2018 Free Agency Update: LeBron lays low during early morning madness, as do Heat

Cleveland’s LeBron James during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics on May 27, 2018. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

As LeBron James’ private plane was tracking from Anguilla to Van Nuys Saturday, backroom deals were being struck all over the NBA landscape.

The frenzy started minutes before the ball dropped on the NBA New Year at midnight and continued well into the morning. Within hours about 20 players reportedly agreed to deals, with most not allowed to sign before noon on Friday.

One team sitting out the madness: the Miami Heat. The Heat’s lack of flexibility makes it very difficult for Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg to become a major player this summer, other than through the trade market.

The biggest names – Golden State’s Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City’s Paul George, Houston’s Chris Paul, Denver’s Nikola Jokic – are returning to their old teams. The four will re-sign on deals ranging from two to four years and totaling more than $500 million. (And this is a summer in which the theme is fiscal responsibility.)

The most intriguing names on the move so far are DeAndre Jordan from the Clippers to Dallas, Trevor Ariza from Houston to Phoenix and two players who obviously do not Trust the Process in Philadelphia, Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli, who will sign with Milwaukee and San Antonio, respectively.

Other than that, few names will tilt the needle as we enter the week, with, of course, one exception.

James spent most of last week holed up in the Caribbean, weighing his options. Saturday morning, he and his financial team boarded his jet for Southern California, where, let’s face it, all signs point to him ultimately staying put as a member of the Lakers. But on Sunday, James’ agent, Rich Paul, reportedly was set to meet with a high-level Sixers contingent in Los Angeles.

Before meeting with Philadelphia, the only reported contact James had with any team after midnight was a phone call with Cleveland general manger Koby Altman. James owes the Cavaliers nothing after delivering on his promise to bring Cleveland a title after returning four years ago but perhaps he learned from the embarrassing way he left his hometown team the first time with a poorly-planned, hour-long infomercial in which he declared he was “taking his talents to South Beach.”

James is not holding this free agent season hostage as he did eight and four years ago, when he bolted Miami and returned to Cleveland. A sign that many believe James’ decision has been made is so many deals being reported in the early hours of free agency. If James had a long list of teams he was considering, everything would have been on hold, much like it was two years ago for Durant and last year for Gordon Hayward.

But James has been trending toward the Lakers for weeks and that narrative become stronger Friday when James informed Cleveland he would opt out of the final year of contract, which realistically narrowed his choices to the Lakers, Cavs and Sixers. The biggest question now is who rides James’ coattails to L.A. With George staying put in OKC, the Lakers (and likely James) have targeted New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins.

Despite the early rush, this will be a tight market for free agents. Just eight teams have cap space of any significance and already two of them, Dallas and Phoenix, have made their big moves. Of those remaining teams, just the Lakers, Philadelphia and Indiana appear willing to hand out substantial contracts. The others – Atlanta, Chicago and Sacramento – could sign mid-tier players and/or use their space for trades.

Many teams are looking back at the summer of 2016 when spending got out of control and some of the worst contracts in league history were handed out, and ahead to next summer when the cap will rise to a projected $109 million and the market will be deeper with Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker and Kevin Love among those all likely to be available.

As for the Heat, the first bit of news likely will involve free agent guard Wayne Ellington. Miami would like to retain the franchise’s record holder for the most 3 pointers in a season, but at what price? The Heat have Ellington’s early Bird rights and can pay him as much as $10.9 million next season but that could put them above the new luxury tax line, which was revealed last night as $123.733 million, unless other salary is shed through a trade.

Ilyasova, Belinelli and Doug McDermott (Indiana) are long-range shooters like Ellington and their contracts were in the $6-$7.3 million per year range. Ellington will receive interest as the market settles but expect him and the Heat to have several conversations.

[Miami Heat swingman Rodney McGruder’s contract guaranteed for 2018-19]

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NBA Finals: Stephen Curry puts on a show; Cavaliers look deflated in Game 2 loss to Warriors

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors celebrates with Draymond Green during the fourth quarter of Game 2. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Coach Tyronn Lue insisted the Cleveland was not a broken team after squandering a great opportunity to steal Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Lue said the Cavaliers were ready for Sunday’s Game 2 in Oakland.

