3 years later, is Miami’s window closing?

June 23, 2013

The Miami Heat are back-to-back NBA champions. OK, enough of the Sports Illustrated infomercial — this team’s been seriously tested the last 2 years, this year in both the Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals, and will have to improve to accomplish a 3-peat, something that has not been done in the NBA by a team not coached by Phil Jackson since the 1960s. Jackson did it twice in the ’90s with MJ, Scottie and the Bulls, and once more at the turn of the century with Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers.

Here’s Miami’s roster headed into next season, player options excluded.

  • Chris Bosh: $19.1 million
  • LeBron James: $19.1 million
  • Dwyane Wade: $18.6 million
  • Mike Miller: $6.2 million
  • Udonis Haslem: $4.4 million
  • Mario Chalmers: $4.0 million
  • Joel Anthony: $3.8 million
  • Shane Battier: $3.3 million
  • Norris Cole: $1.2 million

And the player options.

  • Ray Allen: $3.3 million
  • James Jones: $1.5 million
  • Rashard Lewis: $1.4 million

It’s safe to bank on 10 of these guys returning, barring a major Chris Bosh deal, which I don’t see in the immediate wake of back-to-back titles. Even though he was scoreless in Game 7, Bosh brings a lot to the table on both ends, spacing offensively and a rim protector defensively.

Mike Miller’s an amnesty option, but erasing his $6.2 million off the cap this year and his $6.6 million player option next will hardly cut Miami’s luxury tax bills. (Plus, if not for Mike Miller’s shoeless 3 and all-around intensity in Game 6, who knows if the Heat are NBA champions right now?) Ray Allen’s the only of the three with a player option with market value, and a Boston return’s been rumored — but now that Boston’s clearly en route to blowing the whole thing up, it’s hard to see Ray Ray, 37, leaving Miami for a rebuild effort.

So let’s assume all 12 guys are back, more healthy — costing the Heat close to $86 million, a far cry above the league’s $58.5 million salary cap for next year, first reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein. Miami does not have a selection in Thursday’s NBA Draft.

I think where it gets interesting is a year from now. Miami has, essentially, its entire cap tied up in 3 player options — LeBron and Bosh’s for $20.6 million apiece and Wade’s for $20.1 million. The following year, those options increase to $22.2 for LeBron and Bosh, and $21.6 for Wade. Bosh, 29 now, is not worth the money he’s signed for, and Wade, 31, seems to have health problems at the end of each season, so, barring a major resurgence, it’s hard to see either turning down those options.

This leaves little room for Miami to retool around LeBron; hell, even if they were to amnesty Bosh, Miller, Haslem and Joel Anthony, who combined for 0 points in Game 7, are due about $15 million in player options in 2014-15 that, unless Miami finds a team crazy enough to deal, are sure bets to be exercised. Which is why I expect LeBron, in chase of more championships, to forgo his player option and enter free agency next summer.

And less than 3 years after the ‘Big 3’ came together, largely because of the new restrictive CBA, Miami’s window is closing.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

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Heat edition: NBA Finals Game 6 Recap

June 19, 2013

After staring blankly at this WordPress document for a half-hour, I’ve decided Game 6 — a 103-100 overtime win for the Heat — warrants two recap posts. So, in this post, I’ll focus on Miami, and Wednesday evening, I’ll publish something from a Spurs perspective. Both will be my best, though probably still feeble, attempts to recap what the hell happened in American Airlines Arena, and look ahead to Game 7.

On LeBron James…

Another first half, same story for LeBron James. LBJ finished the first 2 quarters with only 9 points, and though it was far from a poor showing, I expected more from James in an elimination game. After all, if Miami loses this series, that means LeBron’s 1-3 in his NBA Finals career. Tim Duncan has yet to lose in 5 appearances, Michael Jordan never lost in 6, and Kobe Bryant has lost twice but won 5 times.

LeBron really turned it up early in the fourth — there was a stretch where, per the ESPN telecast, he had scored or assisted on 16 straight Miami points. His intensity on both ends was absolutely sensational, and he brought Miami back from a 10-point deficit to start the quarter on sheer will. His final stat line: 50 minutes, 32 points on 11-26 from the field, 1-5 from 3 and 9-12 from the foul line, 11 assists, 10 rebounds, 3 steals and 6 turnovers.

James had a tough go of things late in the fourth — he turned the ball over on consecutive possessions as the Spurs built a 5-point lead. But he also hit the 3, granted on his second attempt that possession, to cut the lead to 2; a Kawhi Leonard free throw and subsequent Ray Allen 3, after a LeBron miss, would force OT.

