Dwight Howard is saying all the right things, which is not good for Orlando

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Free agency and the years prior to it will never be the same after “The Decision.”  We heard LeBron James say all the right things. “I love Cleveland.” “I love our fans.” “I would love to win a championship here.” But what was missing was James ever giving the words that would bind him to Cleveland. He said almost everything. But he never said the words which would lock him publicly to Cleveland. And that’s the formula. You heard it from Dwyane Wade, you’ve heard it from Carmelo Anthony, and you’re hearing it now from Dwight Howard, with his free agency a full year and a half away.

From an interview with ESPN’s Marc Stein this weekend:

Stein: When you walk around town, do people ever ask you if you’re going to leave town someday like Shaq did? How often do people ask those kinds of questions? Can you feel that people in Orlando are worried about history repeating itself?

Howard: I want to win a championship. And I’m going to do whatever I can to win the championship here in Orlando. This is where I started my career and I would love to finish my career here.

via Weekend Dime: Howard Q&A – ESPN.

So Howard gave the positive words you want to hear as a Magic fan without telling you “Yes, I will re-sign here” or even “I intend to re-sign here but if we don’t win a championship I’m gone.” Just saying what he’s supposed to say via his agent, and not saying what he would need to say to end the questions. He has the ability to end the questions that apparently he doesn’t like. But he won’t. Because this is the new reality.

And here is where we depart from the linear narrative.

There is a question here of responsibility.

The constant refrain is “I want to win a championship.” Every player is heeding the words of Kevin Garnett, who feels he wasted his time in Minnesota on losing teams. Never mind the legions of fans in Minnesota who supported him and desperately need him to win a championship there versus the Boston Celtics who needed to throw another trophy in the gigantic trophy room they swim in like Scrooge McDuck.  Garnett felt that he wasted his best years not contending, and now all players are trying to accomplish multiple titles in their prime, not when they’re aging veterans. And so this new crop pursues it, without ever considering the responsibility for championships rests not only on the teams who employ them, but on everyone else.

It’s ego. Ego that drives players to believe that no matter what, no matter how many free throws they miss, the blame for failing to win a championship should fall on all other members of the organization and not themselves. Ego that causes them to overlook and shrug off the responsibility that comes with being a franchise player, being the player teams build around, being the player teams depend on. Instead they listen to agents and handlers tell them that a shrinking field goal percentage and a modified jumper is enough, that it’s the failure of the team to construct a good enough supporting cast. This, despite the enormous amount of luck it takes to win a championship, never mind the complexity of obtaining truly great talent by a contending team. Instead, they simply look at what Paul Pierce has had handed to him (after nearly a decade of struggle as the only real star), what Kobe Bryant was granted (despite the ridiculous circumstances that landed Pau Gasol in Los Angeles), and decide that’s what they want.

It’s fine to want help. Fine to feel that your supporting cast is not worthy of you. LeBron James’ next best player was Mo Williams, for crying out loud. Danny Ferry was mercifully released before the circus popped its tent up, and so was spared the agony of public exhumation of his moves, which included trades for Ben Wallace, Wally Sczerbiak, Williams, and Antawn Jamison among the list of attempts toward truly great team composition. But Howard? Howard has no such excuse. Gilbert Arenas is not what he once was, but is still a good player, especially on the Magic, and is their sixth man. Jason Richardson was acquired. Brandon Bass brought in. Hedo Turkoglu. Marcin Gortat was re-signed to provide help so Howard wasn’t the only real center on the roster (as he is now). The Magic have made good faith efforts to win a championship, and those efforts brought them as close as you can get without winning as the Eastern Conference Finals.  But there are more factors in play here. Health, like that of Jameer Nelson or Kevin Garnett in 2009. Matchups, team chemistry, when teams get hot or get cold, over-confidence, the list goes on and on.  Should the Magic fail to win a championship in the next two seasons (provided there is a second season), the responsibility will ultimately be Otis Smith’s and Stan Van Gundy’s. But it will also be Howard’s. He is the one they have built around, the one who they consider the talents of with every personnel move we make.

It’s up to Dwight Howard to win a championship. Not solely him. The burden is not all his. But to shrug off the responsibility and make the excuse that a title is why you would skip town for a bigger market, burning Orlando for the second time in recent history at the same position in the same manner, possibly to the same city, that’s not what a team leader does. Some guys get it. Kevin Durant seems to. Derrick Rose seems to. Many players seem to. But Howard? He’s learned from those in the class above him. Watched them make their play to have their cake and eat it, too.

And given the history of the league, it’s fair to suggest the best way to win a title is to play in Los Angeles or Boston. But at the end of the day, these players still have a responsibility to the team that’s drafted them, has put these players on the pedestal, paid those players and trusted them to win the franchise a title. All the other parts are in place to help that player win a title. That’s the burden. Maybe Howard will realize that and sign an extension. But the modern approach is not to take responsibility for the franchise of which you are the franchise player. It’s to smile, say the right things, and demand championships on your way out of town.

Otis Smith isn’t just fighting 29 other teams. He’s fighting 29 teams and one team of agents and handlers.

The modern NBA management battlefield, and after such battles? Sometimes the battlefield is left barren, bleak, and depressing.

Just ask Minnesota.

Just ask Cleveland.

 

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.