Lue’s team did not back him up.

Game 2 was more like what most expected from this series. The Cavaliers fell behind early and never led. Now they limp back to Cleveland for Game 3 on Wednesday down 0-2.

“I didn’t think we started the game like we needed to start,” Lue said as Golden State made its first seven field goal attempts. “Not being physical enough. We can’t start the game like that. … We have to start the game better, being more physical, bringing the physicality. We didn’t do that tonight to start.”

The Cavaliers can say what they want but Thursday’s loss was deflating and took something out of the underdogs. Cleveland was flat on both ends of the court for most of the first half and after cutting into the lead in the third quarter, quickly ran out of gas in the fourth quarter as Golden State stretched the lead to 23 before setting fo a 122-103 victory.

Cleveland reverted back to the shaky defensive team was saw all season, allowing the Warriors to shoot 57.3 percent from the field and LeBron James wasn’t anything close to matching his extraordinary Game 1 effort. And unless James plays out of this world, the Cavaliers have no chance.

James once again filled the stat sheet with 29 points, 9 rebounds and 13 assists, but his impact was nothing like Game 1 when he dropped 51. And James looked fatigued at times playing all but the final 4:09. He now has played 185:29 of a possible 197 minutes in the last four games. When LeBron is tired it shows more on the defensive end and in his effort getting back on defense. And he spent more time whining about non-calls than usual.

“It sucks to lose,” said James, who insists he got tired once during the game. “It sucks when you go out there and give everything you have – your mind’s into it, your body’s into it and you come out on the losing end.”

Cleveland forward LeBron James sits on the bench during the second half of the Cavaliers’ Game 2 Finals loss to the Warriors. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Stephen Curry highlight film: The first one came with 7:54 to play in the game. With the shot clock running down Curry briefly lost his dribble, picked up the ball and threw up a high-arcing shot from about 30 feet over Kevin Love that cleaning went through to push the Warriors lead to 14. About two minutes later, Curry raced to the corner and launched another 3-pointer, again over Love. The only difference this time was he landed on his back as he was fouled by Love and the shot turned into a four-point play.

“A big moment where we had a significant lead and we could extend it a little bit and create some separation down the stretch,” Curry said about the three that beat shot clock. “It was a cool moment for sure.”

The two 3-pointers were part of Curry’s Finals record of nine (in 17 attempts). He finished with 33 points and placed himself as the leading contender for Finals MVP. And that is saying a lot when for the second straight game the Warriors’ Big Three all topped 20 points with Kevin Duran scoring 26 (on 10-of-14 shooting) and Klay Thompson adding 20 (8 of 13).

    Warriors fans taunt JR Smith: Cleveland’s JR Smith wasn’t going to forget about one of the biggest blunders in Finals history in Game 1, a play that dominated the conversation during the two-day break between games. Smith’s meltdown in the final seconds of regulation – he dribbled out the final 4.7 seconds with the score tied – gave the Warriors life, who took advantage and dominated the overtime.

Warriors fans first showed Smith how much they appreciated his contributing to their team’s win by loudly cheering him during pregame introductions. Then, with Smith at the foul line, he heard chants of “MVP, MVP.” One fan brought a sign saying Smith was “DA REAL MVP.”

And how did Smith respond? He finished with five points on 2-of-9 shooting but wasn’t about to admit the taunts got under his skin. Then again, this is a man who wanted everybody to believe that he knew the score at the end of Game 1 and was dribbling the ball to halfcourt looking for a better shot.

“I’m always a person who the fans like to talk to or heckle,” Smith said. “I like it. I’d rather they do that than not acknowledge me at all. I appreciate it.”

[Heat offseason Q&A: Udonis Haslem not going to rush decision on his future]

[Why are the Heat tied for fifth-best odds to win the 2018-19 NBA title?]

[Heat offseason Q&A: Kelly Olynyk from India on Basketball Without Borders, his offseason & more]

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Comparing LeBron James’ legacy with Heat to his last four years with Cavaliers

LeBron James will play in eighth consecutive Finals this year. He has won three titles, two with the Heat and one with the Cavaliers. (Photos Getty Images)

In two weeks LeBron James is going to be playing his final game in a Cavaliers uniform, or he’s not. James is going to hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy for a fourth time, or he’s not.

