Maybe we should let LeBron finish his career before we decide his legacy

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Magic Johnson made a lot of friends around the Internet when he smacked around LeBron James the other day. Charles Oakley joined in. Cracking on LeBron as not all he could be has become a national past time. Saying he is not clutch because he doesn’t have a ring has somehow become accepted truth for people, the heart of LeBron’s legacy.

Except, maybe we should wait until LeBron finishes playing until we decide what his legacy will be.

I will give you four reasons why.

1) LeBron is 26 years old. He has nearly a decade of basketball ahead of him (well, assuming the lockout ends in our lifetime). He is just entering his prime. While the whole “not five, not six…” thing was arrogant, it would be foolish to assume he will never have a ring or a few rings. And if you don’t think those are redemptive of a reputation, ask Dirk Nowitzki.

2) Magic Johnson was not seen as clutch or a winner for a while. This seems ridiculous on the surface — Magic had an NCAA title and an NBA ring by the time he was 25 — but as Rohan Cruyff reminds us at SBN in 1894 Magic was seen as a guy out for stats and flashy play who didn’t care about winning.

Make no mistake: until the Lakers’ 1985 breakthrough against Boston, Magic’s failures were no less extensively highlighted than LeBron’s. In ’84, the Los Angeles Times published a story entitled, “Earvin, What Happened to Magic?” The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, not to be outdone, referred to Johnson as the “tarnished superstar” and “the goat of the series.” Public opinion has swung as quickly and forcefully against the 26-year-old James, who like Magic in ’84, has a ways to go before his “legacy” or all-time standing can seriously be considered.

I grew up in Los Angeles, and this is spot on. We know now how off that perception of Magic was, but at the time it was accepted truth.

3) At age 26, Michael Jordan had no rings and was considered a failure. Up until his first ring, many people considered Jordan a selfish gunner who would never win, as Tom Haberstroh reminds us at ESPN. Again, that perception was off, but in our society you are not clutch until suddenly you are. It took time for Jordan to win rings and cement his legend as one of the greatest ever to lace up sneakers. If you defined MJ at age 26, you’d get a guy a lot like LeBron.

By the way, if you’re going to throw Kobe Bryant out there, let me ask you this — if LeBron came into the league on a team with Shaquille O’Neal in his prime and veterans like Robert Horry, Rick Fox, Glen Rice, Brian Shaw and many others on it, how many ring would LeBron have? If you just said zero, you’re wrong.

4) LeBron James is more clutch than he gets credit for. I am not going to argue about the last two games of the finals against Dallas in 2011. Or Game 5 against Boston in 2010. LeBron is not perfect in the clutch and has work to do. But that is only half of the story, as Zach Lowe broke down at Sports Illustrated.

But to label James as ”un-clutch” or fearful of big moments based on the second half of the 2011 Finals and Game 5 against Boston in 2010 conveniently ignores the rest of his résumé, including the two series that immediately preceded the last season’s Finals — series in which LeBron destroyed Boston and then Chicago in crunch time. It ignores the 2009 conference finals against Orlando, in which James averaged an insane 39-8-8 line and won Game 2 with a legendary buzzer-beater. It ignores his 25 consecutive points against the Pistons in 2007 and that in 2008 he almost single-handedly defeated the Celtics, the eventual champions, in a seven-game series the Cavaliers had no place winning.

The point is that things are not black and white with LeBron, they are shades of gray. He is not a disaster in the clutch, he has good and bad games. And at age 26 it is far too early to define his legacy. Rings are a magic balm in our society, they changes our perception of players. We don’t know how we’ll perceive LeBron in a decade.

That doesn’t sit well with those who hate LeBron, because it requires patience and nuance. But it is the truth. They key parts of LeBron’s legacy have yet to be written.

Derrick White didn’t lose teeth, passes concussion test after nasty fall in USA loss

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There were plenty of ugly things for Team USA in its loss to Australia on Saturday — most of them on the defensive end — but later in the day on Saturday there was some good news.

It sounds like point guard Derrick White will be fine after his nasty fall and face plant during the game, reports Tom Osborne of the San Antonio Express-News.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, White was pushing the ball upcourt after an Australia miss and either got clipped from behind — there was a foul called — or stumbled over his own feet. I lean clipped, but the video is not conclusive.

White fell and faceplanted, with his head bouncing off the court. If he got away with just stitches, that’s good news for Team USA. If White had a concussion it is possible he would have missed the start of the World Cup, and the USA is not deep at the point guard spot on this roster (Kemba Walker and White are the only true point guards, a couple of players such as Marcus Smart can play a few minutes there but aren’t really suited to the position).

Team USA has one more exhibition game against Canada, then opens World Cup play on Sept. 1 in China against the Czech Republic.

Grizzlies officially waive Dwight Howard, first step on his path to Lakers

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Lakers fans are uncomfortable with it, but the Lakers did a good job hedging their bet with a non-guaranteed contract: Dwight Howard is coming to the Lakers.

