LeBron James alters face of NBA again, bets he can add to legacy in Los Angeles

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It was a Tweet of a press release, but it felt a lot like the legendary Michael Jordan “I’m back” fax.

LeBron James changed the landscape of the NBA in just one sentence.

What that sentence brings for the NBA is the kind of drama the league thrives on — the game’s biggest star and best player has planted his flag in Los Angeles. Fans will love it or hate it, but they will not be shy about expressing how they feel. Debate will rage.

LeBron has chosen to play for the NBA’s biggest brand in its most glamorous market — that comes with pressure, and hard questions. Can the combined drawing power of playing with LeBron and playing for the Lakers in Los Angeles draw in another star or two and rebuild the Lakers into a contender? And if so, how fast? What happens if they fall short?

LeBron has bet part of his legacy that he can hang a banner — or banners — in Staples Center.

He has bet he can lead a proud franchise back to the mountaintop, despite the fact that the league’s Mt. Everest resides less than 400 miles to the north. With the Lakers, you are not judged by trips to the conference finals or even making the Finals eight years in a row — it’s titles or bust. The Lakers don’t hang division/conference championship banners. It only hoists the kind LeBron wants.

It was the Golden State Warriors that has kept LeBron from more titles in recent years, and he knew he needed a new home and a new approach to beat them.

He has signed a four-year contract (he can opt out after three) — he never did that for the Cavaliers. In Cleveland, it was a series of one-year contracts, and even when he brought the first title to that city in more than five decades in 2016 he only signed a two-year deal. LeBron never fully trusted Dan Gilbert and the Cavaliers organization.

He does trust Magic Johnson. He does trust owner Jeanie Buss. He trusts that, in the mold of the late Jerry Buss, they will do what it takes and spend whatever is needed to win. LeBron has bet big on the Lakers. And they on him.

LeBron’s decision has a lot of ramifications around the NBA.

The West — which already has Golden State and Houston, the two best teams in the NBA last season, plus teams on the rise such as Utah and Minnesota — is about to become a nightly bloodbath. Think of it this way: Even the worst team in the West last season, the Phoenix Suns, has gotten considerably better this off-season already. LeBron has walked into a nightly challenge — something he’s used to, his teams always have a target on their back. But the level of competition is about to jump.

In the East, Brad Stevens and the Celtics’ brass are going to open the good single malt scotch bottle tonight and enjoy a toast. The man who has dominated the East and represented the conference in the Finals for eight consecutive years is out of the picture. Sure, Philadelphia and others are not just going to roll over, but the road to the finals just got a lot less congested.

Another impact of LeBron’s decision: As if Los Angeles was not enough of a destination for players, it just became moreso.

Players are going to want to flock to the Lakers. Even more than normal. Los Angeles and its brand (not to mention good weather, nightlife, connections to Hollywood) have always been a draw for free agents. That just got multiplied by 23. While the Lakers are rounding out the roster (with one-year contracts, to keep flexibility for next summer) and bringing in some veterans to help the young core grow up and win faster, other players are clamoring to get to Los Angeles. Perform well in that market on that stage, and when free agency comes around the next time players values will be higher. Players around the league locked down with contracts are asking their agents to arrange trades to Los Angeles now.

That includes Kawhi Leonard — and LeBron’s early decision impacts that, too. If LeBron was hesitating, it gave the Spurs some leverage with the Lakers (“if you want to be sure to get LeBron, you’ve got to get Kawhi, and we need a better offer”). LeBron has jumped in with both feet. The Lakers won free agency. For the Spurs the big picture doesn’t change, they can play it slow until they get an offer they really want. They can try to squeeze the 76ers for leverage. But the Lakers landed the big fish, they are not going to make any panic moves now.

This move is a huge gamble for LeBron on two fronts, but both ultimately tied to his legacy.

He’s betting he can build a title team up in Los Angeles — something never easy to do, despite the advantages of Los Angeles. LeBron knows that him alone plus the existing Lakers’ core — Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle, etc. — is at best the three seed in the West, probably more like a four/five seed, with a second-round ceiling. LeBron wants rings, he wants a banner at Staples Center and his jersey retired there with the other greats. LeBron has done the “carry an inferior team” thing, he’s past the point in his career where he wants to keep doing it. He’s banking that both role players — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (who shares an agent with LeBron), Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee have already come on board — and another superstar or two will join him in L.A. Maybe not immediately this summer, but that it will happen. Sooner rather than later.

LeBron’s biggest bet is possibly tarnishing his legacy itself.

Wilt Chamberlain came to the Lakers and won a ring. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar forced his way to Los Angeles via trade, and he won rings and MVPs. Shaquille O’Neal came to the Lakers and won rings. Their legends and stars grew because they were Lakers.

That’s the bar. Making the Lakers into a threat to the Warriors that just can’t get over the hump the next four or five years is not good enough. Win a title or two and LeBron adds to his legacy as one of the greats the game has ever seen (a legacy that is now secure, the only question is just how high people ultimately rank him). He can grow his brand and his star.

