Chicago landed name in Dwyane Wade; Miami still better team now, poised for future

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Forget what Dwyane Wade wanted and felt he deserved, Pat Riley did not approach contract discussions with Wade this offseason the way one should approach “family.” Or the greatest player in franchise history. The Heat lifer. Riley’s first reported offer of $10 million was flat out insulting — that’s the kind of money Matthew Dellavedova just got. Eventually, Miami upped its offer to $20 million a year, but that was less money and one less year than Wade wanted. Wade wanted to be made whole for past sacrifices, he wanted to see the respect of the organization that way, and he had lost faith the Heat would be good for it. Through it all, Riley reportedly never even picked up the phone to talk to Wade directly.

Wade found the respect — and money — he was looking for in Chicago. He signed there.

Pat Riley and Heat management were clearly okay with that outcome.

In the cold, harsh world of the NBA on the court they were right — Miami is both the better team next season, and they are better positioned for the future. With or without Wade.

With no Wade — or Luol Deng, or Joe Johnson — Miami probably takes a step back, but not a huge one (unless Chris Bosh is out). Next season the Heat still will have newly re-signed Hassan Whiteside in the paint. They will have Goran Dragic running the point — and he will have the ball in his hands more, a good thing (particularly in the fourth quarter, when Wade would often start to dominate the rock). They hope to have an All-Star in Chris Bosh back (although that remains up in the air). They have good young players like Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, and Tyler Johnson (if they match the Nets offer). They have a roster that fits the up-tempo style Erik Spoelstra wants to play. While they will miss Wade’s scoring at times, if Bosh is healthy they are certainly a playoff team and potentially a top-four seed in the East.

More importantly, they have is the kind of base of talent — and lifestyle, and no state tax — that will have free agents considering them as an option next summer (how much money they will have depends on Johnson, Bosh, who else they sign). There is a style of play, a system. What Pat Riley has given Miami is a blueprint and flexibility. One that didn’t necessarily fit Wade as he aged.

What is the Bulls’ plan?

Here is GM Gar Forman’s quote after the Derrick Rose trade: “We need to get younger and more athletic.” Are Rajon Rondo and a 35-year-old Wade who has had chronic knee issues younger and more athletic? Robin Lopez isn’t part of that answer.

The bigger question is how all these players fit together. Wade, Rondo, and Jimmy Butler all work best with the ball in their hands — and all three are ball stoppers. They like isolation sets (or a pick-and-roll) where they are in control of the shot and the tempo of the offense. Butler is okay working off the ball, but Wade and Rondo are not. Plus there is no shooting — Jimmy Butler is the best shooter of the three and he hit just 31.2 percent from three last season. Robin Lopez isn’t spacing the floor. Chicago’s best outside shooter is Fred Hoiberg, and he’ll be wearing a suit. The Bulls may have to start Nikola Mirotic just to have someone who can keep defenses from completely packing the paint (Doug McDermott may get extra run for the same reason).

Then there are the defensive issues — Rondo and Wade struggle on that end, and while Lopez can defend the rim some he’s not the NBA’s most mobile big out there. The Bulls can be forced into bad defensive matchups every time down, and their transition defense will be horrific.

Chicago does have something it can sell. Wade is a star, people will pay to see him. He will bring some excitement to the United Center. If he can stay healthy and play 74 games as he did last season — and that is far from a sure thing — he can help Chicago win a few games. He will make the Bulls more entertaining.

But how is this team getting younger and transitioning to the future? Is this really Butler’s team now? Miami will have a lot of cap space next summer, but players (and their agents) and have questions about why they should come to this roster. What is the long-term plan they are signing up for? Nothing is evident.

The Bulls will make the playoffs in the East, but as a lower seed that gets bounced in the first round. They have the cap space to chase free agents next summer, but will the talent come?

If a top free agent is choosing a destination and the money is equal, they will see plan and a brighter future in Miami. The Heat are better positioned to get a star, even if Wade stays and recruits.

The bottom line is the Bulls may be a little more dramatic and entertaining after this move, but this Heat team is simply better. And will be for years to come.

Are struggling Mavericks on the clock with Luka Doncic?

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Luka Doncic is in the first year of a five-year, $215.2 million contract. More than that, when asked recently if Mavericks fans should be worried about him wanting out as the team has stumbled at points to start this season, Doncic didn’t sound like a guy looking to bolt:

“I don’t think they’re worried about it right now. I got what, five years left here, so I don’t think they should be worried about it.”

The Mavericks’ front office should be worried about it — teams are always on the clock with a superstar.

The Mavericks let Jalen Brunson get away in the offseason, then brought in Christian Wood (whose defense is an issue and he is coming off the bench). This remains a team a player or two away from contending despite having a potential MVP in Doncic carrying a historic offensive load.

