Posted Jun 25 2012 9:19AM
You heard him before you saw him, late Thursday evening.
"One suit ... one tie ... one shirt!," Pat Riley barked, loping down the inner hallway hard by the Miami Heat's locker room, minutes after his inside straight finally cleaned out the rest of the league and left Riles the big winner at the table. He is a champion for an eighth time, the Oklahoma City Thunder finally vanquished, and LeBron James made whole.
Riley was repeating his own quote -- really, a boast -- about what he'd told his Heat team to pack as it left Miami in 2006 for Dallas, up 3-2 in the Finals. Just enough clothes for one day, one game, no need to pack for two. It was the Riles hubris at work again, the confidence -- the arrogance -- that had been his calling card for most of three decades.
He was in the inner sanctum, near the locker room -- "the cave," as he puts it -- where men have to be confident and arrogant if they're going to be the best of the best. It is a cutthroat, brutal business, trying to become a champion in the NBA. It requires hard hearts and tough decisions, and only those that remain standing at the end realize how difficult and taxing it is to win a ring just once.
For years, Riley had dreamed about the possibilities of what could happen on South Beach. Of what would happen if LeBron came calling, brought a big man with him and if Riles could convince Dwyane Wade to take two seasons' worth of butt-whippings, then step aside as That Dude in town.
Now was the payoff, the title secured, the one that made Riley an NBA immortal, with titles as a player, a coach and, now, an executive. No one else -- not Bill Russell, not Red Auerbach, not Jerry West, not Phil Jackson, not K.C. Jones, not Magic Johnson or Larry Bird or Isiah Thomas or Michael Jordan -- has that trifecta.
Near the cave stood other dreamers, like Lynn Merritt, the Nike executive and James confidant. Like William "Worldwide Wes" Wesley, the Godfather to so many players and coaches and anyone else of importance in the pro and college games. Like Maverick Carter, James' closest friend, former high school teammate and head of his marketing company, and Leon Rose, James' CAA agent.
These were the true movers and shakers, the guys that had gotten James from Cleveland to Miami, that had changed the NBA forever, sent it spinning crazily on a new axis, the one where players formed teams, rather than the old way, whether you liked it or not.
"Lynn!," Riley said, embracing Merritt, and soon after Riley stepped into the cave, here came the Heat players, fresh off the podium.
"What they gonna say about the Miami Heat now?!," yelled Mario Chalmers.
"It's about to go down!," yelled Wade.
And here came James, holding the MVP trophy, beaming from ear to ear. Upon seeing Merritt, Worldwide Wes, Carter and Rose, he let out a primal scream and leapt into their arms, a group embrace that was as much an expression of relief as joy. They had finally conquered the demons that had made him timid and unsure when it mattered most, and they had beaten a team that looked unbeatable as it tore through the Western Conference.
Riley, like Jean-Luc Picard, had ordered it to be so, and it was so.
Riley is 67 now, and only capable of occasional forays back to the persona he used to carry. He is done with coaching, no matter the occasional rumors that he was lining himself up to replace his protégé, Erik Spoelstra. He has an artificial hip and a rough knee, and he's been shaken, it is noted quietly, as several close friends and colleagues have passed away in recent years.
He is still competitive as ever. But he understands now that the man he was rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
"In between credit and criticism is fame," Riley had said earlier in the week, when he accepted the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award from the NBA Coaches Association. I'd asked him what he would say to the Pat Riley that guaranteed a Lakers repeat title in 1988, to the disgust of his players, who'd just dispatched the proud Celtics days earlier in the '87 Finals.
"What happens with fame, comes position and power," Riley continued. "And when you try to get too much position, too much power, then you say stupid things like I said in 1988."
Back then, he competed fiercely against Daly, who dressed just as well and who generated undying loyalty from his players. Riley often clashed with his. Now, Riley makes sure that every reporter who covered the news conference last week had a laminated copy of Daly's favorite Irish Blessing, which he'd heard at Daly's funeral in 2009, to take with him or her.
But Riley's omerta still permeates every corner of the organization he's had control of for almost two decades now. Even though he's no longer directly in charge of the money -- he is an employee now, having sold his shares in the team a few years ago, now reporting to owner Micky Arison's son, Nick -- his fingerprints are still all over the place.
"You can feel his aura throughout the whole organization," forward Shane Battier said. "This is a culture of winning, not a culture of excuses. That's Pat Riley in a nutshell."
His coach, Spoelstra, is a Riley clone in every way, using the same kind of hoary clichés -- "identity" and "noise" and "it's part of our DNA" -- as his boss used as a coach, day after day, month after month, until the players are so worn down that they start mouthing them, too. They are Stepford Ballers ... except, they believed them and acted upon them, as Spoelstra's team did this season.
Riley not only gambled that he could deliver James and Chris Bosh, and keep Wade, but he banked on Spoelstra to be the right coach for a team of superstars. Spoelstra, who'd started in the video room 17 years ago, quickly worked his way up to assistant coach for Riley, along with Stan Van Gundy.
The last day of that first regular season, in 1995, Spoelstra had to prepare for five different possible first-round playoff opponents. The prep staff was up 73 straight hours. The video guy, Pat Delaney, now a Heat scout, was so exhausted he fell asleep in the middle of a sentence. But they're all still around.
"I don't think I really envisioned this when I started working in the video room for Pat 17 years ago," Spoelstra said about an hour after the sticky Gatorade bath he'd gotten in the final seconds of Miami's Game 5 win.
"You have to be lucky in this business," he said. "It's a special organization. It's no coincidence that there are many of us who have been working here 17 years, when Micky took over the team. He really believes in loyalty. And when you say a family atmosphere, the Miami Heat, we really live that atmosphere."
