Mar 31, 2014 2:28 PM EDT
Together, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem shared a warm embrace to encapsulate a third championship last June. The longest-tenured Miami Heat players signed professional contracts in August of 2003 and suffered a 15-win season six years ago, but conversations between the two begin on the successes and ability to sneak up on people doubting their NBA longevity.
This season, the Heat devised what they phrased as a “maintenance” scheme to maintain the strength in Wade’s knees – only discreetly involving Haslem, a postseason savior hidden in the deep reaches of Erik Spoelstra’s rotation for a reason. Haslem went the entirety of February benched, given doses of Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision, and will miss over 34 games for the same cause.
No key contributor in a title run simply disappears like this, healthy and able. Haslem had started 19 of 23 playoff games a year ago, knocking down clutch jumpers and conducting critical defensive stands, absorbing the physicality of the Indiana Pacers’ frontcourt and never fearing the consequences. While Wade and Spoelstra held endless dialogue about his “maintenance,” privately Haslem never expected his own protective plan, never saw all the DNP-CDs coming in a healthy season.
Only Spoelstra’s system and culture and the best player in basketball afford the absences of Wade and Haslem for most of the season, and still compete for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
“Oh, no, I didn’t know I was going to be sitting all those games this year,” Haslem told RealGM. “Had no idea. It was difficult going through the situation, but I kept myself ready. I worked out every day with [James Jones], Rashard [Lewis], [Michael] Beasley, Toney Douglas and Justin Hamilton, playing three-on-three and keeping each other encouraged.”
As the basketball microscope focused on Wade, Miami concealed Haslem, too, and now the 33-year-old finds his rhythm in the season’s final weeks. As an undrafted player 11 years into his career, Haslem’s an ultimate overachiever. At 6-foot-8, he closed any gap in height or power with grit and a fearless mind. When Haslem buried six jumpers and had 17 points in Game 3 of the Conference Finals last May, some teammates would say in the post-game locker room, “Don’t sleep on U.D.”
Someone assuredly will in May and June, and Haslem has capitalized so often. For now, Spoelstra trusts Lewis and Haslem in the rotation, but the coach knows that leaving just spot minutes for Shane Batter – with his penchant to make crucial shots and place his body on the line – is an unlikely proposition in the playoffs.
Everyone has a calling come postseason, Spoelstra says, and now he’s challenging his locker room to sustain a competitive disposition, to stay motivated against desperate teams.
No matter how wise the Heat’s approach with Wade could turn out to be, there are varying beliefs around the league about a player fluctuating in game action, fluctuating in flow, in his prime years. None of it would matter should a hamstring or a knee give out, like his right hamstring had last week due to spasms late in the loss to the Pacers. In the end, Wade will play less than 60 games for the first time in a full (non-lockout) regular season since 2007-08.
“For Dwyane, it’s precaution,” Haslem said. “Managing his body and making sure it doesn’t get worse.”
Their diligence to Wade’s fitness pushed Miami to scour for combo guards before the trade deadline, and Pat Riley ultimately acquired Toney Douglas from the Golden State Warriors in January. Despite speculation surrounding a possible parting upon his arrival, the Heat never notified Douglas about plans to complete a buyout or release, a source told RealGM.
Douglas understood he was kept around for moments when the voids of Wade and Ray Allen created available minutes in the backcourt, and he’s scored 22 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished nine assists over the past two games.
“I know I can play, and when I’m on the court, I produce and do my job,” Douglas said. He was part of the New York Knicks team that lost to Miami in the first round in 2012, and when traded, he saw the selfless attitude within a locker room with championship credibility. “Right when I came in, I could tell the top players – LeBron [James], Wade and Chris [Bosh] – lead by example. It’s all about winning. There is a winning mentality here.”
Only about winning for the Miami Heat, and out of a philosophy from the San Antonio Spurs’ playbook, a team with title pedigree must be handled delicately. Rest and attrition is valued in the journey from October to mid-April. Together, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem share the same highs of prosperity, the same low of futility, in this franchise. Together, their plan for freshness could prove genius in June.
