Is LeBron’s new commercial the right move?

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The latest Nike/Weiden and Kennedy/LeBron ad was widely considered a triumph, and I’ll admit that there’s a lot about it that can be admired. It deals with the elephant in the room, and it strikes a decent balance between self-deprecation and self-pity. It’s funny and honest, the “what should I do” line functions as an earnest plea and a defiant statement, and the Charles Barkley bit is all but perfect.

That said, I still don’t think the ad was the right way to begin LeBron’s “rehabilitation.” As well-done as the ad was, it was still a return to an event that LeBron will have to someday put behind him. Every time we talk about LeBron James, architect of “The Decision,” former son of Ohio, and official Controversial Person instead of LeBron James, the basketball player and reigning two-time MVP, his brand takes another hit.

As Don Draper would say: if you don’t like what they’re saying about you, change the conversation. There are probably millions of people nicer or humbler than LeBron James. Only a handful of people have ever played basketball at the level LeBron is capable of playing it at. That will always be what’s really important about LeBron, and the sooner LeBron people reminds people of that, the better.

Like Crash Davis told Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham, it really does always come down to performance: win 20 games in the show, having fungus on your shower sandals is quirky. Until you do that, it’s just gross. When a player exceeds the expectations people have of him, his quirks or lack of quirks are praised. When he fails to meet them, they’re attacked. Players who win because they have “quiet confidence,” led by example, or are exceedingly humble lose because they were too passive, or scared of the big moment. Players who won because they were “vocal leaders,” had “swagger,” or elevated their team’s level of play with the force of their personality lose because they lacked focus, or didn’t take the game seriously enough. Sports fans are willing to cut endless amounts of slack to athletes who perform, and have no love for those who don’t. That’s how it is, and yet we continue to pretend otherwise.

If you want to see an example of what I’m talking about w/r/t “changing the conversation,” check out this Weiden and Kennedy production from 2006 (and yes, I realize I’m far from the only person to connect these two ads).

A few points:

1. That ad came out in February of 2006, which was a fair amount of time after Kobe was accused of sexual assault and Shaq may or may not have left town because Kobe told the Laker front office that he wouldn’t re-sign with the team unless Shaq was traded first. (Before people start yelling, remember that a lot of people actually resented Kobe for the latter alleged deed more than they resented him for the former one, and almost everyone believed that Kobe had a lot to do with Shaq leaving. There’s been some revisionist history on this, but at the time Phil Jackson had a book out saying that Kobe made the Lakers choose between trading Shaq and losing him in free agency. A lot of people believed this.)

2. Remember that both of Kobe’s (possible) transgressions happened behind closed doors — nobody really knows what happened in that hotel room, and very few people really know why Shaq had to leave town. Everyone knows exactly what happened with “The Decision,” because, you know, it was on television. It’s a lot easier to forgive something we never actually saw happen in the first place. (Counter-point to this: Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson both found success and cults of personality after the Palace Brawl, and there was very little ambiguity about what happened there. Again, play well for a team that exceeds expectations and things tend to work themselves out.)

3. Again, look at how that ad changes the conversation. This ad came out when Kobe was scoring around 35 points a game for a middling playoff contender and people were wondering whether his biggest problem was ball-hogging, and Nike ran with that as fast as they could and set up that narrative. The commercial makes the conversation about basketball — there’s no option for “I really like your game on every conceivable level, and think your style of play is the right fit for your team as it currently stands, but remain uneasy about exactly what happened in Colorado and think you had a significant role in making Shaq leave town.” Love my game, hate my game. Kobe’s back on the top of the hill now, and while that ad wasn’t as significant as, say, the Gasol trade, it was a heck of a first step.

It’s very hard for us to admit that we were wrong about somebody. It’s very easy for us to believe that somebody changed. At this point, I don’t think fans would forgive “The Decision” if it was revealed that the only way a nuclear way could be prevented was for Jim Gray to be somehow involved in LeBron’s free agency decision. But if LeBron gives us something, anything different to go on and wins a championship with the Heat, we’ll fall over ourselves to talk about the “New LeBron” — heck, LeBron 2.0 could pick up momentum if the heat start the season 20-4 and LeBron makes lots of serious faces. If LeBron moves forward, he’ll be fine as long as he doesn’t come up short again on the court. But if he keeps going back to “The Decision” for forgiveness, understanding, or simply to have his apology accepted, his reputation is just going to continue to take a beating.

