Pat Riley says LeBron James subtly asked him to replace Erik Spoelstra in 2010

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Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James is one of the best to ever play the game. He has multiple championships to his name, and now it seems as though he might take a different direction in the Sunshine state with regard to his career.

But just a decade ago, LeBron’s legacy was not so certain. In fact, James was a bit of a villain after the disaster that was “The Decision” and his new perceived persona with the Miami Heat.

That transition is the partial subject of a new book by Ian Thomsen, who appeared on a recent edition of Zach Lowe podcast to discuss some of the subjects at hand. Titled “The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown Between LeBron, Kobe, Doc, and Dirk That Saved the NBA” Thomsen’s book has been getting excellent reviews, and based on his conversation with Lowe it certainly seems worthwhile.

One of the best excerpts that Lowe and Thomsen discussed was a story from Pat Riley about James subtly asking for the Hall of Famer to replace young Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

If you don’t remember the context, this rumored rift between LeBron and Spoelstra started when the Heat began the season just 9-8 in 2010. During a loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 27 of that year, LeBron was seen bumping into Spoelstra going into at timeout after Dirk Nowitzki hit a jumper over Chris Bosh to put Dallas up by double-digits late in the third quarter.

Here’s a quote from Lowe’s podcast, where Lowe is quoting a passage of Thomsen’s book that is spoken by Riley:

[I] asked how things were progressing. They just said, “We’re not feeling it, or something like that.” We talked about the typical things we have to do, have patience, all that stuff.

And I remember LeBron looking at me and he said, “Don’t you ever get the itch?”

And I said, “The itch for what?”

He said, “The itch to coach again.”

I said, “No I don’t have the itch.”

He didn’t ask any more questions and I didn’t offer any more answers but I know what it meant and I always go back and wonder what he was thinking at that time. He walked out scratching at his leg like it was itching.

The story that LeBron wanted Spoelstra out of Miami is not a new one. It was a rumor at the time a decade ago, and much as you might expect we have only come to see its verification some time later, with all concerned parties satisfied with their eventual result — two championships.

This is perhaps the best thing to come out of books like these. The inner workings of the NBA, often rumored, don’t come to light while players are still involved with parties they may take issue with. It’s only with the passage of time, and perhaps physical distance, that players and coaches are willing to speak with reporters to get the real story on record. That’s how we get to know about things like this, and it’s great.

Arizona State leading scoring Remy Martin declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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Arizona State junior Remy Martin has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft:

The six-foot point guard took on more of scoring role in his third season with the Sun Devils than he had in his first two seasons. Martin averaged 19.1 points per game on 43.2% shooting from the field. Martin also dished out 4.1 assists per game, after averaging 5.0 assists as a sophomore.

Arizona State’s leading scoring may just be testing the waters, as he’s expected to go undrafted. NBA scouts have concerns over Martin’s size at the NBA level. One concern is his ability to hold up defensively, as NBA point guards are trending bigger and bigger in recent years.

As a smaller guard, Martin was one of the players who could have benefited from the traditional pre-draft process. With in-person workouts on hold, and potentially cancelled entirely, players have limited opportunities to improve their draft stock. Teams may be drafting off previous in-person scouting and off of tape.

NBA players reportedly to take part in televised NBA 2K tournament Friday

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If we can’t watch NBA players on the court, at least we can watch them control their digital selves and teammates in a live basketball tournament.

ESPN plans to broadcast an NBA 2K tournament with only NBA players at the controllers, a story broken by Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports. The hope is to have it air Friday, with the players competing from their homes around the country.

The NBA is planning a players-only NBA 2K tournament that will feature the league’s sharpest video gamers and it will be broadcast on ESPN, league sources told Yahoo Sports…

Players competing against their peers in the comfort of their own homes could offer a distraction for fans who are missing the game and a little competition.

The league is still finalizing some details for the tournament, but each team is expected to have a representative, sources said.

Esports are incredibly popular and growing as a spectator sport, both in person and on Twitch and other platforms. With there being a pent-up demand for sports programming, this seems a smart attempt to draw eyeballs. Even people who are non-esports viewers could tune in just to check it out, because it’s that or rewatching Tiger King.

You can bet that if it works, we will see a lot more of it in the future.

(Inside baseball note: I would love to see the emails/texts flying around ESPN about Yahoo breaking a story about what is coming in their network.)

 

Shaquille O’Neal: I had no idea what was happening with Joe Exotic of Tiger King

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On a recent episode of “The Big Podcast with Shaq” former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal said that “he had no idea” what was happening at the zoo run by Joe Exotic. Joe Exotic was recently made famous through the popular Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”.

Footage of O’Neal appeared in the first episode of the show and was shown taking photographs with the animals.

The documentary also showed a cut of O’Neal on TNT saying “Shoutout to Exotic Joe. I got two more tigers.”

On his podcast, O’Neal explained:

“So we go in there, and it’s a beautiful place, and the character that was there was Exotic Joe. We’re there and I dropped some donations for the tigers’ foods and all that. We take pictures with (the) tigers. We went back a couple times. Then we go back another time and we found out that he’s involved with all the stuff, and then, actually, I stopped going.”

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, was sentenced to 22 years in prison after being found guilty of 19 different charges. Those charges included murder-for-hire plot, illegally selling endangered species and other animal-related offenses.

O’Neal clarified that he never bought any animals, but often donates to charities that help animals. He also made it clear that he’s not friends with Joe Exotic, nor anyone involved in the trade of endangered species.

“I don’t harm tigers,” O’Neal said. “I love tigers. I love white tigers. Do I put donations to these zoos to help these tigers out? I do it all the time. Do I own tigers personally at my house? No. But I love tigers. Listen, people are going to make their own opinions, but, again, I was just a visitor. I met this guy — not my friend. Don’t know him. Never had any business dealings with him, and I had no idea any of that stuff was going on.”

Report: Brooklyn Nets looking to hire a blue-chip head coach

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When the Brooklyn Nets and Kenny Atkinson parted ways in early-March, the team installed Jacque Vaughn as the interim head coach.

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that’s a short-term appointment. On his podcast “Brian Windhorst and The Hoop Collective”, the reporter said the Nets are looking to hire a coach with a track record of NBA success.

“One of the things that has been expressed sort of the grapevine, that’s the way I’m going to say it to protect myself from the aggregators, is that Durant and Irving would like a blue-chip coach. I don’t know what this says about the way they thought about Atkinson, but they want a big-name coach.”

Names linked to the Brooklyn opening are Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, and both Jeff and Stan Van Gundy.

Atkinson leaving Brooklyn was a surprise, considering he had led the Nets back to the playoffs in 2019. That success came after a three-year rebuild. That process was kicked off when general manager Sean Marks hired Atkinson to lead the on-court development. Under Marks and Atkinson, the Nets developed several players who had been given up on by other teams.

Brooklyn was 28-34 when Atkinson was let go. The Nets had gone 2-0 under Vaughn before the NBA suspended play in mid-March.