As basketball fans, the standard we hold this guy to is insane. Erik Spoelstra and the Heat have seemingly been riding his coattails since the U.S. won gold in London. He’s the best player in the league, best rebounder, scorer and passer on his own team and best defensive player. And I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

For Chris Bosh, a tale of 2 halves…

Bosh finished with a pedestrian 10 points in 39 minutes, but also added 11 rebounds and 2 blocks, one at the end of regulation and another on Danny Green’s game-tying 3-point attempt as time expired in overtime. And it was Bosh, with Duncan on the bench, who secured the board and kicked it out to Ray Allen in what would amount to the game-tying 3 to force OT (and save Miami’s season).

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In the first 24 minutes, though, Bosh was hardly a fan favorite. Duncan, 37, was having his way with CB on the block, finishing with 25 points and 8 rebounds by intermission. To Bosh’s credit, Duncan only scored 5 more in the second half, though I’d attribute much of that to less touches.

A quick anecdote to sum up Bosh’s night: With about 20 seconds left in the 4th, I was messaging a friend about potential Bosh trade ideas. After all, he was destroyed by a 37-year-old forward in an NBA Finals elimination game on his home floor. But then, the rebound and the block happened.

Miami’s role guys: Miller, Allen, Chalmers, Battier & Birdman

I thought Mike Miller was fantastic in this one, and so too did Spo, given he rode Miller, with Wade on the bench, until about the four-and-a-half mark in the 4th with his team’s season on the line. He only scored 8 points on 3-4 shooting — one of his 3’s came with only 1 shoe on — but he gave Spo 30 quality minutes and 7 rebounds. His +/- of +15 was tops among Heat players and only behind Duncan (+16) for the game.

Ray Ray scored 9 tonight, but none more important than the step-back 3 that forced OT; in fact, Allen probably never has nor never will hit a shot that big, unless he sinks a buzzer beater to win Game 7. His defense is also, at least to the naked eye, no longer a glaring liability; Spo even elected to keep him on the floor at the end of regulation and OT, with San Antonio needing a bucket to win or tie.

Mario Chalmers tallied 20 points in 43 minutes, the second-most of any Heat player, as Spo shortened his bench again, meaning a DNP – Coach’s Decision for Norris Cole. Chalmers’ offensive output slowed in the second half, but, aside from a turnover with about a minute left in regulation, he was efficient: 20 points on 7-11 from the field, 4-5 from 3, 4 rebounds and a +13 +/-, trailing only Miller on his team.

Battier and Chris Andersen gave Miami quality defensive minutes; Shane drew a charging foul within seconds of entering the game, and Andersen, subbed in for Bosh, kind of slowed Duncan for periods of the first half. Battier also hit 3-4 from 3 in 13 minutes, and I’d guess he sees more action in Game 7.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Check back later for the San Antonio side of things.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


Spurs up 3-2, cue more LeBron hate!

June 17, 2013

What. A. Game. With only a few hiccups, San Antonio played 48 minutes of fantastic offensive basketball. From the opening tip, with Gregg Popovich starting Manu Ginobili over Tiago Splitter, the Spurs went small — and beat Erik Spoelstra’s Heat at their own game. The outcome: 114-104 and a 3-2 series lead for San Antonio.

The pace, on San Antonio’s end, was phenomenal. At one point, the ESPN telecast pointed out a possession where Tim Duncan received a pass in the paint with about 20.5 seconds left on the shot clock … after a made free throw. Tony Parker, 5 assists, and Manu, 10, facilitated with ease. The Spurs shot 60% from the field — against a defensive until that held teams to 44% shooting in the regular season and 43.2% thus far this postseason — compared to Miami’s 43%.

San Antonio’s ‘Big 3’ > Miami’s ‘Big 3’ … in Game 5

First, a quick recap of this series. Game 1 was the Tony-Parker-spinning-banker game, Game 2 the LeBron-James-block game, Game 3 the Gary-Neal-Danny-Green-go-nuts-from-3 game and Game 4 the Dwyane-Wade-travels-back-to-2006 game. Game 5 was Manu Ginobili’s game.

Once Pop inserted Manu into the starting lineup, you had the feeling he was due, especially after the intense media criticism in the 2 off days. Ginobili hit a step-back jumper on the game’s opening possession and then added 2 quick assists. Less than 5 minutes in, he had 8 points — though that was later knocked back to 7 with the opening shot ruled a 2, not a 3, after replay — right near his series average of 7.5.

