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6 posts from June 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Heat might have won the draft. Here are the falling dominos that sent Justise Winslow to Miami.

For the first time in a year, a bit of good luck fell the way of the Miami Heat last night when Duke national champion Justise Winslow dropped to 10th in the draft. In a post-draft exercise that's way too early to even take seriously, many people are saying the Heat "won" the draft. About time something went the Heat's way, right?

How surprised was the Heat to see Winslow still on the board at 10? Pat Riley had never spoken with Winslow until moments before NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced the pick on national television. No pre-draft interviews between the Heat and Winslow; no pre-draft workouts in Miami. Riley, general manager Andy Elisburg and coach Erik Spoelstra didn't think Winslow would be around by the 10th pick, but a series of surprising decisions by other teams fell into place like dominoes for the Heat. Here's a look at some of those dominoes, but in reverse order...

"When you're picking 10, but you don't think this kid is even going to be close to you, isn't going to drop to you and he drops down, you get some palpitations," Riley said. "Micky [Arison] and Nick [Arison] started singing the Duke fight song, whatever it is. They're pretty excited with all the connections they have with Duke and that whole program we have great respect for."

So ... the Arisons celebrated the pick just like everyone else in Miami, by singing the Duke fight song. I kid, I kid...

Anyway, the Duke-Miami connection now lives on through Winslow. If you're counting at home, as many as three former Blue Devils could be in Heat uniforms next season (Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng are the others). I bring up all this Duke-ness because the team that picked directly ahead of the Heat in the draft, the Charlotte Hornets, actually do have a lot of fans that know the Duke fight song.

The Hornets passed on Winslow to draft Frank Kaminsky, the 7-foot shooter from Wisconsin. Duke, of course, defeated the Badgers with ease in the NCAA Tournament national champion game. If Kaminsky doesn't work out in Charlotte, and Winslow becomes a star, then a large chunk of Hornets fans will never let Michael Jordan forget about it.

Jordan, of course, played for North Carolina in college, so it's not completely ridiculous to wonder aloud whether or not Jordan passed on the kid from Duke for personal reasons. (Yes, and I'm fully aware that Charlotte is a Carolina town, so it just would never have worked out, and yada, yada yada.)

Of course, there's a much more boring explanation that's probably closer to the truth. It was reported before the draft that the Hornets would select Kaminsky if he was still available at nine. It's entirely possible that the Hornets front office was so excited that their guy was still on the board that they overlooked the obvious fact that a potentially better player was still available.

Many mock drafts had Winslow going in the top seven, so when the Pistons drafted another small forward, Stanley Johnson, at eight, the Heat's draft night war room got a little crazy. One after another teams called the Heat in the hopes of moving up in the draft for Winslow. The Heat had its man, though. The Arisons should send Jordan and Van Gundy some coupons for a free cruise just as a thank you.

So, we know why Jordan and the Hornets passed on Winslow, but why the Pistons? There has already been plenty of speculation on the Internet, but one reason might be that Stan Van Gundy thinks Stanley Johnson can start right away and Winslow needs a little more developing. Whatever the reason, the early general consensus (less than a day after the draft, so take it with a grain of salt, of course) is that the Heat got the player with more long-term potential.

Draftnik Chad Ford of ESPN.com on the Pistons taking Johnson over Winslow:

"Reasonable minds can differ on Johnson. I differ. I'm not sold that Johnson is anything more than a solid role player who uses his great body and toughness to provide some muscle. Meanwhile Winslow was sitting on the board. Winslow has a chance to be an All-Star. While Johnson looks the part, Winslow plays the part. He does all the little things that make a team great. I think the Pistons made a mistake on Thursday and, in the process, gave the Heat a major gift at 10."

At seven, the Denver Nuggets drafted Emmanuel Mudiay, a point guard. The Nuggets wanted a point guard and Mudiay might be ready to start as a rookie. Ty Lawson had some fun with the pick.

At six, the Kings drafted Kentucky big man Willie Cauley-Stein, who was high on the Heat's draft board.

Wonder who the Heat would take if given the choice, Cauley-Stein or Winslow? We'll probably never know. What's important is the Heat filled a major, immediate need on its roster while also landing a player who could turn into a two-way star.

"Justise is an incredible, very mature, young at 19, player that anybody that has watched him play can see that he's not only athletic, but he's a playmaker, a multiple position player," Riley said. "We had him very high on our board. We're very fortunate he got to us. If all these guys come back, he just adds to the depth we're going to have. He's a very mature guy who loves to work."

Oh, almost forgot...The first domino to fall for the Heat-Winslow connection, as Riley pointed out on Thursday night, was the Heat's awful finish to the 2014-15 regular season. Riley noted one blown game in particular that, months later, helped send Winslow to Miami.

