NBA Playoffs Cavs Celtics Game 6: The LeBron referendum


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.

Rumor: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope demanding more than $20 million annually to sign contract extension with Pistons

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 27:  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #5 of the Detroit Pistons reacts after a basket against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on October 27, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading andor using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Pistons owner Tom Gores said he’d pay the luxury tax if a contract extension for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope put Detroit over next season.

Yet, Caldwell-Pope hasn’t signed an extension with the deadline six days away.

What will it take?

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

There was gossip over the summer that it would take a deal worth north of $20 million per year to get Caldwell-Pope’s signature.

That’s not an unreasonable demand. It’s up to Caldwell-Pope whether he’d accept less in exchange for more security, but I think he’d get even more as a restricted free agent next summer – maybe even a max contract, which projects to start at more than $24 million.

Caldwell-Pope is a good shooting guard in a league with a dearth of quality wings and a greater need for them as teams go smaller. He’ll be just 24 next offseason, so his next deal should last through his prime.

His preseason didn’t foreshadow a breakout year. He remains a good defender and streaky 3-point shooter. But it’s possible Caldwell-Pope steadies his outside stroke and/or becomes an even more impactful defender. He could also improve his off-the-dribble skills, though his bread is buttered as a 3-and-D player.

Still, it won’t take massive improvements for Caldwell-Pope to hold value. To some degree, the Pistons could view every dollar under the max on a Caldwell-Pope extension as savings.

If his demands remain high, the Pistons could always take another year to evaluate the fourth-year guard. With matching rights, they can always re-sign him in the offseason.

NBA sets record with 113 international players, a plurality from Canada, on opening-night rosters

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 21: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs go after a loose ball during the first quarter of the game on November 21, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Spurs defeated the Timberwolves 121-92. 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 Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Until last season, the NBA set or tied its record for number of international players on opening-night rosters the previous three years.

But after peaking at 101 in 2014-15, the number dropped to 100 last season.

A sign the league has hit its foreign saturation point?

Probably not.

The NBA boasts a record 113 international players from a record 41 countries and territories to begin this season. Canada, with 11, leads the league for the third straight year.

A count of international players in the NBA on opening night:

  • 2016-17: 113
  • 2015-16: 100
  • 2014-15: 101
  • 2013-14: 92
  • 2012-13: 84

Here’s a full list of 2016-17 international players, but before you read it, take our quizzes on opening-night rosters.

Trivia: Name every player on a 2016-17 NBA roster

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks the ball against the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
1 Comment

NBA teams cut their rosters to a maximum of 15 players yesterday. Only one team, the Bulls, has just 14 players.

That means there are 449 players in the NBA as the season tips off tonight.

How many of them can you name?

Take these two quizzes, one for the Eastern Conference and one for the Western Conference. Players are in a random order within their teams.

Chandler Parsons out for Grizzlies’ opener

Memphis Grizzlies forward Chandler Parsons poses for a picture on NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. Parsons signed with the Grizzlies in July. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
Leave a comment

Chandler Parsons missed the Mavericks’ final 18 games last season, including the playoffs, due to knee problems.

Now with the Grizzlies, his games missed streak will hit 19.

Michael Wallace of

Maybe this is just a blip. Parsons will get healthy soon enough and diversify Memphis’ offense.

But Dallas didn’t make a stronger push to keep Parsons due to his knees. We could look back on this and chastise the Grizzlies for signing someone to a max contract who wasn’t even ready to play in the first place. They have big plans for Parsons, but he must play for those to work.

Brandan Wright just can’t get healthy. Maybe Memphis will believe this injury warrants missing time.