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Buyer Beware

June 8th, 2010 4 comments
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The quality of the 2010 free agent class is well known, and has dominated discussion in South Florida for nearly three years. The “Summer of LeBron,” which kicks off in just over three weeks, is sure to change the landscape of professional basketball.

Free agency, this season more than any other in history, will turn the NBA into a revolving door. Teams that were underachievers will have a legitimate opportunity to transform themselves into instant contenders simply by signing a star player or two. The bidding wars for top performers are sure to be as competitive and entertaining as the games they will ultimately play in their new arenas.

But with more money available this off-season than players on which it can be wisely spent, teams are sure to throw exorbitant amounts of cash at guys that are otherwise undeserving.

General managers need be warned. Choose your investments wisely.

With that in mind, let us be reminded about the ugly side of free agency. In the second of my depressing and controversial two-part expose on the worsts in Heat history, let’s look at the worst free agent signing. Read more…

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Patrick Beverley’s Journey to the Miami Heat

June 7th, 2010 1 comment
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Patrick Beverley has had one lifelong goal – to play in the NBA.

After a trying, vindicating, tumultuous, and encouraging 21 years of life, his dream might just be drawing near.

The Early Years

Patrick was born to Lisa Beverley, a 17-year-old single mother, on the west side of Chicago.

As a child, he never met his biological father, Patrick Bracy, a local hoops star in his own youth. His only enduring connection to his father was his old high school basketball trophies that were always lying around. He revered them, claiming early on that he wanted twice the number of trophies his dad got.

The inner city of Chicago is a gritty place, with some of the highest levels of poverty in the United States. The area has been neglected for decades. Public schools are crumbling, store fronts are vacant, apartment buildings are dilapidated, graffiti covers the walls, windows are boarded up with bars on them, trash litters the sidewalks, and weeds sprout through the concrete. Basketball is often seen as the only way out, not just for young kids with talent but also for their parents and siblings. Developing talent is encouraged from a young age. It’s often seen as the only thing that matters.

The playgrounds of Chicago have long been a hoops hotbed. Derrick Rose is the latest in a long line of Chicago-raised NBA royalty. Before Rose, there was Dwyane Wade. Before Wade, there was Antoine Walker. Before Walker, there was Isaiah Thomas. Before Isaiah, there was Maurice Cheeks.  Read more…

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Memory Lane Revisited

June 6th, 2010 4 comments
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It was July 2007.

Just fifteen months prior, the Heat had secured its first championship in franchise history, backed by the scintillating playoff performance of superstar Dwyane Wade. The Heat was flying high. Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton both quickly agreed to re-sign, wanting to win another title. During the championship parade in Miami, Shaquille O’Neal guaranteed it.

Then came the awful 2006/07 campaign. Shaq lost his last little bit of youth. Gary Payton was benched for poor performance. James Posey and Antoine Walker were deactivated after failing body mass exams. And the Heat was relegated to mediocrity. Miami became the first defending champion since 1957 to get swept in the first round in the following season, losing at the hands of the Chicago Bulls.

The Heat was looking to rebuild.

The priority was point guard, largely because the Heat had concerns about the health of incumbent starter Jason Williams – who had battled several injuries during his two seasons in Miami.

The primary target: Mo Williams.

Williams was the second-most-coveted point guard on the market, after the Pistons’ Chauncey Billups. In Williams, Riley saw a young point guard who did not need the ball in his hands, one willing to spot up for jumpers and help space the floor for a Wade/O’Neal tandem. The addition was speculated to vault the Heat back into title contention.

The desire was mutual. In his player biography, Williams listed Miami as his favorite NBA city.

The problem, of course, was money. Read more…

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For Pat Riley, the time is now

June 2nd, 2010 7 comments
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This is it. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for.

Every decision that has culminated in the current Miami Heat roster was made by a Pat Riley who already had his current strategy in mind. He has no excuses.

It took a lot of patience for Heat fans to get to this point. We sat idly by as the best player in team history utterly wasted three years of his prime. We suffered through a 15-win season. We watched the rest of the conference improve around us.

