- The Heat are utilizing veteran experience from Udonis Haslem and Andre Iguodala as they seek to reach their first NBA Finals since 2014, Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald writes. Haslem and Iguodala are the only Heat players to ever play in the Finals — both players are three-time NBA champions (Haslem with Miami in 2006, 2012, and 2013; Iguodala with Golden State in 2015, 2017 and 2018).
The Heat aren’t saying how much Bam Adebayo‘s aching left wrist and forearm are affecting him, but he turned in a sub-par performance Friday night as the Celtics stayed alive in the Eastern Conference Finals, writes Manny Navarro of The Athletic. Afterward, the All-Star center told reporters he accepts responsibility for Miami’s failure to close out the series.
“I’ll put that game on me,” he said. “It’s not my teammates’ fault. It’s not my coaches’ fault. It’s me. I missed too many shots I should have made. … I wasn’t being the defensive anchor I should’ve been. I don’t think I was communicating fast enough. I feel like I was a step behind today. I wasn’t a difference-maker today. I didn’t get us into fast enough triggers. That’s on me.”
Adebayo posted 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, but allowed 1.65 points per possession as the screen defender on direct pick-and-roll plays, which is well above his average. Adebayo’s teammates stuck up for him afterward, and Navarro notes that poor 3-point shooting had a lot to do with the loss.
“That’s not on Bam. He should not say that,” responded Goran Dragic. “We know it’s not like that. It’s not on nobody. It’s on us together as a team. We should do a better job as a team. Everybody looked terrible in the third quarter. We didn’t defend. We didn’t do our job.”
There’s more Heat news to pass along:
- Kentucky’s John Calipari, who coached Adebayo in college, tells Marc Stein of The New York Times that the 23-year-old has been able to create his own position in the NBA. “He’s a point-center. Tell me the last one,” Calipari said. “And I mean truly a point-center. Not a big guy who can pass. He can bounce it and get by you. He can make bang-bang plays like a point guard. He can do Eurosteps. And he’s still going to rebound and block shots.”
- As the Heat near the one-year anniversary of the start of training camp, Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel looks back at comments from team president Pat Riley to see how they panned out. Of particular interest are his predictions for Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn and his excitement over acquiring Jimmy Butler. “The fact that Jimmy Butler wanted to come and play in Miami, that was enough for me,” Riley said last September. “We’re going to find out how he meshes with our team. We’ll see what his impact on winning is. That’s what I’m encouraged about. I embrace all the qualities he has.”
- Nick Friedell of ESPN asked several players to explain the “Heat culture” philosophy that defines the organization. “You had to go through something in life that put a chip on your shoulder,” said veteran forward Udonis Haslem. “And that’s built grit inside you that you’re willing to go through extreme circumstances to get where you’re trying to go.”
Throughout the season, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents this off-season. With the playoffs ongoing at the Orlando campus, it’s time to examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors.
Jerami Grant, Nuggets, 26, PF (Up) – Signed to a three-year, $27.3MM deal in 2018
The Nuggets are on the verge of elimination again despite the increased offensive production of Grant. He scored a playoff-high 26 points in Denver’s lone win against the Lakers in Game 3, then added 17 points in Game 4. The trust that coach Michael Malone has in Grant defensively against the Lakers’ jumbo lineups was apparent – he played a total of 77 minutes in those two games. Grant has a $9.35MM option on his contract for next season. Prior to the restart, Grant said he was likely to decline it and test the free agent waters. It’s doubtful he’s changed his mind.
Dwight Howard, Lakers, 34, C (Up) – Signed to a one-year, $2.56MM deal in 2019
Howard piled up more fouls than points in Games 2 and 3 against Denver. Instead of Howard losing playing time, coach Frank Vogel surprisingly decided to start him in Game 4. The former Defensive Player of the Year delivered a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) in 23 minutes. He’s a dinosaur by current NBA standards – an aging center who can’t stretch defenses. But every once awhile, Howard reminds everyone he can still be a factor. It’s easy to see the Lakers signing him to another short-term deal.
