Hartman: Saunders expects Heat to win NBA title

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 17, 2012 - 10:26 PM

The former Wolves coach says Kevin Durant is a more gifted scorer, but LeBron James is the most versatile.

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Former Wolves coach Flip Saunders said Miami Heat small forward LeBron James is the most versatile player in the NBA.

Photo: Jeff Roberson, Associated Press

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Flip Saunders, the former Wolves, Pistons and Wizards coach, is back in the Twin Cities after being an adviser to Celtics coach Doc Rivers through the Eastern Conference finals. He looks for the Heat to win the NBA title, but he doesn't see Miami ending it at home by winning three in a row.

"This would mean the Heat would have to win four in a row [overall]," Saunders said. "I think when you're playing teams that are so equally balanced and have the two best players in the league in [Kevin] Durant and [LeBron] James, basically whichever one of those guys ends up having a huge game, their team has a pretty good chance of winning."

Saunders has a lot of respect for Durant and James.

"[Durant is] the best scorer in the league, the things that he can do. He's an unbelievable clutch scorer down the stretch," Saunders said. "The thing with LeBron is he does everything. He's one of the top two defensive players in the league. He's a phenomenal rebounder. A very good offensive player and he can distribute the ball and make other guys better."

However, Saunders says James doesn't share the offensive mentality of Durant when he gets the ball late in games to simply score. "He's trying to make the right play and a lot of times he gets criticized because that play happens to be a pass sometimes.

"Those two guys are arguably the two best players in the league. I think there's no question that Durant is the best offensive player in the league and I think LeBron James is the most versatile and probably the most dominant player in the game right now."

Great experience

Saunders described it as a great experience spending seven weeks living in a Boston hotel and being involved as an adviser in every respect for the Celtics in the playoffs.

"I was basically in on every team meeting, every players meeting, every coaches meeting, the locker room, so it was pretty all-inclusive. It was a very good situation," Saunders said. "I've known Doc from when Doc was my assistant coach on the Goodwill Games team when we played down in Australia [in 2001], him and myself and [Michigan State coach] Tom Izzo was also an assistant there. All three of us created a good friendship and when I was let go in Washington, Doc said, 'Hey I'd like you to come in as an adviser.' "

Saunders said he also learned a lot of things from being around the Celtics organization that will help him if he lands another head coaching job.

One reason Rivers brought in Saunders was his great relationship with Kevin Garnett. And Saunders said that KG played like he did with the Wolves in 2003-04, when he was named league MVP.

"I remember when we drafted KG [in 1995], we said to him his first year, we played him as a small forward and I told him you're going to be an All-Pro player as a power forward but you're probably going to end your career as a center," Saunders said. "And with Garnett playing center, the Celtics after the All-Star break had the third-best record in the NBA."

Garnett really showed great strength at center in the postseason, averaging 19.2 points -- his highest playoff average since 2007-08 -- and 10.3 rebounds per game.

Saunders is positive Garnett, who is a free agent, will sign for another year with the Celtics, who have some rebuilding to do.

Saunders doesn't have any interest in joining Rivers as an assistant coach next year. He has one year left on his Wizards contract for about $5 million, so that won't happen.

Saunders said if the right offers came along, he'd coach next year, but if not, he would sit out a year like he did when Detroit let him go or maybe accept some offers he has received to do some consulting for college or pro teams.

Who knows? He and Gophers coach Tubby Smith have a great relationship and he could wind up doing the same thing for the Gophers that he did for the Celtics.

Dozier coming back

Through his first 14 games with the Twins, Brian Dozier hit .279 with two home runs, eight RBI and eight runs scored, but then he went into a bit of a hitting slump going 13-for-71 over 19 games and posting a .183 average with eight RBI and three runs scored. Still, Dozier has come around the past few games hitting .389 (7-for-18) with three runs scored over the past four games, including the game-winning run in Sunday's 5-4, 15-inning victory over Milwaukee at Target Field.

"The last couple games he's come back," General Manager Terry Ryan said. "He's taken good at-bats recently and he's made the plays, he made a phenomenal [defensive] play [Saturday]. He's regrouped some, that's probably what you can expect from a young player coming up. There's going to be good weeks and not so good weeks. I think he's rebounded quite well and he's doing pretty god."

Ryan also provided an update on Carl Pavano: "[He] is going through some strengthening programs for his shoulders and his flexibility. I don't anticipate him getting back here until July. He hasn't picked up a ball. He's still going through that weight training program so he won't join us in earnest until we get him right. He'll probably have to go out on some kind of rehab assignment."

Jottings

• Cole De Vries, who went 1-1 in three starts with the Twins before being sent back to Class AAA Rochester, pitched a good game Friday, throwing seven shutout innings after giving up six earned runs in two innings in his first start after returning to the minors.

• Brian Bobek, a highly recruited offensive lineman from Palatine, Ill., is transferring to Minnesota from Ohio State. He will be ineligible this year because he is transferring within the Big Ten. Apparently the 6-2, 278-pound Bobek was unhappy with the way he was used by the Buckeyes in spring football.

• Jason Marquis is scheduled to pitch Monday for the Padres against the Rangers, the veteran righthander's third start since being released by the Twins. Marquis lost his first start with San Diego to the Giants but won his second, pitching 6 1/3 shutout innings against the Mariners in Seattle on June 13. ... Also starting on Monday against the Orioles is knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, the former Twins pitcher who has turned into one of baseball's best starting pitchers this season with the Mets. After his one-hitter of Tampa Bay last week -- the Mets appealed to have the lone hit overturned to an error, but the appeal was denied -- Dickey is 10-1 with a 2.20 ERA this season, having allowed only 66 hits and 19 walks in 90 innings.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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