Jeff Van Gundy: Heat will be ‘unguardable’

384969 15: (FILE PHOTO) New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy attends the 'Knicks Bowl 2' annual fundraiser in this January 30, 2001 file photo. Gundy resigned as head coach of the New York Knicks on December 8, 2001. (Photo by George De Sota/Getty Images)

The Miami Herald spoke with Jeff Van Gundy, who is…um…very optimistic about the Heat’s chances this season.

“They will break the single-season win record [of 72],” Jeff Van Gundy said. “And I think they have a legit shot at the Lakers’ 33-game [winning] streak [in 1971-72], as well. And only the Lakers have even a remote shot at beating them in a playoff series. They will never lose two games in a row this year.

“They have put together a much better roster than anybody could ever have expected,” Van Gundy added. “There is now no good way to defend them. They are unguardable. They are indefensible. They are just too good and have added so much shooting and are so versatile that they will score at will.

I’m not quite that optimistic. The Heat will have a few kinks to work out, and will have a bull’s eye on their backs for the entire season. I don’t think they’ll break the Bulls’ record 72 wins, but they should definitely finish with 60-plus.

They may very well win a title next year, but I don’t think they’ll be a juggernaut until the 2011-12 season when the kinks are worked out, the newness fades and they can add one or two cheaper veteran players.

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LeBron finally thanks Cleveland

ESPN has the details. It’s an AP report, so I don’t want to quote any text here. Suffice it to say, at a charity event, LeBron went out of his way to thank Cleveland after drawing criticism for taking out a full page ad to thank his hometown of Akron.

Isiah Thomas rejoins the Knicks…

NEW YORK - MAY 5:  Isiah Thomas, President of the New York Knicks, speaks at MTV Networks UpFront at The Theater at Madison Square Garden May 5, 2004 in New York City.  (Photo by David S. Holloway/Getty Images)

…as a ‘consultant.’

Um, ok.

Per Marc Berman:

Knicks are about to announce Isiah Thomas will be named a part-time consultant to club but keeps his job at FIU. Weird.

This isn’t all that surprising after the Knicks enlisted Thomas in a last-ditch pitch to LeBron a few weeks ago. I don’t know why you would trot out (arguably, thanks to Kevin McHale) the worst GM of the aughts to try to convince one of the league’s best players that your team is headed in the right direction. If anything, wouldn’t you want to convince him that he has nothing to do with the day-to-day operations of the franchise?

For all of his faults, Thomas did draft pretty well while GM of the Knicks.

Here’s a look:

2004: Trevor Ariza (#43 overall)
2005: Channing Frye (#8), David Lee (#30)
2006: Renaldo Balkman (#20), Mardy Collins (#29)
2007: Wilson Chandler (#23)

That’s not a bad run considering he only had one pick in the #8. It’s not easy to find rotation players in the late first round (or second round) and he was 3-for-5 in that area, picking an All-Star (Lee) and two starter-quality swingmen (Ariza and Chandler).

I could see a team putting him in charge of scouting or the draft, but I’d keep him out of all trade discussions.

As for the fact that he’s going to keep his coaching job at FIU — WTF? Coaching a Division I basketball team is a full time job, and he’s going to be working part time for the Knicks?

Why didn’t Shaq sign with the Hawks?

Apr. 14, 2010 - Atlanta, GEORGIA, UNITED STATES - epa02117198 Cleveland Cavaliers center Shaquille O'Neal talks to his teammates while taking a break in the final game of the regular season against the Atlanta Hawks in the first half of their NBA basketball game at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, USA on 14 April 2010.

Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal Constitution has some insight

I’ve been told that Atlanta wouldn’t budge on giving Shaq a starting nod over Al, who is after all still only 24-years old and an All-Star. Shaq believes he will get the starting nod over Jermaine O’Neal in Boston as Kendrick Perkins rehabs from his knee injury.

Atlanta also wasn’t willing to pay Shaq more than the minimum and that was a sticking point for him. He didn’t want to sign for the minimum when the Hawks had their bi-annual and mid-level exceptions available because of the perception that would create–as in the Hawks could have paid him more but didn’t. That’s not the case with Boston, which had neither of those exceptions and so could only give him the minimum.

The big guy still has his pride.

The Hawks were right not to give Shaq the starting nod over Al Horford, who is an up-and-coming All-Star-caliber big man.

