Caris LeVert aims to be next Michigan guard to step up

LeVert looks to continue at the level set by Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas.

      
 

 

View full post on USATODAY – NCAA Top Stories

LeBron James’ Leadership Is the Final Step in His Superstar Evolution

LeBron James‘ return to the Cleveland Cavaliers was about unfinished business—both in terms of championship pursuits and personal growth.

The first bit of business will take time to tackle, but the second may already be complete. James has matured into the leader he couldn’t be the first time around.

 

Narrative Perfection

James’ career has had a storybook quality to it all along. The hometown kid stays put, becomes an immediate superstar who exceeds absurd expectations, rises to the top of the league and then falls short of his goal. Then came the heel turn, the shocking exit many viewed as an outright betrayal.

That’s remarkably close to fiction.

So, of course James now gets to make the full pivot back to hero. Wiser for his experience away from home, he returns ready to pay those lessons forward.

The home he left, of course, welcomes him with open arms.

The overall narrative arc is perfect: A man previously incapable of leading—due to youth, emotional immaturity or unwillingness—is now in charge of the most promising young team in the league.

According to the lone holdover from James’ first tour with the Cavs, Anderson Varejao, the younger version of James wasn’t ready for the task at hand. The veteran center watched James explicitly tell every player on the roster what his demands were for the upcoming season during training camp.

His reaction, per Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports: “He used to talk individually to the players before, but not like that.”

 

Practical Maturation

The “LBJ returns transformed as leader” angle isn’t just the logical narrative completion to his story. It’s also necessary for the Cavaliers’ competitive goals.

Cleveland is young, and young teams generally need a strong veteran presence to keep priorities straight, agendas pure and goals in sight. But this particular Cavaliers team needed a leader more than most.

The infighting that plagued the locker room last year wasn’t a major problem in isolation. That Cavs team wasn’t talented enough to make any real noise. As composed heading into the summer, there wasn’t a championship future in sight.

Writ larger, though, Cleveland was in danger of letting the alleged rift between Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters (not to mention the broader organizational disorder) define the club going forward, potentially letting the discord take deep root.

Irving was quickly developing a label as an exhibition game hero (see: All-Star MVP) who didn’t possess the team-first attitude or commitment to lead his team anywhere worthwhile. Fair or not, labels like that have a way of sticking.

In a similar way, new arrival Kevin Love caught heat for putting up gaudy numbers that somehow didn’t lead to team wins.

James can help his younger teammates shed those labels. He can show them the secrets, teach them what it takes to make personal success and team success the same thing. And his influence couldn’t be coming at a better time or place.

Because Love and Irving will be a big part of the foundation after LBJ is gone—not just for the Cavaliers, but for the NBA as a whole.

 

Already in Action

James has always been polished beyond his years, but his demeanor during his first tour with the Cavs was more emotional and less considerate of how it affected teammates who, whether he wanted them to or not, looked up to him. They needed him to lead—even though he was an NBA infant at the time.

Back then, I’m not saying he was a bad leader, but he had some ups and downs with that,” Varejao said, per Spears.

Now, James is acutely aware of how his comments and conduct affect teammates.

Case in point: his shrewd sound bite leading up to an Oct. 20 preseason game against the Chicago Bulls.

Per Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, James said: “[The Bulls] are a team that’s much better than us right now just off chemistry. They’ve been together for a while; we’ve got a long way to go.”

Though it’s possible James genuinely believed in Chicago’s superiority, the point of his pregame nod was clear: He was trying to motivate his teammates.

Success. Cleveland went on to win by a final score of 107-98, and Irving, in particular, looked like a player bent on proving who the better team really was.

James is now the team’s resident sage, dispensing hard-won wisdom on the unavoidable adversity his Cavs will face and, more importantly, its value, per Windhorst

“It has to happen. I know it is going to happen. A lot of guys don’t see it, but I see it. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to grow. You don’t define yourself during the good times, you define yourself through the bad times.”

There’s nothing magical about what James is doing. He’s merely passing on the wisdom he earned the hard way with the Miami Heat. It took an uncomfortable stylistic overhaul and a loss in the 2011 NBA Finals for James to realize something: Struggle builds camaraderie and character.

