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Around The League

Shootaround (Oct. 25) -- Rest of NBA just trying to keep up with LeBron James

Oct 25, 2016 8:02 AM ET

2:17

LeBron knows teams gear up 'to beat me' | Rose: Regaining elite status 'a matter of time' | Jazz try to temper expectations | Pistons sign Udrih

No. 1: LeBron opens up on super teams, his title path -- Tonight, LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers will bask perhaps one last time in the glow of their historic run to the 2016 NBA title. After they receive their rings before the NBA's season-opening game (7:30 ET, TNT), James and his super-team of sorts in Cleveland will set off on their quest for NBA title No. 2. In an interview with Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, James discusses how other teams "want to beat me", his struggles against the Boston Celtics and more:

When the 2016-17 season opens in Cleveland on Tuesday, and Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are wearing Knicks jerseys, he'll see one example of the wreckage he has caused across the NBA over the past six seasons.

While James has taken a team to the Finals each year, other franchises have built, torn down, and rebuilt themselves to try and stop him. And they've failed.

"I know teams switch and pick up new coaches or new players, and their whole goal is kind of they want to beat me," James told cleveland.com, in a candid discussion about the upcoming year and his place in the sport at age 31, in this his 14th season. "It's never just about me, but I always hear them saying, 'We gotta beat LeBron.' It's not just me on the court, but I understand that teams get together in this conference and across the league to try to beat me."

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But not even Michael Jordan went on a run like this. His Bulls teams reached and won the Finals from 1991-93, and again from 1996-98. In between, though, he took a year off to play baseball and when he returned, toward the end of the 1995 campaign, Chicago was eliminated in the conference semifinals.

There is no "in between" with James. His six consecutive Finals hasn't been done since Bill Russell's Celtics teams in the 1960s.

And most, if not all of the seismic shifts among other NBA franchises can be traced back to James' run. It's a trail of broken teams not even Jordan could claim.

"I don't know, I mean, if that's a story you want to tell and write, that's cool," James said. "I'm just, listen, I want to make a point in this league where guys look back at the run that I had and be like, 'Wow, what he was able to do was some good times, some good ball, and what he was able to accomplish was either something we've never seen before, or was one of a kind.'"

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You see, James has been on the other side of this equation, the victim of a superteam. It's true that he, Wade, and Bosh plotted for years to join forces as free agents in the summer of 2010, but at that time it was also clear to James he couldn't beat the Boston Celtics with his team in Cleveland.

The Celtics, with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, among others, knocked the Cavs out of the playoffs in 2008 and 2010. Boston won it all in 2008 and lost to the Lakers in the 2010 Finals.

"I understood at that point in time that in order for me to compete for a championship and get to that next level, I had to figure out and get with some guys that could be on the same level as Paul, Ray, (Rajon) Rondo, KG and those guys," James said. "I just didn't feel like ... to do it here, I was out calling guys in the summer time, trying to get guys to come here and guys just continued to decline offers from us.

"And then at that time we didn't even have any money to go get anybody. I knew personally that D Wade was a free agent, I knew Bosh was a free agent, I knew Amare (Stoudemire) was a free agent, I knew Carlos Boozer was a free agent, so I knew I had to try and get some guys to try and get Boston, man. That was my whole mindset."

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In summary, James' boulevard of broken teams is long and distinguished. It's a road on which he intends to remain, having experienced what it's like to have to move cities to beat the best.

"Yeah, but I was just trying to get Boston," James said. "They're all trying to get me."

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No. 2: Rose out to prove he's still an elite point guard -- Way back in the 2010-11 season, then-Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose took the NBA by storm. As the centerpiece of new coach Tom Thibodeau's attack, Rose led Chicago to its first 60-plus win season since Michael Jordan was around. Rose was honored that season as Kia MVP, but since then, injuries have sapped him of that MVP form. Now on the New York Knicks, Rose is ready for tonight's season opener in Cleveland (7:30 ET, TNT) and feels confident he can get back to his old, elite self again. ESPN.com's Ian Bagley has more: 

Rose was asked after Knicks practice on Monday if he wants to show this season that he still is an elite point guard.

