Tag:Dwyane Wade
Posted on: May 10, 2011 7:06 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2011 8:04 pm
 

Another tough call for Rivers

MIAMI – In the opening minutes of overtime, in a game the Celtics had to have, Doc Rivers faced a decision he never imagined he’d have to confront.

Badly in need of a basket and unable to afford another turnover from the Heat’s relentless trapping of Rajon Rondo, Rivers had to sit his courageous point guard in the hopes that a healthier Delonte West would handle the ball better and Jeff Green would provide better floor-spacing in the most important minutes of the season.

This was barely a minute-and-a-half into overtime of Game 4 against Miami on Monday night, and it was a problem for which there was no good answer. Take Rondo out? With the inspiration he’d provided and desperation he’d infused into the Celtics after returning from what should’ve been a season-ending dislocated elbow in Game 3? Put the heart and soul of the Celtics on the bench?

“I don’t know what the right call was,” Rivers candidly admitted after the 98-90 overtime loss to Miami, which put the Celtics in a 3-1 hole in the best-of-7 series.

With the Celtics facing elimination Wednesday night in Miami, this was not the last difficult decision Rivers will have to make. However and whenever this series ends, Rivers’ next dilemma will be personal and will affect just what happens to the Big Three era Celtics from here.

Five players remain from the Celtics’ 2008 championship. Rondo’s emergence as one of the top point guards in the league and also a leader with incalculable toughness has since transformed the Big Three into the Big Four. But you can’t mention Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen without mentioning the coach who held them all together.

Rivers has stated that he soon plans to take a sabbatical from coaching to watch his son, Austin, play college ball at Duke. It is a father’s dream, to have the freedom and security to enjoy his children’s accomplishments – especially when those accomplishments intersect on the basketball court.

Rivers hasn’t officially proclaimed his intentions, not wanting to become a distraction for a team that he believed had one more championship run in it. Also, Rivers is a basketball coach, not a basketball spectator. It is a hard game to walk away from if it is ingrained in you as it is in Rivers.

But the reality is that the Celtics’ core isn’t getting any younger, and Rivers’ son figures to play one season at Duke before following in his father’s footsteps to the NBA. It’s a now-or-never moment for Rivers, who is needed away from the court in the same way he was needed in Boston to coax enough sacrifice out of his trio of stars to hang a 17th championship banner from the rafters at the new Garden. If Rivers’ legacy as Celtics coach is two Finals appearances and a championship, he can walk away with his head held high.

Pierce has three years left on his contract, while Garnett and Allen have one each. Rivers and the members of his coaching staff are up after this season, and with at least a truncated lockout looming, there could be no basketball work to do until September or so. If you’re Rivers, how do you view the impending labor crisis as it relates to you? Do you chalk up the potentially shortened season to your sabbatical, and get the best of both worlds – some games with your son and one more chance with the Celtics? Or do you walk away and not look back?

Whatever he decides, Rivers must now prepare for more than the diabolical talents of Heat stars Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, who would like nothing better than to slam the window shut on the Celtics’ run of success. He must prepare for some serious soul searching, and for the accompanying speculation that goes with any accomplished coach who steps down with work still to be done.

The Lakers’ Phil Jackson hasn’t even gotten to Montana yet and already the rumor mill has him coaching the Knicks after next season. The hype machine will churn even more vigorously for Rivers, who will be able to name his team and price whenever he decides to come back.

His history with the Knicks makes him a logical fit in New York if Mike D’Antoni doesn’t last beyond next season. His championship pedigree and ability to manage stars and their egos makes him one of the few men breathing who are up to the task of coaching the Lakers. One high-level coaching source told me recently that the most fitting place for Rivers is Orlando, where he lives. In addition to sons Austin and Jeremiah, who played at Georgetown before transferring to Indiana, Rivers has a daughter, Callie, who played volleyball at the University of Florida.

There are plenty of decisions to be made, not the least of which have to do with trying to keep this season alive for the Celtics Wednesday night in an elimination game on the road. But the bigger dilemma is looming on the horizon for Rivers, and it might just have everything to do with whether the Celtics as we know them are finished.
Posted on: May 6, 2011 2:38 pm
 

What ails Celtics? Don't jump to conclusions

The Celtics' defense has been a constant during the Big Three era, and their defense wasn't the main culprit that sent them home to Boston in a 2-0 deficit in the Eastern Conference semifinals. 