That’s an old lesson. Now that James is an old head, he’s ready to teach it.

 

His Own Path

We shouldn’t discount the novelty of LeBron embracing his role as a leader. It’s not every day you see a transcendent, once-in-a-generation superstar who has the ability (and desire) to pass something on.

Kobe Bryant has always been brutal on his young teammates. Even now, as he takes Julius Randle under his wing, he’s doing it in a way that packs on the pressure (and expletives).

And it’s not like Michael Jordan did Kwame Brown any favors.

Being an MVP-caiber talent makes it hard to be a leader. You can’t just tell your followers to “do it like I do.” They can’t; that’s why you’re you and they’re them.

What James is doing now fits appropriately into his overall legacy. He’s the unselfish alpha, the wholly unique megastar whose greatness is defined by his inherent desire to give rather than take. It makes sense that he’d be the guy to pull off the impossible task of passing on greatness while still in his dominant prime.

He’s Kobe with a conscience. Jordan with a heart.

James’ evolution is complete, and we’ve never seen a finished product like this before.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

LeVert aims to be next Michigan guard to step up

LeVert looks to continue at the level set by Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas.

      
 

 

View full post on USATODAY – NCAA Top Stories

How John Wall Can Take Next Step Up the NBA Superstar Ladder

Washington Wizards point guard John Wall has always been fighting to live up to the expectations of his selection as the first overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. 

Few players in the NBA bring his combination of end-to-end speed, lateral quickness and precise ball-handling. He’s an absolute blur in the open court. His drives to the rim are triggered by explosions of acceleration and punctuated with gravity-defying leaps toward the rim.

It’s impossible to teach his raw athleticism, and that’s why most scouts were drooling over his potential. 

On the cusp of his fifth NBA season with a max contract extension in hand, Wall hasn’t quite blown anyone away. Though he made his first All-Star game last season, he was hardly a contender to make Team USA this offseason and is not considered among the NBA’s elite point guards.

What does he have to do to reach that level?

Everyone points toward the jump shot. His athletic superiority in both high school and college didn’t necessitate its development. He was always quicker, faster and a better ball-handler.

The NBA changed matters quickly.

The book on Wall has always been to afford him multiple feet of space to fire up jumpers. On pick-and-rolls, defenders went “underneath” screens—meaning they stepped behind pickers instead of fighting to bust through them and chase Wall from behind—and dared him to shoot.

The NBA scouting report mirrored that of his previous basketball days, but the athletes he stacked up against were better. Even though Wall was still faster than most, the margin for error shrank considerably. His darts to the rim were far less effective because defenders were now capable of squaring him up. 

All they had to do was retreat, use the requisite space to size up Wall’s drives and slide their feet. 

Or let him shoot. 

Just look at how Mo Williams of the (then) Los Angeles Clippers guards him on this pick-and-roll back in 2010-2011, his rookie year:

Going under pick-and-rolls is one thing; giving a player eight feet of room to shoot is a sign of complete disrespect. 

Wall was simply unable to punish opponents for this overt and all-out rim protection. He only shot 36.2 percent as the pick-and-roll ball-handler that year, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required) and 31 percent on dribble pull-ups when he received a screen.

That put him in the 23rd and 16th percentiles, respectively, in the league. 

Not only did this style of defense take away from his scoring in the paint, it limited his distribution opportunities to teammates. His inability to slice deep into the teeth of the defense meant defenders weren’t leaving shooters.

He could only generate 0.996 points per possession for others, which once again placed him in the lower rungs of the league at the 32nd percentile.

Since those difficult early years, things have slowly changed.

Wall is now an average pick-and-roll scorer at 39.6 percent from the field, which hovers right around the middle of the pack. His 36.7 percent shooting on dribble jumpers off the pick-and-roll is still an area of struggle, but it’s up five percent from his rookie year. 

His 1.001 points per possession as a pick-and-roll distributor is also better, but only slightly and still in the middle of the league.

The numbers correspond with what we’ve seen from Wall on the court: He’s better, but there’s still a ways to go.

