Pat Riley remembers the feeling, how his organization once was the gold standard, the one every team was trying to chase and build to unseat.
Now it’s Golden State. And Riley understands what it will take to catch the Warriors.
Riley recently spoke about how the Warriors were built. “Organically,” he said. The Warriors original foundational pieces – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green – all were acquired through the draft.
Once Golden State became a contender it started supplementing and building depth by acquiring players through trades and free agency.
“They drafted well, but they also made some very good acquisitions via trade and free agency,” Riley said last week. “They got (Andre) Iguodala, they ended up getting (Andrew) Bogut in a trade. The very first championship they won, they signed Shaun Livingston. They drafted Draymond Green in the second round. So they had a very low contract with Steph, they got Klay, so they grew organically. … They used all three areas.”
After their first title the Warriors slipped before deciding they needed one more final piece to truly separate them from the rest of the league.
That was Kevin Durant.
Now, everyone is chasing the Warriors and Riley has an interesting take in how that should be done.
Riley is not sure the best way to beat Golden State is to build your team the way Golden State did. His reasoning. … it will take too long.
“I think today in order to catch them, if you want to do the organic trip, it’s going to take you a long time,” he said. “Because the organic trip obviously is through lotteries and draft, and maybe some real good trades. But to be able to pick off the free agent that can change that organic trip and make it a little faster, I think will always be there.”
Which lends more insight into the way Riley has been thinking as he attempts to rebuild the Heat.
Riley isn’t interested in tanking and trying to rebuild through the lottery. What he wants is to remain competitive and then hit on another superstar free agent signing or a blockbuster trade.
Riley attempted that last summer in his pursuit of Durant and again this month by unsuccessfully going after Gordon Hayward. But even Hayward alone would not have been enough.
Still, he has put together a competitive team with a core of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Justice Winslow, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and Wayne Ellington.
But the Heat remain a star player (or two) away from becoming a true contender, one Riley always believes will be out there to chase.
The Warriors one upped the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer, adding a fourth All-Star to their roster in Kevin Durant and it has shown this postseason. With two easy victories over the Cavs in the Finals, the Warriors not only are two wins away from their second title in three years, but if they sweep the series, they will complete a 16-0 postseason, becoming the first team in NBA history to sweep four postseason series.
The Warriors and Cavaliers, who were 12-1 during the playoffs before running into Golden State in the Finals, have raised the bar and 28 other teams now are on the chase, including the Miami Heat. Heat captain Udonis Haslem knows the feeling of being on a super team when he played alongside LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade for four years, a period in which the Heat qualified for four Finals and won back-to-back titles in 2012 and ‘13.
The 14-year veteran, though, does not believe it will take the stars aligning just right to make a run at a title. Haslem says a good team with the right attitude can compete with anybody.
“You don’t have to have a super team,” Haslem said Saturday from the Mountain Dew NBA 3-on-3 fan experience at Bayfront Park. “The problem is the majority of the league doesn’t play hard. You’ve got 20 percent of the NBA that does play hard. So when you take a super talented team that actually plays hard and plays the game the right way you get a team like Golden State.
“They’ll be other talented teams. The question is will they play hard like Golden State? Will they play together like Golden State? That’s what separates them from other talented teams. It’s the way they approach the game.”
Forward Justise Winslow is not sure about a super team – “I don’t know how you define it,” he said – but he is sure about one thing. …
“You have to have a great team to get to the Finals,” he said. “I don’t know about a super team, I don’t know how you define it. I don’t know what players have to average or what kind of star they have to be.”
So how far away are the Heat from being mentioned with the Warriors of Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, or even the Cavaliers – the team Miami would have to go through in the Eastern Conference – with James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love?
Miami should have about $38 million to spend in free agency next month. But president Pat Riley and GM Andy Elisburg would have to believe there is one player – one major piece of a super team – worth spending a majority of that money on. Perhaps Clippers power forward Blake Griffin or Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward.
