TrueHoop: Miami Heat

Heat fans hurting from LeBron's decision

December, 23, 2014
12/23/14
4:04
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Israel Gutierrez says the hurt is real among Heat fans as LeBron James returns for a Christmas Day matchup with the Cavaliers.

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Clippers still searching for accurate gauge

November, 21, 2014
11/21/14
1:27
AM ET
Gutierrez By Israel Gutierrez
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- The season hadn't even reached double figures in games played, yet this early seven-game road trip for the Los Angeles Clippers felt very much like a soul-searching voyage.

Not that losses to the Sacramento Kings in the season’s first week, or to the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls since then, is anything to be ashamed of.

What has made the Clippers rather confounding is that, despite relatively low roster turnover and a second year under Doc Rivers' watch, they haven't looked like a team benefiting from that continuity. They haven't looked like a team, frankly, that is better than last season's version.

Two games into this road trip, the results would make you believe the Clips are indeed finding themselves. Yet comfortable wins against the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat on back-to-back nights haven't exactly settled every concern in the town once known as Lob City.

"I don't think we were worried, but at the same time we're not trying to write ourselves as champions," said Chris Paul after compiling an effortless 26 points and 12 assists. "It's two games."

This wasn't exactly the Heat team against which the Clippers could truly measure themselves.

Not when Dwyane Wade is sitting out his third straight game, or when Shawne Williams is still starting because Josh McRoberts isn't fully healthy, or when Luol Deng remains lost in Miami's offense, or when Danny Granger is so rusty he hit the backboard on a wide-open corner 3.

Most importantly, it's difficult for the Clippers to gauge just how effective they really are when the Heat defense was as bad as it has been this season.

Still, it was difficult to ignore just how crisp and natural that Clippers offense played, particularly in a first half that saw them shoot 59.5 percent and lead by as many as 24 points.

[+] EnlargeChris Paul
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyChris Paul and the Clippers had little problem dispatching the shorthanded Heat.
Los Angeles finished with 31 assists on 43 made field goals, with perhaps the most stunning statistic of the night being Jamal Crawford's 9-to-5 assist-to-point ratio. Crawford couldn't recall the last time that ratio was even 1-to-1.

"I think half-court-wise, we have some killer sets -- some sets we know that if we need a bucket, we're going to them," Blake Griffin said after a 26-point game where he never had to force anything. "And some sets that we run over and over and over until somebody stops it.

"That 'get out and run' is great. We don't want to shy away from it, but at the same time it's not something where if we don't get anything in transition that we're struggling to score still.”

Besides not truly knowing if the Clippers' offense was that good or the Heat's defense that bad, the other element of L.A.'s performance that leaves you wanting more is the lack of a running game.

Yes, the Clippers were surgical in the half court, and Thursday's contest didn't require that Griffin & Co. rack up the easy transition buckets (6 fast-break points).

But at this point, the Clippers haven't shown much of that style of game at all.

According to Synergy, Los Angeles is 21st in the league in transition scoring at less than 14 points a game.

Last season, the Clips were second in that category at 22.5 a game.

If you believe we're deep enough into the season to consider that a red flag, there are several available theories to explain that significant drop-off.

It could simply be an early-season malaise for a team with a deep postseason run in the plans. It could be the team's emphasis on establishing its half-court offense under Rivers.

Or it could be the same reason why the Clippers' defense has struggled early: a lack of dynamic ability on the wing.

It's the Clippers' most noticeable void. No offense to Matt Barnes, but he's 34 years old, won't consistently force turnovers to ignite a fast break, and doesn't get up the floor as quickly anymore. And behind him, the options don't get any better, with Hedo Turkoglu as the next best option.

The point is, Lob City may not have been the formula for a championship. But there has to be a few strolls through Lob Neighborhoods every once in a while if L.A. wants to compete for a title.

Thursday, the Clippers had seven lobs, but most of them were half-court gimmes against an overwhelmed Heat defense.

If Los Angeles is going to succeed against a team like Memphis, which happens to be the next opponent on this Clippers road trip, the fast break has to be more of a prominent element. And it's quite possible the Clippers don't have the necessary pieces at the shooting guard and small forward spots to make that happen.