Fall short and that will stain his legacy. Not indelibly, but when the comparisons come to Kobe Bryant and the other Lakers/NBA greats, the rings argument will come up. Fair or not. That is life in Los Angeles.

LeBron believes he is ready for it.

He’s bet a lot that he’s right.

Watch LeBron James rack up triple-double, help Lakers pull-away from Nets

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NEW YORK — LeBron James had 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in his 10th triple-double of the season and the Los Angeles Lakers made a season-high 19 3-pointers to pull away and beat the Brooklyn Nets 128-113 on Thursday night.

James closed within 17 points of Kobe Bryant for third place on the NBA’s career scoring list with a flurry in the fourth quarter. He can pass Bryant on Saturday at Philadelphia, where the five-time champion with the Lakers was born.

James has 33,626 points. Bryant finished with 33,643.

A back-and-forth game for nearly three quarters turned into a rout after the Lakers broke the Nets’ spirits with four straight 3-pointers spanning the third and fourth quarters, extending a one-point lead to 107-94, and Los Angeles coasted from there.

Anthony Davis had 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Dwight Howard finished with 14 points and 12 boards in his first start of the season.

Kyrie Irving scored 20 points after missing a game with right hamstring tightness, but the Nets lost their fifth straight. Brooklyn has won just two of its last 14 games.

The Nets were without backup centers DeAndre Jordan and Nicolas Claxton, leaving them without many options behind starter Jarrett Allen. But they struggled just as badly guarding the perimeter. Los Angeles was 19 of 38 behind the arc.

The Lakers led 38-35 after one, before both teams made seven 3-pointers in the second. Howard went 4 for 4 for eight points in the period, helping the Lakers take a 75-70 lead to halftime.

Danny Green made three 3s in the first four minutes of the third, pushing the lead to 88-75, but the Nets had it down to 95-94 after a 3-pointer by Irving with 49 seconds remaining. But then Davis and Rajon Rondo hit 3s before Jared Dudley, who played in Brooklyn last season, hit one from near the Nets’ bench to beat the buzzer and make it 104-94.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made it four straight 3s to open the fourth, extending the lead back to 13. James then scored eight in the period before taking a seat for good.

 

Check out Jordan Brand/Nike designed All-Star Game uniforms

Image courtesy Jordan Brand
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It’s only fitting that Jordan brand has a significant role with the All-Star Game coming to Chicago.

Jordan Brand designed this year’s ASG uniforms and took its inspiration from the Chicago transit line. Here’s the explanation, straight from the press release (because you don’t want me trying to describe fashion, trust me):

Jordan Brand and Nike designers incorporated the color of each track into the uniforms as a base: blue and red for the NBA All-Star Game; purple and orange for NBA Rising Stars; green and pink for the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game presented by Ruffles; and brown and yellow for the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game. The Jordan Brand official NBA All-Star game uniforms add the six-pointed star from the Chicago flag as the symbolic refrain while inviting the attitude of the ‘90s-era alternate uniforms worn by the hometown Bulls.

Take a look at them yourself:

The red and blue will be worn by Team LeBron and Team Giannis during the All-Star Game, with other colors for the Rising Star and Celebrity games.

Of course, they are available for sale at NBAStore.com and Nike.com.

Watch Trae Young’s emotional reaction to being named an All-Star Game starter

Trae Young
Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images
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Trae Young is an All-Star Game starter at age 21 in just his second NBA season.

While that was not a total surprise — he had led the fan voting in the East among guards since the start — it still was an emotional moment for Young when it was announced (as filmed by his teammate Brandon Goodwin for IG).

Young and Kemba Walker were named the backcourt starters for the Eastern Conference (although both will go into a pool of players picked playground-style by the captains to form teams).

There are two 21-and-under starters in this All-Star Game, Young and Luka Doncic of Dallas. The last time there were two starters under age 21 was 1998 with Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

Stephen Curry: I wanted Knicks, not Warriors, to draft me

Stephen Curry
David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images
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Stephen Curry‘s agent and father tried to steer him to the Knicks during the 2009 NBA draft.

They weren’t acting autonomously.

Curry on “All The Smoke” podcast:

I wanted to go to New York and thought I was going to New York. I was in the draft in the green room like, oh, get to the eight spot, and New York can get me.

Instead, the Warriors picked Curry No. 7. The Knicks took Jordan Hill at No. 8.

Curry’s sentiment was understandable. Golden State had made the playoffs only once in the previous 15 years. The Knicks hadn’t been much better lately, but at least they offered the glamorous New York market.

It worked out well for Curry, whose agency even made last-ditch efforts to convince the Warriors to pass on him. He blossomed into an all-time great player on a team that gave him an incredible supporting cast. Curry has won three championships in Golden State and says he wants to retire there.

The Knicks, on the other hand, have largely struggled since. They were above average for a few years, but that’s it. Hill washed out after eight unremarkable NBA seasons.

Curry in New York is an interesting “what if?” Would he have overcome that franchise’s deep-seated problems?

Fortunately for him – and contrary to his initial hopes – he never had to find out.