Posted Jul 14, 2014 1:28 PM
LAS VEGAS -- Now Main Street's whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain't nobody wants to come down here no more
They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back to your hometown
Last night me and Kate we laid in bed
talking about getting out
Packing up our bags maybe heading south
I'm thirty-five we got a boy of our own now
Last night I sat him up behind the wheel and said son take a good look around
This is your hometown
-- Bruce Springsteen, "My Hometown"
When I was 22, just out of college, I got a phone call from the National Football League.
They were looking for more people to help handle their media requests, and they thought it would be easier to do by conference. They wanted me to be their NFC media relations contact. This was an extraordinary offer for a kid who was still green and wet behind the ears (which made dating a chore, as you can imagine; who would want to kiss a moist, emerald-shaded person?).
But I turned down the job. One big reason was that I had just finished an internship with The Washington Post in their sports department. I really wanted to be a journalist, not a PR person.
But the bigger reason was that I would have had to move to New York. And I lived in Washington, D.C. I said no.
When I was 30, I got an incredible and generous offer to become a sports columnist for a gritty and fun paper, the Philadelphia Daily News. I had a full-time job at the Post by now, but I eagerly went up to Philly, where I met with the sports editor and the big boss, both of whom I immediately liked and with whom I felt comfortable. They made a great impression. I wanted desperately to be a columnist. I was 30. I thought my opinions on everything were not only desired, but were necessary for the sports world to be complete.
I was so ready to leave.
Except, the job was in Philadelphia. And I lived in Washington, D.C.
I said no.
I was from Washington. I loved Washington. I never wanted to leave Washington.
And, I never have.
I left the Post in '96 to go work for ESPN, curious if television was something I could do. They wanted me to move to Bristol. I said no. They insisted. So did I. I never left Washington, and I worked for the Four-Letter Network for eight years.
After ESPN decided it was time for me to move on, I got a job with the Philadelphia Inquirer covering the NFL. They asked if I would move up to Philly. I said no. I live in Washington. They graciously offered me the job anyway. I drove up to Philly two or three days a week to write, then drove or took the train back to D.C.
Thankfully, Turner Sports has never asked me to move to Atlanta, its base of operations. It would be difficult.
Washington, D.C. is my home. I grew up here. I went to college here. I met my wife here. My children were born here. I live here, and so does most of my immediate family.
So, LeBron James does not have to explain Decision 2.0 to me.
You don't get to choose when you're born, or where. But most people have the choice of where to live when they're adults. There are people who love seeing the world, who move from place to place without a care, happy for the next adventure, wherever it is.
I am not one of those people.
Few things make me happier than taking what the airlines call the South Flow River Visual Approach into National Airport. When the weather cooperates, you descend into D.C. with the Mall on your left, and the view as you land is majestic: my beloved alma mater, American University, followed by the National Cathedral, one of the highest points in the city, then Georgetown University, with its beautiful campus, then Foggy Bottom and the Kennedy Center, and the Mall as the finale: the Washington Monument, the U.S. Capitol, the White House (hard to find, but not if you know where to look), and the Jefferson Memorial just before you bank right and land at National.
Akron, and by extension, Cleveland, is James' home. It's where he made and forged the relationships that still guide his life. All of his chief decision makers, from agent Rich Paul to business advisor Maverick Carter to his manager, Randy Mims, are his closest friends from Akron. He has empowered those people to speak for him, and that trust was born out of their collective experience in Akron.
So James went home last Friday, turning the NBA world on its head, costing the Heat 300,000 Twitter followers within 24 hours (and, assuredly, most of its national TV appearances) and selling out 12,000 season ticket packages in Cleveland. The move allows the Indiana Pacers to continue tinkering their roster rather than taking a mallet to it, gives the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards hope that they can further expand their newly found playoff lungs, provides hope to the Spurs that their long-sought back-to-back championships are possible, makes Kevin Love reconsider winters in Ohio, inspires the New York Times into sports-page brilliance, makes the Four-Letter forget all about its year-long obsession with the NFL -- making Johnny Manziel, temporarily, a nobody -- blows I Believe That We Will Win out of the American sports consciousness, reduces Donald Sterling to the sad sideshow he should have been all along and transforms reporters Chris Sheridan and Lee Jenkins into household names.