Ginobili finished with 24 points on 8-14 FGs, Parker scored 26 on 10-14, and Duncan, in his best game since the series opener, chipped in 17 on 7-10 and 12 rebounds. Three days after his game-worst -22 +/- in 26 minutes, Manu netted a game-best +19 in 33 minutes. So, to recap, from San Antonio’s ‘Big 3.’

  1. 54 points, 21-48 FGs
  2. 27 points, 10-33 FGs
  3. 25 points, 10-23 FGs
  4. 40 points, 14-31 FGs
  5. 67 points, 25-38 FGs

On Miami’s end, I thought LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh came out with the necessary energy and, collectively, put together, for the most part, another solid outing. James faded a bit in the second half — I would’ve liked to see more offensive aggression, ala Game 4 — but still managed 25 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals. Bosh was a very efficient 7-11 for 16; the Heat were +7 in his 38 minutes, a team-best. And Wade, once more, was perhaps the best of the three — 25 points on 10-22 and 10 assists. Their numbers this series:

  1. 48 points, 20-47 FGs
  2. 39 points, 18-40 FGs
  3. 43 points, 18-46 FGs
  4. 85 points, 37-64 FGs
  5. 66 points, 25-55 FGs

The stats say it was their second-best performance of the series, and I think the naked eye would agree. Wade’s mid-range inside-out game was working. My one critique of James was his inability to take advantage of mismatches against the much slower, less athletic Boris Diaw, who Pop played 27 minutes.

About those role guys…

Overlooked in this series is the effectiveness of Ray Allen — he’s scored at least 13 in every game but one (a 4-point effort in San Antonio’s blowout Game 3 win). In Game 5, he scored 21 on 7-10 from the field and 4-4 from 3, and was the only reason Miami made it kind of interesting in the final minutes. (Who knows how much more interesting if another of his 3’s had not been negated by a LeBron moving screen.)

Right now, Ray Allen is the only non-‘Big 3’ player Spoelstra can trust. I mean, he converted 2 4-point plays in Game 5, which is, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (via the ESPN telecast) the first time that’s been done in NBA Finals history. Allen played 63 minutes in Games 4 and 5; he logged 65 in Games 1-3.

Udonis Haslem, -20, was a 9-minute disaster; Mario Chalmers was again in foul trouble and mostly ineffective, save for a pair of 3-balls; Norris Cole was held scoreless in 7 minutes and destroyed by Tony Parker in the paint in the second quarter; and Mike Miller, after making 9-10 3’s in Games 1-3, has not scored a point since Spo inserted him in the starting lineup for Game 4. In fact, he’s only attempted 2 shots in 46 minutes.

Spo might have found his mojo late — LeBron, Bosh, Wade, Allen and Miller/Battier. Aside from LeBron, Bosh, Wade and Allen, the Heat scored 17 points, and 7 of those came from Battier. I would expect to see more of this lineup in Game 6 (and potentially 7), with some Chris Andersen, potentially in place of Haslem; Andersen was a DNP – Coach’s Decision in Games 4 and 5.

For the Spurs, Pop cut his bench minutes, leaving Cory Joseph and Matt Bonner (each 1 minute of garbage time) out of the rotation and Splitter, just removed from the starting lineup, 10. Diaw’s crafty play-making was an asset, especially in the first half, and he surprisingly held his own defensively. Gary Neal only scored 2 points, but gave San Antonio 21 quality minutes, enough to keep Manu, 33, and Parker, 36, fresh.

Oh, and it’s almost an afterthought at this point, but Danny Green dumped in 24 more points, hit 6 3’s to break Ray Allen’s Finals record for most 3’s in a series and played terrific transition defense (3 blocks).

On to Miami for Game 6 on Tuesday. A bit of history: the Lakers won Games 6 and 7 at the Staples Center over the Boston Celtics in 2010 to overcome a 3-2 hole. In 2011, Miami went home, losers of Games 4 and 5 in Dallas, down 3-2 and lost by double digits in Game 6.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


30 in 30: MIAMI HEAT

February 18, 2013

The defending-champion Heat are, barring a freak injury to LeBron James, odds-on favorites to repeat as NBA champions. LeBron, 28, continues to improve and appears to be nearing his prime; he’s averaging 27.3 points per game, his highest mark since departing Cleveland, and career-highs in rebounds, 8.2, and assists, 6.9. His field goal percentage is an absurd 56.5%, also a career-high, as is his 42% 3-point mark, a 6-point improvement over 2011-12, previously his career high. His 31.5 player-efficiency rating is tops in the league, leading Kevin Durant by 2+ points.