Their top players' birth certificates also have been far down the list of things occupying Doc Rivers and his coaching staff over the past 72 hours. Rather, it's the Celtics' offense -- in particular, their shot selection and location -- that put Boston in precarious circumstances against the younger, more athletic Heat

The rampaging work of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, of course, will continue to be of utmost concern when the series shifts to Boston for Game 3 on Saturday night. But in reality, the Celtics did as good a job as can be reasonably expected in forcing Wade and LeBron to rely on jump shots. According to HoopData.com, 20 of Wade's 41 field-goal attempts in the first two games came from beyond 15 feet. For James, it was 21 of 44. 

The kind of jump shots are important, not just the fact that they're jumpers. The Celtics would prefer Wade and James to take more spot-ups, where they're much less effective, as opposed to jumpers as the pick-and-roll ball-handler or coming off a screen. But all in all, the Celtics can't be too unhappy with Wade shooting 5-for-12 from the field between 16-23 feet in the series (including 0-for-5 in Game 2) and James shooting 4-for-14 from the same distance. If Boston's defense can force them to take more spot-ups in particular and more mid-range jumpers in general, it's logical to assume they'll shoot the same or worse on the road. 

The bigger problem for the Celtics has been the failure of their own mid-range game, especially when it comes to their biggest mid-range threats, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Using HoopData.com to extend the distance for Pierce and Garnett to the 10-23 foot range, they've both been abysmal in this series. 

Garnett got only four mid-range shots in Game 1 and missed all of them. He got more opportunities in Game 2, but was only 6-for-14 for a 6-for-18 total from 10-23 feet in the first two games. Pierce's problem isn't just ineffectiveness, it's the fact that somehow a player who has spent his entire career carving up opponents with an assortment of deadly mid-range jumpers has attempted only five shots between 10-23 feet in the first two games against Miami; he's 2-for-5. Some of that can be explained by his ejection with seven minutes left in Game 1 and his stretch in the locker room due to a strained left Achilles' tendon in Game 2. Some of the rest can be explained by Miami's defense, which has been superb -- and when it hasn't, has benefited from speed, length and strength that the Celtics can only dream about. But Pierce has still found room to attempt 11 3-pointers, making only four of them. That's too many 3's for a player who is accustomed to doing his best work inside the arc. Pierce attempting more 3-pointers (11) than Ray Allen (10) is no recipe for beating the Heat. 

If the Celtics are going to protect their home court, quell the talk about how they're too old and ready to be ushered out of the championship mix by Miami, and give themselves a chance to get back into the series if and when it shifts back to South Beach, it's all about the jumpers. Defensively, Boston has to force Miami's two stars to keep taking them -- and more of the spot-up variety as opposed to off pick-and-roll or screen action. On the other end, Garnett and Pierce simply have to regain their mid-range effectiveness. If they do, it'll open up dump-downs to Glen Davis or Jermaine O'Neal for easy baskets and also loosen up the double teams on Allen beyond the 3-point arc. 

If not, it'll only fuel more talk about how the Celtics are too old -- which may be true, but isn't the biggest reason they're in this predicament in the first place.
Posted on: May 3, 2011 2:58 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2011 3:04 pm
 

Do LeBron and Wade share a brain?

MIAMI – From the day LeBron James and Dwyane Wade became teammates, they were the focal point of a social and basketball experiment. How they would react – to the pressure, to the spotlight, to each other – would be the subject of daily curiosity. 

After 82 regular season games and six playoff games – a very public journey that was launched in the seclusion of training camp on a Florida Air Force base – the questions are still coming about the on-court aspects of their relationship. In the huddle before the final possession, they were asked Tuesday in the hours before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Celtics, who gets the last shot? Who demands the ball? Does one back off when the other has the hot hand? 

But those who have followed the first steps in the Heat’s playoff run may have noticed something else about this superstar duo that is even harder to explain. For months, LeBron and Wade have been conducting postgame interviews while seated side-by-side at a table in the interview room. There is no one-on-one time with either star, and the only opportunity to ask James a question without Wade hearing the answer came in LeBron’s customary availability on game nights, about an hour before tipoff in the locker room. 

Even that tradition, the last proof that James and Wade were, in fact, separate humans, was scratched off their itineraries recently. Of late, James has stopped going solo with the media before games and instead sits at the interview table next to Wade before shootaround, as he did Tuesday morning. 