"Yeah, but I know I am," he said. "That's no surprise to me. It's only a matter of time until I put it together. All the hard work I put in, everything how I dedicated my whole life to this game, what I sacrificed. It's only a few that did it and that's doing it. So it's all about just putting it together."

It's only natural for players to have confidence in their abilities, but Rose's production in recent seasons has fallen short of elite levels. Last season, Rose averaged 16.4 points on 42 percent shooting and handed out 4.7 assists per game for a Bulls team that missed the playoffs.

Knicks president Phil Jackson traded for Rose in June and would, obviously, love to see the guard return to the elite form he showed earlier in his career, when he was named the youngest MVP in league history in 2011. Since that season, Rose has dealt with several significant knee injuries; due to those injuries and various others, the 28-year-old and has played in less than 40 percent of his games in the last five seasons.

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Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said Rose has looked strong in recent workouts. But Hornacek would also like to see Rose look for his own shot more often in certain situations.

"I think there's going to be times when I'm going to have tell Derrick be more aggressive," Hornacek said Monday. "There are times he's trying to set his teammates up, which is great for a point guard. But a lot of the early offense in the open court he's a hard guy to guard. He'll be on the attack.... He feels he's got great players on his team that he can rely but there's going to be times that he's going to have the advantage and we're going to want him to attack."

Rose believes that the Knicks will be difficult to guard in the pick-and-roll with players like Joakim Noah, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, Courtney Leeand Brandon Jennings.

"It's pick your poison," Rose said. "My job is to create a double team so the weak side has a hard time closing down on shooters."

Hornacek has said Rose may need some time to get used to the offense after being away during the civil trial. Knicks doctors have been keeping a close eye on him over the past few days to monitor his stress levels following the trial.

Anthony expects Rose to grow more comfortable with repetition after being away for the civil case. He also believes Rose will benefit from expectations in New York that are different than those he faced in his hometown of Chicago.

"I don't think he's playing with any type of load on his shoulders, he's not thinking about injuries," Anthony said Monday. "Whereas before he was coming into training camp rehabbing, now he got a chance to just practice and put everything behind him and focus on basketball. So when you have a talent like that who is coming into the season with a clear mind and a focus that he has, it can be exciting."

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No. 3: Jazz try to temper expectations -- From ESPN.com to Sports Illustrated to this very website, folks are very high on the Utah Jazz in their Power Rankings and preseason predictions. Given Utah's solid young core of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood, Dante Exum and others, there's good reason to think big about the Jazz in 2016-17. The NBA world will get a look at Utah tonight (10 ET, NBA LEAGUE PASS), which is trying to not let all the hype get to its head. Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune has more...

The Utah Jazz are just trying to figure out their place in a shifting conference landscape.

"I understand it's the wild, wild West," veteran forward Joe Johnson said. "It's going to be tough."

Even the team's newcomers know how agonizingly close the Jazz came to the playoffs last spring, missing out on the last day of the season and finishing with a 40-42 record. Getting over that hump is why those newcomers — Johnson and veterans George Hill and Boris Diaw — were brought to Salt Lake City.

And some lofty expectations came with them.

Vegas oddsmakers picked the Jazz for 49 wins this season. ESPN has predicted Utah will finish no lower than the 5th seed in the West, taking on the Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs come April. At fivethirtyeight.com, home of statistician extraordinaire Nate Silver, the Jazz are projected to win a whopping 51 games. Only the Warriors, Cavaliers and Spurs are projected for more.

The Jazz have done their best to ignore those outside distractions.

"To be honest, I haven't even thought about expectations," shooting guard Rodney Hood said. "I haven't been listening to what everybody's been saying. I know we can be a better team than we've been and we've added some key pieces. But we've got to continue to get better every single day, get some guys healthy and hit stride."

