LeBron James decides to become the ultimate facilitator

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Thumbnail image for James_dunk.jpgScottie Pippen has six championship rings. He’s a seven time NBA All-Star. He was an NBA All-Star Game MVP in 1994, a 3-time NBA First-Team All-NBA selection, and an 8 time NBA All-Defensive team selection. He is considered one of the greatest players in NBA history and a legend in the truest sense for being the ultimate support player to the greatest of all time.

And today, his name is being tossed around as an insult.

When LeBron James elected to head to Miami to join Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to form a combination of talent rarely seen in the salary-cap age, the backlash was swift and brutal. As our own John Krolik laid out, James now faces a backlash, a change to his persona and his identity that seemed impossible three years ago. Those changes are the result of a decision to leave Cleveland, to deliver what can only be considered Brutus’ dagger to the heart of Ohio as he traipses off to South Beach.

But beyond the damage wreaked by what he didn’t do (re-sign), we have to look at the criticism he now faces for what he did do (take less money to play with his friends on an undeniable contender).

James’ decision brought about a rash of comparisons to, who else, Michel Jordan. The ghost that hangs over every great player in this league cast its shadow over LeBron tonight because Jordan would never defer to another superstar. He would never openly admit that he needed help. No, instead Jordan would rise up and take the team on his back, carrying them across the sky and into the sun, stealing its light to bring back and light his bedroom to read by. He would vanquish the Jabberwocky with his ballpoint pen that he signs his lucrative checks with and would never take a step out of the spotlight so he could share it with someone else.

Jordan. The crown that gives us scoliosis.

What James has done, outside of the Cleveland context and the ridiculousness of the television special, is agree to take a paycut so that he can contribute to a better team. To a team with talent so rarely combined that it’s difficult to find examples of comparable squads even in eras without the salary cap that’s currently giving the Heat organization a noose they’re trying to unwrap themselves from.

James is taking over a role that’s been suggested by better and worse writers. The Sports Guy himself commented that perhaps James was never meant to be “The Man” but instead the “uber-Pippen.” That he’s not wired that way. But does anyone doubt James’ ability to score? To take the ball to the hole in a close game and create points? Does anyone think he can’t come out and score 40 no matter who’s next to him?

But all of that is part of the same process everyone is going through. Taking the hamburger and dissecting it based on the pickles, the mayo, the burger, the bun. It’s not taking a look at how the burger looks together. Basketball isn’t a series of set moves one after another. It’s a movement. One, big, long movement in concert with the other players on the floor.

What’s a greater accomplishment, then? Forcing your game into some sort of pre-conceived notion of what you’re supposed to be (a high-usage jump shot machine), or adapting your game to make the best players in the world even better, and in return, feeding off that synergy to make your game better.

James is a natural passer. He always has been, and no one’s known what to make of it. Point guards pass. Centers pass out of the double. But a forward, with that size, with the vision of a point guard, the touch of a center and the speed of a wing, whipping passes flawlessly, it was something we hadn’t seen. We’ve grown accustomed to it, and we honestly haven’t seen its full potential. With Wade and Bosh catching his passes, maybe we’ll see more of it.

He’s a tremendous rebounder, able to out-soar the most athletic players in the league to capture a needed board. He draws fouls consistently. He chases down blocks, converting easy fastbreak opportunities into conversions for his team. He literally transforms easy opponent possessions into quality scoring plays for his team.

All of this without his jumpshot, the range, the ability to finish at the rim. James brings these auxiliary skills to a team that can take full advantage of them, without wasting them. He can be the kind of facilitator that is the difference for teams, without sacrificing defense, or offense, or anything. He can make the team play better basketball. What’s the importance of being an “alpha dog” in that scenario?

Wade certainly provides him said “alpha dog.” Wade has always held a more obsessive need to win, a more driving sense of the killshot. Wade is simply meaner. Of the three players in this new triumvirate, Wade is the most serious, the most obsessed, the most driven.

So maybe it’s true that James is surrendering his “alpha dog” status to Wade’s game. But marketing? Leadership? Playmaking? James is king of the roost in that regard. And now begins an era where the three can accomplish something never before seen in the NBA, a synergy and drive between the absolute best players in the NBA all on one team.

