Kobe Bryant changed the avatar on his Twitter account Friday to “1225,” and while we could speculate on whether or not that means he’s targeting a return date of Christmas Day against the Miami Heat from his torn Achilles injury, the reality is it was likely done as a personal motivational tactic.
ESPN ranked all of the players in the league from 1-500, an exercise in futility that is arbitrary at best and, like anything involving opinions, clouded by personal biases. But it does generate a buzz of fan discussion in the weeks leading up to the start of the season, and coming from the Worldwide Leader, it garners plenty of attention from the players themselves.
Bryant was ranked 25th, after finishing 12th in the voting last season. It’s a precipitous drop, considering what Bryant is capable of when healthy. But with his return date from injury an unknown, along with just how close to his old self Bryant will be once he does make it back, it’s at least somewhat understandable.
The Lakers as a team were picked by ESPN experts to finish 12th in the Western Conference out of 15 teams, likely due to the same uncertainty that surrounds Bryant’s return.
So, 12 for the prediction on the Lakers, 25 for the ESPN individual player ranking. That seems like more than a reasonable educated guess as to the meaning behind Bryant’s avatar change, along with some insight into part of his personal motivation to prove the doubters wrong during the upcoming season.
Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.
Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.
But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.
LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.
LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.
However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.
For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.
Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.
Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:
Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.