But in the end, he probably made the right decision. The Celtics are obviously closer to a title than the Hawks are, and they were willing to pay him as much as they could, which perception-wise looks better than Atlanta giving him the minimum when they still have a couple of exceptions remaining.

Some are criticizing Shaq for not retiring, but the guy can still play a little. His PER last season was 17.92, which confirms that he’s a shadow of his former self (24.00+ from 2002-06), but that still puts him amongst the Top 15 centers on a per-minute basis.

Also, I think a move to Boston gives him a chance at a relevant end to his career. We’re more likely to see a Boston/Miami matchup in the Eastern Conference Finals than we are an Atlanta/Miami matchup, which should give Shaq the opportunity to help decide who represents the conference in the Finals.

Shaq-to-Boston reaction

May 07, 2010 - Boston, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES - epa02148070 Cleveland Cavaliers center Shaquille O'Neal (C) dunks the ball in front of (L-R) Boston Celtics Kevin Garnett, Kendrick perkins and Paul Pierce in the third quarter of their Eastern Conference Semifinal round playoff game at the TD Bank Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 07 May 2010. The Cavaliers defeated the Celtics 124-95 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Zach Lowe, Celtics Hub: Shaq can be an asset for a team that ranked just 15th in points per possession and struggled to produce looks at the rim when Rajon Rondo couldn’t penetrate. Rondo and Paul Pierce are the C’s only real threats to create offense at the basket. When they are on the bench or pushed slightly off their game, Boston’s offense is reduced to a series of off-the-ball screens and side screen/rolls—last-gasp sequences run on the defensive, after the best options have been closed off. Against good defenses, those kinds of possessions ended too often with long, contested jumpers. Watch Game 7 again, if you can stomach it. Shaq could provide some relief from that. I’m not saying he’s going to be out there beside the starters with 5:00 to go in the 4th quarter of a playoff game. But put him out there with, say, three bench players and Ray Allen? He adds a dimension that wasn’t there last season.

Chris Forsberg, Although I’ll admit Boston fans can be amazingly fickle — just look at the backlash when former fan favorite Eddie House recently decided to join the Super Friends in Miami — it’s funny how embracing this city can be when that player comes to the Hub. A few thunderous two-handed jams, and Shaquille O’Neal will have the Garden eating out of his hand. Celtics fans probably don’t detest O’Neal based on his Los Angeles days because the two sides never met in a Finals. Some begrudge him more from his Orlando days, including when the Magic swept Boston in the first round of the 1995 playoffs, and in the final game at the Boston Garden, O’Neal (playfully) declared, “The Garden is closed for business.” You hate that player when he is on the other team; you love him when he’s on yours.

Steve Buckley, Boston Herald: True, Shaq is not just old, but real old. And he does have a way of altering locker room chemistry. And, um, well, you see, he, um, did take a meat clever to Perk’s face during the playoffs this season. But even an old Shaq makes the Celtics a better team. An old Shaq gives them a better chance of turning off the Heat. And that’s what the entire 2010-11 NBA season is all about: Some team needs to step up and defeat the Heat.

J.A. Adande, If you selectively filter the numerous statements Shaq has made over the years, then his joining the Boston Celtics actually makes sense. No, it doesn’t jibe with his dubious claims that he’d be out of the NBA by the time he was in his early 30s, either sitting in a media analyst’s chair or serving as the sheriff of some small county. But it does fit his oft-repeated statements that he needed to add to his ring collection. As he said numerous times over the years, including upon his arrival in Phoenix, “I need five and six.” Teams that could make that conversation a reality were limited. His options were further restricted by his own personal history of clashing with another superstar and trashing the owner (Lakers), tearing down the management and medical staff (Miami), or jilting the city once before (Magic), taking those franchises out of play. Other up-and-comers, such as the Thunder, aren’t interested in a mercenary player who won’t be part of the long-term plan. Shaq has more to gain from this endeavor than the Celtics do. The Celtics are the ones who reached the NBA Finals last season, beating O’Neal and the Cleveland Cavaliers along the way. He’s the one who’s joining ’em. The irony is this is strictly about playing basketball. Can’t say this is about money or market, the accusations lobbed at O’Neal when he left Orlando to join the Lakers in Hollywood. This makes the cycle of his career complete. There are those who thought he wasn’t focused enough on basketball at a young age, just as there will be those who consider this cold, blatant pursuit of a championship unbecoming.

Of course, you can read my take here.

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