LeBron’s playing unreal basketball right now. As a fan who watched him in Cleveland, he always amazed me with how good he was so early — I mean, he took a Cavaliers team that started Drew Gooden, Daniel Gibson and Sash Pavlovic to the NBA Finals — and how easy he made a triple-double look. He’s always been the best driver and finisher since he stepped on the floor in 2003. His mid-range game is a threat, thanks to improved shot selection, and he’s such a streak shooter, that when he gets going from outside, there is absolutely no way to stop him. In his last 10 games, LeBron is averaging 31 points on 62% shooting. Whether it is the confidence he’s gained from winning a championship, his natural progression or both, he’s in line for a 4th MVP award and 2nd ring.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

Miami, 36-14 and firmly in control of the East’s top seed, is every bit as good as last year’s championship team, with the additions of impact players Ray Allen and Chris Anderson. Dwyane Wade’s scoring, 21 points a night, is his lowest since his rookie year, but he’s playing efficient ball, with a 50.5% FG shooting that’s a personal best. Wade’s 23.83 PER is 8th-highest in the NBA and tops among 2-guards. And Bosh, the team’s third All Star starter (thanks to Rajon Rondo’s torn ACL), is clocking in with 17.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and a team-leading 1.3 blocks, all while shooting 55.5%. Bosh is 19th in efficiency at 21.4.

Miami has surrounded James with floor-spacers, much like Danny Ferry tried to do in his final years in Cleveland. The Heat shoot the 3 at a 38.6% clip, which trails only Golden State and Oklahoma City. Allen, a 41% shooter, makes 1.6 3’s a game; Shane Battier, a 40% shooter, makes 1.8; Mario Chalmers, also a 40% marksman, makes 1.4. Rashard Lewis, 42%, and Mike Miller, 38%, are also threats from deep when on the floor.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — LOS ANGELES LAKERS

The one (and probably only) concern with Erik Spoelstra’s team has to be defense and rebounding. At 103.2 points per game, Miami has the league’s 5th-ranked scoring offense, but has fallen to 12th in scoring defense, at 96.8 points per game. The Heat are 30th in total rebounding, but a less alarming 19th in differential, -1.4. Spoelstra’s squad is 8th in opponent’s field goal percentage, but 19th in 3-point percentage, largely due a slower Allen. (When Allen and his opponent play 25+ minutes, Miami’s lost the head-to-head efficiency battle 14 of 24 times; in games when Allen’s more efficient, the Heat are 8-2, but when he’s less efficient, the Heat are 7-7.) Last year, Miami only alloted opponents 92.5 points per game, though they also scored 4.7 points less.

The Heat’s rebounding woes can at least be partially attributed to their smaller lineups, when they push James or Battier to the 4, or sometimes even the 5. That’s the main reason I was not really high on the Allen signing this summer, as I thought Miami would be better served to bring in another bruiser. At least until the Anderson signing, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony, the latter of whom is extremely limited offensively, were all the Heat had in that category. (And Haslem only scores 3.7 points per 19.1 minutes, though his jumper at least deserves some respect.)

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

Miami’s 3-0 against Brooklyn, but a combined 1-6 against Boston, Indiana, Chicago and New York, two of which will probably see the Heat in the postseason. In their 2 games, New York used its hot shooting, but Indiana and Chicago are each capable of dominating Miami’s smaller frontline. (We forget Indiana had Miami on the ropes in last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals, up 2-1.) If Derrick Rose returns healthily this season, Chicago could pose a serious threat; Indiana’s run came when Miami was minus Chris Bosh. Miami’s 6-2 against the Western Conference’s top 5 teams, with the only losses coming at Los Angeles and at Memphis in November.

I would be very surprised if Miami did not hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy each of the next 2 years. LeBron is just playing at that dominant of a level right now. But whether Pat Riley can keep this core together past 2013-14, when every player on the team, minus Norris Cole, either has an expiring contract or a player option, remains to be seen. LeBron will be 29 and still in his prime, but Miami’s arguably not the best option for him then, with Battier, Haslem, Allen, Miller and maybe even Wade, now 31, looking at the final years of their career.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — HOUSTON ROCKETS

LeBron’s been linked to the Lakers and Cavaliers, the former of which will be eying its heir apparent to Kobe Bryant and the latter, near his hometown of Akron, will have a young core, headlined by Kyrie Irving, that has serious appeal as a supporting cast. Both teams will be flexible enough financially to throw whatever dollars at him he so desires, at least up to the CBA-dictated max.

But Miami fans do not want to think about that just yet, and rightfully so.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

FULL COVERAGE: ARMCHAIR 3’S 30 IN 30 SERIES


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