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.

Why Stephen Curry’s new low-top shoes don’t mean more danger to his ankles

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Stephen Curry‘s new shoes, the Under Armour Curry 5 low, will see the floor underneath the Golden State Warriors star for the first time. According to ESPN’s Chris Haynes, Curry isn’t worried about ankle support.

“It is kind of ironic that I made the switch this season considering my ankle issues, but this shoe is stable and engineered to maximize my performance,” Curry told ESPN. “I will still wear my ankle braces, but I have total comfort and security in my new shoe.”

Well there you have it. Curry is confident, but no doubt some fans will be wondering whether wearing low tops are the right move for a player with a history of ankle injuries. Especially when that player is a 2-time MVP and perhaps the most important guy on the Warriors roster.

So, should you be worried about those low-top shoes affecting Curry’s ankle? In short: no.

There’s been several medical studies released over the years regarding the benefit of high tops vs. low tops when it comes to ankle support. Long before Kobe Bryant made it popular to have a low-top signature shoe, the question of high and low was being raised.

The issue at hand is what the studies call “ankle inversion” — strains of the outer ligaments of the foot. One study published in 2000 by researchers at BYU in the Journal of Athletic Training suggested that high tops were more effective in limiting inversion, but that susceptibility to injuries also depended on the type of load exerted, among other factors. In short, it wasn’t definitively conclusive.

Other studies have actually contradicted the BYU findings. In 1994 a study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that, “There is no strong relationship between shoe type and ankle sprains.”

Likewise, the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists (UK) published a paper in 2008 saying that high-top shoes may actually hurt your ability to keep your ankle healthy and may have a, “Detrimental effect on establishing and maintaining functional ankle joint stability.”

Over at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Sara Lyn Miniaci-Coxhead says the best way to prevent ankle inversion is, “Strong muscles on the outside of the foot.” Dr. Miniaci-Coxhead adds that, “Wearing high-top shoes can cause these muscles to activate later and be less effective.”

So, there you have it. Clear as mud. While common sense might tell you that firm ankle support can lead to fewer turned ankles, the actual medical and university studies on the matter aren’t so sure. There’s certainly not a consensus.

That brings us back to Curry. It’s hard to say that Curry needs to wear high-top shoes, and not only because medical science can’t quite seem to agree that it’s the best preventative measure. That’s because at the time of his last injury, Curry was already wearing high-top shoes with ankle braces.

Those braces, by the way, are what Curry will continue to wear. And if we can take his prior routines as evidence, there seems to be some context to suggest that Curry has done and will continue to do all he can along his kinetic chain to prevent further injury. Curry famously does band warm-ups before a game, and that type of muscle activation from my admittedly untrained eye seems to suggest he works on strengthening and loosening many muscles in his legs rather than relying on staunch support of braces.

Ankle injuries are what they are: accidents. Curry wearing low-top shoes isn’t going to make him more likely to have another ankle injury — his injury history and aching soft tissues will do that.

It’s still possible that Curry rolls his ankle again, not just because of this history but because we don’t know the dynamics of the new shoe. A lot goes into making a shoe safe for play, including traction, stability, and materials. But the sole fact the Curry 5s are low tops doesn’t necessarily mean more danger to the former MVP.

Honestly, my only problem with Steph wearing a low-top shoe? It looks like a damn sock.


A post shared by SneakerJamz (@sneakerjamz) on

Oh well. Better than the Chefs, I guess.

Feel better, champ. The Warriors need you.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s dunk get blocked by Anthony Davis (VIDEO)


Lonzo Ball isn’t known for dunking. Heck, he’s not even known for being that aggressive toward the rim. But Thursday night against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Los Angeles Lakers rookie got a little gutsy.

Early in the second quarter, Ball found his way to the right side of the lane on a pick-and-roll. LA’s screener slipped early, and the rest of the Lakers were spread out across the 3-point line.

That left Ball driving toward the basket with nobody standing in the paint. Seeing an opportunity, Ball went up securely with two hands to flush the bucket.

However, Anthony Davis had other ideas.

Via Twitter:

I’m actually all for this decision-making. Ball can sometimes be too deferential to his teammates. Going up against Davis, however, is not a good way to end the play. Isaiah Thomas was sprinting to the far corner, and a pass to him would have been the correct choice.

