Brian Windhorst was the MVP of sports media from the time the NBA season ended, right up through the first two weeks of July (and going strong). The beat reporter for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer has been following LeBron James since he was in puberty, following the prolific modern athlete through high school, his decision to go pro, his drafting by the Cavs, his early development, the first time the Cavs made the playoffs, their run to the Finals, and their subsequent repeated heartbreaks.
He was caught off guard by how quickly James’ demeanor changed once free agency started. He followed the process, all the while being open and honest about the information he received from his sources. And now, with the star-athlete he’s followed for a decade having abandoned his home state, Windhorst has laid out how this all went down.
And it’s not pretty.
Saturday, Windhorst released an article for the Plain-Dealer outlining the exact process from 2006 in the World Championships in Japan to signing-day on Friday in Miami, how the Heat were able to put together a team of three superstars.
Just in case you’re finding it hard to come up with reasons to click through, here are a few gems:
- Team USA played a huge part in this, as their experiences being together, playing together, and talking were what first brought the idea to them.
- The Knicks were primarily the ones who planted the possibility in Riley’s head and laid out the path to creating the cap room necessarily to pull this off.
- Riley set up a meeting between James and Michael Jordan last November, and talked about how modern players should “pay homage to Jordan.” That was the same night James announced he was switching jersey numbers out of respect. Riley had influence, as much as nine months ago.
- Wade went to meet with James and Bosh the last week of June to sell them on this idea. That would be the week before free agency started, when Wade was still a member of the Miami Heat, basically recruiting them to come to his team. The word you’re looking for is tampering.
- Most interesting from that visit, Windhorst reports that Wade was discouraged from making this pitch by Commissioner David Stern. With the way things have gone down, there has to be discussion of whether or not we’ll be seeing tampering charges brought upon the Heat.
- James was offered the same preferential treatment for him and his friends that he was given in Cleveland, so you can expect the same kind of crony-ism to continue.
- Windhorst also reports on why the Bulls and Knicks didn’t land James, which are predictable but still interesting.
For Cleveland fans, it just adds to the feeling of being duped by James and drives the dagger deeper (at this point, the handle’s pretty much inside their heart, much less the blade). For the rest of the world, it shows that these three were serious from the beginning, about controlling their own fate, and manipulating events to bring about what they wanted, the chance to play together.
A good old fashioned conspiracy. Even in the modern era.
LeBron James is already there. So is Kevin Durant. Same with a lot of other old-school GMs and coaches around the league.
Their response to the rapid rise in hack-a-player (shouldn’t it always be hack-a-Shaq?) instances is “tell the guy to hit the free throws.”
Add Kobe Bryant to their ranks, reports Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is starting to feel differently. He realizes he runs an entertainment business and a parade of guys to the free throw line without because of a non-basketball play — you can’t begin to tell me fouling a guy 50 feet from the ball is a basketball play in the spirit of the rules — is bad for that business. It is unwatchable. And while every coach in the NBA “I hate to do it” they all do it with more and more frequency, there will be more than twice as many instances this season as there were a year ago, with more and more players involved. Because it works, and because they are paid to win, not play beautiful basketball.
Change is coming. Old-school types always bemoan change, and that’s not just a basketball thing. But the rest of the world has rules in place to stop this because they realize it’s not basketball, it’s gaming the system. And it needs to change.
On this play the Sacramento Kings played defense like only they can — and you wonder why George Karl’s job is in danger — and gave Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov a wide-open lane right down the middle for an easy dunk.
LeBron James had a triple-double (the 40th of his career) and the Cavaliers got a needed easy win, but this is the play you’ll remember.
Karl-Anthony Towns is a beast.
While the Timberwolves have plenty of question marks around him, but Towns has been exceptional. Coming into Monday night, he was averaging 21.6 points (on 59.9 percent shooting) and 12.7 rebounds a night in his last 10 games.
Then Monday he did that to Dante Cunningham.
The Pelicans went on to win the game 116-102, but Towns continues to play well.
The summer of 2016 is all about Kevin Durant — and we don’t know what Durant is going to do as a free agent because Durant doesn’t yet know what Durant is going to do as a free agent. Stay in Oklahoma City, bolt to the Bay Area or maybe Washington D.C.? These playoffs, meetings with teams and his advisors, plus personal factors all will play a role in Durant’s decision. Which he will get around to announcing in early July sometime.
But the sense around the league is that while Durant may very well stay in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook was drawn to the bright lights of big markets. If an elite player were to bolt OKC, this was the more likely guy. Westbrook is a free agent in 2017.
In an article about Phil Jackson and the Knicks in the wake of Derek Fisher’s firing, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the Knicks have a real shot at Westbrook in a couple of summers.
The Knicks have a real chance to sell Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in 2017 – New York and Porzingis have his attention, yes – and Jackson ought to start constructing an elite coaching staff to begin that process with Westbrook and with free agents beyond him.
Come 2017, expect Westbrook to meet with a number of big market teams on both coasts, and then make a decision. The summer of 2017 is a couple of NBA lifetimes away, it’s impossible to say what Westbrook will do (he may well decide to stay in OKC if they win enough), but the big market teams looking for a star will get their turn in the batter’s box.
Which is why I still think Durant signs a 1+1 deal this summer to stay in Oklahoma City for another season — he’s going to give everything another chance to come together for the Thunder, then when the salary cap is at its peak in 2017 (an estimated $108 million) he makes his peak seasons decision. He and Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will all be free agents at the same time, and they can make their calls.
And the Knicks could be involved in all of it.