Still, even slight improvements in his jump shot have already had significant effects. Wall admitted as such to Kyle Weidie of the Wizards blog Truth About It last season:

I still got to keep working on improving,” Wall says about his jumper. “But it makes it tough to guard me. I think I get into the paint a lot easier, it gets my teammates a lot of open shots, and it makes the help rotation try to get in more.”

Wall doesn’t ever need to become an elite shooter. He’s clearly not wired that way, and trying to limit his on-ball creativity by mechanizing his pick-and-roll reads—shoot if the defense goes under, drive if it goes over—will hurt him in the long run. 

All he needs is the threat of a jump shot to use his world-class speed. 

The rest is about tempo control. Wall’s top gear outclasses that of most other players, but understanding how to create angles for its use in spite of conservative, rim-oriented defensive schemes is where he can take his game to the next level.

Some teams will continue to disrespect his jumper, and he’ll have to combat it more effectively. 

As we can see in the play below against Lou Williams and the (then) Atlanta Hawks from this past season, Wall is beginning to understand the nuances of this type of pick-and-roll navigation.

When he brings the ball up the right side of the floor, he sees Marcin Gortat strolling in for a “drag” screen—a pick-and-roll in which the big takes a horizontal angle toward the ball-handler in a semi-transition situation. 

Previously in the game, Atlanta had been going under all screens and Wall was firing up jumpers in response. Here, Williams tips his hand early and starts to slip under a beat before the pick is set. 

To keep him honest, Wall crosses over to reject the screen, forcing Williams to scramble and recover. Wall, however, knows he’s going nowhere: Mike Muscala, the Atlanta big guarding Gortat, is in the way should he go baseline. 

This move, therefore, is to set up Williams. 

Gortat then turns and screens again, a common tactic in pick-and-roll play. Williams, not wanting to get caught overplaying Wall again, gets jammed up in Gortat. He doesn’t want Wall to quickly shift direction and blow by, so he’s less decisive in his movements.

When Wall uses the screen on the second go, Williams cannot react quick enough.

With Muscala dropped off so far—he’s anticipating Williams’ sagging route to guard the paint—Wall is able to penetrate and draw contact. 

These are the tricks of the NBA’s best point guards.

Every player, to some degree, lacks a skill or athletic advantage. The great players mask these flaws by leveraging their particular strengths. Wall’s defect is his jump shot, but he’s improved it enough to warrant middling respect.

That should be enough for his speed to take over because it worries defenders to no end. Any misstep in the wrong direction leaves them vulnerable, even if they’re compensating by ceding heaps of space. 

The result is on-ball defenders who are twitchy, overly sensitive and responsive even to the slightest movements to avoid losing ground. Therefore, changes of pace via hesitation dribbles or crossovers followed by bursts of speed in the opposite direction become especially deadly.

Simply playing at 100 miles per hour is too predictable. 

Wall will learn to harness his overwhelming quickness with time. If he does completely figure it out, the defense will be at his mercy, and not the other way around.  

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Anonymous executives: CP3 has lost a step

Some NBA executives think that Chris Paul has lost something, according to one reporter. Appearing on ESPN’s “Numbers Never Lie” Thursday, NBA reporter Chris Broussard was asked whether the Clippers could compete for an NBA title. The Clippers reached the Western Conference semifinals last season but lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games….Read More

View full post on Yardbarker: NBA

Watchability: Clippers ready for next step?

In the steady hands of Steve Ballmer and Doc Rivers, the Clippers expect progress.

      
 

 

View full post on USATODAY – NBA Top Stories

Jonas Valanciunas Will Define the Toronto Raptors’ Next Step

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan might be the Toronto Raptors’ two best players—a backcourt duo with enough offensive firepower to single-handedly win games and, given the right opponents, a playoff series or two.

But it’s the development of another talent the Raptors are hoping can transform them from plucky upstarts to full-fledged conference contenders.

We’re talking, of course, about Jonas Valanciunas, whose breakout performance at the 2014 FIBA World Cup gave Raptors fans a first-hand glance at just how much the burly Lithuanian has left to offer entering his third NBA season.

More importantly, Valanciunas’ teammates are lobbying on behalf of an increased role for the 6’11” center as well.

