Which teams are most impacted by LeBron James not touring for free agency?

26 Comments

We told you earlier that LeBron would not be going on a worldwide tour of his free agent destinations as had been previously reported. But the question now is, which teams are most impacted by that decision? Let’s take a look at the candidates and rank the impact this has on their chances on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “no change” and 5 being “dramatically impacts.” 

New Jersey Nets: Like we filled you in earlier, the Nets will get first swing, and they’re bringing Jay-Z as their big bat. James decision not to tour the free agent cities helps the Nets quite a bit, evening the field. Why? Because they’re not in Brooklyn for another two years. James knows all the free agency spots, having visited then already. But trying to pitch him on the draws of Newark versus the other locations for two very long years was going to be a hard sell (no offense, Newark). Now the Nets can bring in their basketball impact, with Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, and the financial benefits of being involved with Jay-Z and Prokhorov. Two years from now this would have hurt the Nets. But meeting James in Akron may be a blessing in disguise in the Nets’ now slim-hopes of landing the King. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 3 (Positive)
Los Angeles Clippers: James hosting the Clippers in Los Angeles is a mixed bag for the still-headless club.  On the one hand, bringing James to the LA hot spots and showing him the gorgeous weather would have been a nice boost for them, the best part of their pitch, really. The team’s not very good, on top of being perennially snake bitten, so pitching James hard on the glamorous life in LA would have been ideal. On the other hand, not bringing him to LA means he won’t see how deeply that city is invested in Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, and how James will always be viewed as a sideshow to the other LA city. Plus, there’s always the chance of James being heckled in public by devoted Kobe zealots who can’t seem to get over comparisons of the two, despite them playing completely different positions with different skill-sets and games.The overall impact is negated by these conflicting factors. Let’s face it, the Clippers have no shot. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 2 (Neutral)
Cleveland Cavaliers: Home court advantage. With James not going to see the bright lights of the bigger cities, it means more time for him to be home, with everyone wanting him not to abandon them. The Cavs walk out of this arrangement in even better position to re-sign him. If you’re anything like me, whenever I visit a place, I’m constantly saying “I could definitely live here” whenever I’m having a good time (I said that precise thing about Omaha, Nebraska last night. I could not live in Omaha, Nebraska). With James not leaving town, it means that the other cities’ advantages in non-basketball matters will be negated. This is a huge asset for the Cavs, who will be relying on the fact that James has won 60 games with the clubs in the past two seasons, and home, after all, is where the heart is. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 5 (Positive)
Chicago Bulls: The Bulls could show him the great dining and awesome Chicago way of life if James were to visit, sure. But unlike Miami or Los Angeles, they don’t have great weather. Unlike New York, Chicago isn’t the center of the cultural universe (though it’s definitely close in orbit). So what does this mean for Chicago? Simple. They can walk into the meeting and say “If you want your best chance over the next ten years to win a championship, you’ll choose Chicago. Thanks for your time.” and walk out. Okay, they won’t actually do that. But they could. With Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose as the core assets, the Bulls can focus on basketball with James, and that is a huge leg up for them. Chicago itself has a global reputation that precedes it. The Bulls can use that as an advance and then focus on the team and it’s two-max-free-agent cap space. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 4 (Positive)
New York Knicks: Well, they’re screwed.  The Knicks had a luxurious feast being prepared by a top-name chef. Everything was in place to show James why he should choose the greatest city in the world. And now? Trying to sell the Knicks without New York is like trying to pitch a father of two on going to Disneyland from the bar. It just sounds like a lot of hassle compared to where you’re at. The Knicks feature a series of swapped picks over the next few years, and their next best player is a young Italian sharpshooter named “The Rooster.” Mike D’Antoni may have to resort to offers like “I’ll make sure you break Wilt’s scoring record” or “We can get you a sextuple double.” This is a pretty big disaster for Knicks fans. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 5 (Negative)
Miami Heat: It has not been a great week for the Heat. First, the Chicago Bulls managed to dump off Kirk Hinrich’s contract, meaning they can now offer nearly two-max free agents, the same as the Heat. Then this news, which devastates the Heat’s chances. Let’s face it, the Heat are clinging to two things. 1. If James comes to Miami, Dwyane Wade will re-sign. And that’s still a very good pitch. And 2. the weather. That’s it. The team is in complete ruins, having dumped off everyone to make room for free agents, except there’s no guarantee of there being anything to surround the two big fish. Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley are literally the remaining core. And when you shape that up against the other teams vying for James? Only the Knicks are in worst shape. When the Clippers can show they have a roster closer to a championship than you do? You need the weather. And oh, was the weather a big deal. Throw in the friendly tax laws, which James will be reading on some sort of PowerPoint presentation instead of seeing in action, and the Heat are still one of the top bidders, but this is not good news for them. 
LEBRON-O-METER: 4 (Negative)

