NBA Playoffs Cavs Celtics Game 6: The LeBron referendum

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James_solo.jpgUsually when a sportswriter makes the statement “Game X is the most important game of Player X’s career” it belies a rather pathetic lack of imagination and a pandering to traditional cliched writing. Every playoff game is the most important one, because every one could end up defining his career. What do people remember more, Hakeem Olajuwon’s performances in the Finals, or his domination of David Robinson? That’s what can happen. You have to approach every game like that, because these things aren’t scripted.

So please understand the gravity of the situation when I say that Game 6 in Boston of the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals is the most important game of LeBron James’ career.

The once-and-future-King may never reach his throne if he were to fail tonight to carry his top-seeded Cavaliers to a win. James, as you may have heard in about a billion ways and we told you the other night, had a performance that puts a blemish on his ridiculously brilliant career, one which threatens to submarine his entire legacy if Boston closes out at home as any Finals contender would do.

James’ performance has been shredded from coast to coast. We’re not talking “oh, hey, bad time to have a bad game” territory. We’re talking “maybe this guy just doesn’t have the will of a champion, because he had zero effort” land. It has brought about what may be the most staggering repudiation of a player’s status as the pre-eminent Greatest Player of Our Time. James faces a mark against his permanent record that would be akin in the job marketplace to “once set fire to his boss’ office while engaging in inappropriate behavior with the cleaning lady on the boss’ desk.” That’s what “doesn’t have the will to be great” means in the NBA for a player of his status.

One thing that’s been occurring to me over the past two days, along with how ridiculous it is that people are questioning whether he is the best player in the NBA* , is that James has never needed the drive to succeed. He just has. Since he was probably 13, he’s been a phenom. A legend. He was the best player on the court, until he arrived in the NBA, and then he was probably second or third at worst, and then only for a few seasons. He made the Finals at age 22. He was the MVP at 24. He’s averaged 49.9 wins per season since entering the league. He has had the full weight of Nike behind him since the beginning. He has been the crown jewel of the league arguably for the last four seasons. He’s never been faced with a situation where he was legitimately challenged to the degree he is now, never faced with so much pressure to be the difference between a win and a loss.

This isn’t to say that this should be all on him. Every great player has had great players step up to provide support when the shots aren’t falling. And the Cavs have never, not with all their trades, not with all their time to do do, have never brought in a true number two option for James. They thought it would be Antawn Jamison, but Jamison has ran into a matchup nightmare in the Celtics. It’s just not every game you have to check Kevin Garnett who suddenly feels 30 again. Shaquille O’Neal brought 21 points on 11 shots in Game 5, but it was largely irrelevant. And Mo Williams? Do we really even need to bring him up?

So tonight James is on his own. 1 on 5. And if he wants to live up to the expectations that have been built for him, or that he has built for himself (depending on who you talk to), he’s going to have to put it all on his shoulders.

Or elbow, as it were.

And by playing, by not sitting out, by not opting for surgery, if indeed he needs it as the rumors continue to suggest, he has opened himself for this. The elbow will not be accepted as an excuse. It will not be considered brave that he tried to play through a severe injury. It will be only that he shrunk in the biggest moments. His Game 5 in 2007 will be a footnote. His Finals appearance will be overshadowed by the valley of nothingness his past two years. And with the very real possibility of him relocating to another franchise in the next two months, this may be his last shot at a championship for a few seasons.

This is how quickly things can change. This is how fast you can go from the best player, on the best team, headed to a championship, to a weak-willed self-entitled player that lacks the killer drive.

The truth, of course, lies in the middle. But that doesn’t lower the expectations on him for his career, for his season, for tonight.

If anyone can rise up in this situation, well, it’s probably Kobe Bryant. But it’s also Dwyane Wade. And Paul Pierce. And Steve Nash. And LeBron James. He can do this.The Celtics are gameplanning for him, but it does not mean they can stop him. When he chose to in Game 5, he drove, he collected fouls. Were he to execute as he is capable of, he could simply foul out the entire Celtics’ frontcourt. But he has to accept the hit, and he has to commit to the drive.