It is not exaggeration to state that every time the Heat lost a playoff game, there was someone writing, Tweeting or barking on the Worldwide Leader that Spoelstra was not, to use another of his clichés, built for this.
"I got on Twitter after Game 1 (of the Finals). And I shouldn't have," Micky Arison said in the delirious, champagne-soaked Heat locker room Thursday. "And it was all, 'Fire this' and 'Trade that.' And, 'You need to hire Doc Rivers.' And I'm thinking, Erik has beaten Doc two straight years (in the playoffs)! And Doc is outcoaching Erik? And I love Doc Rivers. I didn't respond to any of them."
It is now seven times for Riley, who'd taken that 2006 championship team apart, piece by piece, leaving only Wade and Udonis Haslem on the roster. He scanned the free-agent markets of 2008 and '09, found them wanting, and schemed for 2010, when he could bag the elephant.
The Heat would compete in '08 and '09, making the playoffs, but everyone knew what Miami was doing, and the gamble was enormous. If Riley didn't deliver James and Bosh, there was every chance that Wade would walk that summer as well, going back home to Chicago, which had its own millions it was ready to bestow upon its native son.
But when James and Bosh agreed to come to Miami to join Wade, no one knew the rain of scorn that would come down upon all of them. They had brought much of it upon themselves, with that insipid welcoming celebration just hours after The Decision, with James saying he'd come to Miami to win multiple titles ("not one...not two...not three...").
It is true, as Heat people point out, that there had been a similar kind of welcome parade in 2004, after the Heat traded for Shaquille O'Neal. But Shaq was traded to Miami; he didn't bolt L.A. in free agency as he did Orlando (and have you asked anyone in Orlando lately what they thought of that?). And, generally (outside of Orlando, anyway), Shaq is beloved, while James was cursed and hounded, his jerseys burned in the streets of Cleveland.
The Heat's collapse against Dallas in the 2011 Finals delighted ... just about everybody. It was an epic, disastrous fall. And, yet, Riley did next to nothing in the offseason. He didn't trade away assets like Mike Miller or Chambers. He didn't fire Spoelstra. He didn't panic.
"It was especially tough for us, because we felt that we had enough to win last year," Bosh said last week. "We gave up large leads, and we were playing a very good team, a very resilient team, and they beat us. To come that far, especially with what we went through, individually and as a team, it was a very difficult pill to swallow. But it made us stronger as a group. It made us stronger as a unit. I know I got a lot stronger individually. And the fact that we survived that, I guess you don't really don't know unless you really go through it yourself."
But the loss, combined with the lockout, gave Miami a chance to take a long, hard look at itself. The Heat had to get its best five players on the court, so that meant Bosh had to move from power forward to center, despite his protestations.
It meant Battier would have to guard some power forwards, despite giving up 30 pounds. (Battier only picked the Heat because Miami, unlike Oklahoma City and San Antonio, his other suitors, offered a three-year contract. The others only offered a maximum of two years, and he didn't want to move his family for a year and then be in a situation where he could be traded in the last year of his deal.)
It meant Wade would have to occasionally stand, watch and like everybody else, play off of James. It meant Spoelstra had to let James and Wade run and take advantage of their devastating skills in transition.
But it meant James would have to change most of all. On offense, he had to get in the low post and stay there. He had to get comfortable there, as the Cavaliers had begged him to do for years without success. And on defense, it meant James would have to guard everybody. Otherwise, Battier couldn't stay on the court long enough.
A player of James' power could have said no to any of it, all of it, and the Heat would have had to suck it up. But something changed in James this year. Call it maturity, acceptance, being sick and tired of being sick and tired, as Fannie Lou Hamer once famously said. But James bought in, completely.
"It's a very connected group," Spoelstra said. "It's a special group. Guys had to sacrifice. Other than our Draft picks, everybody had to sacrifice something -- either financially, or minutes, or opportunities, or shots -- to be a part of this. And had to go through everything that we did. Even our new guys, they inherited our pain from last year."
The new formula worked -- as long as none of the Big Three suffered any serious injuries. When Bosh went down with a pulled stomach muscle in Game 1 of the Indiana series, the Heat's inability to add quality big-man depth in either of the last two summers -- the direct result of signing James and Bosh and re-signing Wade -- took Miami to the brink. Only otherworldly performances from James (40 points, 18 rebounds, 9 assists) and Wade (30 points) in Game 4 saved them, just as James' incandescent Game 6 in Boston kept the Heat living another day against the Celtics.
The 30-year-old Wade has shown that his high-flying days may be behind him. In the last five years, his free-throw attempts have fallen from 10.5 per game in the 2006 title season to 6.1 this season. Part of that is due to James' presence. But Wade's knees have been barking all season, and knees don't magically get better with age.
This is why winning a title was central to Riley's plans. He will have to convince more veterans to take minimum or near-minimum salaries on short contracts over the next several seasons to have a team deep enough to keep the party going. Without the validation of a ring, it would be much harder to convince vets like Miller to take a decreasing mid-level exception in future years.
The rules of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement are dynasty-crushers, designed precisely to keep teams like Miami from being able to hoard players who would be starters on most other teams as reserves. And while Commissioner David Stern insists Miami is not a major-market team in terms of market size, that's a business definition. Very few others think of Miami as anything but a big-market franchise.
Can Miami repeat? Of course, as long as James' transformation is permanent, and Wade and Bosh stay healthy. But the key to their staying healthy will likely be Riley's ability to convince a few more veterans like Battier to take less money and join the party. The smartest salary cap guy on earth, Heat senior vice president Andy Elisburg, has to figure out still more ways to massage the new cap.
