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. 

Rajon Rondo reportedly threw towel toward Bulls assistant during game, and they fedued more after

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 10: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Chicago Bulls gestures during the first half of the game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on November 10, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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The Bulls suspended Rajon Rondo for tonight’s game against the Trail Blazers for conduct detrimental to the team.

But what does that really mean?

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Rondo had an emotional exchange with an assistant coach during and after Saturday’s loss to the Mavericks, according to a source. One source said Rondo threw a towel in the direction of associate head coach Jim Boylen during the game and the situation escalated postgame.

Rondo has already apologized to the coaching staff and his teammates, the source said. He met with coach Fred Hoiberg on Sunday and also attended a team function that day.

Rondo has long been notoriously difficult to coach. That reputation has only intensified in recent years as his play has declined, which is probably not a coincidence. Struggling on the court – Rondo had two points, two assists and five turnovers against Dallas – will only lead to frustration. Plus, tolerance for players acting out exists on a sliding scale with their ability.

But it’s also worth noting teammate Jimmy Butler and coach Fred Hoiberg continue to speak positively about Rondo:

Butler said following Monday’s shootaround that Rondo “has been great” during his stint with the Bulls.

“I think this is just another bump in the road,” Butler said. “He’s a phenomenal damn teammate and I back him on everything.

Hoiberg refused to get into details about the suspension but echoed Butler’s opinion on Rondo’s stint with the Bulls.

“Rajon, as we’ve all said, has been great,” Hoiberg said. “A great teammate. I’ve enjoyed the relationship that we developed, and … it’s not going to change moving forward.’’

This could explain why Rondo got a one-game suspension for throwing a towel at a coach when Markieff Morris, who was already feuding with the Suns, got two games just last year (as could the fact that Chicago is not Phoenix and can administer discipline differently).

Player-coach feuds happen over a long season. The reaction is often telling. Some get ignored. Some result in suspensions.

The Bulls are treating this like an isolated incident from an otherwise model player – but a situation serious enough to warrant a suspension. Rondo will eventually prove that approach right or wrong.

Matt Barnes’ rep says Kings forward acted in self-defense in nightclub fight

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 27:  Matt Barnes #22 of the Sacramento Kings looks to pass the ball against the San Antonio Spurs during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game at Golden 1 Center on October 27, 2016 in Sacramento, 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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New York police reportedly want to question Kings forward Matt Barnes over a nightclub fight early this morning.

What happened between Barnes, teammate DeMarcus Cousins and other clubgoers?

TMZ:

A rep for the NBA star tells us … Barnes was having a good time at Avenue Nightclub with his teammate, DeMarcus Cousins, when he went to sit at his VIP booth and accidentally “butt bumped” a woman who was at the next booth over.

Barnes claims the woman reacted by slapping him in the face, hard — and that’s when all hell broke loose.

Barnes claims the woman’s crew — which included several men — jumped in and began to get violent. Barnes was knocked to the ground in the melee and one of the men began to choke him.

We’re told Barnes got physical in an effort to protect himself. Cousins also jumped in to defend Barnes.

We spoke with  Barnes’ attorney Alex Spiro who tells us, “We do not believe a crime was committed and are hopeful no charges will be pressed.”

By this telling, it sounds as if a crime was committed – with Barnes as the victim. I have no idea whether this account is accurate – what else would Barnes’ representation say? – and it’s reasonable for Barnes not to desire charges even against the other side. But it’s a little strange to hear Barnes’ lawyer give the other side such a quick reprieve while Barnes’ camp circulates this story of Barnes as a clear victim.

Bulls suspend Rajon Rondo for Trail Blazers game

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 09:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Chicago Bulls looks on from the bench in the final minutes of their 115-107 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 9, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Starting for an injured Rajon Rondo, Jerian Grant had 18 points and five steals in the Bulls’  25-point win against the Trail Blazers last month.

Grant will likely get another crack to start against Portland tonight.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

Chicago’s net rating with each starter on the court is lowest with Rondo:

But I doubt that’s the detrimental conduct the Bulls are referring to.

Chicago’s other starters have been dynamite with Grant instead of Rondo, outscoring opponents by 28 points per 100 possessions (relative to +10.6 with Rondo, still a robust mark). That’s a small sample with Grant, but we’ll get another opportunity to learn how this team meshes without Rondo.

Remember, though it started with a team-imposed one-game suspension, the Mavericks eventually told Rondo to stay away.

DeMarcus Cousins pushes handsy Joakim Noah (video)

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Joakim Noah kept his hands on DeMarcus Cousins after getting called for a foul, and that – and/or the Kings heading toward their third straight loss – agitated Cousins into pushing the Knicks center.

Remember, Cousins and Noah have a history.