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Miami Heat president Pat Riley ready to run it back next season with similar team

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MIAMI — Pat Riley is always looking for ways for the Miami Heat to improve. This offseason has him wondering if that might come from within.

The Heat president on Friday said that the top offseason priority for the Eastern Conference champions “is to take care of the players that we have” — such as free-agent-to-be Goran Dragic — while maintaining salary-cap flexibility to add an impact player in a 2021 offseason that could see many stars on the move.

“We have a good idea of what we want to do,” Riley said in his annual end-of-season media availability.

No plan can be considered completely firm yet; the NBA board of governors met Friday, simultaneous to Riley speaking, to discuss ideas about when it might be feasible to start next season. And the financial details for next season remain unclear as well, such as salary-cap changes and luxury-tax numbers. All that will have an obvious impact on every team’s plans, Miami’s included.

But Miami is clear on some matters: The Heat have no intention of letting extension-eligible All-Star center Bam Adebayo leave, and Riley said keeping this past season’s team as close to intact as possible has crossed his mind.

Kelly Olynyk has a player option for about $12 million, while Meyers Leonard, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill and Derrick Jones Jr. are among the Heat’s free agents.

“We know what our priorities are,” Riley said. “It is to take care of the players that we have, that we have to make decisions on almost immediately. We know Bam has a decision to make and we do with him. We know the guys that have sacrificed for us that we really like, our free agents, especially Goran.”

The Heat might have ended up as the surprise of the league this season, with All-NBA player Jimmy Butler‘s arrival leading a turnaround that saw Miami go from missing the 2019 NBA playoffs to winding up in this season’s finals as a No. 5 seed. Riley raved about what Butler has brought to the Heat, and also lauded coach Erik Spoelstra for doing what he called a masterful job this season.

“Spo was the coach of the year, for me,” Riley said.

The Heat have long been expected to be a major player in the 2021 free-agent season, when names like two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and many others could potentially choose to hit the market.

What they do in this offseason will obviously affect their spending power next year.

“I just think we need to remain fluid,” Riley said. “Once we get all the numbers and we get everything down, we get the schedule, we know when the dates are, and what the rules are in everything, once we get all of that, we’re going to remain fluid. And whatever presents itself to us, we’ll look at it.”

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Sources — Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards agree to Russell Westbrook-John Wall deal

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The Houston Rockets have agreed to trade Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards for John Wall and a first-round draft pick, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The pick is a 2023 first-rounder protected 1-14, sources said. If it doesn’t convey to Houston, it converts to a 2024 pick protected 1-12, then 2025 protected 1-10 and 2026 protected 1-8. At that point, if it still hasn’t conveyed, Houston will get a second-round pick in 2026 and 2027.

Westbrook, as well as fellow Rockets star James Harden, had expressed concern about the direction of the Houston franchise in the wake of the departures of coach Mike D’Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey, sources previously told ESPN.

The Rockets and Wizards had previously discussed a Westbrook-for-Wall deal, but Houston wanted assets in addition to Wall, a source said at the time, which it will get with the first-round pick.

Wall, who is coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, has not played since Dec. 26, 2018, but Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard said last week that the former All-Star had his quickness back and an improved 3-point shot.

The move will reunite Westbrook with Wizards coach Scott Brooks after the two were together in Oklahoma City from 2008-09 to 2014-15.

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LA Clippers’ Paul George says lack of adjustments hurt team in playoffs

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Paul George said the LA Clippers failed to make any adjustments during their stunning playoff meltdown when they blew a 3-1 second-round series lead to the Denver Nuggets.

Appearing on the “All The Smoke” podcast with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes, a candid George talked about the Clippers’ failure to do anything to stop the bleeding once Denver began its comeback, saying they were “having the same s— happen over and over again.”

As Doc Rivers oversaw a blown 3-1 series lead for the second time during his Clippers tenure, George said the team was not prepared enough. He also said that a lack of practice time due to injuries and circumstances during the season also exacerbated the collapse as players were forced to try to iron out issues on the court during playoff games.

“It was tough because we were confident,” George told Jackson and Barnes when asked about the Clippers’ collapse. “We went up 3-1, we felt like, we’re going to win the next one. We lost. We [were] like cool, we’re up 3-2, we gonna win the next one. We lost. But during that whole process, we never worked on adjustments. We never worked on what to do differently. We just literally having the same s— happen over and over again. It started to play a trick on you like man, what’s going on?

“We are talking amongst each other like the conversation is, we are going to be all right. The conversation should have been like, nah, we need to change this, we need to switch this up. I don’t think we deserved it. We wasn’t prepared enough going into it. … We didn’t put the work into it. It was kind of just like, yo, we got PG, we got Kawhi [Leonard], Lou [Williams], Trezz (Montrezl Harrell). We going to be straight, we are going to figure it out.”

