Basketball Notes

Heat benefit from Wade’s bond — his James bond

By Gary Washburn
May 8, 2011

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What was underestimated following LeBron James’s decision to join the Heat was the solid relationship he had with new teammate Dwyane Wade.

The two played together on the 2008 gold medal-winning Olympic team, along with Carmelo Anthony, and the trio talked about playing together and eventually being the faces of the new NBA.

When James had an opportunity to join the Heat in free agency, he used that experience with Wade as a blueprint for a potential championship combination in South Beach.

The road to such success has been bumpy, and there are still major kinks to be worked out. The Heat still lack a closer, as James and Wade have had a plethora of late-game problems with shot selection and floor spacing.

But as the Celtics can attest, the two make Miami a dynamic team when they are blending well. And having two superstars coexist on one team with little drama — unlike the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal saga — is a rarity in the NBA. It appears James and Wade understood that sacrifices would have to be made, shots limited, and egos suppressed if they were to compete for a championship.

They have had to learn about each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies, all the while playing under the self-created pressure of being a team expected to dominate immediately.

“We’re in it together,’’ James said.“It’s not just me and D-Wade. It’s all the guys in the locker room.

“No matter what goes on throughout the game, we had our ups and downs throughout the season, we stayed together. We come up here [to speak with the media], we’re the voice. You guys hear us more than anybody on the team.’’

While Chris Bosh also joined the Heat in the offseason — leading many to label this a new Big Three — James and Wade were the premier players in the equation. As expected, Bosh has taken a complementary role while James and Wade accepted the brunt of the responsibility for Miami’s triumphs and failures.

While Wade is still considered an NBA “good guy’’ because of his clean image and the fact he remained with his original team, James was made a pariah in some circles because of “The Decision’’ and what was perceived as selfishness.

James soaked up the national spotlight for weeks as fans debated his free agent decision, and he used an hour-long televised special just to announce and explain it.

So the onus to produce was on James the moment he arrived in Florida for training camp, while Wade was already the face of the franchise.

“I think from Day 1, we understood, even from our teammates, that we were going to be the guys everyone looked at to see how we reacted to things, to see how we could handle the change or if we could handle playing with each other,’’ Wade said.

“That’s something that we communicated, talked about from the beginning. And that we had to always be on the same page, and if not on the same page, communicating with each other and just having each other’s back no matter if it’s bad times or good times.

“We need to stay even keel, and that helps the success of our team.’’

Those who doubted whether James and Wade could work together underestimated the bond formed at the Olympics, according to Wade. They began their friendship during the predraft workouts in 2003. James was the first overall pick by Cleveland, and Wade was fifth by Miami.

“People forget that me and LeBron were the best of friends before we played together,’’ Wade said. “Actually, we got criticized for being friends and hanging out before games with each other.

“Back in the day, the Lakers didn’t do that, the Celtics didn’t do that. Obviously that worked, because we’re here together.

“So we have that bond and it started eight years ago.’’

The harmony shows in the statistics. James is averaging 25.4 points in Miami’s first seven playoff games, Wade 25.3. And the two have taken an almost identical amount of shots per game.

In Game 1 against Boston, Wade found an offensive rhythm and burned the Celtics for 38 points. James (35) carried Miami during stretches of Game 2, and Wade finished off the Celtics by hitting 5 of 8 free throw attempts in the final quarter.

Miami hasn’t played this well the entire season, and getting accustomed to new roles and the exponential pressure has been an adjustment, even for the high-profile James.

James attributes the success to “going through the situation we’ve been through from the first day of training camp, having to have that adversity where we knew we had a lot to learn about each other on the court and off the court.

“All the practice times, all the film sessions, all the road trips, the time together has helped us to get to this point right now, where we trust each other during a playoff series. Just time.

“At this point in the season, feelings just go out of the window. We’re trying to win a championship. We can’t worry about anybody’s feelings, friend or no friend.

“So if D-Wade makes a mistake or I make a mistake, I expect to hear from him and he expects to hear from me.’’

Johnson hits desperate shot OK, so the Kings remain alive in Sacramento and won’t be transferring to Anaheim to become the Royals. But that does not mean that commissioner David Stern won’t uproot the club from the capital city of California if there is not an arena plan.

It seems that former Suns star Kevin Johnson, a Sacramento native and now mayor of the city, saved the day with a stunning rush of financial commitments that would help finance a new arena.

Power Balance Pavilion, formerly Arco Arena, is one of the league’s oldest arenas and needs to be replaced. The Maloof brothers, owners of the Kings, were resigned to the fact that Sacramento would not provide a new arena, so they sought out Anaheim because of its ready-made arena (Honda Center) and the boosted revenue streams.

Because of Johnson’s push, a weak presentation by Anaheim, and Stern’s reluctance to relocate a team for the third time in 10 years, the Kings got one more chance to make good on a new arena. The Maloofs, who reluctantly decided not to file for relocation, have decided to boost payroll in an attempt to make Sacramento a contender again.

Stern doesn’t usually give second chances, but the Johnson-led push, along with the local corporate support, was enough to sway him. But he’s not entirely convinced that the city will come through with its promises.