Four-time league MVPs have that kind of swag and sway.
"I guess, ultimately, so much has happened so fast, I almost have had the chance to let it soak in emotionally," Cavs GM David Griffin said Sunday.
James, again, controlled his narrative. Four years ago, James had teams come en masse to him in Cleveland, bowing and scraping, to make their pitches with cameras recording every pilgrimage. That culminated in The Decision, a low bit of narcissism cloaked in ersatz charity, and for which James and his team were rightly criticized.
This time around, though, James' approach was pitch-perfect. With the exception of a couple of details here and there, information was kept close, with Paul, now James' agent, serving as the point person with teams. The meetings were kept quiet and James wasn't even there except for meetings with the two finalists: the Heat and Cavaliers.
But James, again, controlled the message, this time choosing Sports Illustrated as his co-author, and keeping his decision quiet for at least 12 hours before SI published his as-told-to column to Jenkins Friday afternoon. (Griffin found out as he sat in his office Friday, with ownership calling just as he saw the crawl on the TV.)
The story of redemption is as old as the Prodigal Son in the Bible, and remains powerful, almost irresistible. We all know we mess up, and we all seek reconciliation and forgiveness from those we've harmed with our bad decisions. That James is willing to forgive owner Dan Gilbert for his noxious Comic Sans rant after The Decision, just as his choice to return to Cleveland allows that city to forgive him for leaving in the first place and reaches anyone with a sinner's heart.
(Although, Gilbert was not being truthful about his whereabouts Sunday. After Cleveland radio host Joe Lull tweeted Sunday afternoon that Gilbert was on his private plane headed for South Florida, Gilbert tweeted in response, "I am? Sorry folks but enjoying weather in my backyard today." He was not. He was mending fences with James in Miami, as he told Yahoo! Sports. Gilbert has said he sought to make things right with James, whether or not James decided to return. Wouldn't that have been good enough to tell people?)
For the second time in four years, James showed his brethren what real power, wielded first clumsily and then carefully, looks like. He has shown, for a second time, that he is unlike almost any superstar of his ilk in the last 30 years -- he is willing to move in search of that which makes him happiest. Shaquille O'Neal did it in 1996, of course, but the history of one-name stars has almost always been that if they do leave, it's at the team's insistence, not theirs.
James walked away from a Heat team that, if not an iron-clad favorite to reach a fifth straight Finals next season, certainly had a chance. Bosh, Wade and Chris Andersen were coming back, and newcomers Shabazz Napier, Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts helped bolster the rotation.
He walked headlong into uncertainty in Cleveland. For those who say, well, he's got Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins and Tristan Thompson to play with, ask yourself the last time a superstar left a team and coach that had proven they could win championships for a team that might win some, if it's fortunate.
But, make no mistake: James doesn't come if Irving doesn't sign the five-year max deal on the eve of free agency.
"I'm grateful that the things we've done in our environment and our culture have created the kind of groundswell that made Kyrie want to stay," Griffin said. "Because that was the first thing. And everything snowballs from there. His belief in us and what we're doing was a really big part of our being able to move forward."
Griffin was an Irving champion when some in the organization grumbled about the 2011 Rookie of the Year's demeanor, more than occasional clashes with coaches and attention to teammates.
"Once I had the ability to talk to him more directly, to be in the (GM) position, what I learned about him was how much he cares about winning," Griffin said. "And then, as a 21-, 22-year-old kid, he really doesn't know how to do it. We made things much harder on him at times than we needed to, and in terms of what we were asking him to do in terms of solid play and supporting cast, it was unfair to him.
"And so I think he fought through things without communicating well enough with us, and we probably didn't do a good enough job of communicating with him. So what I saw was a kid that was ready and really excited about change and opportunity, and he embraced it from the very beginning."
It will be new coach David Blatt's task to figure out the best way to utilize James, Irving, Wiggins, Thompson, second-year forward Anthony Bennett and third-year guard Dion Waiters best. Miami won championships with James on the block, surrounding him with shooters and letting him dissect defenses and double-teams from the post.
The Cavs don't have that shooter on the roster yet, though they're working on it, talking to former James teammates Mike Miller and James Jones. (The contract of Brendan Haywood, acquired from Charlotte over the weekend, may also be able at some point in the next year to get James another star player, as explained here).