Dec 26, 2013 6:24 PM EST
On walks around a city desperate for an heir to Allen Iverson’s star and staying power, Michael Carter-Williams has swiftly turned from a franchise prospect to an improbable successor, or so people tell him. From fans to friends, team staffers to sports talk, Carter-Williams listens to the ways Philadelphia’s star of yesterday represented its blue-collar ethics, the ways he molded the 76ers.
Carter-Williams will never score with the frequency Iverson did over an entire career, nor become the unique cultural icon, but he’s already shown Philadelphia flashes of the level of talent that made A.I. a legend there and the mental makeup to go with it. Now, he’s hearing about it, too.
“I’m hearing the comparisons, and it’s an honor,” Carter-Williams told RealGM. “Allen Iverson was great, one of the best of all time. What he did for the city of Philadelphia is amazing.”
When Iverson returned to the city for opening night, he celebrated several of Carter-Williams’ finishes at the rim and precise passes and the win over the Miami Heat. Past and present, Iverson and Carter-Williams had met briefly later that night. “I said what’s up to him, but there were a lot of people around him,” Carter-Williams said. Yes, the crowd will always follow Iverson in Philadelphia the fashion they do for very few professional athletes.
Suspicion of the 76ers tanking a season had started in the summer when new management deliberately hired Brett Brown and dispensed youth throughout the roster. To Carter-Williams’ first professional coaches in Summer League, what struck most were his competitiveness and his willingness to seek all avenues to win.
In the minds of old personnel, the 76ers’ hot start came as no surprise – not with Carter-Williams, not with Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes motivated in contract seasons. For Carter-Williams, people bringing up the idea of tanking irritated him and challenged his spirit for competition.
“It definitely bothered me,” Carter-Williams told RealGM. “We try not to listen to the talk, but clearly it gets to us. No one on the team has that attitude. We fight every night, and we use it as motivation.”
Despite an inability to sustain winning, Brown has instilled an environment susceptible to nurturing young players and engraving principles into their habits. A disciple of Gregg Popovich, Brown’s taken a hands on approach in huddles and practices, leaving players smiling about the intensity of the coach out of Maine who climbed the ranks through the National Basketball League in Australia.
From Jim Boeheim at Syracuse to Brown now, Carter-Williams admits the differences in coaching techniques. He knows all of Brown’s hollering is to receive the most from him and the team. He’s cognizant of Brown’s pedigree under Popovich.
“Boeheim is kind of relaxed, and [Brown] gets a little riled up sometimes,” Carter-Williams said. “They’re a lot alike in some ways and completely different in a lot of ways. It’s something that I’ve had to adapt to, something where I fit with both guys.”
Within the 76ers, there doesn’t appear to be any urgency to get Nerlens Noel onto the court this season, and that’s a prudent approach given their current state and his upside. For his part, Noel is steadily progressing in his rehabilitation from a torn ACL, has added muscle, and weighed in at 223 pounds late last week, a source told RealGM.
Teammates have seen dedicated training regimens in Noel and Carter-Williams – Sam Hinkie’s first two draft picks projected as hits for now. “They’re both hungry guys, and the way they work on and off the court shows a lot to us,” James Anderson said.
The 76ers’ coaching staff has consisted of significant voices and teachers, and they understand the development needed in Carter-Williams’ jumper and ability to consistently run the offense. He’s a superb athlete at 6-foot-6, in the mold of Shaun Livingston pre-knee injury, and still, his remarkable stat line has yet to be placed into challenges that come with being on a winning team and facing the opponents’ defensive walls all for him.
“I’m trying to continue to play with patience,” Carter-Williams said. “Slow down in certain situations and then speed up in certain situations. That’s what I’m really trying to learn. I’ve been working a lot with coach Lloyd [Pierce], and coach Brown is always in my ear about things and we’re always communicating.”
