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Shabazz Napier eyes lesson in rough debut

July, 5, 2014
Jul 5
7:10
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive
 Shabazz Napier Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty ImagesHeat point guard Shabazz Napier's debut was marred by eight turnovers and 3-for-15 shooting.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Shabazz Napier turned the ball over on his first possession and launched an airball on one of his final shots during his first game as an NBA point guard.

Those kind of miscues can only mean one thing: The Miami Heat’s first-round draft pick is right on track in the early stages of his transition to the league. Struggling in a summer league debut has become a rite of passage for point guards getting their first taste of NBA action.

Napier, the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player who had LeBron James’ stamp of approval when he was drafted in the first round last month, missed his first 10 shots and had eight turnovers Saturday in Miami’s 85-77 loss to the Boston Celtics at the Orlando Pro Summer League.

But a productive spurt in the fourth quarter during a rally that fell short left Napier embracing the growing pains and eager to quickly adjust in time for his next summer league test Sunday.

“I definitely needed this one to understand the game much better,” Napier said of Saturday’s performance. “It’s a big adjustment. I’m unable to do a lot of things I was on the college level. I’ve got to find the adjustments on how to do those things. I’ve still got the college game coming in. We’re learning on the fly, and we’re going to make big mistakes. This is a different game.”

But the humbling start makes Napier no different than plenty of other point guards who stumbled along their initial steps into the league. This time a year ago, Michael Carter-Williams shot 27 percent from the field in Orlando, had games with nine and eight turnovers, respectively, and he never found a rhythm despite putting up solid overall scoring numbers.

The Sixers point guard ended up being named NBA Rookie of the Year last season.

There are similar stories of early struggles dating back to Derrick Rose’s NBA summer league opening act in 2008. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Napier’s approach to this process was revealed after Saturday’s game when he was asked how much he either watched or knew about the early growing pains some top college point guards had in their initial week of summer schooling.

Napier, who never shied away from controversial statements during his time at UConn about the NCAA’s governing guidelines, offered a dish better than either of the two he had in Saturday’s game.

“I didn’t watch it at all,” Napier said of tracking previous summer league seasons. “I never had NBA TV, especially at school. If a lot of point guards do this, then I guess it’s a remedy. But it’s a big learning curve for all of us. So you’ve got to find a way. I will as soon as I continue to play.”

Repetition is certain to be a remedy, too.

Napier was targeted by the Heat for several reasons. Chief among them was that LeBron likes him and considered the shifty, sharp-shooting, two-time NCAA champion as the best point guard in the draft. Another reason was that Napier plays a position of potential need for the Heat, who saw 14 of the 15 players on last season’s roster become free agents this summer.

It’s made for a hectic and desperate month of July already, with LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh still yet to publicly commit to re-signing with the Heat since entering free agency last week. There has been a steady dose of conflicting reports about the intentions of the Heat’s Big Three, from some outlets speculating that all three players are likely to return, to others reporting that LeBron and Bosh are now apparently open to exploring how they might fit with other teams.

Meanwhile, Heat president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra have been traveling the country the past few days meeting with potential free-agent targets, including Luol Deng and Pau Gasol, in an effort to retool the roster in anticipation of LeBron, Wade and Bosh returning.

Amid that backdrop, the Heat are hoping to develop and prepare a handful of prospects on the summer league team who might be able to contribute to next season’s roster. In addition to Napier, Miami is hopeful that swingman James Ennis, a second-round pick last season, and holdover center Justin Hamilton can add a “layer of youth” to the team Riley mentioned was needed moving forward.

Ennis led the Heat with 18 points and eight rebounds, showing both the athleticism around the rim and the shooting distance from 3-point range Miami needs to replace aging veterans from last season’s team that was overrun by San Antonio in five games during the NBA Finals. Hamilton missed nine of 15 shots, but he had 13 points and nine rebounds Saturday against Boston’s young prospects.

Heat assistant Dan Craig, who is coaching the summer league team, said Napier’s uneven play was more a result of his inability to adjust to the pace of the NBA game -– even at the scaled-down summer level.

“At times, I thought he sped himself up,” Craig said. “That’s one thing we’ve been talking about. Slow down, let the defense make the mistake. As he settled in, I think he did a good job of adjusting. Obviously, we’re still learning each other. If he makes a mistake, he goes on to the next play. I think he got in trouble more than they got him in trouble. And that’s just about slowing down.”

Among the dozens of former players, league executives and team scouts who watched Napier in action at the Orlando Magic’s practice facility was someone who knows quite a bit about a point guard’s transition from leading a team to an NCAA title to getting prepared in a hurry for the NBA.

