LeBron James decides to become the ultimate facilitator


Thumbnail image for James_dunk.jpgScottie Pippen has six championship rings. He’s a seven time NBA All-Star. He was an NBA All-Star Game MVP in 1994, a 3-time NBA First-Team All-NBA selection, and an 8 time NBA All-Defensive team selection. He is considered one of the greatest players in NBA history and a legend in the truest sense for being the ultimate support player to the greatest of all time.

And today, his name is being tossed around as an insult.

When LeBron James elected to head to Miami to join Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to form a combination of talent rarely seen in the salary-cap age, the backlash was swift and brutal. As our own John Krolik laid out, James now faces a backlash, a change to his persona and his identity that seemed impossible three years ago. Those changes are the result of a decision to leave Cleveland, to deliver what can only be considered Brutus’ dagger to the heart of Ohio as he traipses off to South Beach.

But beyond the damage wreaked by what he didn’t do (re-sign), we have to look at the criticism he now faces for what he did do (take less money to play with his friends on an undeniable contender).

James’ decision brought about a rash of comparisons to, who else, Michel Jordan. The ghost that hangs over every great player in this league cast its shadow over LeBron tonight because Jordan would never defer to another superstar. He would never openly admit that he needed help. No, instead Jordan would rise up and take the team on his back, carrying them across the sky and into the sun, stealing its light to bring back and light his bedroom to read by. He would vanquish the Jabberwocky with his ballpoint pen that he signs his lucrative checks with and would never take a step out of the spotlight so he could share it with someone else.

Jordan. The crown that gives us scoliosis.

What James has done, outside of the Cleveland context and the ridiculousness of the television special, is agree to take a paycut so that he can contribute to a better team. To a team with talent so rarely combined that it’s difficult to find examples of comparable squads even in eras without the salary cap that’s currently giving the Heat organization a noose they’re trying to unwrap themselves from.

James is taking over a role that’s been suggested by better and worse writers. The Sports Guy himself commented that perhaps James was never meant to be “The Man” but instead the “uber-Pippen.” That he’s not wired that way. But does anyone doubt James’ ability to score? To take the ball to the hole in a close game and create points? Does anyone think he can’t come out and score 40 no matter who’s next to him?

But all of that is part of the same process everyone is going through. Taking the hamburger and dissecting it based on the pickles, the mayo, the burger, the bun. It’s not taking a look at how the burger looks together. Basketball isn’t a series of set moves one after another. It’s a movement. One, big, long movement in concert with the other players on the floor.

What’s a greater accomplishment, then? Forcing your game into some sort of pre-conceived notion of what you’re supposed to be (a high-usage jump shot machine), or adapting your game to make the best players in the world even better, and in return, feeding off that synergy to make your game better.

James is a natural passer. He always has been, and no one’s known what to make of it. Point guards pass. Centers pass out of the double. But a forward, with that size, with the vision of a point guard, the touch of a center and the speed of a wing, whipping passes flawlessly, it was something we hadn’t seen. We’ve grown accustomed to it, and we honestly haven’t seen its full potential. With Wade and Bosh catching his passes, maybe we’ll see more of it.

He’s a tremendous rebounder, able to out-soar the most athletic players in the league to capture a needed board. He draws fouls consistently. He chases down blocks, converting easy fastbreak opportunities into conversions for his team. He literally transforms easy opponent possessions into quality scoring plays for his team.

All of this without his jumpshot, the range, the ability to finish at the rim. James brings these auxiliary skills to a team that can take full advantage of them, without wasting them. He can be the kind of facilitator that is the difference for teams, without sacrificing defense, or offense, or anything. He can make the team play better basketball. What’s the importance of being an “alpha dog” in that scenario?

Wade certainly provides him said “alpha dog.” Wade has always held a more obsessive need to win, a more driving sense of the killshot. Wade is simply meaner. Of the three players in this new triumvirate, Wade is the most serious, the most obsessed, the most driven.

So maybe it’s true that James is surrendering his “alpha dog” status to Wade’s game. But marketing? Leadership? Playmaking? James is king of the roost in that regard. And now begins an era where the three can accomplish something never before seen in the NBA, a synergy and drive between the absolute best players in the NBA all on one team.

And if he walks away with the same kind of bounty that Scottie Pippen did at the end of the day, only with more a of a direct role, that’s not a bad comedown. People will say his legacy is tarnished by needing “help.” That his legend will be altered. If successful, he’ll simply have to console himself with multiple rings, the very thing most players would kill for.

Tonight was the beginning of one of the toughest periods in LeBron James’ life, as well as the most exciting and most lucrative. He’s going to become more of a facilitator. He’s going to become less of an alpha dog. And he’s going to become a better basketball player.

Somehow, it’s hard to see how James loses in this scenario.

Rumor: Mark Jackson “hot name” to be Knicks next head coach

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This summer is going to be nothing like last summer. Way back in the summer of 2017, while you were desperately trying to avoid hearing again dancing to “Despacito,” NBA coaches were feeling safe — there was not one coaching change in the offseason.

