Introducing the LeBron James Hate Index

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When LeBron James was revealed as the sixth most reviled athlete in sports this week, it was a startling reminder of just how far he’s fallen. When an athlete makes a decision (as opposed to “The Decision”), the backlash is usually introduced as isolated pockets. How Boston feels about Roger Clemens, for example. Or how animal lovers feel about Michael Vick (unfortunately, there are a lot of us animal lovers out there, though that number seems to be plummeting in Philly lately).

But James tapped into something at the moral center of our cultural Tootsie Roll, and it’s left him as one of the more ill-considered people in all of athletic competition. This despite him having broken no laws, nor skirted the edge of what we consider moral behavior in our society (outside of our traditional value of loyalty, often which we bend in protection of a perceived self-interest).

Quite simply, dude screwed up.

And so it is with that in mind that ProBasketballTalk.com introduces The LeBron Hate Index, a measure designed to track exactly how much people hate the best player in the NBA (see what I did there? Just by giving him that title I’ve increased his basketball purist hate by another five degrees). It’s important for posterity that we note James’ career arc through the lens of popular opinion, so that somewhere, way down the line, we can get a feel for how distaste of him has grown or dwindled as his championship aspirations are either fulfilled or dropped into the void.

Lebron James HateIndex 1y.jpgA Quick Legend:
1 (Blue)= “It’s all good, LeBron! Do what you got to, young fella!”
2 (Blue-Yellow)= “You’re more like elevator music. I can handle you, but only ten seconds.”
3 (Yellow)= “I don’t wish you ill, but I do laugh at your misfortune.”
4 (Yellow-Red)= “Peace? I hate the word. As I hate hell, Hugh Jackman, and thee.”
5 (Red)= “I’m not saying you are Satan, I’m just saying we should run some tests. As long as I don’t have to touch you and it involves a lot of pain for you.”
6 (Unofficial, Very Edge Of Red)= “I live in Cleveland.”

You’ll notice our five points of reference, Cleveland, The Stilted, The General Public, Basketball Purists, and the ever-so-hypocritical, we the Media.

Cleveland is quite obvious, and you can expect his honker to stay right in that dark red for the foreseeable future.

The Stilted refers to those who James elected not to join this summer, after visits in consideration thereof. Those fans continue to speak ill of James, despite the fact that had he donned their brilliant colors, they’d be defending him just as Heat fans now do (and Heat fans would surely have joined their ranks had he taken his talents elsewhere).

The General Public refers to those outside of the basketball-obsessed world, the vast majority of that 13 million strong viewing public.

Basketball Purists relate to those who look back to a purer, simpler time. You know, the one when players didn’t leave their teams (mostly because the ownership power was so great as to negate that possibility and free agency was in its infancy), and players were more humble and had more respect for the game (as illustrated by their rampant drug use or creation of their own shoe brands).

And then, of course, there’s us. The media. You may recognize us by the bold, brash headlines about how James wants too much attention (“READ ALL ABOUT IT HERE”). You may also identify us by our cutesy terminology for James and his actions (or our cute nicknames: “See, we call him LeCon, because he conned everyone. And his name is LeBron. It rhymes, you see. I learned that in journalism school, right after ‘Blame Everyone Else For The Downfall Of Our Profession’ 101.”)

In our first edition, you’ll notice Cleveland holding strong in the “Hope You Burn In The Fiery Flames Of Hell” category. The Shunned have peeled off some since “The Decision” and have begun the heady process of talking themselves into believing they can legitimately compete against the Heat (recognizable by such phrases as “Carlos Boozer is really underrated” and “Anthony Randolph could revolutionize the (insert position here).”)

How about those purists? There’s a healthy, steady hate for James being ridden by these noble beasts, primarily as they watch Michael Jordan average X assists, while lauding Scottie Pippen for being one of the greatest players of his generation in a role entirely enveloped by supporting teammates.  The competition factor is the motor for these wanderers of ESPN Classic (just as they believe Satan is LeBron’s motor). After all, who would want to team up with your competitors when you can seek to destroy them in a vindictive and hyper-competitive manner that’s driven solely by vengeance and resentment rather than a quest to play the best basketball and live the best life you can?

The media? Oh, no, we’re not letting go of this cash cow. Do you realize how much money we’ve made off of the idea that LeBron James sucks? Do you know how many ad impressions we’ve garnered from the construct of talking about James bombarding the public with his life and image? We can’t let this thing go. It’s perfect! We get to dismiss, degrade, and make up cute nicknames for a 25-year-old for his immense ego while simultaneously racking up the accolades for our work talking about him. Hey, if we keep this up, we may even be able to get better jobs! Maybe in nicer locales, working with our friends! … Wait…

All this cheekery isn’t to suggest that James didn’t deserve all this. If he wanted to stay in everyone’s good graces, he should have stayed in Cleveland, watching Mo Williams chuck 15 footers while Kevin Garnett drains hook shot after hook shot over Antawn Jamison. Again, it may seem absurd, but that’s the fact, LeJack (“See? I did it again! It’s genius!”). James gets to live in a beautiful place, with beautiful people, playing alongside two of his best friends who are also two of the best players in the game, make more money, and compete for a championship. The dude doesn’t exactly have it rough. B

ut he’s got to pay the price for those privileges, and his price is the public’s bounty on his head. You make decisions, and you live with them.

So there you have the first LeBron Hate Index. We’ll keep tabs on this all season long for you, to give you a sense of what the big picture of the reigning MVP’s basketball public image is. Rest assured, we in the media will continue to do what we do best. Tearing down those who want attention by calling for lots of attention. 

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

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Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.

