Swept, sad and still starving for another title, what’s next for LeBron James?

7 Comments

CLEVELAND – LeBron James sat in his locker, covered by more ice than clothing and his right hand – which he injured while punching a whiteboard following the Cavaliers’ devastating Game 1 loss – wrapped. He hunched his towel-covered head into his left hand. He leaned back and slumped in his seat, the towel still hiding his face, and sat that way for several minutes.

LeBron looked beat.

By the Warriors, by the burden he carried leading an underwhelming supporting cast to the NBA Finals, by the weight of his second Cleveland tenure possibly ending.

Will he use his player option to leave the Cavs this summer?

“I have no idea at this point,” LeBron said after Golden State swept Cleveland in the NBA Finals. “The one thing that I’ve always done is considered, obviously, my family. Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I’ve got a teenage boy, a pre-teen and a little girl that wasn’t around as well. So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that. So, I don’t have an answer for you right now as far as that.”

A few days ago, LeBron spoke candidly about why he left the Cavaliers in 2010 – because the team wasn’t good enough. Tonight, he addressed why he returned in 2014.

“I came back because I felt like I had some unfinished business,” LeBron said.

Did leading Cleveland to its first championship in 2016 finish that business?

“That’s a trick question at the end of the day,” LeBron said, “and I’m not falling for that.

“It made me even more hungry to continue to try to win championships, and I still want to be in championship mode. I think I’ve shown this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode.”

The Cavaliers showed how they are not. They traded Kyrie Irving against LeBron’s wishes and whittled down their return for the star point guard to spare parts and the No. 8 pick – a valuable asset, but one that didn’t help the 2018 Cavs compete in these playoffs.

At times, LeBron’s weak supporting cast appeared to drive him mad. He vented at his teammates during a Game 4 timeout, and he melted down on the bench before Game 1’s overtime as he learned details of J.R. Smith‘s blunder. And, as we discovered, LeBron carried his frustration into the post-Game 1 locker room and tried to channel it through a whiteboard.

Gesturing while answering a question tonight, LeBron raised his right hand above the table and revealed a cast. The sound of cameras flickering overpowered the room.

“You guys like this brace, huh?” LeBron said, cracking a smile. “You guys like this cast, huh? You want me to sit it right here for you?

“Pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand.”

It hurts now, but LeBron has been through too much – 15 seasons, eight straight NBA Finals appearances and now six Finals losses (behind only Jerry West’s eight and Elgin Baylor’s seven all-time) – to totally sulk through this latest challenge.

LeBron knows precisely what that challenge is. It was down the hall covering itself in champagne while LeBron sat silently at his locker and contemplated.

Finally, LeBron emerged from the locker room and turned right down the hall. Unaware LeBron was headed toward the interview room rather than leaving, a security guard called from behind that LeBron and his group should go another way to avoid crowds. LeBron stopped to sort out the confusion. Turns out, he was going the best way to the interview room, and he kept going.

After his press conference, LeBron walked out of the interview room and made a pointed turn toward Bill Russell. LeBron leaned down to embrace the legend in his wheelchair.

Then, LeBron headed straight for the exit.

Knicks players, staff reportedly angry team has no statement on killing of George Floyd

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Only two NBA teams have released a statement on the killing of George Floyd, and one of those teams is the San Antonio Spurs, whose coach Gregg Popovich made a lengthy public statement. There have been personal statements from coaches on behalf of the organization, statements from owners, official team releases, and the Wizards players released their own statement.

The New York Knicks are the other team not to make a statement.

This is the same franchise that released multiple statements ripping fan favorite Charles Oakley. That released a statement about the entrance Spike Lee uses to get to his seat. That released a statement when Richard Jefferson said he knew it was time to retire when only the Knicks offered him a deal.  Those Knicks have not released a statement on the death of George Floyd or the ensuing protests that have filled New York City Streets.

Knicks players and staff are pissed about that, according to multiple reports.

James Dolan sent an email to Madison Square Garden Company employees on Monday explaining his position, saying it was not the place of a sports and entertainment business to weigh in on such matters. Via Pablo S. Torre of ESPN:

That’s not going to play well in the building.

To Dolan what matters will be how it plays with team sponsors/vendors/advertisers. If the lack of a statement hits the owner in the pocketbook, that’s when there are changes.

It should be noted that James Dolan, the owner of Madison Square Garden and the Knicks, is an avid supporter of President Doland Trump and has donated to his re-election campaign. President Trump is considering using the United States military against United States citizens to quell the protests.

Would a statement by the Knicks somehow change the conversation? Obviously not. And certainly there will be differing opinions within the organization The reason other NBA teams — and the league itself — have used their platform and made statements is because they understand change needs to happen and they can be a part of it in their communities. They see what is right. They see a chance to be leaders, not just entertainers.

If the Leon Rose era Knicks are working to build a new culture, one that will draw free agents and be a place guys are eager to play, this is not a step in the right direction. Players and agents will take note.

Chris Paul on Clippers: ‘We never were lucky’

Clippers coach Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Clippers were really good with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Really good.