And if he walks away with the same kind of bounty that Scottie Pippen did at the end of the day, only with more a of a direct role, that’s not a bad comedown. People will say his legacy is tarnished by needing “help.” That his legend will be altered. If successful, he’ll simply have to console himself with multiple rings, the very thing most players would kill for.

Tonight was the beginning of one of the toughest periods in LeBron James’ life, as well as the most exciting and most lucrative. He’s going to become more of a facilitator. He’s going to become less of an alpha dog. And he’s going to become a better basketball player.

Somehow, it’s hard to see how James loses in this scenario.

Warriors get rings, still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and that’s too much for OKC

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For Oklahoma City, this game was encouraging. Paul George had 27 points and five assists, pushing the Thunder in the second half, but that was almost expected with Russell Westbrook out (still recovering from off-season knee surgery). What was more encouraging was Dennis Schroder‘s 21 points, 9 rebounds, and six assists, he is going to be a valuable shot creator for this team off the bench. It was encouraging to see Steven Adams looking solid with 17 points and 11 boards. It was encouraging to see a couple of threes from Alex Abrines off the bench. The Thunder put up a fight.

However, there are no moral victories.

The Warriors won on opening night in Oakland and it didn’t even feel like they had to break a sweat.

Stephen Curry dropped 32 points, reminded everyone he is a master of getting space for his shot off the pick-and-roll, and he hit five threes. Kevin Durant had 27 points and was the guy who took on the defensive responsibility for George much of the night (and did an okay job, but struggled following him on off-ball picks). And the new center combination of Damian Jones (12 points on 6-of-7 shooting, three blocked shots) and Kevon Looney (10 points, good game on both ends and was +22) held down the center spot reasonably well.

It was a good night for the Warriors. First they got their championship rings.

Then started out the season with a 108-100 win.

The one concern for the Warriors was Andre Iguodala leaving the game in the second quarter with what was described as a tight left calf, and he did not return.

Mostly though, the Warriors won this game the way they will win a lot more this season — because they have more talent than the team they are playing and can overwhelm them. Klay Thompson was cold (1-of-8 from three, but it doesn’t matter if one of the scorers goes cold because another one will step up. That was Curry.

The game was a bit sloppy, as first games of the season tend to be. But for both teams, there were good takeaways, positives they can build on as they go through the remaining 81 games.

It’s just the Warriors have a lot more talent on the roster, so they start 1-0.

Future of Paul Allen’s sports holdings, including Blazers, remains unclear

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RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Paul Allen’s love was basketball and he delved into professional football out of loyalty to his hometown Seattle.

In the wake of his death, Allen’s ownership of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and NFL’s Seattle Seahawks has come into focus because of questions about how the franchises will move forward in his absence.

No one is providing many details yet about the succession plans for Allen’s franchise holdings in the wake of his death Monday from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His primary franchises were the Blazers and Seahawks, although he also owned a small stake in Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders.

“Paul thoughtfully addressed how the many institutions he founded and supported would continue after he was no longer able to lead them. This isn’t the time to deal in those specifics as we focus on Paul’s family,” according to a statement from Allen’s company, Vulcan Inc. “We will continue to work on furthering Paul’s mission and the projects he entrusted to us. There are no changes imminent for Vulcan, the teams, the research institutes or museums.”

For now, Allen’s teams will continue to be overseen by Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, an arm of the company he created. His sister, Jody Allen, and executive Bert Kolde were the other members of the Seahawks’ board of directors with Allen. Jody Allen may take a more prominent role with the NFL franchise going forward.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s time to be engaging in that conversation. We’re more into the conversation about recognizing what took place and how to respect Paul and his desires and all of that,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday. “There’s plenty of time to talk about all that stuff. It’s not even a factor in our minds. I understand the interest but there will be plenty of time.

“Nothing is changing. Paul wouldn’t want us to do anything different than what we’re doing, which is to go for it and to represent it every way we can until you can’t. And we’re going to go for it just in that fashion.”

A similar message was being relayed in Portland, where Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey and Vulcan Sports and Entertainment CEO Chris McGowan spoke about Allen. The Trail Blazers are dealing with the death of Allen just a couple of days before beginning the regular season at home against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

“At this point we’re just dealing with the death and we don’t have any imminent announcements,” McGowan said. “At an appropriate time I’m sure we’ll come and talk with everyone about what potentially could happen but right now we’re just dealing with the grief.”

Olshey said his final phone conversation with Allen was in early October with the owner asking if the Blazers GM was watching that night’s preseason games.