Although he has yet to be an All-Star, the Heat could have the first piece in center Hassan Whiteside, who at least is paid like one with a max deal that is paying him $98 million over four years. In the last two years Whiteside has led the NBA in blocks (2015-16) and rebounding (2016-17). And Whiteside believes Miami is not that far away with players like Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters (if he re-signs) emerging during the second half of the season.
That trio was the foundation to a team that went 30-11 in the second half of last season, which was second-best in the NBA behind Golden State, and missed the playoffs by one game.
Another key piece to that turnaround: forward James Johnson, who, like Waiters, will be a free agent July 1.
“You don’t know what a guy like Dion is going to bring and Goran,” Whiteside said. “Those guys can become superstars themselves. So you might not even have to go get anybody else. It might be enough.
“I think we got a chance next year. I feel like if we would have got into the playoffs (this year), we could have made a lot of noise in there.”
Maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers just forgot Kevin Durant was on the floor. After all, the last two years they didn’t have to worry about Durant when they faced the Golden State Warriors in the Finals, with the eight-time All-Star nothing more than a spectator after his Oklahoma City teams were eliminated.
How else to explain the fact that Durant was more wide open than Draymond Green’s mouth during most of Thursday’s Game 1? The result was exactly what Durant envisioned when he left Oklahoma City 11 months ago, a juggernaut offense taking down the Cavs in the Finals.
The Warriors’ 113-91 dismantling of the Cavaliers showed exactly how dangerous they have become with Durant. Sure, Durant scored 38 points, shot 14 of 26 and his six dunks reminded us all just how bad the Cavaliers’ defense was late in the season, but this is why the Warriors will be so hard to beat. …
With four All-Stars, even if two have checked out offensively, as Klay Thompson and Green did in Game 1, combining for 15 points and 22 missed shots, the Warriors always will have two players ready to take over. In Game 1, Stephen Curry was that other guy with 28 points.
The Cavaliers’ treatment of Durant was baffling, appearing more concerned with the 3-point shooters as he would race down the court with the ball. Durant had six dunks in the first half, five in transition. Of course, Cleveland’s transition defense was the second worst in the league this year, so …
The one play that was a microcosm of this game occurred in the first half when Durant grabbed the rebound and pushed the ball — all the while his eyes on Curry on the left side hoping LeBron James and Kyrie Irving would bite. Both did and suddenly the middle of the court was wide open and Durant went in for another uncontested dunk.
Just as he envisioned.
Another disappointing Game 1 for LeBron: LeBron James has been to eight Finals, and seven times his teams have lost Game 1. And the only win was in 2011, his first Finals game as a member of the Heat. Miami went on to lose that series to Dallas in six games. James’s 28 points and 15 rebounds did not tell the entire story. His defense on Durant was atrocious and he had eight of Cleveland’s 20 turnovers, the third most by an individual in Finals history. Clearly frustrated, James is going to need a lot more help than Irving scoring 24 points if Cleveland is going to avoid being embarrassed in this series.
Hey Cleveland, you’re not in the East anymore: The Cavaliers blew through the Eastern Conference during the playoffs, going 12-1 on the way to their third straight trip to the Finals. But the Cavaliers are no longer facing the weaker teams from the East and it showed. Cleveland averaged 116.8 points, shot 50.7 percent and held the Pacers, Raptors and Celtics to 87 field-goal attempts per game in the first three rounds. In Game 1, Cleveland scored 91 points, shot 35.5 percent and the Warriors took an astounding 106 shots. Welcome to the big leagues.
The teams have split the first two series, with the Warriors winning in six games in 2015 and the Cavaliers recovering from a 3-1 hole to win Game 7 on the road in 2016.
Now, we have a new twist to the rivalry as Kevin Durant joined the Warriors in the offseason to give them a Big 4 (Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) to go against Cleveland’s Big 3 (LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love).
The series should be compelling so we bring you 10 storylines to keep in mind throughout:
Will Golden State lose a game these playoffs?