A few weeks ago, the two actually began the somewhat bizarre and unprecedented habit of answering questions on practice days while standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the court. It has led to some awkward camera footage -- you may have noticed Wade answering questions on TV while LeBron stands in the background, using up valuable oxygen – and has produced some awkward moments. How do you ask Wade about a last-second shot James missed when the guy who missed it is standing right next to him? 



Instead of shooting from the hip, LeBron and Wade are attached there.

The Celtics’ Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen started the trend of group interviews, but LeBron and Wade have taken it to a level never before seen in professional sports as far as I can tell. Their calculated decision to function as one not only on the court, but also in the court of public opinion, says so much about the relationship they have forged and the pitfalls that have always been present for two stars and friends joining forces in the prime of their careers. 

“I think from Day 1, we kind of understood even from our teammates that we’re going to be the two guys that everyone looked at – to see how we reacted to things, to see how we could handle the change, to see how we could handle playing with each other,” Wade said Tuesday. “We realized that. And that’s something that we communicated and talked about, even from the beginning, that we had to be always on the same page. If we're not on the same page, always communicating with each other and just having each other's backs, no matter if it's bad times or it's good times. We're always going to stay even-keeled, so that helps the success of our team.” 

Their refusal to be divided and/or conquered isn’t unique. During media availability at All-Star weekend, James sat shoulder-to-shoulder with Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul on the scorer’s table and ran interference for his friends when difficult questions about trades or free agency came up. James even chided the media for harping on his fellow All-Stars’ futures, when it was James who had escalated the trend of stars teaming up and put so much pressure on Melo and CP3 to find better teammates in the first place. 



But more than camaraderie and protectiveness, the controlled way James and Wade present themselves publicly speaks to a certain level of paranoia about what outside forces would try to do to them if they were separated and forced to stray off message. It was interesting that James referred collectively to himself and Wade Tuesday as “the voice” of the team. Do they not have their own thoughts and voices? Would James’ head explode if Wade expressed an independent thought, or vice versa? 

This strategy is straight from the playbook of team president Pat Riley’s “one voice” approach to maintaining organizational control. Riley, who orchestrated this three-headed monster of LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh, has conducted a grand total of two media availabilities the entire season – brief Q&A’s at two charity events. As with the Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick model in football, the one and only voice belongs to the coach. As a corollary, the two stars share a voice – rarely, if ever, saying something the other isn’t thinking or wouldn’t say. 

“I’m louder than D-Wade, D-Wade is louder than CB,” James said. “You can hear my voice from here to, anywhere obviously. Here to Akron. And D-Wade, he voices his opinion. He does it sometimes, also. But we don’t step on each other’s toes or anything like that. But at the same time, it's not a bed of roses with me and D-Wade and CB. We get on each other if we feel like you’re not doing your job. It's constructive criticism that we need to have with one another to help our team win.” 

It is a fascinating sidebar to the Heat’s journey through the playoffs, perfectly encapsulating the mindset of two superstars as they try to put the Celtics in the first 0-2 playoff hole of the Big Three era Tuesday night. And it highlights the luxury that they have off the court – the ability to look to each other for guidance before answering a question, exchanging small talk under their breath before deciding which one will speak – is one that does not exist on the court. The island they share in the public eye can be more easily divided in the course of a game, when split-second decisions must be made and when credit or blame unavoidably must be be assigned. 

“I also think that people forget that me and 'Bron were the best of friends before we played together,” Wade said. “We got criticized for being friends and hanging out before games with each other, when I'd go to Cleveland and go to his house. We got criticized for that: ‘Back in the day, the Lakers didn’t do that. Boston didn’t do that.’ Well, today, obviously that worked, because we're here together.” 

Together? Inseparable is more like it.
Posted on: May 1, 2011 7:44 pm
 

Ref Dan Crawford: Pierce got tech for taunting


MIAMI -- Following is the transcript of an interview with crew chief Dan Crawford conducted by designated pool reporter Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press explaining what the Celtics' Paul Pierce did to warrant a second technical foul, resulting in his ejection from the Heat's 99-90 victory over the Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals:

Q: What did Paul Pierce do to merit the 2nd technical with 7:00 remaining? 