“We have to start games off (feeding Valanciunas in the post), we need him, we’re going to put some pressure on him to score the ball for us,” Kyle Lowry told the Toronto Sun’s Ryan Wolstat during a recent media session. “We can’t just do all guard-oriented types of things. We have to make sure he’s more involved and have to put a little pressure on him to score the ball.”

On the surface, Valanciunas’ production during his first two seasons (10.3 points on 7.3 shot attempts per game) would seem in keeping with both the 22-year-old’s position as well as his prospects.

Still, for a player with a true-shooting percentage of just under 60 percent (not to mention a FIBA-high 70 percent field-goal clip), Valanciunas’ 18.5 percent usage rate—below the likes of Anthony Bennett, J.J. Hickson and Andrea Bargnani—leaves much to the imagination.

While perhaps not an airtight bellwether, Valanciunas’ performance down last year’s regular-season stretch paints an optimistic picture for what a bigger offensive role might yield Toronto.

To wit: Over eight April games, Valanciunas registered 16.8 points and 11 rebounds on 58 percent shooting (with 10.6 shot attempts per contest, no less). In fact, only once in that stretch did Valanciunas tally fewer than 10 points—a meaningless 95-92 loss to the New York Knicks in which he played just 16 minutes.

Unfortunately, his role was scaled back once the postseason started, with Valanciunas hoisting just seven attempts per game in Toronto’s seven-game defeat at the hands of the veteran Brooklyn Nets. All despite Valanciunas’ sterling 63-percent clip from the field.

Buoyed by his impressive spring run, Valanciunas entered the offseason determined to further expand his offensive repertoire. The first order of business: signing up for a one-on-one session with NBA legend—and noted big-man tutor—Hakeem Olajuwon.

“I worked a lot this summer. I was working out with Hakeem with a running coach, so I think that’s going to help me out a lot, especially in the low post,” Valanciunas told Wolstat. “He’s one of the greatest players. He moves fantastic, so I want to get something from him and I want to use something that he taught me.”

How much Valanciunas truly gleaned from what amounts to a two-week accelerated course in post-up proficiency is, as Grantland’s Brett Koremenos underscored last fall, a subject of some debate.

Criticisms aside, Olajuwon’s tutelage is as much about bolstering a player’s confidence as it is adding to his tool belt. Exhibit A: Valanciunas’ impressive FIBA performance, a kind of international coming-out party for a player long the pride of his native country.

Still, as the National Post’s Eric Koreen recently wrote regarding the Raptors center’s putrid Game 7 performance against the Nets, Valanciunas’ learning curve is as much about the flow of the game as it is about baby hooks and bullying up-and-unders:

It was particularly bizarre because when Valanciunas has failed in the past, it has usually been the result of overzealousness, not tentativeness. Valanciunas rarely lets the game come to him, as the cliché goes, and that can be both good and bad. The final game of his NBA season was one strange, massive anomaly.

In a league becoming increasingly perimeter-oriented, building an entire offense around a center’s low-post repertoire has become as rare as coaches in checkered suits. As such, Valanciunas will likely never be more than a secondary or tertiary option.

Besides, if you ask head coach Dwane Casey, Valanciunas’ biggest room for improvement lies at the other end of the floor entirely.

“We were 29th in (defending shots) attempted at the rim against us,” Casey told the Toronto Sun. “So JV’s got to do a better job of protecting the rim, Amir (Johnson) has got to do a better job of protecting the rim.”

The stat Casey cites isn’t the only one that bears out Valanciunas’ volatile value. According to NBA.com (subscription required), Toronto’s 4.8 net rating with Valanciunas off the floor was second only to that of John Salmons (6.4). By contrast, the Raptors’ 2.5 net rating with Valanciunas on the floor was only good for eighth overall on the team.

Yet despite Valanciunas’ somewhat middling defensive presence, the Raptors still managed to finish ninth in overall defensive efficiency a season ago.

Getting him more involved in the offense could help mitigate this discrepancy; the more adept he becomes at drawing fouls on the opposing frontcourt, the less prone Valanciunas himself should be at the other end, why with backup bigs less likely to command touches down low.

That, coupled with improved footwork and vertical positioning on dribble-drives and cuts, should lend itself to a marked improvement in terms of Valanciunas’ overall defensive presence.

