A rundown of eight big questions entering NBA offseason: What will happen with LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard?

In this Tuesday, May 9, 2017, file photo, San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) walk upcourt during the second half of Game 5 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Houston Rockets in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

MIAMI — The Warriors have been crowned NBA champions, and just like that the most exciting offseason in sports has begun.

There are plenty of intriguing storylines entering the summer like LeBron James’ future, the Kawhi Leonard-Spurs situation and Paul George’s impending free agency. Here’s a rundown with the eight biggest questions of the 2018 NBA offseason, including our predictions for how each will play out. Continue reading “A rundown of eight big questions entering NBA offseason: What will happen with LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard?”

Mailbag: If Raptors blow it up can Heat swoop in for Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan?

Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan wait for a free-throw during the second half of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Cavaliers Monday in Cleveland. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Time for another Miami Heat mailbag

If you were not able to ask a question this time, send them along for future mailbags via Twitter to @tomdangelo44 and @Anthony_Chiang. You can also e-mail me at tdangelo@pbpost.com.

Don, Fort Lauderdale: If the Raptors blow it up could the Heat jump in and trade for some of their players?

Many believed the Raptors should have blown up their roster a year ago but they gambled, handed out several long-term contracts, and brought back most of their players (sound familiar?). Now, after president Masai Ujiri said, “we need a culture reset here” a year ago, where does he go from here after being swept in the conference semifinals for the second consecutive year by the Cavaliers? And this time as the No. 1 seed?

If you think the Heat are in salary cap hell, take a look at the Raptors who have three players eating up $80.4 million next season: point guard Kyle Lowry, $31.0 million; shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, $27.7 million; power forward Serge Ibaka, $21.7 million. Add center Jonas Valanciunas’ $16.5 million option and that puts the Raptors just $4 million shy of the projected $101 million salary cap.

If Toronto is looking for that “culture reset” it’ll probably start in the backcourt. DeRozan and Lowry are coming off All-Star seasons before once again wilting in the postseason. Lowry was an All-Star for the fourth consecutive season although his scoring dipped more than six points to 16.2 per game and he’s 32. DeRozan is four years younger and averaged 23.0 points per game.

DeRozan would bring the biggest return but he’s the player the Raptors may want to attempt to rebuild around. Toronto could look at one of the other teams looking to unload their All-Star point guard, like the Wizards (John Wall) or the Hornets (Kemba Walker), in a Lowry deal. Those options are more attractive than pursing Goran Dragic, who also recently turned 32. But if Toronto is looking for more young players perhaps they would be willing to expand the deal.

Of course, the Heat may not want to stop there, but the question is who else would they want? (Please, not Ibaka). The Raptors have some nice young players, some of whom like Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby they’ll want to hold onto. But in the Heat followers quest to trade Hassan Whiteside would the Raptors think about moving Valanciunas and making this a much larger deal?

Why not? But remember, any deal with a team like Toronto or even Washington or Milwaukee reeks of two desperate teams just hoping to push their problem onto another team.

Which leads us to another possible trade question …

@vfraumeni3: Any chance if Whiteside is moved that the spurs would take him? A move involving Hassan and Dion and a future 1st for (Kawhi Leonard) and (Patty Mills) could work well i think

So, Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters for Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills? Pat Riley would drive to San Antonio in August with no air conditioning and the windows stuck in the up position if that’s what it took to get that deal done.

Whiteside will not end up a Spur unless the teams agree on a blockbuster. In fact, I’d put the chances of Leonard being to Miami next season better than Whiteside wearing a San Antonio uniform. But that would take the Spurs being rejected by several other teams before having serious talks with the Heat regarding a Leonard deal.

[Mailbag: Would expiring contracts be enough for the Heat in a Hassan Whiteside trade?]

