In the NBA glory days of the 1980s, when the Lawrence O’Brien Trophy was presented in the locker room, not at midcourt, CBS announcer Brent Musburger would make sure to ask the championship coach whether his team could repeat, or in Pat Riley’s case after winning consecutive titles with the Lakers, “threepeat.”
These days, Doris Burke doesn’t corner Erik Spoelstra and ask the coach if the Heat will come back and triumph next season, giving him at least a bit of time to enjoy the accomplishment. But days after the Heat’s Game 7 victory over the Spurs, that Musburger question is still as pertinent as it was 30 years ago.
The Heat and Spurs will have offseason decisions to make because when you are among the top teams in the NBA, with players in their prime — or still quite productive in the case of Tim Duncan — you have to capitalize on that window.
Rebuilding is likely not an option for the Spurs because there is no guarantee that a championship level can be reached again. The Lakers and Celtics are experiencing a similar scenario, unsure if a complete rebuild will result in a return to the Finals.
As for the Heat, they have the league’s best player in LeBron James, but there is a level of uncertainty regarding Dwyane Wade. Some NBA observers close to the team believe Wade’s knee issues cannot be rectified; they are a byproduct of 10 years of brutal tumbles and reckless drives to the basket. Others believe Wade just needs to rest the painful bone bruises in his knees and he’ll return to being the high-scoring sidekick to James.
Riley, the Heat’s president, signed James, Wade, and Chris Bosh to six-year deals with player options after the fourth year, and that is next season, meaning all three could opt out then. That has left the Heat in a strange position, especially regarding James.
“We haven’t talked about it, we’re living in the moment. We’re not thinking about the future right now,” Wade said. “We’re not thinking about the past. We’re living in this moment right here. And it’s a sweet moment to live in. So, obviously San Antonio has had a great run. They have had pretty decent luck when it comes to health with Tim Duncan being pretty healthy and Tony Parker staying healthy. Me and [Manu] Ginobili got this big thing going on, but he’s still one of the toughest, fiercest competitors out there. So, it will be sweet to be able to have a long run like the Spurs — but we’ll get to that when we get to that.”
The Lakers and Cavaliers are likely to pursue James if he decides to become a free agent after next season. Wade’s chances of opting out are smaller, and they are even more minuscule for Bosh, who didn’t score in Game 7 of the Finals. He is owed $61 million over the next three seasons.
The Heat are likely to determine Bosh’s value on the open market, hoping to acquire a bona fide center. Amazingly, primarily because of James and Wade, the Heat have won consecutive titles without a productive center. But the Indiana series, in which Roy Hibbert controlled the paint like Ray Lewis, exposed Miami’s lack of a post presence. Bosh is not the post player he used to be, especially during his best years in Toronto.
Miami will not stand pat, but it has limits, since all the players but Chris Andersen have a contract through next season.
“Well, it says a lot about where we’re at now, the team that we are,” Wade said. “In [2010-11], our first year together, we tried to make it work. And we just weren’t a team that we needed to be to gut a Game 6 out, to win a game like that. To be in the championship three years in a row, to win two of those three, is unbelievable.
“Everybody can’t get to the Finals and win six in a row like Michael Jordan. But we are excited about the future of this organization. We are still a good team. And we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that we can stay competitive. And adding a guy like Ray Allen, adding a guy like Birdman [Andersen], this organization doesn’t rest on trying to make sure that we can put ourselves in a position to have a trophy like this. So, we’ll be back next year again, looking to do it again.”
As for the Spurs, Duncan said he will be back next season and Parker has two more years on his contract. With the contracts of Ginobili and Stephen Jackson coming off the books, San Antonio has $15 million to perhaps attract a major free agent. And with the rapid development of Kawhi Leonard, who is certain to assume a bigger scoring role next season, San Antonio may have enough for another run.