“I would expect, given the number of failed arena opportunities that exist here or that have occurred, I think it would be fair for many of the people on this call to be skeptical about whether or not there will finally be a successful path and a critical one to an arena,’’ Stern said.

The Maloofs have promised Stern that they will deal with the city in good faith and not sabotage a deal just so they can relocate next year. Promises to Stern are to be taken seriously because he frowns heavily on betrayal.

Stern still holds ill feelings toward the Washington politicians he believes belittled him and the league when the Seattle SuperSonics relocated.

Asked to describe the Seattle situation in comparison to Sacramento, Stern said, “Do you have half an hour? I guess what I would say is in Seattle, there was a hostility by the mayor [Greg Nickels], who was interested in doing nothing, as opposed to the way Mayor Johnson has put himself out on this for the people of Sacramento.

“The [Washington] Speaker of the House [Frank Chopp] was hostile to the NBA and its players and was not the least bit interested in moving any legislation — even that just authorized by the county — to help support an arena.

“Whereas here, we have Senator [Darrell] Steinberg calling to say, you know, ‘Any way in which I can be helpful.’ You know, to call it night and day, it’s absolutely an incredible difference. And it is night and day. It’s 180 degrees.’’

Upon reflection, Stern views relocations from Vancouver and Seattle as failures. League officials privately lament ripping the Sonics out of Seattle after 41 years and delivering them to Oklahoma City, and Stern concedes that he never gave Vancouver much of a chance to accommodate an NBA team. The Grizzlies were there for just five years.

“I have been at the helm during what seems to be consecutive failures in small markets, each measured according to their own facts,’’ Stern said. “But I consider it always to be a failure when we lose a market, especially one that has been so historically supportive, as has Sacramento.

“And I think that one of the things we are doing with the collective bargaining agreement and the revenue sharing arrangements that we are working on so intently is to ensure a league where every market has the opportunity to compete, whatever its size.’’

No urgency in labor talks The league presented a CBA proposal to the players’ union, which wasn’t moved by the new numbers. Head players representative Derek Fisher told reporters that the new deal was similar to the one discussed at All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles. The owners are suggesting rollbacks on salaries, a hard salary cap, and an $800 million reduction in salaries. NBA commissioner David Stern told reporters in Chicago that he wants to avoid the courts if there is a lockout, which is widely expected. Neither side exhibits a sense of urgency at this point, so expect negotiations to carry into the summer.

High grades for sophomore A player to watch in the June 23 draft is Michigan guard Darius Morris, who has decided to sign with agent Dan Fegan, also the representative for Wizards guard John Wall. Morris, a Southern California native, blossomed during Michigan’s run in the NCAA Tournament, nearly leading the Wolverines to a win over defending national champion Duke. There is little depth in this draft with shooting and combo guards, and Morris has been a fast riser. He worked out with Wall and Baylor guard Gary Franklin last summer at UCLA, and held his own. While sophomore guards in the draft are usually a tricky proposition, Morris may have made the right call considering the talent that is remaining in college.

Frank talk Celtics assistant coach Lawrence Frank is a viable candidate for the Houston and perhaps Golden State coaching position, and Doc Rivers will allow him to interview during the postseason as long as it doesn’t interfere with the team’s preparation. Two years ago, Tom Thibodeau was not allowed to interview until after the playoffs, and he was left out in the cold. He spoke with the Bulls during the playoffs last year and was named coach soon after the Celtics lost in the NBA Finals.

Layups The Hawks haven’t forgotten Jameer Nelson’s nationally televised message to Bulls guard Derrick Rose near the end of the regular season when he told Rose during a postgame interview that he would “see you in the second round.’’ The Bulls fulfilled their end of the bargain, but not the Magic, who lost to the Hawks in six games. Hawks public relations chief Arthur Triche found a way for Nelson to witness the second round in person — leaving him tickets to Games 1 and 2 of the Hawks series with the Bulls. Admittedly, he was taking a page from former Atlanta Falcons coach Jerry Glanville, who left tickets for Elvis Presley for every game. . . . If you think the Lakers will change dramatically this offseason, they can’t. Los Angeles has just two players with expiring contracts — little-used Joe Smith and Theo Ratliff — while Steve Blake, Luke Walton, and Ron Artest have at least two more years on their contracts. The curious signing of Walton to a five-year extension and the Artest deal will hurt the Lakers’ ability to rebuild while Kobe Bryant is still a star player. But watch out for the contract of Andrew Bynum, which contains a team option for 2012-13. That’s the season Dwight Howard could opt out of his deal with the Magic. The option is for $16.1 million, which may be a bargain if Bynum develops into an All-Star. But if Howard is the other option, the Lakers may pass . . . The Celtics have the option of signing Jeff Green to a multiyear contract this summer, offering him a qualifying offer for $5.9 million, or refraining from a qualifying offer and making him an unrestricted free agent. If they choose the latter option, they may end up with nothing from the Kendrick Perkins trade, because Nenad Krstic is an unrestricted free agent.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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