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.

Aubrey McClendon used Thunder ownership stake as collateral for loans before death

DUBLIN, OH - MAY 30: Jack Nicklaus (R) stands with Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy Corporation during the Morgan Stanley Pro-Am Invitational at The Memorial Tournament May 30, 2007 in Dublin, Ohio.  (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
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One day after he was indicted for oil and gas conspiracy, Thunder minority owner Aubrey McClendon died in a single-car crash.

Now, his ownership stake could be tied up in court.

Ryan Dezember And Kevin Helliker of The Wall Street Journal:

Collapsing oil prices in late 2014 strained the new oil-and-gas empire he had assembled, and he struggled in his final year to raise more cash to keep it afloat.

Oklahoma records show he had pledged assets as collateral for loans, including his roughly 20% stake of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team, fine wine, investments in tech startups and antique boats.

Lawyers for Mr. McClendon’s creditors have said they think Mr. McClendon, who during his Chesapeake heyday was a billionaire, left behind more debt than assets. The entrepreneur’s debts so far amount to about $500 million, according to Oklahoma probate records.

But Martin Stringer, a lawyer for Mr. McClendon’s estate, said claiming it is insolvent is “incorrect” because “nobody has the facts,” according to a transcript of a May probate court hearing. The value of many assets “depends on commodity prices,” he added.

Mr. McClendon’s creditors, which so far range from Wall Street banks to a former employee to a farm-equipment maker, have until Sept. 16 to file claims.

Clay Bennett remains the Thunder’s controlling owner, so the team will likely remain stable. But there’s still potential for this to get a little messy.

Report: ‘Several executives’ believe Kendall Marshall, to be waived after 76ers-Jazz trade, still belongs in NBA

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 13: Kendall Marshall #5 of the Philadelphia 76ers puts up a shot between Justin Holiday #7 and Bobby Portis #5 of the Chicago Bulls
at the United Center on April 13, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Jazz just traded Tibor Pleiss to the 76ers in a salary dump. Utah gets Kendall Marshall in a procedural move and will waive the point guard whose salary is unguaranteed.

What’s next for Marshall and Pleiss?

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports on Marshall:

several league executives still believe there’s a spot in the league for him as a backup point guard.

Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly:

https://twitter.com/JCameratoCSN/status/769204973846589440

If so many executives believe Marshall belongs in the NBA, he’ll get signed. I have some doubts.

Marshall was curiously undervalued when he was younger and healthier. Now, he’s coming off a dreadful season in Philadelphia. A 2015 torn ACL still raises major doubts about Marshall’s ability to play even tolerable defense. His outside shooting has also regressed after blooming with the Lakers and Bucks.

Still, he’s a plus passer and just 25. He has a chance.

Pleiss is also coming off a lousy year, and he’s even older. He’ll turn 27 in the season’s second week, though he has played only one NBA season – and most of it was in the D-League. The 7-foot-3 Pleiss has plenty of size and a little shooting touch, but the 76ers don’t have playing time behind Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid to develop him. Pleiss likely returns to Europe.

Phil Jackson names biggest mistake with Knicks: Not taking Jae Crowder in Mavericks trade

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 25:  Tim Hardaway Jr. #5 of the New York Knicks and Jae Crowder #99 of the Boston Celtics look on during their game at TD Garden on February 25, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Jae Crowderone of the NBA’s most underrated players – went to the Celtics from the Mavericks in the Rajon Rondo trade (which, in hindsight, should be called the Jae Crowder trade). He then re-signed with Boston on an absurdly cheap contract.

But the Knicks could’ve had him instead.

New York traded Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Mavericks for a package of middling assets in June 2014. One of those middling assets was the No. 34 pick in the upcoming draft. It could’ve been Crowder.

Knicks president Phil Jackson, via Charley Rosen of Today’s Fastbreak:

I think the biggest mistake I made was actually this…One of the first deals I engineered when I came back to New York was to trade Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, plus a second-round pick that the Mavs owed to the Celtics. In talking with Boston, I was given the option of taking that pick or else taking Jae Crowder. I liked Crowder but I thought he wouldn’t get much of a chance to play behind Carmelo, so I took the pick which turned out to be Cleanthony Early. While Cleanthony has missed lots of time in the past two seasons with us, he still has the potential to be a valuable player. Even so, I should have taken Crowder.

I’m not sure what the Celtics had to do with this. Crowder was with Dallas then, and so was the No. 34 pick that became Early (though that selection was originally Boston’s before a 2013 draft-night trade with the Mavericks). Jackson wouldn’t have been negotiating with the Celtics at all. My guess: Rosen got mixed up in his transcription.

Anyway, yeah, that stinks for the Knicks.

This is definitely an after-the-fact critique. Crowder hadn’t come into his own yet.

But he and Carmelo Anthony could’ve played together as combo forwards. The beauty of Crowder’s game is his ability to fit with anyone. So, Jackson’s logic leaves plenty to be desired. Passing on Crowder because an early second-rounder appeared more valuable at the time is far more defensible.

That Early is already out of the league only adds to the sting.

On the bright side, Crowder would’ve made the Knicks better and maybe cost them Kristaps Porzingis – who’s even more valuable than Crowder.

Report: Jazz trade 76ers two second-rounders to take Tibor Pleiss

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Tibor Pleiss #21 of the Utah Jazz controls the ball in the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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You can remove Sam Hinkie from Philadelphia, but you can’t pull the 76ers out of The Process.

Not immediately, at least.

Hinkie slashed payroll so drastically, a spending spree that included Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson and Sergio Rodriguez still left the 76ers with more cap space than they know what to do with. So, Philadelphia is making another Hinkie-esque move – getting draft picks in a salary dump.

The Jazz signed second-rounder Joel Bolomboy, making him their 15th player with a guaranteed 2015-16 salary. Rather than eating Tibor Pleiss‘ salary to make room for Jeff Withey, an NBA-caliber center on an unguaranteed deal, Utah is sending the 76ers draft picks to handle that financial burden.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

https://twitter.com/WojVerticalNBA/status/769180540842811393

Kendall Marshall‘s contract is unguaranteed until Sept. 2. Expect the Jazz to waive him before then. Then, they can keep Withey – or maybe Chris Johnson (unguaranteed) or Marcus Paige (partial guarantee). Utah can make a final determination in the preseason.

The 7-foot-3 Pleiss was drafted with lofty expectations in 2010, and he remained overseas until last season. After acquiring his rights from the Thunder in the Enes Kanter trade, Utah signed Pleiss last summer to a three-year contract that’s fully guaranteed at $3 million this season and has $500,000 of $3.1 million guaranteed next season. But he looked completely overwhelmed during his rookie year, and he’s nearly 27.

Philadelphia already has a logjam at center with Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid. Perhaps, the 76ers take a chance on Pleiss, who’s big and has some shooting touch. But they could easily afford to waive him and eat his salary.

At worst, they got a couple draft picks for their trouble – just like old times.