LeBron James: The Golden Boy No More

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LeBron James came into this league as the most hyped prospect in the history of the NBA. The first three years of his career were little more than a prolonged honeymoon, an open celebration of how good LeBron already was and how good he would someday become. 
The next two years of LeBron’s career were nearly as joyous; by his early 20s, LeBron had already inserted himself into the “best player alive” discussion, and his teams had a puncher’s chance at the NBA Championship. LeBron’s game was still raw in some areas, and Cleveland came up short in the playoffs, but LeBron was still so young.
It was supposed to be just a matter of time until he got the supporting cast that he needed, that he evolved his game to the point where LeBron and his team would become unstoppable. His dominance was always just around the corner, and it was hard not to get excited about it. 
In the 2008-09 season, it looked like LeBron had arrived in all his glory. His supporting cast was upgraded and he evolved his game to the highest possible level. His team had the best record in the NBA, and LeBron strolled to his first MVP award. His coronation seemed moments away, but Dwight Howard and some huge threes from Rashard Lewis kept the Cavs out of the finals, despite an incredible individual series from LeBron. 
It was disappointing, but it was supposed to be a temporary setback. The Cavs added a veteran frontline built to handle Howard and Lewis, James somehow turned in a better regular-season campaign than he had in 08-09, and it was finally time for LeBron James to win his first year in the last year of his contract. 
Obviously, that wasn’t what happened, and all of a sudden there was no getting around the truth: LeBron James had failed. He had all the tools to win a championship at his disposal, and he ended up failing miserably. LeBron James was supposed to be the next golden boy of the NBA. He will never be that player, and that would have been true regardless of what team LeBron decided to go to. LeBron James, Golden Boy died the moment LeBron lost to the Celtics in this year’s playoffs. The decision LeBron made on Thursday night was nothing more than LeBron’s acknowledgement of that reality. 
For the first seven years of his career, LeBron James desperately wanted to be all things to all people. He wanted to be the hometown kid who loved his town, loved his mom, but could still be a global icon. He wanted to be a team-first player while also establishing himself as a dominant individual force. He wanted to be a goofy kid and the NBA’s big man on campus. After he failed to deliver a championship, his all-encompassing persona didn’t work for anybody anymore. You can’t please everybody all the time, especially if you don’t have a championship. Somewhere along the line, LeBron realized that. 
LeBron James will never become the undisputed darling of the NBA, the way so many thought he would someday become. LeBron never had much of a cult of personality — a quick look around message boards, LeBron’s FaceBook page, or any comment section will reveal that LeBron is now flat-out reviled by the vast majority of serious NBA fans. 
He will never experience the pure joy of bringing his hometown its first championship in a major sport since 1964. If he does win a championship, or even several championships, some people will always remember that he needed Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to get him one. He might win, but it won’t trigger the kind of mass celebration that it would have before. If he wins now, it will have been on his own terms. 
History, especially in the world of sports, is the propaganda of the victors. LeBron said all the right things after he came into the NBA. He played at an incredibly high level for seven regular seasons, and won the last two MVP awards easily. He stayed in his hometown and tried to bring the Cavaliers a championship. He was effective, exciting, creative, and explosive on the court. When he failed to win championships, none of that mattered. He was a failure, and all his previous achievements just gave him a higher pedestal to fall from. 
Trying to do things the right way and losing didn’t work out for LeBron. Now he’s going to take a crack at doing things the wrong way and giving himself a better chance to win a championship. After the Eagle Rock incident and Shaq’s departure, Kobe Bryant didn’t try and be the golden boy he was when he was younger. He starred in a “Love Me or Hate Me” ad campaign. He embraced his inner ruthlessness on the court. 
Kobe didn’t mind being disliked, so long as he wasn’t disrespected. He didn’t try to force his way back into anyone’s good graces.  He just played his game, waited his turn, and eventually got a great supporting cast and two more rings. Today, Kobe Bryant is more respected and beloved than he ever has been before. He still has his detractors, but one gets the feeling he doesn’t care much about them. 
On Thursday, LeBron James took a major step towards embracing his own ruthlessness. He did it during a ridiculous ESPN special while cracking jokes with Jim Gray, thanking his Mom, and donating money to charity, but the message stayed the same: Love Me or Hate Me, my friends and I are going to try and take over this league. 

LeBron James has left his hometown, and did it during a one-hour television special celebrating his move to greener pastures. He is trying to take the easy way to a championship. He’s given up his hometown and his undisputed alpha dog status in order to give himself an easier path to the rings he was supposedly destined to earned. He is a quitter. He is an egomaniac. He is every bad thing that you want him to be. 
The thing is, LeBron James knows that none of that will matter if he becomes in Miami what he never became in Cleveland: a Champion. He doesn’t care about doing it the right way anymore. He just wants to get it done, and let the opinions fall where they may. LeBron James is no longer interested in winning your approval. He knows that if he wins championships, the fans will come to him, no matter what they’re saying about him now. Of course, if LeBron doesn’t win a championship with his new superteam, the backlash he’s feeling now will seem like nothing at all. LeBron had better get to work now, because he’s cast aside whatever safety net he had left under him. 

Mavericks waive Deron Williams, he’s expected to sign in Cleveland as free agent

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 01:  Deron Williams #8 of the Dallas Mavericks brings the ball down the floor against the Charlotte Hornets during their game at Spectrum Center on December 1, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Hey LeBron James, here’s your backup point guard.

