Pat Riley and Stan Van Gundy are not exactly best of friends. It was Riley, the team president, who replaced Van Gundy as coach during the 2005-06 season and then led the Heat to the NBA championship that spring. However, the tension between the two has escalated in recent months as Van Gundy, now the Magic coach, has been extremely critical of the Heat for re-singing Dwyane Wade and signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh on the free agent market.
"Stan's out there making comments about Chris Bosh being a lapdog to Dwyane Wade or something like that," said Riley, who brought Van Gundy into the NBA as an assistant coach in 1995. "I don't know what happened to some of these guys along the way."
Van Gundy believes Riley is the last person who should be critical of someone else's remarks.
"Pat getting onto other people for making moral judgments made me laugh," Van Gundy said. "I was with Pat (in Miami) when we had all those Knicks series, and he had no problems making moral judgments on my brother (Jeff Van Gundy, who was coaching the Knicks). I guess Pat is the only one allowed to make moral judgments and the rest of us can't do that."
Additionally, Magic general manager Otis Smith has taken shots at James, saying the "great ones" do it on their own and "usually stay in one location."
"I thought he was, I guess, more of a competitor," Smith said.
Riley couldn't resist firing back at Smith.
"I thought that was an absolutely stupid remark," Riley said. "He never made any kind of comment like that when he signed Rashard Lewis and he brought him down from Seattle with a $128 million contract or anything like that."
Always-outspoken TNT analyst Charles Barkley has also been highly critical of Wade, James and Bosh. That, too, has annoyed Riley.
"Charles Barkley, to me, went way over the top. I thought way, way, way over the top," Riley said. "I think Charles is probably the only guy in the league that can get away with what he gets away with. For some reason, he just gets away with it. And calling these guys a bunch of punks, it's a personal attack. They are not that. LeBron isn't that. Dwyane is surely not that, and neither is Chris. And Charles knows that. And for him just to say that is wrong."
Meanwhile, on the court, expectations are great for the Heat after signing the big three to contracts each worth in excess of $100 million. However Riley is fine with people expecting big things.
"I don't think there's anything wrong in having the great anticipation, and I think that's one of the keys to developing tremendous enthusiasm," Riley said. "These guys are going to have to develop a resolve, probably second to none, maybe in the history of the NBA."
Heisley Caves on Incentives
Owner Michael Heisley finally gave up on going against the grain in negotiating with his draft picks as the Grizzlies signed Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez after giving up on the idea of getting the guards to accept contracts heavy on incentives. Memphis' proposed incentive package included participation in summer league, a two-week workout program with the team's training staff and satisfying one of the following: play in the rookie/sophomore game during All-Star Game weekend, earn an all-rookie selection or average 15 minutes in at least 70 games.
When the agents for Henry and Vasquez steadfastly refused those offers, Heisey eventually relented and will pay the two rookies 120 percent of the NBA's rookie salary scale designed for their draft positions.
Heisey, though, did not change his stance and come off his first proposal, which would have been 100 percent of the salaries and 20 percent bonuses, until after he met with NBA officials. Teams can pay players from 80-120 percent of an amount set by the league's rookie scale, according to the collective bargaining agreement. Heisey was reminded of the spirit of the collecting bargaining agreement in regards to rookie contracts during the meeting.
Cavaliers Have Flexibility
The Cavaliers are in rebuilding mode after losing James to the Heat. However, first-year GM Chris Grant will have the resources to pursue a superstar-level talent when and if the possibility presents itself. The Cavaliers have all but $500,000 of a $5.8 million mid-level exception and $14.5 million trade exception gained in the James sign-and-trade.
"The franchise is in a pretty good spot moving forward," Grant said. "We worked hard over the last few years to get it to that point. Unless you're locked in and winning the championship year after year, you have to be flexible and be able to change pieces to get better."
Grant calls the trade exception a "powerful tool." It gives Cleveland the chance to go make a major move if a big-time player becomes available near the trading deadline.
"It creates more opportunity," Grant said. "It's like having $14.5 million in cap space, except you can't actually go sign a player with it. You can only sign a player into it. It helps you facilitate trades. If a team is in the luxury tax and they want to get out of it, they might give you an asset to do a deal. Maybe you can't quite make a deal work because the numbers don't work, (but) you can use that to put players into a trade. It's a pretty powerful tool. We'll be aggressive with it as we go into the season. We want to be flexible, strategic and not be emotional."
Conditioning Key in Washington
The Wizards started preparing for the season before ever reporting to training camp. Coach Flip Saunders instituted a conditioning program that each player had to pass. It included four set of 10 full-court sprints with 2 ½-minute breaks between each set. Guards also had to complete each set in a combined time of 57 seconds.
Saunders' reasoning was two-fold. He wants his team to run more this season with a younger roster and he also tried to more connected to his players after the Wizards made a series of roster moves last season.
"Conditioning is going to be important for us, to take advantage of what our strong points are," Saunders said. "We are young, and I like our athleticism. Those are definitely things in our favor."
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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