Windhorst: LeBron James was headed to Miami for years

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Brian Windhorst was the MVP of sports media from the time the NBA season ended, right up through the first two weeks of July (and going strong). The beat reporter for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer has been following LeBron James since he was in puberty, following the prolific modern athlete through high school, his decision to go pro, his drafting by the Cavs, his early development, the first time the Cavs made the playoffs, their run to the Finals, and their subsequent repeated heartbreaks. 

He was caught off guard by how quickly James’ demeanor changed once free agency started. He followed the process, all the while being open and honest about the information he received from his sources. And now, with the star-athlete he’s followed for a decade having abandoned his home state, Windhorst has laid out how this all went down. 
And it’s not pretty. 
Saturday, Windhorst released an article for the Plain-Dealer outlining the exact process from 2006 in the World Championships in Japan to signing-day on Friday in Miami, how the Heat were able to put together a team of three superstars. 
Just in case you’re finding it hard to come up with reasons to click through, here are a few gems:
  • Team USA played a huge part in this, as their experiences being together, playing together, and talking were what first brought the idea to them. 
  • The Knicks were primarily the ones who planted the possibility in Riley’s head and laid out the path to creating the cap room necessarily to pull this off. 
  • Riley set up a meeting between James and Michael Jordan last November, and talked about how modern players should “pay homage to Jordan.” That was the same night James announced he was switching jersey numbers out of respect. Riley had influence, as much as nine months ago. 
  • Wade went to meet with James and Bosh the last week of June to sell them on this idea. That would be the week before free agency started, when Wade was still a member of the Miami Heat, basically recruiting them to come to his team. The word you’re looking for is tampering. 
  • Most interesting from that visit, Windhorst reports that Wade was discouraged from making this pitch by Commissioner David Stern. With the way things have gone down, there has to be discussion of whether or not we’ll be seeing tampering charges brought upon the Heat. 
  • James was offered the same preferential treatment for him and his friends that he was given in Cleveland, so you can expect the same kind of crony-ism to continue. 
  • Windhorst also reports on why the Bulls and Knicks didn’t land James, which are predictable but still interesting. 
For Cleveland fans, it just adds to the feeling of being duped by James and drives the dagger deeper (at this point, the handle’s pretty much inside their heart, much less the blade). For the rest of the world, it shows that these three were serious from the beginning, about controlling their own fate, and manipulating events to bring about what they wanted, the chance to play together. 
A good old fashioned conspiracy. Even in the modern era. 

Why did Nick Young play for Warriors last season? “I just needed to win”

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Coming off a season where he was part of an NBA champion, Nick Young is a free agent. Still. Which is a bit of a surprise — he’s a gunner, but a lot of teams could use the buckets he brings off the bench. Even if he didn’t always do that within the flow of the Warriors’ offense.

Young had been in the NBA for a decade when he went to the Warriors, and in speaking with Adam Caparell of Complex Magazine (hat tip NBC Sports Bay Area), he said that Lakers’ coach (and former Warriors’ assistant) Luke Walton opened up the door for him with some calls.

“I just needed to win. I had been on a lot of losing teams. Always rebuilding,” says Young. “I feel I needed to experience [winning] and be around guys who are just really good teammates like Draymond, even though he’s crazy.”

It worked. Swaggy P has a ring.

And he wants you to know he earned it — and he earned being in the league for a decade plus. He puts in the time on his body and craft.

“I love basketball. I wish people could see that it’s hard to be in the NBA—not only to get there, but to stay there this long,” he says. “I know players who were drafted higher than me that are gone.”

The big question now is where Young plays next season. He played 17 minutes a night for the NBA champions last season and 41 percent from three, some teams could use that. They may be looking at younger players they think they can develop, but before long some team will turn to Young because they know he can get them buckets.

It just may not be the same winning situation he was in a year ago.

 

C.J. McCollum on stars joining Warriors: “I think that’s disgusting”

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It remains the best “I want to start a passionate and irrational debate” topic around the NBA: Stars jumping to a contending team. Mainly the Warriors. Kevin Durant got a lot of “he took the easy way” flack when he did it (and he could calm a lot of the debate around him by just saying “I’m winning, I’m happy, that’s all that matters” but that’s not KD’s nature, so he pushes back on the narrative).

This summer it was DeMarcus Cousins. It’s not like there was some great demand for his services coming off a torn Achilles, but his signing with the Warriors was the biggest surprise of the summer and led to a lot of “how do we stop them?” comments. (I don’t know, maybe offer Cousins more than an exception contract. Just a thought.)

C.J. McCollum — touring China to promote his shoes — was on China Central Television and said he would never do that.