"Today we had the chance to draft No. 10," Riley said. "I don't think we're a No. 10 draft pick team. We're better than that. Today, I can thank Kris Middleton in Milwaukee. That was a bad day for us. Today, we can thank him for making that shot with 0.8 seconds to go. We got a break. We need them in this game."


After a long draft day, Pat Riley did little to ease fears that Dwyane Wade might leave Miami

I am not a pessimist.

Those were Pat Riley's words late Thursday night after long hours in the draft-day war room. Maybe he was tired. Maybe this is nothing. Or maybe it's the first sign from the Heat's side of this drama that this business of keeping Dwyane Wade is going to take some major work.

Because "I am not a pessimist" certainly isn't the same thing as "I'm optimistic."

Riley was asked if he was "concerned at all" that Wade might leave. Here's the quote in full:

"I'm not a pessimist when it comes to that, and we have a lot to offer here with all of our free agents. Not just with Dwyane, but Goran [Dragic] and [Luol Deng]. I think everyone knows that with the injuries we had last year, having the 10th pick in the draft. I don't think we're a 10th pick in the draft time with the kind of roster we can put together when healthy and contend in the East and I think players are aware of that. They want to win."

And then...

"Whatever I think today is really irrelevant. I want all of them to come back. I would really like to make a deal with all of these players and keep the team that we built last year together, and we'll find that out on July 1 and then we'll have eight or nine days to deal with it. Before that, it really is all speculation."

There have been plenty of scenarios kicked around in the media, sure, but all of that speculation has been rooted in actual evidence of unhappiness. Signs and hints of discord by Wade has fueled growing fears that he might actually leave. Riley didn't do much to reassure Heat fans on Thursday. Remember all the confidence Riley showed last summer with LeBron James? There was none of that late Thursday night.


It wasn't all doom and gloom, though.

Riley was asked about Wade perhaps perceiving a level of disrespect from the Heat during these contractual disputes, and it was then that Riley seemed to offer an olive branch. Wade has left money on the table in the past to help the Heat build a competitive team, and Riley acknowledged that commitment.

"Everyone in this organization over the years has sacrificed and probably the one player from that standpoint who has sacrificed a lot for the sake of winning has been him," Riley said. "So, I think we're aware of that, but I haven't heard anything directly — Did you say the word disrespect? — I haven't heard anything about that."

Will Micky Arison pay Wade for that commitment? That's the big question as Wade's opt-in deadline (midnight of June 29) moves closer.


In a related bit of news, Riley shot down a report that the Heat would trade veteran players to save against the luxury tax. He then backtracked a bit. It has been reported that the Heat might shop around Mario Chalmers or Chris Andersen to save money against the luxury tax if it needs to pay Wade a max contract.

"Until we find out where we are with the numbers, we like the team that we have," Riley said. "But we also don't like to add by subtraction either. We have a good team, and we could have a great team if we could put everything together. And, so, I don't think we have ever really...I know there were a couple situations. I know that went on with Mike Miller and Joel Anthony, but this is also as much about business as it is about basketball. But right now we're not actively doing anything except for getting ready for July 1."

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Unlike past Heat lottery picks Beasley and Wade, Justise Winslow will have the luxury of learning

Last season, the Heat’s offense was handicapped without a consistent three-point shooter off the bench.

Presumably to remedy that deficiency, the Heat selected Justise Winslow with the 10th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft on Thursday. Winslow, a freshman, does other things well besides shoot, of course, but his range is an immediate need. He shot 41.8 percent from three-point range for the Blue Devils, who won the national championship in April.

“For me to land at No.10 and going to South Beach and the Miami Heat organization and Pat Riley, I’m just so excited to go there and win a championship,” Winslow said.

Winslow is the Heat’s highest draft pick since 2008 when the team selected Michael Beasley second overall. Unlike Beasley’s rookie season, Winslow will be joining a team that’s expected to compete for a championship. With a projected starting lineup already in place, Winslow could find himself in the perfect situation for a rookie, as a reserve receiving consistent minutes and with a green light to score.

Beasley didn’t have that luxury and neither did Dwyane Wade.

“I’m going to play with Dwyane Wade and get to play with one of the greatest,” said Winslow from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center after being drafted. “I’m going to try to learn everything I can and win games and put that organization in a winning direction.”

Winslow could play either shooting guard or small forward for the Heat, and that versatility should give the Heat some depth behind Wade and small forward Luol Deng. Of course, the learning curve for Winslow steepens dramatically if either Wade or Luol Deng leaves the Heat during free agency. Neither Wade nor Deng have indicated if they’re returning to Miami next season. The uncertainty adds intrigue to Thursday’s draft selection.