The Cavaliers cleared out a roster spot a couple of weeks ago letting Chris Andersen go, that was all about creating a space for a quality player waived by another team to come in.

How about Deron Williams? The Dallas Mavericks waived him just after the deadline passed on Thursday, the team announced.

Multiple reports say that once he clears waivers, he plans to sign with the Cavaliers.

It makes sense, Williams gets to contend for a title and will make a lot of playoff money with the run the Cavaliers make to the Finals (more than $300,000 if they get that far).

At age 32, Williams has accepted a smaller role and evolved from elite into a solid NBA point guard, averaging 13.1 points and 6.8 assists per game this season and shooting 34.8 percent from three. He’s more a floor general than a dynamic scorer anymore, and he’s not a great defender, but he will be perfect in the 15-20 minutes a night he has to play with Kyrie Irving resting.

Cleveland also is expected to make a run at landing Andrew Bogut, who the Sixers will waive in the coming day.

Celtics, Nuggets, others make runs but Paul George still a Pacer. For now.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers in action during the NBA match between Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena on January 12, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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During the All-Star weekend in New Orleans, an at times frustrated Paul George sat down with the Pacers ownership and front office and told them, in so many words, “I want to be a Pacer for life, but only if we can build a team that can contend for a title.”

Fans from Los Angeles to Boston only seemed to hear the second part of that, then when the trade rumors started to fly people were convinced he was on the move.

The Pacers focused on the first part of that sentence. Which is why he’s still a Pacer tonight.

Indiana went out and kicked the tires on deals, talking to a lot of teams. We know Boston came hard because this was the first time they have put one of their prized Brooklyn picks the next two seasons on the table.

The Hawks were trying.

Denver wants to make a run at the big time — remember they came hard at Dwyane Wade last summer — and they made a run at George.

Although, this would have gotten Denver to back off.

Those teams were not alone, but in the end, the Pacers passed on all of it.

Why? Because they heard the first part of that sentence above — they love Paul George and want him to be their cornerstone. They listened to offers, not nothing rose to the Godfather offer level it was going to have to for the Pacers to deal away their star and start a massive rebuilding project around Myles Turner.

That said, this conversation is not over.

Only two things will keep Paul George in Indiana past his free agency of 2018 (and if he leaves then his hometown Lakers are seen as a clear, runaway favorite). First, Larry Bird is able to build a contender around George in the next year. Not impossible, but highly unlikely.

The other is that George makes an All-NBA team this season, if that happens, the Pacers can offer him the “designated player” larger contract, around $210 million over five years (and $30 million more than he could make anywhere else). George may have frustrations and issues in Indiana, but he’s not leaving that cash on the table.

If George is not an All-NBA player this year (he’s on the bubble, but likely just outside the list with the top six forwards), and if Bird cannot quickly construct a contender, then the Pacers have to revisit these trades and try to get something back for their star.

They just weren’t ready to go there on Thursday.

Rumor: J.J. Redick has also already committed to re-signing with Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4) reacts after making a 3-point shot during the overtime period of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets in Los Angeles, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. The Clippers won 140-132 in overtime. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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The Clippers face a make-or-break offseason.

It seems they might have already handled their major business.

Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have reportedly already agreed to re-sign. Now, it seems L.A.’s third major unrestricted free agent – J.J. Redick – might also be staying.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

there is a belief that Redick already has committed to re-sign in July. Like Griffin and Paul, Redick is viewed as a core piece, and while his $7.3 million price tag is likely going way up, there is a belief that Rivers and the Clippers are ready to pay it.

The capped-out Clippers will have no mechanism to adequately replace Redick if they re-sign Paul and Griffin. Exceeding the cap to re-sign Redick is the only feasible path to maintaining contender status – a must with Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in place.

If Redick agreed this early to re-sign, that suggests he’s not going to extract every penny he can from the Clippers or that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is willing to spend big. Redick really could have put the screws to the Clippers by playing hardball through free agency.

His leverage due simply to the Clippers’ cap situation would have been immense, but the rest of the league would have also provided a safety net. The 3-and-D skills that make Redick valuable to the Clippers would help any team.

All this said, Redick – and Paul and Griffin – can’t re-sign until July. No matter their intent today, there’s plenty of time for these deals to fall apart.

But the Clippers having assurances from all three to stay would be a big deal.

Report: Raptors acquire P.J. Tucker from Suns for Jared Sullinger, second round picks

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The Toronto Raptors went into the last few weeks in a slump on the court and with the need to improve at the forward slot if they had any dreams of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals again.

Then the Raptors added Serge Ibaka.

Now they have added P.J. Tucker from the Suns to the mix, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

This is a strong move for Toronto. Tucker is a physical guy who can play the three or the four, and he brings a strong defensive presence to the court — he is statistically one of the better defending small forwards in the league this season. He and DeMarre Carroll can give the Raptors a needed boost on that end, and Tucker is going to be great as a defensive matchup in certain playoff situations.

Toronto has made its move — first they hope to get back up to the two or three seed in the East (and avoid Cleveland in the second round). Then to make a stronger run at Cleveland in the conference finals — remember they took the Cavs six games last year.

What the Suns wanted was the picks. Sullinger is a solid player who can step into their rotation now, but is a downgrade — especially defensively — from Tucker. What the Suns start doing is looking for draft steals they can find in the second round.