Dion Waiters, Lakers 28, SG (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $500K deal in 2020
Waiters got a chance to revive his career when the Lakers signed him to a rest-of-the season contract in March. The opportunity was there for Waiters to crack the rotation in the postseason but ineffectiveness and a groin injury have rendered him a non-factor. He’s only appeared in five playoff games, totaling 10 points (no threes) in 38 minutes. Given his controversial history, the fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft will probably be scrounging for a veteran’s minimum deal.
Derrick Jones, Heat, 23, SF (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $3.16MM deal in 2018
It’s been a rough restart for Jones. He had a bout with the coronavirus, then suffered a neck strain during a collision in the seeding games. He also dealt with an ankle injury during the opening round of the playoffs. His biggest problem now is he’s out of the rotation. The emergence of Tyler Herro and the presence of veterans Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala has limited him to a total of 30 unspectacular minutes against Boston. Jones will be an unrestricted free agent and he’ll draw some interest, but his price tag may have dropped this summer.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- With the Heat one win away from returning to the NBA Finals, head coach Erik Spoelstra looked back this week on the team’s meeting with Jimmy Butler in free agency last summer, discussing how the two sides immediately connected, as Barry Jackson and Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald detail. “We have the same shared values about competition. It works for us. We don’t have to apologize for it,” Spoelstra said. “Times he’s been criticized for it, who cares? Just really grateful we got him.”
If the Celtics are unable to come back from a 3-1 deficit to knock off the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, they may not be able to help looking back on a pair of 50-50 outcomes from past drafts that didn’t go in their favor.
As Sam Amick of The Athletic details, the first of those draft-day coin flips came in 2011, when the Celtics owned the 27th overall pick and had narrowed down their choice to JaJuan Johnson or Jimmy Butler. Boston selected Johnson, allowing Butler to fall to Chicago at No. 30. Today, Johnson is eight years removed from playing in his last NBA game, while Butler is on the verge of eliminating the C’s from the postseason (albeit after changing teams three times).
Meanwhile, Game 4 star Tyler Herro, who established a new career high on Wednesday with 37 points, was selected by the Heat in the 2019 draft at No. 13, one pick ahead of the Celtics at No. 14. Those draft slots were as a result of a three-team tiebreaker for the Nos. 12-14 selections, after Charlotte, Miami, and Sacramento all finished the season with identical records. The Hornets won the tiebreaker and claimed the No. 12 pick, while the Heat got No. 13. The C’s, who owned the Kings’ pick, ended up at No. 14.
As A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston writes, there was a “collective moan” among the Celtics’ brass after the Heat selected Herro at No. 13 a year ago, since the C’s had their eye on the Kentucky sharpshooter. They would have had a shot to draft him if they’d had better luck in that draft tiebreaker.
Here’s more from around the Atlantic:
- Brian Lewis of The New York Post questions whether the Nets really need to make a trade for a third star, suggesting that the missing piece for the roster may instead be a tough wing defender who could be signed using the mid-level exception. Lewis points to veteran forward Andre Roberson as one possibility, assuming he’s fully healthy.
- David Nurse, a life/skills coach for a number of NBA players, believes that the Knicks will benefit from new assistant coach Johnnie Bryant‘s player development abilities, as Ian Begley of SNY.tv relays. “He focuses on the details and the specifics for each player,” Nurse said on Begley’s podcast, The Putback. “Player development gets thrown out there as a buzzword, like culture. No one really knows what it means. Most (people think of it as) being just rebounding for players, shooting spot shots. But that’s not player development. Johnnie realizes it’s about the details with helping these players that he works with, focusing on their strengths.”
- Blake Murphy and Eric Koreen of The Athletic explore a few Raptors offseason topics, including how much the team’s initial offer to free agent guard Fred VanVleet should be worth, while Doug Smith of The Toronto Star says that president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster will earn their money during this offseason of uncertainty.
Heat All-Star wing Jimmy Butler has emerged as the leader of a team two games away from the NBA Finals this season. His departures from his prior three teams painted a different picture of his personality.
In a revealing piece, ESPN’s Nick Friedell takes a look at Butler through the eyes of teammates, coaches, front office executives, and team owners past and present, navigating historic quotes that cover Jimmy’s debut in the league all the way through his current standing as one of its premiere players.
There’s more out of South Beach today:
- Butler’s uniqueness as a team-first All-Star has made scoring a lesser priority for him. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel examines whether Butler can be a dominant scorer for the Heat, especially in the first halves of games, in the rest of the postseason.
