Pat Riley just rolls one big boffo experiment into another – he can’t help it. The name (if not “star”)-driven firepower of the 1990s and early aughts Miami Heat bled into a year of almost position-less basketball in Dwyane Wade’s first year, which then allowed Riley to go right back after stars ( this guy ) names (not stars at the time: Christian Laettner, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, Gary Payton) to bring in a championship in 2006. This gave both Wade and Riley the capital to clear out and shoot for the moon with LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010. That trio brought home two titles and four Finals appearances before the top-heavy experiment petered out. Riley, ironically, went in the same oft-criticized direction as the Cavaliers did following LeBron’s move from the Cavaliers in 2010 with his 2014-15 Heat, but that capital (and the presence of three current or former All-Stars) allowed him to elude criticism. [ Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball ] Unfortunate injuries and a frightening illness also allowed Riley to elude criticism when his Heat missed the playoffs in 2015. The looming presence of the potential to possibly grab enough cap space by the hair of his suddenly-whiskered chinny-chin-chin to go after Kevin Durant in 2016 then allowed Riley to skate through the offseason without a major move. Will this be the year Riley finally faces the, oh god we didn’t mean to go here but alas here we are, heat? Probably not. Miami will enter 2015-16 with one of the more enviable starting lineups in basketball, while Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra will be afforded all the patience in the world as a smarter batch of NBA fandom and media are reminded that the lineup – Hassan Whiteside at center, Chris Bosh at big forward, Luol Deng at small forward, Wade at off guard and Goran Dragic at point guard – has yet to play a single minute together. [ Yahoo Fantasy Basketball: Sign up for a league today ] And they’ll be given the buffer, knowing that Dwyane Wade always breaks down for certain stretches of the year. And that Chris Bosh, in his first season back after overcoming a scary pulmonary embolism bout, simply wasn’t the same player away from LeBron James despite what, overall, was a darn good year. And that Hassan Whiteside will be playing for a contract, and that he might not pass to anyone else all season. And that the wheels could fall off Luol Deng, like so many Bluesmobiles , at any time. And that Dragic and Wade, two guys who kind of need the ball, may never mesh. And that Josh McRoberts may not be the same after a meniscus surgery. And that, even with the storm and stress given all the credibility it deserves in 2014-15, the team may have underachieved at times. Riley will take it. He doesn’t know if his latest batch of goodness will turn into a Conference contender, and he doesn’t know how the 2016 offseason will play out once all those cap holds and incumbent free agents are accounted for. What he does know, with nine rings in as a player, assistant and head coach, and executive, is that he’s going to have some fun with it. And for all the caveats pushing down on the Heat’s collective shoulder right now, this figures to be a fascinating team to watch. 2014-15 season in 140 characters or less: "D-Wade here?" "Nah." "Chris back?" "No." "Hassan in?" "Nope." "Birdman?" "Out." "Mario around?" "Yep." "Dammit." Did the summer help at all? In some ways. For the pessimist, all Miami’s summer did was truly lay bare how difficult it will be to sign someone like Kevin Durant to a massive free agent deal in 2016. After giving up money in 2010 and 2014 to help accommodate LeBron James, Dwyane Wade opted out of his contract to start the offseason. After some consternation , he signed a one-year $20 million deal that would earn him $3.9 million more than the deal he opted out of. A fair move for both sides, no doubt, but one that allows for the nagging realization that Wade isn’t really thinking about that $3.9 million as much as he is the millions that await him as a 2016 free agent, with that salary cap rising. Had Wade, who turns 34 midseason, signed the long-term deal many thought he would – that Big Final Contract – things would be different. Now there’s the wonder that Wade will try, after giving up cash twice in his career to help the franchise, to make as much as possible or even (shock horror) bolt in 2016, denying Pat Riley a chance at his next Big Three around Durant. Beyond that, though, the team locked up Goran Dragic for a five-year $90 million deal that won’t be any sort of millstone just as long as the 29-year old plays up to expectation, and will be a downright bargain if he can not only mesh with Wade, but sustain his pell-mell style deep into Wade’s declining years. Luol Deng exercised his $10.1 player option, Gerald Green was brought in on the cheap, as was Amar’e Stoudemire. The optimist points to the fact that each of the recently injury and illness-hit Heat – Wade, Bosh, Deng, Chris Andersen, Josh McRoberts – have now had a summer to recuperate. This is a clean slate that is full of familiar names. Go-to offseason acquisition: One doesn’t want to burden the rookie with outsized expectations, but Miami hopes they pulled out the steal in the draft in Duke swingman Justice Winslow. The versatile 19-year old can’t help but hear the whispered comparisons to fellow draft drop-ees like Paul Pierce (come on) and Paul George (well …), and though he’ll be working behind Wade and a player in Luol Deng that has twice led the NBA in minutes per game, he’ll have his chances. Winslow didn’t shoot well from the outside during the Summer League or in his first exhibition game, but his heady style and out and out game should quickly ingratiate him in with his veteran teammates. To wit : “He belongs,” Dwyane Wade said. “He’ll continue to get comfortable with what his role is gonna be. He can play in this league. He has the body for it, he has the talent and he has a team around him so that he doesn’t have to do too much. This is the perfect situation for him.” Glaring weakness: There is a lot to choose from, this was a 37-year old team last season for very good reasons – reasons that could sustain through 2015-16.
