And, so, here we’ve arrived, at the NBA‘s annual tampering convention, otherwise known as All-Star Weekend.
Because if there ever was a season when gaining any early advantage could pay dividends, it certainly is one when Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Nikola Vucevic, Khris Middleton and D’Angelo Russell stand as free agents, all in Charlotte this weekend for Sunday’s All-Star Game.
There is, of course, a line drawn by the NBA, one that Lakers President Magic Johnson is more than familiar with, considering every time he seemingly opens his mouth to discuss a player, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is there to present a fine.
That had Johnson quipping, when benignly asked in Charlotte about hometown favorite Walker, “You know I can’t answer any questions about no players, because every time I do, I get fined. But anybody else do it, they don’t get fined. So I’m gonna stay away from that one.”
But the league has made it clear that it is different with players, even clearing James in a potential tampering kerfuffle regarding his interest in eventually playing alongside Anthony Davis, another member of this weekend’s All-Star cast, albeit now dealing with a shoulder issue.
So James seen huddling with Irving? What say you, Danny Ainge?
Or Irving alongside Durant? A double-team about to ensue July 1.
To many, fraternization-as-implementation dates to Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh first coming together for international competition and then coming together with the Miami Heat for four runs to the NBA Finals from 2011 to 2014, including championships in 2012 and ’13.
Just this past week, in an interview with the Arizona Republic, former Phoenix Suns executive and national-team organizer Jerry Colangelo noted how the Heat’s Big Three used such a canvas at the 2006 World Championships to set the table for the Heat’s eventual free-agency coup.
“They bonded,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing you want on a team, so that was healthy. Was there anything wrong with them talking about coming together and playing together? I don’t think so as long as it was above board, but I think it has gotten out of [control].”
For the Heat, having Wade as a franchise cornerstone, and already as a 2006 NBA champion, made it easier for Heat President Pat Riley to complete the team’s haul in 2010.
So the question now becomes — with both the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers potentially having enough cap space for two max-level free agents this summer — whether already having a potential top-tier running mate in place means more than being able to select your own plus-one.
For example, will the Lakers have an edge with James already locked in?
Similarly, did the Dallas Mavericks create such an advantage by acquiring Kristaps Porzingis at the recent NBA trading deadline, allowing for a window-shopping advantage for a recruit?
Or is the new approach somewhat of a step back to the Heat’s approach in 2010, of creating enough space that your No. 1 target in free agency can also bring along his No. 1A, as some have suspected of the approach of Durant and Irving?
Indeed, left with little to use as a recruiting chip (with all due respect to Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen), the Chicago Bulls decided to take on the contract of Otto Porter, aware that the last time they went shopping without a star running mate already in place, all they wound up with in 2010 was Carlos Boozer.
For the Heat, the relevance to the eventual math of choice is their own potential opportunity to shop for a single prime free-agent addition in 2020, and whether they can create enough currency in the interim with Josh Richardson or Justise Winslow to make them the lure for a plus-one.
For now, let the tampering begin in Charlotte.
And in July we will learn whether in the NBA’s latest math is having a star making it easier to get a star. Or whether there is something to be said about the power of none (and a big bag of cash).
IN THE LANE
MULTILINGUAL PITCH: Apparently the Detroit Pistons spoke Wayne Ellington‘s language, or, more to the point, his significant other, when it came to landing the former Heat 3-point specialist on the buyout market. Pistons owner Gores, born in Israel and of Greek and Lebanese descent, spoke in Arabic to Ellington’s wife, Safie Khaled, during the process. “He spoke some Arabic with her, so it was very warming,” Ellington told Detroit’s Free Press. “It felt good to have that type of introduction, that type of welcome. My wife felt good about that. A lot of organizations, it’s about, ‘Come play. What can you do for me on the court?’ It’s not about your family life. So we really appreciated that.” It has been an uneven start for Ellington in Detroit, 3 of 17 on 3-pointers in his first two appearances.
TRYING AGAIN: By the end of Tyler Johnson‘s tenure, the Heat had accepted that he was not a point guard. Now, at the beginning of his Phoenix Suns tenure, that is the very hope. “We wanted to go into the trade deadline for the purpose of getting a player and not a project,” said Interim General Manager James Jones, the former Heat forward. “Not a prospect, but a player. So we got one and we’re happy that he’s with us and hopefully he can fill a void for us. The point guard position has been a position where we really haven’t had much success.” Johnson is 6 of 27 from the field in his first three appearances with the Suns, with nine assists and four turnovers, playing at least 27 minutes in each appearance.
THE PICK: To say the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick has been well-traveled would be an understatement, considering it first went to the Suns in the 2015 trade for Goran Dragic, then to the Philadelphia last June’s draft-night swap and now to the Los Angeles Clippers in the Tobias Harris trade. It was at the 2018 draft that 76ers coach Brett Brown said acquiring the pick would allow his team to go “star hunting.” Clippers President Lawrence Frank was glad to oblige, “There’s only two unprotected first-round picks in circulation and we were able to receive one of them,” Frank said.
STILL LISTENING: Among the reasons Ron Rothstein was added back to the Heat bench as an assistant coach for a decade starting in 2004 was his ability to add veteran coaching perspective. The sage advice apparently remains ongoing. David Fizdale, who sat on the Heat bench alongside Rothstein, said Rothstein has been among those providing comfort during this challenging first season for Fizdale as New York Knicks coach. “A lot of guys reach out to me,” Fizdale said, according to the New York Post. “The latest one was Ron Rothstein, who had five wins at the All-Star break his first year in Miami. He gave me a pep talk. I kind of feel like it’s not getting to me. I’m not letting it get to me.”
HAD ENOUGH: Speaking of former Heat coaches, Alvin Gentry certainly has had his tests over the years, including taking over from Kevin Loughery in the middle the Heat’s 32-50 1994-95 season and also coaching the Los Angeles Clippers during some of that franchise’s more colorful seasons. But little has been like guiding the New Orleans Pelicans through this current Anthony Davis fiasco. And now he’s had enough. “What we need to do is bury it,” he told reporters. “We need to bury it and get through the season and then whatever happens after that, happens after that. We have to get to the point where we’re not bringing this up every time I step in front of the cameras.” And then there was the Gentry candor, “To be honest with you, most of the answers if you want, you’ll have to go to him and ask him.” He would add days later, “To tell you the truth, this whole thing has been a dumpster fire.”
4. Teams that were on Kristaps Porzingis’ list of preferred trade destinations, according to The New York Times, including the Heat, along with the Toronto Raptors. Brooklyn Nets and Clippers. Porzingis instead was dealt to the Dallas Mavericks.
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