LeBron may have chosen Miami to recreate high school. But he has no regrets.

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Thumbnail image for lebron_james_arty.jpgRegrets? Nope.

LeBron James is chronicled in the latest issue of GQ, by author J.R. Moehringer, who had the seats closest to ringside for the circus that was the Summer of LeBron. He has a lot of insights, he tries to answer the hardest questions.

Like, what would LeBron change if he had it to do over?

“Nothing at all,” he said.

Like “Why Miami?”

Moehringer thinks because playing with Wade and Bosh in a fun city is a way to replicate James’ high school experience, which he still says is some of the best times of his life. Moehringer gets into this more in a companion interview done at TrueHoop.

I agree with Buzz [Bissinger, who wrote James’ last authorized book] that’s it’s dangerous to do pop psychologizing, but it seems to me that [James] has one formula for success in his life and that comes out of his high school experience…

He thrives, he’s happiest, he does his best when he is surrounded by friends. He just didn’t feel like that was happening in Cleveland. It seems pretty clear that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh aren’t just the best talent he can surround himself with, but they’re a combination of talent and friends. He’s looking for camaraderie. That’s the formula that has worked for him — and the only one that has worked for him.

Moehringer paints a complex portrait (which is not fully available online, you need to buy the magazine). He talks about a man somewhat isolated from reality — a man surrounded by a layer of family, followed by a layer of friends, followed by a layer of Nike people. Moehringer said that in the room in Connecticut, where LeBron was to televise his decision, everyone had a sense of foreboding and that this was a bad idea — everyone except LeBron and his people. They didn’t get it.

How isolated did he seem from reality at times? The opening of the article says it all:

He can imagine, he says, playing for Cleveland again one day.

Did I hear him right? Cleveland?

“If there was an opportunity for me to return,” he says, “and those fans welcome me back, that’d be a great story.”

Cleveland…Ohio? Where fans at this very moment are burning his jerseys? Where fans are selling toilet paper made from his jerseys?

“Maybe the ones burning my jersey,” he says, “were never LeBron fans anyway.”

This is a fantastic bit of writing, and like all great writing it ads nuance and shades of gray to what has been painted in black-and-white terms so many places. LeBron does not come off as a bad person or a stooge, he comes off as someone who thought it through and made his decision. Someone very comfortable with that decision.

He says that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s post-decision rant only reinforced the feeling he made the right decision, as James himself said in GQ:

“I don’t think he ever cared about LeBron. My mother always told me: ‘You will see the light of people when they hit adversity. You’ll get a good sense of their character.’ Me and my family have seen the character of that man.” He went on to say that Gilbert’s post-Decision screed “made me feel more comfortable that I made the right decision.”

Moehringer doesn’t let we sports fans off the hook. We are to blame in part for this. Complain about ESPN’s “The Decision” all you want, large numbers tuned in to watch. As he gets into during his TrueHoop interview, Moehringer notes we complain about athletes acting narcissistically, then we tune in to watch them in big numbers. We are fascinated. We do it with Brett Favre. We do it with Tiger.

And when the ratings numbers start up again on Oct. 26, you can bet we will see record numbers tune in to watch LeBron again.  

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

PBT Extra: Dwight Howard traded to Brooklyn, does anybody win?

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Dwight Howard is on the move. Again. Leaving a wake of unhappy teammates behind him. Again.

The trade can’t be consummated until the NBA free agent moratorium ends on July 6, but a deal has been struck where Charlotte sends Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks, and cash.

I don’t love this trade for the Nets — it’s going to get awkward with Howard being asked to come off the bench behind Jarrett Allen (and he should come off the bench). But it frees up an extra $17 million for the Nets in the summer of 2019 as they start to reshape their roster.

The Hornets get away from the luxury tax with this move but tie up their cap space next year with Mozgov still getting paid off the contract former-Laker-now-Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak gave him years ago. It was a short-term move that isn’t great for the long term. Unless Kemba Walker wanted Howard gone and the Hornets want to re-sign their point guard. A lot of unanswered questions still about this team.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard directly told Gregg Popovich he wanted to leave Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich met in San Diego yesterday.

How did the discussion go? Reports have been mixed about even the nature of the meeting, let alone a resolution from either side.

But here’s an update with a reportedly direct conclusion.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

From what my sources told me, Kawhi Leonard met with Gregg Popovich face-to-face, looked him dead in his face and told him “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in San Antonio any longer.”

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers, last week. There was some hope Popovich could mend the relationship, but that seems to running thin. There is so much bitterness between both sides.

The next question: What do the Spurs do about it?

Do they keep trying to ease tension with the 26-year-old superstar? Do they trade him? If so, when? Before or during the draft?

No matter what Leonard told Popovich yesterday, San Antonio has big decisions to make and soon. Leonard firmly stating a desire to leave would be clarifying, but it’d hardly make this situation easy to handle.

Brendan Haywood: Former Hornets teammates ‘sick and tired’ of Dwight Howard’s act

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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It has become an annual tradition – Dwight Howard getting traded then his former teammates celebrating his exit.

It happened with the Hawks last year. Now, it’s happening with the Hornets, who sent Howard to the Nets.

Brendan Haywood, via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

Now retired, Haywood played with current Hornets Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist his final season. He also knows many other players throughout the league.

Howard went to Charlotte and declared himself team leader – despite the presence of Walker, the franchise player. Howard’s immaturity and ego have rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way for years.

But at least this is progress. Howard’s time with the Magic, Lakers and Rockets devolved into interpersonal strife well before he left those teams.