"This just happened," Blatt said Sunday. "I'm just trying to get over the excitement factor, knowing I have a big job, figuring out the best way for us to play. And, utilizing the many, many possibilities that are now at our disposal. I said the other day that our set of limitations has changed and has been raised exponentially. There's a lot of possibilities to be considered."
There was a reasonable take by some that in going back to Cleveland, James could be criticized for tacitly approving Gilbert's economic worldview when it comes to the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Gilbert was one of the strongest proponents of assessing the harshest penalties possible to teams that tried to hoard stars, often by giving them mid-level exception deals that teams of lesser means could not afford. It was a process that let the teams with more cash on hand or that were willing to absorb temporary financial losses grab players who would have been starters for most teams. In such ways did the Lakers and Celtics build quality benches that gave them great on-court advantages.
But Gilbert's embrace of punitive luxury taxes for teams that went above the tax threshold, along with enhanced revenue sharing for the league's poorest teams, has made that process a perilous one, and prohibitively expensive for just about every team. Over the last decade, Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and other owners have pulled back from being tax payers. Almost no one will be willing to do so in the coming years as the new "repeater tax" takes enormous bites out of team finances.
And James saw first-hand the impact of the new system on his now-old team.
Miami went all-in financially on the SuperFriends, leaving the Heat few options to sign veteran players that could make a difference.
For two seasons, the Heat found above-value talent with Ray Allen, Miller and Shane Battier to supplement the Big Three. All played major roles in the Heat's Finals win over Oklahoma City in 2012. Allen hit the shot of a lifetime to keep Miami alive against San Antonio in Game 6 of The 2013 Finals, and Battier came up big in Game 7 of that series.
But the tax burden of carrying Miller became too much for the Arison family to endure. The second title cost them more than $13 million in luxury taxes, and forced the Heat to waive Miller via the amnesty clause last summer. Doing so saved the Arisons $17 million in additional luxury-tax payments (they still are on the hook for more than $14 million in taxes for the just-finished season), but robbed Miami of one of its most popular players, one whom opponents still had to game plan for, even when he was missing.
And if Riley and Heat Senior VP/General Manager Andy Elisburg, the master of the spread sheet, couldn't squeeze any more room out of the crowded Heat cap this summer, then it couldn't be done. And Miami watched as player after player went for the payday -- Kyle Lowry, Marcin Gortat -- that the Heat couldn't give them. (Miami rebounded nicely with a two-year, $20 million deal for Luol Deng Sunday -- the same per year amount that the Bulls had offered Deng months ago; his rejection of that offer led to his being traded to Cleveland for Andrew Bynum -- that rare NBA deal that helped neither team.)
But James, in taking a two-year, $42 million deal from Cleveland, again made clear who was in charge, on and off the court. This was likely not arrived at without a lot of thought, between James, Paul and attorney and contract negotiator Mark Termini, the long-time, respected player agent. They have kept their strategy to themselves, but a few things seem clear from how things worked out.
First, James insisted on a max deal. He knew full well that, in never being his team's highest-paid player the first 11 years of his career, he was giving GMs a hammer to use on other free agents: LeBron has never been a max guy. Why should you? He would not put himself in that position again, and teams, including some that were trying to get him to sign, tried a related gambit -- why put yourself through this again? Why not just sign the four-year deal? That didn't fly, either, and the Cavs knew better, clearing enough room to make a max offer by dealing Jarrett Jack to Brooklyn Thursday in what became a three-team deal with the Nets and Celtics.
James had lots of options -- four years, three years, two years, one year -- on a contract with Cleveland. All were discussed, for various reasons and at various times, over the last week, as the idea of returning to the Cavs became a real possibility.
And a short deal was the logical outcome for a superstar player navigating the current owner- and league-approved system.
The new rules were designed specifically to make it as hard as possible for teams to retain multiple star players. Even teams like Oklahoma City, which did it the so-called "right" way -- drafting and developing their own players, rarely poaching other teams for free agents and making astute trades -- had to move James Harden when he became too expensive to keep without getting swamped by the tax. (And OKC, incredibly, still had to pay into the revenue-sharing program last season.)