"You have to have balance," Rivers said. "You're not going to be one or the other. You're not going to win [playing] all half court. You're not going to win [playing] all transition. You better be good at both of them."

The Clippers might want to go ahead and get good at both elements, too, because an early look at the Western Conference says it could be up for grabs. The Spurs are the early clear favorite to make a third straight Finals trip, but past San Antonio, every other team has visible flaws.

The Grizzlies don't have enough shooting, the Warriors are turnover-prone and lack interior scoring, and the Houston Rockets are weak at power forward and the bench (you can add the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers to that list if you like, but they remain a notch below contender status at the moment).

That should leave the Clippers as prepared as any team to come out of the West. And yet this group has yet to inspire confidence.

Somehow, Paul has managed to put even more responsibility on himself to make sure his team runs enough to truly reach its potential.

"The biggest thing for us is defending," Paul said. "When we defend like that [against the Heat], even when they were scoring, we were getting the ball out quicker and playing with a faster tempo.

"A lot of that's on me, not to walk the ball up the court and make sure I'm forcing us to play a little bit faster."

The Clippers managed to play fast enough Thursday, even against a Heat team that tends to slow the game down.

But again, how much can you gain from playing an overmatched opponent? Not much.

It won't be until Sunday in Memphis that the Clippers can learn if this road trip is some sort of vision quest, or just confirmation that the early-season inconsistencies are real, long-term concerns.

Sideline view: Pacers and Heat

November, 13, 2014
11/13/14
7:36
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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Here are some sights, sounds (I still can't get "Just The Way You Are" out of my head) and notes from my two days in Miami to work the sidelines for the Pacers vs. the Heat for ESPN's game broadcast.

The Indiana Pacers' three victories so far might be enough to qualify them as the NBA overachievers of the year. They went through training camp working on an approach for a team that lost Paul George to injury and Lance Stephenson to free agency. Then half of their rotation players were wiped out by injuries right before the regular season started.

[+] EnlargeRoy Hibbert
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesRoy Hibbert finds himself as the lone Pacers mainstay standing at the moment.
The Pacers tried to stick with the same system. But as the injuries to David West, George Hill, C.J. Miles, C.J. Watson and Rodney Stuckey lingered the Pacers had to realize that what they thought of as their temporary team was going to be their actual team for a little while longer. They were caught in an unexpected rainstorm, and have considered reworking things to accommodate who they are. Somehow, in the midst of trying to decide whether to reconfigure their approach, they managed to win their third game of the season.

The only players who have maintained their expected roles are starting center Roy Hibbert and his backup, Ian Mahinmi. So it’s the old coaching quandary of plugging players into a system or adjusting a system to suit the players…while those players are adjusting to playing with each other.

The Hibbert-Copeland-Solomon Hill-Lavoy Allen-Donald Sloan lineup the Pacers used in the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat had played together for only 13 minutes, according to 82games.com. And that's the group that expanded the lead.

In some cases it’s not just different roles, it’s different positions. After the New York Knicks used Copeland at power forward, the Pacers are playing him at small forward.

“I’m a decent athlete, but I’m not one of those super-athlete guys,” Copeland said. “I get by on just skills and fundamentals, pretty much. So playing against these guys who are a lot quicker and more athletic coming off a ball screen [is difficult].”

In the regular season, playing hard can overcome a multitude of issues. And effort is one thing the Pacers have provided consistently, as evidenced by rebounding, the most effort-based statistic. They’re the third-best rebounding team in the NBA, second-best in offensive rebounds. They destroyed the Heat on the boards Wednesday, 53-28.

Talent tends to win out in the NBA. What the Pacers have done is find a way to give themselves a chance while they're devoid of talent. Of their six losses, only the Memphis Grizzlies beat them by double-digits. Teams look at Indiana’s lineup and expect a night off, but the Pacers never give it to them.

* * *


Where do the Pacers go from here? It’s not really up to them. David West and Roy Hibbert have player options for next season. If they come back and Paul George returns from his broken leg, the Pacers will try to make another run at it with this group. If not, the Pacers will have ample room under the salary cap in the summer of 2015, giving them the flexibility to reconfigure their team.