If Wade doesn’t return to Miami, Winslow could be the starting shooting guard or perhaps back up Mario Chalmers. If Deng leaves the Heat, then coach Erik Spoelstra could thrust Winslow into the starting lineup at small forward. The draft is over for the Heat, but in many ways the suspense is just beginning in Miami.

Wade and Deng have until midnight on June 29 to opt into their contracts for the final years of their contracts. Wade has hinted that he will instead become a free agent. Deng’s camp hasn’t given any clues about his decision, but the closer the calendar moves to July, the more likely it becomes Deng will also pursue free agency.

Questions about Wade and Deng’s future in Miami made Thursday’s selection of Winslow all the more valuable for the Heat. When the draft started, few would have predicted Winslow would still be around by the 10th pick. He was projected to go much higher, but team after team passed on the 6-6, 225-pound wing. When the Charlotte Hornets drafted Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky with the ninth pick, it become apparent the Heat would have a good draft night.

Early on the draft process the Heat’s coaching staff, scouting department and managerial executives identified perimeter shooting as an area of need. Winslow’s profile matched the Heat’s shopping list, but so other players, including Devin Booker, a 6-6 freshman shooter from Kentucky. The Heat went with Winslow because of his versatility.


The Heat shot 33.5 percent from three-point range last season, and the lack of a consistent outside shooter limited Spoelstra’s offense. The previous season, the final season with LeBron James, the Heat shot 36.4 percent from behind the arc. When James left, the Heat’s shooters left with him. James Jones moved to Cleveland with James while Shane Battier and Ray Allen retired.

Drafting Winslow begins to fill the void of those losses while also investing in a player who can potentially develop into a star.

“Offensively, I just pride myself on a being a guy who can do it all,” Winslow said. “Knock down open jump shots from three, getting to the rack, making plays, making good assists, but really making really good basketball plays. That’s what I do and that’s what I look forward to doing it in the NBA.”

Winslow elevated his game in the NCAA Tournament, shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 57.1 percent (8 of 14) from behind the three-point arc. He had 21 points in Duke’s regional final victory against Gonzaga. In Final Four, Winslow had 19 points against Michigan State and 11 points against Wisconsin.

“The lights got brighter and when they got brighter I shined even brighter, so that’s something I pride myself on—being ready for that moment and really just knowing when a team needs me and being able to put a team on my back and come through in the big moments.”


Further bolstering depth on the wing, the Heat selected 6-6 shooting guard Josh Richardson of Tennessee in the second round. The 40th pick of the draft averaged 16 points per game as a senior. Like Winslow, Richardson is an athletic perimeter player. Unlike Winslow, Richardson will not have a guaranteed rookie contract, so he'll have to make the team during training camp.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The one potentially lucrative reason Dwyane Wade would play for the Lakers

So, in a previous blog post I pretty much laughed off the idea of Dwyane Wade going to the Lakers this summer, but this morning I'm going to reverse course a bit.

It still seems unlikely to me that Wade would seriously entertain leaving the Heat for Los Angeles, but the idea shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. After all, there is one major faction of Team Wade that would certainly be thrilled with Wade joining Kobe Bryant next season. That entity is Li Ning, Wade's shoe company.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 8.28.51 AMWade signed with Li Ning during the height of the Heat's popularity, and while his "Way of Wade" shoes have only increased in quality since then, the brand probably benefited by Wade playing with LeBron. Wade's shoes have a niche following here in the United States, but the large majority of the product's sales come from the Chinese market. In China, Wade's shoes are popular, but not anywhere near the top of the market. Among active players, Kobe has long lorded over the Chinese shoe market with LeBron coming in second.

Seen through the prism of sneaker sales, Wade moving to the Lakers starts to make sense. (Well, at least it doesn't seem quite so crazy.) Wade's popularity in China would probably enjoy a substantial bump if he paired up with Bryant for the season-long farewell tour, and that could mean more money through sneaker sales. Wade is already well paid by Li Ning, but he could make much, much more if his shoes surged in popularity.

So, let's play this thing out...Wade opts out of his final season with the Heat, and then flies to China to begin free agency. After a nationwide shoe tour, Wade ends his journey in Shanghai, where he announces with an international press conference that he's joining Kobe in Los Angeles...Wade plays with Kobe, and then Wade headlines by himself in Los Angeles for a few years before finishing his career with the Shanghai Sharks and becoming a Chinese shoe mogul.