But one thing is for sure, James will have completed an eight-year run that in the era of free agency is unmatched. … in any team sport. And one that the only players from his sport can equal or exceed are a handful that were part of the game’s greatest dynasty – the Celtics teams that won 11 titles from 1957 to 1969.

LeBron James is going to his eight-consecutive NBA Finals – which start Thursday – something all Heat fans should appreciate considering half of those were while he was wearing those red, black and white uniforms while setting up shop on the shores of Biscayne Bay.

James secured No. 8 on Sunday with another historical performance posting 35 points, 15 rebounds, 9 assists and 2 blocks while playing all 48 minutes in Game 7 against the Celtics in Boston on Sunday. His night will go down as another in a career filled with transcendent achievements.

But to gauge the level of his greatness think of it this way: Sunday’s game may not even qualify for his top five when it comes to clutch performances. In fact, James’ point total was his average when it comes to Game 7s, of which he now has played in eight and won six. And in his two Game 7s in which championships were at stake, James had 37 points, 12 rebounds in four assists in the Heat’s 2013 victory over the Spurs; and 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in Cavaliers’ 2016 victory over the Warriors.

And this is not about who is the greatest ever and comparing James to Michael Jordan – although me belief is James has now surpassed Jordan because of the bigger and stronger James’ ability to do just about everything Jordan could do and most of those things even better.

This about comparing James to himself, but more specifically, the Miami Heat version of James from 2010 to the Cleveland Cavaliers version of James from 2014 to present.

Or put another way: the James who played on the shores of South Beach vs. the James who is playing on the shores of Lake Erie.

James played his first game in Miami at the age of 25. During his four years the Heat averaged 56 wins, advanced to the Finals all four years with two titles. In the postseason (which is what this really is all about), he averaged 26.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists while with the Heat.

James rejoined Cleveland at the age of 30. The Cavs have averaged 52.8 wins the last four years, advanced to the Finals all four years and are in pursuit of their second title. In the postseason, James is averaging 30.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.2 assists in the last four years.

So much depends on the next two weeks but if Cleveland is able to somehow pull off the upset, James equaling his title count with this supporting cast compared to having Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh by his side for four years on the Heat is indeed an achievement that at least equals what he did in Miami.

And part of that conclusion: Neither title in Miami will mean as much to James as the championship he brought Cleveland in 2016, fulfilling a promise for a city that sits about 35 miles from his hometown of Akron and one that he spurned in 2010 and hoped to fall back into their good graces four years later.

But even if Cleveland falls short this year, what James has done the last four years individually borders on the superhuman.

Consider: James had two players who are Hall of Fame locks in Wade and Bosh as his wingmen for four years in Miami and Wade is undeniably James’ greatest teammate. And some may even say they underachieved with two titles seeing the Heat clearly were the more talented team (and heavily favored) in the 2011 Finals when they lost in six games to Dallas and Miami started fracturing when attempting to three-peat against San Antonio, which was a slight favorite, in 2014.

Kevin Love has been with James all four years in Cleveland, Kyrie Irving for three. Both could one day end up in the Hall of Fame, Irving especially if he continues this trajectory. And Irving was a stud the last two years, the closest thing to what James had in Wade in Miami. But the consistency with Irving and Love (of which injuries certainly has played a part) is not close to what James got with Wade and Bosh.

Still, whether James is able to pull off the upset in these Finals, the weight on his shoulders the last four years in Cleveland was a much heavier load than what his carried in Miami.

With the exception of Boston’s Game 5 victory, James has been indefatigable in the postseason, perhaps saving his best for last (if this is his last season in Cleveland) by taking on more of the burden this postseason than he has in any of his last seven trips to the Finals.

James is averaging 34.0 points this postseason, his most since he was forced to put up 35.3 points a game to get the Cavs to the Eastern Conference finals in 2009. He has been without Irving, who was traded to Boston before the season started, and an inconsistent and at times broken down Love, who missed Sunday’s Game 7 entirely because of a concussion.