Crawford: "It's what we call a verbal taunt. He directed profanity towards (Dwyane) Wade. And in the rulebook, that is a verbal taunt. And it just so happened to be Pierce's second technical foul." 

Q: What did Pierce do for the technical after the (James) Jones foul with 7:59 left? 

Crawford: "The first technical foul, it was contact during a dead ball. He approached Jones and got right in his face. There wasn't a head-butt, but he got right into his face after a hard foul." 

Q: Why did Jones merit a technical with 7:59 remaining? 

Crawford: "We just looked at that. It was Jones' hard foul that pretty much precipitated Paul doing what he did. The technical foul on Jones will probably be looked at. He didn't do as much as we thought. We thought he got in and became aggressive or initiated. But after looking at video, that's something that we'll have to look at again." 

Q: And was Wade's technical for the foul, verbal taunting or otherwise? 

Crawford: "He actually walked toward Pierce and that's why Wade received his, walking toward Pierce and then Pierce's reaction to that."
Posted on: March 25, 2011 11:48 pm
Edited on: March 26, 2011 1:40 am
 

Time for Knicks' Melo-dimensional offense to end

NEW YORK – In the uncomfortable quiet of a losing locker room, Chauncey Billups perked up and spoke up when asked about the issue that ultimately will determine the success or failure of Carmelo Anthony’s shotgun wedding with the Knicks

Billups had just played another poor game and once again could not orchestrate the Knicks’ offense down the stretch in the team’s fifth straight loss and eighth in nine games, a 102-96 loss to the Bucks on Friday night. Billups and Anthony had checked in with 7:15 left and Milwaukee leading 91-88. With Billups, Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire on the floor together, the Knicks proceeded to miss their next nine shots from the field and made only 3 of 15 the rest of the way. 

“Tough times,” Anthony said. 

“Everything is so hard,” added coach Mike D’Antoni. 

Billups and Anthony have been a painful fit with D’Antoni’s triple-threat, pick-and-roll offense, which should be unstoppable with a point guard of Billups’ skill and leadership and two scorers like Anthony and Stoudemire. But like the opening weeks of the season, when offensive juggernauts LeBron James and Dwyane Wade couldn’t get out of each other’s way, the Knicks cannot do the one thing they’re currently built to do – score – when it matters most. Most puzzling of all, it’s more difficult for them to score when their three most accomplished offensive players are on the floor together. 

So I asked Billups in a quiet moment in the locker room if the offense is going to have to change to fit Anthony, or if he will adapt to a system he’d thrive in if only he’d embrace it. 

“Yeah, I think that’s in his makeup,” Billups said. “I think he’s probably done it before. The problem is, he’s always been so good that the system has always been just whatever he kind of wants, you know what I mean? He’s always been so good that he’s always been able to just do that and they make the system up around his strengths. I think now this is the first time he’s coming into this system and the system is a little different than the way that he plays. But he’s so good that he can be effective in any system, I think.” 

When Billups said Anthony has done it before, he meant when he played with multiple stars with USA Basketball. The offense didn’t always run through Melo with Team USA, and he didn’t always score the most points. It’s what Anthony needs to embrace now, more than he’s ever needed to embrace anything in his eight-year career. 

“He’s done it before,” Billups said. “He’ll do it again.” 

Anthony got his 25 points Friday night, and Stoudemire got his 28. But they combined for only four baskets and 12 points in the fourth quarter – and only one basket each during the horror show that was the final 7:15. 

“It’s so not fluid,” D’Antoni said. “It’s almost like mud in your engine. We’re just chugging, and it’s tough to play that way, in my opinion. We’re not spacing the floor real well, and the ball’s not moving. And it gets more pronounced in the fourth quarter.” 

With the Knicks 7-11 since the Anthony trade, D’Antoni unsurprisingly is facing the brunt of the criticism. It has not been a honeymoon for him in New York. After two years spent tearing down and cleaning house, D’Antoni finally has been given multiple All-Stars to coach for the first time since he left Phoenix. The problem is, this has been given to him with a quarter of the season left – on a team with no center, and on a team whose depth was badly depleted by the trade. 

He has also been given one of the most gifted scorers in the NBA, a player whose existing game happens to clash with the system that he runs. There are those who will follow the simplistic script and say D’Antoni is no good for the talent he has, and that the Knicks should start over again with another coach who will let Anthony do whatever he wants. 