“I would never do anything of that nature, I think that’s disgusting… I was not built like those guys, I was raised differently… I think some players will take that route, but most guys have too much pride, they want to do well or certain organizations that are not going to jump the bandwagon.”

Plenty of fans and other players agree with McCollum.

I don’t — I like the fact players such as Durant (and LeBron James, and others) are taking control of their own destinies more. They shouldn’t be just puppets of GMs. It’s okay that the Warriors drafted and developed Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and the rest because that’s “natural” but the second a star player says “I like the culture and style they built there, I want to be part of that” it’s wrong? I don’t buy the “guys have to do it themselves” line of thinking because guys never won titles on their own — not Bill Russell, not Magic Johnson, not Michael Jordan. They were all on stacked teams. The difference is the players are making more of those choices now rather than leaving it to the white guys in suits.

McCollum is on a 49-win, three-seed team with another elite player in Damian Lillard, a franchise that was looking all summer for a way to add another star or more talent to the roster. But I guess that’s different somehow.

Bucks bring in Christian Wood for training camp, give him chance to make roster

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For three seasons now, Christian Wood has bounced between the NBA and G-League (he played for the Sixers, who cut him to bring in Elton Brand, and Charlotte). He has been trying to improve and show he has NBA skills — a 6’11” forward who has a face-up game, an improving outside shot, and his defense seems to be coming together. He’s still just 22 years old.

The best he looked was playing for the Bucks at Summer League in Las Vegas this year, where he averaged 20.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game, shot 55.4 percent, and made the All Summer League First Team.

That got him a training camp invite to Milwaukee this fall.

The Bucks have a final roster spot open, and they have now signed Woods and Shabazz Muhammad for camp, giving them a chance to compete for it and impress new coach Mike Budenholzer. (Tyler Zeller also is on a non-guaranteed and could get that spot.)

Budenholzer likes bigs who can shoot and space the floor, and Woods shot 30.4 percent from three in Las Vegas — not earth shattering, but he’s a more willing shooter from the outside than Muhammad. It’s going to be an interesting battle to watch in Bucks training camp. In Las Vegas, Woods looked like an NBA player, but Vegas can be a desert mirage, he needs to carry that play over to training camp to get a roster spot.

Kyle Kuzma on LeBron James’ Lakers: “a lot of people are underestimating us”

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Just how good are the LeBron James led Los Angles Lakers?

Las Vegas’ Westgate Sports Book put their under/over win total at 48.5. I’ve seen predictions that range from the three seed to talk of them missing the playoffs. Nobody really knows because, while LeBron’s greatness isn’t in question, there are plenty of questions about the fit around him: Lance Stephenson? Can Lonzo Ball play well off the ball more considering his shot? Where does Rajon Rondo fit in the PG rotation? What kind of step forward will Brandon Ingram take? Michael Beasley? Is JaVale McGee ready for a larger role? Will the Lakers go small at times with LeBron at the five? (I think that could be their best lineup, if used right.)

Kyle Kuzma thinks you’re selling the Lakers’ short.

Back in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, this week for a YMCA promotion, Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN he has worked out with LeBron and they like this roster.

“We are both definitely excited about the roster and the pieces that we have,” Kuzma told ESPN on Tuesday, after visiting with 20 kids from the Safe Places program at his hometown Flint YMCA as part of the “My Y Story” content series. “And we think that a lot of people are underestimating us. It is definitely going to be fun playing with all these new guys.”

“A lot of people say we got a lot of different people, a lot of new people,” added Kuzma, who also is holding a three-day camp for children in his hometown. “But change can be a good thing. It is not necessarily always a bad thing. There’s a lot of teams in the NBA that need to work on their chemistry; we are just one of them…

“I don’t know why people kind of just rule us out because we are young,” said Kuzma, who was a first-team All-Rookie performer after averaging 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds last season. “We are hungry. We are competitive. Anybody that watched us play last year, we were in a lot of games.”

The big change the Lakers made this season is good — LeBron makes the Lakers a threat. Kuzma is right on that front.

However, the question has never been “will the Lakers be good?” They have LeBron and some quality talent around him, of course they will be. The questions are more along the lines of “how fast can they come together?” and “where do they slot in the West, where there are a lot of good teams?” Assuming Golden State and Houston finish as the top two seeds in some order, where do the Lakers rank against Oklahoma City, Utah, Portland, New Orleans, Minnesota, Denver, and San Antonio? And that’s without getting into teams such as Memphis or the Los Angeles Clippers who have potential if they can stay healthy. That’s 12 teams I just mentioned battling for eight playoffs slots, 12 teams capable of winning at least 45 games if not more. The margin for error in the West is minuscule.

But are we underestimating the Lakers? Depends on what the standard is. These Lakers are not contenders yet. But do you really think a LeBron James team is going to miss the playoffs?