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.

Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey on plan for Warriors: Bury them in an avalanche of threes

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 19: Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets speaks during a press conference announcing the signing of Jeremy Lin at Toyota Center on July 19, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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For a couple of seasons now, teams have tried to beat the Golden State Warriors by making the game ugly — slow, grinding, physical, and the opposite of the free-wheeling game they like. Only one team has had any real success with that strategy, and it has LeBron James on it (and even that wouldn’t have been enough if Draymond Green could keep his hands to himself).

So why not beat them at their own game?

That’s what Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey thought when he added Lou Williams to the roster, he said.

There is a sense around the Warriors that the Rockets may be a bigger concern than the Spurs, because Houston can score with them. Don’t confuse that with worry in the Bay Area, they are the best team in the West if healthy, but the Rockets may be the team they face off against in the conference finals.

And if that happens, Lou Williams is going to play a significant role.

Pelicans add guard Jarrett Jack on 10-day deal

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 17:  Jarrett Jack #2 of the Brooklyn Nets in action against the Atlanta Hawks during their game at The Barclays Center on November 17, 2015 in New York City.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Jarrett Jack has agreed to join the New Orleans Pelicans on a 10-day contract.

Jack is an 11-year-veteran who has not played since seriously injuring his knee 32 games into last season while a starter with Brooklyn. He averaged 12.8 points and 7.4 assists for Nets last season before his injury.

Jack worked out for the Pelicans on Thursday night and joined the team for practice Friday.

New Orleans plays next on Saturday night at Dallas.

Report: Cavaliers, Rockets — not Warriors — looking to add waived Andrew Bogut

DALLAS, TX - SEPTEMBER 26:  Andrew Bogut #6 of the Dallas Mavericks poses for a portrait during the Dallas Mavericks Media Day held at American Airlines Center on September 26, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Some veteran players who can help a contender are about to hit the market via the waiver wire. Deron Williams is one, and the buzz around the league is he is destined for Cleveland. Matt Barnes is another.

Andrew Bogut will almost have his pick of contenders — including the Warriors, the NBA reviewed its rules and said that the Warriors can sign him even though they waived him a year ago — but it seems the Cavaliers and Rockets are at the top of the list, reports the Akron Beacon Journal’s Jason Lloyd.

There will be a number of suitors in pursuit of Bogut, who is also eligible to return to the Warriors because he was traded from Dallas to Philadelphia. He is ineligible to return only to the team that most recently traded him, which in this case is the Mavericks. So if the Warriors want him back, they may pursue him. The Cavs have long had their eye on Bogut, but they’ll have competition for him – primarily from the Houston Rockets.

Steve Kerr said the Warriors were not looking to add a big man to the roster out of the waiver pool, instead looking at wings and guards. You know, more shooting.

Bogut was traded to Philadelphia from Dallas as part of the Nerlens Noel deal, but the Sixers are expected to waive him in the coming days.

Report: Steve Ballmer in talks with Rams’ owner Kroenke to move Clippers to Inglewood

LOS ANGELES CA - OCTOBER 29: Steve Ballmer (C), owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, cheers for his team with his wife Connie Ballmer (L) at his side during pre game ceremonies before the home opener against Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center October 29, 2015, in Los Angeles California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Since he bought the Los Angeles Clippers for a cool $2 billion, Steve Ballmer has been looking for ways to get them out of the shadow of the Lakers. While Los Angeles is big enough — and has enough corporate interests — to support two NBA teams, the city’s heart belongs to the Lakers. It’s still a wide chasm. You can take my word as a lifelong Angelino, or you can go look at the television ratings — the Lakers are in the worst stretch of on-court basketball in franchise history, the Clippers are loaded with stars and are one of the better teams in the NBA, and yet the Lakers still win the ratings battle.

One way to get out of the shadow — get out of sharing the same building. The Clippers moved to Staples Center with the Lakers when it opened (Donald Sterling loved having the team closer to his offices) but Steve Ballmer is talking about getting out, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Representatives of Steve Ballmer and Stan Kroenke, two of the richest owners in professional sports, have had multiple discussions about the Clippers joining the Rams and Chargers in the sports and entertainment district Kroenke is building in Inglewood.

Five people with knowledge of the conversations told The Times the arena could either be on the 298-acre site or an adjacent parcel. Either way, an arena would drive traffic to the planned mixed-use development and share parking with the $2.6-billion football stadium scheduled to open in 2019.

The Clippers are on a lease that runs through 2024 at Staples, but Ballmer and company have not-so-subtly been looking at potential sites for a new venue. There isn’t a question if the former Microsoft CEO has the money to finance such a building, but there could be both an economy of scale and joint energy joining the new football facility.

The project in Inglewood — on the former Hollywood Park horseracing location, right across the street from the Forum where Magic Johnson and the Showtime Lakers reigned — is designed like many modern arenas to bring dining, entertainment, and housing to the area with the arenas providing foot traffic. Staples Center did that for the L.A. Live development in downtown Los Angeles, helping spark a renaissance of the entire area. However, there are a lot of questions from parking to who actually would own the land and arena.

If nothing else, it’s a sign Ballmer gets what the previous owner either never did or simply never cared enough to try to fix — he has to get out of the Lakers’ shadow. One step in that path is getting out of the same arena.