When we reflect back on him in 20 years, we may remember 2012 as the year LeBron James started to fulfill his potential.
And he can now add Sports Illustrated “Sportsman of the Year” to his list of accolades from 2012 that include NBA champion, NBA regular season MVP, NBA finals MVP and leading Team USA to a gold medal at the London Olympics (and make no mistake, when you watched that team practice it was clear whose team it was).
The magazine made its announcement Monday. The last time an NBA player won the honor? Back in 2006 when Dwyane Wade did it.
For years LeBron had seemed unable to reach his full potential. Sure, he had put up monster numbers, twice been NBA MVP, he’d led teams deep into the playoffs, he had a gold medal, he’d been the best player walking the planet for maybe five years. But there was always another level you could sense but that he couldn’t reach. You felt something holding him back.
In 2012 he matured enough mentally to reach those heights. He needed to be out of Cleveland — where he was close to home and where team ownership bent over backwards to cater to him. Basically, he needed to move out of the home he grew up in.
Then he got to Miami where Pat Riley wasn’t bending the franchise for him. More importantly, he became hated by many and had to adapt to people seeing him as a villain. He didn’t like it.
But somewhere after his first season in Miami, he seemed to accept that and find his mental balance. He grew up. And when that happened he could tap into all that potential. He averaged 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game — but he had better statistical seasons before. What was different was the leadership, the ability to take over a game late (or whenever it was needed). The Heat became LeBron’s team and Wade was 1A.
And he put together a year that nobody has ever done save Michael Jordan.
That is what Sports Illustrated is recognizing.
The Detroit Pistons’ playoff dreams hinged on them being able to hang around until point guard Reggie Jackson got back from this thumb and knee injuries. They have done just that — the Pistons are 11-10 and would be the eighth seed if the playoffs started today.
And now they get Jackson back. Stan Van Gundy made the announcement Sunday at shootaround, before the team takes on the Orlando Magic.
It will take a few games to get his conditioning back, but this is huge for Detroit. Jackson running the pick-and-roll with Andre Drummond is at the heart of Detroit’s offense – the Pistons were 2.3 points per 100 possessions better with the ball in his hands. Ish Smith played well for the Pistons in his absence — 10.8 points per game, 6.4 assists, and he’s been solid. Move his playmaking to the second unit and suddenly the Pistons become a lot more dangerous.
The scouting report on Jakob Poeltl coming out of Utah said he could run the floor well and he was a good finisher around the rim.
But we didn’t expect this.
During the Raptors win Sunday against the stumbling Hawks, Poeltl filled the lane on the break, got the rock, and nobody was going to stop that finish. Least of all Tim Hardaway Jr., he just ends up in the poster.
Entering free agency last July, Hassan Whiteside said his first choice was to stay in Miami — then Pat Riley gave him 98 million reasons to stick around. While the Heat have been up and down this season, Whiteside has thrived as the franchise player in Miami.
Last July he also met with Dallas, but it turns out that was not his second choice. Here is what Whiteside told Erik Gunderson of the Miami Herald before his team fell to the Blazers on Saturday.
“Portland was my second option,” Whiteside said at the team’s Saturday shootaround in Portland. “I would have came here.”
Interesting. There were reports the Blazers chased Whiteside, but it didn’t seem that serious. Apparently, it was. If The Blazers got Whiteside, would they still have spent $70 million on Evan Turner? Probably not. And suddenly a lot of things look better in Portland.
For Blazers fans, watching their team try to outscore opponents while playing terrible defense this season — in part because of a lack of rim protection behind their undersized guards — it’s easy to imagine how much Whiteside would have changed the picture in the Northwest. But at this point, that’s just fan fiction.
JaVale McGree has become a solid contributor for the Warriors off the bench, giving them a needed shot blocking presence. He’s not getting a ton of run (seven minutes a night), but he’s efficient when he’s out there.
Still, there is his reputation as the guy most likely to end up on Shaqtin’ a Fool. He hasn’t done anything like that for a while… until Saturday night, when after a made free throw he tried to inbound the ball for the Suns for a second.
The Warriors bench was laughing under their shirts and towels.