Los Angeles Lakers v Dallas Mavericks - Game Four

Pau Gasol and revisionist history

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He won two titles for them. Yes, the Lakers had improved tremendously in 2007-2008 , but without him, they never would have made it to the Finals, nor won them the next two. It was only eight months ago that he was called “the best big man in the league” and touted as a possible MVP candidate.

So before we get to the business of burying Pau Gasol for arguably the most disappointing performance by a Lakers star in NBA history, we should take note. The crushing disappointment of failing to close out the three-peat, the seemingly inevitable glorious end to Phil Jackson’s coaching career, the cementing of the Lakers as the winningest team in the NBA with their 18th title, all of these expectations would not have been possible or reasonable without Gasol’s contributions. So before we start to flambe his role in this disaster, we had better recognize that Pau Gasol has been an incredible player for the Lakers, and a huge debt of gratitude is owed to him for his contributions to the Lakers’ title runs.

Now that we’ve said that… man, did Pau get punked.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Perhaps more than anything, the notion that Pau Gasol can be this teams next great leader was swept away. His sudden and odd postseason disappearance was the most obvious reason for the Lakers troubles, his fall completed Sunday when he scored 10 points while being pushed around by everyone but his coach, who thankfully refrained from hitting him for a second consecutive game.

“I have to learn from this,” Gasol said. I have to learn that when something happens off the court, you have to keep it off the court.”

He was referring to the report that he stopped talking to Bryant during the postseason because Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, had contributed to the breakup of Gasol and his longtime girlfriend. Lakers fans will remember that Karl Malone once publicly accused Vanessa of interfering with his personal life in a similar fashion.

via Lakers-Mavericks: Divided Lakers simply get lost on way to three-peat – latimes.com.

Gasol denied Bryant’s involvement in the situation in an alternate report, but the shady nature of the rumor and Gasol’s response to it blends in with this L.A. nightmare. The bigger problem is that even though breaking up with your fiance is a rough, rough thing to go through, especially when it’s tinged with public scrutiny, it won’t matter. Just like fans and media revolt at the idea of it being a worker’s right to change jobs or locations once his contract is available, despite it being totally acceptable outside of sports, so too will they reject the notion that a significant disruption in one’s personal life is an acceptable cause for failure. All of Gasol’s previous efforts and triumphs are being rewritten as more to do with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson (who has bizarrely escaped much scrutiny in this disaster, despite most of the problems being directly in his wheelhouse, effort, motivation, mental focus, etc.). The calls are out there to trade Gasol and bring in someone tougher. Gasol’s soft touch has always bugged Lakers fans. You want  your big man to throw it down, not tap it in; to reject the opponent, not faintly contest. But the biggest reason he’s being flogged for all of this?

He really was that bad. He’s been badly outplayed in these playoffs by his younger brother Marc, whose Grizzlies hold a 2-1 series lead over the second-favorite Thunder. And everything the younger Gasol has shown (toughness, tenacious attack, physicality, and that soft touch that proves so effective) is what the elder lacked. He was bullied by Tyson Chandler, abused by Dirk Nowitzki, and his string of mistakes seemed to feed off themselves. Blown passes, mishandled catches, missed layups, botched tip-ins, Gasol was outworked, out-hustled and looked older than his birth date would suggest.

Being a No.2 on a team is difficult, you have to be great without getting all the credit. But you’re also counted on to be the emotional and physical leader when the star is too bogged down with his responsibilities. Gasol found out the hard way what happens when things don’t fall exactly right, and if the talk of a Lakers’ blow-up is accurate, it could be a lesson that shows him out of town.

We won’t forget what Gasol did for the Lakers to get them two titles and three consecutive Finals appearances. But we also won’t forget how when the going got tough? The Gasol got got.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.

Drake congratulated LeBron James in hallway after game

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Drake is a Toronto native and a huge Raptors’ fan. He’s officially the team’s “global ambassador,” although nobody knows what that actually means.

Drake is also tight with LeBron James.

As LeBron is running down the hall to get to the locker room and celebrate making a sixth straight trip to the Finals Drake stops him to congratulate him. And Drake is one of the handful of guys LeBron will stop and talk to.

Nothing wrong with this, either. Drake has walked a line the whole series — he’s a Raptors fan, he’s trolled LeBron and Kyrie Irving on social media after Toronto wins, but he’s close with Cleveland’s players and has been seen in the Cavaliers locker room plenty the past few seasons.

Some fan bases (we’re looking at you, Philly) would flip out over this kind of divided loyalty, but not Canadians who will just forgive and move on.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.