There were questions about Michael Carter-Williams’ position during the draft process, wonders of whether his frame placed him as a combo guard. And through it all, he remained confident as a point guard, boasted the 76ers’ first Rookie of the Month since Allen Iverson – and, slowly, Philadelphia has begun to cheer him like their last great one.
Dec 20, 2013 1:39 PM EST
As he worked to decide his NBA team over the summer, people awaiting his decision for a change, Toure’ Murry delved into his memory and remembered a conversation with Mike Woodson in July. Two games into summer league in Las Vegas, Woodson had pulled Murry aside and praised his feistiness and offered his game guidance, expressing how he appreciates the young guard’s progress.
In the end, Murry thought long and hard about where he’d accept his first NBA opportunity in training camp, but Woodson’s talk stayed with him and he kept wondering about the chance to make the iconic New York Knicks.
“Deciding was tough, but I believed in the Knicks and the team believed in me,” Murry told RealGM. “I felt any time you get some great comments from Mike Woodson himself early, you feel comfortable playing for the team. When I accepted the training camp offer, it was all on me. I felt I had a great chance to make the team.”
The Houston Rockets first discovered Murry in the form of a professional job, their Development League team trading for his rights a season ago, and he cemented himself as a viable NBA prospect, a champion with Rio Grande Valley. Here was a native of Houston, eagerly playing for a hometown organization.
Soon, the Rockets also brought Murry into summer league in Orlando, but he understood that more legitimate openings within the big league roster existed elsewhere. In Las Vegas, scouts saw cultivating aspects that caught their eye in the D-League: bothersome length at 6-foot-5, growing instincts at point guard and a developing jump shot.
For Murry, there was tremendous knowledge to take from his old Rio Grande Valley coaches. He consumed their detailed lessons, like a prerequisite course preparing him for the NBA’s challenging curriculum.
“To be in the Rockets’ organization last year, it was a step for me and they definitely helped me to get where I am now,” Murry said. “It was great. Those guys taught me a lot – the fundamentals, the spacing about NBA basketball – and that’s what I’ve taken from them.”
Behind Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Beno Udrih, the Knicks have slowly brought along Murry, the 24-year-old tasked with leaning on them with his questions. Murry had been a standout at Wichita State, a combo guard who held size and skill to manipulate counterparts. Even so, he knows his ability to run an offense goes a long way now.
In Felton, Murry sees dynamic ways to change pace. In Udrih and Prigioni, vast experience both in the NBA and elevated stakes in postseason and international play. With Felton and Prigioni sidelined now, Murry has risen to New York’s backup.
What has he grasped out of his three veteran point guards?
“Playing patient, playing within yourself,” Murry said. “A lot of times, point guards try to get out of their games, especially when you transition from the two. I’ve learned how to run the team from those guys. They’ve been in the league a long time, especially Pablo; he’s been playing professional for a while.
“Any time you learn from them and watch them, you’re going to get better and I know I need to be patient.”
For all of Murry’s persistence after an unheralded collegiate career, after a season in the D-League, he had wanted too much, too soon, sometimes. For all his humility, his quiet manner, he insisted how he maintained composure and found solace in continuing his growth.
When Knicks management let him know that he made the team out of camp in October, completing a dream the unsung route, Toure’ Murry says, “It was a testament to staying patient, believing in myself and staying the course.
“It’s easy to get off course and get frustrated in this business, but my experiences humbled me and made me work hard. When you do the right thing and work hard, good things come to you. That’s what I live by, that’s what I did.”
Dec 18, 2013
Once last season’s NBA Finals ended, Boris Diaw spent reasonable time deciding on the player option on his contract with the San Antonio Spurs. For Diaw, the choice had been made simple far beyond the amount of money on the deal.
Dec 11, 2013
As a second round draft pick placed onto the Nets, Tyshawn Taylor spent extensive time in the D-League, but teammates and coaches swiftly noticed his tenacious style on both ends of the floor. He’s put up four double-digit scoring performances in 14 games this season and has a growing relationship with the new coaching staff.