After limping out of training camp with starters Gordon Hayward (broken finger) and Derrick Favors (IT Band Syndrome) hurt, and sixth man Alec Burks (knee rehabilitation) yet to suit up for a practice, Jazz coach Quin Snyder has splashed some cold realism onto those high hopes.

"We're a little bit of a fashionable pick," Snyder said. "But that was with Gordon and Derrick and Alec."

Those three players a season ago were three of the Jazz's top scorers by average (19.7, 16.4 and 13.3 points per game respectively) and a trio Snyder leaned on heavily at the close of games.

"So I don't know how to factor all that in personally," the coach said. "I'd like to think we can be competitive. But our margin for error is a lot smaller. We don't stack up as good as we did a month ago … because our roster looks different than it did a month ago."

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But after disappointing as a popular sleeper pick a season ago, the Jazz know they have a chance to finally wake up and prove they belong among the best in the West.

"We've got a lot of guys, man, who really understand how to play the game," Johnson said. "It should come pretty easy, but obviously you've got to get out there between the lines and play. We'll do whatever we can to keep this thing afloat until guys like Gordon and big fella Derrick Favors get back."

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No. 4: Pistons pick up recently waived Udrih -- The Detroit Pistons' point guard situation has been in a bit of a bind ever since news came out that starter Reggie Jackson needed treatment for a knee and thumb injuries. While Ish Smith remains the starter to open 2016-17, the Pistons decided to add another veteran NBA point guard to the mix by claiming former Miami Heat guard Beno Udrih off waivers. Rod Beard of The Detroit News has more: 

On one hand, Ray McCallum made the Pistons’ roster on Saturday because of his NBA experience.

On Monday, he lost his spot because the Pistons found someone with more.

The Pistons changed course on their roster just two days before the start of the regular season, opting for veteran point guard Beno Udrih over McCallum.

They claimed Udrih, 34, off waivers from the Miami Heat and waived McCallum, who had beaten out Lorenzo Brown for the final roster spot.

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They’ll have Ish Smith as the starter in the interim but coach Stan Van Gundy coveted more experience behind Smith and believed that Udrih had more to offer, especially in Jackson’s absence.

“He’s a good veteran backup point guard. We loved Ray and think he’s an NBA player and hope he is back with us at some point,” Van Gundy told The Detroit News, “but Ben’s experience and ability to run an offense was too much to pass up.”

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Udrih was a first-round pick by San Antonio in 2004 and won NBA titles with the Spurs in 2005 and ’07. His best season was 2010-11, when he averaged 13.7 points, 4.9 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 35 minutes.

For his career, Udrih has shot 35 percent on 3-pointers.

Heat managing general partner Mickey Arison posted to his Twitter account: “Glad to see that SVG is giving Beno an opportunity. Best of luck with the Pistons.”

The Pistons learned from last season that they need to be as strong as they can at backup point guard. With 35-year-old Steve Blake, they struggled in many games and had one of the least-productive reserve units in the league.

On Saturday, the Pistons roster looked to be set, after they waived point guards Lorenzo Brown and Trey Freeman and 7-foot-6 center Mamadou N’Diaye, paving the way for McCallum to take the final roster spot.

McCallum, who played at Detroit Country Day High School and the University of Detroit-Mercy, spoke after Monday’s practice of his relief over making the roster and being able to play for his hometown team after some adversity last year.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale is excited about the youngsters on his squad ... Speaking of the Grizzlies, All-Star center Marc Gasol will be on a minutes limit to open 2016-17 ... Philadelphia 76ers rookie center Joel Embiid has teammates raving over his improved handles ... Remember Anthony Randolph? Check out this dunk he put down in a game in Spain the other day ... Interesting, quick look at the offseason that was ... ICYMI, David Aldridge has 24 predictions for the 2016-17 season


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