Miami Heat fans were hurt when LeBron left, they may let him hear it. Somewhat.

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Miami fans were hurt when LeBron James left.

When LeBron chose the Heat in 2010 it wasn’t just bitter Clevelanders that turned on him and burned his jerseys — although Northeast Ohio did it with more venom — but the entire nation or sports fans called out LeBron for perceived betrayal. He handled the exit about as poorly as one could with the televised “Decision” followed by a pep rally in Miami and that turned off much of the country. LeBron’s popularity plummeted (at least at first, until the titles rolled in).

And Heat fans had his back the entire time. They were the people in his corner. They cheered him loudly at games… well, once they got there and got seated. They embraced him in the community. They shared in the four trips to the Finals in four years and two NBA titles. They celebrated with him.

Then he bolted them, too.

So yes, Heat fans are feeling betrayed — and LeBron’s going to hear a little of that on Christmas Day when his Cleveland Cavaliers come to downtown Miami for a game broadcast on ABC (5 ET).

Dwyane Wade may not want it but there will be boos — but they will be mixed with cheers. Unlike his return to Cleveland there will not be that kind of raw negative emotion overwhelming the arena. Part of it is a different culture in Miami, a more laid back lifestyle, one where the sun, the beach, the beautiful people and spicy food provide another identity for the city so theirs is not so wrapped up in the fate of sports teams. Plus, Heat fans do feel appreciative for the years they had from LeBron. For the banners hanging in AmericanAirlines Arena (near the retired Dan Marino jersey… seriously).

But LeBron is going to remind them on Christmas just what they are missing.

Miami has struggled this season to a 13-16 record (still good enough for the seven seed in the East). The Heat have dropped three of their last four and that includes an ugly loss to the Sixers Tuesday where they gave up a 23-point lead. Through it all the Heat have battled injuries including losing Josh McRoberts for the season, and with that their space-and-pace offense has been pedestrian (103 points per 100 possessions, 17th in the NBA).

But the big problem in Miami has been the defense, ranked 25th in the league surrendering 106.3 points per 100 possessions. Eric Spoelstra still has them playing an aggressive, pressuring style on that end and they are third best in the league in forcing turnovers (16.8 percent of opponent possessions end that way) but they lack the athletes and discipline to cover for when that goes wrong now, and teams are getting good looks. The Heat are 28th in the league in opponent eFG% at 52.6 percent.

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Once again the Heat will be without Chris Bosh, who is suffering from a calf strain and had hoped to be back by this game but Heat coach Eric Spoelstra ruled him out on Wednesday at practice.

That’s a blow. Bosh is averaging 21.6 points a game and the Heat offense improves 3.4 points per 100 when he is on the court. They really needed him because Miami will be without Anderson Varejao, who suffered a torn Achilles and is done for the season. Tristan Thompson will start but Miami’s defense is weak, particularly in the paint. Miami just doesn’t have the size to exploit it.

However, the bigger problem for the Heat in this game comes back to defense. They are going to learn what so many of their opponents learned the four previous seasons — you just can’t contain LeBron.

The Heat have a solid wing defender in Luol Deng but he will be overmatched against LeBron. More and more in recent games David Blatt has put the ball in LeBron’s hands as a defacto point guard and the Cavaliers offense has thrived because of it — despite the rough start the fourth best offense in the NBA this young season, scoring 108.5 points per 100 possessions. LeBron makes good decisions and the Heat are scoring 113.3 points per 100 when their big three are on the court together.

That improved supporting cast is part of the reason LeBron returned to Miami — Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are each matchup nightmares. Love is getting more touches in the post (expect to see that early in the game in particular) but is still dangerous from three. The at the point some combination of Norris Cole/Shabazz Napier/Mario Chalmers has to stay with Irving, a gifted penetrator who also can shoot from distance.

There was a Miami Heat team we saw the opening weeks of the season that looked like it could be a threat to a team like Cleveland, but that version of the Heat has been AWOL for a while now. Maybe the return of Bosh to the lineup and the emotion of the moment can reawaken that squad and make this game interesting. I expect it can for the first half or so.

But at some point Cleveland is going to shift into a gear Miami just doesn’t have.

That should look familiar to Heat fans.

And remind them what they are missing this season.

Probable lottery pick and injured Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland declares for NBA draft

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
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Vanderbilt freshman Darius Garland suffered a season-ending knee injury in November.

But that will actually accelerate his ascension toward the NBA.

Garland:

Garland still looks like a lottery pick. This draft is top-heavy, and a player as skilled as him likely won’t fall far.

The 6-foot-3 point guard is an excellent shooter. He also has the ball-handling, footwork and quick release to get his shot off against most defenses. He looks like he could become a prototypical lead guard in the modern NBA, a scorer who distributes enough.

Still, his torn meniscus hurts. Not only will teams want to know the status of his knee, he’s missing valuable developmental time during the college season. Garland still needs to refine his court vision, and it’d be nice if he clamped down defensively.

