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.
The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.
So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:
The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.
The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.
For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.
But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.
Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.
The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.
Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.
It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.
Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.
Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:
“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:
“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?
“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”
On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.