Why you should and should not care about LeBron’s whole “passing in the clutch” thing

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To review, in last night’s game, the Miami Heat came from behind to lead the Utah Jazz, only to watch Al Jefferson take the lead with a hook shot. At that point, the Heat had time for one final possession. Remember when LeBron passed up the final shot and everyone gave him huge grief about it? Yeah, this time he didn’t inbound, he took the ball, then swung and made a pass to a wide-open Udonis Haslem, who missed the game-winning jumper. Jazz win 99-98.

So here’s a little discussion of why you should and should not care about this.

You should care about this because: Well, it doesn’t really matter if you care about it or not, you’re going to be hearing about it for the next 24 hours until the Heat play the Lakers. Welcome to the news cycle, enjoy your stay.

You should not care about this because: It was a regular season game on a back-to-back on the road during a west coast trip. NBA teams lose these games all the time. Even Kobe. Even Jordan. Even Brian Cardinal. It happens, and it’s a blip in the radar. We can’t say “nothing matters until the playoffs” and then freak out over a regular season game. Well, we can, and we will, but we probably shouldn’t.

You should care about this because: It’s reflective of the standard people have set for LeBron. You can choose to set a different standard outside of our culture, but eventually your evaluations will regress back to the mean of our society. You can try and applaud James for making the right play, but it’s clear that we as a basketball society have redefined our decision-making chart based on Michael Jordan. To be the best, which James is, you have to pull-up and take and hit that mid-range-to-long-range jumper with a hand in your face. Making the right play is not considered the right play in this instance.

You should not care about this because: Let’s face it, it was the right play. An open jumper from a guy who has, in his career, hit a high number of big shots, is a much higher percentage shot than a contested off-dribble pull-up jumper. That’s just simply basketball. Michael Jordan passed to Steve Kerr. Kobe Bryant passed to Metta World Peace. You make the play when it’s there, especially when you’re as gifted of a passer as LeBron.

You should care about this because: Erik Spoelstra drew up a play that involved a pick and roll with Udonis Haslem instead of an isolation for LeBron or a pick and roll with Dwyane Wade. You know what we kill the Thunder for? Drawing up terrible late-game possessions that are essentially “Here, Kevin Durant, go win this” and sometimes it works and sometimes Durant throws up 35-foot threes that miss badly.Wade and James haven’t been super effective in the pick and roll throughout their time together, but that’s still the guys you want with the ball. Wade misses that shot and the narrative is likely different, slightly. It’s not the wrong play, but it says something about Spoelstra’s mindset and the approach of the team.

You should not care about this because: We destroy guys for being too selfish, for going hero mode, for jacking up shots instead of working in a system. Instead, now we’re killing players for making the right play, making the easy play, trusting in their teammates. The double standard is so blinding you can’t see the shine off James’ forehead, and as a bald guy, I can tell you that gets bright.

You should care about this because: It’s yet another game the Heat should have won over a lesser team that was lost due to a late-game decision by LeBron. (We can blame Haslme for the missed jumper but that’s not going to happen. Stars take the blame.) The Heat continue to struggle in key situations on the road nd most of the games in the playoffs aren’t going to be blowouts.

You should not care about this because: It was their first loss in weeks after a long winning streak all by double-digits. This team is not “in trouble” or “struggling.” They lost “a game.”

You should care about this because: Where was Dwyane Wade? Wade in the final minutes fouled Devin Harris on a three-pointer, one of the single dumbest plays of the season and then later missed a free throw. Where’s his public shaming? The fact that James’ narrative completely overrides a terrible game for Wade should probably be mentioned.

You should care about this because: James had 35-10-6 and poured it on in the fourth quarter. He made ridiculous shot after ridiculous shot to get them back in it and carried the team on his shoulders. When it counted, he passed to an open teammate. Most guys do what he did in the fourth and we marvel at their effort in a loss. James does it and there’s something wrong with him.

This is more about who we are than who LeBron James is.

Report: LiAngelo, LaMelo Ball have deal to play professionally in Lithuania

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This feels like a publicity stunt. Whatever the under/over is on how long it will last, bet the under.

That said, the two younger brothers of Lonzo Ball — LiAngelo, 18, and LaMelo, 16 — have reached a deal to play for a team in the highest level of the Lithuanian league. The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Jonathan Givony of ESPN (before the signing became official).

LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball are in serious discussions to sign professional basketball contracts with Lithuanian club Prienu Vytautas, sources told ESPN.

The club plans to decide in the next 24-to-48 hours whether to finalize agreements with the two American teenagers, sources told ESPN.

If signed, the franchise has hopes that the Balls – including their father LaVar — could be a marketing boon for the fledgling franchise, sources told ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reports the deal is done.

Lithuania is a hoops-mad Baltic country of an estimated 2.9 million people who has three players currently in the NBA — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis. You might remember the Lithuanian National Team wearing Grateful Dead inspired uniforms and taking the bronze medal in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympics.

This is a country that takes its basketball seriously, and the Balls are a traveling circus and reality show. This could be a real culture clash, the kind of thing that ends quickly and spectacularly poorly. Here is some insight into the team from FIBA’s Lithuanian hoops writer.

Don’t expect the Ball children to play much, especially not at first.

The pay at this level is reportedly north of $1,500 a month, but that could be higher if the brothers are seen as a draw. With the report of the tight financial squeeze, this is likely a gambit on the coach’s part to boost revenue (in Europe, coaches are the CEOs of the organization, much more akin to the power top college coaches have than an NBA coach).