With the Eastern Conference power structure undergoing more of a lateral shift than a top-to-bottom improvement, the Raptors’ playoff prospects remain virtually unimpeachable.

Having one of the league’s best backcourt tandem’s locked up at least through the 2016-17 season doesn’t hurt, of course. However, it’s in Valanciunas—officially eligible for a four-year extension next summer—that Toronto near-future prospects find their most crucial hardwood harbinger.

The NBA may be trending farther and farther from the paint. Without its paint-bound big man, though, Toronto’s masterpiece may wind up little more than mere brushstrokes on the fringes.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

3 Players Who Must Step Up for New Orleans Pelicans This Season

Entering the 2014-15 season, the New Orleans Pelicans seem poised to compete for a playoff bid. Their exceptional blend of impactful newcomers and essential returners boasts the potential to achieve this feat.

However, New Orleans will squander this opportunity if certain players don’t step up their game. Whether it requires improving a specific aspect or assuming a larger role, these athletes must enhance their play for the Pelicans to attain success.

Three players in particular—Jeff Withey, Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon—must focus on raising their performance.

Let’s explore how each can accomplish this, shall we?

 

Jeff Withey

Although head coach Monty Williams will feature a frontcourt rotation of Anthony Davis, Omer Asik and Ryan Anderson, center Jeff Withey will still obtain consistent minutes down low. Much like last season, Withey will be expected to anchor the defense while filling the 5 spot.

After initially playing in only 29 contests last year, the big man appeared in each of New Orleans’ final 29 games, according to ESPN.com. The 24-year-old used this time to display his abilities as a dominant defender. Swatting opponents with his lengthy 7’3″ wingspan, he was second behind Davis in blocks with 2.6 per match through the last nine games.

Withey needs to protect the paint like this throughout the entirety of 2014-15. His small, effective stretch last season is noteworthy, but he must provide this regularly to help the Pelicans thrive defensively without Asik and/or Davis on the court.

In addition, Withey must improve his rebounding, as the center disappointingly finished ninth on the team in rebounds per 36 minutes with 7.9. This weakness is something he is aware of and has mentioned in the past, per NBA.com:

I need to rebound better. I want to get better at that. That kind of comes with getting stronger, not getting pushed around and knowing how to be in the right place. We’re going to continue to do whatever it takes to get stronger, because in this league, someone with my body frame can’t last that long. I have to pack on that weight, so I can take that beating and stand my ground.

Playing at 220 pounds last season, the 7’0″ Withey represented the epitome of a walking human skeleton. However, he focused on adding 15 pounds of muscle during the summer and is currently listed at 235 pounds.

New Orleans finished a lowly 22nd in rebounding last year with 41.7 per game. In order for the team to rise in the ranks in this important category, it is critical for Withey to grab more boards. The extra weight should help, but the responsibility ultimately lies in the big man’s effort.

Essentially, Withey needs to step up his consistency on defense as well as his rebounding. If he succeeds, it will aid the Pelicans’ output in these areas, subsequently raising their chances of playoff qualification. 

 

Austin Rivers

Rivers will play a significant role in his third NBA campaign. He is positioned to serve as the primary backup 2-guard, and he is expected to provide a scoring punch off the bench.

The 22-year-old has proven himself a capable scorer, displaying consistency in driving the lane as well as an ability to hit from three. This has led to him averaging seven points per game through his first two seasons.

However, to aid in New Orleans’ postseason push this year, Rivers must transform into a more well-rounded point producer. And the best way for him to accomplish this is by strengthening his mid-range game.

In his first two seasons, Rivers’ shooting from 10 to 23 feet was atrocious, as his percentage sits at an appalling 29.5 percent. To compare, this output is roughly 10 points lower than the league average of 39.8 percent.

Rivers understands this flaw, and he has performed the necessary actions to fix it. “I’ve strictly worked on mid-range and getting my body stronger this summer,” Rivers said, per John Reid of The Times Picayune. ”I’ve got both of those things and I’m ready to prove and show people that this year.” 

Whether or not evidence of this emerges remains to be seen. It is, however, an incredibly positive sign that the shooting guard focused on this weakness.