It was clear well before Garland enrolled at Vanderbilt he was on the one-and-done track. His injury allows him to drop the pretense of college basketball being a priority.

Report: Grizzlies will listen to trade offers for Marc Gasol, Mike Conley

Associated Press
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Last summer there was a lot of buzz around the league, the Memphis Grizzlies might finally end the grit ‘n grind era, trade their stars and embark on a needed rebuild. But then owner Robert Pera bought out two minority owners and the word quickly came down — forget a rebuild, this was a team that could win 50+ games and would make the playoffs.

After a fast 15-9 start to the season,  Grizzlies have lost six in a row and 12-of-13, having dropped to 14th in the West. Last week, those stars — Marc Gasol and Mike Conley — met with Pera face-to-face.

Now, Memphis considering trading Gasol and Conley, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

There will be interest from other teams, but getting a deal done in the 18 days before the trade deadline will be difficult. Especially considering both Gasol and Conley have huge salaries, and sources have said the Grizzlies have wanted to attach Chandler Parsons — who is owed $25.1 million next season and is almost unplayable — to any trade.

It’s very possible that these talks, especially around Conley, continue into this summer.

Gasol, who has seen his skills decline this season at age 34 (he has a 17.1 PER that is above average but the lowest since his rookie season, and his defense has not been nearly as good as it once was), is expected to opt out of this contract for next season, so any team that trades for him would want a wink-and-a-nod deal that they could re-sign him next summer. Big men are in demand, but will teams give up much for a potential rental?

Conley is a borderline All-Star point guard and a solid defender. Conley is averaging 19.8 points a game, 6.1 assists, is shooting 35.4 percent from three, and has a PER of 20.

Conley is making $30.5 million this season, has a fully guaranteed $32.5 million next season and an early termination option for 2020-21 at $34.5 million, and he will almost certainly not opt out and stay in the contract for that season. Not many teams can take on that much salary, no matter how good Conley is.

Former Kings executive pleads guilty to defrauding team out of $13.4 million

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A former top Sacramento Kings executive has pleaded guilty to siphoning $13.4 million from the team to buy Southern California beachfront properties, according to court records.

The records show former chief revenue officer Jeffrey David pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges of wire fraud and identity theft. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced April 15.

David was charged last year with forging the team president’s signature to divert sponsorship payments to a bank account he controlled.

Prosecutors say the scheme was uncovered soon after David left the Kings in June and accepted a similar post with the Miami Heat. The Heat said in September that the team and David parted ways..

Carmelo Anthony officially joins Chicago Bulls…for now

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It’s official… but the saga is far from over.

Carmelo Anthony has been traded from the Houston Rockets to the Chicago Bulls in a deal that was first reported yesterday but, due to some technicalities with the draft rights traded, was not finalized until today.

About those cash considerations, it’s $1.57 million dollars to Chicago. After what they owe on the remainder of Anthony’s contract, the Bulls will make about $900,000 for facilitating this trade. The Rockets will save $2.6 million in salary and luxury tax. If/when Anthony signs with another team the Hawks would save money on their buyout of ‘Melo from the summer (his salary would count against what they owe him).

The Bulls don’t even give Anthony top billing in the press release announced they traded for him. Basketball can be a cold business.

Anthony will not suit up for the Bulls. For the next 18 days, Chicago will try to move him in a trade before the Feb. 7 deadline (‘Melo can only be traded one-on-one, his salary cannot be combined with others in a trade because he was just traded). It’s unlikely a trade is found, if there was a good deal out there the Rockets would already have made it.

After that, it is expected ‘Melo would be waived and become a free agent. Which means we’ve got weeks of ‘Melo drama left.

Anthony is reported to have options, but if they were good ones he’d already have taken them. The future Hall of Famer is reported to have felt entitled to more than a bench role in Houston due to his stature, even though his game no longer lives up to that (he has declining offensive skills and he is a defensive liability). In 10 games for the Rockets this season coming off the bench, Anthony averaged 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds a game, shot just 40.5 percent overall and 32.8 percent from three. The Rockets’ defense was 10.4 points per 100 possessions better when Anthony sat at the time he left the active roster. 

The Lakers have been rumored as a potential landing spot, in large part due to Anthony’s friendship with LeBron James. However, sources tell me the Lakers aren’t interested (they have a full 15 man roster and do not see the fit). Would Anthony accept a small role in Los Angeles, because the attacking 3/4 player ‘Melo wants to be is a role currently filled by Kyle Kuzma. The Lakers aren’t taking away Kuzma’s minutes for Anthony, and that would leave ‘Melo, Michael Beasley, and Lance Stevenson sharing a small role off the bench. That doesn’t sound like a situation that makes Anthony happy.

Portland has been rumored, but would Anthony go there and accept a role? Maybe a franchise going all in on the Zion Williamson chase brings him in? A team battling injuries and looking for help?

Some team will grab Anthony after the trade deadline, but where there is a fit remains a mystery.