James is also setting himself up for at least a couple more huge paydays. The maximum yearly salary for players is directly tied to the salary cap: teams can spend up to 35 percent of their cap for a player with James's experience. The cap already has gone up from $58 million to $63 million since the 2011 lockout, as league revenues have increased. There's no reason to believe they won't go up further by 2016, when James could again be a free agent.
That doesn't even take into account the explosive additional revenues that are expected when the new television contracts with the league's network and cable choices come down in the next year or so. TV will provide another massive injection of revenue into the league, which will raise caps and max salaries even more.
There's also the likelihood of a re-opening of the CBA in 2017 by the players, who gave away billions in salaries during the last lockout. Over the years, max superstars like O'Neal have had contracts with terms that have been altered or eliminated in subsequent labor talks grandfathered in at the conclusion of lockouts. James should expect the same.
A short deal for James is also a minimum risk for a guy making eight figures annually in endorsements, with no signs of slowing down any time soon. He will almost certainly get a long-term deal the next time around, when he's just 31 but still has maximum leverage.
Finally, there is the realpolitik of James keeping the pressure on the Cavs to continue to improve the roster.
Griffin was just named general manager in May, after Gilbert fired former GM Chris Grant. Blatt, almost literally, just got off the plane from Europe to be coach and hasn't even begun looking at houses in town. It's logical to assume James will take a wait-and-see approach with the team's new braintrust.
Fortunately, there are a few familiar faces for James to embrace. Trent Redden, the team's assistant general manager, has been around since 2006. Longtime fan favorite/James friend Zydrunas Ilgauskas is still around, too.
But Griffin knows he's on the clock, with the history and story of James and Cleveland a backbeat as he and the team rebuild their relationship.
"Realistically, I would have asked for the same thing if I were him," Griffin said. "You're not coming home, and you don't come to us with that mission because the contract matters. He's on a mission. And he's going to be simultaneously maximizing the business strategy, but really focusing on what he wants to deliver to Northeast Ohio. It matters to him, and in a way, that transcends basketball."
We live in cynical times. This is anti-cynicism, the greatest player in his sport coming back to put down permanent roots. This is not the LeBron James who bragged about winning not one, not two, not three, not four...and so on in Miami. This is LeBron James, from Akron Ohio, making himself whole, a man in full, hoping to destroy a city's inferiority complex while finding his authentic voice, in the city he has always called home.
Did you catch the Prokhorov crying uncle?
If you doubt the chilling effect that the NBA's tougher luxury and repeater taxes have, look towards Brooklyn.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, whose NBA record team payroll of more than $100 million and subsequent luxury tax payments added up to more than $190 million in expenditures, just let Paul Pierce walk to a conference rival (Washington) without getting anything in return. He did so rather than take on a Matt Barnes or other salary from the Clippers in a sign-and-trade deal to send Pierce to L.A., the place he wanted to go and the team for which he wanted to play, or by giving Pierce the taxpayer mid-level exception.
The Nets reportedly lost $144 million last season, despite making the playoffs and reaching the East semifinals. Prokhorov has, according to the New York Post, made it clear he was prepared to start cutting salary to make the team more attractive to potential investors in the remaining 20 percent of the team owned by Bruce Ratner, who originally bought the team in 2003.
Prokhorov famously said after buying the majority stake in the Nets in 2009 that he expected the team to be in The Finals within five years. That didn't happen, but during those five seasons, he green-lighted GM Billy King to take on any and all contracts. The Nets gave Deron Williams a $98 million deal to stay in 2012, took on the remaining $89 million of Joe Johnson's contract from Atlanta, traded the sixth pick in the 2012 Draft to Portland for Gerald Wallace (that pick became All-Star Damian Lillard) and gave Brook Lopez a $60 million extension.
So forget this mishegas about developing young players.
The Nets told everyone on earth they had a two-year window to try and win a title, with Prokhorov's blessing to do whatever it took. So King dealt three first-round picks a year ago to Boston for Kevin Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry. (Terry was flipped during the season for guard Marcus Thornton, who was in turn flipped last week to Boston as part of that three-team deal with Boston and Cleveland that gave the Cavaliers the cap room they needed to sign LeBron James.)
Pierce started slowly, but he was by far more effective than KG last season, shooting a higher percentage last season than he had his last two seasons in Boston. The Nets got a lot of mileage out of playing Pierce at the four, as they went super small with either Garnett or rookie Mason Plumlee at center.