By adding a mid-range shot, Rivers can apply a completely new element to his offensive approach. The ability to abruptly stop a drive and convert pull-up jump shots is invaluable to a scorer. Already an established attacker, Rivers would constantly keep defenders guessing if he incorporated a reliable mid-range game.

This would allow for more efficient scoring, subsequently leading to quality bench output. Naturally, solid pine play would increase the Pelicans’ playoff potential.

Last season, New Orleans finished eighth in bench points with 34.9 per game, according to hoopstats.com. But the team lost multiple key pieces, and Tyreke Evans—who played a majority of the games as a substitute—will likely assume a starting role this year.

Consequently, Rivers must step up his scoring in order for the Pelicans to put forth a strong bench. The team’s postseason fate will partially depend on the pine’s success or failure, and the 2-man will fill a key role in this regard.

 

Eric Gordon

Before falling victim to left knee tendinitis in March, Eric Gordon experienced a relatively successful 2013-14 campaign. He participated in 64 games—the most he’s played since his rookie season—and finished the year third on New Orleans in scoring with 15.4 points.

Gordon underwent successful surgery in April after the conclusion of the regular season. The shooting guard is completely healthy now and boasts a chance to build upon last year.

Once again, Gordon will serve as a main scorer. But for the Pelicans to vie for a playoff spot, the 25-year-old must improve certain aspects of his style.

Specifically, the 2-guard needs to raise his shooting efficiency and enhance his explosiveness, both of which go hand-in-hand.

At 43.6 percent, Gordon’s field-goal percentage proved less-than-stellar last season. His three-point shooting was superb at 39.1 percent, but his 45.6 percent shooting from two served as the main source of his struggles.

Gordon’s shoddy percentage of 43.4 within zero to 10 feet played a significant part in his poor output from two. Sensibly enough, this low efficiency can be attributed to the guard’s inconsistent explosiveness attacking the rim—sometimes he finished strong, but other times, he held back in an effort to play cautiously.

According to Gordon himself, regaining that explosiveness—something he flaunted often early in his career—was a focal point for him over the offseason, via Jim Eichenhofer of NBA.com:

That’s what I’ve really been working on, explosiveness to the rim, trying to beat people (off the dribble). I don’t think I was very consistent, because with all of the injuries, it would slow me down at times, because I would be so hesitant to make a move or even explode to the basket at times.

This year has been well because I’ve actually been able to work out as hard and as long as I want to, during the summer. So it’s been a lot better.

It seems the 2-man is on track to improve in this area. By doing so, he would up his efficiency near the rim, resultantly bettering his field-goal percentage and scoring output as a whole.

As a leader for New Orleans, Gordon’s play can drastically effect the team’s success. Healthy, productive stretches by the guard will lead to more wins, while poor, injury-marred stints will undoubtedly pile on losses.

Gordon must improve his shooting and explosiveness for the Pelicans to earn a postseason spot. Should he fall short, his franchise will do the same in the competitive Western Conference. 

 

(Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com)

Josh Haar is a NBA Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @JHaarNBA.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Heat’s 1st Step After LeBron James’ Departure Is to Move out of His Shadow

MIAMI — When you’re one of the most photographed men in America, you can be selective with your self-portraits, only posting those that say something significant to you.

Such was the case Monday, when LeBron James sent out a shot of his slimmer frame hugged by a gray suit, apparently the appropriate attire for some sort of acting shoot. But, in his caption, he chose to draw attention to something other than his physical being. Rather, he sought symbolism in the dark, sinewy shadow behind him, cutting across two elongated parking spaces in a sunny California lot.   

“Throughout adversity, trials and tribulations. When you think you’re alone know your shadow will stand tall and always have your back! #OverComeItAll #StriveForGreatness.”

That’s what the photo spoke to James, those 21 to 28 words, depending on how you count what he put inside the hashtags:

Perseverance and self-reliance.

But if every photo is worth 1,000 words, that leaves another 975 or so to spare. And so the Miami Heat, weary as they are already of reading and hearing and talking about James, might actually find something of value in this particular social media missive.

Do they see that shadow?

That’s what they need to somehow get out of.

Or, at least, not get lost in.