Dec 09, 2013
A year ago, Brook Lopez would always speak as the ultimate role player citing a need to get others a flow on offense, before himself. A year ago, the skilled seven-footer was pushed away from the block far too often and at times resisted constant feeds inside. No more.
Dec 04, 2013
Once the Grizzlies waived him in the 2010 training camp, Tre' Kelley played parts of two seasons overseas where he starred in Europe, and where he scored two 50-point performances in China. Through it all, his sights remained on finding a way back into the NBA, so he decided to return to the D-League with Austin.
Nov 12, 2013
The Bucks executed a shrewd move in dealing for Nate Wolters, and the 22-year-old has the look of a steady, reliable point guard long into his NBA life. He doesn’t lean on his athleticism, but rather his elusive craftiness and smart decision-making, especially as a cautious passer early in his career
Nov 10, 2013
C.J. Miles is off to the best start of his career, averaging over 13 points and supplying Mike Brown with a potent shooter to surround Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack. The Cavaliers held an option on the final year of Miles’ deal this season, but exercising it was a formality and he’s cozied into playing part in the team’s core.
Nov 04, 2013
Rudy Gay reached a peak three seasons ago, and at 27 now he hasn’t attained the individual or team milestones that his gifts were expected to bestow. Three games into the Raptors’ season, his shooting is pedestrian and he admits he’s hastily searching for an offensive rhythm.
Oct 15, 2013
As a career journeyman with seven teams, Stephen Graham had earned three multi-year contracts, but the NBA’s lockout in 2011 prevented him from working out for organizations in the summer and he eventually landed in the D-League and overseas.
Oct 08, 2013
Under Impact trainer Joe Abunassar, Dexter Pittman participated in workouts to increase his stamina, elevate his conditioning, and heard perspectives from the NBA veterans who would work out inside the facility.
Sep 25, 2013
Bobby Simmons has maintained his basketball training while managing his business ventures in Chicago. At 33 now, Simmons still believes he has basketball left to offer a team in the NBA.
Aug 07, 2013
Kevin Garnett and Ron Eskridge, his old teammate and coach, always told Ronnie Fields he would grace the NBA one day. It never happened: a fractured neck derailed his senior season and kept him out of critical games, there was a supposed fallout of his personality, and no opportunity came.
Jul 24, 2013
In DeAndre Jordan’s mind, interest from other NBA teams meant he was desired in a way perhaps the Clippers didn’t feel as well at times this offseason. As the Clippers pursued Kevin Garnett, Jordan was ready to move on if they pulled off a deal – and he took all the supposed interest as respect out of other franchises.
Jul 22, 2013
The Suns know assisting has always been easeful in Kendall Marshall’s game, but now both sides understand the importance of developing a respectable scoring game – built around a reliable jump shot. Marshall has discussed with the new coaching staff how an ability to hit shots can improve the team’s offense.
Jun 20, 2013
Jarvis Varnado will play on Miami’s summer league team in July, a critical moment for him to prove his standing to Heat management. He is confident the Heat will keep him through his non-guaranteed contract next season, but he also understands the burden of continuing to make strides.
May 07, 2013
Alex Len was wise not to jeopardize his future for a short-term gain. And most of all, he knew he could have challenged his ankle to perform in workouts, but then this stress injury promised to linger and leave him needing surgery anyway.
Apr 29, 2013
The Bucks' offseason all revolves around Brandon Jennings, and he’s already made clear he wants to win and the Bucks would be inclined to add veterans and try to pile up picks for next year’s draft.
Apr 26, 2013
LeBron James waited and waited in his recruitment for Ray Allen, waiting for a response to the pitches he has made over the years. The possibility started out as friendly, subdued offers, but it always stayed with Allen. When his career with the Celtics deteriorated, Allen finally came back to James with the message both men wanted, and, yes, the time is now.
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