The Warriors enter the finals 12-0 in the postseason with sweeps over Portland, Utah and San Antonio. The closest anybody has come to that in the expanded playoffs era (needing 15 or 16 wins for the title) are the 2001 Lakers who were 15-1, sweeping the first three rounds and defeating Philadelphia in the Finals, 4-1. So the question really is: Will Golden State sweep Cleveland, which would give it a 16-0 postseason? The Warriors will win the title but, yes, they will lose a game – or two – along the way.
If the Cavaliers wins, will LeBron James’ success in Cleveland surpass his success in Miami?
LeBron’s first two seasons in his return to Cleveland and first two in Miami ended the same; losing in the Finals the first year and winning a championship the second. And while LeBron’s Cavs teams have had an easier run through the East than his Heat teams, the Warriors teams Cleveland has played in the Finals clearly are better than the Mavericks and Thunder teams the Heat faced in the 2011 and 2012 Finals. The Heat then defeated a very good Spurs team in the 2013 Finals, one that was much closer to these Warriors. If Cleveland wins this season it is on the same track as the 2011-2014 Heat. Then perhaps next year could determine which team has been more successful.
Will we see Warriors coach Steve Kerr on the bench in the Finals?
Kerr has not been on the bench since Game 2 of Golden State’s first round series against Portland due to complications from his 2015 back surgery – a spinal cord fluid leak causing headaches and nausea. Kerr, though, started traveling during the conference finals but remained in the locker room during games as Mike Brown continued as acting head coach. Kerr said Monday that he is not healthy enough to return to the bench and his status for the series is “still up in the air.”
What would another title mean to LeBron James’ legacy?
LeBron (and teammate James Jones) will become the only players not members of the Celtics’ dynasty of the 1960s to appear in at least seven straight finals. Michael Jordan, the man to whom LeBron is compared, never played in more than three in a row but it can be argued he would have been to eighth straight had he not abruptly left the sport for two seasons. This is James’ eight finals overall, winning three championships and losing four times in his previous seven. But last year’s title came against the greatest regular season team in league history. He still will have to convince some he is on par with Jordan if the Cavs upset the Warriors, but that gap would be narrowed.
Will the winning team be invited to the White House?
This will become a storyline after the Finals. Kerr is one of a handful of NBA coaches who have been outspoken against Donald Trump, calling him a “blowhard” and saying he “could not be more ill-suited” to be president. James never has been a fan of Trump’s, speaking out against his immigration order and refusing to stay at a Trump property in New York. The question then comes down to if the winner somehow is invited, will it accept?
Will Charles Barkley accuse Kevin Durant of riding Stephen Curry’s coattails if Golden State wins?
A discussion last week between Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal on TNT got personal when Shaq once again reminded Barkley that he has never won a title and Barkley shot back that Shaq won his four titles by riding the coattails of Kobe Bryant in L.A. and Dwyane Wade in Miami. Durant could be accused of the same thing if the Warriors win. Durant already was heavily criticized last summer for joining Golden State after his Oklahoma City team blew a 3-1 series lead in the conference finals and lost Game 7.
Are Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love a better fit with LeBron James than Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh?
James had his ups and downs (mostly ups) with both the Cavaliers (since his return) and the Heat, but many believe he has never been better than he has this postseason. In both situations the third wheel of the Big 3 (Bosh and Love) had to make major sacrifices and at times some wondered if it would work (it did). James’ main sidekick (Wade and Irving) appeared to have an easier time with the transition. The biggest difference is Irving is a point guard while Wade is a shooting guard. But either way, James has done pretty well playing with both.
Will Draymond Green stay out of trouble in this year’s Finals?