“The better prepared you can be to fill in the holes behind the success of an aging group, the smoother landing the transition might be,” San Antonio GM R.C. Buford said. “I don’t think we’ve seen many places where that’s been seamless and without pain.”
STEP RIGHT UP
Allen reflects on clutch shot
Now that the Heat have won the championship, Ray Allen’s 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left in regulation in Game 6 that sent Miami and San Antonio into overtime will go down as one of the great clutch shots of NBA Finals history. Allen did not score in Game 7, but it didn’t matter. He did exactly what he signed to do in Miami, drain 3-pointers and respond in critical moments.
“If it’s not me taking the shot, I have no problem with Ray taking that shot, man,” LeBron James said. “He’s got ice water in his veins. Ray can be 0 for 99 in a game and if he gets an open look late in the game, it’s going down. That’s just the confidence he has in himself. It’s the preparation for every game. It’s the confidence that we have in him. We’ve seen it before.”
During Allen’s Boston years, he caused Miami coach Erik Spoelstra to call many a timeout after made 3-pointers. Several times Dwyane Wade, who was assigned to guard Allen, would walk back to the Heat huddle shaking his head in amazement.
Allen didn’t score as much this season as he had in the past, but his presence forced defenses to respect him. And when the Spurs didn’t account for him during that last scramble in regulation of Game 6, they paid for it.
“We’re happy to have him on our side, and this is the reason why we wanted him in games like this,” said James, who actively recruited Allen to come to Miami. “I called him, texted him. I just knew what he could bring to our team. I’ve been on the other end of seeing him get them feet down, putting them stupid two fingers after he makes the shot. Not so stupid anymore now that he’s my teammate, I love it.
“He’s big time. We’re so happy to have him. He creates so much for our team. And to have someone as dangerous as that on our roster, it means so much.”
Allen has handled the moment with humility, but that shot could be his greatest in a career of big 3-pointers.
“It seems like it happened in a half a second,” he said. “I got my feet ready and the ball was in the air. Moments like that I expect to make the shot. I don’t always make it, but I’m always ready to take it and make it. There’s never really a guarantee but physically I know what I need to do, I know what my body needs to be, and I don’t even second-guess myself.”
When asked if it was the biggest 3-pointer of his career, Allen said, “I’ll leave that for somebody else to decide, but based on the situation and circumstance, here in the Finals, if it doesn’t go in, I’m not here talking to you today, so thus far I would have to say it is.”
Allen has a $3.2 million option for next season. But his performance in the Finals, when he shot 54.5 percent in the series and scored 21 points — 15 in the fourth quarter — of Game 5, may cause a team to offer Allen, who will be 38 next month, a multiyear deal at more money. He still has value around the league.
All he could concentrate on over the weekend was winning a second championship and his legacy after that shot.
“Once I hang my tennis shoes up, you have an opportunity to sit back and look and think about all the great games I’ve played in and all the great teams I’ve played on,” Allen said. “The players I’ve played with and the shots I hit, all that stuff you’re about to sit and think about, but when you’re right in it, you can’t really think about it because the goal is still the same and you don’t want to get too excited or too ahead of yourself.”
Allen said he embraces the opportunity to be a hero — or the goat.
“I think it’s part of who a person is,” he said. “I’ve played with a lot of guys and some guys just don’t want to be in that situation. I always feel like the worst-case scenario is that you miss. That’s not a bad alternative. I’ve watched Michael Jordan my whole life play basketball and he’s always inspired me to be great and I’ve seen every shot that he’s made to win a game, but I’ve also seen a lot that he missed. That always showed me that he was human and he knew, ‘I’ve got to get back in the gym because I don’t want to miss that shot anymore.’
“It’s in a guy’s DNA to want to step up and play big and not worry about the outcome. You stir the outcome if you play your hardest, and half the battle is being in the field of battle, fighting with your teammates.”