Doing this without giving D’Antoni a realistic timeframe to break some of Anthony’s bad habits would be too silly to spend much time addressing. But more to the point: Has everyone forgotten that the Knicks gave $100 million to Stoudemire, who has played his entire career in the very system that people want to scrap after 18 games? 

The solution, which obviously isn’t going to come easily, is for Anthony to do what Billups suggested he’s never had to do before: adjust his game to the talent and system around him. He and Billups obviously have spent some time thinking about this, if not talking openly about it, because they said all the right things Friday night. 

“It’s an open offense – a lot of movement, a lot of pick and rolls, a lot of just spacing the court out,” Anthony said. “So that’s something that I have to adjust to. I will adjust to it. I’m not worried about that. And that’s something that I knew coming into this system, that I will have to adjust my game to fit into what’s going on.” 

But this wide-open system that Anthony and Billups keep describing bears no resemblance to what they do when they’re together with Stoudemire on the floor. Stoudemire’s pick-and-roll opportunities, the bread-and-butter of the offense, are nonexistent. The ball movement and spacing fall apart when Anthony touches the ball, sizes up his defender(s), and makes his move. 

“I don’t really think we can say the offense has to go through me or the offense has to go through Amar’e,” Anthony said. “In this offense, everybody touches the ball. Everybody gets open. … Everybody is a part of the offense. So for me to sit here and say the offense has to go through me or Amar’e … Chauncey has the ball. He coordinates all that, and we feed off him.” 

Billups described D’Antoni’s system as “different than any other system out there. … I’ve always pretty much been kind of a fast learner, but it is more different than any other system I’ve played in.” 

Not to belabor the Miami comparison – because we’re clearly talking about different caliber players – but LeBron and Wade have gone back and forth in trying to decide whose turn it is to score and to lead. Through 18 games, Anthony has been the focal point of the Knicks’ offense. That’s right, the player whose game fits the system the least has been the one getting the most opportunities. 

It is time for the Knicks to remember why they brought Stoudemire here, and what he does best: score easy baskets on pick-and rolls, and if not, create wide-open shots for someone else. Facing a far bigger challenge than he imagined when he got here, it is time for Anthony to embrace that, too. He’ll get his opportunities to do what he does best, and in some ways they’ll be better and higher-percentage opportunities than he’s ever had before. 

“Me personally, I’m gonna try to figure it out, and we’re gonna try to figure it out as a team,” Anthony said. “And when that happens, those times are gonna be fun. Basketball will be fun again.” 

He has no idea how much.
Posted on: February 19, 2011 6:06 pm
 

LeBron, CP3 come to Melo's defense

LOS ANGELES – LeBron James started the trend of superstars teaming up in the prime of their careers. Chris Paul stoked the flames with his infamous wedding toast in July. 

On Saturday at All-Star media availability, Anthony’s partners in crime showed up to defend their close friend amid the ever-increasing insanity over his February free-agent decision. 

“Carmelo Anthony is his own man, just like I’m my own man,” LeBron said, butting into the latest interrogation of Anthony to take the Heat off his friend. “It's totally different. It's totally different, because one thing about me, when I was going through my situation, I was able to hide a little bit because it was the offseason when it got heavy. This guy's traveling every day, he has to play, he still has to put on a uniform and still represent the Denver Nuggets the right way and still listen to you guys ask him every single day what is he doing, where is he going. And he knows just as much as you guys know.” 

Asked if the Melo saga has grown worse than LeBron’s free-agent extravaganza this past summer, James said, “Yeah, because he has to see you guys every day. I didn’t have to see you at all in the offseason.'' 

James, who along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh chose to sign a three-year extension in 2006 so all three would be free agents at the same time, also defended Anthony’s decision to opt for the added security of a four-year extension at the time. 

“There was no wrong answer,” James said. “It’s just a tough situation what he’s going through right now, to have to answer these questions every single day and still try to lead his team to victory every single night and play at a high level. But he's showing right now, averaging 31 points in the month of February, that he can do these things at a high level and still listen to you guys ask him the same damn situation every day.” 

Seated shoulder-to-shoulder between James and Paul on the scorer’s table, Anthony shed little new light on his situation Saturday. He once again refused to confirm of deny his Thursday night meeting with Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan, but said if he were traded to the Knicks to play for Mike D’Antoni, “That’s a great system he has there.” 

