Associated Press

‘He has more to give’: Dwyane Wade’s last dance with Heat begins

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade doesn’t know how this whole notion of his final season being called “The Last Dance” even started.

Fun fact: He can’t dance.

But the three-time champion and 12-time All-Star can still play, and the Miami Heat are hoping – and expecting – Wade to still be extremely valuable in this, his 16th and last season in the NBA. And at Heat media day Monday, Wade said that even he doesn’t know what to fully expect from what will be the last months of his playing career.

“I have no idea what I want out of this year,” Wade said. “We’re going to be able to figure this thing out as the year goes on. It’s going to take on a life of its own. … To me, that is the beauty of it, is that I do not know and we do not know.”

Starting Tuesday, the story starts getting told.

Wade and the Heat head about 45 minutes north to Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida for training camp – five straight days of workouts preceding Sunday’s preseason opener at San Antonio. Decisions will have to be made quickly about playing time and roles, and part of that formula is figuring out how Wade best fits into coach Erik Spoelstra’s plan.

“Most pro athletes, unfortunately, they don’t get to know when the end is – or at least they’re the last ones to know and it’s certainly not on their terms,” Spoelstra said. “He has this incredible blessing to know when that finish line will be and be able to have the perspective to make every day matter. It’s the right player, the right organization, the right coaching staff, the right timing for all of this.”

Wade announced his decision on Sept. 16 that he was coming back for a final season, after at one time leaning about “90 percent” toward retirement over the summer. He agreed to a minimum contract worth $2.4 million, or roughly about $200,000 less than he made in his rookie season after the Heat took the Marquette guard with the No. 5 pick in the 2003 draft.

His decision wasn’t about money or role. It was about making sure the right ending to a career gets written.

“At the end of the day, he’s a Hall of Famer,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said. “He still can produce. He showed that last year. He can still take over a game at any time. And just to have him on the court is special. His ability, his aura, his presence on the floor, it influences everyone. It’s contagious, know what I mean? His confidence spreads, his ability, it’s a feeling that’s so good for us.”

Wade returned to the Heat in a trade last February, after spending the 2016-17 season with Chicago and the start of last season with Cleveland. For his career, he’s a 22.5-point scorer and the Heat all-time leader in points, assists, steals and games played.

“He has more to give this game,” Spoelstra said.

Wade enters this season 113 points shy of Clyde Drexler for No. 30 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. The legacy was secured long ago. That’s not why he’s still on the court. Wade has turned much of his basketball attention already to his son Zaire, a rising high school junior who has Division I offers and will surely be getting more.

Before he becomes a full-timer in the bleachers at his kid’s games, there’s the last dance.

“I’m going to continue to be very uncomfortable with this whole thing,” Wade said. “The farewell tour is not something I wanted. I think people around me know I really, really, really didn’t want this. So I just look at it as this is me just saying `goodbye’ more than anything.”

 

Kristaps Porzingis rehabbing conservatively, unsure when he’ll return

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Kristaps Porzingis is a one-of-a-kind player, a 7-foot-3 package strong enough to pound in the paint but with plenty of speed and shooting to play on the perimeter.

That’s ideal for the basketball court.

Not so much for rehabbing a serious knee injury.

Porzingis said Monday his size has necessitated a slow recovery from a torn left ACL and prevents him or the New York Knicks from establishing a timetable for his return to action.

“We’ve done things differently because there is no protocol for a 7-3 guy,” Porzingis said. “There is no timetable for my type of body, my size and all that. So we’ve done things differently. We’ve been really conservative and at the same time I’ve been killing myself working, so we’re just going to have to keep moving forward and keep progressing and then see when is the right time for me to be back.”

Porzingis was injured after a dunk in a Feb. 6 loss to Milwaukee, just before he was set to play in his first All-Star Game. He is doing light running and shooting but is not cleared to do anything serious enough to make an early season return likely.

“It’s already been 7+ months so obviously I’m getting itchy and want to be back on the court as soon as possible, but it won’t happen until I am 110 percent and I’m medically cleared,” Porzingis said.

There is no reason to rush. The Knicks are a young team unlikely to challenge for a playoff spot, so they can prioritize their franchise player’s health even if it means sitting Porzingis for most or all of the season.

He didn’t rule that out, though he wants to play, and it would certainly help the Knicks attract free agents next summer if Porzingis can get back on the floor and show his array of skills that led Kevin Durant – potentially one of those free agents – to nickname him a unicorn.

Porzingis spent most of his summer in Europe so he could be near his home in Latvia, where he was visited by new Knicks coach David Fizdale. Porzingis, who played professionally in Spain before the Knicks drafted him with the No. 4 pick in 2015, did his rehabilitation with Real Madrid, saying those were the best facilities available. He said he’s pleased with where he’s at in his recovery – even though doctors who have worked on similar injuries can’t say where exactly that is.

“Yeah, but they haven’t done it on a 7-3 guy,” said Porzingis, whose weight is listed at 240 pounds. “So I think it’s something new for everybody and as I said we’re trying to just be conservative and doing the right thing without pushing it too much.”