One of the things they hope to get from this season is the development of Solomon Hill, their first-round pick in 2013. He’s showing signs of improved shooting, hitting 36 percent of his 3-point shots so far after shooting 30 percent last season. They already love his defense, and it’s notable how vocal he is about defensive assignments and adjustments, both in the huddle and on the court.

* * *


This might seem convoluted, but ride it out: the Heat are a good team because they don’t know how good they are. Just listen to Dwyane Wade discuss the mix of new players, plus returning players who dramatically shifted roles.

“It was hard early on,” Wade said. “We started off 0-4 in preseason because we were all trying to figure each other out. We were trying to figure out kind of a new system. And also trying to get rid of the comfort of knowing we can do it, which we’ve done the last four years.”

Get rid of the comfort?

“The one thing that’s cool about this team is that we didn’t know,” Wade said. "We knew we had individual pieces, but you come into games not really knowing if you have enough every night to overcome a 20-point deficit or a 10-point deficit. The last few years we kind of knew we could overcome it. Right now, the excitement of it is figuring it out together.”

Now it makes sense. There’s a regular-season lull that comes with proven greatness. This version of the Heat hasn’t proven anything, so every night is a new opportunity and adventure.

* * *


Erik Spoelstra said the decision to start Norris Cole at point guard came by accident. Mario Chalmers was out for a preseason game, Cole started and Spoelstra liked what he saw.

While playing with the second unit means Chalmers can be more assertive, it hasn't helped Chalmers shoot more accurately. His field goal percentage is at 40 percent, down from a career-high 45 percent last season

Chalmers seemed plagued by uncertainty during the NBA Finals, when he weighed the possibility that those games could be his last with the Heat. But the free agent was re-signed to a two-year contract in the summer, which he called “a big relief.”

“I never wanted to leave in the first place,” Chalmers said. “I feel like Miami is home to me. I’ve been here my whole career. Hopefully I can stay my whole career.”

One last note on Chalmers. Maybe it was just a little self-deprecating joke, or maybe it showed where his confidence level is right now, but when I asked Chalmers if the Nintendo character on his T-shirt was Super Mario or just regular Mario, Chalmers said: “This is Super Mario. I’m the regular one right now.”

* * *


The two greatest unofficial job titles are mogul and guru. The two greatest official job titles are consultant and ambassador. You should aspire to be at least one of those four things.

For example, recently retired Heat player Shane Battier’s new title is Miami Heat ambassador. Apparently, part of the job description is singing “Just The Way You Are” to promote an upcoming Billy Joel concert at American Airlines Arena. Yep, he gets paid to do karaoke.

Battier is learning another benefit to ambassadoring. (See, another sign of a great job title is if it can’t properly be used as a verb). While talking with a few reporters before the news conference, Battier said one of the best parts of his new role (in addition to speaking engagements) is using parts of his mind he’d shut off during his 13-year playing career.

“The thing that struck me in just having time to meet people is that there’s a whole world out there of fascinating people doing awesome things,” Battier said. “They’re changing the world. And sometimes, especially in this business, you’re caught up in the next shootaround, the next game, the next practice, the next flight. You have a very myopic view of just the world. And that’s been the most fun part is talking to people and being part of conferences and speaking to groups and having amazing conversations ... it’s amazing, it’s stimulating and it’s exciting to finally be a part of it.”

Battier always came off as one of the players who was well aware of the world beyond the court. If he says he was insulated, it lets you know just how cut off from reality most pro athletes are.

#HateHard: The No Flex Zone

November, 7, 2014
11/07/14
5:04
PM ET
Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
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Josh McRoberts doesn't know his own strength. More importantly, he doesn't fully understand the purpose of his uniform.

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Stealth MVP candidate: Chris Bosh

November, 4, 2014
11/04/14
2:19
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The loss of LeBron James has allowed Chris Bosh to step up, says David Thorpe. Will he be able to keep it going all year?

What's next for Greg Oden?

September, 16, 2014
9/16/14
12:21
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden is facing domestic violence charges and perhaps the end of his NBA career. ESPN.com's Michael Wallace discusses the state of Oden.

Theory of gravity

August, 26, 2014
8/26/14
10:24
AM ET
Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
Archive
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The shooting ability of LeBron's new Big 3 have the potential to make life on offense whole lot easier for him.