2018 NBA Draft pick-by-pick tracker with analysis of selections, trades

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It’s been a long time since there was this much uncertainty at the top of an NBA Draft. While the top pick is a lock, and even No. 2 may have fallen into place, things are wide open after that with plenty of talk about trades up and down — and teams looking to move into the lottery. The NBA rumor mill has been in high gear.

Now the floodgates of wild are about to be thrown open.

Right here is the best place to follow all of it. Just keep hitting refresh all night.

We will constantly be updating this post throughout the evening — every pick, every trade — complete with analysis of how that player fits (or doesn’t) with his new surroundings. We’ll be on top of news, rumors, and anything else happening around the NBA tonight. Enough with the preamble…

It’s time to put the Phoenix Suns on the clock.

 
Suns small icon 1. The Phoenix Suns: DeAndre Ayton, 7’0” center (Arizona). Physically, he has the potential to be one of the game’s dominant centers — he’s big and long (7’5” wingspan), he moves incredibly well, he can knock down threes, and he can run the court. Offensively he’s going to be put up numbers and be an impact player from Day 1. If he puts in the work when challenged on his defense he could be a force on both ends. He could be the franchise cornerstone the Suns need, the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside.

 
Kings small icon 2. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley III, 6’11” forward/center (Duke). One of the best athletes in the draft and a natural scorer, he’s going to be able to get buckets in the NBA. He’s got a great bounce (an amazing second jump), attacks the glass, can finish at the rim and shot 40 percent from three for the Blue Devils. The question is can he defend — he showed poor defensive instincts and Mike Krzyzewski had to play zone at Duke last season because Bagley (and Carter) could not handle pick-and-roll coverages. He’s got to get better on that end to reach his NBA potential.

WE HAVE A TRADE: As had been rumored for a while, the Dallas Mavericks are trading with the Atlanta Hawks — the Mavericks have wanted Doncic and the Hawks will take him at No. 3, then the Mavericks will take Trae Young at No. 5 and that will complete the trade. (The Hawks had pushed to get more picks or dump salary in this deal, but ultimately took what they could get.

 
Hawks small icon 3. Atlanta Hawks: Luka Doncic, 6’8” point/forward (Slovenia). He will not play for the Hawks, he will be traded to the Dallas Mavericks (selecting No. 5). Doncic is the most decorated European player ever to enter the NBA Draft (EuroLeague champion and MVP, ACB champion and MVP), he is a phenom off the pick-and-roll and a great playmaker in transition. He has shooting range from the NBA three and he can finish inside. He’s been putting up numbers against men in Europe, he should adapt to the NBA fairly quickly. The doubts are he’s not an elite athlete, not explosive by NBA standards. Can he defend well enough at this level, and how will he handle being guarded by those kinds of athletes?

 
Grizzlies small icon 4. Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr., 6’11” forward/center (Michigan St.). Has the look and game of the prototypical modern NBA center — he’s got a great wingspan (7’5”) and uses that to protect the rim and block shots. He’s a good shooter out to the arc, can finish inside with either hand. He’s got to learn to play consistently harder and be better on the glass — it’s not all highlight plays, but he’s one of the youngest players in the draft and will grow. Needs to improve his passing as well. Son of 13-year NBA vet Jaren Jackson.

 
Mavericks small icon 5. Dallas Mavericks: Trae Young, 6’2” point guard (Oklahoma). He will not be Maverick, he will be traded to the Atlanta Hawks (for Luka Doncic and a future first-round pick). Young is a fan favorite for many because he has Stephen Curry-like range on his three out to 30 feet, plus he’s a gifted passer who sees the floor incredibly well. Scouts mostly like him, but there is some concern he’s got more Jimmer Fredette in him than Curry. Young has to learn to manage the game, not be so turnover prone. The bigger issues are defensively, he’s not big and not an elite NBA athlete like many guys he’ll be asked to guard — and his defense was poor at Oklahoma. Can he stay playable in an NBA of switching defenses?

 
Magic small icon 6: Orlando Magic: Mohamed Bamba 7’0” center (Texas). Maybe the highest ceiling in this draft. He has a crazy wingspan of 7’9.5” and he can be a Pterodactyl on defense that flies in and blocks or alters everything. He’s athletic and mobile enough to hold his own on switches on the perimeter. A lot of Rudy Gobert comparisons, but like Gobert he has to work hard adding muscle and getting stronger without losing quickness to reach that potential. Does Bamba have the love of the game to put in that work? He played casually at times in college. Offensively he’s raw and has a long, long way to go. This is a high ceiling, but low floor pick.