And, yes, the level of competition in the East the last four years has not exactly been stellar, especially with the Celtics missing their two best players in Irving and Gordon Hayward this season, but it could be argued the Heat never faced a team like Cleveland has the last three seasons in Golden State. The Warriors were the clear favorite to win the Finals the last three years and the Cavs once again will enter as underdogs this year.

Win or lose, James’ legacy is secure.

Now about that greatest-player-ever thing. …

[Heat’s Rodney McGruder volunteers time, learns Memorial Day lesson]

[Should the Heat explore a sign-and-trade deal for DeMarcus Cousins?]

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

Kevin Love and Dwyane Wade during their happier days in Cleveland.

LOS ANGELES – Cleveland forward Kevin Love will miss Sunday’s All-Star game because of a broken hand, but it was an illness that forced him to leave a recent game and miss practice the next day that turned into a firestorm.

Dwyane Wade was the first player to challenge Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue to explain why Love left the bench during the Cavaliers’ 148-124 loss to Oklahoma City on Jan. 20 and missed practice. Wade also played a role in calling a team meeting that included a lot of finger pointing, according to Cleveland.com.

Wade since has been traded to the Heat.

Love was asked about his former teammate today during the All-Star media day and said  Wade wasn’t the only player to take his concerns to Lue.

“This is my fourth year in Cleveland,” Love said. “I think there were a number of guys that used Ty Lue as a sounding board and wanted to bounce ideas off him and D-Wade happened to be one of those guys.”

Wade first made an issue of Love leaving the game and missing practice the next day, “challenging” Lue to disclose where Love was, according to the story. The team meeting turned ugly with players accusing Love of faking an illness, according to reports, and players turning on each other.

Love, though, denied he sensed any disagreements within the team.

“If there was a lot of friction, I didn’t see it,” Love said. “I know guys were pissed when we were losing during the time that it happened. I know a lot of guys were upset with the way things were going.”

The Cavaliers (34-22) lost 10-of-13 games during one stretch. They enter the All-Star break on a four-game winning streak.

Love has missed the last seven games and is expected to be out another month.

Wade joined the Cavaliers in September after reaching a buyout with the Chicago Bulls. He was recruited to Cleveland by LeBron James. Wade and James were always friends and became closer after the two played together in Miami for four years, winning two titles.

But after Wade was traded to Miami, James was quoted as saying he was “happy as hell” for his friend. Wade said last week that his heart was always in Miami.

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

[Heat’s Wayne Ellington enters 3-point contest under the radar. But here’s why he could leave with the trophy]

[NBA All-Star Game nod latest dream-come-true for Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic]

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Five takeaways: Kevin Love steals show as Heat’s three-game winning streak comes to screeching halt at Cleveland

Cleveland’s Kevin Love drives against Miami’s Hassan Whiteside in the first half of the Cavs victory Tuesday at in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

CLEVELAND – With all the attention focused on Dwyane Wade and LeBron James before the Heat faced the Cavaliers for the first time this season, it was Kevin Love who stole the show.

Love, often the forgotten man during the Cavs runs to the Finals the last three seasons, was unstoppable Tuesday as Cleveland rolled to a 108-97 victory at Quickens Loan Arena, a game in which Cleveland led by 34 in  the third quarter.

The 10-year veteran set the tone with 19 points in the first 6:49. By then the Cavs’ lead had started building, reaching 26 at the end of the first half.

Love finished with 38 points in 25:28 minutes.

Wade, facing the Heat for the first time in a Cavaliers uniform, had 17 points, five rebounds, four assists as he continues to get more comfortable in his role off the bench. But the night was historic for James, who was ejected for the first time in his career. James closed with 21 points and 12 rebounds but was tossed late in the third quarter after picking up two quick technical fouls. James felt he was fouled on a play in which he drove to the basket.

“They were going for the kill, as well they should,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And we were trying to find some way. We were grinding for a while. We kept it between 10, 12. But everything we got to that point they would take it to 20.

“So however he left the arena is pretty much how I felt inside that ballgame. It’s just the way it goes.”

The victory was Cleveland’s (14-7) ninth straight and snaps a Heat (10-10) three-game winning streak.

Spoelstra used his bench early and often with the game in garbage time for about 2½ quarters.