Already this season Earl Watson in Phoenix and Jason Kidd in Milwaukee both were fired, and both of those teams will be conducting coaching searches this summer. The buzz around the league is there will be an opening in Orlando, too, and possibly Detroit depending on whether Stan Van Gundy wants to pull a Doc Rivers from last summer.

Then there’s the Knicks — Jeff Hornacek would like to know his status. Understandably. The scuttlebutt around the league is he may want to sharpen his resume and get in touch with a realtor, but nothing is official.

Marc Stein of the New York Times took it one step further in his weekly newsletter, saying former Warriors coach and current ABC/ESPN commentator — not to mention Knicks player — Mark Jackson would be at the front of the line to get the Knicks coaching job.

The former Knicks guard Mark Jackson keeps coming up as a hot name to succeed Hornacek, amid a growing belief the Knicks’ new front-office chief — Scott Perry — will want to install his own hand-picked choice heading into next season.

It’s difficult to fault Hornacek for much of the chaos that has engulfed the Knicks during his two seasons in charge. But there’s no avoiding the fact he was a Phil Jackson selection, which could well doom him now that the organization seems intent on cutting every non-Porzingian tie to the Phil era as possible.

Already there have been denials of a couple of things Stein had in his newsletter. The Pistons and Chauncey Billups both shot down the idea they have discussed a front office spot for him after Van Gundy is pushed out of the GM role, and Alex Lasry denied that the Bucks have a list that includes Jeff Van Gundy. So, use as much salt here as you would like with the Jackson rumor.

The Jackson-to-the-Knicks rumor makes some sense — Jackson built the defensive foundation on which the Warriors have won titles, and he’d be an easy sell to fans and any cantankerous owners who may have a say in the matter. However, the Knicks would be wise to do a broad search and get the best possible guy, not just the guy easiest to sell. Jackson was beloved by his players but pushed out in Golden State for legit reasons, all of which must be considered. Talk to the highly respected David Fizdale. Bring in Monty Williams. That’s just the top of the list, but the Knicks need to nail this — they have the hardest thing to get in building a team, a franchise cornerstone piece in Kristaps Porzingis, but they need to do a better job of creating a culture/foundation/system, and putting players that fit said system around KP. Also, once they pick a system, stick with it fully for at least three or four years — give it a chance to breathe.

It’s too early to call this anything other than a rumor, but it’s something to watch as we head to summer.


Report: With his knee not progressing as hoped, Kyrie Irving to get second opinion

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Kyrie Irving has missed the last three Celtics games — two of them losses — due to a sore knee. This is the same knee where he fractured a kneecap in the 2015 NBA Finals, and GM Danny Ainge admitted that in the next few years Irving may need a maintenance surgery to keep the issues down.

Now comes a report that just time off has not yet had the desired effect on Irving’s knee, so he will seek a second opinion, Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports broke the story and Brad Stevens of the Celtics confirmed it (with some more details by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports).

There is no timetable for Irving’s return, but he will not be on the Celtics’ four-game road swing through the West that starts Friday.

Getting a second opinion is the smart move. NBA team doctors are very good at their jobs, but as with any serious medical issue, a second opinion is a good idea (plus, team doctors are paid by the team, which can create a conflict of interest). Most likely the second doctor says “rest is all you need,” but better to be safe than sorry.

Boston is going to be ultra conservative in bringing Irving back. The simple fact is that in the wake of injuries to Daniel Theis and Marcus Smart (who maybe could return in the second round of the playoffs), it’s unlikely the Celtics get out of the Eastern Conference this season. They lack a high-level secondary playmaker on offense after Irving (Boston’s offense is eight points per 100 possessions worse when Irving is not on the court this season) and with the injuries their defense can’t carry them far enough. Boston has always played the long game with this rebuild, and they will do it with Irving as well.

Jordan Clarkson says he believes dinosaurs were pets of bigger people

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Kyrie Irving debuted his flat-earth beliefs on Channing Frye‘s and Richard Jefferson‘s podcast.

Now, another Cavaliers guard is following in those footsteps with another zany theory.

Jordan Clarkson on Road Trippin’:

I don’t believe in dinosaurs, either. Well no, I actually do. I believe that – this is gonna get a little crazy, alright? I’m gonna take y’all a little left on this. OK, so y’all know how we got dogs and stuff, right?

So, I think it was bigger people in the world before us, and, like, the dinosaurs was their pets.

How big were these people? Clarkson:

Oh, you look at a dinosaur. They got to be three times bigger than them.

I too have seen The Flintstones:

Stephen Curry cleared for return by Warriors doctors, Friday vs. Hawks likely date

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For the second half of their last game, a loss in San Antonio, the Warriors were without all four All-Stars — Kevin Durant (ribs), Stephen Curry (ankle), Klay Thompson (thumb), and Draymond Green (hip contusion).

Starting Friday against the Hawks at Oracle Arena, at least one of those guys should be back — Curry.

This was expected. If this had been the playoffs, Curry would have returned last weekend,  but considering his multiple ankle sprains this season and his importance to the team, the Warriors decided to be extremely cautious. They will do the same with Durant, Green, and Thompson, with the goal of having them all healthy at the start of the postseason.

Curry is averaging 26.3 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 42.4 percent from three this season. The Warriors offense is 14 points per 100 possessions better this season when Curry is on the court.