“He wanted to talk basketball,” Olshey said. “One of the things that is really unique about Paul is that everything was bifurcated. … If he wanted to talk hoops, he talked hoops. If he wanted to talk music, he called Mick Jagger. If he wanted to talk football, he called Pete Carroll. Who else gets that?”

 

Celtics show they’re the class of the East in season-opening win vs. 76ers

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Opening night in the NBA arrived on Tuesday, with the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers perhaps previewing a future Eastern Conference playoffs matchup.

It did not disappoint.

Play started out relatively even, although the contrasting styles of each team was immediately apparent. The Sixers, a bit rattled by Boston’s defense, struggled from 3-point range. Philly made up for that inequity by quickening their pace, attacking the rim and grabbing 12 points in transition in the first half alone.

What the 76ers were unable to counter was just how well Boston game-planned for their non-shooters. Markelle Fultz was not fully confident in his jumper. Ben Simmons shied away from any open opportunities, and didn’t make a basket farther than nine feet. It’s certainly not a death knell for the Sixers, but it will once again be something to watch this year.

For their part, Philadelphia’s defense did what it was designed to do against the Celtics in the first half. Boston grabbed 16 points from mid-range, and while they shot a healthy percentage, that was certainly not where coach Brad Stevens wanted his offense to operate.

As the third quarter opened, it was the Celtics who began to pull away thanks to help from its bench. Marcus Morris dropped 16 points, much of it in the third and fourth quarters. Terry Rozier added 11 points, along with eight rebounds and an assist.

Boston opened the half with a 30-point third quarter, followed by allowing the 76ers just 21 points in the fourth. The best defense in the league from a year ago, the Celtics put the clamps on a Sixers offense that just didn’t seem to have enough counterpunches ready for Stevens’ plan.

Simmons finished with an impressive stat line of 23 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and four blocks. For Boston, Jayson Tatum led the way with 23 points, nine rebounds, and three assists.

The Celtics took home the very first win of the season, 105-87, over Philadelphia.

Meanwhile for Boston, the stories that most have been waiting to read are those of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, both returning from injury. The two are Boston’s biggest stars, and have been stuck in the training room as the team around them rallied to become a playoff favorite.

To that end, neither performed particularly well on Tuesday.

Irving and Hayward shot a combined a 6-of-26 from the floor, adding single-digit rebounds. Hayward didn’t record an assist, and the Celtics were instead led by Tatum, Al Horford, and Marcus Morris.

Even with the middling performance of their most prominent stars, the Celtics showed us two things on Tuesday night. First, Boston’s defense is still for real. The team with the best defensive rating last season held the Sixers to just 19 percent shooting from 3-point line, and Stevens’ defensive strategy against the likes of Simmons, Fultz, and Embiid was impressive. Simmons and Embiid personally thrived in the box score, but their teammates weren’t able to benefit off of them thanks to Boston’s rotational prowess.

And while it’s just one game into this young season, the Celtics also showed that there is a clear delineation between them and Philadelphia at this juncture. Many believe the Celtics to be a Finals-ready team, and that the Sixers have more growing to do. Philadelphia clearly has some significant roster weaknesses — particularly around shooting — but the sheer depth in Boston is what separates them from their competition.

We will have to watch what happens with Irving and Hayward, and whether they can get stronger as time goes on. Hayward mentioned that he still feels a little odd jumping off of the leg he injured during the first game of last year. But if he both he and Irving come on as the regular season months roll along, they will certainly be additive to what is the best roster in the East.

Watch Jaylen Brown throw down massive dunk on Joel Embiid (VIDEO)

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Tuesday night was opening night in the NBA for the 2018-19 season. We kicked things off with a massive showdown between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers in Massachusetts, and the matchup hand delivered a powerful dunk to jumpstart the year.

The play came as time wound down in the fourth quarter, with Jaylen Brown dribbling on the right wing as the 76ers struggled to recover on defense.

Thanks to a Sixers player down under their basket after a missed shot, Philadelphia was left defending a four-on-five situation. Brown got free run at the rim, with just Joel Embiid standing in his way.

Embiid wasn’t quick enough to block the young Celtics wing, and the result was an incredible power dunk — or perhaps power layup a la Blake Griffin — that excited the crowd at TD Garden.

I’m so glad NBA basketball is back.