The Lakers changed their ways, giving Lamar Odom away to a rival to save money. That rival, the Mavericks, didn't even try to re-sign the heart of its championship defense, center Tyson Chandler -- the player Dirk Nowitzki called the best teammate he'd ever played with. Everyone is scared to death of the exponentially increasing luxury tax, which will kick in next season and likely slice payrolls the way General Grievous tried to chop up the young Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith.
"There's more than one way to skin a cat," Riley said last week, and his sales pitch likely is as sharp as ever. The man we knew as Riles may be gone, his hubris gone. But Pat Riley is still here, front and center -- philosophically, if not always physically -- a man among men, and that means the Heat are likely poised for a long, long run on center stage, bad hips and knees be damned.
Highly regarded Dunlap faces challenge in Charlotte
Meanwhile, at the other end of NBA Earth, the Charlotte Bobcats got about the business of trying to put an NBA product on the court again. The first move was an out-of-the-box one, hiring St. John's assistant coach Mike Dunlap as their new coach.
The Bobcats seemingly interviewed every coach in North America over the past month, culling their list down to a few finalists, including former Blazers coach Nate McMillan, former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw and Lakers assistant coach Quin Snyder. Each had the gravitas to win any news conference and could have given owner Michael Jordan some cover as he attempts to rebuild a franchise that has shattered on his watch.
But Charlotte didn't go with any of the more well-known guys. It went with Dunlap, a basketball lifer who spent a decade coaching Division II Metropolitan State College in Denver, winning two Division II championships, before a two-year stint on the Nuggets' bench as an assistant under George Karl. One-year runs as an assistant at Arizona -- where he had a major hand with the Wildcats after longtime coach Lute Olsen took a year-long leave of absence -- and at Oregon followed. Dunlap also took over at St. John's for much of this season when coach Steve Lavin had to leave to undergo treatment for prostate cancer.
The cynical view is that the 54-year-old Dunlap was the best coach Jordan could afford. Neither McMillan, Sloan, Shaw nor Snyder was going to come to town and take all those Ls over the next few years for a pittance. Maybe there's some truth there.
But Dunlap didn't win "So You Think You Can Coach?" either.
He interviewed with Chicago in 2008 for the Bulls' coaching job. He worked at USC as an assistant with George Raveling, and he has friends and admirers throughout the coaching community. That he is not a household name is neither his fault, nor is being well-known his intention. Being a coach in the NBA is like commanding a Space Shuttle; we won't know if Dunlap can do it until he has to do it. But he has serious coaching chops.
"Of all the people I've hung around with, the two people I've said are the cleverest, smartest guys that know the game of basketball are Del Harris and Mike Dunlap," Karl said by telephone last week. "He's so much more sophisticated than I am, it's unbelievable. I have my own thoughts, but from the standpoint of 2 plus 2 equals -- and it's not four, in the NBA -- I think Mike is ready for that."
Karl compared the hire to that of Jeff Bzdelik, who was his predecessor in Denver. Bzdelik, now the coach at Wake Forest, wasn't a household name when he was hired by Denver in 2002, having spent much of the last decade as Pat Riley's assistant in Miami. But in his second season in Denver, helped by then-rookie Carmelo Anthony, Bzdelik took the Nuggets from 17 wins to 43 wins and a playoff berth.
"He's moving into an incredibly difficult job," Karl said of Dunlap. "And, to be honest, I don't know if I could pick the guy who's going to be successful in that job. If I could pick anybody in the league, I don't know who would be successful the fastest. You've got to change the culture. You've got to demand some commitment ...
"His intensity and his discipline, he's not scared of what he's going to go through. He's not scared of all the losses he's going to have or the nights where his team isn't playing well; he's thinking about what he can do. He's a very talented coach and a very talented brain ... is he going to be successful? I can't answer that. But I like the karma of the move."
Dunlap's reputation is that of a no-nonsense guy who will make sure his players are physically prepared.
"He'd have us outside on the football arena stairs at 5:30 in the morning. He wanted us to win, wanted to make sure we were in shape," recalled Lakers forward Jordan Hill, who played for Dunlap at Arizona, on Sunday.
"He definitely was a great coach," Hill said. "He focused on reading defenses of the other teams and what he could do to a play to help us get the basket. He was the coach who never talked, but was working behind the scenes."
The Bobcats were impressed by Dunlap's abilities to lead and communicate, as well as his teaching and player development skills. No matter who Charlotte takes in the Draft, Dunlap has a long, slow slog ahead of him. This is a multi-year project, especially after the Bobcats were passed by New Orleans and lost the chance to take Kentucky's Anthony Davis.
And that's where there are some concerns about Dunlap's demeanor. No-nonsense can quickly morph into "abrasive" and "churlish" if a team is losing on the regular and its coach isn't sensitive about when to back off. Dunlap will have to match his passion for the game and relentless pursuit of improvement with creativity.
St. John's forward Moe Harkless, expected to be one of the top picks in the first round after declaring he'd go pro, told Newsday last week that Dunlap was "two completely different people" depending on whether he was coaching or not.
"In practice, he's hard, a perfectionist," Harkless said to the paper. "We need that. Off the court, he's a nice guy. If you ever need anything, he'll help you out."
Hill concurred on Sunday, saying he was in Dunlap's office all the time, talking about life and anything else outside of basketball.
"I like him," Hill said. "I love him as a coach. If the team just buckles down and pays attention and does everything straight, it can be a good season, especially with a high Draft pick. I think he can pull it off."
With his various experiences in college and the pros, Dunlap won't be afraid to experiment at either end of the floor. His expertise is defense, and the Bobcats' roster at the moment seems tailor-made for as much zone defense as its players can absorb. Charlotte was 26th in the league in points allowed last season and 29th in rebound differential, getting outrebounded by more than six boards per game. Only Golden State was worse.
