Posted Oct 25 2010 2:08PM
This is what it's like when the circus comes to town.
LeBron James and the Heat show up, and a crowd of more than 15,000 -- almost double the normal attendance for a preseason game -- shows up at Philips Arena last Thursday. James is booed almost every time he touches the ball. Julius Erving is courtside. So is Braves rookie slugger Jason Heyward. Underneath a ballcap, incognito, is the likely National League Most Valuable Player, Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds. Playing without Dwyane Wade and Mike Miller, and just getting Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers back, the Heat loses to the Hawks in the final seconds. As the last ticks come off the clock, Hawks fans go crazy.
"The crowd jumped up like they just won Game 1 of the playoffs," Udonis Haslem says. "We're going to get that every game. We understand that."
This is what The Decision and the tweeting and the alliance of the Super Friends and veterans great and small taking 50 cents on the dollar -- Jerry Stackhouse being the latest -- produces.
They have officially been together about a month now, with the hype greater than when the Fab Five got together at Michigan in 1991 (a group that included Juwan Howard, now 37 and on Miami's bench), greater than when Shaq came to South Beach via trade to play in 2004. Their three PR men will be at every game, home and away, and LeBron's guys are around, though not as conspicuous as they were in Cleveland, and the Heat are, of course, maxed out on TNT, ESPN and ABC.
But Miami's dreams of winning big -- "a multiple number of championships," as Chris Bosh puts it -- have to be tempered a bit, at least at the beginning of the regular season. The Heat barnstormed at half-strength throughout the preseason, with Wade limited to three minutes of action because of his pulled hamstring in the exhibition opener and required presence at his child custody hearing in Chicago last week.
James missed a few days of camp with a hamstring. Eddie House is just getting up to speed following offseason shoulder surgery. Arroyo missed two weeks with a groin; Chalmers has been battling an ankle injury. And adding injury to more injury, Miller fractured his thumb in practice on Wednesday, tore ligaments in the thumb and will be out until January following surgery on Friday.
No one cares.
No one outside of American Airlines Center is ever going to feel sorry for these guys.
"Our players are very mature," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Most of these guys have been around a long time. We've talked about it for three weeks, how we want to tighten the circle. There are a lot of expectations on us. We want to embrace it."
Inside the bubble, where the hype is a muffled pounding on the walls, there is confidence, but also nervousness. No one within the team really expects Pat Riley to dial up his own number and replace Spoelstra if the Heat get off to a bad start -- Spoelstra is a Riles protege -- but no one expects Riles to sit idly by if the season slips away. What that would look like, no one knows. But Miami has all its chips in the middle of the table. Nothing other than another championship parade down Biscayne Boulevard will be acceptable.
Miami has to follow up the financial sacrifices that James and Bosh made to come south with additional sacrifice on the court. There will be nights when James or Wade, or both, are unstoppable, and have the offense come through them, and Miami will be nearly unbeatable. There will be nights when Bosh dominates the single coverage that will surely come his way, and makes the open shots that the offense will get him at the elbow and foul line, and Miami will again be hard to stop.
There will be nights, when Miller returns, that he -- or House, or Chalmers -- will make 7-of-9 open threes. There will be nights when James and Wade are active defensively and get the Heat going on the break, and if Spoelstra can get them to stop trailing back for the ball to lead the break and get out and run on the wings, Miami will have a transition game that might be the best since the Showtime Lakers.
But there will be nights when none of those things happen, and the Heat will have to grind.
"A lot of people's concerns is, 'is the ball big enough?,' " Bosh said. " 'Are there gonna be enough shots for everybody?' To be quite frank, I remember '07, and people were asking the same thing about the Celtics their first year (with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce), and they came out and showed people how to really play team basketball, and how superstars can come together for the team.
"We're gonna have to do that same thing ... we're gonna have to set screens for each other, have each other's back on defense. It's so many other parts of the game where we have to play well and sacrifice for each other, other than offense."