- Veteran Heat power forward Udonis Haslem credits the father of teammate Jae Crowder, Corey, with his 17-season NBA career. After going undrafted in 2002, Haslem headed to France, where he linked up with the elder Crowder as both played for French club Chalon-sur-Saône. After Haslem began dominating team practices, he found encouragement from Crowder to try again at the next level. “That’s when I told him, ‘You’ve got to get to the NBA,’” Corey Crowder said.
- As Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald recaps, former Heat All-Star Dwyane Wade spoke on 790 The Ticket’s Tobin & Leroy Show about the Heat’s youth movement this season and the future of longtime Heat mastermind Pat Riley, who is 75. “I think [Riley’s] going to be around [well after this season],” Wade said. “His office is going to still be his office. Even if he’s not in that position, he’s still going to come into practice everyday. This is his life. This is what he loves. This is him. I don’t see him going anywhere.”
The Wizards will have several options available to them to improve their roster this offseason. In the second installment of a two-part chat, David Aldridge and Fred Katz of The Athletic discuss the many paths towards improvement the team could take.
Aldridge posits that some teams may be looking to sell off late first-round picks for cash considerations, and suggests Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard look into procuring one, while Katz discusses the possibility of using the team’s mid-level exception to add a veteran big man. The Wizards, who finished with the ninth seed during the NBA’s summer restart in Orlando, will have the Nos. 9 and 37 picks in this year’s draft at their disposal.
There’s more out of the NBA’s Southeast Division:
- The Magic departed the league’s Disney campus after a 4-1 first round defeat to the Bucks. Now, Josh Robbins of The Athletic assesses the rise or fall of Orlando players’ “stocks” around the league. Potential free agents Gary Clark and James Ennis are both assessed to be on the ascent.
- Hornets guard Joe Chealey will not partake in the team’s training camp this month after suffering a lower leg injury, the team tweeted.
- Heat All-Star wing Jimmy Butler has taken just 14, 11 and 13 field goal attempts in the first three games of Miami’s Eastern Conference Finals series with the Celtics. Despite the Heat’s 2-1 lead, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wonders if Butler needs to correct his relative passivity on offense. “No matter how many shots I take, no matter how many points I score, our job is to win,” Butler said after a Heat practice Tuesday. Butler’s signing as a free agent in 2019 and the improvement of Bam Adebayo have helped push the Heat to the brink of their first NBA Finals appearance since 2014.
When the NBA’s postseason began just over a month ago, the Lakers were coming off a shaky 3-5 showing in the summer seeding games, and had roughly the same odds as the Clippers and Bucks to win the 2020 NBA championship, according to most sportsbooks.
Five weeks later, the Clippers and Bucks have been eliminated from title contention, as have many of the teams viewed as second-tier title threats, such as Toronto, Philadelphia, and Houston. The Lakers hold a commanding 2-0 lead over the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, while neither the Heat nor the Celtics have looked especially dominant in the Eastern Finals.
In other words, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rest of the Lakers find themselves in a great position to finish off an impressive playoff run and bring home the franchise’s first championship since 2010. The oddsmakers at BetOnline.ag currently list the Lakers as -350 favorites, meaning you’d have to risk $350 in order to win just $100 for an L.A. title.
While the Lakers may be the overwhelming favorites for now, it’s a little early to pencil them in as the NBA’s 2020 champions. After all, the Nuggets were just a Davis buzzer-beater away from pulling even at one game apiece in the Western Finals — and even down 2-0, Denver is hardly about to roll over, having already overcome a pair of 3-1 deficits in these playoffs.
If the Lakers can put away the Nuggets, they’ll enter the NBA Finals as heavy favorites, but the Celtics and Heat shouldn’t be overlooked either. Boston dominated Joel Embiid and the Sixers before eliminating the defending-champion Raptors – who had the league’s second-best record this season – in perhaps the most hard-fought series of the postseason.
As for the Heat, Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ankle injury helped them finish off Milwaukee, but they’d played better than the 56-17 Bucks even before Antetokounmpo got hurt. Knocking off the Pacers, Bucks, and Celtics would represent an impressive path to the Finals for Miami.