That’s likely to be one of the themes of Friday’s media day in Miami, with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra scheduled to address reporters roughly 45 minutes before Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt addresses a much larger throng in Independence, Ohio.

No, it won’t be possible for the Heat to entirely escape the past, not as James continues to be omnipresent. Short of turning off all of their televisions, radios, computers and smartphones—as well as turning away meddling media membersthey can’t avoid all questions about his departure, all highlights of his exploits and all comparisons to their current condition.

They can’t change anything that occurred while he was with them, nor what they could have been had he stayed.

They can define, however, what they are now.

Pat Riley used the word “reinvention” even before James left, to characterize what some in the organizationfrom himself to Spoelstra to Dwyane Wadeneeded to do, following the NBA Finals flameout against San Antonio.

But what was truly needed was reinvigoration. The team around James had gotten tiredemotionally, mentally, physicallyand that ultimately wore on him, too, as he was often expected to carry them off the couch. As it turned out, it may have taken his sudden, unexpected departure to stir some from their sloth.

It seems that the Heat have spent the summer one-upping each other with their workout regimens, with five playersincluding newcomer Josh McRobertstaking Wade’s invitation to work out at Indiana University, and Chalmers and Norris Cole among those who have shared inside looks at their regimens with their social media following. And one who wasn’t there, Chris Bosh, has been toiling tirelessly to tailor his game to his retro, expanded role, as he shared in this Bleacher Report story.

Nor have Heat players been shy about sharing their excitement about the upcoming season. They were shocked when James left, for sure; one player even lamented that he “got used to be looked at as the Heatles.” They won’t be, not like they were, not with James gone. But they seem to have come around to being hunters, rather than hunted.

Chalmers, in a recent interview with Bleacher Report, referred to “a totally different energy.”

“Four years,” Chalmers said of being targeted by the league and the public. “And now we’re the forgotten team. So it’s good. We all accept it. I’ve talked to D-Wade several times, I’ve talked to CB several times. We’re ready.”

That’s what matters. Not hashtags like “#heatlifer,” which Wade introduced and owner Micky Arison has embraced but which also can be taken as a backhanded dig at James. Not videos, such as the one Riley appeared in for Heat.com, strong-selling the fans on the organization’s prospects after James.

What matters now is whether the current players and coaches, catalyzed by the doubts about their capabilities, can use that as fuel to be more. That Wade can be more than a part-time player. That Bosh can be more than a second or third wheel on a contender. That Chalmers can be more, much more, than he showed in the NBA Finals. That Luol Deng, with tread on his tires, can be more than he seemed during his uninspiring stint in Cleveland. That Danny Granger can be more than he’s been since his first significant knee injury.

That Spoelstra can be even more than he was before James arrived, even though he did take two different teams, with only one star (Wade), to the playoffs.

Last spring, James described his leadership style this way:

“If you’re a part of this culture, I believe you’re here for a reason. Part of being a leader is making people also believe that sometimes they can do more than they actually can do. Giving them a sense of belief and confidence. And for me, I’ve always kind of done that. And I’m not downgrading what that individual can do. I’m just letting them know that they can do more than what they even thought they can do, and bring more to the game, and bring more to who they are as an individual than they thought they could.”

Now those still part of the culture need to believe in his absence, that they can do more than they thought they could do. More than anyone else thinks they can do.

Further, they need to think and talk about him as little as possibleand if they do, only in the context of his absence allowing all of them to grow more. To expand their own opportunities. To demonstrate their own measure of self-reliance and perseverance.

To step out of his shadow some.

For the Heat, it’s the only way to step forward. 

 

Ethan Skolnick covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @EthanJSkolnick.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Heat’s First Step After LeBron James’ Departure Is to Move out of His Shadow

MIAMI — When you’re one of the most photographed men in America, you can be selective with your self-portraits, only posting those that say something significant to you. Such was the case Monday, when LeBron James sent out a shot of his slimmer frame hugged by a gray suit, apparently the appropriate attire for some sort of acting shoot. But, in his caption, he chose to draw attention to something other than his physical being. Rather, he sought symbolism in the dark, sinewy shadow behind him, cutting across two elongated parking spaces in a sunny California lot.   

