By taking a shorter rookie-scale contract extension to hit free agency sooner and conspiring with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, LeBron James made it so simply signing with the Heat in 2010 would flip the NBA’s traditional power structure on its head.
Then, LeBron did it in such a cocky way. He announced his Decision on a nationally televised special. He went to an introductory rally and declared Miami would win multiple championships – “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven.”
Yet, beneath the bravado, LeBron apparently had insecurity.
LeBron’s current Lakers teammate Anthony Davis – who knows something about backlash for leaving his original NBA team – relayed a conversation with LeBron.
Shams Charania of Stadium:
Lakers star Anthony Davis (@AntDavis23) sits down for @Stadium video interview: Lessons from LeBron — love toward NOLA and emotional return game Nov. 27 — his biggest regret with Pelicans exit — when he almost quit basketball — Chicago legacy and more. pic.twitter.com/LJM45AgsOA
I asked him, I said, “When you went to Miami, first off, how were you when you left Cleveland? Obviously, you left free-willingly. I had to ask for a trade. But what was your emotions?” He was like, “I was scared. I was scared as s—.” And that was the same thing with me, because I’d been so accustomed to being in New Orleans, and I loved that city. I loved the city of New Orleans. I’ve got so many friends there that turned family. Multiple properties there. New Orleans is a part of me. And it was tough for me to walk away from that.
I believe Davis. He repeatedly said his primary goal was winning with the Pelicans. In the end, when he thought those goals diverged, he prioritized winning over New Orleans. That was probably a difficult choice.
LeBron had the added element of playing for his hometown team. Davis developed ties to New Orleans only after entering the NBA. LeBron, an Akron native, had Ohio roots that went far deeper. That probably made it even scarier for LeBron to leave.
But it worked out for LeBron. He won titles and developed as a player with the Heat, returned to the Cavs and won another championship with them. He got it all.
We’ll see whether Davis’ move from the Pelicans works as well.
Three Things to Know: Old-school Kawhi Leonard drops 38 on old friends Popovich, Spurs
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Old-school Kawhi Leonard drops 38 on old friends Gregg Popovich, Spurs. This has been the season of “Kawhi Leonard, all-world playmaker.” Coming into Halloween night, Leonard was averaging 7.5 assists per game (his previous career high was 3.5), and he had assisted on (an estimated) 47.6 percent of teammates buckets when on the floor, well above his previous high of 19 percent.
Not against his old friend Gregg Popovich.
Leonard had just one assist but dominated the second half with 25 points, finishing with 38 on the night — plus 12 rebounds and four steals — leading the Clippers to a 103-97 win. Leonard got his buckets his way, going 6-of-11 from the midrange and 2-of-4 on above-the-break threes.
Leonard is being asked to do more playmaking with the Clippers, at least until Paul George’s return. The roster demands it. Leonard’s previous teams had Tony Parker and Kyle Lowry on them — All-Star level playmaking point guards who could run the offense, set guys up, and get buckets. Leonard could work off the ball more and pick his spots. The Clippers have Patrick Beverley, who brings an important skill set (and mindset) to the game but is not a playmaker of the Parker/Lowry level.
Leonard’s dominance against the Spurs followed a pattern — he has taken charge of second halves all season. His usage rate jumps to 40.9 in second halves this season. He’s just done more of that with assists, at least up until Halloween night.
Against the team he left under bitter circumstances (and rested after a load management night off in Utah), Leonard just did it getting buckets for himself rather than setting up teammates. Either way, it worked.
2) Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns each get two-game suspensions for their brawl. Early in the season, sometimes the league likes to send a message — if there’s a fight or a situation where suspensions are warranted, they come in heavy-handed. The goal is to send a message to the rest of the league — this behavior will not be tolerated.
Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns certainly earned suspensions for their fight Wednesday night.
However, the league did not come down all that hard. Both Embiid and Towns got two games (without pay) for the fight and ensuing social media war of words. A lot, but they could have gotten more.
“While we are disappointed with the league’s decision, we understand the magnitude of this unfortunate incident,” Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas said in a statement. “The NBA is highly competitive and last night was a reflection of that. We support Karl and will move forward together as a group.”
Philly will be without Embiid against Portland and at Phoenix. It’s a blow, Philly has been 14.2 points per 100 possessions better this season with Embiid on the court this young season, but they will slide Al Horford into the center spot and not take a huge step backward.
Minnesota will miss Towns more against the Wizards and Bucks He’s been playing at an MVP discussion level to start the season — 27.3 points a game, 11.5 rebounds, a couple of blocks, and he’s shooting 52.9 percent on more than eight three-point attempts per game. Plus he’s been put in more of a playmaker role. Minnesota has nobody who can come close to stepping in for him.
3) Rookie Kendrick Nunn setting records, drops 28 on Hawks in Miami win. How good has Heat rookie Kendrick Nunn been? Check out the numbers:
• He has scored more points in his first five games in Miami — 112 — than any Heat player in history, including Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and all the rest. (LeBron was second at 102.)
• That 112 points through five games is more than the last 26 No. 1 picks have scored through five.
• The last rookie to score more than Nunn through five games was Kevin Durant (113) back in 2007. KD was a heralded No. 2 pick, Nunn went undrafted and spent last season in the G-League.