 
Bulls small icon 7: Chicago Bulls: Wendell Carter Jr., 6’10” center (Duke). He’s a throwback, physical force inside around the rim, but more well rounded than that on offense. He can back guys down in the post, has an outside shot, is a fantastic passer, and shows impressive footwork for someone so young. Very versatile on offense (think Al Horford). On defense, however, he’s slow-footed, doesn’t move great laterally, and could find himself exposed against pick-and-rolls. Can he stay on the court late in games in a switching, speedy NBA?

 
Cavaliers small icon 8: Cleveland Cavaliers: Collin Sexton, 6’2” point guard (Alabama). You remember him as the guy who dropped 40 when Alabama had to play 3-on-5 early in the college season, Sexton has the potential to be a very good at the one in the NBA. He’s long (6’7” wingspan), athletic, and with a great work ethic. He attacks the lane and knows how to draw fouls. He’s got to become more consistent as a shooter and a decision maker to thrive in the NBA, but he has the potential. Could play with LeBron James or be a building block if he bolts (although shoot-first Sexton and never-pass Jordan Clarkson might literally fight over the ball).

 
Knicks small icon 9. New York Knicks: Kevin Knox, 6’9” forward (Kentucky ). A guy who shot up draft boards with his showings at the NBA Draft Combine and private workouts. He can be an athletic three or a small ball four — if he can solidify his inconsistent jump shot (he shot 34% from three in college, he will find more space to shoot in the NBA). He struggled to defend quicker players in college (there are more of them in the NBA) and there are concerns about his toughness. A lot of potential here to be a quality NBA player at a position of need.

 
Sixers small icon 10. Philadelphia 76ers:Mikal Bridges, 6’7” forward (Villanova). The Sixers just got themselves a solid role player on the wing who can guard multiple positions (the 7’2” wingspan helps) and knock down threes (43.5 percent last season). Bridges is a perfect fit, and he already knows all the good places to eat in town. He’s also performed well on the big stages of the NCAA Tournament, he can handle pressure. He has to prove he’s an elite defender on ball, but this guy is a solid NBA players and will be in the league for years.

 
Hornets small icon 11. Charlotte Hornets:Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 6’6” guard (Kentucky). He will be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers (scroll down a little for the details). A fast-rising point guard on draft boards this season, Gilgeous-Alexander is a big point guard (7’0” wingspan) and is not explosive but finds open spaces in the defense. He needs to become an improved shooter, especially from three, and his handles and game management need to take steps forward. Still a lot of potential as a rotation point guard and he showed that growth potential in Kentucky becoming the leader of that team.

WE HAVE A TRADE: The Hornets are going to trade Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the Clippers for the No. 12 pick plus two future second-round picks. The Clippers have wanted a point guard who could be a core part of their future (with all due respect to Austin Rivers).

 
Clippers small icon 12. Los Angeles Clippers: Miles Bridges, 6’6” forward (Michigan St.). He will be traded to the Charlotte Hornets as part of the deal mentioned directly above. Bridges’ return to college to lift his draft stock didn’t really work that way, but he still looks like a quality NBA wing rotation player. He can hit threes (36.4 percent shooting them last season), he’s strong on the glass, and he’s an athlete who knows how to attack the rim. He can guard threes and fours and will be able switch and fit in the modern NBA.

 
Clippers small icon 13. Los Angeles Clippers: Jerome Robinson, 6’5” point guard (Boston College). He played point in college — and was very productive there — but likely will be more of a combo guard in the NBA. He brings a high IQ game, three point shooting and he can shoot off the bounce. Is he athletic enough and with that can he defend well enough to be a regular rotation guy for the Clippers? Teams thought so as he shot up draft boards at the end.

 
Nuggets small icon 14. Denver Nuggets: Michael Porter Jr., 6’10” forward (Missouri). He slid a long, long way down the board but this is a good gamble for the Nuggets at 14. Before the injury he was thought of as a top-three pick, play like that and this is a steal. There are concerns about his back injury (a microdiscetomy that forced him to miss much of last season) and a rumored “diva” attitude (already). The physical tools and potential is what had teams drooling — he’s big and can score inside and out. He has the potential to be a very dangerous stretch four because he’s a fantastic shooter and a high-level athlete. Will he put in the work to reach his potential?