Andre Drummond focused on conditioning heading into contract season

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Andre Drummond can be a free agent next summer. That would mean walking away from a $28.8 million player option for that season, so he’s not going to do it unless he thinks he can land an even bigger payday (a max contract) or he decides he wants some security long term. Drummond has said he’s excited to be a free agent (then quickly tried to walk that back).

How Drummond plays this coming season will play a big role in what kind of offers he will get. What is Drummond doing to prepare for this contract year? Improving his conditioning, reports coach Dwane Casey to Pistons.com.

“One, his overall conditioning. He’s in the best shape since I’ve been around him, the year and a half that I’ve seen. His body is slim and trim, his body fat is down, he’s been in Vegas working with Coach Gerg (Tim Grgurich) and Sean Sweeney all summer religiously, two and three times a day. That in itself is going to pay great dividends. Watching him in pickup games, he’s running like a deer. His decision making, I think the 3-point shooting experiment, we kind of put that on hold in the second part of the year last year but still, catching the ball on pick and roll, making decisions, he’s doing a great job of that – a much better job than he did last year. That’s something he’s worked on this summer, making the right read, the right decision.”

This time of year, right before training camp, reports of players being in “the best shape of their life” is worth as much as tickets from the Fyre Festival. It’s good to hear this about Drummond, but we’ll want to see it before we believe it.

Can Drummond punish teams that go small against him? Can he find a way to get easy buckets in transition and space the floor a little more? Do that, with his rebounding, and he may get the payday he wants. But he’s going to have to show it all season long.

 

Report: Kawhi Leonard talked to Paul George — and PG asked for trade — before free agency opened

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This story is a perfect example of why small and middle-market owners were pissed off (to put it mildly) after this summer’s free agency. It’s why the league did an investigation. It’s why there are new rules, new talk of enforcement, and preaching a “culture of compliance” around tampering in the NBA.

None of that may have mattered in this case, either. The anti-tampering crackdown sounds good, but how much will it slow down how the real recruiting gets done: player-to-player? From Draymond Green texting Kevin Durant just after the Warriors 2016 Finals loss to this summer, it’s the game’s best players recruiting their peers that really bothers some teams.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, on his latest podcast, talks about just that and uses Kawhi Leonard‘s recruitment of Paul George as an example — and in the process blows up Doc Rivers idea that Leonard made his choice in a meeting when presented with a list.

“The idea that Kawhi Leonard first introduced the idea of trading for Paul George in his meeting with the Clippers, from a list, we know that days before free agency started, well days before, Kawhi and Paul George were talking. Paul George’s agent went to Oklahoma City prior to the start of free agency and said Paul would like to be traded to the Clippers. He wants to play with Kawhi. But, at that point, Kawhi wasn’t allowed to be talking with the Clippers. They couldn’t officially have contact with him until after June 30, 6 p.m.

“But among small markets, the player-to-player [tampering] is the issue. As a GM said to me recently, the teams are often the last to know in these instances. The star player goes out and starts working a guy, then says ‘I want this guy.'”

If you don’t think that is true, think back to the Brooklyn Nets saying Kevin Durant chose them without there even being a pitch meeting. It may not have been a total shock to Brooklyn Durant was coming, but they were not in the loop on decision-making process (except via Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was recruiting Irving).

The problem comes back to enforcement: How exactly is the league going to stop players who work out together in the summer, who go to dinner with each other, who may share agents (LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for example), from talking and recruiting each other? When Leonard spoke to George, he was about to be a free agent — he could talk to anyone he wanted. Leonard may have orchestrated all of this. How much the Clippers were in the loop is certainly up for debate, but this was Leonard’s power play.

Tampering may be less of an issue next summer with a soft free-agent class, but just wait for 2021 when potentially Kawhi and George, LeBron, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more hit the market. Those players will be talking, the league will be hard-pressed to stop it, and it all could lead to impressive fireworks.

Klay Thompson: ‘That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.’

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Stephen Curry wants to go to Tokyo and play for Team USA next summer. So does Draymond Green.

How about three Warriors?

If Klay Thompson is healthy, he wants to play in the Olympics next summer he told Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic.

“I would love to play (for) Team USA,” Thompson said. “That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.”

The biggest question for Thompson’s candidacy will be health. He is expected to be out until at least after the All-Star break recovering from the ACL he tore during the Finals last season. He could miss all of next season. That said, if he is healthy he would be a perfect fit for the international game — he is a dangerous three-point shooter, can handle the ball when needed, and is an outstanding perimeter defender. Team USA could use guys like that.

It won’t just be the big-name Warriors players who will want to step up next summer.

After USA Basketball finished seventh at this summer’s World Cup in China — due mostly to numerous top players choosing not to play for their nation this summer — it was expected that a wave of elite players will sign up for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Players are doing this less because revenge or re-establishing the USA’s basketball dominance — although expect that to be the narrative they pitch — and more about timing. FIBA, in its “infinite wisdom,” decided to move the World Cup from its usual spot, which would have been 2018, to 2019. Playing for USA Basketball is a 6-8 week summer commitment, and now the World Cup and Olympics are in back-to-back years. That left a lot of elite NBA players — and not just for Team USA — looking at the calendar and feeling they had to choose one or the other. And for American players, the Olympics will almost always win that fight.

USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo said he is going to remember who was willing to make the sacrifice to come this summer when it comes time to choosing an Olympic team. That may happen with a couple of roster spots, but he’s not turning elite talent away, either.

And all three of those Warriors would be the kind of elite players Team USA will want in Tokyo. If Thompson is healthy enough to go, expect him to pack his bags for Tokyo.