Isiah Thomas, who guided Indiana to a championship in 1981 and then entered the draft three months later, smiled and nodded his approval as he spoke with ESPN.com Saturday about Napier.

“The thing I like about him most is that he competes. And not only does he compete, he’s smart and has a great fundamental base you can build from,” Thomas said. “He understands offensive concepts and defensive concepts. I’m not concerned about what his field goal percentage was today, or any of that.”

Thomas, a Hall of Fame point guard who won two championships with the Detroit Pistons, said Napier has the intangibles and instincts necessary to work through many of the initial adjustments required to be an impact point guard in the NBA. Thomas pointed to a stretch in the fourth quarter, when Napier made three straight shots, got a steal and sparked a comeback in a key stage of the game.

“They had a stretch there when he really got it going,” said Thomas, now an analyst for NBA TV. “The thing that is impressive is that he can have those type of bursts in a game, when he can hit a couple of shots, get a couple of steals and change the whole momentum of the game. It didn’t matter to him what he was shooting before that moment. He’s able to grasp that, and that’s a big thing at this level.”

Ennis, who played for the Heat’s summer league team last year, said he spoke with Napier about not allowing a slow start or bad game to linger. The week is far too short for any of that.

“I told him, ‘This is your first time here. Last year, I was very nervous,’” Ennis said. “I know he got drafted in first round, so a lot of people expect a lot of him. Next game, he’ll be better. Just get the jitters out.”

That process for Napier started with the first play of the game. He brought the ball up in transition and tossed a lazy pass across the court and knew it was a mistake the moment it left his hand. The turnover led to a Celtics fast break.

“I passed it, and I didn’t know I threw a loose pass,” Napier said. “I thought I threw a regular pass. That’s one of the things I’ve got to learn. Throw a pass that has a chance of getting there. As soon as I threw it, I said, ‘There it is, get back on defense.’”

A good sign is that Napier didn’t get defensive about his miscues.

He dissected them. He accepted them.

His plan was to spend the evening in his room watching film and refocusing for Sunday’s game.

“I can come in here and not be prepared, or I can come in here and be prepared,” Napier said. “And I like being prepared for everything.”

Everything, including a long and productive NBA career at the point.

After seeing Napier on Saturday take his first step -- and a few missteps, as well -- Thomas likes his chances.

LeBron's agent meets with multiple teams

July, 5, 2014
Jul 5
2:38
PM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
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Can Riley paint another masterpiece?

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
2:02
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive


MIAMI -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have given Pat Riley a clear and clean canvas necessary to retool the Miami Heat’s roster.

But as free agency opens just after midnight Tuesday, the question is whether the accomplished and proud 69-year-old veteran executive can assemble another masterpiece similar to the success he had four years ago when bringing the Big Three together.

There should be absolutely no doubt about the answer.

Riley didn't need to recite the finer points on his decorated resume during his stern and stoic season-ending news conference after San Antonio demolished the Heat in five games during the NBA Finals, which emphatically ended Miami’s quest for a third straight title.

But the tone Riley set weeks ago during the first five minutes of his hour-long plea for perspective and call for James, Wade and Bosh to “stay the course” clearly resonated heading into a high-stakes July.

“I've been a leader and a decision-maker,” Riley said of a career that has included nine championship seasons as a player, assistant, head coach and executive over 45 years. “That's my level of expertise. I'll do everything in my power to retool this team. What cements a forever bond is going through what we went through this season and staying the course.”

A process that started with Riley's state of the union address three weeks ago continued in recent days when James, Wade and Bosh opted out of the final two seasons of their contracts to help create a league-record $55 million in salary-cap space. It all culminates in a potential splash in free agency designed to make the next four or five seasons for the Heat as productive as the past four seasons.

James, Wade and Bosh are all expected to re-sign longer deals with the Heat, with their recent decisions indicating intent to give Riley an opportunity to land a handful of free agents to stabilize a supporting cast that had grown stale after four straight trips to the Finals and two championships.

Riley often has used baseball clichés to characterize the Heat's lofty plans in these situations. Since he arrived in Miami nearly 20 years ago to work under owner Micky Arison, there have been no fewer than three major makeovers of the Heat's roster that put Miami in championship contention.

The first push landed Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway in the mid-1990s. The second rebuild saw Riley draft Wade, trade for Shaquille O'Neal and surround them with veteran mercenaries in Jason Williams, Antoine Walker, Gary Payton and James Posey to form the 2006 championship team. Then, James and Bosh came in 2010 to join Wade to launch the Heat's current run.