Bosh is doing his part by overcoming his long-held aversion to playing some center for the size-challenged Heat, who will start Joel Anthony in the middle. Anthony will throw his body around willingly, but he's not the on-ball defender that Anderson Varejao was for the Cavs. And Miami doesn't have a 7-footer other than Zydrunas Ilgauskas on the roster.
It normally takes time -- months -- for a team to get its defensive scheme down pat. For example, Miami is struggling with how to defend without fouling. It took Cleveland a year, James said, to understand what Mike Brown wanted.
"When Mike came in (to Cleveland), we weren't as much of a veteran club as we are here," James said. "We have a veteran ballclub here. We have a lot of guys that know how to play the game and don't need much time to implement a system. Defensively is the easiest thing. It's the offense that kind of takes a bit longer, because you have to understand guys' tendencies, pros and cons and things like that. Defensively, we can figure it out on the fly."
Miller's injury is a big blow. Spoelstra was planning to use him in several spots, from two guard to power forward, depending on the matchup. The Heat already saw what the Wolves and Wizards did when they played with Miller every day -- he's a much better team defender and rebounder than people give him credit for being. With him out, it's going to take a long time, James believes, for the team to jell.
"I think probably next year," James said. "I'm not saying next season ... next calendar year, January, taking that flow from the middle of January going into All-Star week. I think that's realistic. I think we have enough talent that we can win ballgames. But as far as the jelling, the chemistry, it's going to take a while. Because this is a team game. There's a lot of teams that are ahead of us. But to get where we want to be, I think it'll take a little while."
James has had the misfortune (a habit?) of drawing attention to himself just when the last controversy is dying down. So it was last week, when he released three nasty messages he'd received via Twitter. One used a racial slur to describe James; another used another vulgarity. James referred to the whole thing on his Twitter account as "Haters Day" and "thanked" the critics.
I wondered, I asked James, if he thought the public had any better idea of what he's gone through -- and what I meant by that but didn't articulate better is the intensity of the blowback he's received since announcing his decision -- after he released the negative tweets.
No, James said.
Then why release them?
"No one can understand what you go through as an individual," James said. "I can't understand what you go through, either, as much as we see each other every day. No one can really understand what you go through ... I'm not out here pleading for everything. But you want people to know that you recognize it, and at the same time you try to build upon it and get better."
I asked Bosh if he'd noticed James had been affected by the negative publicity of the summer.
"I don't know if it will affect him, but it's definitely a part, it plays a part in someone's life, when there's a lot of negative publicity," Bosh said. "The best thing to do is just ignore it and play basketball. That's what we all do best. When you engage in it a little bit too much it can become too much for you ... at the end of the day, you can't really do anything about people talking.
"People are gonna talk. People are gonna watch TV, and unfortunately, in order to get better ratings, people have to be negative."
Whether that attention came despite what the Super Friends did this summer or because of it is now irrelevant. The Heat are no longer a theory, just a basketball team trying to figure things out.
So, what advice does a grizzled 21-year-old give the new kid, John Wall?
"I would say, take care of your body," Brandon Jennings said. "Right now, I see he's playing almost 40 minutes a night, and it's only preseason. I mean, it can be a good and bad thing.
"I think he's proven that he can go out there and can play with the best of the best. So I feel like they should just kind of give him less playing time. Whatever he's doing after practice, he can still keep doing that. But at least pace him. Because the way he plays, it's so fast, and he goes so hard. You don't want to burn him out too fast."
The Bucks' guard has fresh memories of when he was playing fast, and lighting up those cold nights in Milwaukee as a rookie last year. Jennings came out flying in November, scoring 55 points against the Warriors, but soon ran into a brick wall of opponents' scouting, the grind of an NBA season longer than any he had known in high school or in his one year playing abroad in Italy, and increased demands on his time from ... well, everybody.
Jennings, the 10th pick overall last season, had a solid rookie season in Milwaukee. He averaged 15.5 points and 5.7 assists, had an assist-turnover ratio of 2.4 and got a lot of praise from coach Scott Skiles, who stuck with him despite a horrid shooting stretch in December and January (he finished shooting 37 percent overall). With Jennings set in Milwaukee, the Bucks had no problem letting Luke Ridnour go to Minnesota this summer.
