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. 

Gordon Hayward says he is willing to come off bench as he struggles in Boston

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Gordon Hayward just isn’t right. Yet.

Nor should we expect him to be — just over a year ago his leg was turned in a direction no leg should turn. It’s a long road of surgery, rehab, and time on the court to get back. Hayward is not all the way back yet: 9.9 points per game shooting below 40 percent overall and 31.9 percent from three, with a below-league-average PER of 12.9.

At the same time, the Celtics have stumbled out of the gate, going 7-6 with a still-elite defense (most nights, there have been some games on that end in the last five) but a bottom-five offense. Throw in some slow starts in games for the Celtics and you have an unimpressive start to the season for a team expected to be the team to beat in the East.

Hayward realizes he’s part of the problem and told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe he’d come off the bench if that would help.

“For me, I’m happy to be on the court, No. 1 more than anything and, No. 2, whatever I can do to help us win,’’ Hayward said at the Auerbach Center in Brighton. “I said it before the season, it’s whatever to me….

“There’s obviously a little bit of rust and sometimes you just go through those phases. You go through slumps. The shot feels good in practice and looks good and for whatever reason in the game, they’re in and out.

“Sometimes it gets frustrating, but for me, I’ve played in the league long enough to know you just have to put in the work in practice and shoot with confidence, shoot your way out of it.”

Hayward’s ego is not completely wrapped up in starting vs. coming off the bench (unlike someone the Rockets may be about to release). It’s about a process to get back to the All-Star level player he was, and he knows that the process is still ongoing, it didn’t reach a culmination when the season tipped off.

Coach Brad Stevens has got to get Hayward time on the court and the chance to get back to form — Boston needs that Hayward in April and beyond. But for now, more Marcus Smart — heck, more of just whoever is hot that night — is the right move, even if that means Hayward begins games sitting.

One Warriors’ player: “With what was said, there is already no way Durant is coming back”

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Since before training camp opened, the Warriors — players and management — have been mentally prepared for this being Kevin Durant‘s last season with the team (Durant is expected to opt out next summer and become a free agent). That doesn’t mean they want it to end. The front office, in particular, will do whatever it can to keep him. It’s just that everyone senses the reality.

That reality was pushed into the spotlight after the end of regulation in an eventual loss to the Clippers when Draymond Green chose not to defer to Durant and pass him the ball, instead trying to do it all himself (Green fumbled the ball away and the Warriors didn’t get a shot off). Durant called out Green for the decision (as did other teammates later), Green stood his ground and called Durant a “b****” and said he was making the season about himself with how he has handled his pending free agency.

Where does that leave the Warriors? Not in a good space, one veteran told Marcus Thompson II in a must-read piece at The Athletic.

“With what was said, there is already no way Durant is coming back,” one player said. “The only hope is that they can say this summer, ‘See, KD. We’ve got your back. We protected you from Draymond.’ ”

Hence the suspension, rather than just a fine for Green. The Warriors wanted the punishment to be public, not just internal. Just to show Durant they have his back.

It’s very likely not enough — and it very likely would not have mattered anyway. Whatever you may think Durant is saying on the court, the stage has already been set for next July. It feels like Durant wants to win one more title, then to go try to pad his legacy with his “own team” somewhere else.

The Warriors players, including Green and Durant, are professional enough to put all this aside to win. None of this means the Warriors are not still the heavy title favorites.

The challenge now for Steve Kerr and everyone else is to just keep focused, keep their eye on the Larry O’Brien trophy and not all the distractions. So, they will keep playing what happened down.

Since before training camp opened, the Warriors — players and management — have been mentally prepared for this being Kevin Durant’s last season with the team (Durant is expected to opt out next summer and become a free agent). That doesn’t mean they want it to end. The front office, in particular, will do whatever it can to keep him. It’s just that everyone senses the reality.

That reality was pushed into the spotlight after the end of regulation in an eventual loss to the Clippers when Draymond Green chose not to defer to Durant and pass him the ball, rather trying to do it all himself (Green fumbled the ball away and the Warriors didn’t get a shot off). Durant called out Green for the decision (as did other teammates later), Green stood his ground and called Durant a “b****” and said he was making the season about himself with how he has handled his pending free agency.

Where does that leave the Warriors? Not in a good space, one veteran told Marcus Thompson II in a must-read piece at The Athletic.