And while Pierce is surely less at 36 than he was at 30, when he was the Finals MVP for Boston in 2008, he's still got some offensive credibility. The Wizards happily forked over their full non-taxpayer mid-level exception to Pierce (two years, $10.8 million) Saturday night after losing incumbent starter Trevor Ariza to Houston earlier that day.
"It's a blessing to have that kind of leadership, that kind of experience come to your team," said Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell, who's coaching Washington's Summer League team, on Sunday. Cassell was a teammate of Pierce's on that '08 title team.
"It's big that we got him," Cassell said. "Huge, rather. He was the captain of the Celtics for 13, 14 years. That's an honor that's not too easy to get, and he had it for a long, long time. When we won the championship, Kevin -- Ticket -- wasn't the captain. Ray (Allen) wasn't the captain. Paul Pierce was the captain."
Brooklyn watched reserve guard Shaun Livingston sign with Golden State, and they'll likely lose backup big man Andray Blatche in free agency, too. The Nets did get Jarrett Jack and young forward Sergei Karasev from Cleveland, and will bring forward Bojan Bogdanovic over from Europe next season. They also added new coach Lionel Hollins and his no-nonsense approach.
Pierce's arrival in D.C. will ease the transition of second-year forward Otto Porter, the third pick in the 2013 Draft. Injured all summer with a hip injury, Porter missed training camp and quickly lost any chance he had at regular playing time for coach Randy Wittman.
The Wizards still think Porter will become the all-around talent he displayed at Georgetown, a two-way player who should fit in with All-Star John Wall and youngster Bradley Beal. But he probably isn't ready just yet to take over at the three. Pierce's presence basically buys Washington a year to work Porter into the rotation.
"I've got a lot of questions to ask him," Porter said Sunday.
Porter had a similar approach with Ariza last season, trying to be a sponge with the veteran. It was a difficult transition for Porter to the pro game, even after his hip healed and he got sporadic minutes toward the end of the season.
"I tried to absorb as much as I could, learn as much as I could and apply it out there," Porter said. "Helping my guys out. Just learning. You see something, you look at it and you try to apply it. I had great teammates and coaches. They coached me through the whole process. They saw the look on my face, that it wasn't easy. Certain guys like Trevor Ariza and Al Harrington, they've been through it. They gave me great advice on how to take it, use it as motivation."
Porter isn't yet the 3-point threat Ariza was last season, but Ariza wasn't a consistent 3-point shooter for most of his career entering last season. Nor is Ariza the offensive threat with the ball that Pierce has been almost his entire career. He will get the Wizards in the penalty early, and he will take big shots late.
But Pierce isn't near the defensive talent Ariza is. He was Washington's stopper, effective on players ranging from James to Bulls point guard D.J. Augustin, whom Wittman put Ariza on to great effect as Washington ousted Chicago in the first round of the playoffs.
Wittman gave him the freedom to float within the structure of Washington's defense, and Ariza finished sixth among small forwards in Defensive Win Shares (3.7), behind Paul George, Kevin Durant, Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green.
The Wizards are pushing Porter to be more assertive next season. Cassell gave Porter the ball in Washington's first two Summer League games, both wins. The Wizards know there are mid-range shots (!!) available in their offense for someone who can move without the ball and has a strong basketball IQ. And even though Porter was just 4 of 31 behind the arc last season, the Wizards think he can become a good long-range shooter.
Pierce also feeds into the notion that the Wiz are now a place stars will consider (though he was motivated by the $5.3 million salary for next season, to be sure). The Wizards have a not-so-secret hope of convincing Durant to come back to his Seat Pleasant, Md., roots in '16, when he becomes a free agent.
By then, Porter had better be starting if the Wizards have any hopes of repeating their playoff run from last season and becoming a force in the East.
"I tested my patience last year," Porter said. "This year, I know what I'm capable of."
The Fault, Dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in our Spurs. From Marilyn Dubinski:
I love your columns as always. My question is how much of a role did the Spurs' drubbing of Miami in The Finals play into LeBron's decision to go back to Cleveland, and by that extent do the Cavs owe the Spurs a great big gift basket? Of course there's always the possibility that LeBron was simply to go home regardless of the outcome, but I was just curious. Thanks for your input!