Whereas those roster moves constitute the “swinging for the fences” approach Riley and Arison have taken in the past, that's not what the Heat need right now. They already have hit their home runs with James and Bosh still in the prime of their careers and Wade, 32 and coming off a disappointing effort in the Finals, showing a willingness to buy into the program by opting out with $41.8 million left on his deal.

What the Heat need now is to plug holes to replenish an aging roster that wore down this season and lacked the type of reinforcements that could relieve some of the burden from James and Bosh.

With the ultimate amount of flexibility and financing, the Heat will open free agency aiming for star power. Carmelo Anthony will reportedly meet with the Chicago Bulls first, but he can probably count on Riley at least placing a call to check in and offer a good morning greeting. Kyle Lowry is also likely to be at the top of the Heat's board of free-agent targets.

Those are the stars of the 2014 class.

But there are also plenty of prospects who could add stability to the Heat's roster. Ramon Sessions, Luol Deng, Shawn Marion, Marvin Williams, Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza are among the middle-to-lower level free agents who would bolster the Heat's depth and address pressing roster needs.

Riley will have a full menu of options. But much of it wouldn't have been available had James, Wade and Bosh -- along with Heat veteran Udonis Haslem -- not shown the kind of chemistry in recent days that was missing on both ends of the court during that series against the Spurs.

There are also potential dangers involved with free agency. There's nothing stopping a team from poaching the Heat's star players, especially James and Bosh. There are tempting opportunities out there, and you can bet Houston could try to convince either of those players that joining Dwight Howard and James Harden presents a stronger alternative than staying intact in Miami.

But while other marquee free agents are already lining up meetings with potential suitors, there could be a very good reason why there have been no such reports of Miami's free agents taking on recruiters.

Either they're good at keeping their business quiet, or they're in lockstep with one another and Riley.

Entering the offseason, Bosh said the Heat's Big Three are more in tune now than they were in 2010 entering this process.

“It's easier to get on the same page now because we know each other,” Bosh said. “I didn't really know those guys [four years ago]. We weren't like that. We hung around each other, but not really. They did. Now, the communication is so much easier because we can get the kids together, we can go out to dinner with the wives, we can do something. We know how to talk to each other. Those things allow us to connect and feel each other out. Before, it was awkward.”

Now, it has become routine.

James has said the Heat need upgrades at every position on the team. That's not necessarily the case, but his point was clearly made. He's not satisfied with where things stand. Without changes, the four-time MVP isn't convinced his next four years will be as promising as the previous four.

“I just want to win -- it's all that matters to me,” James said. “I've been fortunate enough to play in five Finals. I've lost three of them. That doesn't sit well with me at all, being in this position, being able to get to that point. I take a lot of credit, a lot of blame. I just feel like I could have done more. I'm harder on myself than anyone else could be.”

Riley is now armed with everything he needs to ease that burden.

“We're going to find out what we're made of here,” Riley said recently. “It's not about options. It's not about free agency. It's about what we have built over four years here. We have a chance to [again] do something significant. We have a tremendous opportunity to do something special.”

LeBron has led this team on a remarkable run, as far as it could go under the circumstances.

The Heat's Big Three have turned the reins over to Riley to hit the reset button.
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Big Three get together, discuss future

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
8:00
PM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
Archive



Brian Windhorst discusses how much of a role LeBron James will have in determining the future of Miami's Big Three.

Satisfying LeBron costly to Heat draft

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
5:17
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
Archive

MIAMI -- Having boasted one of the league's oldest rosters last season, there's no question the Miami Heat need to get younger.

Considering their failures at the position during their demoralizing loss to San Antonio in the Finals, the Heat also are in desperate need of help at point guard.

And beyond anything else right now, the Heat need to keep LeBron James. One of the keys to keeping LeBron is to make him happy and satisfied with every potential roster move.

According to his Twitter post during the NCAA Final Four, LeBron likes Shabazz Napier, who led the UConn Huskies to a national title last spring. Ray Allen likes LeBron and is leaning toward returning for a 19th NBA season as long as he can continue playing alongside the four-time MVP next year.

And Allen is also a former UConn star, who would be an ideal mentor in Miami for Napier.

Connect all of the dots, and it's easy to see why Pat Riley and the Heat reportedly are pushing to move up from their No. 26 slot in Thursday's NBA draft for a shot to acquire the speedy, sharp-shooting combo guard. In addition to Cole and the No. 26 overall pick, the Heat could also offer their $2.2 million trade exception to sweeten a potential deal. But there's a sobering question that keeps coming up each time one of these pipe-dream type scenarios are bantered about seemingly every other day with the Heat this time of the year.

Is it realistic?

The quick answer: hardly.

The Heat are almost completely out of assets. On one hand, it's a position of ultimate flexibility and authority, with the team in a situation with 14 of the 15 players on last season's roster either at the end of expiring contracts or in position to opt out of deals to become free agents next week.