"Everybody was coming at me last year," Jennings said. "My main thing was, I was just so hyped, because I was able to get a chance to play, because I didn't play in Europe. So it didn't even matter. I wouldn't ice, I wouldn't do anything. I would just get up and feel like, OK, I've got another game, right? By the time game 40 or 50 came I was like, 'How am I gonna do this tonight?'"
Skiles thought Jennings improved on defense and became a good rebounder at his position. At the other end, Skiles believes Jennings needs to get better at knowing how to finish in the paint. Not getting stronger, necessarily, but wiser. And point guard is always an evolving position, says the man who holds the regular-season record for assists in a game.
"I've said this a few times: even if you're 28, and you're a point guard, you can always get better running the club," Skiles said. "You know, reads and decisions, things like that. You should never be a finished product there. And I'm confident he will improve in those areas. He's not afraid of the contact. He's gone in there and thrown his body in there.
"But the size and athleticism up here is totally different than guys have encountered anywhere else. When do you shoot your little floater? When is it a right hand reverse layup? When is it just contact and getting two free throws? When do you throw one high off the glass? And that decision is made on the fly."
Jennings has been working on getting to the foul line more, putting his body into the defender to draw fouls. He's working on his jumper and learning the nuances of the pick and roll. Most of all, he figures he'll be better because he isn't a rookie any more. That's Wall's burden now.
"I feel like I know what's expected this year," Jennings said. "So with the guys we have this year, I won't have to shoot so many crazy shots and try to get something up"
Horford not worrying about extension talk
Down to a week before the Nov. 1 deadline for contract extensions for the Draft Class of 2007, and still, only two players -- Kevin Durant and Joakim Noah -- have new deals. Checked again on Atlanta's Al Horford while I was in the ATL last week, and was told it was still 50-50 that his agent and the Hawks will get something done before the deadline.
"I'm not sure," Horford said. "With my approach, I'm really not focused on it. I have to go out and do my job, and it's play and get better and help our team. I kind of let my representation kind of handle that, my agent handle all of that stuff with the team. I think it's going good. I hope that we can get something done before the deadline."
If Horford doesn't reach a deal with Atlanta, he would, like the other first-rounders without an extension, become a restricted free agent next summer. With the uncertainty about whether there will be a season in 2011, the pressure has to be increasing on players to try and get some kind of deal done so they have a contract that has to be honored next year. Horford knows the calendar is about to turn.
"Obviously, you can't help but to think of the future," Horford said when asked about that pressure. "Regardless of what happens, I'm going to be OK. I'm just going to keep playing and do my thing. But I hope we can get something done before the deadline."
(Last week's rankings in brackets)
1) Orlando : Big big man news: The Orlando Sentinel reports forgotten '05 first-rounder Fran Vazquez may finally come over next season. He's not as good as Tiago Splitter, but he would help, and make it easier for the Magic to deal one of their other, more expensive bigs for some luxury tax relief.
2) Boston : Glad to see Doc Rivers getting a clean bill of health.
3) L.A. Lakers : Even Phil is less than 100 percent going into the season.
4) Utah : With 1,190 wins as a coach in his career, Jerry Sloan begins this season 145 victories behind Don Nelson for the all-time coaching wins mark. That would be about three more seasons if my math is right and the Jazz keep winning their normal 50 games a season.
5) Memphis : Can the Grizzlies keep momentum from an unbeaten preseason going into the regular season? Memphis has not made the playoffs since 2006.
6) Miami : D-Wade finally back at practice Sunday after missing almost the entire preseason (hamstring).
7) Oklahoma City : Thunder/Sonics franchise has not made consecutive playoff appearances since the 1997-98 season, when the Sonics completed the last of eight straight postseasons.
8) Cleveland : Fairly confident we won't be placing the Cavs in the top 10 after this week, but Cleveland did post a 6-2 preseason.
9) Minnesota : Ditto.
10) Milwaukee : Maggette's first game: 20 free throws, for a team that averaged 20.4 free throws per game last season, and has been one of the lowest in the league the past few years in free throw attempts.