I think it was a factor, Marilyn, but I don't know that it was significant. Players can convince themselves of anything after a loss, and I'm sure the Heat look back at Game 1 of The Finals and say to themselves that if not for a busted air conditioner, they may well have come back to Miami up 2-0. My guess is LeBron not only looked at that Finals loss as an indication of how much Miami's depth had fallen, but saw a future with very little flexibility if the Heat brought back all three SuperFriends at the prices they were seeking. And, as written above, he just wanted to go home.
Somebody go back and get me a whole mess of stamps. From Chuck Kunold:
Thank you for blowing off my e-mail. How stupid of me to think you'd actually respond. I guess the humble guy on TV is nothing more than a façade. You're just as cocky and egotistical as Stephen A Smith or Bob Costas. Someday your run will end and when you're in a geriatric ward they're not going to give a damn who you were. You'll just be another patient. Have a nice week anyway.
I have hurt your feelings, Chuck, and thus exposed myself as someone not to be trusted -- in fact, to be reviled by the basketball public. The fact that I have 638 e-mails in my current queue should have not kept me from answering your most important e-mail. It took me a while to find it, I must admit, with 637 other ones to sift through first, but I did. And now, Chuck Kunold's original e-mail to me, as it was sent, dated July 2 of 2013 -- which through my lack of answering, has caused him such agita:
I used to go in on season ticket's for the Kings for years but got burned out and tired of the antics by the McNasty's. To me anyone with a pulse could see they were fake. Anyway, I stopped watching 2 years ago but am a bit curious as to what you see as potential trade possibilities.
Personally? I would not let Evans just walk. I do not want him. He has not diversified his game at all. To me, he'd be very easy to scout. Very one dimensional and I believe his field goal and 3-point percentage have dropped. He's not worth $11 million and the Kings know that. I was there when the team went out of their way to make sure he got the 20 (points), 5 (rebounds) and 5 (assists) a game. It was a joke to me. It comprimised the integrity of the game for me.
GLAD they got rid of Petrie. Spencer Hawes? Quincy Douby? Trading Beno [Udrih] to get John Salmons back? [Francisco] Garcia's stupid contract. He lost the Midas touch a long time ago.Time to tend his vineyard. Finally, would you mind speculating on any free agent possibilities? I know they are far under the cap and I think this year you have to be at 90% of the cap?
I know you are extremely busy sir but I can't stand Steven A Smith's voice. Very annoying. You are very polished, very professional. He should be more like you.Take care
Thank you for writing, Chuck. But I cannot let you attack my friend Stephen A. Smith. He has, through hard work and dint of personality, made himself into a popular television star. We all can work in this business without being the same. Stephen A. has his, very successful way, I have mine, and I'd like to think I've been fairly successful on my side of the street over the years, as he has been on his. And thank you again for writing. The fault in not responding earlier was, and remains, mine.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and best suggestions for when you get in the batter's box and see Clayton Kershaw standing 60 feet, six inches away to email@example.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!
1,464 -- Days between LeBron James' original Decision television show on ESPN on July 8, 2010, and his Decision 2.0 column to Sports Illustrated on July 11, 2014.
41.81 percent -- Amount by which the Fathead company, owned by Cavaliers boss Dan Gilbert, reduced prices on LeBron James gear in a sale on Friday. It just so happens that 41.05 North Latitude and 81.31 West Longitude is location of the city of Akron, Ohio on a map. And, it must be noted that after James chose Miami in 2010, Gilbert's company reduced prices on items by 17.81 percent. Benedict Arnold was born in 1781.
4-1 -- Odds on the Cavaliers winning the NBA championship next season, according to the Vegas sportsbook Bovada, making Cleveland the favorite to win the title. Before James agreed to return to Cleveland on Friday, the Cavs' odds were 60-1 to win it all. Meanwhile, the Heat went from 4-1 favorites with LeBron to win the 2015 title to 50-1 underdogs after his announcement.
