Are LeBron's friends and advisors really looking out for LeBron?


Thumbnail image for LeBron_game4.jpgThe LeBron James situation has gotten so crazy that Bodog — the online gambling site that you tell your girlfriend you never visit — has taken down the odds down on where LeBron will land. It’s all too unpredictable for bookies right now.

Unpredictable in part because what is going on close LeBron is unpredictable. The inner circle that is supposed to be there for him is made up of old friends, some of whom have their own agendas. What is getting whispered in LeBron’s ear has all sorts of motives behind it, as Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski pointed out.

For example, William Wesley has reason to tell him to move on.

“If LeBron leaves, Wes is going to get carte blanche wherever he signs,” one source told Yahoo! Sports. “He’s going to have the run of the place, and he doesn’t have that in Cleveland. He has access there, but Maverick Carter is the guy with the keys there. …[Carter’s] much more influential, and would always be in Cleveland.”

Maverick Carter and LeBron’s high school buddies may well push to stay in Cleveland, to remain the big fish they are now.

Beyond James’ own sentimentality and belief of staying the course with Cleveland, the best chance the Cavaliers have to re-sign James likely belongs to Carter, his business manager, and the high school buddies on the payroll. Should James leave for the bright lights and big cities, his childhood associates become less relevant, less impressive. “No one cares about those guys walking around in Chicago or Miami or New York,” one league executive said.

James’ friends have had the run of Cleveland for seven years, unchecked power within the corridors of the Cavaliers organization. Around Cleveland and nearby Akron, where they were brought up with James, they don’t need to have the two-time MVP surrounding them to be considered VIPs. Maybe that doesn’t end with James elsewhere, but it dramatically changes.

Sadly, this scenario is not all that different than what many NBA players (and other pro athletes) face, save that the push and pull on LeBron from his closest advisors is playing out on a grand stage. These players trust family or friends to be key player around them, to give it to them straight, rather than trusting professional agents and people with more experience. But those friends and family may be on the gravy train as well, they have their own agendas, and they don’t really know how to navigate the waters anyway.

The results range from falling draft stock at the start to bad free agency decisions later, not to mention missed marketing opportunities and the like. Family and friends, even well meaning ones, are overwhelmed by what comes at them. Then there are the people just there to rip off some athletes.

James’ friends are not there with the intention of hurting him, they see themselves as advisors watching out for him. The power play won’t be this naked. But the advice LeBron gets will be tainted with self-interest.

And he’s the one that has to live with the decision.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.