LeBron James decides to become the ultimate facilitator

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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.

Reports: Cavaliers to work out Larry Sanders Wednesday

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Let this be a reminder: If you are 6’11” with impressive athleticism, you are going to get second (and third, and fourth, and…) chances in the NBA.

Larry Sanders has been out of the NBA for a couple of seasons after a mutual parting of the ways with the Bucks, a buyout of his contract that let him get away from basketball. He had personal demons to deal with and checked himself into a hospital program for anxiety, depression, and mood disorders.

He’s said now he wants to make a comeback, and the Cavaliers are going to at least take a look, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

A solo workout implies this is not going to lead to him being signed soon, it’s just more of a progress check. Sanders reportedly has looked in some previous settings like a guy who has been out of the league for a couple of years.

Sanders averaged 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game, which led to him getting a big extension with the Bucks (and that’s the Sanders teams hope to see in workouts). Sanders wrote later he struggled with the pressure and how to cope with it after signing that deal, which led to things such as a nightclub brawl left him with an injured thumb in need of surgery, being charged with animal cruelty, and being suspended a couple of times by the league for marijuana use.

 

Hopefully, Sanders has found the balance he sought in his life. He’s trying to turn that into a return to the NBA.

Report: Clippers, Thunder may make run at Nuggets’ Wilson Chandler

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Wilson Chandler #21 of the Denver Nuggets looks on from the bench during the second half of a game against the LA Clippers  at Staples Center on December 20, 2016 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 Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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As teams return from the All-Star break, the Denver Nuggets are holding on to the eighth seed in the West. They have an underperforming Trail Blazers team two games back, and a Pelicans team two-and-a-half back that just added DeMarcus Cousins.

Which leads to the question, how eager will Denver be to move players that can help them hold on to the eight seed? There have been trade rumors around veteran forward Wilson Chandler for a couple of seasons, but will they move him at the deadline?

At least a couple of teams are interested, the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in a video about trades (video below).

“Watch both of those teams with Denver’s Wilson Chandler. Oklahoma City had been very much in pursuit of Rudy Gay before his season-ending injury. They’d love to get a four-man, a versatile forward, as would the Clippers. Both teams think that kind of player maybe gets them over the hump in a first-round series.”

The Thunder simply need more playmakers and guys who can score around Russell Westbrook. Chandler can do that, he’s averaging 15.6 points a game playing 30 minutes a night in Denver, he has to be respected from three, can score inside, and overall he’s a slightly above-average (or above replacement level, if you will) NBA forward who can play the three or the four.

For the Clippers, he could slide right into the three, which has long been a weak spot in their rotations.

Of course, the real question is what does Denver want in return? And this is where it gets tricky because the Nuggets want to win and Chandler is part of that, so the price has gone up for him in Denver’s estimation. Neither the Clippers or Thunder have obvious players that they would be willing to move that the Thunder likely want, and would either team give up a future first rounder for Chandler?

This trade may well not happen, but it’s something to watch.

Report: After not landing Lou Williams, Wizards may target Shabazz Muhammad

GREENBURGH, NY - AUGUST 06:  Shabazz Muhammad #15 of the Minnesota Timberwolves poses for a portrait during the 2013 NBA rookie photo shoot at the MSG Training Center on August 6, 2013 in Greenburgh, New York.  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 Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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The Washington Wizards are thinking about a deep playoff run this season — they are the current three seed in the East, they have the best record in the conference since Dec. 1, and they have a starting five that has been powerful all season and is staying healthy.

What they could use is some bench help to help make that run, which is why the Wizards were linked to the Lakers’ Lou Williams in trade talks. However, Williams is now headed to Houston. So what’s next for the Wizards? They have interest in the Nets forward Bojan Bogdanovic, but instead how about talking to the Timberwolves, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Shabazz Muhammad has shot the three ball better this season than at any point in his career, hitting 41.4 percent but taking just 1.9 shots from deep a game. He’s not a great shooter generally but is more of a physical small forward who would like to post smaller guys up inside and score at the rim. The bigger problem is he is simply not a good defender — ESPN’s real plus-minus has him as 75th among small forwards on defense.

He could step in and give the Wizards a little help in the rotation, but not near as much as Williams. The question is what would the Wizards offer for Muhammad, who is a free agent after this season? A second-round pick is probably the top end, maybe a player they don’t need to balance the salaries gets thrown in.

The Wizards are one of the more active teams trying to land help heading into the trade deadline. There just aren’t a lot of good options left for them.

Report: With Jahlil Okafor trade talk stalled, Sixers could reconsider Nerlens Noel offers

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The trade market for centers heading into the trade deadline isn’t good — there’s a glut of them on the market. If a team wanted a guy to play the five, they could acquire Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Greg Monroe, and some others who are available. Also, the low price the Pelicans paid for DeMarcus Cousins — the best center in the game — has driven down the price.

Which is why the Sixers have had little success moving Jahlil Okafor. They came close with Portland, but the Blazers instead traded Mason Plumlee and a 2018 second round pick to the Denver Nuggets for Jusuf Nurkic and a 2017 first round pick. With Portland off the table, the market seems barren for Okafor.

So the Sixers may think about moving Nerlens Noel more, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said in a recent podcast (hat tip Hoopshype).

“If they can’t get a deal for Okafor done before the deadline, I’m told that it’s possible they’ll start – there are still teams still checking on Noel, re-engaging on him. What complicates it for Noel is that he’s a restricted free agent, and teams want to know ‘what is it going to cost to us to re-sign him’. And it’s going to be a big number.”

Noel fits more with what teams are looking for in a five — he can protect the rim, he has hops, and he can finish around the rim (63.4 percent of his shots come within the restricted area, and he shoots 72 percent on those). He gets most of his offense off cuts or being the roll man — get him the rock near the basket and he’ll do the rest, but he’s not going to create or step out. He provides rim protection in the paint on defense (but if you have a big that can pull him out of the paint it gives him trouble).

There’s also the concern about his injury history.

The question is what the Sixers can get for Noel — it’s not going to be a first-round pick, because if a team wants him that badly they’ll just wait until this summer and try to poach him as a free agent. Come July, the Sixers could be forced to match a contract they don’t love just to avoid losing him for nothing.

Or, Bryan Colangelo can trade Noel for whatever he can get (a couple second rounders, most likely). Which has not been his style in Philly.