Basketball Notes

Heat on Miami to pick up the pieces of a poor finish

By Gary Washburn
June 19, 2011

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So the Mavericks celebrated hard in South Beach last week, ringing up a $110,000 bill after winning the NBA Finals and leaving the Heat — though not the Fontainebleau Hotel — in shambles.

The Heat weren’t expected to go out like this, feebly competing in the fourth quarter and leaving the court after Game 6 with so much uncertainty. Their franchise player barely showed up for the series, and several players are now wondering whether they will be back.

Because they signed so many players to one-year contracts, the Heat will be a dramatically different team next year around the so-called Big Three, but the question is whether the Mavericks offered the Eastern Conference a blueprint to beat Miami.

Many believed the Celtics were simply too old to compete with the Heat, and Boston lost the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games. But the Mavericks were older than the Celtics, with eight players on the roster 30 years or older.

So the issue for the Celtics — and the Bulls — was execution. Obviously, they didn’t attack the Heat with the same fervor the Mavericks did, nor did they make Miami pay for its defensive aggressiveness. Jason Kidd, who won his first title after 17 years in the league, offered an astute observation about how Dallas won four of the final five games of the series:

“I think the big thing is understanding the Heat and the way they play defense. They’re a big help team. And they over-help a lot of times.

“And we felt early in the series we were getting great looks, we just couldn’t make a shot. As the series went on, we felt if we kept moving the ball, we’re going to get those same shots, and those shots were going to start to go in for us.

“And I thought at the end of Game 4 and then in Game 5, the dam, in a sense, broke.’’

The Mavericks missed countless open looks in the first two games, but they began to hit those shots in Games 3 and 4. By Game 5, it appeared the Mavericks had the Heat’s help defense solved, and Miami could do nothing to prevent open shots in Game 6.

The Celtics played the Heat to five close games, and team president Danny Ainge said they could have won two of the four they dropped (Games 4 and 5).

“We knew how to beat Miami — we proved that over the regular season,’’ said Celtics guard Ray Allen. “Again, we look at what we did in Game 1 and 2, and it wasn’t our recipe. We were doing things that were not in our character on offense and defense.

“I can’t even say, ‘Hey, they did this to us.’ It was the things that we didn’t do. So it’s not like I needed to see Dallas do it to see that we could beat Miami.’’

The Heat enter the offseason with several questions besides where to find LeBron James’s intensity and passion. They have four unrestricted free agents — Juwan Howard, Jamaal Magloire, Mike Bibby and Erick Dampier — while James Jones, Eddie House, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas have player options for near the league minimum.

So as the Heat shuffle their roster, they have to figure out how to reduce the pressure on the Big Three and reduce the minutes of James, who looked tired during the Finals, and Dwyane Wade, who will turn 30 in January.

“We’re going to take the next month and six weeks to go over the specifics,’’ said coach Erik Spoelstra. “We had enough [to win the title]. Even at the highest level at the highest competition, we had enough to get it done, but we didn’t, and that’s the cold, hard truth. We’re focused on picking ourselves up.

“We have a great opportunity, hopefully, for several years. It was an incredible experience for our coaching staff. We played over 100 games together, 21 playoff games, and six Finals games. We’re just building up experience and we’re building more resolve, and when you don’t get where you want to, it makes you dig even deeper.’’

Spoelstra said he met with team president Pat Riley, who compared this team to the 1984 Lakers, who blew a 2-1 series lead and lost the Finals to the Celtics in seven games.

“They had to sit with that pain for the entire offseason, and we all understand that it’s not going to go our way,’’ Spoelstra said. “There was really no way to prepare for a season like this. It was a growing experience. I think it was terrific for all of us to go through it. You learn a lot about yourself.’’

The new collective bargaining agreement will have a lot to do with how Miami retools, but it was apparent that compiling such an aging bench at the last minute damaged its chances, especially down the stretch. And the Heat learned the harsh lesson that it takes more than three stars to win a title.

“It goes to show you that with teams, you never win with one guy,’’ said Allen. “It’s a group effort.

“You look at J.J. Barea, you look at Tyson Chandler, those guys were instrumental in a lot of games to help [the Mavericks] get to the point where they are, to win a championship. That’s what you want to aspire to, to being part of a team like that.’’

Kidd, Howard a class reunion Jason Kidd and Juwan Howard, ageless men in a young man’s game, both products of the 1994 draft, opposed each other in the Finals. Kidd won his title, but after 17 years, Howard is still seeking his first.

“I feel a lot in common with Jason,’’ said Howard. “Everyone talks about Jason, and he’s had an outstanding career and he is the sentimental favorite, and [they] want to see him win one.

“But a lot of people don’t remember the guy like myself who came in with him and who isn’t in the rotation all the time and they forget about you and they are like, ‘Oh yeah, you know what? Juwan hasn’t, too.’

“Jason is a special player and I respect him a lot.’’

Kidd was taken second in that draft by the Mavericks, while Howard went fifth to Washington. Howard giggled at the mid-1990s fashion, when the players used draft night as a fashion show, especially Jalen Rose, who broke out the red pinstripe suit, a look that has been ridiculed for years.

“He came out with the Detroit city-slickster look,’’ said Howard. “And he had a [matching] hat, but he couldn’t put the hat on in the green room because I don’t think the NBA allowed it.

“Y’all didn’t get a chance to see the red hat. And if you go back to the tape and look at his table, his uncle had [the red hat] on.’’