The Warriors’ polarizing forward was suspended for Game 5 last season after being assessed a flagrant foul 1 on a play in which he and James got tangled and Green swung his arm into James’ groin area. Green has had several incidents throughout his career in which he has appeared to attempt to kick an opposing player, sometimes making contact to the groin. But Green has been a good boy during these playoffs. … so far. The NBA has handed out 10 fines during the postseason, none to Green. And there have been four flagrant 1s and one flagrant 2 called, none on Green. The worst he’s gotten is two technical fouls. So, continue that pattern and, yes, he’ll be OK. But, you never know with that temper.
Can either team be challenged in their respective conferences in the next few years?
The Warriors are younger when you consider their top four players still are in their 20s (Curry will turn 30 next March). James is 32 while Irving and Love are in their 20s. Still, neither team appears to be slowing down at least for the next two to three years. The only team possibly challenging either is Boston, which made it to the East finals this season, has the No. 1 pick in the draft and enough money to sign a max free agent.
Will the Finals make up for a boring NBA postseason to date?
Like the thrilling second half and overtime of the Super Bowl made up for a boring NFL playoffs? Yes. These playoffs have not been very competitive with five series ending in sweeps and two more lasting just five games, and just two going to Game 7. But this is what everybody has been waiting for and now is the time for the Warriors and Cavaliers to save the postseason.
But, the show must go on and the league usually gives us an entertaining two month run of postseason games.
Although many believe this all we come down to a third consecutive meeting between the Cavaliers and Warriors in the Finals, nothing is guaranteed, which is why there still are plenty of reason to watch from the start.
We give you five of those reasons.
Is LeBron’s run over?: The Cavaliers have left themselves no excuses not to get to the Finals. Cleveland conceded the top spot in the East by resting LeBron James and Kyrie Irving the final two games of the season, which means it’s Finals or bust to justify the move. And if Cleveland is in a Game 7 in Boston in the Eastern Conference finals, the pressure to win will be enormous. But for James to get there for a seventh consecutive year and for Cleveland to repeat as champions, the Cavs will have to fix a defense that sprung a leak and was among the worst in the league the final six weeks of the season.
How far will Dwyane Wade and the Bulls go?: Despite finishing with the same regular-season record as Miami, Chicago made it to the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed due to a head-to-head tiebreaker. Wade and the Bulls will take on the top-seeded Celtics in a first-round series that begins with Game 1 on Sunday in Boston. The Celtics are the clear favorites to win the series, but Wade, playing in the postseason for the first time in his 14-year career with a team other than the Heat, isn’t used to an early playoff exit. Wade was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs three times in his 13 seasons with the Heat.
Can the Warriors avenge last season’s Finals loss?: Golden State finished the regular season with the NBA’s best record at 67-15. But the Warriors’ road back to the Finals won’t be easy, as a matchup with the dangerous Spurs could await them in the Western Conference Finals. With Kevin Durant now on the roster to go along with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, Golden State has the most talented roster in the NBA. But will it be enough for the Warriors to make up for last season’s disappointing loss to the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals?
Are the Celtics fraudulent?: Boston finished 53-29, its best record since winning 56 games since 2010-11. Still, the Celtics were gifted the No. 1 seed in the East by the Cavaliers and they have not been the pillar of consistency with a 4-4 stretch in early March, then losing 3-of-5 in late March and early April. And while Isaiah Thomas will receive some MVP love – by that I mean he could be could sneak in to the Top 5 of the voting – can a team led by a 5-foot-9 guard truly be a title contender?
Which MVP candidate will advance?: The MVP race is down to OKC’s Russell Westbrook and Houston’s James Harden and the two will face off in the most entertaining first round matchup of the playoffs. Westbrook led the league in scoring and is the first player to average a triple double in 55 years. Harden led the league in assists and was second in scoring. Between them they averaged 60.7 points, 21.6 assists and 18.8 rebounds and combined for 64 triple doubles. This series will be the ultimate one-on-one battle and it will be fun.
On that fateful day as LeBron James sat on stage, opposite of Jim Gray, and uttered the now-famous line of “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach,” the Miami Heat had in effect created the notion of “The Big Three.” With the trio of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, they were able to fill out the rest of the roster with veterans willing to take a pay cut for a shot at immortality.