11) Denver [NR]: George Karl says that Birdman should be back Dec. 1, and Kenyon Martin by Jan. 1.
12) Chicago [NR]: Boozer says he's two weeks from getting his cast off.
13) Dallas : Mavericks' Kidd, Terry (37, 33) old starting backcourt in the league, just ahead of the Lakers' Fisher and Bryant (36, 32).
14) San Antonio : Spurs not expecing Tiago Splitter (calf) to be ready for start of season.
15) Houston : Rockets finish a sluggish preseason with uncertainty at several positions, but allowed just 93 points a game during preseason. FWIW.
Utah (2-0): Finished a perfect 8-0 preseason with wins over the Lakers and Kings. But the Jazz has a lot of questions as the season begins. Is Utah big enough to hold off the likes of L.A., San Antonio and Boston? Does it have enough coming off the bench? Can Raja Bell stay healthy long enough to be a factor in the postseason? Can rookie Gordon Hayward be a contributor right away?
New Orleans (0-3): Played much of the preseason without David West (sprained wrist), who returned in time for the Bugs to lose their last couple of exhibitions. Not counting Hornets out in Western Conference but they'll need to jell real quick out of the box for rookie coach Monty Williams. Acquiring Jerryd Bayless on Saturday night from Portland will help.
Do we believe the league needs a giveback of $700 to $800 million from the players in order to create a new collective bargaining system that ensures profitability for the owners?
That's David Stern's story, as he said last week, and he's sticking to it.
If that's true, then we're back at square one in negotiations between the players and owners -- if you believe the Players Assocation, which calculated the NBA's initial offer, made to the players last February during All-Star Weekend, would cost players, on average, $750 million a year in salaries. The players rejected that offer, which included a hard cap and elimination of most exceptions to the cap, out of hand. The union made a counter-offer in July, which got nowhere with the owners. The two sides have had discussions in the interim, but clearly haven't made a lot of progress, and Adam Silver, the deputy commissioner, said the league was projecting losses of $340-$350 million for the upcoming season.
NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter issued a statement following Stern's assertion, which said the union would prepare for a lockout. Stern said Friday in his preseason conference call with reporters that he didn't believe the statement came from Hunter, because Hunter "wouldn't threaten me with a lockout."
Enjoy opening night, everybody!
The union is going through its annual team-by-team meetings during the preseason and early part of the regular season, but it has added lockout preparation to the normal discussions with players. That's been going on all summer.
Players who were free agents in the offseason were told to request specific language in their new contracts that called for stretched out payment plans. Players are normally paid during the eight months of the season, from October through April, but the union told its members to ask prospective teams for a payment plan that extended either over 12 months, or 24 months if the team would go for it. That would allow players to keep getting checks in the event of a lockout beginning next July.
In the interim, the union is decrying the league's math, pointing out that the league initially projected in July of 2009 that basketball related income -- the revenues that formulate the salary cap limit every year -- would fall from between 2.5 and 5 percent last season, leading to a cap for this season of between $50.4 and $53.6 million. In actuality, the cap came in at $58 million for this season -- which, the league points out, came because its teams did incredible work selling tickets in the middle of a deep recession.
However it happened, the union counters, it happened, and will likely happen again this season.
Union officials contend that player salaries have risen by less than 3 percent per year since the 2005-06 season, while other owner costs -- salaries of coaches and upper management, fuel for charter planes, insurance and other such items -- have risen by a much bigger percentage. The union also claims that the total amount of negotiated contracts for players has actually gone down in the last three years -- in part because almost all of the older, bigger contracts that players received in previous collective bargaining agreements, which had longer maximum lengths and higher maximum dollars than the current ones, have cycled out of the system.
The union also points to reports that show the league has sold more than 50,000 new season tickets for the upcoming season, and that renewal rates for existing tickets are up over last year. (Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean there's been a spike in season tickets, because a lot of that potential revenue from new ticket sales is eaten up by those who didn't renew their existing tickets.)