That doesn’t mean Doncic will ask out at the deadline or this summer (he won’t), but if his frustration grows over the next couple of years… who knows. Tim MacMahon of ESPN put it well on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM):

“I think they have a two-year window. This season and next season going into that summer [2024]. I think they have a two-year window where, you know, like Milwaukee did with Giannis [Antetokounmpo], I think in that window they really need to convince Luka that he has a chance to contend year in and year out right here in Dallas. If they can’t get it done in that two-year window, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he’s going to force a trade or ask for a trade. I’m just saying at that point if he’s not happy, he has all the leverage in the world if he would be looking to leave..

“I don’t think Luka will look for reasons to leave. I think he’d be perfectly happy spending his entire career in Dallas. But if he doesn’t have to look for reasons and they’re slamming him in the face, then that’s a problem. He’s also a guy who is a ruthless competitor, which means he loves winning. He’s used to winning. He won championships with Real Madrid. He won a EuroBasket championship with the Slovenian national team. He also detests losing. Like can’t handle it.”

The Mavericks made the Western Conference Finals last season, knocking off the 64-win Suns in the process — this team is not that far away. Not with Doncic handling the ball. But it feels like a team that has taken a step back from those lofty levels this season. There are many more questions than answers, and it’s impossible to guess how Doncic will feel after this season’s playoffs, let alone the ones ending in the summer of 2024.

But the Mavericks stumbles this season have to put the Dallas front office on notice — this team is not good enough. And if we know it, you can be sure Doncic knows it.

Curry thinking retirement? ‘I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon’

2022 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards Presented by Chase
Kimberly White/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated
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Stephen Curry is playing at an MVP level this season: 30 points a game, hitting 43.2% from 3 with a 66.4 true shooting percentage, plus pitching in seven assists and 6.6 rebounds a game. He remains one of the best-conditioned athletes in the sport.

In the face of that, even though he is 34, asking him a retirement question seemed an odd choice, yet a reporter at the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award ceremony — Curry won the award, if you didn’t know — asked Curry about it seems he’s not interested.

Curry should not be thinking of retirement, but there is a sense around these Warriors that this era, this run is coming to an end in the next few years. Curry may be defying father time, but Draymond Green and Klay Thompson (especially post injuries) are not. There is a decline in their games (and this season, the role players have not stepped up around them the same way). With that comes a certain pressure to take advantage of the opportunities, there aren’t going to be as many.

Which is why the Warriors are a team to watch at the trade deadline (and will they sell low on James Wiseman to a team that still sees the potential in him?).

As for Curry, he will still be around and producing for a few more years. Nobody is ready to think about his retirement. Including Curry himself.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins

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To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.

Three things to know: Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

This game felt like a 2019 playoff time capsule, with Damian Lillard and Jamal Murray trading blows in a dramatic game.

Lillard landed more of them, he finished with 40 points — and his final three were vintage Dame Time.

But Murray had the final word.

The final minutes of this game were insane.

It was a needed win for a Denver team that some nights look like they can compete with the best in the league, then turn around 48 hours later and mail in a loss to a tanking team. Nikola Jokic scored 33 against Portland (with 10 boards and nine assists) — he is again putting up numbers that will have him in the MVP conversation (even if it’s a longshot he wins it). However, the Nuggets’ bottom-five defense makes them inconsistent night to night.

Portland revamped their roster to get younger and more athletic around Lillard this past offseason, but one of the results of that is the inconsistency of youth. The Blazers don’t bring the same level of execution every night. If they don’t learn that lesson, they may be different in makeup but the results will be the same as many Portland teams of the last decade — an early playoff exit.

2) Brittney Griner is home on U.S.soil

After spending 10 months in Russian jails — including being convicted and sent to a penal colony — on trumped-up drug charges that made her a political pawn in a massive geo-political battle, Brittney Griner is finally home on U.S. soil, her plane landed in Texas overnight.

The Biden administration worked out a prisoner exchange with Russia that brings Griner home to be with her wife, family and friends — that is something to be celebrated.

Of course, there was some pushback online/in the media from people who care only about trying to score political points for their selfish ends. Fortunately, we had the family of Paul Whelan — a Michigan corporate security executive who has been behind bars in Russia since December 2018 on trumped-up espionage charges — who praised the president for bringing Griner home and making “the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

An American citizen is home. She happens to be a WNBA star and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but those things are not what matters most, and are secondary to her family who are just happy to hug her and tell her they love her again. We all hope that day comes soon for American political prisoners held around the globe (including Whelan), but we should celebrate the big victory of Griner being back on U.S. soil.

3) Spurs snap 11-game losing streak behind 32 from Johnson

Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs’ 11-game losing streak.

“This has been the first game in a while where we were clicking defensively,” Johnson told the Associated Press after the game. “You can tell when we get stops, get out and run and be able to get out front. If we can keep that mindset of defense first, get stops and we let the offense take care of itself, we’ll be in great shape.”

All of that is interesting, but the real debate of the night: Was this an offensive foul by Alperen Sengun, or a block by Zach Collins?

Sengun was in the air when Collins came over, but he also used his off hand to create space for the dunk. This is a bang-bang call and the challenge of the block/charge call — I think that’s a block by Collins, but that’s not how the referee or many others have seen it. How would you have called it?