Either Eastern team will also benefit from playing in the Disney World bubble, where home-court advantage is essentially nonexistent and the Lakers’ regular-season edge wouldn’t give them an extra Finals game at Staples Center. Still, L.A. has shown so far that it doesn’t need the help that home-court advantage provides.
What do you think? Are you confident the Lakers will win the Finals and get LeBron his fourth ring, or will one of the other three teams still alive play spoiler and take this year’s crown?
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Meyers Leonard has recovered from a severe ankle sprain he suffered in February, but his role with the Heat has completely changed, writes Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. Leonard was Miami’s starting center in 49 of the 51 games he played, but he has only been on the court for nine minutes in the playoffs.
“My team knows this, and our coaching staff knows this,” Leonard said. “I would do anything to be out there. And I’d be lying if I said that I’m not competitive as hell. I wish I was impacting the game on the floor. I’m not, but as a person and as a player, I want what’s best for everybody.”
Leonard was still recovering from the injury when the hiatus began in March, which caused team facilities to shut down and forced a change in his rehab process. Miami also switched to a smaller lineup after acquiring Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala at the trade deadline. Coach Erik Spoelstra informed Leonard of his reduced role before the restart began.
“There’s just two things that I won’t ever let be questioned and that’s character and work ethic,” Leonard said. “Every day when I walk through the door, I’m going to be a great guy, a great teammate. It’s not fake. So I’m trying to make my impact now from the sideline.”
There’s more from the Southeast Division:
- Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard is a believer in analytics and he hopes to use data to help the team lessen its risk of injuries, according to Fred Katz of The Athletic. More teams are turning to load management to avoid overextending players during the regular season, and Sheppard thinks numbers can play a role in that. “Rather than have to react to an injury, you could see possibly something on the horizon and take that player out of harm’s way,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you shut him down, but maybe they play less in a game, or maybe they don’t play at all, or maybe they have active recovery days.”
- In a separate story, Katz teams with David Aldridge of The Athletic to assess the Wizards‘ current situation and find a way to rebuild the franchise. Aldridge notes that Washington used its $9.2MM mid-level exception to sign four players last summer and suggests that the entire amount should be targeted to one player this year, possibly Derrick Jones Jr., Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Maurice Harkless.
- With the third overall pick and two selections in the second round, the Hornets might benefit more than most teams from the decision to delay the draft until November, writes Danny Thompson of Sports Illustrated.
Bucks management had to be encouraged by Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s first public comments after winning his second consecutive MVP on Friday. Appearing from Greece on TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” Antetokounmpo speculated about a lengthy future with the franchise (Twitter link).
“As long as everybody’s on the same page and as long as everybody’s fighting for the same thing,” he said, “fighting for the same thing every single day, which is to be a champion, I don’t see why not to be in Milwaukee for the next 15 years.”
Antetokounmpo could go a long way toward making that happen by accepting a maximum extension that the Bucks have promised to put on the table this offseason. That new contract would take effect with the 2021/22 season and could be worth more than $250MM over five years, depending on what happens with the salary cap.
If Antetokounmpo turns down the extension and opts for free agency, he’ll become the top player in what could be a loaded market next summer. The Bucks could still offer more years and a higher salary than any of their competitors, but they would prefer to get a long-term deal completed as soon as possible.
Bobby Marks of ESPN offers a preview of what the market for Antetoukoumpo might look like. He notes that Milwaukee has strung together two straight impressive regular seasons and won’t need a full roster overhaul to be in the title race. Marks suggests the Bucks might be interested in Thunder guard Chris Paul, but isn’t sure if a package of Eric Bledsoe, Robin Lopez (if he opts into his current deal), Ersan Ilyasova, D.J. Wilson and draft picks would be enough to get a deal done.
If Antetoukoumpo opts for free agency, Marks has Miami in the “driver’s seat” to land him. The Heat already have two All-Stars in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, along with a collection of young talent. They can keep their current core together by offering free agent guard Goran Dragic a one-year, $20MM contract this summer, then renouncing his rights to clear room for Antetokounmpo in 2021 and re-signing Dragic with their $4.8MM room exception.
Marks lists the Raptors, Mavericks and Knicks as other serious contenders to add Antetoukoumpo in free agency, along with the Lakers if LeBron James is willing to sacrifice $16.2MM in his 2021/22 salary.