That team, in many ways, was the template for winning in today’s NBA, an era of basketball in which the league’s top talents get together to try and win a championship.
This summer, Kevin Durant continued that trend, signing a contract with a Golden State Warriors team — already chock full of talent including MVP Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — coming off the best regular season in NBA history. Much like when Wade, Bosh and James joined forces, many fans and experts see these new-look Warriors as unbeatable.
If history is any indicator, though, things won’t come that easily to Golden State. To get a feel of what to expect from the Warriors, it may be best to compare their situation to that the Heat faced during their “Big Three” era.
Sacrifice was a key element of Miami’s success during their run, and it was something that the trio spoke publicly about from the very beginning of the “super team” experiment. At the Big Three’s introductory rally at the American Airlines Arena, Wade said he was excited to have such talented new teammates, but that the decision “represents the three of us making sacrifices as well.” Wade’s sacrifices included taking less money to accommodate his high-profile teammates and taking a backseat to James on the court, relinquishing the keys to an offense that he had run for the better part of a decade.
The Heat lost to the Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals before winning titles in 2012 and 2013, but sacrifice remained a constant. In April of 2013, head coach Erik Spoelstra shed some light on just how important the concept was, telling the Sun-Sentinel that, “The biggest word in our camp is sacrifice.”
So will the Warriors follow the Heat’s blueprint and embrace sacrifice? It doesn’t appear so.
“I feel kind of disrespected that people keep using the term ‘sacrifice’ to describe me and describe us,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson told The Vertical after the signing of Durant. “We all want to see each other do well. But I’m not sacrificing [expletive], because my game isn’t changing.”
While that comment may raise a red flag in many people’s minds, Thompson has stated in the past that he will look toward the sacrifices made by Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, for example, as guidance and that he really isn’t concerned with his scoring average.
If Thompson does, however, take the approach implied in his comments to The Vertical, he wouldn’t be the first NBA player to reject the idea of having to share the ball.
When LeBron James returned to Cleveland to team with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, Chris Bosh offered some candid advice for Love.
“It’s going to be very difficult for him,” Bosh told Bleacher Report of how he had to change his playing style when coming to Miami. “It’s extremely difficult and extremely frustrating. He’s going to have to deal with it.”
Love shrugged off Bosh’s words of warning and has subsequently struggled in Cleveland, averaging 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in his two years with the Cavs, both well below his career averages. This season, Love shot 41.9 percent from the field, his worst percentage in any season in which he played at least 20 games and, despite the fact that he is now an NBA champion, rumors of an imminent trade continue to swirl.
Despite the apparent differences in philosophy, it is fair to assume that the Warriors will be able to succeed and post a big win total, almost on talent alone. While the Heat had three players among the best in the NBA at their positions, the Warriors now have four. Moreover, the Warriors have arguably the greatest 3-point shooter in NBA history in Curry, as well as Thompson, a great shooter in his own right. Add into the mix Olympians Draymond Green and Kevin Durant and the Warriors have more than enough ability to make things work.
Much like the Heat, the Warriors have been able to add veteran bench pieces for cheap. Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Juwan Howard and Rashard Lewis all played roles in Heat championships while playing on contacts well below the value they could have gotten elsewhere on the open market. The Warriors have put together their own collection of veteran talent this offseason, signing David West and Zaza Pachulia.
As the Warriors embark on their own super team experiment, they will attempt to do things their own way and will encounter their own, unique struggles on their path. Though the concept that helped to form the two super teams is similar, a difference in playing styles, personalities and public reaction sets the two franchises apart.
Some interesting conversations come up now that the league office makes all the ballots public, and two Heat TV broadcasters were among the voters: Play-by-play man Eric Reid and sideline reporter Jason Jackson. They found themselves in the crosshairs on Twitter, one for voting Whiteside and one for not voting him. Continue reading “DPOY voting: Eric Reid, Jason Jackson explain their ballots”