Amar’e Stoudemire, Anthony’s would-be teammate and the inspiration for Paul toasting to forming “our own Big Three in New York” at Anthony’s July wedding, said the addition of Anthony “definitely is going to help us as far as going into the postseason. You have two guys who demand double teams and it’s going to be tough to guard us.” 

As for the players the Knicks would have to give up in an Anthony trade – some combination of Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and Landry Fields – Stoudemire said, “That is a lot. I'm not sure what the details are. But with a player of that stature, he definitely helps any ballclub he goes to.” 

James even went so far as to break down the dilemma facing the Nuggets, who must decide whether to accept a lesser trade package from the Knicks, sign Anthony to the three-year, $65 million extension that has been on the table for months, or risk losing him in free agency and getting nothing in return. The Nuggets prefer to trade Anthony to the Nets, which would yield a better collection of assets centered around Derrick Favors and multiple first-round picks. But that possibility grew more remote Saturday when a spokeswoman for Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov said the Russian billionaire has not met with Anthony and has no intentions to meet with him during All-Star weekend. Anthony's long-held insistence on signing an extension only with the Knicks if traded finally is gaining the kind of public traction that could bring an end to the Nets' months-long pursuit of the three-time All-Star.

“Me personally, if I’m a GM or if I’m an owner, I wouldn’t want to lose one of the best players in the league, one of the top 10 best players in the league,” James said. “You try to do anything in your power to keep him. I mean, he’s one of the top 10 players that we’ve got in the game today. That’s just my personal opinion. But I’m not a GM. I’m not an owner. I’m just a player. 

“What would you do?” James continued. “If you're the owner of the Denver Nuggets or you're the GM of the Denver Nuggets, and you don’t know for sure if Carmelo's going to sign the three-year extension, what would you do? Would you try to get something for him, or would you just let him walk?” • Get something for him, someone replied. 

“That's what I think,” James said. 

For his part, Paul deflected a question about his own looming free agency in 2012, which depending on the structure of a new collective bargaining agreement could put him in Anthony’s shoes as early as this coming summer. At one point, James interrupted the Anthony questioning, gestured toward Paul, and said, “He would have all the answers. You started this ___ thing.” 

All with a toast that made Anthony the toast and the bane of All-Star weekend.
Posted on: February 19, 2011 12:46 am
 

Sources: LeBron calls out owners at CBA meeting

LOS ANGELES – Just before the All-Star break, LeBron James expressed hopefulness that progress could be made in the NBA’s labor talks so a lockout could be avoided. On Friday, James willingly accepted the leadership role that comes with his stature and called out certain hard-line owners for being unrealistic in their demands. 

James was one of several particularly vocal players in Friday’s bargaining meeting, and sources told CBSSports.com his chief complaint was with hard-line owners who’ve bought their teams in recent years and are now trying to dramatically alter the financial system they willingly bought into. 

“This has been a 57 percent system for years,” said a person who was in the meeting, paraphrasing James’ message. “This has been a system with guaranteed contracts forever. What did you guys expect? What did you think you were getting into?” 

That was among the highlights in an otherwise uneventful bargaining meeting, in which no actual negotiation was accomplished. Though the list of players in attendance was far longer than at last year’s All-Star meeting – in addition to the executive committee and some of the same top-flight stars who attended in Dallas, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Baron Davis, and Al Horford were among those in the room – the tone was much less contentious. But a compromise is no closer to occurring. 

“I’m worried about the league,” Dwyane Wade said. “It’s not just about myself, it’s about the future of the NBA. We want to make sure this game continues to grow and continues to prosper. We don’t want lockouts. We want this game to go on for many, many years, and we understand that a deal has to be done. Both sides have to come to an agreement. Neither side is going to come to an agreement if we can’t meet halfway.” 

Though National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter said the owners’ hard-line position “kind of softened” by the end of the meeting, the owners still are no closer to making a second proposal to counter the players’ proposal. The owners haven’t offered anything new in terms of a formal proposal since submitting their initial slash-and-burn document 13 months ago. 

“I don’t know that there’s going to be a formal, written proposal coming from them any time soon,” Hunter said. 

And absent that, nor will there be one from the players. 

“We won’t submit another proposal” before the owners do, Hunter said. “That’s out of the question. … If we’re going to avoid a lockout, they’ve got to move off the dime.” 