Fun block, though.

Through unpredictable season for Spurs, Popovich remains steady

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Gregg Popovich is not changing how he coaches, not after 22 seasons leading the Spurs.

The NBA’s most tenured steward is always going to focus on defense. He’s always going to dismiss talk of his brilliance because “it’s just basketball.” And he’s not going to overwork his players even though an unprecedented rash of injuries has the Spurs battling for their playoff lives for the first time in two decades.

“At this point, he’s not changing,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s a formula that has worked quite well. They have great veteran leadership and they pass it along to the young guys. You see the young guys are growing. That’s why they’re so good.”

They’re not as good as they have been, but their impressive success this year is a testament to Popovich.

San Antonio has been without MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard for all but nine games this season and Tony Parker, Rudy Gay and Danny Green have all missed significant time with various injuries. In all, the Spurs have missed 165 games as a team while battling everything from sprained MCLs to fractured wrists.

The injuries haven’t dramatically altered how Popovich manages the 82-game regular season.

“I think Pop did a great job overall, it’s not easy,” Parker said. “It was a tough one for him this year. Since I’ve been here, we have never had that many injuries. So, Pop did the best he could and I think overall he did a good job.”

Aside from All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, no Spurs player is averaging more than 28 minutes per game and veterans Parker and Manu Ginobili are averaging 20 minutes per game. Popovich has also been able to sit Aldridge, Ginobili and Pau Gasol for rest during the season.

Popovich was among the first coaches to sit players for rest rather than injury. He opted to keep Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Green at home rather than have them play at Miami on Nov. 30, 2012. The action resulted in a $250,000 fine and sharp rebuke from then NBA Commissioner David Stern. The NBA changed its rules to allow teams to rest its players, but only if they listed in a timely manner who would be resting on their injury reports.

Popovich doesn’t have the firepower to repeat that mass seating now.

“It was hard to rest guys, limit guys’ minutes,” Green said. “We had some guys come back from injuries, that’s when he limited some of the guys’ minutes.”

But Popovich still has made sure players received their needed rest.

The 40-year-old Ginobili has provided the Spurs with a needed lift this month after sitting out eight games to rest. In Wednesday’s victory over Washington, Ginobili outran 31-year-old Ramon Sessions to a loose ball and then dove on it to save the possession.

“It just tells you that nobody has an excuse not to do it,” 37-year-old center Pau Gasol said of Ginobili’s hustle. “A 40-year-old does it, what about a 25 or 30 or 35 or 37 year old?”

Parker has not sat out any games for rest, but he did miss the first 19 games of the season after recovering from left quadriceps tendon surgery. Even before he lost his starting position to Dejounte Murray, Parker has spent a lot of time on the bench. Not that Parker has enjoyed the time off the court.

“For me personally, I’m just trying to get back to 100 percent it was almost too much rest,” Parker said. “I wish I had played more games, but it is what it is. Other guys, I hope they feel fresher. We’re going to need it.”

While Parker may not enjoy the rest, it seems to be paying off.

The Spurs have won five straight after losing eight of 11 games to drop into 10th place in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs. San Antonio was in sixth place, one-half game behind Oklahoma City.

The Spurs recently beat a short-handed Golden State team by 14 points. The Spurs played with energy that they haven’t shown since early in the season when they were third in the West.

That should help then down the stretch, and possibly into the playoffs. Being rested, healthy and playing good defense is a recipe that has yielded five championships in Popovich’s tenure and extended the careers of franchise stalwarts like Tim Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.

“Everybody’s bringing the juice,” Murray said. “We’re playing together on offense. I just feel like there’s more juice on defense. As I always say, defense, we’ve all got to be on the same page and be hungry and greedy on `D.’ We’ve got to keep going, we can’t get comfortable.”


Giannis Antetokounmpo to tell his story on 60 Minutes this week (preview clip)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo grew up hocking wares — clothes, sunglasses, whatever — on the streets of Athens, Greece. He easily could still be living there, the tallest salesman in a poor part of a country with high unemployment and real challenges.

Instead, he is a multimillionaire living comfortably in the United States, and is one of the 10 best basketball players in the world — and still improving. In a few years we may well be saying he is the best player on the planet.

Antetokounmpo will be telling his story on the legendary television news magazine 60 Minutes this week, and the show released a clip. Check it out.