1) Steve Aschburner is going to have some fun this winter. The Central Division will the hottest thing going on those cold December and January nights. Cleveland, obviously, is front and center again with LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins. Chicago will sport a (hopefully) healthy Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol to go with All-Star Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson and Doug "McBuckets" McDermott. Indy is still formidable, and its great white whale has been harpooned. Milwaukee is at least interesting now with Jabari Parker and Jason Kidd. And Detroit won't be bad much longer with Stan Van Gundy coaching. Can't call the Central the best division in the league just yet, with what are, essentially, four 50-win teams (San Antonio, Houston, Memphis, Dallas) in the Southwest. But it's close.
2) We suspect Dirk had Cube in heavy rotation in the ride Sunday afternoon, after Germany won the World Cup and the Mavs got Chandler Parsons.
3) It's rare when an agent and player want to sing the praises of the team his client just left, but Wallace Prather wanted to make sure to give some love to the Pelicans -- specifically, GM Dell Demps -- for giving his client, Anthony Morrow, a chance to prove himself again. Morrow agreed to a three-year deal with the Thunder over the weekend after being courted by several top teams, but that deal only came about because New Orleans had given Morrow a two-year deal in 2012 when no one else would. Last season, Morrow finished fourth in the league in 3-point percentage and again established himself as one of the best pure shooters in the game. He gave strong consideration to going back to New Orleans, but all the Pelicans had to offer was their room exception of $2.7 million. OKC could offer a little more, and a chance to play for a contender. It was too much to resist. Morrow might be one of the best value signings of the entire free agent period. He's a huge get for OKC. But the Pelicans should feel good this morning that their organization is held in such high regard, even after losing one of their better players.
4) I can't say I'll ever be a huge soccer fan, getting up early on Saturdays to watch the EPL. But the World Cup was, quite often, riveting television. ESPN did a first-rate job from start to finish, explaining what was going on to neophytes like me and capturing the emotions on the field and in the stands.
5) Some great submissions already for the Guest Morning Tipper, a fan who will be chosen to write a guest column in August while I'm on vacation. Keep them coming! Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, we're looking for real NBA fans, and we want to hear your story -- how you fell in love with the pro game, what you do to stay connected, why it's so important to you, and so on.
1) Friday was a bad, bad day for dude on the left. There's not enough WiteOut on Earth.
2) There has to be, today, some real soul-searching within the Lakers' organization. In the last three years, it has fired one coach and had another resign, lost Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol in free agency, alienated fans by spurning Phil Jackson, whiffed on its longshot pursuit of LeBron and lost a photo finish to the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony. (Although Jeremy Lin was a very nice pickup for, essentially, nothing.)
3) I like Chandler Parsons' game, a lot. But $15 million a year is a lot, even on a short deal, and the reckoning will surely come soon when Dan Fegan asks for even more. But that's a problem for another day. That's a pretty good frontcourt in Dallas next season.
3a) Not a great weekend for Houston, either, despite getting Trevor Ariza. He's a very solid player, and Houston did well to get him for $8 million when other small forwards got eight-figure annual deal. But the Rockets were supposed to be all in for Carmelo Anthony, and didn't get out of the starting blocks. Then, they created deals for Omer Asik and Lin in order to get Chris Bosh signed to a max deal. And they had said for months they'd match any offer sheet on restricted free agent Chandler Parsons. But this morning, Anthony is still in New York, Bosh is still in Miami and Parsons is in Dallas with a $46 million contract.
Mind you, I'm not criticizing GM Daryl Morey for being aggressive, or the Rockets for not matching the Parsons sheet. As noted above, $15 million per year is a huge overpay for a very good, but not great, player. The Rockets got three terrific seasons out of Parsons, a second-round pick in 2011, for next to nothing. And if the cap goes up again in 2015, Houston will have significant cap room, a huge traded player exception and a first-rounder from New Orleans to dangle to that still-out-there third star.
But the Rockets still gambled, and lost. They gambled by not picking up Parsons' option year, which made him a restricted free agent in the first place. They said they would match any offer for him, and dared someone to come up with something unmatchable. Fegan and Dallas did. Houston will live to fight another day, but this is a tough morning.
4) This is troubling. And, potentially quite pungent.
5) Never liked Seinfeld. (Maybe it's because Jerry Seinfeld blew me off after committing to an interview. But, no. That was long after the show was a mega-hit.) The show celebrated its 25th anniversary last week. The ironic thing is, I love Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David's HBO show.
The feature attraction at opening day of the Samsung NBA Summer League was a game between Cleveland and Milwaukee. That would have laughable 12 months ago.