Cavs fan gets tattoo of Love and LeBron

August, 4, 2014
8/04/14
10:34
AM ET
Rovell By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com
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Cavaliers tattooCourtesy of Nick GrossmanKevin Love and LeBron James could be sharing the same frontcourt soon; for now, they share a back.
An impatient Cleveland Cavaliers fan couldn't wait for a Kevin Love trade to be consummated, so Sunday night he had the Minnesota Timberwolves forward join LeBron James -- on his back.

Nick Grossman, 16, said he was walking the Virginia Beach boardwalk when he saw a shop that made henna tattoos of NBA players. When Grossman saw both James, available in a Heat jersey, and Love, available in a Timberwolves jersey, the lightbulb went off.

"I asked if they could put LeBron and Love in Cavs jerseys instead and they said they could if I showed them what the jersey looked like," said Grossman, who is from Richmond, Virginia, but grew up a Cavs fan (his father's family is from the Cleveland area).

Thirty minutes and $60 later, Grossman brought LeBron and Love together on his shoulder blades.

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that it's likely that Love gets traded to the Cavaliers on either Aug. 23 or 24. Cavs rookie Andrew Wiggins, who is expected to be part of the deal, is first eligible to be traded on Aug. 23.

If somehow the deal doesn't work out, the best part is that the tattoo is temporary, but Grossman doesn't think of it that way.

"It lasts up to a month, so it still should be on by the time Love gets traded to Cleveland," Grossman said.

Even though Grossman said he knew the Cavaliers had retired No. 42 for Nate Thurmond, he noted that UCLA had retired that number for Walt Hazzard and Love still wore that number after receiving permission from Hazzard.

LeBron James, popularity king

July, 18, 2014
7/18/14
12:54
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The East

July, 11, 2014
7/11/14
10:00
AM ET
By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com
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Jabari Parker and Andrew WigginsGetty ImagesJabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, the draft's top two, will get their first taste of NBA ball in Vegas.
There’s something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For the prized rookies in the 2014 draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The East guide is below, and the West guide is here.


Atlanta Hawks


Adreian Payne: Stretch big men are here to stay, and the Hawks continued to hoard them by drafting Payne, a dangerous pick-and-pop threat with legitimate 3-point range. It’s rare to see this kind of size, skill and athleticism in one player, but Payne might be limited to a smaller role because of a lung condition that affects his ability to play long stretches and big minutes.

Dennis Schroder: Watching Schroder run the point is an adventure. He applies legitimate full-court pressure on ball handlers nearly every time up the court, and he’s not bashful about trying to thread the needle through traffic for perfect dimes on the other end. There’s no fear here, and there’s rarely a dull moment, either.

Walter Tavares: It’s stranger than fiction, but Taveras was completely off the basketball radar until a German tourist in Cape Verde recruited him to try out. He had never even touched a basketball until 2010, but at 7-foot-3 with a reported 7-foot-9 wingspan and traffic signal-sized hands, he has what can't be taught.


Charlotte Hornets


Noah Vonleh: His draft-night fall was plenty fortuitous for Charlotte, as it would ultimately need a stretch 4 to pair with Al Jefferson, with Josh McRoberts now committed to the Miami Heat. Vonleh is a little reminiscent of Chris Bosh offensively, and his length and mobility defensively will cover up for mistakes while he learns the ropes. He could be the steal of the draft.

Cody Zeller: Last year’s fourth overall pick surprised a lot of folks by shooting jumpers and playing on the perimeter during last year’s summer league, but it didn’t pay dividends when the real games started. Zeller shot just 27 percent from 16 feet and out as a rookie, and it’s still unclear what his role will be at the NBA level. He’s a great athlete and very active, but Charlotte will need more than that justify his draft slot.

Roberto Nelson: The name might ring a bell if you’ve read George Dohrmann’s excellent book “Play Their Hearts Out." It’s a testament to Nelson’s drive that he’s made it to this point despite some well-documented efforts by AAU sharks to submarine his career. Here’s hoping he gets some minutes to show his stuff.


Chicago Bulls


Doug McDermott: In this strange setting where Anthony Randolph and Adam Morrison have looked unstoppable, McDermott might not quiet concerns of his ability to keep up in the NBA, regardless of how well he plays. That said, he made mincemeat of college competition for four straight years at Creighton, so he’s a strong bet to win MVP in Vegas. For your own sake, though, don’t bet on summer league.