Dion Waiters led the Heat with 21 points. Rookie Bam Adebayo came off the bench to score 19 points.

Here are our five takeaways from a game that never really was competitive:

Love Machine: Hassan Whiteside started covering Love and it took Spoelstra just 4:21 get him out of the game. But it didn’t matter as Love then abused Kelly Olynyk, who picked up three quick fouls. By the end of the first quarter, Love had 22, which equaled a Heat opponent high for the quarter set by Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson in January 2014. Love scored 10 more in the second quarter, tying an opponent record with 32 first half points held by Orlando’s Tracy McGrady in March 2003. But Love, who shot 10-of-16, did not play long enough (26 minutes) to catch Philadelphia’s Willie Burton, who holds the record for the most point scored against the Heat with 53 in December 1994.

“He hit some tough shots in the first quarter,” Whiteside said. “He was on. He hit some threes. … he got a couple of free throws early and they try to bait you to go help on LeBron. That’s how they got you.”

Streaking: With its victory over the Heat, the Cavaliers have won nine straight games after starting 5-7. Entering the game, the Cavs were averaging 112.0 points per game and outscoring their opponents by an average of 10.5 points during the streak. The biggest margin of victory during the streak is a 116-88 victory over the Pistons. Cleveland led by 27 points in the second quarter against Miami and cruised the rest of the way. Miami never cut the deficit to single digits after the 9:29 mark of the second quarter and trailed by 34 in the third quarter.

“It started right from the beginning,” Spoelstra said. “We were playing on our heels and they felt like a level different than us. … tonight. It’s tonight they’re a better basketball team than us. That’s where we want to get to, but you can see the level that they can go to, just in execution and cohesiveness.”

Bam sighting: After Olynyk picked up his third foul in just 4:26, Spoelstra turned to Bam Adebayo. The rookie had played just two of the last nine games for a total of 11:50. Adebayo was solid making all seven of his shots and finishing with six rebounds to go along with his career high. He even showed flashes defensively by not backing down against James and forcing him into a tough shot.

“Not a lot of positives coming out of this game, but Bam was one of them, on both ends of the court,” Spoelstra said. “And most of the guys said something about it right after the game in our huddle. He’s been putting in a lot of work to prepare himself. He never knows exactly when he’s going to play. It’s not easy to come into a game like this. But that’s a great compliment when your peers are mentioning it after the game. And the way you played and the way you competed leaves an imprint on their minds. So that’s something he’ll definitely be able to build on.”

Milestones for Dragic: The day after he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Dragic reached a milestone. With his fifth point against the Cavaliers, Dragic scored the 9,000th of his career and now is up to 9002, of which 2,404 have come with the Heat. Dragic, had just six points, missing all but one of his five shots. It was the third time all season he was held to single digits. On Sunday, Dragic surpassed Glen Rice’s Heat assist total of 1,067 to move into sole of ninth place in team history.

Wrapping up the road trip: The Heat get their first look at the surprising Knicks on Wednesday in the finale of this four-game road trip and the second back-to-back of the season. The Knicks started strong but are fading, having lost three in a row to drop to 10-10. Miami owes New York after a crucial 98-94 home loss in late March that was as big a reason as any as to why the Heat missed out on a playoff spot last season.

“This is a team that’s been playing very well,” Spoelstra said. “They’ve caught everybody’s attention and how well they’re playing and not just in general, but particularly at home. So we’ll brush our scratches off and get ready for tomorrow.”

[While Ray Allen complains about being overworked, Dwyane Wade says Heat ‘got the best out of me’]

[Goran Dragic credits Heat winning three straight games for Player of Week honor]

[Disheartened Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had trouble sleeping after David Fizdale was fired]


With Dwyane Wade joining LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers will resemble Miami Heat of Big Three era

Dwyane Wade talks with LeBron James #23 while playing the Chicago Bulls during a preseason game at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

When not debating over who is peanut butter and who is jelly during a recent ESPN interview (yes, that actually happened), Dwyane Wade and LeBron James talked about how the disappointment of losing in their first Finals together as teammates in Miami strengthened their relationship.

Wade and James, who are reunited in Cleveland and will play in their first regular season game as teammates tonight against the Celtics since their days with the Heat, said after losing to Dallas in the 2011 Finals they vacationed together for the first time in the Bahamas and sat around “depressed,” and feeling “vulnerable.’

