LeBron James commercial

Is LeBron’s new commercial the right move?

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The latest Nike/Weiden and Kennedy/LeBron ad was widely considered a triumph, and I’ll admit that there’s a lot about it that can be admired. It deals with the elephant in the room, and it strikes a decent balance between self-deprecation and self-pity. It’s funny and honest, the “what should I do” line functions as an earnest plea and a defiant statement, and the Charles Barkley bit is all but perfect.

That said, I still don’t think the ad was the right way to begin LeBron’s “rehabilitation.” As well-done as the ad was, it was still a return to an event that LeBron will have to someday put behind him. Every time we talk about LeBron James, architect of “The Decision,” former son of Ohio, and official Controversial Person instead of LeBron James, the basketball player and reigning two-time MVP, his brand takes another hit.

As Don Draper would say: if you don’t like what they’re saying about you, change the conversation. There are probably millions of people nicer or humbler than LeBron James. Only a handful of people have ever played basketball at the level LeBron is capable of playing it at. That will always be what’s really important about LeBron, and the sooner LeBron people reminds people of that, the better.

Like Crash Davis told Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham, it really does always come down to performance: win 20 games in the show, having fungus on your shower sandals is quirky. Until you do that, it’s just gross. When a player exceeds the expectations people have of him, his quirks or lack of quirks are praised. When he fails to meet them, they’re attacked. Players who win because they have “quiet confidence,” led by example, or are exceedingly humble lose because they were too passive, or scared of the big moment. Players who won because they were “vocal leaders,” had “swagger,” or elevated their team’s level of play with the force of their personality lose because they lacked focus, or didn’t take the game seriously enough. Sports fans are willing to cut endless amounts of slack to athletes who perform, and have no love for those who don’t. That’s how it is, and yet we continue to pretend otherwise.

If you want to see an example of what I’m talking about w/r/t “changing the conversation,” check out this Weiden and Kennedy production from 2006 (and yes, I realize I’m far from the only person to connect these two ads).

A few points:

1. That ad came out in February of 2006, which was a fair amount of time after Kobe was accused of sexual assault and Shaq may or may not have left town because Kobe told the Laker front office that he wouldn’t re-sign with the team unless Shaq was traded first. (Before people start yelling, remember that a lot of people actually resented Kobe for the latter alleged deed more than they resented him for the former one, and almost everyone believed that Kobe had a lot to do with Shaq leaving. There’s been some revisionist history on this, but at the time Phil Jackson had a book out saying that Kobe made the Lakers choose between trading Shaq and losing him in free agency. A lot of people believed this.)

2. Remember that both of Kobe’s (possible) transgressions happened behind closed doors — nobody really knows what happened in that hotel room, and very few people really know why Shaq had to leave town. Everyone knows exactly what happened with “The Decision,” because, you know, it was on television. It’s a lot easier to forgive something we never actually saw happen in the first place. (Counter-point to this: Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson both found success and cults of personality after the Palace Brawl, and there was very little ambiguity about what happened there. Again, play well for a team that exceeds expectations and things tend to work themselves out.)

3. Again, look at how that ad changes the conversation. This ad came out when Kobe was scoring around 35 points a game for a middling playoff contender and people were wondering whether his biggest problem was ball-hogging, and Nike ran with that as fast as they could and set up that narrative. The commercial makes the conversation about basketball — there’s no option for “I really like your game on every conceivable level, and think your style of play is the right fit for your team as it currently stands, but remain uneasy about exactly what happened in Colorado and think you had a significant role in making Shaq leave town.” Love my game, hate my game. Kobe’s back on the top of the hill now, and while that ad wasn’t as significant as, say, the Gasol trade, it was a heck of a first step.

It’s very hard for us to admit that we were wrong about somebody. It’s very easy for us to believe that somebody changed. At this point, I don’t think fans would forgive “The Decision” if it was revealed that the only way a nuclear way could be prevented was for Jim Gray to be somehow involved in LeBron’s free agency decision. But if LeBron gives us something, anything different to go on and wins a championship with the Heat, we’ll fall over ourselves to talk about the “New LeBron” — heck, LeBron 2.0 could pick up momentum if the heat start the season 20-4 and LeBron makes lots of serious faces. If LeBron moves forward, he’ll be fine as long as he doesn’t come up short again on the court. But if he keeps going back to “The Decision” for forgiveness, understanding, or simply to have his apology accepted, his reputation is just going to continue to take a beating.