Tony Snell: After an incredibly disappointing rookie campaign wherein Snell had a PER of 8.0 and shot 38.4 percent from the field, he’ll be looking for some redemption. You get the feeling Tom Thibodeau would have never played him if it wasn’t out of total necessity, but the scoring wing could earn some trust going forward with a more assertive offensive performance in Vegas.

Cameron Bairstow: A former teammate of Snell’s at New Mexico, Bairstow exploded on to the draft scene after Snell’s touches started to go his way. Bairstow is a serious inside-outside threat offensively, and if he expands his range on his jumper out to the 3-point line, he’ll be a nice weapon for Thibodeau to utilize off the bench.


Cleveland Cavaliers


Anthony Bennett: After missing out on the opportunity to play in front of UNLV fans last year at summer league because of rotator cuff surgery, Bennett should draw a big crowd even if the hype balloon has deflated some after a rough rookie season. It’s about baby steps at this point with Bennett, though, and showing that he’s at least in shape and playing fast will calm some nerves in Cleveland.

Andrew Wiggins: Another year, another first overall pick from Canada. Wiggins is the wing defender Cleveland desperately needs now, and perhaps he’ll be much more than that down the line. He’s not a stranger to big expectations, but the first days on the job always leave you under the microscope. If his college career foretold anything, no one in Vegas will have his performances more closely scrutinized.

Matthew Dellavedova: He was one of the only players Mike Brown could get consistent effort from last season, which led to more playing time than expected in his rookie season. With Jarrett Jack off to Brooklyn and Kyrie Irving’s shaky injury history, Dellavedova might be thrust into serious action again next season. These could be important reps.


Miami Heat


Shabazz Napier: Kobe Bryant isn’t even following poor Kendall Marshall on Twitter, but LeBron James wasn’t bashful about giving Napier his stamp of approval even before the two were teammates. While that confidence from the best player in the world is great to have, it also puts a big, red bull's-eye on his back. LeBron called him the best point guard in the draft, after all, so now it’s on the former UConn guard to start proving it.

James Ennis: This is just what Miami needs, right? Ennis is an athletic, 3-and-D wing who opted to play professionally in Australia after being drafted in the second round by Miami last season. He has glue guy written all over him, and with Shane Battier stepping away, Ennis could potentially have a role in Miami next season.

Justin Hamilton: He received plenty of burn in the Orlando Summer League (Miami is double-dipping this year along with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers), and after playing very well in the D-League last season, the former LSU big man could win a roster spot, particularly if he continues to shoot the ball well from distance. If you haven’t caught on yet, that’s a niche every team wants to fill.


Milwaukee Bucks


Giannis Antetokounmpo: The “Greek Freak” was Cirque De Soleil on a basketball court last season, and now he’s reportedly 2 inches taller and presumably even more capable of ridiculous feats. Few players in this setting will illicit this level of reaction -- you’ll drop your jaw, you’ll yell, you’ll jump out of your seat. He’s big fun.

Jabari Parker: The Bucks might be the hottest ticket in Vegas. Parker, the second overall pick of this year's draft, was touted as being the most "NBA-ready” prospect out there, and he’ll get plenty of chances to show why that is. Milwaukee doesn’t have to get too cute offensively –- just get Parker the ball and get the heck out of the way.

Nate Wolters: It never hurts to have a steady hand at point guard, especially since summer league is basketball’s Wild West. Shots fly everywhere and guys scramble all over the place, but Wolters has shown he’ll stay cool in less-than-ideal circumstances. In 58 played games in hi3s rookie season, Wolters had more than one turnover only 13 times. He’ll be a sight for sore eyes.


New York Knicks


Shane Larkin: The speed merchant might end up being the key to the Tyson Chandler trade despite the fact that he’s coming off a shaky rookie season. Triangle point guards are typically bigger and more physical than Larkin, but he should provide a drastic change of pace to Jose Calderon when he comes off the bench, at the least.

