The Flip Side: There are point guards, there are shooting guards, and then there's Lance Stephenson

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Thumbnail image for lstephenson.jpgWednesday’s four-way trade saw just about every team involved walk away a winner. However, the effects of that trade are far more specific than just saying “This team got better,” or “This team accomplished its goals.” In The Flip Side, we’ll look at one player from each of the four teams — the Nets, the Pacers, the Hornets, and the Rockets — and how their career is impacted by the move in both the immediate and distant future.

In a trade that saw a number of moving parts rotate among the four participating teams, the Pacers came out with the most obvious prize. They surrendered rumor mill mainstay Troy Murphy, a useful shooter and rebounder on a sizable expiring deal, and in return received Darren Collison, one of the many standout point guards from last year’s rookie class. Collison did a superb job filling in for Chris Paul last season, and now he’ll have a team to truly call his own, even if it’s a slightly dysfunctional one.

Danny Granger will be thankful. Roy Hibbert’s life just got a whole lot easier, too. In fact, every single Pacer who hopes to score, score, or score this season will benefit from Collison’s presence.

Collison also isn’t T.J. Ford, which is a good thing. He’s going to run the offense, find his teammates, and get better every night, and Indiana will never have to worry about him sulking through another mid-January outing.

Yet it’s somewhat disappointing that we won’t have a proper opportunity to see if Born Ready really was born ready. One of the more interesting subplots coming out of this year’s draft was Jim O’Brien’s decision to transform Lance Stephenson, who up until this point has always been considered a traditional 2, into a point guard. Stephenson probably needed a fresh start after a sub-par year at Cincinnati, but the idea make a floor general out of him is, well, both remarkably odd and absolutely fascinating.

Based on his summer league performance (which is, empirically speaking, a dangerous way to begin a sentence), Stephenson looked very much like a scoring guard who happens to handle the ball. That’s fine. He’s a second rounder finding his way into the league, and is doing so at a new position, no less. It makes sense for Stephenson to do what got him here, even while slotted as a de facto playmaker.

Playing Stephenson at the point was an idea born out of necessity, but that necessity has since been removed. O’Brien seemed hopeful that Stephenson could develop into Indy’s point guard of the future, but the Pacers just nabbed a promising PG via trade. Collison is going to comfortably slide into the role that Stephenson was hoping to one day fill, which could mean the end of the Stephenson point guard experiment all together. If A.J. Price and T.J. Ford are filling in the minutes behind Collison, where does that leave Stephenson?

It’s not easy to say. Collison’s arrival is an undoubtedly good thing for Stephenson’s career overall though, even if it means we have to wait a bit longer to see him thrown into the fire. It’s entirely possible that if Lance were delegated responsibilities that exceeded his fledgling point guard skills, his chances of staying at the position over the long-term would be quashed. Maybe O’Brien would try to shift Stephenson back to the 2 after some early troubles. Maybe Lance’s confidence in his ability to adjust would be shaken. Or maybe Stephenson would simply succumb to one of the many fearsome perils that plague rookie second rounders.

Instead, Stephenson has an incredible luxury: time. Time to learn, time to develop, time to adjust. Hell, time for Lance to prove that he belongs in the NBA at all. He may be a point guard yet if O’Brien wills it so, and while Collison’s arrival in Indiana makes Stephenson’s positional status just a bit more ambiguous, it’s the kind of development that really could do wonders for Stephenson over the long haul. Some rookies burn up the pine, oozing with potential, waiting for a chance to play. Others, like Stephenson, have a lot to gain by operating in the background, even if doing so ruins an interesting case study in positional fluidity.

Kyrie Irving says at times he “felt very disrespected” in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics
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Kyrie Irving says he is happy. He said he feels celebrated and respected by his new team in Dallas.

While fans in Brooklyn, Boston and Cleveland may snicker and say “wait for it…”, a happy Irving right now is a good thing for a Mavericks team desperate to put a high-level shot creator next to superstar Luka Dončić. Irving emphasized his joy in playing the game while speaking to the media Tuesday after his first practice with his new team. He praised the Mavericks organization while saying he sometimes didn’t feel respected in Brooklyn. Here are Irving’s comments, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I just know I want to be places where I’m celebrated and not just tolerated or just kind of dealt with in a way that doesn’t make me feel respected,” Irving said after Tuesday’s practice at USC’s Galen Hall. “There were times throughout this process when I was in Brooklyn where I felt very disrespected and my talent — I work extremely hard at what I do. No one ever talks about my work ethic, though. Everyone talks about what I’m doing off the floor, so I just wanted to change that narrative, write my own story and just continue preparing in the gym, and now that I’m in Dallas, just focus on what I control.”