Hunter said he will meet with commissioner David Stern next week after the All-Star break and schedule a series of negotiating sessions that will begin in the next 1-2 weeks. 

“I’m going to tell my guys to be prepared for a lockout,” Hunter said. “… We’ve got four months. And we’re going to see what we can do in the next four months. If it comes together, good. If it doesn’t, then we put our players on notice.” 

Hunter did not back down from his previous prediction that a lockout is 99 percent certain, but said, “We’re going to negotiate. We’re going to make every effort. I keep saying the same thing. I’m beginning to hear myself, like an echo. We’re going to make every effort to negotiate. We want a deal. Our guys do not want to be locked out. But given no choice … if you don’t give us any choice and our only alternative is to fight, then we’ll fight. 

“If it means that we’ll have to lose a season to get a deal we can live with,” Hunter said, “we’re willing to do that. We don’t want to, but we’ll suffer some pain.” 

The owners James and other players were taking aim at in the meeting were the new, hard-line group that has come into the NBA in recent years – including the owner of James’ former team, Dan Gilbert. Owners like Gilbert, the Suns’ Robert Sarver, the Celtics’ Wyc Grousbeck and the Wizards’ Ted Leonsis weren’t around for the last lockout and rely more on the financial success of their NBA teams than the old-school owners ever did. 

It is those new owners, sources say, who are pushing the hardest for dramatic changes, including a hard cap and a reduction in contract length and guarantees. Sources say the players in the meeting were incredulous that owners are suddenly so hellbent on changing the rules they signed up for. The owners offered no response to the challenges issued by LeBron and several other players, sources said, but listened to their concerns in what was termed a “cordial” and “amicable” meeting. 

Hunter also said that when the union’s University of Chicago economist asked owners if they would be asking for the same changes if they were making more money, the response was, “Yes.” This was the most significant moment in the meeting, Hunter said, with owners revealing that their goal is not to cut losses but to increase profits. 

“We may never have a consensus on what the numbers mean,” Hunter said. 

Two key issues that are expected to become contentious – a possible franchise tag and the contraction of teams in underperforming markets – did not get much attention in Friday’s meeting. But Hunter reiterated his insistence that the players will not agree to a deal without seeing details of a vastly improved revenue-sharing system – the creation of which the owners believe should be handled separately from bargaining. 

As for an issue that affects a certain free agent-to-be who faces possibly losing millions if he opts out of his contract rather than sign an extension before June 30, sources say Carmelo Anthony emerged from the meeting with no more knowledge about the issue than he came in with. Earlier in the day, when asked about the risk of entering free agency in the first year of a potentially punitive CBA, Anthony replied, “That’s why I’m about to go meet with Billy Hunter.” 

“You’ve got guys who’ve negotiated their contracts this past year – LeBron, Chris Bosh, etc.,” Hunter said. “Does that the mean that if a guy like Carmelo comes up while we’re negotiating and if the franchise player tag gets introduced and adopted, that he now suffer as a consequence because he can’t go out on the market? I don’t know if that’s acceptable to me.”
Posted on: February 13, 2011 12:36 pm
 

LeBron: Heckler incident 'wasn't huge deal'

BOSTON – LeBron James said Sunday his verbal altercation with a heckler in Auburn Hills, Mich., “wasn’t a huge deal,” and that he simply reacted the way anyone else would have. 

“I said what I had to say and I moved on,” James said before the Heat played the Celtics. “I didn’t stay on him. I just said what I had to say just like any normal person would if they felt like they’ve been disrespected and moved on. That’s all I did.” 

James confronted the heckler during the Heat’s 106-92 victory over the Pistons – Miami’s eighth straight. Reports indicated the heckler said something about James’ mother, Gloria, and that James responded with something to the effect, “Don’t say anything about my family. Be respectful or we’re going to have a problem.” 

Our Eye on Basketball blog has video of the incident here

“There’s 20,000 people-plus in the arena,” James said. “You can’t single out everyone; that would be a waste of time trying to do that. You understand that you go out there to play the game of basketball and fans are going to be fans.” 

James said he’s faced more heckling than he expected back in July when he made the decision to leave Cleveland and team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. 

“I understood the situation I was getting myself into, changing teams and locations and changing scenery,” James said. “I understood that a lot of people didn’t like what we did, like what I did and there were going to be some hateful people.” 

Hateful, and stupid, too.
 
 
 
 
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