This is a league where men play and the game is taken seriously, it has produced not only Lithuanian players but Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes played there. This team apparently does not run the (suprisingly standard in Europe) two-a-day practices on non-game days, but their practices are longer and harder than most American versions. There are a lot of quality players — former American college/D-League guys, as well as good Europeans — who would love a shot like this. Who deserve a chance like this. If the younger Ball children do not perform and do not take this seriously, it will turn on them quickly.

LiAngelo Ball had gone to UCLA to play basketball this season, but after being suspended for shoplifting in China, his father LaVar pulled him out of college, designed a “Gelo 3” signature shoe for his son from the Big Baller Brand, and started looking for a professional contract. I’m not sure LiAngelo belongs at this level. As one scout told me last summer, LiAngelo was only at UCLA because Lonzo was a top recruit and LaMelo had a lot of potential. That scout wasn’t sure LiAngelo could stick in Europe.

LaMelo is a generally highly-rated recruit, a guy with crazy shooting range for a high-school Junior, but scouts had a lot of questions about his defense and the rest of his game outside of just shooting. LaMelo put up 70 points in an AAU game, but he cherry-picked the entire time, and the sense is there is a lot of that in his game. His father LaVar pulled LaMelo out of Chino Hills High School this season after a new basketball coach said he was going to push his guys to play within a system on both ends. How well LaMelo adapts to a very different culture on and off the court at his age is a big question.

Maybe this works out. Maybe the Ball children are more mature in personality and game than I think, maybe this is the financial boost that Prienu Vytautas needs and it works for them. It’s possible. I just don’t expect it.

Matt Barnes announces retirement from NBA after 15 seasons

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When too many fans think of Matt Barnes, they think of the guy who tried to fight Derek Fisher, the nightclub incident in New York, the guy who was a pest on the court and racked up more than his share of technicals and fines in a 15-year NBA career.

Ask Barnes former teammates about him, and they loved him — off the court and on. He was the quintessential guy you wanted on your team and hated to play against.

Barnes announced Monday on Instagram that his 15-year NBA run was over.

Barnes won an NBA title with the Warriors last season, and he played well for the team after signing in Golden State — Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury and Barnes stepped up his role and play. He earned that ring. However, this season there seemed to be no fit for him in the league.

Barnes was drafted in the second round out of UCLA by the Memphis Grizzlies and went on to play for nine teams during his career. He was the guy teams turned to for a spark off the bench — both because he could shoot the rock and because he played a fiery, emotional game. Barnes finished his career averaging 8.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

I’m going to miss him. While he had a rough exterior and was plenty chippy on the court, off the court he was one of the more thoughtful basketball interviews out there — ask him about the game and he gave smart, calm, intelligent answers, not just clichés. He was active with charities and gave of his time and money, it wasn’t just a tax write off. I wish him the best and know he’ll enjoy life after basketball.

Shaq on free throws: ‘I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand’

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Rick Barry famously made 90% of his free throws while shooting underhand.

Shaquille O’Neal infamously shot just 53% on his free throws, inspiring hack-a-Shaq.

Why didn’t Shaq use Barry’s technique?

Shaq, via Emmanuel Ocbazghi, Noah Friedman and Graham Flanagan of Business Insider:

Shaquille O’Neal: Because it’s boring.

Business Insider: But it’s been proven to be somewhat effective.

O’Neal: No, it’s not. It’s not proven. Just ’cause a couple guys did it doesn’t mean anybody can do it.

I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand. I’m too cool for that.

O’Neal is somewhat trying to protect his larger-than-life, jokester image. But he’s also speaking to truth.

Barry would have been a good free-throw shooter overhand, too. Shooting underhand wasn’t necessarily going to fix Shaq’s problems at the line. Just because it worked for Barry doesn’t make it a “proven” technique.

Yet, every poor free-throw shooter – from Shaq to Andre Drummond to Andre Roberson – has been pestered about shooting underhand. It might be the right form for some players, but it’s no silver bullet.

Report: George Hill unhappy after Scott Perry promised him, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter that Kings would compete for playoffs

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After a recent Kings loss, George Hill tweeted:

Reading too much into vague tweets is often folly, but Hill hasn’t looked happy in Sacramento. Despite signing him, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter last summer, the Kings are 8-18.

Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune:

These are vets brought in to help a young team, and according to sources, were brought in with the promise of a team aiming to be playoff competitive.

But that promise was made to them by Scott Perry, who since left Sacramento and now makes personnel decisions for the New York Knicks. So the direction of the franchise has shifted since Perry left. An organization that brought in veterans aiming to win now is aiming to lose.

Not surprisingly, Hill isn’t happy, according to multiple sources

The Kings aren’t bad because they shifted direction after Perry left for the Knicks. They’re bad because they lack talent.

This team was mostly assembled by the time Perry departed, and it looked lousy. To whatever degree Sacramento is emphasizing youth post-Perry – Garrett Temple, Randolph and Hill rank in the top four in minutes – the won-loss record wasn’t changing much.

If Hill, Randolph and Carter didn’t know that, they have nobody to blame but themselves. Smart veterans like them should have understood the bargain they accepted.

Hill ($40 million guaranteed over two years), Randolph (two years, $24 million) and Vince Carter (one year, $8 million) took the money. In exchange, they’re stuck on a bad team. And that’s fine. Many of us prioritize salary in career decisions.

But now they’re dealing with the downside of that arrangement – grinding through a long, losing season. It’s disingenuous to sulk and blame Perry (though, if Perry pledged a team realistically competing for the playoffs, he overpromised).

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Sacramento isn’t making rapid improvement overnight. So, something might have to give with Hill’s mood.