[Erik Spoelstra says there’s a storyline that hasn’t drawn much attention, and it involves Rodney McGruder]

[The number of head coaching changes in NBA since Erik Spoelstra’s first season is staggering]

[Heat to participate in Sacramento summer league before heading to Las Vegas]

[Kelly Olynyk thrives in Heat system; says he’s ready to expand role]

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New format breathes life (and defense) back into NBA All-Star Game

Team Stephen’s Joel Embiid battles for the ball against Team LeBron’s Kevin Durant and LeBron James in Sunday’s NBA All-Star game. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

LOS ANGELES – The NBA and its players association have stumbled onto something. And they shouldn’t let it go by the wayside.

The out-of-the-box thinking for the All-Star Game — scrapping the traditional East vs. West format and allowing the players to choose sides to create more competition — worked.

Sunday’s game, won by LeBron James’ team 148-145 over Stephen Curry’s squad was more than a showcase. It was actually a competitive game.

And not a laughable display of nine players standing around and choosing whose turn it is to fly to the rim or take a 35-foot jumper.

After a slow start — though not nearly as slow as the pregame show featuring the overexposed Kevin Hart — the players warmed up to actually playing defense, an art that had been lost in the last four All-Star games.

“The beginning of the game was basically no difference, a little bit of highlights,” said Heat guard Goran Dragic, who had two points, four rebounds and an assist in his All-Star game debut. He played 11:28.

Goran Dragic

“But then when the game was getting to the end, the last six, seven minutes was really a competitive game. We were down (13) points and we were really competing on defense. I think that’s good for the fans. You want to have a close game and we had one. It’s fun. You can see some highlights — alley-oops, crazy dunks — but I think the fans wanted competitiveness.”

They certainly got it.

Team LeBron trailed 133-120 with just under seven minutes to play, but went on a 24-17 run to tie the score with 1:30 remaining. Then, with the help of a finger-roll layup by MVP LeBron with 34.5 seconds to go, his team took a one-point lead.

Following a turnover by DeMar DeRozan, Team LeBron got the ball back and a Russell Westbrook bucket gave them a three-point lead with 10.7 seconds left.

Team Stephen, though, had one last chance to send the game into overtime. But Curry let his boys down when he could not get a shot off with LeBron and his Golden State teammate, Kevin Durant, smothering him. Curry was forced to give up the ball to DeRozan, who couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer.

The last time an All-Star Game was decided by one possession was 2010.

“We tried to set the tone early of playing a little bit of defense, creating that competitive environment that was a great change for the fans,” Curry said. “I think we accomplished that all the way down to the finish.”

Yes they did. There was defense (a shocking concept for an All-Star game). There were strategic timeouts by coaches Dwane Casey of Toronto and Mike D’Antoni of Houston (again, something the All-Star game has not seen in awhile). There was James shouting out defensive calls. There were eight blocked shots, 20 steals and the first ever All-Star Game referee’s review (which, by the way, they got wrong).

Oh, and there were 28 free throws, another indication that defense was being played at the rim. The last two All-Star Games, which turned into unwatchable slam-dunk contests, had 16 free throws combined.

And the winning team the last two years, the West on both occasions, scored 196 and 192 points, forcing the NBA to get out ahead of this deteriorating snoozefest before someone cracked 200 points.

DeRozan and Durant both said it was the most fun each has had playing in an All-Star Game. And most players had to agree especially when the winning team has averaged 178.5 points the last four years.

“Both (teams) competed and they went after it, and that’s what you want to see,” said Heat general manager Andy Elisburg, who was part of the team’s contingent at the game to support Dragic.

“You want to see a game where there’s excitement and you got a one-possession game at the end.”

Elisburg doesn’t know if the format will continue — although with the positive reviews coming from the Hollywood crowd and beyond, the NBA has no choice. Now the league must take this format one step further and televise the draft.

Make it part of All-Star Weekend, say Friday night. Have all 24 players shooting around on the court and the two captains at midcourt pointing to a player and that player dropping the ball and walking over to stand next to his captain.

Just like they probably did hundreds of times on the playground.

Talk about ratings!

[Our Miami Heat awards at the break: The biggest surprise has been …]

[LeBron James on Douglas High shooting: ‘How is it possible that we can have minors buy a gun?’]