We are in the silly season when it comes to these negotiations, folks. I'll make you a deal: if there's something important that comes up between the owners and players, I'll let you know. But next year will take care of itself. Enjoy this year, with all of its intrigue and possibility, and remain hopeful that a group of people who are this smart, and work this hard, couldn't possibly wreck the amazing positive momentum that last year's regular season, and playoffs, and Draft, and this offseason, Decision or no, has produced.
'Cause that would be incredibly stupid, and damage the game to the point where it might not recover.
Don't talk with your hands at me in that threatening manner! From Alex Shepherd:
I just wanted to ask your opinion on the new rules for the stricter techs the refs will be handing out this season.
I understand that the NBA are concerned that it appears the players are complaining too much and this is affecting their 'product'. Coming from a country where football (not soccer!) is the No.1 sport and the players routinely mob around the referee and shout expletives at him without so much as a telling off or stern look, I think the NBA is worried over nothing. I think the level was about right last season. The players all seem to respect the tough jobs the refs do and it is great to see that even when they step over the line it is for such a minor infringment (usually) that one tech will calm things down.
I think the rest of the sports world could look at the NBA players and learn some levels of professionalism and restraint. Don't take the passion out of the game. A technical for punching the air, not even facing the ref? Please.
I'm with you, Alex. I think the league created a problem where none existed. I just can't believe that there was this groundswell of protest from fans about the comportment of players over the last couple of years. If that's the case, why were the ratings for the Finals the highest in 18 years? Why was there record attendance last season? Why was there so much interest in free agency this summer if people were angry or dissatisfied with the players? I am going to try to monitor regular season Ts to see if there's any discernable difference in the number and kind that are assessed. If you see one that is, in your view, especially egregious, hit me at email@example.com. A link would be helpful.
Unclear on the concept. From Abdiel Franco:
I came to my attention a statement that you made on the "Playing like Paxson could make these eight invaluable" post.
"Well, that's an interesting thought, Andrew. It has no chance -- none, zip, nada, zilch -- of occurring, as it would be fun to hear Spoelstra explain why the league's best all-around player isn't, you know, actually playing, while Carlos Arroyo is. But it's interesting."
I don't know if you know but Carlos Arroyo -- along with J.J. Barea -- is one of the best players from Puerto Rico. You just have to see the Puerto Rican team games to recognize the talent and leadership that he has. Here at the NBA he can't play the way he's used to playing in Puerto Rico because he plays the role that coach Spo gives him.
Arroyo is definitely a pure starter. Just watch his career throughout his eight seasons in the NBA. You'll see that once the season begins he'll climb into the starting lineup like he did last season. Please, show a little respect -- he might not be as good as LeBron or Wade, but he's definitely better than Joel Anthony and a lot of players in the NBA.
Be careful Mr. Aldridge, because a statement like this can be taken as racism.
I have seen the Puerto Rico team, Mr. Franco. Many times. And I've seen Carlos play for many years. I like him a lot. But you simply cannot be serious saying it can be interpreted as racist to point out that LeBron James is a better player than he is. The question put to me was whether the Heat should bring James off the bench instead of starting him. My point was that it would be impossible for Erik Spoelstra to justify playing anyone other than Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh ahead of LeBron. I could have used Mario Chalmers as an example. Or Mike Miller. I picked Arroyo. There was nothing sinister involved in the picking. I will assume your criticism was offered constructively and not as an incredibly wild overreaction to an innocent example.
There will be what is known as the "Halle Berry Exception." From Joshua Stewart:
Recently, the new Wizards owner was fined by The Commish for the comments he made regarding a possible "hard cap" being included in the next CBA. My question is: why do the owners want this? I mean, I understand they would say they want it to bring competitive balance. But I don't think parity is the answer. I promise that I do not say this as a lifelong Lakers fan, but I don't want to see seven different franchises win the next 10 championships. Having that in the NFL, MLB and NHL as turned me off and pushed me to largely only following the NBA now. I would rather see anyone (even if it's not my Lakers) win five or six than see the Lakers, Celtics, Heat, Spurs, Bulls, Magic, Thunder, Bucks, and Grizzlies all win one in the next decade.