“With what was said, there is already no way Durant is coming back,” one player said. “The only hope is that they can say this summer, ‘See, KD. We’ve got your back. We protected you from Draymond.’ ”

Hence the suspension, rather than just a fine for Green. The Warriors wanted the punishment to be public, not just internal. Just to show Durant they have his back.

It’s very likely not enough — and it very likely would not have mattered anyway. Whatever you may think Durant is saying on the court, the stage has already been set for next July. It feels like Durant wants to win one more title, then to go try to pad his legacy with his “own team” somewhere else.

The Warriors players, including Green and Durant, are professional enough to put all this aside to win. None of this means the Warriors are not still the heavy title favorites.

The challenge now for Steve Kerr and everyone else is to just keep focused, keep their eye on the Larry O’Brien trophy and not all the distractions. So, they will keep playing what happened down.

Without Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves move on with warm welcome for newbies

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Jerryd Bayless walked into their hotel rooms in Minnesota, they found appropriate gifts from Timberwolves All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns: winter coats.

After the overnight temperature dropped to 7 degrees, the newest members of the team by way of the Jimmy Butler trade with Philadelphia appreciated the welcome from Minnesota’s best player. Butler’s awkward and drawn-out departure created an icy atmosphere around the organization, but now that the deal is finally done, the Wolves have begun trying to warm the atmosphere back up.

“We can’t wait to get on the court, put on that jersey and put it on for this city,” Covington said at a news conference inside Target Center on Tuesday afternoon that carried just a bit less buzz than Butler’s open-to-the-public introduction at the Mall of America less than 17 months ago.

As Butler formally joined the 76ers , the Wolves pivoted forward after a pressure-relieving win over Brooklyn on Monday night following an 0-5 road trip.

Neither Covington nor Saric played against the Nets, but they’re on track to take the floor on Wednesday night against New Orleans. Bayless is injured, rehabilitating a hyperextended right knee, and with a glut of point guards on the roster he’s not expected to see playing time even once he’s healthy. Both Covington and Saric were starters for the Sixers, who finished third in the Eastern Conference last season at 52-30.

“They’re both young, and they’re going to get better. Both are very good defensively. They both shoot the 3. We think they fit well with the guys that we do have,” said president of basketball operations and coach Tom Thibodeau. “Once we got to that point where we felt we were getting multiple rotational players, then we felt it would be time to execute the deal. When we initially started off, that wasn’t the case.”

As for whether the Timberwolves could be better without Butler, the four-time All-Star with exceptional ability on both ends on the court, Thibodeau demurred.

“We have to focus on who’s here. We think we have a good, young nucleus, and we have to build off of that,” Thibodeau said.

Covington is the centerpiece of the package.

The 27-year-old, who went undrafted out of Tennessee State and began in the NBA with Houston in the 2013-14 season, has career averages of 12.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game with a 35.9 shooting percentage from 3-point range. The 6-foot-9 Covington was an All-Defensive First Team pick last season with a career-most 315 deflections and a defensive rating of 99.0 that led all forwards in the league with at least 30 minutes per game. He was ninth in the NBA in steals with an average of 1.7 per game.

That’s the area where he’ll help the Timberwolves the most, the area that Butler was also acquired to help improve.

“In order to stay in this league and be effective, you’ve got to be able to go down there and be able to stop somebody on the other end,” Covington said, adding: “I think I watched more film the first few years than I’ve ever watched my entire life, as far as just different guys and watching how they read certain things and build the habits of watching players and everything. So I’d say the past couple seasons is when everything started to click.”

The 24-year-old Saric was named to the All-Rookie First Team in 2016-17. The native of Croatia has career averages of 13.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He shot 39.3 percent from 3-point range last season.

Covington will likely fill Butler’s starting spot. Thibodeau could move Taj Gibson to the second unit and keep Saric as a starter. The 6-foot-10 Saric, who was the 12th overall pick in the 2014 draft, is the classic “stretch four” with a power forward’s size and a small forward’s shot. He meshed well with Sixers center Joel Embiid, so Towns has the potential to similarly complement his game.

“KAT is shooting so much better from the 3-point line than Joel, and it seems like we can play with each other,” Saric said, adding: “If I find a way how to play with Joel, I think I can find a way how to play with KAT.”

 

Three Things to Know: Durant’s pending free agency looms over Green suspension

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kevin Durant’s pending free agency looms over Draymond Green suspension. It has been the subtle — and, at times, not so subtle — subtext to the entire Golden State season, the cloud casting a shadow over everything:

What is Kevin Durant going to do as a free agent next summer?

