Pat Riley says Heat growth will be up to the players

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MIAMI (AP) — Pat Riley has a trip to his California home awaiting, followed by a vacation with his wife.

He can now relax a little.

The 2017-18 Miami Heat are going to look a lot like the 2016-17 Miami Heat, and the team president is just fine with that arrangement. Riley said Monday he thinks bringing back now-former free agents Dion Waiters and James Johnson and signing them to four-year deals, combined with the surprise addition of Kelly Olynyk, gives Miami a real shot at picking up where it left off last season.

The way he sees it, now it’s up to those signees to deliver on promises.

“I think in training camp, they have to look at it with great foresight for the future – but also they have to back up their words somewhat with their play,” Riley said Monday. “So it’ll be very interesting this year when we go to training camp to see where their heads are, and I’m convinced they’ll come ready. They think they’re a good team and they’ll get it together. I’m excited about it.”

Even in a summer where Miami swung and missed at landing Gordon Hayward, Riley thinks the Heat got better in the last few days. Miami went through one of the most unique seasons in NBA history last year – it lost franchise cornerstone Dwyane Wade in the summer, started 11-30 to fall super-close to the NBA basement, then went 30-11 in the second half and still missed the playoffs.

It was a painful ending.

Riley wants that pain to permeate for a while.

“As good as we were in the second half of the year, we didn’t finish the job and get that one shot at the first round,” Riley said.

There are more details for Miami to handle before the offseason business truly slows to a trickle. The Heat are still talking with forward Luke Babbitt about a return, plus have been in discussions with captain Udonis Haslem – who has been approached by other clubs, including Cleveland, to gauge his interest in lending his veteran expertise elsewhere.

“We hopefully will get Udonis back,” Riley said.

Anything Miami does now would almost certainly have to be a minimum deal. Riley said the Heat spent every dollar available under its salary cap, lauding Heat senior vice president of basketball operations and general manager Andy Elisburg – considered one of the NBA’s top cap gurus – for his expertise there in not only helping Miami land Olynyk but keep Waiters, Johnson and Wayne Ellington.

“His number-crunching … he’s the star of this whole thing,” Riley said, adding that the Heat intend to hang onto their $4.3 million exception – for now.

Miami had Plan A and Plan B going into free agency. Plan A was to land Hayward and figure everything else out on the fly. Plan B was, if Hayward decided to play elsewhere (and he did, picking Boston), to go all-in on retaining Heat free agents.

At 35,000 feet, Plan C presented itself.

Riley was flying back to Miami from meetings in California when he and the Heat brass learned Olynyk was going to be a free agent. That deal came together quickly, and Riley is already convinced the former Celtics backup forward was the right move to pair with center Hassan Whiteside.

“He’s a perfect fit with Hassan,” Riley said. “He can play with him and we can play him with other guys.”

Whiteside and Waiters have both said they expect the Heat to be in the Eastern Conference mix next season, and Riley doesn’t disagree. Cleveland – even with its front-office dysfunction being a big story this offseason – still has LeBron James and therefore still has the talent to be considered the best in the East. Boston will be there again. Washington, Toronto and Milwaukee also think they’ll vie for top-four spots.

Miami figures to be there as well.

“There are other teams in the conference but we feel good,” Riley said. “If you go into the season healthy, in shape and feeling good, and there’s a commitment to one another, the sky’s the limit. You have to go for it.”

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Lawyer sentenced to 5 years for fraud, scamming Charles Barkley among others

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A lawyer convicted of swindling NBA star Charles Barkley and using the name of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to bolster an investment scam was sentenced to five years in prison Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Karon O. Bowdre also ordered Donald Watkins to pay about $14 million in restitution.

Prosecutors had sought a prison sentence of 17+ years for Watkins and 6+ years for his son, Donald Watkins Jr. Both were convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges earlier this year. The two men stole more than $15 million from investors and a bank, prosecutors said.

Bowdre said she took the elder man’s age, 70, into consideration in imposing a lighter sentence, but the term was stiffer than the home confinement requested by Watkins. She then began a sentencing hearing for the son.

During the pair’s trial earlier this year, witnesses including Barkley testified about losing money in an investment scheme run by the elder Watkins.

Barkley, who grew up near Birmingham and now works as a television analyst, described himself as a friend of the elder Watkins, who has split time living in both Alabama and Atlanta.

Barkley lost more than $6 million in investments and loans, prosecutors said, and so did other professional athletes including former NFL players Takeo Spikes and Bryan Thomas and former NBA star Damon Stoudamire.

Stoudamire’s wife, Natasha Taylor-Stoudamire, spoke at the sentencing and said she couldn’t comprehend what Watkins had done.

“I can’t even comprehend how Donald Watkins Sr. and Jr. can take money from me or the rest the victims that were trying to have generational wealth for our children’s children,” she said, according to al.com .

Rice, a native of Birmingham, testified that Watkins wrongly used her name in promoting an energy business at the heart of the case. Prosecutors said Watkins included Rice’s name in an email to investors although she had declined to get involved.

Watkins once served as a city council member in Montgomery and helped successfully defend HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard Scrushy in a massive fraud that nearly bankrupted the company, now known as Encompass Health. He also has worked on civil rights cases.