If you're saying you like dynasties, Josh, I agree. I love to see the game -- any game, really -- played at its highest level. I like to see dominant teams dominate. And I like the idea that when you have a dynasty in a sport, other teams have to raise their games in order to compete and beat that dynasty. That's what sports is all about. But I do want to see small market teams have the opportunity to build and maintain dynasties like the Spurs have been able to do. I don't know if a hard cap would provide that opportunity.
Send your questions, comments and criticisms to firstname.lastname@example.org. No guarantees, but if your note is sufficiently brainy, quirky or snarky we just might publish it!
.282 -- Kobe Bryant's shooting percentage (24 of 85) in the preseason. Can't see how the injury-plagued Lakers get off to a quick start out of the gate, though they have some cupcakes (two games with the Wolves, for example) the first month of the season.
.931 -- Winning percentage by the Magic in preseason (27-2) under Stan Van Gundy. Orlando finished with an 7-0 preseason mark after Friday's game with Miami in Tampa was postponed, winning by an average of 25 points. Orlando has won 21 consecutive exhibition games dating to 2008.
1) Finally. Opening Night! There are more quality teams with a realistic chance to win a championship as the season begins than I can remember in a very long time.
2) If the Hawks, and especially Joe Johnson, will buy into the Princeton philosophy that Larry Drew is trying to sell, Atlanta could be a very dangerous team on offense. In the fourth quarter, moving the ball from strong to weak against the Heat got Maurice Evans a wide-open three, and Jamal Crawford, and Johnson. It works.
3) Even the Machine would probably admit he's marrying above his station. Well played, Sasha.
4) Henry Abbott from TrueHoop beat me to the joke: will they still love Shaq in Boston if he plays like a statue?
5) I. Love. The. Warriors. Road. Unis.
6) Ron Burgundy doesn't understand what the big deal is here.
1) Contraction? I'll believe it when I see it. You're telling me that owners--who are already decrying their financial plight, and saying they're losing tens of millions collectively--are going to eliminate 1/30th or more of their potential income? The savings from not having 12 to 15 salaries on the books would more than be offset by the drop in revenue from ticket sales, local and national TV deals, sponsorships, merchandise sales, and the like. Nor do I believe the Commish would have much stomach for turning back the march of expansion.
2) That's a tough break -- excuse the pun -- Mike Miller.
3) This makes me sad. My first beat as a professional journalist was Georgetown University for The Washington Post in 1988. I covered the only Georgetown team in a decade that did not have Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning or Dikembe Mutombo at center. (Mine? Ben Gillery.) And the best player on that team I covered was Charles Smith, a quiet, small kid who had an incredible season for the Hoyas, including game-winners at the buzzer on the road to beat Syracuse and in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to beat LSU.
4) Is it just me, or does anyone else find those DirecTV ads where the guy tranquilizes the other guy running the projector in the movie theatre more than a little creepy?
5) RIP, Mr. C.
Wow Ryan Howard that's how u do in clutch smh lol
Kings guard Tyreke Evans (@thetyrekeevans), Sunday, commenting on Phillies slugger Ryan Howard taking a called third strike to end the National League Championship Series and put the San Francisco Giants into the World Series. (By the way, for all you old goats like me who don't speak Tweet, "smh" means "shaking my head" and "lol" is "laughing out loud.")
"I'm a little bit afraid people will step on me or I will jump in the air to try and get a rebound and land on somebody. That gives me a little bit to worry about. That goes away slightly day by day. I have a size 19 foot."
-- Yao Ming, expressing his still-there concerns about his feet staying healthy to the Houston Chronicle.
"I don't think he believes it. They are two smart cats. They are double-teaming the Heat. They want to put as much pressure on us as possible."
-- Pat Riley, telling a Miami radio station that he doubts the prediction of ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy -- Orlando coach Stan's brother -- that the Heat will break the Bulls' single-season win mark of 72 games.
"I can't tell you how many times he's elbowed me like he's going up for a rebound. I probably should wear a whistle to bed."
-- Jeanie Buss, writing in her new book "Laker Girl," as excerpted by the L.A. Times, about her boyfriend, Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
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