"We talked about going to more matchup zone when we had Marcus (Camby)," Karl said. "I just had trouble teaching it. It's just different angles and I couldn't go to it. I could see matchup (zones). I could see 2-2-1. He might experiment a little bit. Offensively I think he has a belief that fast is better, but also I think he'll play fast because players need more possessions to make more decisions to become better players."
He is described as a workaholic and workout freak -- he once ran a 100-mile race in less than a day. He will have to be in top shape in all areas -- physically, emotionally, intellectually -- to be ready for the onslaught that's about to come his way.
Even a small-market, losing franchise like Charlotte has tens of thousands of fans, each one of which thinks he or she can coach the team better than whoever is on the bench. Every city seemingly has a "Morning Zoo" radio show with the local columnist waxing rhapsodic on what a lousy job the coach is doing. This is what Dunlap couldn't learn by doing anything other than being an NBA coach.
"I don't think he understands how crazy the zoo is," Karl said. "You put him on a five-game losing streak, he might have youthful moments. Don't we all?"
(Last week's rankings in parenthesis)
1) Miami (1) [2-0]: They are the Champions, my friends.
2) Oklahoma City (2) [0-2]: GM Sam Presti calls Phil Jackson-Jeff Van Gundy replacement talks for Scott Brooks "rubbish" on Sunday. Which they are. Unless it happens. And then, it wouldn't be.
3) San Antonio (3): Season complete.
4) Boston (4): Season complete.
5) Indiana (5): Season complete.
6) L.A. Lakers (6): Season complete. Jim Buss insists Pau Gasol isn't going anywhere. I want to believe him. I want to believe that climate change isn't real, either. Convince me.
7) Philadelphia (7): Season complete.
8) L.A. Clippers (8): Season complete.
9) Memphis (9): Season complete.
10) Atlanta (10): Season complete. Can confirm ESPN report late Sunday that the Hawks have offered Danny Ferry a six-year deal, but money, as ever, could complicate the deal.
11) Denver (11): Season complete.
12) New York (12): Season complete.
13) Orlando (13): Season complete. Sad to see assistant GM Dave Twardzik was let go along with several scouts over the weekend by new GM Rob Hennigan, who has every right to bring in whoever he likes. But Twardzik was a hard worker and a genuinely good guy.
14) Chicago (14): Season complete.
Miami (2-0 and NBA Champions): The Heat's Game 5 win over Oklahoma City was as complete a team performance as you will ever, ever seen on such a big stage, reminiscent of Boston's Game 6 and Finals-clinching KO of the Lakers in '08. It was beautiful to watch, Miami's spacing, the ball moving from side to side until it found a wide-open shooter, who'd moved exactly where he needed to be.
Oklahoma City (0-2): They will not want to hear this today in OKC, I'm sure, but the Thunder was exposed just as almost every first-time team in The Finals is, when it couldn't do what it had done all year because the other team didn't allow it to. That's when you have to rely on what has come before, what you've experienced, and the Thunder didn't have that reservoir to dip into the way Miami did. Now OKC does. No one can predict the future; injuries and contracts and trades make everything different. But I'd bet a buck or two that we'll see these guys playing in June again very, very soon.
1) LeBron James (Finals averages): 28.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 7.4 apg, .472 FG, .826 FT: Here he is, fully formed, comfortable in his own skin and on the basketball court, and now that he's figured out how to dominate and win a title, the rest of the NBA should be afraid, very afraid.
2) Kevin Durant (Finals averages): 30.6 ppg, 6 rpg, 2.2 apg, .548 FG, .839 FT: If you weren't moved by the image of Durant collapsing in the arms of his brother and mom just after the Heat's Finals clinching win Thursday, seriously, what's wrong with you?
3) Tony Parker (playoff averages): 20.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 6.8 apg, .453 FG, .807 FT: Season Complete. Parker filed a $20 million lawsuit against a New York City nightclub last week, where he was involved in a scuffle that resulted in his suffering a scratched retina. Parker was at the club with his friend, the singer Chris Brown, when Brown got in an altercation with members of the entourage of rap artist Drake. Parker reportedly was hit in the face with a bottle during the fight, though he said immediately after the incident that he would be able to play for France in the Olympics in July.
4) Rajon Rondo (playoff averages): 17.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 11.9 apg, .468 FG, .696 FT: Season Complete.
5) Kevin Garnett (playoff averages): 19.2 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg, .497 FG, .813 FT: Season Complete. Reportedly contemplating whether to retire or return to the Cs for one more run.
Yes, Anthony Davis is going first in Thursday's NBA Draft. But, what happens next?
The usual caveats must be applied liberally here. It's the week of the Draft. Everyone you know that doesn't have your last name is lying, and you might want to check out the story of your sibling or parent. Teams that want players to slip pass along salacious rumors about them; teams looking to move up in the first round tell anyone listening how bad this Draft is and how there are no good players in it.
The "experts" on their 15th Mock Draft still manage to get 80 percent of their picks wrong. (I know. I will be joining them before Thursday. Sigh.) How do you know what Orlando is going to do in the Draft when you don't know when they'll trade Dwight Howard, or for what, or who the new coach will be? Rob Hennigan, the new GM, just fired everybody who'd been doing all the scouting for Orlando, while he was in Oklahoma City.
However, there are a few things we know. Sort of.
There is near-unanimity that Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger's back problems have him slipping, though he will still go somewhere in the first round. There is a consensus building that the Bobcats, who currently have the second pick, will play it safe and take Kansas forward Thomas Robinson. A 7-59 team needs everything, and Robinson will fill the power forward spot just fine. Michael Jordan cannot afford another Draft-night whiff.
