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.

Assistant coach: Kevin Durant ‘jealous’ of Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan relationship

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08: Kevin Durant #5, Kyle Lowry #7 and Demar DeRozan #9 of United States celebrate as Jhon Cox #6 of Venezuela  looks on during the Men's Priliminary Round between the United States and Venezuela on Day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Anything positive Kevin Durant says about the Warriors is interpreted as an insult to Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.

So, Durant has gone out of his way to praise Oklahoma City lately.

But he can’t control the messaging of Rex Kalamian, a Raptors assistant coach who previously worked for the Thunder.

Kalamian relayed a text from Durant about his experience playing with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan on Team USA in the Olympics.

Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star:

“Your two guys are the best. I’m jealous of their relationship, the way they get along with each other and the way they play together. The way they enjoy each other, it’s great,” Kalamian said of that text on Monday, as the Raptors finished up their practice. Durant, all the way from the Olympics in Rio, was in awe of the friendship that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan had on display with the U.S. men’s basketball team.

“I think it’s kind of what he wants,” Kalamian continued. “He wants that bond with someone . . . and I think he’s going to find that.

“Early on in OKC, we had that.”

“We had that (bond) really with James Harden. He was a connector of everyone. He brought Westbrook, Durant and (Serge) Ibaka and they all kind of connected, they all came together,” Kalamian said.

“James is a big reason and when he left I think Kevin said . . . that trade was the beginning of the end for him and now there wasn’t that connection as much.

“Kevin and Russell, they respect the heck out of each other, no question about it. They played well together, they work well together, they communicate, but I think the connection was lost a little bit for whatever reason.”

This will absolutely be interpreted as shot at Westbrook, and that’s not fair. Lowry and DeRozan share a quirky, trusting and sincere friendship. Even with deep bonds with their current coworkers, who wouldn’t be jealous of that?

Now, there are real signs of fray between Durant and Westbrook. Even if Durant’s text doesn’t necessarily implicitly refer to Westbrook, it might.

Maybe losing James Harden caused problems between Durant and Westbrook. Beyond his ability to – as Kalamian put it – connect, Harden also made the Thunder better. Winning cures all ills.

Durant will win plenty with the Warriors. That will smooth any rough edges in his friendships with Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and everyone else.

But even if Durant has all his dreams come true in Golden State, he can remain jealous of Lowry and DeRozan. Their connection seems special.

Warriors embrace villainy in hilarious cartoon (video)

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors joke around while they pose for NBA team photographer Noah Graham during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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I find most of these corny, but “Super Team: A Warriors Musical” is fantastic.

Obviously, Draymond Green‘s character provides plenty of comedy. But the entire roster – from Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant to even Ian Clark – is used in the gags.

The breakout stars: Klay Thompson and Rocco.

Well done, Bleacher Report:

D-League implements three experimental rules

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 24:  Referees review a play prior to ejecting Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks from the game for a flagrant foul in the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 24, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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None of these are as dramatic as the international goaltending rule, but the NBA continues to wisely use the D-League for rule experimentation.

The new rules for this year:

  • Each team will be entitled to a “Reset Timeout” in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter and final two minutes of any overtime period.  “Reset Timeouts” do not allow teams to huddle, but otherwise mirror standard timeouts, allowing teams to advance the ball (when applicable) and make unlimited substitutions.  If either team huddles or prevents the ball from immediately being put back into play, it will result in a delay of game being issued to the offending team.  The “Reset Timeout” replaces the “Advance Rule” which had been used in the NBA D-League the past two seasons.


  • The 24-second clock will reset to 14 seconds after an offensive rebound or when the offensive team otherwise is the first team to retain possession after the ball contacts the rim.


  • A 75-second limit on the duration of instant replay reviews has been implemented, except in circumstances where the review is for a hostile act or altercation, could lead to an ejection, there is a technical equipment problem or other atypical circumstances.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford pitched the “Reset Timeout.” I like it.

I’m pretty ambivalent on a 14-second reset after an offensive rebound. But why 14 seconds? If eight seconds are allotted to bring the ball up court, shouldn’t it reset to 16 seconds? It seems this is a continuation of a rule created when teams had 10 seconds to bring the ball upcourt.

I dislike the hard replay time limit. Replays should generally be faster, but if it occasionally requires more time to get the right call, so what? Those first 75 seconds are a sunk cost.

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)
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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.