[One point shy of advancing, Heat’s Wayne Ellington knocked out in first round of 3-point contest]

[If Cleveland’s Kevin Love has any animosity toward Dwyane Wade he’s not showing it]

[Ray Allen made biggest shot in Heat history and now is a Hall of Fame finalist; Tim Hardaway not on list]

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Could Toronto Raptors free agents Kyle Lowry or Serge Ibaka be on the Miami Heat’s radar?

Toronto’s Serge Ibaka fouls Cleveland’s LeBron James during Sunday’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

The Toronto Raptors are this week’s version of the L.A. Clippers.

The Raptors’ season ended Sunday when they were swept by the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Toronto has been to the playoffs four times since Masai Ujiri started heading up basketball operations, being ousted twice in the first round, once in the second round and last year in the conference finals.

With several key players up for free agency, the Raptors must decide who they want back.

But something has to give. The Raptors, who signed shooting guard DeMar DeRozan to a five-year, $130 million deal last summer, need to do some creative cutting to bring back Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka and avoid exceeded the cap.

But the question is do the Raptors want to move forward with both players on their roster, or even one? And if not, or if either decides to move on, could Heat president Pat Riley and GM Andy Elisburg make a play for either?

The Vertical ranks Lowry, 31, as the third best point guard on the market this summer behind Golden State’s Stephen Curry and the Clippers’ Chris Paul, and it has Ibaka, 27, as the third-best power forward behind Atlanta’s Paul Millsap and the Clippers’ Blake Griffin.

Lowry has a player option for $12 million next season but confirmed to reporters today he will decline that option to become a free agent. Toronto can offer Lowry a five-year contract for about $205 million. If he leaves, he can sign for a max of four-years and about $158 million. Either way, his contract would start at about $36 million.

But the Heat have Goran Dragic under contract for three more seasons, the last being a player option. And Dragic’s $17 million price tag for 2017-18 is a bargain considering the marketplace. Miami would have to determine Lowry (or Paul for that matter) would be worth playing twice as much as what Dragic is making, and then find a way to deal Dragic, to make a run at one of the elite point guards.

Right now, the Heat are happy with Dragic and unless he is included in a blockbuster deal, Miami is not in the market for a point guard.

Ibaka’s situation, though, is more interesting. Although Ibaka has played for three teams in the last year – being traded from OKC to Orlando last June and from the Magic to Raptors in February – the 6-foot-10 power forward is expected to command around $20 million a year.

Ibaka averaged 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds between Orlando and Toronto this season. Although his numbers were slightly lower in the playoffs – 14.3 points, 6.5 rebounds – he was not impressive in the postseason.

The Heat’s need for a quality power forward depends on if they can retain James Johnson. Miami has expressed a desire to bring back the 30-year-old Johnson, who had a breakout year after signing a one-year contract with Miami last summer, and he will come in at a much lower price than Ibaka.

But if Johnson receives an overwhelming offer the Heat decide is more than they are willing to pay, Ibaka could be in play for Miami this summer.

[Chris Bosh being sued by company that produces erotic videos]

[Miami Heat Mailbag: Better chance Bulls trade Jimmy Butler or Dwyane Wade turns down $24 million?]

[Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra named NBCA co-Coach of the Year]

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Heat vs. Raptors: Hassan Whiteside-Jonas Valanciunas a ‘throwback’ matchup

Hassan Whiteside was knocked out of the Heat's playoff series against the Raptors last spring with a knee injury in Game 3
Hassan Whiteside was knocked out of the Heat’s playoff series against the Raptors last spring with a knee injury in Game 3

TORONTO – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra calls them “throwbacks” and last spring Miami Center Hassan Whiteside and fellow 7-footer, Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas, were headed toward an entertaining seven-game head-to-head dual in the Eastern Conference semis when both players’ series ended in the same game.

Whiteside injured his knee in the first half of Game 3. Valanciunas then sprained his right ankle in the third quarter of the same game.