At No. 3, according to league sources, the Wizards are likely to take either Florida guard Bradley Beal or North Carolina swingman Harrison Barnes. They still like Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but it seems less likely they'd go for a small forward after acquiring Trevor Ariza from New Orleans [see below]. And Kidd-Gilchrist's struggles to shoot wouldn't fit in with the Wizards' crying need for increased perimeter scoring. While many scouts around the league think Barnes will struggle at the two guard spot, Washington thinks he could play the position.
The Cavaliers, currently picking No. 4, are trying to do what they accomplished last season, when they got an extra first-round pick from the Clippers for Mo Williams that turned into the No. 1 overall pick, eventual Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving. With its own first-rounder (the No. 4 pick), Cleveland took forward Tristan Thompson.
And league sources said this weekend that the Cavs were actively trying to get another top-five pick to go with their own fourth overall selection, using the 24th pick overall and center Anderson Varejao as trade bait. So far, neither Charlotte, Washington nor Sacramento (fifth) have had any interest, according to sources.
Cleveland, at No. 4, would seem to have its pick of whatever wing player the Wizards don't take -- Beal, Barnes or Kidd-Gilchrist. Barnes and Kidd-Gilchrist would each be especially difficult to pass on. Barnes is Cavs guard Kyrie Irving's best friend, and has the same agent. Kidd-Gilchrist was Irving's high school teammate in New Jersey at St. Patrick's High School. With Antawn Jamison leaving, the need for a three is acute.
Sacramento would seem to have a need for a point guard at No. 5, and Damian Lillard, the Weber State point who has become the top point guard prospect, shot very well at his workout for the Kings over the weekend. But Isaiah Thomas' emergence last season as a rookie has quelled some of the angst within the organization about that position. The Kings don't appear to be so enamored with any of the top prospects that they'd be willing to move up to No. 2 and take Charlotte's pick, along with Tyrus Thomas' hefty contract.
But the Kings could also be looking at a two guard, and that would give them several solid options. If Barnes were to slip to five, he'd be a perfectly solid choice. So would Harkless, who was scheduled to work out in Sacramento Monday.
But Syracuse's Dion Waiters is coming on like a freight train, with sources insistent that he'll be gone somewhere between No. 6 (Portland) and No. 8 (Toronto) after earlier rumors had Phoenix making a promise to take Waiters at 13. The Kings could shake loose a few additional assets if they let it be known they're looking hard at Waiters, whose offensive skills continue to have NBA types drooling.
"His talent, it's exceptional," one scout said Saturday. "There's no guard in the Draft that can do what he does."
Portland could go in any direction. League sources maintain the Blazers are shopping the second of their two first-rounders, the 11th pick overall, in search of young assets in return. But at six, the Blazers have needs across the board. Lillard would make an awful lot of sense here if he's not taken by Sacramento, but the Blazers, who still need to replace the retired Brandon Roy, might not be able to pass on Waiters.
At No. 7, with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson set in the backcourt, the Warriors are more likely committed to taking a frontcourt player rather than Waiters. But whether that's Harkless (who worked out for the Warriors Sunday) or mercurial Connecticut freshman center Andre Drummond or someone else is up for grabs. With the oft-injured Andrew Bogut coming off yet another surgery, a center would not be a reach here. Both the Warriors and Raptors have also been rumored as being interested in acquiring Bulls forward Luol Deng, who has two years and $27.6 million left on his deal.
Much was made this weekend about Toronto having scouts in Houston, where Great Britain's Olympic team is having a training camp in advance of the Games next month -- and where Deng, who is playing for England in the Games, is working out.
But the Raptors insist they were there to watch Jonas Valanciunas, their first-round pick from 2011 who is expected to come to the NBA this season. He was playing for the Lithuanian national team that scrimmaged England Sunday. Another member of the Lithuanian team is Linas Kleiza, the Raptors' forward, who was also getting a look-see.
"There is nothing there with Deng," a Raptors source texted Sunday night.
Believe what you will. It's four days before the Draft.
Toronto also supposedly has a jones for Waiters, with sources saying that Coach Dwane Casey wants an "alpha male" for his still-young squad.
At No. 9, many around the league believe Detroit is locked into taking a big man, with North Carolina forward John Henson the pick of most. He'd be a perfect fit with center Greg Monroe, with his shot-blocking and defense a good compliment to Monroe's passing and scoring.
That brings us back to the Hornets, with the 10th pick. There's no reason that New Orleans couldn't go big-big, with a center prospect like North Carolina's Tyler Zeller a safe selection that would provide depth with Gustavo Ayon in the middle next season. (Incumbent center Chris Kaman is so, so out of there.) But there's a school of thought that says with Davis in tow at one, the Hornets may go for a guard at 10.
The next wing off the board is a photo finish at the moment, league sources say, between Connecticut sophomore Jeremy Lamb and Duke freshman Austin Rivers. There had been some whispers over the weekend that Lamb, who hadn't worked out for teams since suffering an ankle sprain in Toronto earlier this month had a shoulder issue; his right shoulder had popped out once in high school. But a thorough vetting by the league's doctors, according to a source close to Lamb, gave Lamb the thumbs -- or shoulders -- up. He will have to strengthen the shoulder and keep working at it throughout his career, but he will not require surgery.
Lamb worked out in Phoenix over the weekend and is scheduled to be in Portland on Monday. Rivers, however, is moving up fast.
If Portland still has its No. 11 pick, it's hard to see the Blazers going for another guard if they've used the No. 6 pick to fill that need. With several solid big men available here -- either Henson or Zeller or Illinois sophomore Meyers Leonard -- the Blazers almost have to take someone big to begin the post-Oden era.