Report: Jimmer Fredette, playing in China, engaging NBA teams on March return

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 22:  Jimmer Fredette #32 of the New York Knicks in action against the Toronto Raptors during their game at Madison Square Garden on February 22, 2016 in New York City.  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 Al Bello/Getty Images)
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It has been six years since Jimmer Fredette entered the NBA with a cult following out of BYU. After five lackluster NBA seasons, will he get a sixth?

His play in China has generated buzz among those already inclined to support him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Errick McCollum is averaging more points per game in the Chinese Basketball Association and taking fewer shots than Fredette. Also averaging 30 points per game in China: MarShon Brooks, Jared Cunningham, Jabari Brown, Jamaal Franklin, Lester Hudson, Darius Adams and Dominique Jones.

In other words, a bunch of borderline NBA players who most likely belong outside the top league.

That includes Fredette, whose selfish style doesn’t lend itself to the smaller role he’d likely have to fill in the NBA.

It takes only one team to take a chance on Fredette, but I wouldn’t bank on immediate help or upside from the 28-year-old.

Report: Jim Buss initially promised to fix Lakers in only one year before being talked into three-year pledge

Los Angeles Lakers part-owner Jim Buss attends a news conference held to introduce the team's new draft picks, Monday, June 29, 2015, in El Segundo, Calif.  (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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The Lakers mercifully ended Jim Buss’ lousy tenure as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, promoting Magic Johnson to run the front office.

Maybe it could have happened sooner if his siblings just listened to him in the first place.

After the 2013-14 season, Jim pledged to re-sign if the Lakers weren’t “contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship … in three to four years.”

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Jim’s much-publicized promise to step down within three years—meaning this year—if the Lakers weren’t “in contention” was not what he originally said, according to sources close to the family.

When Jeanie asked Jim what they could do to hold him accountable, what Jim actually said first was:

“I only need one year.”

The others, knowing their brother so well, chuckled a bit and gave him a chance to amend his statement. He then made it “three years.”

The Lakers went 21-61 in 2014-15 and 17-65 in 2015-16. Jim was wholly incapable of engineering a quick turnaround.

But I understand Jeanie’s hesitancy to oust Jim. Their late father, Jerry, wanted Jim to run the front office. I’m sure Jeanie wanted Jim to have a fair shot at that opportunity.

However, she also should have realized that giving Jim three years meant setting back the franchise for far longer. The Lakers owe Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov $102 million over the next three years — a substantial burden.

Paul George joining a blossoming Lakers team in 2018 is all the buzz, but Los Angeles doesn’t project to have enough cap space to sign him outright. It’d require dropping at least one positive asset, either directly or attached to Deng and/or Mozgov in a salary-dump trade.

That’s a reasonable tradeoff to land a star like George, but if Jim weren’t chasing wins late in his tenure, the maybe the Lakers could have had George and their full complement of recent draft picks.

Again, there was no simple answer here. The Busses wanted to let Jim try, and maybe family should have come first.

But Jim was too big of a dreamer, and even with his pledge extended to three years, he was still angling to keep his job after clearly failing in his stated mission. One way or another, this was bound to become a problem.

The Lakers just took a route where they’ll still feel the problem for years, even if Jim is now ousted from the front office.

 

Kings GM Vlade Divac: Pelicans were team that offered more for DeMarcus Cousins two days prior

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13:  Vice president of basketball operations and general manager of the Sacramento Kings Vlade Divac attends the team's preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers at T-Mobile Arena on October 13, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Sacramento won 116-104. 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 Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Kings general manager Vlade Divac, explaining his modest return in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, said, “I had a better deal two days ago.”

That statement probably made Divac look more foolish than he should have. Cousins’ agents, wary of losing a designated-veteran-player extension only Sacramento could offer, were threatening not to re-sign with any team that traded for the center. That could dissuade a team from offering as much for Cousins, because any offer for him must account for the probability of him staying long-term. It’s unclear the Kings could have pushed through the earlier offer before the other team heard from Cousins’ agents and recanted.

But, in addition to causing uproar and mocking, Divac’s statement also sparked another question: What was that “better deal to days ago”?

Divac, via Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee;

When I was first talking with the Pelicans, it was about Buddy (Hield) and two first-round picks. I talked to DeMarcus’ agents (Dan Fegan and Jarinn Akana) to inform them we were having talks, negotiating terms, and they called teams and threatened them, saying that if Cousins was traded, he would not sign an extension. (Only the Kings could offer a fifth year, at a higher percentage of salary cap, because of Cousins’ designated veteran status.) They got scared and dropped it down to a second-round pick. I thought if I waited longer, I would get less. I needed to act.