Maybe the jumpshot will return. Maybe the two days of rest will be enough for the elbow. Maybe the constant hammering by the media will motivate him to be what he needs to be. Or maybe the shots will just drop.  But this is not a situation where James can rely on the favorable fortune that has been bestowed on him throughout the last 15 years of his life. Tonight, he cannot be a passive recipient of fate.

Tonight, he has to be the whirlwind instrument of it.

*Does anyone remember how brilliant he was in the regular season? I recognize the importance of the playoffs, but those games did count, and without them, you don’t make the postseason.

As part of diversion agreement, Josh Jackson admits to damaging Kansas women’s basketball player’s car with her in it

AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) – Former Kansas basketball player Josh Jackson must attend anger management classes, write a letter of apology and refrain from using alcohol or recreational drugs for a year as part of a diversion agreement arising from his confrontation with a Jayhawks women’s basketball player last year.

Jackson, who is leaving Kansas after one season and is expected to be a top pick in next month’s NBA draft, had pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor count of criminal property damage after he argued with McKenzie Calvert on Dec. 9 outside a bar in Lawrence.

Jackson signed the diversion agreement on April 26, according to Douglas County Court records obtained by The Kansas City Star. If he successfully completes the program, the case against him will be dismissed.

He is required to complete the anger management class and community service by Oct. 31 and write the apology letter and obtain a substance abuse evaluation by June 30. If the evaluation doesn’t make any treatment recommendations, Jackson must complete alcohol information classes by Oct. 31.

Jackson also signed a “stipulation of facts” that said he followed Calvert out of the bar after she threw a drink at fellow Kansas player Lagerald Vick. He said he yelled at Calvert and called her names before she got into her car and locked the doors.

“I kicked her vehicle, breaking the left rear taillight and denting the driver’s door,” Jackson said in the document.

A damage estimate of Calvert’s car for $2,991 was given to police in December, according to a Douglas County District Court affidavit. The total repair bill was $3,150, which included $1,127 for the driver’s door and left tail lamp. Jackson was not charged with felony criminal damage in excess of $1,000 because prosecutors couldn’t prove that he caused all the damage to the car “due other unidentifiable individuals damaging the vehicle,” according to county District Attorney Charles Branson.

He was ordered to pay $158 in court costs, $150 in a diversion fee and $250 in restitution to Timothy Calvert, McKenzie’s father. If Jackson violates his 12-month diversion, he would pay restitution of $3,150 to Calvert.

The 6-foot-8 swingman was the nation’s No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation’s top backcourts.

Jackson was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and a 13th straight regular-season Big 12 title before a loss to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. He has signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

Reports: Miami Heat, Chris Bosh have (or near) agreement removing him from roster, allowing comeback

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Chris Bosh is never going to suit up for the Miami Heat again. A blood clotting issue that sidelined him a couple of seasons back never fully went away and Miami doctors would not clear him last season.

He may never play in the NBA again, but his max contract is an anchor on the Heat’s effort to rebuild. Miami can waive him and apply for an injury hardship to get his salary taken off its cap (Bosh would still get paid, the contract is guaranteed, but it just wouldn’t count against the cap). The concern for Miami was a comeback — under the current NBA rules, if Bosh played 25 games for any other team, his full salary would come back onto their books.

Miami officials and Bosh’s representatives have repaired their relationship, and the two sides — working with the NBA and the players’ union — have an agreement on a deal, reports Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

Chris Bosh has told family members that an agreement has been struck among the NBA, the Heat, the union and himself for Bosh to part ways with the Heat at some point in the coming weeks, with the Heat receiving maximum cap relief, an NBA-employed source said in early May and reiterated Tuesday.

There are still details to be worked out so nothing is final, reports Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel. He also does a good job explaining the deal.