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Sacramento Kings forward Caron Butler's new memoir, "Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA," hit bookshelves Wednesday. If you're not sure you want to buy the autobiographical tale — which covers Butler's path from rough-and-tumble Racine, Wis. , where he dealt drugs at age 11, ran with gangs and landed in juvenile court an estimated 15 times before he turned 15, to a stellar stint at UConn and a distinguished 13-year NBA career that's included two All-Star berths and one NBA championship — you can check out the first chapter here . That chapter, which covers his emotions on the night of the 2002 NBA draft, when the Miami Heat selected him 10th overall, isn't the only excerpt Butler's using to promote his new venture. Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post's D.C. Sports Bog shared an excerpt Wednesday that includes Butler's first-person recounting of one of the more alarming and insane incidents in NBA history, an episode that six years later has been relegated to game-show fodder — the 2009 locker-room standoff in which Washington Wizards teammates Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton brandished firearms over a gambling debt . [ Yahoo Fantasy Basketball: Sign up for a league today ] As the story goes, in December 2009, Crittenton, a 6-foot-5 guard out of Georgia Tech, and Arenas — at that point a pair of injury-plagued seasons removed from his high-scoring All-Star peak — were arguing during a game of Bourré on the Wizards' flight home after playing the Phoenix Suns. Arenas later claimed he wasn't actually involved in the disputed bet, and that Crittenton had lost $1,100 to young center JaVale McGee, who'd been staked $200 by veteran point guard Earl Boykins. The dispute continued, with multiple witnesses agreeing that " Arenas threatened to shoot Crittenton in the face and set his Escalade on fire and that Crittenton threatened to shoot Arenas in the knee." Later, Arenas reportedly brought four guns into the Wizards locker room, accompanied by a note calling on Crittenton to "PICK 1" to use in carrying out his threats of shooting Arenas. (Arenas later denied pulling a gun .) Crittenton reportedly responded by pulling his own weapon instead. No bullets flew and cooler heads prevailed, but when the league learned of the incident, both Crittenton and Arenas were suspended for the remainder of the '09-'10 season. Some of those details make their way into Butler's "Tuff Juice" re-telling. The differences, though — from Antawn Jamison restraining Crittenton on the plane to Butler's recollection of what transpired when the Wiz got back to work — might make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. From the Bog : Everyone could hear Gilbert and Javaris going at it as we rode along [in an airport shuttle]. “I’ll see your [expletive] at practice and you know what I do,” Gilbert said. “What the [expletive] you mean, you know what I do?” replied Javaris. “I play with guns.” “Well I play with guns, too.” [...] When I entered the locker room, I thought I had somehow been transported back to my days on the streets of Racine. Gilbert was standing in front of his two locker stalls, the ones previously used by Michael Jordan, with four guns on display. Javaris was standing in front of his own stall, his back to Gilbert. “Hey, MF, come pick one,” Gilbert told Javaris while pointing to the weapons. “I’m going to shoot your [expletive] with one of these.” “Oh no, you don’t need to shoot me with one of those,” said Javaris, turning around slowly like a gunslinger in the Old West. “I’ve got one right here.” He pulled out his own gun, already loaded, cocked it, and pointed it at Gilbert. Sounds like a pretty fun day at the office ... and, based on Butler's account, a very iffy strategy on Arenas' part. dude really set out all those guns and was surprised when the other dude drew down. just...wow. — El Flaco (@bomani_jones) October 7, 2015 [ Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball] As soon as the incident ended, Butler wrote, "I knew this was the end of the Washington franchise as we had known it." He was right. Over the next year and a half, the cornerstones of the Wizards clubs that had brought the organization back to respectability in the mid-2000s — Arenas, Butler, Jamison, Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson — were traded away, as the team attempted to distance itself rebuild around talented but immature players like McGee, Nick Young and Andray Blatche. Those attempts were unsuccessful. The Wiz went a combined 98-214 from 2009-10 through 2012-13 before returning to legitimate Eastern Conference contention over the past two seasons behind post-"Pick One" draftees John Wall and Bradley Beal and a core of adult professionals like Nene, Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza and Paul Pierce brought in to wash away the stink of what had come before. For the principals involved in the incident, the gun show would eventually prove to be the end of the NBA line. Arenas never regained his pre-injury form, spent a couple of unremarkable stints with the Orlando Magic and Memphis Grizzlies, and has been out of the NBA since the spring of 2012, mostly reappearing on our radar screens only when something weird happens off the court. It was a worrying red flag of what was about to unfold for Crittenton, who years later would be indicted on murder and drug charges, and in April was sentenced to 23 years in prison after entering a guilty plea on charges related to the 2011 shooting death of an Atlanta woman . Questions still persist about the incident — for example, who actually reported it ? — but one thing remains clear: the more we learn about what went on in the Wizards locker room that day, the luckier and more amazing it seems that everyone walked out of there in one piece. - - - - - - - Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YourManDevine Stay connected with Ball Don't Lie on Twitter @YahooBDL , "Like" BDL on Facebook and follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr for year-round NBA talk, jokes and more.
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