The trip brought them closer and what followed were three more Finals appearances and two titles, a period that, four seasons later, the two are rekindling.

Wade, 35, and James, 32, recently admitted Cleveland, with its versatility and interchangeable parts, is starting to resemble those Miami teams that Pat Riley assembled. That will be more evident with coach Tyronn Lue’s decision to start Kevin Love at center.

“We definitely see it here,” Wade told reporters covering the Cavs. “You see the ability to have Kevin Love start at the five, Jae (Crowder) start at the four. When LeBron’s on the court. … he starts at the three but he’s the same height as the four and five on the other team.”

Those Heat lineups had that versatility because of Chris Bosh’s ability to play center or power forward, James facilitating offense from one of those forward spots and a bench with “positionless’ players.

Wade said that versatility will allow the Cavs to apply some of those same Heat principals on defense, too.

“How aggressive (Bosh) was and then his ability to switch on guards, which a lot of people didn’t give him credit for. … He was an unbelievable defender,” Wade said. “But when he switched on point guards he was a great defender as well. Udonis Haslem was the same way. So yeah, definitely having kind of a similar ability on the defensive end.”

Lue told cleveland.com that he has watched film of the Heat from the Big Three era, starting even before Wade signed on this summer. But now he has even more reasons.

“I’m looking into it,” Lue said. “I just want to keep offense as condensed as possible. Won’t be a lot of thinking, a lot more playing with movement and ball movement. Try not to add too much stuff, just keep the four sets we’ve got, keep adding on those sets and go from there.”

Said Wade:  “So many versatile guys and I think that’s one thing that makes everybody here excited, that you could play multiple positions. Even when we’re going over plays. You could put so many different guys in the sets that I think in the past, it was a little different style.

“So I think it’s a good change for these guys. Obviously you’ve got good shooters, but you’ve got enough slashers, penetrators, guys do other things to kind of make it a complete team.”

[Anthony Chiang’s Miami Heat predictions: Josh Richardson will have a breakout season]

[Tom D’Angelo’s Miami Heat predictions: Hassan Whiteside will be recognized as one of the league’s best]


Do the Miami Heat need another ‘super team’ to compete with Warriors and Cavaliers? Udonis Haslem says, ‘No’

Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade led the Heat to four Finals appearances and two titles. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

MIAMI – The Golden State Warriors have redefined the term “super team” and it is working out pretty good, so far.

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.”

 [Will Dion Waiters give the Heat a hometown discount in free agency? Waiters didn’t rule it out]

[There won’t be free-agent meetings and uncertainty for Hassan Whiteside this summer, and he’s OK with that]

[Justise Winslow, Udonis Haslem discuss ‘complicated’ Chris Bosh situation]

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.”

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Stephen Curry dribbling circles around LeBron James epitomizes Warriors’ win in Game 2 of Finals

That Stephen Curry dribbling routine that blows up on social media during warmups,  well, it doesn’t only happen before games.

Curry’s 13-dribble exhibition early in the second half of the Golden State Warriors’ 132-113 Game 2 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday was the greatest highlight of a game full of them — mostly all from Golden State.

Curry received the pass at the top of the circle, dribbled close enough to get one foot in the paint before reversing his course and coming back out to the circle. He then pump-faked LeBron James into leaving his feet and headed to the rim, eventually finishing with a right-handed layup over James and Kevin Love.

Curry said early in the play he was “just kind of like a chicken with my head cut off running circles,” before adding, “he’s a great defender so you know you have to do something pretty special to score,”

The Cavaliers called time out and although the Warriors lead was 10, it felt like 100 as Cleveland showed, once again, it had no clue how to stop Curry and Kevin Durant.

The two combined for 65 points — one fewer than in Game 1 — 23 rebounds and 17 assists with Curry recording his first postseason triple-double: 32 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assist.

And although he did not have a great night from the floor (7 of 17, 4 of 11 on threes), Curry made all 14 of his free throws.

Durant had 33, 13 and 6. To put their dominance in perspective, the 131 points by Curry and Durant while the Warriors have taken a 2-0 lead in the series are just 73 fewer than the Cavaliers have scored.