At No. 12, Milwaukee is also believed to be looking big, having had to play Drew Gooden in the hole down the stretch last season after the Bogut trade. The Suns, who supposedly promised Waiters they'd take him at 13, now likely have to figure out a way to trade up in order to get him. Houston has No. 14 and 16 and would love to move up in order to take a difference-maker.
At No. 15, the Sixers would seemingly be in the market for a guard, with leading scorer Lou Williams opting out of his deal and becoming an unrestricted free agent next Sunday. But word is that Philly may be choking on the contract demands of starting center Spencer Hawes as well (you hear numbers like $8 million a year being thrown around), and may have to go big in case it can't come to terms with the 7-footer.
Outside of the lottery teams, the most intriguing questions involve just who has supposedly made a promise to Iowa State big man Royce White, whose stock is climbing rapidly in the final days. Several reports say the Celtics, who have the 21st and 22nd picks, took the pledge. But a source insisted Sunday night that not only did Boston not make a pledge to White, it couldn't even get him in last week for a workout.
If that's true, Minnesota, at 18, would be a likely destination for White, unless you actually think the Wolves are really committed to Michael Beasley long-term. White played for Fred Hoiberg, the Wolves' former player and assistant GM who is now the coach at Iowa State. Plus, White was born and raised in Minneapolis and originally signed with the University of Minnesota but never played a game there. He can flat-out play, and is potentially another talented big to pair with All-Star Kevin Love and Derrick Williams.
Utah, which lost its hold on the seventh pick, is trying hard to use its tradeable assets -- a glut of power forwards -- to move into the top 10 and take a guard, according to sources. It's believed third-year power forward Derrick Favors is the only one of the Jazz big men that is completely off the table.
Sources: Mitt Romney contemplating Phil for Vice President; Kelly contemplating Phil for new co-host of "Live with Phil and Kelly;" NBC considering going to "all-Phil" lineup on Tuesday nights. From Daniel Hernandez:
...I keep hearing and reading about this situation with Scott Brooks and his contract. I hope he gets re-sign and get the long term deal he is looking for. But in case he doesn't get re-sign, where would The Thunder go for a coach?? What are the chance that they will find a coach who can right away win the respect of Durant, Westbrook, Harden etc..? What coaches are out there that would be the best fit for The Thunder? And my last questions, would this be a situation that would bring Phil Jackson out of retirement?
ESPN's Marc Stein reported Friday that the Thunder was indeed contemplating the Zen Master, or ABC/ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy, if talks with Brooks fall apart. OKC's thoughts on Brooks, I'm told, are that while management understands the central role has played in developing the likes of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the other members of the team's core, there remains a question of whether Brooks is the guy who can drive that group over the top to a title. On the surface, it's not an unreasonable question, given the paucity of coaches who have actually won titles the last two or three decades. On the other hand, it's unlikely in the extreme that players as offensive-minded as Durantula and Westbrook would be all that eager to settle into the triangle. They made the Finals playing their way -- up tempo, shooting from all over.
Not on the Davis Bandwagon. From Malhar Oza:
Hey David, I'm a big fan of the Morning Tip and generally tend to agree with much of your insight. I like to think I'm a bit of a Draft junkie and generally agree with most consensus picks although this year I'm going to have to disagree on the Anthony Davis pick. I definitely see him as a top 3 talent, but as the overall No. 1 pick, I disagree. I question his status as a franchise player. I definitely see the skill there on the defensive side of the ball, but his offense and overall physique seem to be in the opposite mold of a PF or C in the NBA.
I understand he was a 6-foot-5 guard in high school, but I still feel his jumper as a bit flat and inconsistent. He has no proper post moves, let alone the size to play in the post. Now players with such physiques have excelled in the league (e.g. Kevin Garnett) but I just don't see that happening with Davis. Look at Hasheem Thabeet: same physique, same defense. I feel Thomas Robinson falls more into the category of franchise player with his extreme athleticism and motor although his jumper is still inconsistent and can be a bit wild on the defensive side. I just can't see Davis able to bang with the big guys of the NBA and even if he adds a few pounds his physique suggests he isn't going to be the next Dwight Howard. What's your take?
Have to disagree with your disagreeing, Malhar. Davis' defensive instincts and timing are as good as any young big man I've seen in the last 10 years, and that's why he's going No. 1. He's light years more active than Thabeet, who was an area rebounder and shot blocker. You're right; Davis won't be a great on-ball post defender right away until he gets stronger, and there will be nights where he gets in foul trouble because he'll give away some pounds in the paint, and because people will challenge him. But eventually, he'll be a dominant presence. And he's much better offensively than he showed at Kentucky. Nothing against Robinson or any of the others, but Davis is the clear choice with the first pick this season.
The Knicks' Needs, Noted. From Pablo J. Martinez, Jr.:
What position do they really need help with and who could they possibly get with the 48th pick?
At that point of the Draft, Pablo, you're not expecting to get a starter or even a regular rotation guy. With their uncertainty at the point, the Knicks could be looking at a guy like a Dee Bost from Mississippi State, who could still be on the board by then. Or, a pure shooter like Kentucky's two guard Doron Lamb could be intriguing, though I don't think he'll be there then.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and things for me to do and watch now that there's no more NBA hoop until the Vegas Summer League to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your response is sufficiently thoughtful, funny, interesting or snarky, we just might publish it!
1 -- NBA titles for members of Michigan's "Fab Five" after Juwan Howard finally broke through after 18 NBA seasons to capture the first ring for the former college stars as a reserve for the Heat.
43.8 -- Average household rating in Oklahoma City for the Finals broadcasts on ABC, the highest of any local market in the country, followed by Miami's 33.1 rating.