Should Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh follow LeBron's decision this week to opt out of the final two years of their contracts, it would leave only third-year point guard Norris Cole on the Heat's ledger for guaranteed salary next season. So in essence, the Heat's lone play is to move up in the draft for a chance to land Napier and try to entice a team to take back Cole, who is owed $2 million next season, along with the Heat's first-round pick in a future draft.

That means the Heat would be attempting to trade a young, speedy, relatively inexpensive point guard who was a rotation player on two NBA championship teams -- and a future No. 1 pick -- to move a handful of spots up in the draft to get a younger, slightly cheaper, NCAA champion.

But if LeBron wants Napier, the Heat are obligated to try to get him.

As Riley said last week during his season-ending press conference that also served as the launch of the LeBron James Recruitment campaign, the Heat are willing to do “whatever it takes.”

What this reveals more than anything is that the power of LeBron as a free agent is far greater and more dominant that any of his collective powers on a basketball court when he's in uniform and deciding the outcome of a game or a playoff series.

It's clear Riley and LeBron agree on several things about this team entering Thursday's draft and next week's free agency. The Heat need to get younger and more athletic, particularly on the perimeter.

Napier was a fantastic shooter and scorer in college, which makes him similar to other former UConn combo guards in Ben Gordon and Kemba Walker. A bigger priority for the Heat is to find a shooting guard and small forward with length who could alleviate the two-way burden and take some minutes away from LeBron and Wade on the perimeter.

If you're the Heat and are going to trade up, it seems more fitting to reach for swingmen such as Duke's Rodney Hood or Kentucky's James Young.
Riley insisted that among the improvements the Heat needed to make was to develop “a layer of youth” behind the team's veteran core. He also talked about the virtues of players and coaches reinventing themselves to make the next four seasons of Heat basketball around James as dynamic and productive as the past four were.

If Riley takes his own advice, his own reinvention would start to take shape with his approach to the draft as soon as Thursday. Never a huge proponent of relying on youth and developing teams through drafts, just the notion that Riley would sign off on the Heat's attempt to trade up to acquire talent would be a step outside of his traditional team-building comfort zone.

Another option for the Heat would be to make their selection and then trade the pick to clear an additional $1 million off the salary cap to help in other free-agency pursuits. Miami could also make the pick, stash a foreign player in Europe and avoid the salary-cap hit for next season.

That's been Riley's preferred method of operating in the draft. But these are different times.

These are desperate times. These are LeBron-dictated times.

But giving LeBron his way is also part of the reason why the Heat are in this predicament.

Four years ago, to complete sign-and-trade deals with Cleveland for LeBron and with Toronto for Bosh, the Heat forked over a total of four first-round picks over a five-year span. The moves were made to ensure LeBron and Bosh could get the sixth season, respectively, on their contracts instead of being limited to the maximum of five years allowed had they joined the Heat without the trade.

One of the most overlooked aspects of LeBron's decision to opt out Tuesday after his fourth year in Miami is that by doing so, the Heat wasted two first-round picks. If Bosh does the same by opting out, that total rises to four -- one of which the Heat still owe -- to add years and money to contracts that were discarded.

Just in the past four years, those picks could have been parlayed into one of the Plumlee brothers, Perry Jones, Tim Hardaway Jr., Jimmy Butler or Reggie Jackson among others taken late in the first round.

That represents the kind of youth and athleticism the Heat sorely lacked in recent seasons, a shortcoming that culminated in the Finals meltdown against the Spurs.

There's a good reason why LeBron likes Napier, and the Heat are working to get him.

Napier potentially offers a lot of what Patty Mills gave the Spurs against the Heat.
Shooting. Speed. Defense. Youth. Electricity off the bench.

The Heat will have to give LeBron just about everything he wants in order to keep him.

Four years ago, that meant sacrificing first-round draft picks for what proved to be no reason at all.

The King and CP3 show

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
12:46
PM ET
Tags:

Miami Heat

Sorry, Internet: Bron's wife not sending sign

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
12:48
PM ET
By ESPN.com
ESPN.com
Savannah James and LeBron James Bobby Metelus/Getty Images

LeBron James' wife, Savannah, posted a photo on Instagram late Sunday night that caused quite the stir among NBA fans. It was a picture of the state of Ohio with the word "Akron" on it and a caption that read: "Home sweet home!! The countdown is real! #330."

But according to Brian Windhorst's sources, the message isn't a comment on LeBron's potential free agency. Instead it refers to their family's usual summer plans to leave for their home in Akron soon.
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Miami Heat

Why Kawhi?

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
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.video

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