Irving makes it hard not to talk about his off-the-floor choices when he does things that keep him away from his team, such as his vaccination status a season ago, or a Tweet earlier this season promoting a movie with anti-Semitic themes that led to an eight-game suspension by the Nets.

When on the court, Irving’s skills are unquestionable — he has the league’s best handles and averages 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game, plus he is shooting 37.4% from 3. It’s those skills he wants to bring to Dallas and make the focus. He wants to move on from the negativity surrounding him in Brooklyn.

Irving cited a lack of “transparency and honesty from people in the front office” as a reason he did not feeling comfortable continuing his career with the Nets…

“I don’t want to go into too many details because it’s water under the bridge now,” said Irving… “I wish them well. I left them in fourth place. I did what I was supposed to do, took care of my teammates, was incredibly selfless in my approach to leading, and I just want to do all the right things for myself — not to appease anybody that had something negative to say about me or judge me. This basketball game — just, it’s fun, and I want to keep it that way.”

If it stays fun and about basketball, this will be an excellent trade for the Mavericks. Irving will have to prove his critics wrong by keeping the spotlight on the court.

NBA, sports world reacts to LeBron James setting all-time scoring record

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LOS ANGELES — LeBron James is now the leading scorer in NBA history.

He passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with a turnaround jumper in the third quarter Tuesday night, and with that the fans filling Crypto.com Arena exploded, having witnessed history. The reaction was similar among his peers and fans on social media, but the praise for LeBron has been pouring in all season. Here are some highlights of the reaction to LeBron setting this historic record, both from Tuesday night and the buildup to that moment throughout the season.

“But I think when you talk about LeBron, LeBron is in his own category. Just with the way he came into the league, and he never disappointed his fans, his teammates, and his owners, by winning championships by being able to help players get paid, you know, and then, you know, at the end of the day, he he’s about winning, he’s a competitor, and he’s never talked about records. You know, he’s just the only thing that he has really talked about is trying to win championships.” —Dallas Mavericks coach and Hall of Fame player Jason Kidd

“LeBron has done it so differently to me because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.” —Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers

“It used to anger me when he first came in, and if he made a pass, somebody said he should have shot it. And if he shot the ball, he should have passed it. It really would anger me because they would just deal with the negative. And it was sort of a fake, negative in a way, the guy was doing everything great handling himself great, young kid with all that attention, doing what he’s doing. I just thought he was wonderful.” —San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich

[On how LeBron reached this record without a score-first mentality] “I think empowering teammates the way he has done throughout the course of his career, he’s made his teammates threats, with where you have to account for them. And when you have to account for others… it allows you to operate more effectively with less traffic and you’re able to do what you need to do for the team in terms of scoring.” —Lakers coach Darvin Ham

“Congratulations to LeBron on breaking one of the most hallowed records in all of sports by becoming the NBA’s all-time scoring leader. It’s a towering achievement that speaks to his sustained excellence over 20 seasons in the league. And quite amazingly, LeBron continues to play at an elite level and his basketball history is still being written.” —NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

“[The NBA] gave the keys to the whole entire business to an 18-year-old kid and now he’s 38 years old and he’s still dominating. I don’t think we should be surprised. I think we should congratulate him and celebrate him as much as possible.” —Kyrie Irving

LeBron cements place in NBA, Lakers pantheon with all-time scoring record

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LOS ANGELES — Lakers fans were slow to warm to LeBron James when he came West in 2018.

Lakers nation was excited about the possibilities but held LeBron at arm’s length. Part of that was the shadow of Kobe Bryant — L.A. was his town, these were his fans, and LeBron felt like a mercenary by comparison. Was he coming to town to carry on the Lakers’ legacy, or to make movies and television shows? It didn’t help that in his first season the Lakers didn’t even make the playoffs. A year later when LeBron put banner 17 in the rafters, Lakers fans had to watch it on television while isolated in their homes. There were no fans gathering in bars for watch parties, there could be no championship parade, and there wasn’t the same sense of community around the city.

