Maybe LeBron’s agent switch turns out to be a smart move

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My initial reaction to LeBron James switching agents from Leon Rose and the powerful CAA — the agency that helped bring LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together in Miami — was that it was vintage LeBron. That once again he was tightening his inner circle to lean on close friends, and new agent Rich Paul is a guy he has known since high school when they played basketball together.

But maybe this is a smart move.

I never thought it was a terrible idea — negotiating LeBron’s contracts is not rocket science since he is now and forever a max deal guy — but I didn’t know what it would mean next time LeBron was faced with a serious decision about his career. However, after reading a feature about Paul by Joe Kotoch at Sheridan Hoops I have a much more open mind.

Because if LeBron had listened to Paul in the past he might have avoided a lot of his missteps.

For his part, Paul has largely been above the fray during James’ trials and tribulations over the past two years….

It was Paul who urged James to not go through with “The Decision” out of concern for the damage James might do to his brand and reputation. When Maverick Carter staged a coup to consolidate power in James’ decision-making circle, Paul left to join CAA and make his own path…

On the night of “The Decision,” when most of James’ circle and handlers were busy with the production side and other image-related concerns, it was Paul who contacted the Cavaliers and owner Dan Gilbert to inform them that James would be leaving for the Heat.

Sources in Cleveland say that Paul always was and has been the most respected member of James’ circle, and that his conduct that night further endeared him to Gilbert and the Cavs. While Gilbert’s late night e-mail rant was vindictive, he never cut off Paul – and that was evidenced when the Cavs selected Tristan Thompson (represented by Paul) with the fourth pick in the 2011 draft over Jonas Valanciunas.

Maybe when it comes to his next big career decision — and I don’t think it will be in 2014 when he can opt out of his deal with the Heat, I don’t think he wants to leave that setting — he will have a more reasoned voice in his corner. One he will listen to now, one that will steer him around the traps of hubris that Carter (and Rose) drove him headlong into.

We’ll see. Proof is in the actions. But I’ll say I have a more open mind now.

Tom Thibodeau on Timberwolves not getting first-rounder in Jimmy Butler trade: ‘Getting good players was a priority’

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The Heat offered Josh Richardson and a first-round pick. The Rockets offered four first-round picks or Eric Gordon, Nene and two first-round picks. The Pelicans reportedly offered Nikola Mirotic and an unprotected first-round pick.

But the Timberwolves traded Jimmy Butler to the 76ers for Robert Covington and Dario Saric in a deal that included no first-round picks and Minnesota getting only one second-rounder.

Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau:

We wanted quality players. I think that that was important for us.

When you look at, to get two starters off a team that won 52 games, and they’re both young, and they’re going to get better, and they’re both very good defensively. They both shoot the 3, so we think they fit well with the guys that we do have.

And so once we once got to that point where felt we were getting multiple rotational players, then we felt it would be time to execute the deal.

It was what was best for the organization. Obviously, getting good players was a priority. But the pick part is important, and we felt we got a good pick from Philly.

It was what does it mean for the team? If you get two rotational players, that’s good. And then if you can get a pick, that allows you to do more things. And so I think that’s all part of it. You always try to think about what the possibilities could be.

Thibodeau might have taken the best offer for the the Timberwolves by the time he actually accepted a deal. Miami pulled the Richardson offer after his strong start to the season. Getting four first-rounders from Houston required taking Brandon Knight‘s negative-value contract, and it’s unclear exactly how the picks were protected. New Orleans has the best record of those three teams, so an unprotected pick carries less value.

But it’s also impossible to overlook Thibodeau’s present-minded attitude. That’s how he already approached everything. Now, he appears to be coaching for his job this season. Nobody ever expected him to prioritize long-term assets.

Covington and Saric are good players, but Minnesota was also 4-9 at the time of the trade. Are Covington and Saric good enough to lift the Timberwolves out of this hole and into the playoffs? It’s a tough ask. In 2020-21, Saric will be up for a big raise, and the Timberwolves already have a lot of money committed. They might have to downgrade the rest of the roster to keep Saric and avoid the luxury tax. This is a narrow window for Minnesota to get value from this trade.

That said, blame Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor for creating this situation. By allowing Thibodeau to remain in charge without much job security, Taylor is practically demanding Thibodeau emphasize the present. If Taylor wanted draft picks, he should have fired Thibodeau earlier.

Caris LeVert suffers injury so horrific, it brings teammates to tears and opponents to prayer (video)

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Caris LeVert has been one of the Nets’ biggest bright spots. The hard-working 24-year-old was a Most Improved Player candidate, and he seems well-liked throughout the organization. He’s even already hit a couple gamewinners this season.

But LeVert’s breakout campaign hit a devastating snag tonight, as he injured his leg.

The reactions of both his Brooklyn teammates and the Timberwolves say everything. This is a tough one.

Markelle Fultz takes ugly pump-fake free throw

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A key question after the 76ers traded for Jimmy Butler: How would the demanding star affect Markelle Fultz‘s confidence?

Butler isn’t even playing for Philadelphia yet, but this isn’t an encouraging sign.

Maybe the ball just slipped out of Fultz’s hands on the way up, and he had to continue pushing it toward the rim to avoid a violation. That could happen to anybody.

But given everything we know about Fultz’s shooting woes, it’s impossible to take this as anything other than a ghastly low point in an ongoing problem.

LeBron James: ‘I almost cracked’ with Lakers’ slow start

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LeBron James has played in eight straight NBA Finals.

How’s he handling reduced expectations with the Lakers, who started 2-5 before rising to 7-6?

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

‪“I haven’t changed anything outwardly, but you know me. You know how I am. I almost cracked [last week]. I had to sit back and remind myself, ‘[Expletive], you knew what you were getting yourself into,’” James told Yahoo Sports while laughing after Saturday’s win in Sacramento. “This process has been good for me. I just have to continue being patient.”‬

LeBron warned everyone to stay clear when he loses his patience, but he has never sounded close to losing it this season. He signed a four-year deal with the Lakers, said he doesn’t feel urgency to win quickly before his prime ends and seems content to wait for a co-star.

If anything, it seemed LeBron might be too relaxed, enjoying the Los Angeles lifestyle and focusing on showbusiness.

So, this is a welcome sign of his competitiveness.

Also kudos to LeBron for harnessing it unlike others in the organization. These Lakers need time to determine how these oddly shaped pieces fit together – unless a star becomes available. Then, all bets are off.