Does a ring change the perception of LeBron James?

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There is something different about LeBron James today — he is an NBA champion. He has a chip. Nobody can ever take that away from him.

But s that really going to change how people feel about him?

“In the information age, reputations are made and broken down more cheaply than they used to be,” the Heat’s Shane Battier said. “I don’t know (if the perception of him changes). I don’t know.”

People are going to think what they are going to think — as is their right. I’m not going to tell you how to feel about LeBron or anyone else. But I’ve grown weary of the back-and-forth, black-or-white with no middle ground about what he is and isn’t. You don’t have to be a LeBron lover or hater, you can be someone who sees him as a tremendous talent on an interesting path that has had ups and downs. But that nuance has been lost in the LeBron discussion the last two years.

For some — particularly people in Cleveland — this title changes nothing. Some of LeBron’s critics will never forgive him for what is seen as a selfish, poorly-handled betrayal of his hometown.

But on a national level, winning a ring will have some fans who didn’t like what happened with Cleveland willing to give him a second chance. His play this postseason blew up what had become tired and oversimplified stereotypes of him and his game — he was not selfish, he played big at the biggest times on the biggest of stages, he had a signature moment in Game 4 and a triple-double when it was a closeout game.

But simply winning instead of losing was not the biggest change for LeBron this playoffs.

He was different.

“The best thing that happened to me last year was us losing in the finals, you know, and me playing the way I played,” LeBron said. “It was the best thing to every happen to me in my career because basically I got back to the basics. It humbled me. I knew what it was going to have to take and I was going to have to change as a basketball player, and I was going to have to change as a person to get what I wanted.”

LeBron was more comfortable, more mature. If you change your perceptions of him, it should be because he changed not because of the ring — the title is simply a byproduct of the other changes he went through. To me a ring isn’t a perquisite of greatness — Karl Malone is one of the great power forwards ever to play the game, his legacy should not be tarnished because he was in the NBA when Jordan owned it. LeBron has grown and evolved as a player and that is what should be celebrated.

The best thing I read in the wake of the finals came from Kevin Arnovitz at ESPN, basically saying that now we can just talk about LeBron as a basketball player. He said what I said above far more eloquently. He sees LeBron a guy who has had failures on the court that he needed to go through to reach the mountaintop. Again, nuance. LeBron (and politics and everything else) doesn’t have to be love or hate, black or white. Everything doesn’t have to be extreme.

It’s okay to just appreciate him as a great basketball player. We shouldn’t have needed a ring to do that.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”