Yeah...before we venture any further down this rabbit hole, let me point out that the best way to sell shoes internationally might still be the old-fashioned way, by beating LeBron on the court in the playoffs. The Heat, and its projected lineup for next season, probably gives Wade the best chance of doing that.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Let the rumors begin...Making sense of Dwyane Wade's supposed interest in the Lakers

Posturing through the media started a few weeks ago for Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade and the Heat, but the worry is real now after a report that Wade and the Los Angeles Lakers might be interested in one another.

Wade and the Lakers share "mutual interest," according to a report by SI.com's Chris Mannix. This news comes less than 24 hours after a report that the Heat would like to work out a deal with point guard Goran Dragic as soon as possible. Free agency begins July 1 and already rumors and drama are circling high above AmericanAirlines Arena. Take, for example, the distinct choice of wardrobe by Wade's father on Sunday at church. He wore a Cleveland Cavaliers T-shirt.

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Throw in some other signs of discord between Wade and the Heat (Wade referred to the Heat in the past tense while working as a TV analyst during The Finals/Riley has used his influence in the media to shape his own narrative), and it has been a trying month for Heat fans, especially considering events of the past year.

OK, let's try to make some sense of this...

Question 1: Is it time to move the warning system to Def-Con 4?

In other words, has anything else developed since The Finals? I'm not so sure of that. This still feels like the hot-air stage of this process. Until Wade actually opts out and flies to L.A. to meet with the Lakers, or flies to New York and meets with the Knicks, or, in the ultimate power play, opts out and meets with the Cavaliers, I'm not freaking out. Even then, it's going to take the right set of circumstances for me to believe Wade and the Heat are headed for a nasty divorce.

Question 2: Why are these reports surfacing?

It's certainly possibly that the Lakers are serious about pursuing Wade (and vice versa), but it's also possible that rumors are being floated by Wade's people to put a little pressure on the Heat. If the Heat loses LeBron and Wade in consecutive seasons, that's not going to reflect positively on anybody no matter how much spin is applied to this story.

Question 3: Why the heck would Wade want to back-up Kobe?

This one doesn't need much of an explanation. Kobe's farewell tour is going to include Wade? This seems like a terrible idea.

Friday, June 12, 2015

On LeBron and Pat Riley: It's time to let it go

Here's a guilty admission. I don't make a habit of watching news conferences on television. If I'm not covering the game or an event or whatever, I usually don't stick around for the question-and-answer sessions. I'd rather read about it the next morning in stories and columns carefully crafted by the guys asking the questions.

I trust the professional writers and reporters to tell me what's relevant. Call me old-fashioned.

Such was the case this morning when I awoke and started digesting the articles from the last night's Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Under that disclosure I begin this blog post, which is a second-hand reaction to the manufactured drama created by local Miami sports radio stations this morning. Apparently during his post-game last night, LeBron James didn't refer to the Miami Heat by name when recalling one of his more career-defining playoff accomplishments.

I didn't know about it until an editor called me. Why? Because of all the accounts of last night's action, and all the news-gathering efforts of my colleagues covering the Finals, no one mentioned it in their stories. Go figure. Was it all over Twitter last night? Probably, but I wasn't.

So, here's what happened...A reporter asked LeBron about his career's biggest challenge and the Cavaliers' forward pointed to the 2012 Eastern Conference finals. But LeBron didn't refer to the Heat by name. Instead, he said "the other franchise I was with..."

Oh. No. He. Didn't.

To hear my editor tell it, sports radio land was ready to start a war with Cleveland this morning over such an obvious and disrespectful omission. After our quick conversation about the ridiculous world we live in, I dipped my foot into our great society's alternate universe of self righteousness, and, sure enough, Twitter never disappoints — much grinding and gnashing of the teeth there.

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Well, yes. Boredom.

LeBron is apparently going to take passive-aggressive shots at Pat Riley and the Heat, and Pat Riley and the Heat apparently are going to make passive-aggressive swipes at LeBron. And it's all so tiresome.

Can this be over, please? Can Miami finally let it go? Can LeBron move on with his career and stop snubbing his nose at the Heat's front office?

The Heat trailed the Celtics 3-2 in that 2012 Eastern Conference series before winning Game 6 in Boston and Game 7 in Miami. James' performance in Game 6 is legendary. He had 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. It was every bit as magical as anything he has done so far in these Finals, and he did it in a Heat uniform. The Heat made him who he is today, and, in turn, LeBron made the Heat what it is today. He should have his jersey retired inside AmericanAirlines Arena. Period. End of discussion. All this "Heat lifer" stuff is obviously hot garbage. After all, the guy who coined the phrase (Dwyane Wade) is now, apparently, not against leaving the team if he can't get a new contract.

Please, let's all stop pretending and just enjoy these Finals, and the guy who used to play for the Heat.



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