The Clippers lost three straight games to the Nuggets, falling short of the championship expectations they entered the season with. That led to the team parting ways with Rivers, who couldn’t get the Clippers on the same page during a season full of injuries, little practice time and constant disruptions.

George, who missed the first 11 games of the regular season before returning and averaging 21.5 points and 5.7 rebounds, said his first season with the Clippers got off to a difficult start because of his inability to train like he normally does during the summer of 2019 and inability to participate in training camp with his new team after shoulder surgeries.

“I missed that time in the summer of playing pickup ball, hooping, getting into a rhythm, getting into a flow, working on my game, the timing right,” he said. “So when I came back and started playing again, I just felt off, like I didn’t feel like a part of the team.

George also said that head coach Doc Rivers didn’t play to his strengths, saying he was utilized “like a Ray Allen or like a JJ Redick — all pindowns.”

“I can do it. But that ain’t my game,” he said. “I need some flow. I need some mixes of pick and rolls, I need some post-ups. Just different touches. … And so, it was just, that last season was just hard overall.”

The Clippers are banking on Ty Lue, who replaces Rivers and moves up from his lead assistant position last season, to improve the team’s in-game strategy and chemistry among Leonard, George and the Clippers’ role players. Lue said a major difference this season that should help the chemistry is having Leonard and George healthy and participating in training camp.

“Just as far as me talking to Kawhi, he is excited to get back on the court,” Lue said on Wednesday. “When you are dealing with great players, when you lose early on in the playoffs, you are always eager to get back. That is what great players do. We all failed at our goal last season and we all know that.

“Kawhi has done a great job of taking [initiative] to get guys on the phone, talking to guys, seeing guys more,” Lue added. “He has done a great job of that. He is excited to get back on the floor just from talking to him and we are all excited as well.”

Lue is no stranger to dealing with superstars and trying to hold them accountable. He won two championships as a player alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and another title as a coach while guiding LeBron James in Cleveland.

Lue and George have said the Clippers need a lot more time together on the floor in practices. George said that was a major reason why the Clippers were often not on the same page and could be seen barking at one another at times during the playoffs.

“I relate it to we didn’t practice during the whole year, and that is hard to do when you are putting a fresh new group of guys together,” George said. “The problems you have during games, those s— can be ironed out in practice. You are going to bump heads in practice, but you are going to come out of that practice like, OK I understand this dude, I know where he is coming from. When it happened during games, it is going to rub a little differently.

“It is hard to come back from that, especially in the playoffs. Then you are like, OK, that is what he’s on. So all right, I got you. That is kind of how the team, that is how we was and how we went about it after stuff started unfolding and unraveling.”

The Clippers return to camp this week a different team with Rivers gone to Philadelphia, Harrell signing with the Lakers and JaMychal Green joining the Nuggets. They added Serge Ibaka and Luke Kennard via free agency and trade.

George says this season will get off to a different start just because he and Leonard will be healthier and can work with the entire team.

“I think for this year, everybody is starting off on a healthy page, we are starting off on the same page,” George said. “Me and Kawhi are going to get some time together working out. I think everything is just not rushed going into the season.”

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NBA says 48 positive for COVID-19 in initial reentry testing

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The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association jointly announced Wednesday night that there were 48 positive tests for COVID-19 out of the 546 players tested from Nov. 24 to Nov. 30.

This was the initial round of tests for players as they returned to their teams’ markets ahead of the start of individual workouts Tuesday. The regular season is scheduled to start Dec. 22.

The NBA will be testing all of its players daily throughout the season.

While the league’s positive test rate of 8.8% in its initial testing is lower than the national average of 10.2% over the same time frame, it also is significantly higher than the 5.3% rate (16 out of 302) during the same return-to-market period in late June before play at the bubble in Orlando, Florida.

In total, 46 players tested positive for the coronavirus in the weeks leading up to and upon initially arriving at the bubble. After the bubble was formed, the league had no positive tests through the end of the season in mid-October.

As for this season, one team, the Golden State Warriors, delayed the beginning of its individual workouts by a day this week because of positive tests.

As the league detailed in its 139-page health and safety protocols released to teams over the weekend, a player will have to refrain from workouts for 10 days if he tests positive and remains asymptomatic — or 10 days from the end of his symptoms, if he has any. After that, a player will then have to spend two days working out individually, as well as have to pass a cardiac screening, before being allowed to resume full team activities.

That would make it a minimum 12 days from the time a player tested positive until he was able to resume full participation with teammates.

The NBA’s first preseason games are Dec. 11 — or fewer than 12 days from the end of the first testing window.

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