O.J. Mayo says abusing prescription painkillers triggered NBA ban

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Last year, O.J. Mayo was banned from the NBA for at least two years due to a drug violation. Aside from stating a plan to come back, Mayo didn’t say much publicly.

Until now.

Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:

He acknowledged smoking marijuana and abusing a prescription pain medication that triggered his two-year ban because it is on the NBA’s “drugs of abuse” list. (He emphatically denied testing positive for hard drugs like cocaine.)

Mayo also concluded that he had been “overwhelmed” by a string of difficult life events: his father, high school basketball star Kenny Ziegler, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for distributing crack cocaine, his brother was placed in juvenile lock-up, a close friend went to jail, and another was killed. “I was bred to play basketball and I thought I could balance everything,” he said. “I couldn’t.”

That’s part of an interesting feature on Mayo, who’s training for his come back. Golliver’s story makes it easy to pull for Mayo.

But the guard will be 30 when he’s eligible to apply for reinstatement, and he played lousily in his last three seasons with the Bucks.

Hopefully, Mayo has and keeps his personal life in order. But returning to the NBA will be an uphill battle.

James Harden throws alley-oop to Chris Paul, pair puts on show at Houston charity event

Leave a comment

What chemistry problem?

There are legitimate questions about how Chris Paul and James Harden will share the backcourt and ball with the Rockets, but none of those were on display on Sunday. That’s when CP3 joined his new teammate in Harden’s charity game (raising money for Harden’s charity, which helps children from single-family homes get a higher education), a kind of pro-am with some names thrown in to draw a crowd.

Harden and CP3 put on a show for the fans.

This is a charity event, not every team is going to defend like this or the Phoenix Suns. It’s going to be harder when the games matter.

But the Rockets are going to be entertaining to watch this season. No doubt.

Tampering is common in the NBA, but proving it is very difficult

2 Comments

Want proof there is tampering in the NBA: Free agency starts on July 1 at midnight Eastern every year, and every year a number of new contracts for players with new teams are announced at 12:01 a.m. There is no way that a complicated NBA contract — even one where the two sides are both interested and will agree quickly on the price — is negotiated faster than it takes to get an In-N-Out Burger (or Five Guys burger, if you prefer the inferior).

Those deals are announced that fast because everything’s already been agreed to through back channels. Same with meetings when a major (or even mediocre) free agent starts talking to teams on July 1. Yet, the NBA rarely investigates, and even more rarely punishes a team for tampering. Why? Because it’s very difficult to prove.

The Lakers are being investigated for tampering with Paul George while he was under contract to the Indiana Pacers, an investigation reportedly started at the request of Pacers’ owner Herb Simon. Teams are not allowed to recruit or entice players under contract. The Lakers have denied any wrongdoing. Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and, with a wink, joked about what he’d tell George if they met this summer, and that ticked Simon off. The Pacers had to trade George, and because everyone around the league knows he more likely than not is a Laker next summer (long before Magic went on TV), his trade value was diminished. The Pacers got back Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him the day before free agency opened (although there may have been better offers on the table, and the choice and timing were odd). The Pacers think if there is an agreement in place between the Lakers and George that would have driven down the trade market (because he was a one-year rental, that market was already depressed).