Cleanthony Early: Is he a 3, a small-ball 4, both or neither? Tweener forwards rarely have it easy in the early stages of their careers, but Early is an impressive athlete with a nice stroke that caught a lot of eyeballs during Wichita State’s superb season. His lack of ballhandling skills and ability to score off the dribble probably limit him to being a role player for now, but that’s not the worst thing.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo: He’s one of the few siblings of an NBA player who actually belong here. Nepotism runs wild at summer league, but Giannis' older brother earned his spot by playing very well in the D-League last season as a defensive specialist capable of wreaking havoc in transition. He’s a legitimate prospect, even if he needs more seasoning offensively.


Philadelphia 76ers


Nerlens Noel: There’s some debate over whether Noel will play in Vegas after performing well in Orlando, but maybe that’s just Philadelphia keeping its best-kept secret under wraps a little longer. Don’t forget about the shot-blocking big man in the rookie of the year race this season -- he’s got a leg up on knowing Brett Brown’s playbook (hint: run!), and he’ll get plenty of playing time and opportunities throughout the season.

Jordan McRae: Be still, Jay Bilas' heart. McRae has a 7-foot wingspan despite being just 6-foot-5. Although the Tennessee grad and second-round pick isn’t an insane athlete, those long arms and his decent burst allow him to sneak up on opponents at the rim on drives. He’ll need to hone in on one transferable skill and bulk up that lanky frame, but he’s a whole lot of limbs coming right at you.

Scottie Wilbekin: Being one of the best college players doesn’t always translate to NBA success, and Wilbekin’s lack of size will have him fighting an uphill battle. System-less basketball isn’t always kind to guys who excel at getting their team into sets and managing the game, so it will be interesting to see how the Florida point guard can perform in the chaos.


Toronto Raptors


Bruno Caboclo: He should start a support group with Mickael Pietrus (the “French Michael Jordan”) after being dubbed the “Brazilian Kevin Durant” by Fran Fraschilla on draft night. Caboclo has a 7-foot-7 wingspan and a prayer at ever getting anywhere close to Durant’s level, but performing well against legitimate competition right away could help justify the boldest pick of the draft.

Lucas Nogueira: The Bebe and Bruno show should give Brazilians a nice distraction from their World Cup hangover, as there should be plenty of highlight moments to go around. Nogueira won a lot of fans last year in summer league with his energy and amazing hair, and opposing guards should proceed with caution while he’s patrolling the paint.

Dwight Buycks: Lots of players are fighting just for a camp invite, but Buycks has a little more on the line. If he’s not waived before July 22, which is right after the end of summer league, the point guard’s contract for next season becomes guaranteed. After a performance last season that really put him on the radar, he’ll be scrapping to keep his status this time around.


Washington Wizards


Otto Porter Jr.: It’s been a rough 365 days for last year’s third overall pick, as his awful debut in summer league led right into a completely unproductive rookie season. Truthfully, it would have been a bigger deal had Anthony Bennett not absorbed all the ire, but Porter has to put it all behind him. The Wizards might need the jack-of-all-trades forward to play a big role next season with Martell Webster out three to five months for another back surgery and Trevor Ariza still an unrestricted free agent.

Glen Rice Jr.: They’ll be teammates here, but they might be battling for the same playing time. Rice Jr. barely played last season, but his 3-point stroke could come in handy for the Wizards. He’s been pretty solid as a shooter and scorer in the D-League, so he’ll get plenty of chances, especially if Porter looks out of place once again.

Khem Birch: We’ll see how the UNLV faithful treat him; he was very productive and won Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year two seasons in a row, but he also left after his junior year only to go undrafted. Birch should win neutral fans and general managers over anyway, as he’s a good hustle player and an active athlete at the 4.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

Conspiracy theories: The LeBron files

July, 10, 2014
7/10/14
11:08
AM ET
Reisinger By Adam Reisinger
ESPN.com
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NBA Lebron James - ClevelandIllustration by Elias SteinWhat will LeBron do? Is a return to Cleveland in the cards? Social media is searching for answers.

What will LeBron ultimately decide about his future? From cupcakes to planes to cars to cops, social media is searching for answers while we wait ...

July 5: Home sweet home?






July 6: Dan Gilbert's plane flies to Florida




July 9: LeBron's cars on the move




July 9: Mike Miller posts a picture ... of LeBron's Cavs jersey




July 10: Tracking LeBron's official website




July 10: Cleveland Zoo's owl picks Miami





July 10: Checking in with the police




July 10: Party at LeBron's house




Almost makes you long for the days of a one-hour TV special.