Under the CBA in place until June 30, a return to the league by Bosh could have reinstated his salary-cap hit to the Heat’s ledger over the remaining term of his contract, which expires after the 2018-19 season. However, under the CBA that goes into place July 1, once a medical panel comes to an agreement that it no longer considered safe for Bosh to continue his career, there no longer is the risk of Bosh’s cap charge or luxury-tax hit returning to the Heat’s book.

The approach with Bosh, 33, from the league and union apparently is a one-time allocation, with Bosh in the midst of a preexisting condition amid the transition to the incoming work rules.

That seems fair. It lets Miami off the financial hook if he does return, and just as importantly for the team, it gives them financial flexibility going into the draft and free agency — if they want to chase Gordon Hayward or Paul Millsap or someone else, they have the room and no fear of a financial bombshell landing on them.

On the other side, it makes it possible for Bosh to return to the NBA if he wishes.  And if he can get cleared medically (which may be difficult, but the people around him say is not impossible).

The question for Bosh is how much he wants to come back at this age — it’s not about the money, he’s got a lot of that now. But it takes a lot of work to get back into NBA shape and prepare his aging body for another marathon of an NBA campaign. After time off, hanging out with his young family and pursuing his diverse other interests, does he want another go at the NBA or is he ready to move on? Only Bosh can answer that, and there isn’t a wrong answer.

 

Watch Kobe Bryant break down Warriors’ offense

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Famed storyteller Kobe Bryant also knows a little about basketball.

He combined those passions in this tantalizing video about the Warriors’ offense. Two takeaways:

1. Kobe clearly understands how a high-functioning offense works, and he was smart enough to identify these things in real time during his 20-year Lakers career. Yet, it’s funny to hear him talk so much about ball and player movement when he so often eschewed those principles himself.

2. The Cavaliers, with their defensive-communication issues, are in trouble.

LeBron James locked in for Cavaliers-Celtics Game 4 after being locked out in Game 3

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James had that look – faraway, yet focused.

The Boston Celtics have his undivided attention.

Following one of the worst postseason games of his career, James provided a candid review of his performance after breaking down film of Game 3 in the Eastern Conference finals.

“It wasn’t tough to watch,” he said as the Cavaliers prepared for Tuesday night’s Game 4. “We had opportunities. It is what it is. They played a hell of a game and they took it to us and we weren’t able to stop the runs that they made.

“Some of the plays that we made, some of the plays that I made, I was like, `What are we doing?’ or `What could I have done better?’ But you figure out the next game and go forward.”

James scored just 11 points and committed six turnovers in Game 2 on Sunday night, when the Celtics overcame a 21-point deficit in the third quarter to pull off an upset the odds makers in Las Vegas said was the biggest in the NBA playoffs over the past 20 years.

It was the fourth-lowest point total for James in 210 career playoff games. The point total was stunning considering it broke James’ streak of scoring at least 30 points in eight straight playoff games. It was the first time in 11 games in this postseason in which he scored fewer than 25.

Typically, James bounces back following poor games.

“It’s fun to watch knowing that when he has bad nights, a lot of times some very, very, very good nights follow,” said Cavs forward James Jones, who has been James’ teammate the past seven years. “It’s what he does.”

James went just 4 of 13 from the field in Game 3. More unusual was that he didn’t attack the basket with his customary tenacity.

And while James was criticized in some circles for not doing more, Celtics coach Brad Stevens was understandably cautious in his analysis.

His team is back in the series after being blown out in Games 1 and 2 at home, and Stevens probably didn’t want to rankle James.

“I thought LeBron made a lot of the right plays,” he said. “When you’ve got guys that are all on fire the way they are, the right basketball play is to find them. He just made it over and over. The guy is a tremendous basketball player. He makes the right play over and over, and he thinks the game, he sees the game. He’s a really good defender. He can read situations. So I thought he was pretty darned good. I’m not going to be critical of the best player in the world.”

James, who didn’t speak to the media Monday, didn’t provide many detailed answers during a brief interview session at the team’s practice facility.

Asked for the keys to Game 4, he simply said “win” and walked away.