be an MVP level player the Mavericks can build a contender around. He’s the guy under 25.

Report: Raptors coach Nick Nurse earning $8M salary on extension

Raptors coach Nick Nurse
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Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich reportedly had an $11 million salary in 2015 then signed a contract extension in 2019 that keeps him the NBA’s highest-paid coach. Doc Rivers was earning $10 million annually with the Clippers before his latest extension. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also signed extensions in recent years.

What about Nick Nurse, who just signed an extension with the Raptors?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Raptors coach Nick Nurse signed a new multiyear contract extension on Tuesday — a deal that pays him around $8 million per year, sources say.

That’s a lot for a coach, especially in these times.

But Nurse has proven his value. He might even be the NBA’s best coach right now. He checks so many key boxes.

He has shown the ability to prepare his team for the playoffs then adapt through a long playoff run. His players have developed under his watch. He has dealt with roster upheaval and kept everything humming.

After just two seasons as head coach, Nurse still must prove himself in more situations, especially as opposing teams become more familiar with his strategies. But Toronto should want to keep him.

Credit Raptors ownership for paying to make it happen.

Now onto Raptors president Masai Ujiri

Dwight Howard is talking a lot of trash

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The Lakers put Dwight Howard on final warning BEFORE even signing him.

And for most of the season, Howard kept a low profile.

But he has been breaking out of his shell in the bubble. Related to basketball, too.

Howard has played excellent defense on Nuggets star Nikola Jokic in the Western Conference finals. The day after Game 1, Howard told Jamal Murray about it.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

The Nuggets were wrapping up their practice, which took place not far from the Lakers’, with Murray about to begin his media session in the convention center hallway. Howard, as it so happened, walked by right then and the banter restarted.

“Don’t do that, fam,” Murray said to Howard, with both men smiling.

“What?” Howard said.

“Don’t do that, fam,” Murray said again.

“Where’s Joker at?” Howard replied. “Where’s his room?”

As was the case in the series opener, there was no answer.

Then, Howard (and JaVale McGee) pointed out Jokic’s defensive deficiencies against Anthony Davis in Game 2.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Once the Lakers’ bench saw it was Jokic tasked with guarding Davis, it brought the noise with JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard screaming, “Thanksgiving, steak dinner, appetizers, filet mignon and potatoes, a glass of champagne!”

Davis, who faced up Jokic and maneuvered his way around the big man for a bucket in the paint. McGee shouted, “Told you it was a feast out there!”

Howard didn’t let up after Davis’ game-winner.

Amick:

As the Lakers mobbed Davis on the court after his shot, big man Dwight Howard broke off from the group and decided to taunt the Nuggets as they exited the basketball stage. If you somehow haven’t noticed, Howard is leaning hard into this tough-guy approach.

“Go home!” he yelled over and over while laughing, jumping, pumping his fist and getting closer to the Nuggets’ side of the floor with every second. “Go home!”

A small group of Nuggets staffers, including one of Jokic’s biggest supporters in assistant strength and conditioning coach Felipe Eichenberger, did not take kindly to the mocking that had taken place all game long and returned to the court to shout back. The two sides exchanged words, and eventually retreated to their corners that came with conflicting emotions.

This works because Howard is playing well – in his role.

Howard was slow to recognize he’s no longer a superstar. Yet, he still has the energy for being the center of attention. That used to mean doing things like posting up too much,

Now, Howard is focused on defending, screening and sometimes finishing at the rim while playing all-out in limited minutes. It’s what the Lakers need and what Howard can provide at age 34.

If he wants to talk trash along the way, more power to him. It’s a lot of fun.

But there’s also a fine line between the endearing villain and loathed jerk. Outside Denver, Howard appears to be the former. For now.