$75,000 -- Reported cost of a 15-liter bottle of "Ace of Spades" champagne, which LeBron James was reportedly downing at the LIV nightclub in Miami after the Heat's triumph over Oklahoma City.
1) Two things have dominated the NBA consciousness for the last three years -- LeBron James and the effects of an impending lockout. While many were rightly appalled by The Decision, as Jeff Van Gundy said during Miami's series with Boston, there's a statute of limitations on stupidity. The hatred toward James has been at times poisonous, irrational, outsized toward a person who, after all, was just moving. Finally, James has fulfilled the destiny we all expected he would when he first burst onto the national scene as a junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary's High School in Akron.
Likewise, the lockout sucked all the air out of the proverbial building, with the NBA insisting the league would collapse like an imploded Vegas casino if it didn't get major salary reductions from players and if the league's richest owners didn't start contributing more to the poorer ones. Well, we now have a 10-year collective bargaining agreement with 12 percent cuts in salary along with enhanced revenue sharing, and the Commish himself says there are no more excuses for teams not to be able to better compete, no matter where they are.
"This is about, here's extra money," the Commish said a couple of months ago. "Here's one through 30. And, by the way, it's not about small markets versus large markets. San Antonio, Utah, Portland, Oklahoma City, all ranging between probably 90 percent and 100 percent sold out. Of course, they're limited to their TV deals because of market size and households, and that's where the revenue sharing should help. But if you are in a market, and over years you consistently underperform the market, then you're going to have to look in the mirror."
Now, can we all please find something else to talk about?
2) You will be back, Oklahoma City. Look forward to the next trip to Chesapeake Energy Arena, with the loudest NBA crowds since the Bulls' glory days at the old Chicago Stadium, and all the truly decent, good people I met over the last two weeks who call OKC home. You should be proud -- and your team should be incredibly motivated. Anything can happen in the blink of a torn ACL, of course, but the Thunder should be playing on the big stage for years to come.
2A) Especially if James Harden really means what he said on Saturday to the Oklahoman.
2B) And, bring back this guy. He becomes a free agent on Sunday. He will not be looking back at that point, only forward.
3) Arbitrator Kenneth Dam may have done more for the Knicks in one ruling Friday than Glen Grunwald or Mike Woodson will do all summer. Assuming the NBA loses its appeal, the Knicks will be able to exceed the cap to re-sign both Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak while preserving their remaining cap exceptions.
4) As Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports noted Friday, Kentucky's win in the NCAAs, combined with LeBron's triumph in the NBA, equals a pretty good basketball season for Worldwide Wes, who is also Kentucky Coach John Calipari's agent.
5) Happy Anniversary, Title IX. The net positives far outweigh the negatives, and before you ask, no, I don't have a daughter. But helping women empower themselves physically will help them be better citizens of the world, and create role models for young girls that men have taken for granted the last seven or eight decades. That's a good thing for all of us. Anybody who watched any of the various U.S. Olympic Trials over the weekend had first-hand evidence of what Title IX has meant to women's athletics across the board.
1) Weak sauce, Dan Gilbert. Weak. You had every right to gloat last year when you Tweeted your delight at LeBron James' failures in the Finals. Now you need to man up and congratulate him. He acknowledged he didn't handle things well after the playoffs last year; you need to acknowledge he did this year, and especially considering he destroyed your "guarantee" that the Cavaliers would win an NBA title before he did.
2) Put me down as "meh" on the Wizards-Hornets trade. New Orleans cleared a bunch of cap space by dealing Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza to D.C. for Rashard Lewis, who they'll buy out for the $13.7 million guaranteed on his $22 million due next season. And they can use the savings to try and re-sign restricted free agent guard Eric Gordon.
"Gordon is a priority," GM Dell Demps said at the Chicago Pre-Draft camp earlier this month. And, New Orleans will have ridiculous cap space in the summer of 2013 without having to pay the last years of Okafor's and and Ariza's deals, at $13.4 million and $7.25 million, respectively, along with the expiration of Jarrett Jack's contract at $5.4 million. (I am assuming that the Bugs will not re-sign center Chris Kaman, an unrestricted free agent this summer.)
But cap room only matters if you're going to use it, and if new owner Tom Benson is balking on paying Drew Brees -- who was one of the first public figures on the ground in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, worked tirelessly in the neighborhoods of the city to restore people's faith and eventually won a Super Bowl -- I'm not certain I have confidence he'll open the checkbook wide to sign NBA free agents.
As far as the Wizards, I'm not as down on this deal as others. I don't have a major problem with the $22 million apiece in contracts for Okafor and Ariza over the next two years; bad teams can either trade for bad contracts, or overpay for good but not great free agents, and it's the latter that gets teams in cap jail more often. The gamble is that the 2013-14 season is now out of play for Washington in terms of free agency activity unless Okafor and Ariza exercise Early Termination Options each has for the final year of his contract, which is highly unlikely. And they'll both be good locker room guys for a team that was swimming in knuckleheadness the past few seasons.
But I kept hearing at the end of this past season that the condition of Okafor's knee, which kept him out the last couple of months of play, would be quite worrisome going forward in his career. And while Ariza got a ring playing an important role for the Lakers in their drive to the 2009 title, since then he's been traded to the Rockets (in essence, exchanged for Ron Artest, who signed a free-agent deal in L.A.), lasted just one season in Houston and was dispatched by the Hornets. Nor do I buy the idea that the Wiz are going to be as successful as Indiana and Memphis were the last couple of years putting together a deep team of good players; Washington doesn't have anyone as good as, say, Rudy Gay or Danny Granger on its roster. Nene is not as promising a center at this stage of his career as Marc Gasol or Roy Hibbert are in theirs.