That was the foundation of what Draymond Green used to go back at Durant after Green did not pass him the ball on the final play of regulation against the Clippers, with Green saying Durant was making the season about himself. It was the foundation of why GM Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr came down so hard on Green with a one-game suspension (costing Green more than $120,000).

It shows the cracks in that Warriors foundation.

Maybe not big enough ones to keep them from winning the title this season. The players on the roster are too good and too professional for that. However, the cracks may well be big enough to break the team up next summer and send Durant elsewhere.

After the Warriors, without Green or the still-injured Stephen Curry, barely held off the Atlanta Hawks for a win Tuesday night, everyone around the team played down the incident.

It all came to a head when a frustrated Durant called out Green on the bench after the final play of regulation against the Clippers, which we all have seen — Green got the rebound and decided to go coast-to-coast and create himself, rather than defer to Durant, who was clapping his hands and calling for the ball.

Green is vocal, emotional, and will defend himself even when he knows he is wrong (and he was wrong not to give up the rock in that situation, other teammates called him out for it, too). Green, apparently showing off a built-up frustration (that, reportedly, is not just his own) came back hard at Durant calling him a “b****” and that is officially what got him suspended.

But Green also stomped into the space where all season the Warriors organization top-to-bottom has walked on eggshells — Durant’s looming free agency. Green reportedly said Durant has made it the season all about himself by very publicly keeping his options open (right out of the LeBron James playbook). Klay Thompson is a free agent next summer as well but has made it clear at every step he doesn’t want to leave the Warriors. Green is a 2020 free agent but has followed Thompson’s path. Durant has gone a different direction, and now all the Warriors have to answer media questions about KD’s future at every road stop.

Mentally, the Warriors players and organization are prepared for Durant to leave next summer. However, when Green threw Durant’s free agency out in the middle of the room and threw a light on it, the organization felt it had to signal to Durant it has his back. Ideally, the Warriors want to keep KD and the suspension — rather than a fine and handling it internally — was part of that. Green is given a lot of latitude by the Warriors for his emotional outbursts because he’s a unique player and that emotion is part of what makes him one of the top 15-20 players in the league. Management felt Green crossed a line this time, but it’s also a message to Durant that the Warriors will back him.

All of that still hangs in the air in the Warriors’ locker room. How Green responds to this long-term — how pissed will he be the franchise backed KD? — now hangs out there, too.

Don’t think that this will get in the way of the Warriors title run. The Warriors have had their spats before and gotten over it, at least enough to play and win together. These are adults and professionals, they can work together enough to get past it.

But next July when free agency hits, remember all of this.

2) Rockets win in Denver shows they have found their stride again. Maybe. Tuesday night up in the Rockies an interesting Xs and Os battle was going on.

In the first half Denver did what a growing number of teams have tried with Houston this season: Rather than switch when James Harden gets a high pick (allowing him to isolate on a big man or the victim of his choice), they double and trap Harden, taking the ball out of his hands. The idea is “make someone else beat us, not the MVP.”

Denver’s gambit worked in this sense: Harden didn’t get his first bucket until 5:22 was left in the second quarter, and he was officially 1-of-5 with three points in the first half. However, Denver’s strategy didn’t work in this sense: Chris Paul had 14 points in the half, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon each had 9, the Rockets still put up 54 points with a 117 points per 100 possessions net rating. The other guys did step up and looked like they might beat Denver.

Sensing it was not working as well as hoped, and because the Rockets were adjusting and getting better looks, early in the second half Denver went back to switching. Harden predictably tore the Nuggets apart and finished with 22 points, and 11 assists and the Rockets pulled away late for the 109-99 win.

That’s not why the Rockets seem to be finding their stride again. Rather, for the last couple of games Houston’s defense has looked better — not great, but close to last season’s version than we have seen this season. If the Rockets start defending well then they will be a threat again.

3) Good news: Caris LeVert’s injury not nearly as severe as it looked. When you watched the video of Caris LeVert’s injury, you couldn’t help but flash back to Gordon Hayward and Paul George and some of the other more gruesome and terrible injuries we have seen in the NBA, and in sports, in recent years. It looked that bad for the young Nets star, so bad other players were crying on the sideline.

Fortunately, it out it was not that bad. LeVert’s diagnosis is a dislocated right foot, but without a fracture and with relatively minor ligament damage. No surgery is required and the Nets said he is expected to be back on the court this season.

That is amazing news.