Golden State’s Klay Thompson watches his jump shot during the second half of the Warriors win over Cleveland in Game 2 of the 2017 NBA Finals.
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Klay Thompson finds his stroke: The Warriors had two players score more than 30 points in Game 2 but it was the guy with 22 points that will bring the most smiles today. Thompson has been in the shadows of Durant and Curry this postseason, and most of this season for that matter. He’s having the worst postseason of his six-year career, averaging 13.8 points and shooting just 36.6 percent entering Game 2. And he appeared frustrated and confused in Game 1 with just six points, while missing 13 of his 16 shots.

But the old Klay Thompson returned in Game 2, his 22 points coming on 8-of-12 shooting (4-of-7 on threes). And if he’s all the way back, a team that has been unbeatable in the postseason (14-0) will become even more daunting.

LeBron James

LeBron goes from aggressive to gassed: LeBron James is getting no help and it’s starting to show. He came out aggressively in Game 1, taking the ball hard to the rim on his first 12 shots. And although he was piling up points, he was getting worn down, a byproduct of chasing players like Durant and Thompson all over the court as the Warriors continue to push the pace. James’ first jumper, a three, did not come until 6:48 remained in the third quarter. James had 27 points after three quarters, but by late in the third quarter he appeared exhausted, and a few minutes later Cavs coach Tyronn Lue noticed, giving him a break. James had just two points in the fourth quarter and he did shoot 12 of 18 and finish with a triple double (11 rebounds and 14 assists), but he was not a factor the final 12 minutes, allowing the Warriors to race to the victory.

Once again James will have two days of rest before the next game, but that didn’t help between Games 1 and 2. Wednesday’s Game 3, though, will be in Cleveland where James should receive a major boost from the home crowd.

Following the game James was asked if he needed IV fluids. “No, I’m good, I’m good,” he said. “Just need some food and some wine and I’ll be all right.”

[Game 1 of Finals exactly what Kevin Durant envisioned when he signed with Warriors 11 months ago]

[LeBron James entering the NBA Finals as the underdog … again]

[2017 NBA Finals: 10 storylines as the Cavaliers and Warriors meet for third straight year]

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2017 NBA Finals: 10 storylines as the Cavaliers and Warriors meet for third straight year

Cleveland’ s LeBron James celebrates in the final moments of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals against at Golden State. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will meet for the third consecutive season in the NBA Finals starting Thursday in Oakland.

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.

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Mark Jackson: Cavaliers’ Big 3 ‘has much more to accomplish’ before being compared to Heat’s Big 3

Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade teamed up in Miami to play in four Finals, win two titles. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

LeBron James is headed to his third consecutive NBA Finals since returning to Cleveland to form the second ‘Big 3’ in his career.

 James spent the previous four years in Miami after joining the Heat in 2010 along with Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade. The team played in four NBA Finals, winning two titles.

Then, following the 2013-14 season, James decided he was going home to play once again for the Cavaliers and join Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (who was in the process of being acquired from Minnesota), shifting the power in the Eastern Conference from Miami to Cleveland. Like the Heat, the Cavaliers lost in the Finals in their first year of the Big 3 and won the title in Year 2.

On Thursday, Cleveland and Golden State will play Game 1 of the Finals, the third consecutive season the two teams have met in the championship round.

I asked NBA analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy to compare LeBron’s Miami and Cleveland teams.

“In fairness to the Big 3 in Cleveland we’re talking about three future Hall of Famers right away in Miami,” Jackson said. “Chris Bosh. … 11 time All-Star. Dwyane Wade, in my opinion the third best shooting guard who ever played the game. And then LeBron James in his prime.

“So in fairness this group in Cleveland has much more to accomplish and that’s not to sell them short because all three guys in my opinion will be in the Hall of Fame but they have much more to prove. Those guys were in their prime and accomplished from Day 1.”

As for Van Gundy, he answered it with eight words.

“I have nothing more to add. Well said.”

[Did Shaq ride Dwyane Wade’s coattails to 2006 title with Heat or are both responsible?]

[Now that Josh McRoberts has opted in, what’s next for him and the Heat?]

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