He said all his energy is on his recovery, so he hasn’t thought much about the contract extension he is eligible to sign before the season. It’s unclear if the Knicks even intend to offer one, with both sides possibly feeling it’s better to wait until next summer.

In the meantime, he intends to be around his Knicks teammates as much as possible, though he doesn’t know if he will travel with them. But whenever he is around will be a benefit.

“We know he’s not going to play beginning of the season, but at the same time we know that he’s still going to be out there, giving us his insight, giving us his ideas of what he sees out there on the floor that can help the team throughout the way,” swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “So until he gets back we’re going to hold down the fort.”

 

Dwight Howard could miss start of Wizards camp with bad back

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Dwight Howard joked Monday about the sore back that’s expected to keep him out for the start of training camp with the Washington Wizards.

Coach Scott Brooks downplayed the significance of the injury, too. Still, it’s not ideal that the team needs to put off incorporating its one offseason addition to the starting lineup.

“I’ve been having to do a lot of traveling with shoe companies and stuff like that in China. So just from training, traveling – and airplanes weren’t made for tall people. … It kind of sucks to fly 15 hours curled up in the fetal position,” said Howard, a 6-foot-11 center entering his 15th NBA season.

“So just a minor setback. It shouldn’t take that long for me to get back on the court,” he added. “I’ve been feeling great all summer. Just something that we’ll have to deal with, and it shouldn’t keep me out too long.”

The Wizards traded away starting center Marcin Gortat to the Los Angeles Clippers and added Howard, who’ll turn 33 in December, on a two-year, $11 million contract with a player option. He averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds last season for a Charlotte Hornets team that missed the playoffs and now is with his fourth team in four years.

That means adjusting yet again – to new teammates, to a new coach, to a new system.

In Washington, everything revolves around the backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.

Last season, when Wall appeared in only 41 of 82 games, the Wizards went 43-39 and were eighth in the Eastern Conference, losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Toronto Raptors.

Howard, an eight-time All-Star, said that he has not had a chance to get on a court with Wall and Beal to start getting a feel for one another.

“But one thing that I have done is I’ve watched a lot of film to really learn the tendencies of my teammates. Where they like the ball. Where they like to get screened at. Just things that will really help them get to their sweet spots,” Howard said. “A lot of times, the best way to really understand your teammate is by watching film.”

Brooks, Beal and others said all the right things at Monday’s media day about Howard.

“He’s going to make my job a lot easier. He’s going to make everybody’s job a lot easier on both ends of the floor, because you still have to respect his ability at the rim. He averaged 16 and 13 last year. Those are great numbers, you know? In our system, those can increase, easily,” said Beal, who led Washington in scoring by averaging 22.6 points and was an All-Star for the first time.

“Watching him, if you don’t hit him, it’s over. He’s going to dunk on you. And I love it. Because I think that’s going to get me hyped – just being able to have a big who’ll just flush it on you every time and somebody who will block some shots if you get beat on defense,” Beal said. “He’s a threat on both ends of the floor.”

Now it’s just a matter of getting Howard out on that floor with the rest of the Wizards.

“We’re just going to be careful. Not sure if he will practice tomorrow” when camp opens, Brooks said at the club’s media day.

Brooks listed Howard’s status as “day-to-day,” saying he wasn’t “overly concerned.”

“But we’re not going to rush him to get back,” the coach said.

 

Heat camp arrives, and Goran Dragic says he’s more than ready

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MIAMI (AP) — This time last year, Miami’s Goran Dragic was already tired and the season was just getting started.

It’s very different now.

When the Heat hold their first practice of the season Tuesday, Dragic expects to be as rested and ready as he’s been for any training camp in years. The point guard who went to his first All-Star Game last season wore down as the year went along, in part because of the grind he put himself through last summer while leading his native Slovenia to the European championship.

This summer, he played less – and is hoping that pays off this season.

“I feel amazing. I feel great,” Dragic said. “I think one of the smartest moves I made was retiring from the national team, because I feel energized and pumped for this season. I always kind of hit a wall toward the end of a season, but I feel like this season is going to be a totally different story.”

At 32, Dragic is Miami’s third-oldest player – among those in the Heat locker room, only Udonis Haslem (38) and the entering-his-final-season Dwyane Wade (36) have seen more birthdays. But Dragic is still a starter, still a very intregal part of everything Miami envisions for this season, and is coming off a year where he averaged 17.3 points.

“The band is still together,” Dragic said. “I’m very happy that I’ll be part of this last dance with Dwyane.”

The biggest malady Dragic was dealing with at the end of last season was tendinitis in his right knee, something that bothered him for several weeks. He still led Miami in scoring during its five-game playoff appearance against Philadelphia, averaging 18.6 points.

He wasn’t the only Heat starter ailing when last season ended. Josh Richardson was playing through a bad shoulder, Hassan Whiteside had knee problems, James Johnson had a sports hernia and Tyler Johnson‘s thumb needed surgery. The Heat – who are one of the many teams that have been talking to Minnesota about a trade for Jimmy Butler – are hoping some health luck comes their way this season.