 
Wizards small icon 15. Washington Wizards:>em>Troy Brown, 6-7, wing (Oregon). Another draft board climber in recent weeks. He has great length (6’11” wingspan) who was one of the top recruits in his class. He brings the kind of versatility on the wing that NBA teams crave. However, there are questions about how good an athlete he is and his shooting needs work to be consistent. That said, he’s one of the younger guys in the draft and should develop over time.

 
Suns small icon 16. The Phoenix Suns: Zhaire Smith, 6’5” small forward (Texas Tech). The Suns hired Igor Kokoskov as their head coach to be a guy who develops players, and they are going to put him to work on that front. This is a pick about potential — on paper he’s what teams are looking for in a modern NBA swingman. He’s one of the best athletes in the draft, has a 6’11” wingpan, and showed good defensive instincts. He’s got a lot of work to do on offense, his handles need work, his instincts aren’t sharp, and scouts don’t trust his shot. High upside, but it’s going to take some development.

 
Bucks small icon 17. Milwaukee Bucks:

Hornets, Clippers swap Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Miles Bridges

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The Los Angeles Clippers were trying to make a deal in the days leading up to the 2018 NBA Draft for the Nos. 12 and 13 overall picks.

On Thursday, the Clippers finally pulled the trigger.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Los Angeles will send the 12th pick and two second-rounders to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Via Twitter:

Gilgeous-Alexander was selected with the 11th pick by Charlotte just moments before we got wind of the trade via social media. Meanwhile, the Clippers selected Miles Bridges with the 12th pick and will ship him to North Carolina.

Gilgeous-Alexander is a 6.6 guard who played one year for the Kentucky Wildcats under coach John Calipari. Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 14.4 points and 5.1 assists for UK last season, and will be part of an effort to perhaps bolster Charlotte in the event Kemba Walker is traded or leaves after his contract ends in 2018-19.

Bridges was a two-year starter at Michigan State for Tom Izzo, scoring 17.1 points per game as a sophomore while adding seven rebounds and 2.7 assists. He measures 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, and there’s lots of guard minutes that are up in the air in LA. This Clippers squad also has Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris filling wing-type roles, where we could see Bridges get minutes as Doc Rivers plays with his rotation.

Follow our full 2018 NBA Draft coverage with our live-updated tracker here.

Report: Mavericks trade up with Hawks for Luka Doncic at No. 3

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The Mavericks reportedly targeted Luka Doncic.

They’ll get him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Evaluating this trade hinges on the full protections of the future first-round pick, but Doncic is worth plenty.

He’s so skilled – as a ball-handler, passer and shooter. Doncic won’t singlehandedly transform Dallas, but he pairs nicely with Dennis Smith Jr. long-term. Doncic should also help in the short-term, which Dallas isn’t sacrificing.

The Hawks might have preferred Trae Young, a favorite of Atlanta ownership. Perhaps, the Hawks bluffed their way into this trade. If so, that’s a nice move by them. Young, with his passing and shooting, is an impressive prospect in his own right. This will push Dennis Schroder even further onto the trade market.

The Grizzlies made this trade possible by taking Jaren Jackson Jr. No. 4. He apparently came around on Memphis.

Kings select Marvin Bagley III with No. 2 overall pick in 2018 NBA Draft

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The Sacramento Kings have made a sensible pick in the 2018 NBA draft. After the Phoenix Suns selected DeAndre Ayton No. 1 overall, it was up to the Kings to do something that wouldn’t set their franchise back.

Despite rumors that Sacramento had began to favor Michael Porter Jr., on Thursday night. the Kings took Duke University standout Marvin Bagley III.

Adding Bagley to their rotation of young, switchable wing players was a solid move for Sacramento. Bagley measures in at 6-foot-11 and 234 pounds, making him a power forward for the Kings.. He will likely need to learn for a year behind veteran Zach Randolph, and should be an interesting addition to the frontcourt of Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry Giles, and Skal Labissiere.

The Phoenix, Arizona native was a scorer for the Blue Devils during his one year in college, nabbing ACC Player of the Year honors as a freshman while scoring 21 points per game.

The Kings have a slate of young guard prospects as well, including Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox, and Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Sacramento hasn’t won more than 35 games since the 2007-2008 season, and no doubt they are expecting that Bagley will add a scoring punch to their young core. More than anything, Sacramento needs this pick to go somewhat right as they continue to try to rebuild after the Isaiah Thomas / DeMarcus Cousins era.