Nunn has thrived as a starter for Miami, often working off the ball for the now 4-1 Heat. That allows Eric Spoelstra to bring Goran Dragic off the bench in a Lou Williams kind of way. Nunn showed again why he should start next to Jimmy Butler dropping 28 on the Hawks in a 106-97 Heat win.
It’s far, far too early in the season to have a Rookie of the Year conversation, but if one were going to — as we did on the latest PBT Podcast — Nunn has to be the early leader. He’s a great story about perseverance and finding a role in the right organization.
And Miami is 4-1 to start the season, in part because of him.
Jimmy Butler’s week: A baby, a Heat debut and a first win
MIAMI — A late-arriving baby. A delayed Miami debut. A lot of lost sleep.
Jimmy Butler‘s first official week with the Heat was one he won’t forget.
Getting the distinction of being the last Miami starter to be introduced – a role Dwyane Wade held for most of his Heat tenure, the honor that typically goes to the player deemed to be the face of the franchise – Butler has finally gotten onto the court with his new team.
The debut went well: He scored 21 points, making his first four shots, and the Heat defeated the Atlanta Hawks 112-97. And afterward, he was going home to his newborn daughter.
“All good things,” Butler said. “We won. Obviously, I’m a father. But I’m blessed beyond measure. I get to play basketball with some incredible guys, for an incredible organization. Life is good right now.”
The baby’s name is Rylee – pronounced the same way Heat President Pat Riley pronounces his last name. Mother and baby are both doing well, Butler said.
“I know I can handle it,” he said. “It’s fun. Hell, I get to be a dad and I get to hoop.”
Rylee, however, has no grasp yet on when the NBA season starts. She was due in mid-October. She didn’t arrive until Oct. 23 – which was opening night for the Heat, and that meant her dad had to wait a few days to get onto the floor.
As the days of waiting stretched on, Butler started to suspect Rylee would pick opening night for her debut.
“I just had a feeling that God was going to show me what’s truly important in life,” Butler said.
The Heat more than held it down without him: They were 2-1 in the three games Butler watched from home to open the season.
When they arrived for work Tuesday, Butler was beyond energetic.
“He was running around in shootaround like it was a playoff game,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Butler is going through all the new-dad issues: jagged sleep cycle, juggling training time with family time, fussing over the new mom and new baby – all while he was waiting to get his first season with the Heat underway.
He has no complaints.
“I started looking a life different a long time ago, but I definitely look at it way differently now,” Butler said. “I feel like every time I leave the house, every time I hop in the car, any time I do anything I’m like, `Yo, I’ve got to make it home.’ And I look forward to having that feeling for the rest of my life.”
During 2016 Olympics, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan discussed teaming up in NBA
There were endless conversations about basketball, including how LeBron James had orchestrated his own “friend group” in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that yielded two titles. One of the final nights on the Silver Cloud, as Ky, KD and DJ clinked glasses, Jordan recalls Irving saying, “Hey, this would be cool to do for real.”
“I asked him, ‘What you mean by that?'” Jordan says, “and Ky said, ‘Let’s all get on the same team and play together.'”
It’s cool for Durant, Irving and Jordan they made this happen with the Nets three years later.
It’s also worth remembering: Players often talk about teaming up. Those plans come to fruition far less frequently.
This isn’t even the most famous toast about a big-name trio. At Carmelo Anthony’s wedding, Chris Paul toasted to forming a big three with Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Anthony ultimately forced his way from the Nuggets to Stoudemire’s Knicks, but Paul never joined them. That’s how it usually goes.
So, you could use this Rio anecdote to question Durant’s commitment to the Warriors (Draymond Greencertainly did), Irving’s commitment to the Cavaliers and Celtics (plenty of questions in both Cleveland and Boston) and even Jordan’s commitment to the Mavericks (Jordan’s effort in Dallas was questionable, but his other teams – Clippers and Knicks – were different as potential Durant-Irving destinations).
I think that’s the wrong narrative, though. Just because Irving, Durant and Jordan once talked about teaming up doesn’t mean it was inevitable – just as it wasn’t inevitable Paul, Anthony and Stoudemire would team up just because they talked about it. Sometimes, among all the unlikelihoods, one becomes reality.
Hornets rookie P.J. Washington scores 27 points, makes record seven 3s in career debut
Washington made 42% of his 3-pointers as a Kentucky sophomore. But that came on just 78 attempts. He shot just 24% from beyond the arc as a freshman (on only 21 attempts). His free-throw percentage – often a good indicator of shooting ability – was an underwhelming 61% and 66%.
The early returns: A resounding yes.
Washington scored 27 points on 7-of-11 3-point shooting in the Hornets’ 126-125 season-opening win over the Bulls on Wednesday.
Washington’s 27 points were the most in a season debut since Gordan Giricek scored 29 for the Grizzlies in 2002. Some all-time great players – including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant – have entered the NBA since. None scored so much in their debut.
Here’s everyone in NBA history who scored more than 25 points in their first game:
Washington’s seven 3-pointers broke the all-time record for a career debut. The previous record was five by Jake Layman (2016 Trail Blazers) and Donyell Marshall (1994 Timberwolves)
Here’s everyone to make more than three 3-pointers in his first game:
Washington’s hot shooting was only one aspect of a thrilling game. Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen had 35 points and 17 rebounds. Charlotte used a late 15-1 run for the comeback win.
But Washington, the No. 12 pick, stole the show and made an early argument in a Rookie of the Year race that suddenly looks far more open with Zion Williamsonsidelined.