“Throughout adversity, trials and tribulations. When you think you’re alone know your shadow will stand tall and always have your back! #OverComeItAll #StriveForGreatness”

That’s what the photo spoke to James, those 21 to 28 words, depending on how you count what he put inside the hashtags:

Perseverance and self-reliance.

But if every photo is worth 1,000 words, that leaves another 975 or so to spare. And so the Heat, weary as they are already of reading and hearing and talking about James, might actually find something of value in this particular social media missive.

Do they see that shadow?

That’s what they need to somehow get out of.

Or, at least, not get lost in.

That’s likely to be one of the themes of Friday’s “media day” in Miami, with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra scheduled to address reporters roughly 45 minutes before Cavaliers coach David Blatt addresses a much larger throng in Independence, Ohio.

No, it won’t be possible for the Heat to entirely escape the past, not as James continues to be omnipresent. Short of turning off all of their televisions, radios, computers and smartphones—as well as turning away meddling media membersthey can’t avoid all questions about his departure, all highlights of his exploits and all comparisons to their current condition.

They can’t control what they were with him, or what they could have been had he stayed.

They can define, however, what they are.

Pat Riley used the word “reinvention” even before James left, to characterize what some in the organizationfrom himself to Spoelstra to Dwyane Wadeneeded to do, following the NBA Finals flameout against San Antonio. But what was truly needed was reinvigoration. The team around James had gotten tiredemotionally, mentally, physicallyand that ultimately wore on him, too, as he was often expected to carry them off the couch.

As it turned out, it may have taken his sudden, unexpected departure to stir some from their sloth. It seems that the Heat have spent the summer one-upping each other with their workout regimens, with five playersincluding newcomer Josh McRobertstaking Wade’s invitation to work out at Indiana University, and Chalmers and Norris Cole among those who have shared inside looks at their regimens with their social media following. And one who wasn’t there, Chris Bosh, has been toiling tirelessly to tailor his game to his retro, expanded role, as he shared in this Bleacher Report story.

Nor have Heat players been shy about sharing their excitement about the upcoming season. They were shocked when James left, for sure; one player even lamented that he “got used to be looked at as the Heatles.” They won’t be, not like they were, not with James gone. But they seem to have come around to being hunters, rather than hunted. Chalmers, in a recent interview with Bleacher Report, referred to “a totally different energy.”

“Four years,” Chalmers said of being targeted by the league and the public. “And now we’re the forgotten team. So it’s good. We all accept it. I’ve talked to D-Wade several times, I’ve talked to CB several times. We’re ready.”

That’s what matters. Not hashtags like “#heatlifer,” which Wade introduced and owner Micky Arison has embraced, but which also can be taken as a backhanded dig at James. Not videos, such as the one Riley appeared in for Heat.com, strong-selling the fans on the organization’s strong prospects after James.

What matters now is whether the current players and coaches, catalyzed by the doubts about their capabilities, can use that as fuel to be more. That Wade can be more than a part-time player. That Bosh can be more than a second or third wheel on a contender. That Chalmers can be more, much more, than he showed in the NBA Finals. That Luol Deng, with tread on his tires, can be more than he seemed during his uninspiring stint in Cleveland. That Danny Granger can be more than he’s been since his first significant knee injury.

That Spoelstra can be even more than he was before James arrived, even though he did take two different teams, with only one star (Wade), to the playoffs.

Last spring, James described his leadership style this way:

“If you’re a part of this culture, I believe you’re here for a reason. Part of being a leader is making people also believe that sometimes they can do more than they actually can do. Giving them a sense of belief and confidence. And for me, I’ve always kind of done that. And I’m not downgrading what that individual can do. I’m just letting them know that they can do more than what they even thought they can do, and bring more to the game, and bring more to who they are as an individual than they thought they could.”

Now those still part of the culture need to believe in his absence, that they can do more than they thought they could do. More than anyone else thinks they can do.

Further, they need to think and talk about him as little as possibleand if they do, only in the context of his absence allowing all of them to grow more. To expand their own opportunities. To demonstrate their own measure of self-reliance and perseverance.

To step out of his shadow some.

For the Heat, it’s the only way to step forward. 

 

Ethan Skolnick covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @EthanJSkolnick.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – NBA

Next Page »