Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers, Game 1

David Stern on LeBron James’ return to Cleveland: “If it makes him happy, then I’m happy”


David Stern, NBA Commissioner emeritus, has always been good for some big picture views on things.

Stern was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this week and with that did a Q&A with David Aldridge for A variety of topics came up but eventually Stern was asked about LeBron James’ return to Cleveland and what he thought. And mostly his conversation turned to something that the NBA and its owners have really wanted for a long time — more off-season buzz.

“I told LeBron, I thought that regardless of how poorly executed The Decision was, I thought the world was being horribly unfair to him. He was entitled to make that decision and he was entitled to make the decision he made. If it makes him happy, then I’m happy. I think it’s great. The additional dividend being, apparently, he has been much appreciated by the fans of the world for his decision to return to Cleveland. And I think that’s wonderful. And I think that it demonstrates how embedded the NBA is into the psyche of not just America, but maybe even the world. That during the world Cup, the second-most talked about issue was where would LeBron go? There was a baseball season going on, but everyone wanted to talk about LeBron. I thought that was a very positive development. And it sort of demonstrated something we’ve said over the years, that the drama that’s on and off the court provides fodder for our fans to think about, talk about, and get involved in some discussions about.”

Here’s the secret — you care more about trades and free agency then you do actual games. This is no a PBT thing or even a basketball thing (it’s true of football, baseball, etc.) — pretty much every team/sport centered Web site does more traffic at the peak of its off-season free agency than it does during the season or even playoffs. Bottom line is the NBA Finals are a two-city thing, free agency is a 30-city thing. Every market is involved. Throw the possibility of a superstar like LeBron in the mix and the buzz becomes a roar.

One of the perks of the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement (at least as the owners see it) is shorter contract lengths. In part because their mistakes come off the books more quickly, but also because it increases player movement. Guys are on the market more often and even those who are not free agents have more tradable shorter contracts.

Stern is right. Every time ESPN cut away from World Cup coverage they cut to LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony talk. I did a twitter chat during the NBA Finals and questions ran 5-1 about Kevin Love and free agency over the Finals. The NBA was the hot topic of conversation right in the middle of the baseball season and All-Star Game.

I’m tempted to say that next summer can’t match this summer… but Love will be a free agent (likely to re-sign in Cleveland, but he could leave), LeBron could opt-out (again, not leaving) and there will certainly be other big names and drama. The NBA really has a very short off-season now.

David Stern was behind a lot of that.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.