More than 15 years ago, Watkins drew media attention when he attempted to purchase a major league baseball team. More recently he said he was attempting to purchase the NFL’s St. Louis Rams before the team moved to Los Angeles.

Although he portrayed himself as wealthy, prosecutors said Watkins had a net worth of only a few thousand dollars.

Writing in a blog post before the sentencing, Watkins Sr. said he would continue to appeal his conviction and claimed he was innocent.

“Jurors try to do the right thing, more often than not. However, my 46-years of active participation in the American judicial system has shown me (and the world) that well-meaning jurors often convict innocent defendants,” Watkins wrote.

Dion Waiters shows off slimmed down physique on Instagram

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Suddenly the annual “he lost/gained 15 points and is in the best shape of his life” portion of the NBA summer is upon us.

The Miami Heat are known around the league for having one of the best conditioning programs, guys who go there almost universally get in better shape. Dion Waiters last season seemed to be the exception to the rule. Waiters wasn’t 50-year-old-suburban-dad-with-a-beer-gut out of shape, but coming off an injury where he didn’t get to train like he wanted, Waiters didn’t look like a guy in NBA shape either. Critics lit Waiters up on social media.

Waiters posted his response — he’s been hitting the gym.

View this post on Instagram

Last year when I came off 1 of the most depressing & frustrating times of my life. Coming off injury & not feeling like myself nor looking like myself I was in a dark place mentally & physically , Because the game I love so much was taken away due to season ending surgery. Now a days with this social media ran world they laughed at me made jokes etc not knowing what I was battling or going through everyday. So instead of me joining the circus I told myself you from (Philly) you’ve been through worst shit in your life than this. So I promise myself I would work my ass off & get back to where I was before the injury. I’m not done yet but I kno somebody in the world prolli needed to hear this. Stay positive block out the outside noise & grind. #Philly🧀 #stayTune

A post shared by 🔥🔥🔥🔥 (@waiters3) on

Good for Waiters.

Let the flood of NBA workout videos and shots of guys with their new physiques begin.

Philly fans will be hoping to see one from Joel Embiid.

Russell Westbrook trade to Houston official, Thunder praise him on way out door

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Whatever their long-term intentions, after Paul George was traded the Oklahoma City Thunder changed focus. General Manager Sam Presti sat down with Russell Westbrook and his agent, talked about the future, what the former MVP wanted, then worked on trading him where he wanted to go.

That was Houston.

The Westbrook to the Rockets trade for Chris Paul — with Oklahoma City picking up two first-round picks and two pick swaps — is now official.

In announcing the trade, the Thunder praised the greatest player in their franchise history on his way out the door.

“Russell Westbrook is the most important player in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has left an indelible mark on this team, city and state,” Presti said in a statement. “None of us could have anticipated the player he has become, and we are all deeply proud of what he has contributed to the success of the franchise and to our community. Russell and his wife Nina, their three children, his brother and his parents will always remain part of the Thunder family. We wish them nothing but happiness and success in the future.”

“I have a great deal of respect for Russell and there is no way to adequately describe our appreciation for what he has meant to Oklahomans,” said Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett. “His legacy here is immense, and he will be honored by the team for all he has done. We wish he and Nina and their family all the best. While this era of Thunder basketball now comes to an end, I’m confident our talented team of people will once again position the Thunder for success in the future.”

While Presti and the OKC front office are still working on a CP3 trade, they are entering a rebuilding phase.

The Rockets are banking on Westbrook and James Harden being able to work out any fit issues — and finding a way to defend with both of them on the court — to keep them as title contenders.

Anthony Davis dances around question about re-signing with Lakers

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After the drama around his push to get to Los Angeles, league executives and other sources around the NBA expect Anthony Davis to re-sign with the Lakers on a max contract next summer.

However, Davis has paired up with LeBron James, and rule one of the LeBron contract playbook (and agent Rich Paul’s, too) is to keep the pressure on a franchise. Make the team improve and keep itself in title contention.

So it’s not a surprise that when ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Davis about re-signing with the Lakers, he didn’t answer the question directly.

Nichols: You’re only signed through this season. Do you think you will be a pillar of the Lakers for years and years to come?

Davis: Honestly, Rachel, I’m just focused on this season. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have one year here, so I’m going make the best of this year. And when that time comes around in the summer or, you know, whenever the season’s over — hopefully, around, you know, mid-June, after we just had a parade, and I need a couple days to think — then we can talk about that. But until then, I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team win this year.”

That a well-handled scripted answer hitting all the talking points.

After the NBA summer we have just gone through (and continue to see with Chris Paul), nobody sane will say Davis would never leave the Lakers after one season. Cut to Kevin Garnett screaming “Anything Is Possible.”

However, he came to the Lakers to win rings (now and in the future), to take over as the face of the franchise when LeBron steps away in a few years, to get the kind of recognition and endorsements he felt were not coming his way in New Orleans, and ultimately to have his jersey up in the rafters with Wilt and Kareem and Shaq. That’s the plan. Which means AD will re-sign with the Lakers next summer.

He’s just not going to say that right now.