Howard said he is not ready to retire, and he did give the Heat solid minutes during the playoffs.

“Normally when you’re at our age, people count you out,’’ Howard said. “They think you don’t have anything left in the tank. But I think we both proved them wrong.

“I’m just going to keep fighting. Am I ready to rip this jersey off next season? No.’’

Timberwolves get their man Many observers believed point guard whiz kid Ricky Rubio would never leave his Spanish League team in Barcelona to play for theTimberwolves, but he will.

Rubio, who spent two seasons with FC Barcelona after being drafted in 2009, has agreed to join the Timberwolves, making his decision just before the deadline to agree to a rookie contract under the current collective bargaining agreement.

Rubio, 20, gives the Timberwolves increased credibility, and his arrival makes the decision of general manager David Kahn to draft him and Jonny Flynn with consecutive picks two years ago seem less bizarre.

“I don’t think it has been as difficult as some people would like to believe,’’ said Kahn. “I felt very confident since we drafted him that he wanted to start his [NBA] career here.

“It isn’t easy to take a player with a top 10 pick that may not be able to come right away. There is no question in my mind that he will play next year and play significant minutes.’’

Rubio didn’t exactly wow the Spanish League the past two years — 5.9 points, 4.4 assists, and 1.9 steals in 21.6 minutes per game — but he did gain two more years of maturity and could be ready to make a contribution as a rookie.

The Timberwolves are expected to put Flynn, once considered one of the league’s top young point guards, on the trade market after two uneven years and allow Rubio to back up veteran Luke Ridnour.

Kahn can leave observers perplexed at times but he continues to make splashes with his moves. He basically stole Michael Beasley from the salary-dumping Heat for two second-round draft picks, and now may use Beasley as a trade chip. Kevin Love has emerged as one of the league’s most productive power forwards, and Kahn also brought in Anthony Randolph during the second half of the season.

There’s growth in Minnesota, but it’s uncertain what the Timberwolves will become.

Kahn will meet with coach Kurt Rambis to determine whether he will return to the sidelines. If he doesn’t, Bill Laimbeer could be a candidate.

The Timberwolves, an organization in disarray since the departure of Kevin Garnett, need to decide on a direction and move forward.

Diversity not an issue here Of the many issues the NBA has dealt with the past few years, diversity hasn’t been one of them. That was confirmed by a recent report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

The institute gave the NBA a combined “A’’ for the categories of race and gender. According to the report, 83 percent of the NBA’s players were of color, while women held 42 percent of the professional positions in the league office.

At the beginning of the 2010-11 season, one-third of the league’s coaches were of color, including one of Asian decent (Miami’s Erik Spoelstra), and 45 percent of the assistant coaches were of color, the highest percentage since the study began.

“Throughout the history of the Racial and Gender Report Card, the NBA has consistently been the leader on diversity issues in sport,’’ said Richard Lapchick, director of the institute. “NBA commissioner David Stern has been at the forefront, and the league office data and the NBA diversity initiatives show this.

“Thirty-six percent of the professional positions in the league office are held by people of color, while women held 42 percent of the professional positions. Thirty-three percent of the coaches and 26 percent of the GMs are people of color. All these categories are higher than in any other men’s professional league.’’

The NBA hasn’t struggled with the issue of diversity as its brethren in the other three major sports have, and it appears the next hurdle is higher management and ownership. The league has just one owner of color (Michael Jordan) and just eight general managers of color.

The league has to continue to put an emphasis on diversity and offering opportunities not only to people of color but the best qualified candidates.

Moving on from Jackson Brian Shaw is not expected to be retained on Mike Brown’s Lakers staff, a clear indication that the organization is ready to move on from the Phil Jackson administration. Shaw also missed out on the Golden State job, so he and Lakers assistant Chuck Person will be looking for work. Both should draw interest for assistant jobs.

Casey headed north? Less than a week after the Mavericks won the title, assistant coach Dwane Casey has emerged as the leading candidate for the Toronto job, according to league sources. Another candidate is Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank, who is likely to return to Boston if he does not land the Toronto or Detroit job. That would be fine with Doc Rivers. The Celtics coach was pleased with how Frank ran the defense, as Boston finished first in the NBA in scoring defense.

Layups Rich Cho didn’t stay out of work for long, as the Bobcats named the former Trail Blazers general manager to the same position, promoting Rod Higgins to team president. Cho is a salary cap expert, and his skills will be utilized by Charlotte. Higgins and owner Michael Jordan are expected to have a say in talent evaluation. Jordan has said this is one of the most important drafts in team history, as the Bobcats own the ninth and 19th picks and are looking to add cornerstones after dealing Gerald Wallace to Portland . . . The team that holds the most chips in this draft is the Jazz, who are picking third but need a shooting guard and a swingman. Neither of those positions are stacked in the higher end of the draft, meaning the Jazz could trade down and pursue Jimmer Fredette or Klay Thompson. Utah could draft point guard Brandon Knight if it doesn’t consider Devin Harris its point guard of the future. The Jazz acquired Derrick Favors, who is still just 19, in the Deron Williams trade with New Jersey and also have Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Fredette and former Connecticut star Kemba Walker worked out for the Jazz last week . . . Allen Iverson has indicated that he wants to return to the NBA and is willing to play whatever role is needed. Now remember, the last time Iverson was a free agent and went to Memphis two years ago, the Celtics seriously considered him. You’d assume they would at least kick the tires on the 36-year-old when the lockout ends and teams are able to bring in free agents.

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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