But history won’t remember that team for its ability, because its accomplishments don’t match.

Between the 2011-12 and 2016-17 seasons, the Clippers won nearly 66% of their games. Only the Spurs and Warriors won more.

But the Clippers weren’t one of the four teams to win a championship in that span. The Clippers weren’t one of the five teams to make the NBA Finals in that span. The Clippers weren’t even one of the 11 teams to make a conference finals in that span.

Paul in the Quibi documentaryBlackballed,” via Farbod Esnaashari of Sports Illustrated:

“Doc used to always say in order to win a championship, you gotta be lucky, Chris Paul said. “We never were lucky. I don’t think the Donald Sterling thing had anything to do with our shortcomings as a team. It was definitely a bump in the road, something unexpected, but that’s life.”

Doc Rivers is right: You have to be lucky to win a title. Every championship team has gotten favorable breaks.

Paul is right: The Clippers were never lucky. Both he and Blake Griffin had ill-timed injuries in multiple years. Josh Smith sinking 3-pointers was unfortunate for L.A.

But that also came in blowing a 3-1 lead to the Rockets in 2015. Smith’s hot streak was not all that went wrong for the Clippers. So much was in their control – in that series and beyond.

Rivers made numerous missteps in roster management. The team struggled to get its chemistry right.

The Clippers still got close enough to win a championship with the right breaks. They never got those breaks.

But they also could have done more themselves to need fewer breaks. They have to own that part of the complex story.

Gregg Popovich: ‘The system has to change. I’ll do whatever I can do to help.’

Leave a comment

Gregg Popovich was always going to speak out on the protests and anguish in our nation right now — and those thoughts were never going to fit in 280 characters.

Popovich, coach of the Spurs and USA Basketball for the Tokyo Olympics, called up Dave Zirin of The Nation and laid the blame for a lot of what we are seeing on President Trump and the White House. Below is simply a taste:

“The thing that strikes me is that we all see this police violence and racism, and we’ve seen it all before, but nothing changes. That’s why these protests have been so explosive. But without leadership and an understanding of what the problem is, there will never be change. And white Americans have avoided reckoning with this problem forever, because it’s been our privilege to be able to avoid it. That also has to change…

“It’s so clear what needs to be done. We need a president to come out and say simply that ‘black lives matter.’ Just say those three words. But he won’t and he can’t. He can’t because it’s more important to him to mollify the small group of followers who validate his insanity. But it’s more than just Trump. The system has to change. I’ll do whatever I can do to help, because that’s what leaders do. But he can’t do anything to put us on a positive path, because he’s not a leader.”

Popovich’s voice carries a lot of weight, both as a leader of men, and as a former Air Force officer who underwent intelligence training and specialized in Soviet studies. He has never been shy when speaking about his feelings on President Donald Trump (read his entire quote at The Nation, he focuses on the president), but in this case, he speaks for many Americans of all walks of life, and of all ethnicities, who see a leader who stokes divisions rather than seeking to unify and heal.

Many NBA players have spoken out in the wake of George Floyd’s death and a number of them have led or participated in protests around the nation. What Popovich said speaks to a lot of what those players are feeling and saying themselves.

NBA coaches and teams have stepped up with statements, as have team owners — including Michael Jordan — saying this cannot be about just words, there needs to be action toward change. What that action will look like in three months, or six, or a year, is an excellent question. But this time, around the NBA (and maybe around the nation), there seems to be a real sense they do not want this message and momentum to fade.

Jerami Grant: Not leaning toward taking $9,346,153 player option with Nuggets

Nuggets forward Jerami Grant
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Nuggets have their starting point guard (Jamal Murray), shooting guard (Gary Harris), small forward (Will Barton) and center (Nikola Jokic) locked up a combined 11 more seasons.

The big question comes at power forward.

Paul Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Michael Porter Jr. has shown promise. And Jerami Grant holds a $9,346,153 player option for next season.

Jerami Grant on “Posted Up with Chris Haynes,” via Quenton S. Albertie of Nugg Love:

I’m definitely not leaning towards picking up the player option.

Grant appeared bound for a raise. He’s a good finisher who active seeks opportunities at the basket and has improved his 3-point shooting. His versatile defense is valuable in any system. And he has the track record of hard work that should make teams comfortable investing in the 26-year-old.

But the NBA’s coronavirus-caused revenue decline presents a major variable. We’ll have to see where the salary cap lands. If the wrong teams have space, Grant could be stuck with just the mid-level exception, which – depending on the cap – could be less than $9,346,153.

In any cap environment, Denver has optionality. Millsap is still solid, though at 35, it’s unclear how many more good years he has left. Porter is exciting, though he’s still raw, and health remains a concern. Another impending unrestricted free agent, Mason Plumlee plays in plenty of two-center lineups with Jokic.

The Nuggets – who just traded a first-rounder for him – surely want to keep Grant. But they have other options, which gives them leverage.

Grant’s leverage comes with declining his player option and exploring unrestricted free agency. He’s setting that stage now.