Good luck proving tampering. Unless Magic did something stupid like text George directly, it will be almost impossible to prove.

NBA agents and front offices know how to avoid tampering using “back channels” — not unlike how governments who are public enemies still communicate. Someone, a couple of people removed from the agent/GM, can talk with someone a couple of people removed from the other side and set something up that gets brought back and agreed to. Or, an agent can have one of his other players do some of the work for him — players recruit each other all the time on social media (and off it), and the league doesn’t see that as tampering, unless specifically ordered by a GM/owner. James Harden recruited Chris PaulDraymond Green and other Warriors recruited Kevin Durant, and the league shrugged, but GM Bob Myers could not have done that (or directed the players to do that… again, good luck proving it if you think he did).

There are a few reasons it will be hard to prove the Lakers did anything. First, the Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka is a former agent and knows how to work the system — he’s not getting caught. Look what another agent told Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer.

“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.”

To prove tampering, Magic needs to have left a “paper trail,” which more accurately is a digital trail of texts or emails. But even that can get tricky. If Magic was texting with George’s agent Aaron Mintz that alone proves nothing, he also represents Julius Randle on the Lakers and D'Angelo Russell, who the Lakers traded a week before the George trade. It will take an email or text specifically talking about George for the Lakers to get in trouble, and Magic is smarter than that. Well, we think he is.

The bottom line is tampering is common and almost impossible to prove. Unless Magic screwed up, it will be unprovable here. Maybe the Pacers made their point, maybe Simon feels better, but it’s hard to see how this is going to be tampering.

Joakim Noah talks of “bounce back” year for himself, Knicks

Getty Images
2 Comments

In a season of disappointments in New York, none was bigger than Joakim Noah.

There was plenty of scoffing around the league in the summer of 2016 when Phil Jackson signed the oft-injured, already declining Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract that was seen as one of the worst of a summer (and it was an ugly summer for contracts). He only played in 46 games, averaging 5.5 points on 49 percent shooting, plus 8.8 rebounds a game in those (and basically being averaged on offense and a step slow defensively). He missed time with a rotator cuff surgery and got a 20-game suspension for testing positive for Androgen (he has 13 of those games left and can’t play until Nov. 13).

Noah realizes how poorly last season went he told the “Truth Barrel’’ podcast, doesn’t think Jackson deserves all the blame, and said his goal is to make it up this season (hat tip The New York Post for the transcription).

“It’s tough, man, because I got a lot of love and respect for Phil,’’ Noah said. “He gave me an opportunity to play back home. Somebody I read all his books as a kid. I was just a big fan and still am. I have a lot of respect for him. It didn’t work out. That sucks. It’s something I have to live with. He believed in me, and I kind of let him down. That’s frustrating. He got a lot of blame that it was his fault. But we didn’t lose all those games because of Phil Jackson…

“I went through a lot of adversity,’’ Noah said. “You go through injuries. I lost my confidence this year. It’s about bouncing back and showing who I am through these tough times. It can really show what you’re made of.”

This is the only attitude Noah should have — look forward, get healthy, and look to right his wrongs next season.

Once he finishes his suspension, Noah likely will come off the bench behind Willy Hernangomez. (The Knicks should spend more time with Kristaps Porzingis at the five, but that’s another discussion.) Noah is going to get his chances, but nothing he has shown the past few seasons should have Knicks’ fans expecting a return to form. Noah has been an average to below-average player for a couple of seasons, he’s not moving the same way, and he’s not getting younger.

Noah can still have a positive impact on this team, he has a role to play, but it has to start with him getting back on the court.