The many sides of LeBron's latest move

June, 24, 2014
6/24/14
12:42
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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LeBron James has exercised the early termination option in his contract, a surprise for those expecting the 29-year-old superstar to opt in for another year of his deal with Miami. A few thoughts on the latest turn of events:

Going rogue: Miami’s Big Three do not appear to be acting in concert -- yet. These are ominous early signs for Heat fans, who would be far more comforted had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh opted out of their contracts simultaneously with James. That scenario would have strongly indicated that the three of them had a plan for returning to Miami. This scenario gives the appearance that James is either putting pressure on Miami to make the choices he wants, or that he has one foot out the door.

Finals not a factor? James has indicated that the result of the Finals has no bearing on decisions happening right now. While this could be true, you have to wonder if Miami had a Finals disastrous enough to change one’s vision of its future. After a season of carefully managing Wade’s minutes, he looked old and ineffective for much of the Finals. The Heat went from being considered a roughly even bet against San Antonio to losing by the most points per game of any Finals team in history.

What about Wade? The educated guess is that if James leaves, Miami’s on the hook to pay Wade the remainder of his expensive contract. If Miami isn’t contending with a returning James, there’s little incentive for Wade to opt out of his deal right now and take a pay cut. If Wade does opt out of his deal right now, that’s a positive indicator that James is returning.

Remember Serge Ibaka: NBA history may have turned on Ibaka’s calf, as the injury compromised the Thunder’s effort against the Spurs. The Heat matched up much better against Oklahoma City than against the San Antonio team that ended up throttling Miami. It’s hard to envision the possibility of James leaving had the Heat just won a third title –- as opposed to the current reality of James making this choice in the aftermath of the Heat losing three consecutive games in embarrassing fashion.

Panicky Pat Riley: He’s the definition of cool, but Riley seemed less than in control during a June 19 news conference in which he exhorted other people to “get a grip.” If James leaves, certain Riley quotes will seem telling in retrospect. For instance, Riley said of his exit meeting with James, "He was restless. He wanted to get out of town with his family." On his relationship with James, Riley didn’t exactly betray a close working bond: "It's a texting relationship. It's a short meeting in the hallway. He knows I love him. He knows I respect him."

Remember Mike Miller: Would Miller have been the difference against the Spurs? Probably not, but James was reputedly less than happy to lose a versatile floor spacer because owner Micky Arison wanted to save money. After getting amnestied by Miami, Miller had a fine season with Memphis. He was sorely missed by a Heat team that relied on his production in past playoffs. If Miami wishes to keep its Big Three at a discount, there’s perhaps hypocrisy in ownership asking for monetary sacrifices from players after Arison refused to foot the bill last season.

LeBron gets lambasted for leaving: There’s a pattern to this, as we learned in 2010. Few criticize James till he finally chooses a new team and incurs the wrath of 29 LeBronless fanbases. He won’t be pilloried for returning to Miami. Fair or unfair, he will likely suffer an image hit if he does leave to compete in a more favorable situation. That’s the reality of spurning a fan base that’s rooted for you over a long period of time. Its pain gets amplified by the jealousy of others, and it builds into a storm of ill will directed at James and his newest team. That’s what happened when he left Cleveland. Ironically, this calculus is different if he actually comes back to Cleveland, as many have a sentimental preference for LeBron returning to his home state.

Postseason MVP rankings

June, 16, 2014
6/16/14
3:56
PM ET
Thorpe By David Thorpe
ESPN.com
Archive
Here is our final look at the top 3 Postseason MVPs:



Check back Tuesday for our Insider column, breaking down the Top 10 Postseason MVPs.

Why Kawhi?

June, 16, 2014
6/16/14
1:44
AM ET
Stein By Marc Stein
ESPN.com
Archive
Marc Stein and Amin Elhassan discuss Kawhi Leonard's NBA Finals MVP performance .. along with some "What Next" questions for LeBron James.

Spurs, model of success

June, 16, 2014
6/16/14
1:42
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin Arnovitz breaks down the Spurs' fifth title with J.A. Adande and Doris Burke.

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