Hardaway Jr. working hard
Tim Hardaway Jr. entered this year’s draft following his junior year at Michigan. He was considered a rising star his first two years but had to take a step back this season as point guard Trey Burke emerged as the best player in the country. Perhaps because of that his draft stock has slipped, but Hardaway is trying to prove he can be a productive NBA player like his father.
But there are some fundamental differences between Tim Jr. and his dad. Tim Jr. is 6 feet 6 inches and is a combo guard. Tim Hardaway Sr. was a 6-1 point guard with amazing ballhandling skills. The younger Hardaway is hoping to prove he can play perhaps three positions in the NBA, and one of them may have to be point guard.
“This is definitely the start, just to showcase in front of coaches and in front of GMs,” he said. “I just try to set the bar every day when I’m out there. People may ask, ‘What can you bring to our team?’ and my main answer is preparation and I think I’m prepared just as good as any professional out there. And I take the game very serious, just try to do the best I can and that’s what I bring to the table.”
With Burke, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, and Nik Stauskas, Hardaway had to share the scoring load. He averaged 14.5 points, a bit less than as a sophomore, and improved his shooting percentage.
“You can’t always be the guy all the time,” he said. “You have to pick and choose your points. We had a guy in Trey Burke that was taking the shots and he was the main guy to take those shots. So, I just tried to do the best I can to fill my role.
“All I can do is show [teams] on the court, I can’t speak words on that. It was a great opportunity to play with Trey. He is going through the same process as I am. It’s going to be a ride moving forward toward the end of this month.”
Comparisons to his father are unavoidable, but Tim Jr. has tried to establish his own personality and reputation during the predraft process. But the elder Hardaway has been watching and offering advice.
“I think he’s doing a great job of letting me go through this right now,” Tim Jr. said. “If I have any questions, I’ll ask him. If not, he knows that my agent and my trainers are going to do a great job of just preparing me as they can to get me in the position I want to be in. He trusts those guys that I’m with and it’s great to just have a father like that.
“I’ve seen him prepare before games and seen him after games; just living in the same household as him prepared me to know what goes on.”
The Nuggets are a team in transition without a head coach, and new general manager Tim Connelly now will have to try to convince Andre Iguodala to return after he indicated he may opt out of the final year of his contract at $16 million. Connelly will have to determine whether to take a new approach with the franchise after previous GM Masai Ujiri built the club without a bona fide star. There has been speculation that owner Josh Kroenke fired George Karl because he didn’t play JaVale McGee more. Connelly, who came from the Pelicans, is considering Brian Shaw and Lionel Hollins as coach, as are many other clubs . . . The NBA released its official list of early draft entries, and international prospect Dario Saric was not on it. The Croatian, who was considered a potential lottery pick, will return to Europe and attempt to enter the 2014 draft, hoping to crack the top 10. Also dropping out was center Norvel Pelle, who was attempting to enter the draft after failing to get into St. John’s and Iona two years ago and playing at the Los Angeles College Preparatory Academy. Pelle participated in the NBA’s predraft camp but was considered a second-round pick at best . . . Game 7 of the Finals drew the second-highest rating for an NBA game ever on ABC. The Heat’s 95-88 win over the Spurs was watched by 26,319,000 viewers, second only to the 28.2 million who watched the Lakers’ 83-79 Game 7 victory over the Celtics in 2010 . . . Ujiri, now the GM in Toronto, announced Dwane Casey would return as coach. Casey’s club improved throughout last season after the acquisition of Rudy Gay and now has building blocks in Gay, DeMar DeRozan, and Kyle Lowry. Since Ujiri did not hire Casey, Casey’s window of opportunity to show that he is the long-term answer may be short, and he will change his coaching staff this summer, interviewing Celtics assistant Tyronn Lue. Lue is becoming coveted around the league and likely would need a promotion to stay in Boston . . . Ed Ehlers, the Celtics’ first draft pick in 1947 who played two seasons for the club when it was in the Basketball Association of America, died Monday at the age of 90. Ehlers played high school basketball at South Bend Central under John Wooden and played at Purdue.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.