That process started on Saturday with the Grizzlies officially waiving Howard.

In theory, any team could claim Howard off waivers. In practice, no team is picking up his full $5.6 million salary.

Howard gave back $2.6 million in his buyout with the Grizzlies, which is exactly how much his veteran minimum contract with the Lakers will pay him.

Howard and JaVale McGee will have to tag team to play all the minutes at the five the Lakers need. Anthony Davis is their best center (and it’s not close, he’s arguably the best center in the NBA) but he wants to play the four most of the game, so for 30 minutes a night the Lakers need another big body at the five.

Howard has the potential to fill that role. For three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in averaging 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use. The problem was Howard was never happy those years just playing that defense/set-a-pick-and-roll/rebound role. He wanted more touches and particularly in the post, which led to disruptions as he pushed for a larger role. It’s why he bounced around. Then last season he played just nine games due to more back and hamstring issues.

Howard is saying all the right things about accepting that role, and he convinced the Lakers to a degree, but that non-guaranteed contract shows the Lakers go into this eyes wide open. If Howard is up to his old antics, the Lakers can cut bait and move on.

It’s among the many things to watch in what should be an entertaining Lakers’ training camp this year.

On Mamba Day (8/24), former Lakers’ trainer Gary Vitti talks about what made Kobe great

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Kobe Bryant’s work ethic is legend.

It takes talent to become an MVP, 15-time All-NBA, 18-time All-Star, and lock future Hall of Famer. However, it was how Kobe got the most out of his talent that separated him from his peers. Long-time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti retired a couple of years ago and will soon publish an autobiography, “32 Years of Titles and Tears from the Best Seat in the House: What I Learned about Happiness, Greatness, Leadership and the Evolution of Sports Science.”

Vitti joined Hall of Fame photographer Andrew D. Bernstein this week on an episode of Legends of Sport to discuss his upcoming book, and he talked about Kobe (hat tip to CNBC).

“He was talented, but what if I told you he wasn’t the most talented guy out there? I’m telling you, and I’ve had them all, there’s nothing really special about Kobe. I mean he’s a big guy, but he’s not that big. He was quick, but he’s not that quick. He’s fast, he wasn’t that fast. He was powerful, but he wasn’t that powerful. I mean, there were other players that had more talent than he did, so what was there about him that more talented players had zero rings and he ended up with five?…

“He was tough in the sense that he took ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ out of his lexicon and he just believed that he could do it. Kobe taught me that talent is the most overrated thing in life; it’s what you do with your talent.”

Nobody in NBA history did as much with the talent they had as Kobe.

On Mamba Day, enjoy his ultimate mixtape highlights above and remember what it took for Kobe to get there.

 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: ‘I am not Russell Westbrook. I’m just going to try to be myself.’

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Thunder fans are going to love Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Clippers did not want to give him up in the Paul George trade but had no real choice — Gilgeous-Alexander was a prize get for OKC. As a rookie last season he started 73 games, averaging 10.8 points and 3.3 assists per game for a 48-win playoff team. Playing the most difficult position to learn in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander grew as the season wore on and has a promising future.

But he is taking over for Russell Westbrook as the point guard for the Thunder, so the comparisons are inevitable. Even though they have radically different games. Gilgeous-Alexander handled the question well when asked, as reported by Erik Horne at The Oklahoman.

Gilgeous-Alexander smiled and said he could compete with Westbrook’s fashion sense. He also deflected any notion of pressure to live up to the legacy of the 2016-17 Most Valuable Player. “He set the bar pretty high,” Gilgeous-Alexander said…

“I am not Russell Westbrook,” Gilgeous-Alexander said with no malice. “I do not have the same name, same body type, stuff like that. So, I’m just going to try to be myself and be the best me and everything else will take care of itself.

“I’m just a basketball player. Regardless of the situation, I’m going to continue to work hard and play my game. I know that eventually it will come out. I don’t worry about starting. I’m not worried about accolades or things like that. I just work hard, keep my head down and (stay) true to who I am.”

That attitude is part of why Thunder fans will love him. Gilgeous-Alexander is confident but not cocky, and he knows his game.

That game is more traditional point guard, more game manager, than the dynamic and explosive Westbrook. Gilgeous-Alexander learned for a season under a smart, player-friendly coach in Doc Rivers, who built his point guard’s confidence up as the season wore on. Rivers showed the rookie how to be a professional, how to prepare, and most of all trusted Gilgeous-Alexander — and that trust included being matched up on Stephen Curry in a playoff series. Through it all, Gilgeous-Alexander showed real promise.

Whatever is next in Oklahoma City — and there is a lot of rebuilding to do with that roster, a lot of picks to be made still — Gilgeous-Alexander can help lead it. He will be at the heart of what is next for the Thunder.

Just don’t expect him to be Westbrook. There is only one of those.