We did it all because Pat asked us to trust in him. He convinced us it was all a means to an end. He had grander visions in mind – visions of rebuilding in the summer of 2010.

We didn’t always agree with the decisions he was making. There were several that infuriated us along the way.

When James Jones was signed in July 2008, the partial guarantee was dubbed as one which ensures that Miami could still have maximum spending capability. After a starting role in the 2009 NBA playoffs, he was banished to the bench for all but 503 minutes of mop-up duty in 2010.

Daequan Cook’s fall from grace had already removed much of the luster from the 3-point championship he won at last year’s All-Star Game when Riley made a decision in October to pick up Cook’s option for the coming season. Pat had already been informed by the league of a projected 2010 salary cap as low as $50.4 million, yet he was willing to invest more than $2.1 million in a player with an uneven track record who, at best, would never be more than a quality backup to one of the best players in the game today.

Despite our hesitations, we believed in him. Because he had the resume to suggest he knew better. And isn’t it always easier just to assume that the people with the power have access to information we don’t?

Along the way, we overlooked some miraculous draft blunders. We overlooked several high-profile failed recruitment attempts, rationalizing that the team simply didn’t have the money to make an adequate pitch.

Now we do.

When Pat developed his vision, he couldn’t possibly have envisioned such a vast wealth of free agent talent. It had simply never happened before. Without question, the NBA’s free agent class of 2010 is the most talented in league history. Read more…

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Filling Out the Roster

May 31st, 2010 5 comments
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Many of us have our doubts. We ask ourselves whether it truly can be done. Can the Miami Heat realistically build a championship caliber roster while operating within the confines of the salary cap? It doesn’t seem possible.

We point to the evidence. The four semi-finalists in the 2010 NBA Playoffs have team salaries as follows:

1. Los Angeles Lakers: $91,341,066
2. Boston Celtics: $84,069,655
3. Orlando Magic: $80,449,669
4. Phoenix Suns: $74,738,817

Each is significantly to ridiculously more than the Heat will be able to spend. But for the sake of argument, let’s analyze these numbers for a moment.

Yes, the Lakers, Celtics and Magic made a conscious decision to (over)spend. But they’ve realized some nice returns on their investments. The organizations are wildly profitable, producing an average operating income of more than $20 million during the 2008/09 season. And they’re perennial powerhouses.

I take more of an interest in the Phoenix number. If you recall, the Suns completed a blockbuster trade in July that sent Shaquille O’Neal to the Cavaliers in exchange for Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavolic and $500,000. For the Suns, the trade was a straight salary dump. Wallace was subsequently bought out for $10 million from a contract that would have paid him $14 million. Pavolic, whose $5.0 million contract was only partially guaranteed for $1.25 million, was waived. With the moves, Phoenix saved $18.0 million in salaries and luxury tax payments.

The maneuvering also meant that $11,250,000 was spent on two players that didn’t make the regular season roster. So the true team salary, for comparative purposes, is a relatively paltry $63,488,817.

At just $63 million, the Suns put a big scare into the defending champions. The Heat, although constrained by the $56.1 million salary cap, will likely spend on the order of $60 million after utilizing its available exceptions. So all of a sudden, creating a winner seems possible. Difficult, but possible.

But operating with such limited funds does have its drawbacks. What it means is that Pat Riley will need to allocate the bulk of Micky’s money on the starting five. Therein lies the problem. The potential lack of depth becomes an overriding concern. Read more…

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Hedo’s unhappiness presents more trouble in Toronto

May 30th, 2010 No comments
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Hedo Turkoglu signed a five-year, $53 million contract with the Raptors in July 2009

(Damn it! I’ve had this post in queue for weeks. Now that Hedo has come out and declared his unhappiness, it seems reactionary, rather than with brilliant foresight.)

Bryan Colangelo must be kicking himself now about his decision to sign Hedo Turkoglu.