“I think we’re going to be good,” Dragic said.

If nothing else, he’s not coming into this season as harried as he was last fall. Dragic has been back in Miami for about a month, after spending most of his offseason in Slovenia. A year ago, the European championships meant Dragic was still playing right up until the start of Heat camp.

It wasn’t a popular decision in Slovenia for Dragic to stop playing for the national team, which didn’t qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup of Basketball in China and now faces an uphill climb if it’s going to reach the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“But it was the right decision for me,” Dragic said.

The Heat sat out this past June’s NBA Draft in part because of the deal they made in 2015 to bring Dragic to Miami. The package sent to Phoenix included two first-round selections, the first of which was used this year at the No. 16 overall spot. The other will be used in 2021.

The price was steep, and the Heat aren’t complaining.

“I’d much rather have Goran Dragic than those two picks,” Heat President Pat Riley said.

Dragic is hoping to give Riley even more bang for his buck this season.

The All-Star nod – even though it came as an injury replacement – was particularly meaningful for Dragic, and he felt that last season was one of his better seasons anyway.

His goal for this season is simple: Be even better.

“I want to be at a high level for as long as possible,” Dragic said. “If you come into a season without goals, you’re just going through practice and it doesn’t mean anything to you. But if you set goals, you’re pushing yourself. And for me personally, my goal is to have a better season than I did last year. I don’t want to drop a little bit at the end this season. I want to be energized, fresher, more consistent the whole way this time.”

76ers set to turn promising season into must-see TV

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CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — Ben Simmons is set to turn the 76ers into must-see TV.

But he hopes to have another smash hit off the court. NBC has given a script commitment to “Brotherly Love,” loosely based on the life of the Aussie-born NBA rookie of the year.

Deadline described the pitch like this:

“Brotherly Love is inspired by the life of Ben Simmons and centers on a unique sibling relationship within a multi-ethnic family. Together, they pursue their dreams while navigating life in the spotlight in Philadelphia, a passionate city where sports is in your blood, and your blood is always boiling.”

Don’t touch that dial – well, unless the 76ers are on.

“It’s just funny because a lot of people probably pitch their lives and think everything should be a TV show,” Simmons said Friday. “We brought it to life. (My brother) wrote something up, pitched it to a few different people. NBC loved it and went with it. It’s really going to be about our relationship and how things just happen. It’s more of a comedy-sitcom type of show. It will be pretty funny. Hopefully, that goes through and works out.”

Oh, and LeBron James (through SpringHill Entertainment) is listed as an executive producer.

The 76ers were shooting for Ben & Bron.

The Sixers met with James’ representatives just hours before the free-agent signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, the brief flirtation enough to make the organization think they might have a shot at the NBA great.

“I feel like he could have been a great piece to add to get us where we need to be,” All-Star center Joel Embiid said.

So the 76ers will try to win their first NBA title since 1983 without The King.

But with Embiid, Simmons and 2017 No. 1 NBA draft pick Markelle Fultz aboard, the Sixers believe they can top the 52 wins and a playoff series win from a year ago as they chase a championship.

Embiid, speaking at 76ers’ media day, said a successful season would be “an appearance in the NBA finals.”

That’s a pretty lofty goal for a franchise that made no meaningful offseason additions and just this week named 39-year-old Elton Brand, who retired only two years ago, as general manager.

“I just remember dunking on him really bad,” Embiid said. “That’s crazy it was two years ago.”

Coach Brett Brown expected a dominant season out of Embiid (22.9 points, 11 rebounds) and Simmons, whose friendship with Kendall Jenner made TMZ headlines this summer. He spent the offseason working on his jumper.

“I’ve never been on a team where I have to take shots,” Simmons said.

But the player who can make the most impact as a pseudo-newcomer is Fultz. Bordering on bust territory after just one season, Fultz had his rookie year derailed by a mysterious shoulder injury, a broken shot and confidence issues. He played the first four games, missed 68 games because of the injury and was benched in the playoffs against the Celtics.

Fultz struggled with his mechanics when he played, and his shooting form was widely mocked around the NBA.

Even his personal trainer, shooting coach Drew Hanlen, said Fultz suffered from the “yips” and “completely forgot how to shoot.”

The 20-year-old Fultz said Hanlen used a “misterm in words.”

“What happened last year was the injury, let me get that straight,” Fultz said. “It was the injury that happened that didn’t allow me to go through a certain path that I need to shoot the ball. Just like any normal person, when you’re used to doing something the same way each and every day and something happens, of course you’re going to start thinking about it. It’s just normal.”

Fultz took about 150,000 shots this summer and reworked his form to prove he’s ready join Embiid and Simmons on the Big Three.

“This summer was really just me working to get my mechanics back, my confidence back, my swagger back,” Fultz said.

The Sixers need it all – the swagger, the shots, the early success that can propel them toward Eastern Conference contention. The franchise that won just 10 games three seasons ago is now on the cusp of becoming an elite team.

“It’s going to be a great year,” Embiid said.