In July of 2013, the Cavaliers' No. 1 and first overall Draft pick Anthony Bennett was rehabbing a shoulder injury, and didn't play. The Bucks were well on their way to a league-worst 15-67 regular season, among their meager highlights the occasional flashes from a Greek teenager whose surname almost no one could pronounce or spell correctly.
But fast forward a year, and the Cavs, again having won the Lottery, had a healthy Andrew Wiggins out on the court. Milwaukee had Jabari Parker, the Duke all-America and the second pick overall from 2014, and more than a little hope. It had been a trying two weeks for the Bucks, with Jason Kidd coming in under the radar (and under the front office's nose) to take Larry Drew's job. But Friday, Parker again was the franchise's focal point. For once, a player wanted to be in Milwaukee, and said so. That makes the 19-year-old the franchise's north star, allowing thoughts of a ridiculously long and athletic frontcourt for the next few years with Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Larry Sanders and John Henson.
In his pro debut, Parker had 17 points and nine rebounds, while Wiggins went for 18 in the Cavaliers' two-point win, in front of a sellout crowd that was one of the biggest in the history of the event. Of course, Cleveland had a more substantial week than the Bucks for other reasons. But Milwaukee has a chance to grow and develop its own superstar, who has embraced the city that so many overlook so often.
Me: How are you finding the grind of practice, game, practice, game so far?
Jabari Parker: It's a good experience for me. I'm glad I did it now, because this is what it's going to be like during the season.
Me: What do the coaches want to see from you while you're here in Summer League?
JP: I think just finding my spots, moving without the ball, not being stable on offense. Just being able to complement (the other players) in all the areas.
Me: What are they running for you when you're off the ball -- any Floppy sets, or Horns, some of the traditional NBA offensive looks?
JP: I think we're running more of an elbow-up action, two bigs on the perimeter, and two wings in the corner. And then just setting screens, ball screens and down screens.
Me: Were you asked to do a lot of screening at Duke?
Me: How will you adjust, having to do it here against bigger, stronger, quicker guys?
JP: Just being more stable, and patient on offense. Just using a good base. I think a lot of the strength comes from the lower body. That's what it's going to take...I think that's just going to take time. I can do so much, but that experience of just getting in there, them 82 games ain't no joke. I don't think you can prepare too much for that, unless you're just being in it at first. That first year is just going to be different.
Me: I'm sure you've been a leader on the court for most of your time as a player. But now, you're going to have to demand grown men follow you. What prepares you for that?
JP: Just having a voice. As I play, I try to have a voice out there. Being able to learn and listen, but also being able to say what I see on the floor.
Me: What was Friday night like, with Andrew there and all the hype for your first pro game?
JP: It was normal. You've got to remember that it's just a game. The plays don't change. You've got to remember to just play the game.
"I'm a basketball coach. I don't want to do Billy (King)'s job. I don't want to do anybody else's job in the organization, but the one I'm hired to do. That's important to me. I'm very low maintenance."
-- Lionel Hollins, during his introductory press conference Tuesday as the Nets' new head coach, dispelling any notion that he, unlike former head coach Jason Kidd, had any interest in having autonomy over basketball operations. Kidd asked for, and was granted, permission to talk to the Bucks after he was not able to get such a job in Brooklyn, where he'd be higher in the organization over team president King.
"No, I don't take any pleasure in anyone's pain. I know this is a tough business and free agency and is all part of what we all go through. I certainly don't take any joy in seeing great players leave organizations that have been good to them."
--Celtics GM Danny Ainge, asked if he had any schadenfreude-like feelings after seeing LeBron James leave Miami -- and Pat Riley, with whom Ainge has feuded verbally during the past couple of years.
"We were very good when Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe were on the court, and we think Isaiah Thomas is that caliber of player where if you can have one or two of those guys on the court at all times, you really don't have any dropoff scoring-wise. You always have multiple weapons. You have guys who can run pick-and-rolls from either side of the floor and can push the floor in transition."
--Suns GM Ryan McDonough, to local reporters, on why Phoenix pursued a sign-and-trade deal with Sacramento for Isaiah Thomas, despite already having one of the league's most potent backcourts in Dragic and Bledsoe, and then taking Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis in the first round of last month's Draft.
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