It’s not Hedo’s fault that he was grossly overvalued on the free agent market. He’s not to blame for the fact that the Trailblazers and the Raptors wanted to pay him ridiculous sums of money: $52.8 million over five years to be exact.

What is Hedo’s fault is just how poorly he played in his first season in Toronto.

Some of it is a matter of skill, which makes it painfully apparent that Turkoglu isn’t the elite player many apparently felt he was. A solid and serviceable player, sure, but one with an inflated value due to an Orlando system that put the ball in his hands an inordinate amount of time.

Some of it is undoubtedly psychological. The pressures of living up to such a big contract coupled with the introduction to a new city can be substantial.

But a lot of it was purely motivational. He showed up to camp overweight and out of shape, and never seemed eager to do much of anything. Things got particularly uneasy as the Raptors suffered through a dramatic second half collapse, leaving the team outside of the playoff picture.

Whatever the case, one thing is for certain. The Raptor organization now finds itself in a difficult predicament. It could be something of a perfect storm in Toronto this summer: Chris Bosh will exit, the Raptors will have minimal cap space with which to work, and with the nearly unmovable contracts of Turkoglu and Jose Calderon, the Raptors seam poised for yet another season of disappointment.

Turkoglu has taken notice. Read more…

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Should the Heat be interested in Nate Robinson?

May 29th, 2010 8 comments
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Robinson provided a big spark off the bench in Boston's Game 6 clincher against the Magic

Some of us that were watching the second quarter of tonight’s Celtics/Magic game may be contemplating the possibility of adding Nate Robinson to play the point for the Heat next season. After all, he will be an unrestricted free agent.

It may surprise you to know that the Heat did express an interest in Robinson at the trade deadline last season. But why would the Heat, a team known for its size deficiency in the backcourt, pursue the smallest player in the game today?

Nate’s lack of height is the first thing that comes to mind about him as a player. He is listed at 5’9″, making him one of the shortest players in league history (Muggsy Bogues, drafted twelfth overall in the 1987 NBA Draft by the Washington Bullets, was a starting point guard at a shocking 5’3″), yet his height is the only thing that makes him a point guard. He’s really a shooting guard masquerading at the point. He has a scorer’s skillset and a scorer’s mentality, playing point guard only by default. He tends to look for his own shot rather than to set up others and can get wildly out of control at times. Robinson’s jump shot is also inconsistent, and he takes more three pointers than his conversion rate would suggest he should.

The flip side is that he brings tremendous energy to the game whenever he enters, and despite his size is capable of getting his shots off due to an explosive first step and impressive leaping ability. His defense is surprisingly effective for 5’9″ player, where his combination of strength and supreme athleticism allow him to stay in front of players far bigger than he is. Unfortunately, they’ll always be able to shoot over him.

Robinson is a high quality player as we saw tonight, despite the fact that God seems to have forgotten to grant him those final four inches. Even if his size worries you, his tunnel vision alarms you, and his swagger outright annoys you, you’d be hard pressed to deny his talent. He can flat out score in this league.

One can see why the Heat expressed an interest. He’s such a difficult force for opponents to contain, he’d be a perfect volume scorer off the bench – something the Heat has been desperately lacking for years. But his physical limitations and his temperament suggest he can never be anything more.

Simply stated, Robinson doesn’t work in South Florida. His skill set does not match the Heat’s need in the starting rotation – Miami needs more of a floor general, who can space the floor and contribute quality defense – and his value would price him out of the Heat’s range as a second unit contributor. Read more…

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Why LeBron James Should Consider the Miami Heat

May 28th, 2010 1 comment
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I’m not sure if you already know this, but the rumor is that LeBron James is thinking of leaving Cleveland, now that his contract with the Cavaliers is up.

Everyone from Jay-Z to Barack Obama is in on the act of recruiting him.

Speculation over where he’ll end up has run wild. In the past 24 hours, Vegas oddsmakers have increased Miami’s odds of landing James from 35-1 to 7.5-1. In a poll of six ESPN experts, two felt Miami was the most likely destination.