This wasn't a bad trade for either team; I understand why each did it. But it's not a game-changer, either.
3) Goodbye, Jerry Sandusky. The outside world will be a better place without you in it. And may all of those young men whose lives were ruined by your sickness and violence find some measure of peace and solace.
4) LeRoy Neiman's art was unique as he was, with his handlebar mustache. No one, it seemed, painted like he did (here, here, here and here), especially sports figures. Neiman, who died last week at 91, was more recognized for his paintings of Muhammad Ali than any other athlete, but he was a ubiquitous part of the total sports scene throughout the '70s and '80s, especially.
DRAFT PROSPECT BRADLEY BEAL
The University of Florida's freshman guard is expected to be one of the top four or five picks in Thursday's Draft, with Washington (currently picking at No. 3) and Cleveland (at No. 4) distinct possibilities. The 18-year-old (he will turn 19 on Draft night) averaged 14.8 points per game in his one season at Florida and was named first-team all SEC. Though he shot just 33 percent from 3-point range, pro scouts believe he'll be a prototypical two guard in the NBA, capable of catching and shooting as well as putting the ball on the floor.
Questions about his size were answered at the Chicago Pre-Draft camp earlier this month, when he measured out at 6-4 ¾ in shoes (again, do they play pro basketball games without shoes?). Given the Gators' recent track record of sending players to the pros, Beal's likely to have a major impact.
Me: What have you learned from this experience?
Bradley Beal: Basically, with all they've been telling me, they've been trying to get to know me a little bit personally. But the biggest thing they're looking for is my leadership, basically. I was pretty much a leader at Florida last year, and they want to know if I'm able to come in and lead a bunch of 30-year-olds, and see if I'm able or capable or willing to do that. So that's what they've been asking me, basically.
Me: How hard is it to open up to people?
BB: It's very hard, because at the same time, I'm a shy guy, so it's hard for me to talk already. It's really difficult, because there's other teams that you think won't draft you, but it's always a possibility. So you actually have to find it inside you to tell them everything that they want to hear.
Me: What's the craziest thing teams have asked?
BB: It hasn't been too many crazy ones, actually. They've all been, like, down to earth questions. It hasn't been too many philosophical ones yet.
Me: You put up good numbers at Florida, but there is a perception that maybe you deferred a little to the upperclassmen. Any truth in that?
BB: There is. There most definitely is. I admit it all the time. I had two great guards I was playing with already (senior Erving Walker and junior Kenny Boynton), and they had been already established there. I just tried to find my role and fit in as best as I could. Eventually, they ended up pushing me into more of a scoring role and being more involved in the offense. I think the coaches and the players did a good job of supporting me in that.
Me: When you're on a team with multiple NBA prospects, how do you go about trying to win games when guys are also trying to display their individual skills for pro scouts?
BB: It's kind of difficult, because you always want to showcase your talents and showcase what you think you're capable of doing, but at the same time you have to really just focus on the season and focus on what the team is doing to win instead of just your individual expectations.
Me: Is there any one of the top five or six teams that you really think is a good fit for you?
BB: It's a different scenario for all of them. I say that for just about every team that's considering me. And there's not really one team that sticks out for me.
Me: The comparison I hear most for you is Ray Allen. Do you embrace that comparison, or do you reject it?
BB: Kind of both. I don't like to limit myself to just being a Ray Allen-type person, because there's other things I can do on the floor besides just catch and shoot. I love the comparison. It's really a blessing and an honor just to be considered with him. I'm embracing it, but I'm rejecting it as well.
Me: If there was an NBA game tonight, what could you do to help your team win the game?
BB: Bring energy and passion and emotion, basically. And work hard and bring leadership on the floor, and do whatever it takes to win. There's other things you can do on the floor besides just score. You can rebound, play defense. So whatever it takes to win, I'm more than capable of doing.
Me: If I'm an owner looking to invest millions of dollars in an 18-year-old kid, why should I invest it in you?
BB: It's kind of hard, but I would say just based off of my work ethic. And my inner ability to be able to work hard. I want to win all the time. I'm a winner. I hate to lose. And I'm a team first guy. Whatever it takes to win, that's what I'm gonna do.
-- Metta World Peace (@MettaWorldPeace), Sunday, 12:14 a.m.
Now, I could go to the trouble of trying to find out who Metta was talking about and why he was unhappy with whatever it is they were saying -- presumably, about him -- but it's Metta World Peace we're talking about here. Inevitably, I'd wind up confused and angry that I used an hour of my life that I'll never get back chasing down his latest source of angst. So, that Tweet will just have to stand on its own. Sorry.
"We were eating with other people and there were times when we didn't hear a word from him. He sat there and listened. He seems to have a confidence and an edge about him that's different than this younger generation who wants to pound their chest all the time. He doesn't seem to have that, but I can tell there is something there that pushes him to want to be great."
-- Hornets coach Monty Williams, to the The Times-Picayune, after team officials took likely first pick overall Anthony Davis to dinner last week.
"I'm open to every team that has interest in me. I have to weigh it up with family, salary, environment, opportunity to win -- all these different factors that are in a big pot, and figure out what's best."
-- Suns free agent guard Steve Nash, to the Wall Street Journal, on his approach as he begins to decide whether to stay in Phoenix or finish his career elsewhere.
"My thesis was wrong. I thought we'd get a quick bounce just with some excitement about the stock. I was wrong, and when you're wrong you don't wait, you just get out. I took a beating and left."
-- Mavs owner Mark Cuban, in an interview with CNBC last week. Cuban bought 150,000 shares of Facebook stock when the social network behemoth went public in May, but quickly sold them when his investment went underwater.
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