Cousins signing a straight contract extension is practically infeasible. The Pelicans almost certainly won’t have enough cap space to offer a renegotiation-and-extension. He’ll probably become an unrestricted free agent in 2018 — which presents major risk for small-market New Orleans. (It’d be a bigger risk if the Pelicans blew up a quality team to land Cousins, which they very much didn’t.)

I don’t blame the Pelicans for lowering their offer once they heard from Cousins’ camp. I especially wouldn’t blame the Pelicans if they leveraged the agents’ threat, which should have come at no surprise, into a lesser offer to the Kings.

Instead of a deal based around Buddy Hield and two first-rounders, Sacramento got Hield, a first-rounder and a second-rounder. The second-rounder is this year’s 76ers’ selection, on pace to be No. 35 in a loaded draft. So, it’s far more valuable than the average second-rounder. We also don’t know what the protections would have been on the first-rounders in the earlier offer. The first-rounder actually conveyed is top-three protected this year, top-one protected the next three year and unprotected in 2021.

Still, with the prospect of DeMarcus Cousins leaving New Orleans next year, I would have loved to get my hands on another Pelicans first-rounder after his free agency.

Instead, the Kings settled for a package with far less upside.

Report: George Hill advised he can get ‘much better deal’ this summer than Jazz offered now

SAN ANTONIO,TX - NOVEMBER 01: George Hill #3 of the Utah Jazz pushes the ball during game between Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on November 1, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  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 Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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After last-day negotiations, the Jazz and George Hill didn’t agree on a renegotiation-and-extension.

Why?

Does he want to leave Utah? Do the Jazz not value him enough?

Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune:

That doesn’t mean Hill doesn’t want to stay with the Jazz, sources tell The Tribune. In fact, Hill is fond of the franchise and Salt Lake City. He has been a leader in Utah’s locker room and is very close to Jazz star Gordon Hayward — both are from the Indianapolis area. He has developed friendships off the court in Salt Lake, and he enjoys playing for the Jazz.

The Jazz, sources say, are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep Hill with the franchise.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

A much better deal? That might be in the eye of the beholder.

The most the Jazz could have offered Hill before last night’s midnight deadline was $88,684,652 — a $13,644,808 raise this season via renegotiation and a three-year, $75,039,844 extension.

As an unrestricted free agent this summer, Hill’s max contract projects to be worth about $177 million over five years if he re-signs or about $132 million over four years if he leaves.

Here’s what Hill’s max would have been in a renegotiation-and-extension and what his maxes project to be next summer:

Season Extension Re-sign Sign elsewhere
2016-17 $13,644,808
2017-18 $23,268,169 $30,600,000 $30,600,000
2018-19 $25,013,281 $33,048,000 $32,130,000
2019-20 $26,758,394 $35,496,000 $33,660,000
2020-21 $37,944,000 $35,190,000
2021-22 $40,392,000
Total $88,684,652 $177,480,000 $131,580,000

There’s no guarantee Hill will receive a max offer in free agency. Though he’s having an excellent season, he’ll be 31. Plus, he has played through multiple minor injuries this season. If one of those becomes major, he has no safety net.

And even if Hill receives higher-paying offers, those aren’t necessarily better offers. Does he want to leave Utah for the 76ers, Kings or Knicks? Those are the type of teams that are both desperate for a point guard and have max-level cap space.

Plus, if Hill signed a renegotiation-and-extension, he still could have earned some money on a new contract in 2020-21 and 2021-22. That has to be weighed against four- or five-year options in free agency.

I would have advised Hill to take the renegotiation-and-extension if the Jazz offered the max amount, but it’s an extremely close call. There’s definitely upside in Hill’s risk of bypassing an extension.

The best hope for Hill to secure a bigger contract with a good team is the Jazz. They hold his Bird Rights, so they can exceed the cap to re-sign him. They’re winning now, and he’s a big part of that. They also might have their point guard of the future already on the roster in Dante Exum. So, while a lucrative long-term contract for Hill might become an albatross on the backend, Utah would at least have the opportunity to reduce his role and elevate Exum rather than being stuck with no options.

Because Hill will be unrestricted, the Jazz should be proactive. They can’t idly wait for the market to determine Hill’s value and then try to match or barely beat it. By then, he might be gone.

Hill can use teams like Philadelphia, Sacramento and New York — maybe to get an offer he’s truly willing to accept, but at least to gain leverage over Utah.

There are many paths to Hill coming out ahead. Let’s acknowledge, though: Rejecting an extension is the more daring route.