In the first two games, Whiteside totaled 22 points, 29 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Valanciunas had 37 points, 26 rebounds and 4 blocks.

“You have two big players in an age where everybody likes to talk about how many small ball players there are in this league.” Spoelstra said today. “You have two throwbacks. Totally different players but it makes it for a good competitive matchup.”

The two will bang bodies in the first meeting between the two teams tonight in the Air Canada Center. Of the two, Whiteside’s role has increased much more with a new max contract and newlook team that will rely more on his scoring.

Whiteside is second on the Heat with a 19.8 scoring average, is leading the NBA with 13.8 rebounds and is tied for first in the league with 3.0 blocked shots.

Valanciunas is averaging 16.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and a half a block a game. His scoring is not needed as much with an explosive backcourt that includes league scoring leader DeMar DeRozan (36.3 ppg).

Whiteside was not in a mood to talk much about Valanciunas at today’s shoot-around.

“He’s got long arms,” he said. “He’s a really long-armed player. That’s it, I really don’t have much to say about him.”

Whiteside added that he does not approach a game in which he is facing Valanciunas – or any of the classic centers – any differently. He did say he believes the matchup in last year’s playoffs “would have been great” if the two were healthy for seven games.

“I hurt my knee, I hurt my knee the first game,” he said. “It was kind of tough the whole series for me.”

[Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says Luke Babbitt has ‘ultra green light’ from 3-point range]

[Stat of the Week: James Johnson slumping since first half of first game]

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Miami Heat hope to find a way to slow down Toronto Raptors star DeMar DeRozan

Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan celebrates a 3-point shot during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, in Washington. The Raptors won 113-103. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan celebrates a 3-point shot during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, in Washington. The Raptors won 113-103. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

MIAMI — The Heat are familiar with DeMar DeRozan’s game.

Miami was eliminated by DeRozan and the Raptors in a seven-game series in the second round of last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs. DeRozan averaged 22.1 points on 38.8 percent shooting in the series as he played through a thumb injury. Continue reading “Miami Heat hope to find a way to slow down Toronto Raptors star DeMar DeRozan”

2016 NBA free agents: Gauging Heat interest in DeMar DeRozan

If he opts for free agency, DeMar DeRozan will be one of the biggest prizes on the market. (Getty Images)
If he opts for free agency, DeMar DeRozan will be one of the biggest prizes on the market. (Getty Images)

The Heat are getting ready for an aggressive pursuit of elite talent Kevin Durant, but so are 29 other teams. If Miami doesn’t hook its “whale,” will the team be content to wait for a shot at the 2017 free agent class?

Patience has always been a challenge for Pat Riley and his perpetual win-now mentality, which could prompt him to go after another big-time player if Durant doesn’t sign. One of the best available is Toronto wing player DeMar DeRozan.
Continue reading “2016 NBA free agents: Gauging Heat interest in DeMar DeRozan”

2016 NBA playoffs: Goran Dragic gets his face smashed again (video)

Goran Dragic is cool with getting hit in the face. He would just prefer that it be called a foul. (Getty Images)
Goran Dragic is cool with getting hit in the face. He would just prefer that it be called a foul. (Getty Images)

This is pretty much a normal work hazard for Goran Dragic. At least this time he didn’t lose any teeth.

Late in the first half of the Heat’s Game 2 loss in Toronto, DeMar DeRozan elbowed him in the mouth on a play in which Dragic was whistled for a blocking foul. Here’s the play:
Continue reading “2016 NBA playoffs: Goran Dragic gets his face smashed again (video)”

2016 NBA playoffs: Chris Bosh at center of Heat’s Game 1 win

Bosh helped spur Miami to an overtime win Tuesday. (Getty Images)
Bosh helped spur Miami to an overtime win Tuesday. (Getty Images)

The Heat keep saying how important it is to have Chris Bosh on the bench with them in the playoffs, and that continues to sound like more than just talk.
Continue reading “2016 NBA playoffs: Chris Bosh at center of Heat’s Game 1 win”