What was once thought to be the ridiculous bantering of the hopelessly delusional is now a potential reality. A combination of Wade, James and Bosh has to be intriguing, and it is possible.

Moving the contracts of Daequan Cook and Michael Beasley are the only things that stand in the way. And both should be quite easy to move. You’d have to think a team would be willing to take on Cook’s expiring $2.1 million contract for, say, up to $3.0 million in cash. As for Beasley, you’d have to think a team would be intrigued about the possibility of acquiring the troubled forward at no cost, and perhaps even surrender future draft considerations to the Heat in order to do so.

Still, the ultimate trio would seem unlikely. And, as surprising as this may sound, it may not even be in the Heat’s best interests.

With LeBron in the mix, entirely new scenarios open up.

If I were Riley, my recruiting pitch to LeBron would go something like this:

I would talk about the benefit of playing in an no-income-tax state like Florida, something that would be worth millions to James, whose off-court earnings dwarf his on-court salary. I would cover the weather, the beaches, the lifestyle, and all else the city has to offer. I would point to the rings on my finger. They are, after all, exactly what he wants. I would point to Micky Arison, the multi-billionaire owner willing to spend whatever it takes to make it happen.

But my focus would be on building a dynasty. Read more…

Be Careful What You Wish For With Joe Johnson

May 26th, 2010 No comments
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Joe Johnson is a great player. He has great length, great handles, a nice shooting touch, and he sees the floor. He’s also about as unselfish a player as you can get from an All-Star. He’d be a nice addition to any team, particularly the Heat.

But there are plenty of issues to worry about.

For starters, let’s rid ourselves of the notion that Johnson is worth a max contract. That’s flat ridiculous.

When the Hawks reportedly offered Johnson a four-year $60 million contract extension last summer, even that was arguably a big stretch. It ignored his age, his style of play, and his lack of production in key situations. But at least you could see the logic. The Hawks were a team on the rise, and Johnson was playing a key role. The Hawks were paying him as much for his past as his future. They were paying for a beloved Atlanta fixture to stay.

After having rejected that proposal, he figures to seek even more on the open market. A maximum five year contract would run his new team about $18.3 million per season.

So where does Johnson actually rank in the NBA? Let’s ignore need for a second, and focus solely on ability.

Amare, Bosh, Carmelo, Deron, Duncan, Durant, Gasol, Howard, Kobe, LeBron, Nash, Nowitzki, Paul, Roy and Wade and are inarguably better than Joe Johnson. You can’t even make a case that Johnson is better than any of one of these fifteen guys, right? Read more…

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Lessons in Game Theory

May 25th, 2010 No comments
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What LeBron James’ uniform says next season could be a simple matter of game theory

LeBron James continues to insist his upcoming free agency decision will be based purely on the potential to win.

It’s not about legacy. It’s not about marketing. It’s not about becoming basketball’s first billion-dollar man.

If that’s true, it’s all just a simple bout of game theory.

The game consists of a set of players (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer and Joe Johnson), a set of moves available to those players (Cleveland, New York, Chicago or Miami), and a specification of payoffs for each combination of strategies (title or no title).

LeBron is clearly aware that he is the centerpiece of the upcoming free agent class. He knows that whatever move he makes will be followed tit-for-tat by the other players. So all he really needs to do is break down the potential scenarios and weigh the likely outcomes.

LeBron’s possible destinations:

1. Cleveland

If LeBron chooses to remain in Cleveland, the Cavs get no better than this past season.

Dwyane Wade re-signs in Miami. Chris Bosh joins him there. Miami still has another $10 million or so with which to round out its roster.

Chicago then makes a strong push for, and gets one of, Amare Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer. The Bulls hold right there, unless someone is willing to take on Kirk Hinrich or Luol Deng.

New York re-signs David Lee. Joe Johnson becomes the consolation prize.

Net Result: James’ decision will have created two more perennial powerhouses, and one significantly better organization, with which to compete on an annual basis. The odds of LeBron winning a championship decrease dramatically. Not a viable option. Read more…

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