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One night only: Guard Dwyane Wade returns to Miami

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade‘s former locker in the Miami Heat dressing room is empty. Dozens of photos of him still adorn walls all over the arena, including a giant one that every Heat player passes on their way to the court. And every championship banner that hangs from the rafters is there largely because of his work.

For 13 years, AmericanAirlines Arena was his house.

For a moment or two on Thursday night, it will be again.

Wade is returning to Miami as an opponent for the first time, as the Chicago Bulls – his new team – visit Thursday for the only time this season. The building will be jammed, the game will air on national television and the Heat will pay tribute with a highlight video that’s certain to elicit some long, loud cheering from fans who never wanted to see him leave.

“He’s going to get a great reception here,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Wednesday. “That’s going to be fun. That will be special. It’s deserving. It’ll probably be emotional for me. And then we’ll get to competition and that’s ultimately what it’s all about.”

It’s a short visit for Wade, an All-Star in 12 of his 13 Miami seasons. Chicago was playing in Atlanta on Wednesday, scheduled to arrive in Miami in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Spoelstra was planning to watch the Bulls-Hawks game to help finalize the scouting report for Thursday night, since Wade’s role in Chicago is a bit different than the one he had in Miami for 13 years.

“He ain’t fooling me,” Spoelstra said. “He’s a playmaker. He’s an attacker. Whatever the game calls for, that’s what he’s going to do.”

Wade’s entire NBA history before July was with Miami. Drafted No. 5 overall in 2003, Wade wound up pairing with Shaquille O’Neal to help deliver Miami’s first title in 2006 and then lured LeBron James and Chris Bosh to the Heat for what became four trips to the NBA Finals – and two more titles – in four seasons.

James left in 2014 shortly before Bosh got a $114 million contract from Miami that was negotiated by Henry Thomas, the agent Wade and Bosh shared. The enormity of that deal left the Heat somewhat handcuffed with what they could offer Wade, and almost lost him in 2015 before they agreed on a one-year deal for $20 million.

No such agreement could be struck last summer, and Wade was gone.

“I’m not wishing nothing bad on that organization,” Wade said after a game Monday in Chicago, his comments reported by ESPN. “I have nothing but love for everybody in that organization. And I want them to be successful, just as we all say, just not when they play the Bulls. But besides that I want them to be successful.”

Thursday’s game will be Wade’s 525th in Miami. He’s the Heat all-time leader in virtually every major statistical category, and is so far ahead of everyone else on many of those lists that he’s assured of being all over the team record book for probably decades to come. But he’s still a draw; on the secondary resale market, a seat in the highest row of the arena was going for $41 – the same seat for a Heat game last week was resold for $6.

“Everybody going to be fired up,” Heat center Hassan Whiteside said.

Wade has stayed in touch with many around the Heat. He’s extremely close friends with Udonis Haslem, been in regular contact with Spoelstra, and continues checking in on some of his former teammates as well.

“There’s no bad blood between him and this organization,” Haslem said. “He’s had a great, great career here. He’s had so much success – we’ve had so much success. For whatever reason, the time came where we separated.”

Wade has said many times since deciding to go play for his hometown Bulls that he will forever be appreciative of his time with the Heat and playing before the Miami fans. He’ll want to win Thursday very badly, and for the first time in 14 years, the 20,000 people expected in the seats in Miami will want to see him lose.

“He’ll handle it fine,” Spoelstra said. “He’s as good as anybody I’ve ever been around at compartmentalizing and knowing when to keep emotions where they need to be.”

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.

Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Doncic: Mavericks tap brakes on inevitable comparisons

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DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic didn’t get compared to Larry Bird when he was introduced a day after the Dallas Mavericks traded up to get the third overall pick in the NBA draft.

For president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, that’s progress based on his last experience of getting a tender-aged European in hopes of lifting the Mavericks out of the doldrums.

Twenty years later, Dirk Nowitzki is the highest-scoring foreign-born player in league history. Back then, the big German wasn’t remotely comparable to Larry Legend – and his rough first two years proved it.

So ask Nelson about a player the Mavericks clearly coveted heading into the draft in Doncic, and he’ll choose his words carefully regarding the 19-year-old from Slovenia. Doncic won’t turn 20 until after the All-Star break of his rookie season, which is expected to be Nowitzki’s record 21st with one franchise.

“Dirk and I had a long talk coming in,” Nelson said about the player Dallas drafted days after his 20th birthday in 1998.

“We’re obviously very excited to have (Doncic) but he’s got a very tough road ahead of him. Dirk wasn’t done any favors in his first two years. We are going to steer away from any of those comparisons. Luka is his own guy. He’s got his own challenges.”

Coach Rick Carlisle dropped a few international names in trying to describe the versatility Dallas thinks is offered by the 6-foot-7 Doncic, who won Euroleague MVP and Final Four MVP honors while helping Real Madrid win the title just days before the draft.

After offering comparisons to the late Drazen Petrovic, three-time champion Toni Kukoc and longtime San Antonio star Manu Ginobili, Carlisle stopped.

“I really feel it’s important that we shouldn’t try to compare this guy to anybody,” Carlisle said Friday during an introductory news conference that included Doncic and second-round pick Jalen Brunson, who won two NCAA titles in three years at Villanova. “Let him be himself. Let his game takes its own form.”

Doncic figures to shape the future of the Mavericks in some form with Dallas coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the second of Nowitzki’s two difficult years at the start of his career.

Those 1990s-era Mavericks had 10 straight losing seasons. Combine the drafting of Doncic with last year’s ninth overall pick in point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and a still-young leading scorer in Harrison Barnes, and Carlisle expects the losing to stop soon, if not this coming season.

“Last night was symbolic to me that it was kind of a defining moment in this rebuild,” said Carlisle, who had just one losing season as a coach before the current Dallas slide. “We’re going propel forward with the idea that we’ve got to start winning games.”

Just as he did last year with Smith, Carlisle is declaring Doncic a starter, which means the opening night lineup will have a teenager for the second straight year. Youth partly explains a two-year record of 57-107, including the 24-58 mark last season that landed Dallas the fifth pick before the draft-night trade with Atlanta on Thursday.

Another explanation was an unusually large number of undrafted players, including a young German in Maxi Kleber who grew up watching his countryman become the 2007 MVP and 2011 NBA Finals MVP.

The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series since taking their only title in 2011, and have missed the postseason three of the past six seasons coming off a 12-year playoff streak. Doncic might only get one chance to get Dallas back on track with Nowitzki, the 13-time All-Star who has hinted that 40 is a nice round number as a retirement age.

If this is it for Nowitzki, Nelson sees a trio in Barnes, Smith and Doncic that reminds him of Michael Finley mentoring Nowitzki and point guard Steve Nash and helping the Mavericks end a 10-year playoff drought in 2001.

“Michael Finley was our Harrison Barnes back in the day,” Nelson said. “We feel like we’ve got that here in a different form. There’s just some really cool elements to this that take me back and remind me about what it was like 20 years ago when we were watching these young guys.”

Just don’t remind Nelson about the Nowitzki-Bird comparisons.