Tuesday night that changed — Lakers fans fully embraced LeBron, and he cemented his place in NBA history and the Lakers’ pantheon.

With a free throw line turnaround jumper in the third quarter, LeBron passed the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, with 35,388 points (he would finish the night with a couple more.

“I write that ‘Man in the Arena’ on my shoe every single night, from Theodore Roosevelt. Tonight I actually felt like I was like sitting on top of the arena,” LeBron said. “When that shot went in and the roar from the crowd, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to feel that feeling again, unless it’s like a game-winning Finals shot…

“Everything just stopped and it gave me an opportunity just to kind of embrace it and look around. And seeing my family, seeing the fans, seeing my friends, it was, it was, it was pretty cool.”

As the shot fell through the net, LeBron raised his arms and Lakers fans roared as loud as this building has ever heard — it sounded with the echoes of the Shaq/Kobe era and Kobe’s wild 60-point final game. It was history made in purple and gold, it cemented LeBron in the hearts of Lakers fans.

Play was stopped and LeBron soon doubled over with the emotion of the moment. He was wiping away tears, while his sons sitting courtside were filming him on their phones (the way teenagers must in this era). LeBron, at age 38, has spent 20 seasons in the NBA — and a lifetime focused on conditioning and health — to reach this moment, and his emotions hit him when it happened.

Abdul-Jabbar was sitting courtside and was gracious, despite what had been a frosty relationship between the pair in the past. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Abdul-Jabbar took part in a brief ceremony to mark the historic occasion. Then LeBron made an emotional address to the crowd — and dropped an F-bomb at the end, a sign of the emotions and lack of a filter in that moment.

By the middle of the first quarter, it started to feel as if this could be his night, that LeBron was going to to the 36 points he needed. The energy was high, but LeBron started the game 0-of-2 shooting and focusing more on what he has always done — making the right basketball play and dishing off when the defense overloads on him — much to the frustration of the crypto.com arena crowd urging on history. He eventually broke that streak four minutes in with a corner 3.

Soon after LeBron went into attack mode. He was able to get downhill, getting into the paint seemingly at will, and when the Thunder point-of-attack defenders started to play back to take the drive, he knocked down 3s. LeBron was showing off the full arsenal, hitting on post-ups and in transition. It also was a game starting to feel like a lot of Lakers games this season — it was going to take a heroic effort from LeBron just to keep the Lakers in the game (ultimately it wasn’t enough OKC won 133-130).

LeBron had 20 at the half, was scoring whenever he wanted, and told his sons he was getting the record this night.

“I felt pretty good, I got into a good rhythm, and once I get in a good rhythm, then I can make any shot on the floor,” LeBron said describing the moment he set the record. “You know, to break the record, I was able to get to a really good spot where I’m very comfortable with and get to one of my patented fadeaway shots.”

It fell. Saying he is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer is another pillar holding up his GOAT argument. It’s another chapter in a career that has been in the spotlight since high school but never felt off track. And it was a shot that forever cemented his legacy with West, Wilt, Shaq, Kobe, Magic and the pantheon of Lakers greats in the hearts of Lakers fans.

Watch LeBron James set NBA all-time scoring record

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LOS ANGELES — With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar looking on from courtside, LeBron James hit a free-throw line turnaround jumper to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,388 points.

After the bucket, LeBron raised his hands to the air and exhorted the crowd, but soon the moment hit him and he doubled over with the emotion of the moment, his hands on his knees. The game was stopped for a few minutes to celebrate the moment, with Abdul-Jabbar and NBA Comissioner Adam Silver came out on the floor for a short ceremony. LeBron addressed the crowd before play resumed.

On a night it felt like the Lakers forgot to bring their defense home from the Grammys road trip, LeBron had to take on more of a scoring load to keep his team in the game. The Thunder were not playing great defense either, allowing LeBron to get downhill and score in the paint early. Once he got a few buckets to fall, the floodgates opened — and the Lakers crowd roared as loudly as this building has ever heard to urge him towards the record. A fanbase that has seen more than its share of greatness and history embraced the moment.

And they embraced the player, which was not always the case in Los Angeles. It was LeBron’s night and a very special moment of history.