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Ira Winderman: With Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry, it’s all about perspective

You start from the perspective that it’s hard to have perspective when it comes to NBA salaries. It all seems a bit obscene.

But then you cycle back to what was termed particularly outrageous last August, with the Miami Heat attracting particular inspection.

A four-year, $184 million extension for Jimmy Butler that carries him through his 36th birthday?

A three-year, $85 million free-agent contract for Kyle Lowry that takes him through his 38th?

Yes, there were ample double-takes.

But, as always, there also has to be perspective, NBA perspective.

First, both lived up to their contracts this season, helping propel the Heat to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and then through a relatively easy opening-round series against the Atlanta Hawks.

But beyond that, it is the comparative perspective that becomes particularly relevant at a time such as this.

Why?

Because of James Harden.

And Kyrie Irving.

With Harden, the Philadelphia 76ers essentially wed themselves to a four-year, $223 million extension when they acquired him from the Brooklyn Nets at the February 10 NBA trading deadline, an extension that would have him on the books through 2025-26 for roughly $260 million.

Harden turns 32 in August, roughly when the extension would be formalized.

Allow that to marinate, particularly while considering what Harden looked like (or didn’t look like) in the first round against the Toronto Raptors.

Then consider Irving, who holds a $36.5 million player option for next season with the Nets, but can decline that in favor of a new contract worth $245 million over five years, a deal that would take him through his 35th birthday.

And then also consider the Irving whirlwind since his arrival in Brooklyn, from his sabbatical in 2020-21, to his choice to bypass COVID vaccination and therefore home games for most of this past season, to play against the Celtics that hardly inspires what might come next.

In the wake of the Nets’ first-round sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics, Irving said he wants to be back. And in light of the Nets’ salary-cap situation, Brooklyn has to have him back.

But while a new contract might come with added financial security for Irving, it assuredly does not portend added stability for the Nets. (Wasn’t there also previously professed Irving allegiance to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Celtics?)

The point being that there are two ways mega-contracts come into being.

The first is when a team targets a player who fits a system, who meshes with what already is in place or is planned to be in place, and is forecast to provide value for the bulk of the contract.

The second is more shotgun.

You bought it, and now it might break you.

Arguments certainly can be made of Harden and Irving as superior talents to Lowry and Butler. Their resumes say as much.

But for anyone who questions the outlay of Micky Arison’s money that Pat Riley invested in thirtysomethings Butler and Lowry last summer, consider what Daryl Morey is up against this summer with Harden in Philadelphia or what Sean Marks has to contend with in Brooklyn with Irving.

For Morey, there still could be another exit stage left, just as there was the convenient bailout from the Houston Rockets to the 76ers.

For Marks, there is the equity built under Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs to assuredly find work elsewhere, need be.

That’s not to say the Heat haven’t had their own hands forced, as well.

But with James Johnson and Dion Waiters the stakes were decidedly lower after their teases of breakout Heat seasons. And with Chris Bosh, no one could have forecast the blood clots that would cut his career short (although there clearly was a forced overpay with the threat of a 2014 departure to Houston in the wake of LeBron James’ defection back to the Cleveland Cavaliers).

So, yes, it was risky business last summer for the Heat with Butler and Lowry.

But as the impending curious cases of Harden and Irving show, there also can be even riskier business.

IN THE LANE

ANOTHER SWEEP: Make it consecutive seasons that Goran Dragic has been swept out of the playoffs, this time with the Nets, after enduring the Heat’s first-round sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks last year. While he was non-committal about his future in the immediate wake of the Nets’ demise, the veteran guard, who turns 36 on Friday, very much sounds like someone who wants more. “I don’t know. It’s tough to say right now. My head is still hot,” he said in the wake of the Nets’ 4-0 sweep by the Celtics. “I don’t want to make any decisions right now, because I’m sad, I’m pissed. So I just need some time to process this. But I love basketball. I still want to play another two, three years. So we’ll see what’s going to happen.” The determination, he said, remains. “It happened to me last year. I got swept, too,” he said. “So you can take advantage of that as a challenge in the offseason, and just try to have that in your mind, have that chip on your shoulder when you come back.”

NETS PERSPECTIVE: Dragic also offered his thoughts on the Nets coming up short, despite playing alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. “For us, the time that I spent here, every day was something different, something tough, not only for coaches, but for us players, too,” he said, having joined the Nets on Feb. 22, 12 days after the Nets traded Harden and Paul Millsap to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and draft picks. “We were just not good enough,” he said. “That’s it. I don’t want to say who was good, who was not. No. As a team, this is a team sport and everybody needs to work as a collective, as a group. We were just not tight as a group, that’s it. On the floor.”

COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS: After losing to the Heat in the first round, Hawks General Manager Travis Schlenk, the former Heat video coordinator, cited the Heat’s path as a logical comparison to his team losing in last season’s Eastern Conference finals to the Milwaukee Bucks and then this season’s five-game demise. “Miami was in the Finals two years ago; last year they get swept in the first round of the playoffs,” Schlenk said during his season-ending media session in Atlanta. “The NBA, for the most part, is not linear. It’s ups and downs. Each season has its own life, so to speak. We’re always going to look to improve. This series, Miami is a lot like Milwaukee in a sense. Very physical, big defenders. We saw that last year, a switching defense, those are things we have to continue to work to get better at.”

NO FEAR: Homecourt advantage in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs belongs to the two teams willing to take on whatever challenges emerged from the play-in tournament. That had the No. 1-seeded Heat taking out Atlanta in five games and the No. 2 Celtics with their sweep of the Nets. Interestingly, guard Jaylen Brown said Celtics coach Ime Udoka involved the players in that process. “Ime kind of set the tone from the jump how he felt about it,” Jaylen Brown said in the wake of Boston’s sweep. “But it was pretty cool for a coach to include us as a unit in that decision-making and stuff like that. We all came to the conclusion that, like, ‘Look, man, if we want to do something special, ain’t no shortcuts, ain’t no trying to manipulate or ducking.”

THE BACK STORY: In describing his desire to get back in coaching since his Feb. 21, 2021 dismissal, former Minnesota Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders reflected on a conversation with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra regarding what coaches miss about coaching. “I had lunch with Erik Spoelstra and he asked that,” Saunders told the Star Tribune amid the Timberwolves’ playoff run. “I said, ‘Believe it or not, it’s camaraderie and the misery.’ And Erik agreed. The camaraderie of the NBA, but also the pain in the stomach — knowing that win or lose, there’s always that next challenge.”

NUMBER

10. Playoff games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds by Bam Adebayo (including in Tuesday night’s series clincher against the Hawks, with 20 and 11), tying Dwyane Wade for the second most in Heat playoff history. LeBron James has the most such games, with 25.

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Source: Berkshire mont

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