Too soon to write off LeBron as a winner … and other stuff
The NBA Finals ended before the Stanley Cup was passed out, the NBA draft is as unreadable as ever with only 10 days to go until decision day, the Pistons still have a “vacant” sign on the head coach’s office door and at least half of the NBA’s top executives are out of touch today as they jet back from Italy with the Eurocamp winding down.
Random thoughts on all of that stuff:
- A sporting culture now shaped by the knee-jerk talk radio influence insists everything is either black or white, when in fact most of the world is gray. There are very few players, even NBA superstars, equipped with the DNA to remain unflappable in every pressurized moment. Magic Johnson was born with it, but even he fell short once or twice. The night LeBron James scored 25 straight points as a 22-year-old to carry Cleveland to a double-overtime win over the Pistons in a critical Game 5, you’d have guessed he was born with it, too. Now that he’s failed spectacularly in two straight postseason elimination situations, there’s a rush to write him off as a tragic figure – fatally flawed despite his enormous gifts.
I’d be careful about that, too. Not saying it’s going to be easy, and it will require a ton of introspection from a man who hasn’t displayed much of it to this point, but it’s way too soon to say LeBron James will never rise above the circumstances and lead a team to an NBA title.
Remember, until Dirk Nowitzki won it in his 13th season, there was no shortage of doubters certain he lacked the stuff to lead his team to the top. And until the Pistons overhauled Boston and, finally, the Lakers, Isiah Thomas was largely written off as a player only good for highlight clips.
- The Eurocamp wraps up today, with many NBA executives cutting out after seeing all they needed to inform their 2011 draft decisions over the past four or five days. Among the revelations: Bismack Biyombo is about as raw as it gets with the basketball in his hands and Jonas Valanciunas is staying in the draft – which indicates his agents, at least, are pretty sure his uncertain contract status isn’t going to cost him draft position.
Those two players, of course, figure to be of interest to the Pistons. Will Valanciunas be available at No. 8? There’s still very little that is certain about the draft, that question included.
I’m not sure I’d make too much of Biyombo’s shaky showing in Treviso where the Pistons are concerned. They got to see him in Spain the day before. They’ll put more stock in that than what they saw of Biyombo shooting jump shots in Italy.
- Kyrie Irving would be the No. 1 pick of a majority of NBA teams and Derrick Williams is just as solidly considered the No. 2 player overall. But there is nothing close to a consensus for a No. 3 talent. If you polled all 30 front offices, it wouldn’t surprise me if Enes Kanter, Jan Vesely, Brandon Knight, Valanciunas, Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard and Biyombo all pulled at least one vote – or if a few other names popped up, as well.
Combine that general uncertainty with the fact that Utah holds the No. 3 pick – Utah, like the Pistons, being one of the NBA teams about which little information that leaks should be considered very credible – and it’s clear that the draft could begin going in any number of directions with the No. 3 pick.
And that’s assuming it hasn’t already taken a left-hand turn at No. 2, a pick held by Minnesota, which has been known to throw a curveball or two.
- My best guess is the Pistons are going to find one big man they really like still available to them at No. 8, but I’m less convinced than a month ago that they won’t go in another direction. Walker and Alec Burks came away from their Pistons workouts believing they’d made a big impression. Leonard continues to generate positive buzz with his workout performances. The roster might be set up to take another big man, but if the choice comes down to a big man of modest potential or a perimeter player with star qualities, you can’t pass on the player you believe will be a star. Can you?
- Who might that big man that falls to them be? Take your best guess. The two mock drafts I find credible are Chad Ford’s on ESPN.com and Jonathan Givony’s on DraftExpress.com. Ford for three weeks running has had Valanciunas falling to the Pistons. It will be interesting to see if he believes that still to be the case following the Eurocamp.
Givony’s latest mock has Kanter falling to No. 8. That’s what he first projected on May 17, after the lottery drawing, but quickly revised when Washington’s interest in Kanter became apparent. Now Givony has Washington taking Vesely at No. 6. It’s always been believed the Wizards were high on Vesely, but higher than they regard Kanter?
It should be noted Givony has consistently been the most skeptical of Kanter’s draft status and recently raised doubts about him based on prep school games Kanter played two seasons ago in California.
The Pistons saw plenty of Kanter in Kentucky practices last season. Personnel director George David spent nearly a week in Lexington late last November, after the Wildcats returned from the Maui Invitational and had a six-day break between games. That doesn’t completely substitute for what they might have seen had Kanter been eligible to play in Kentucky games, but it’s a more relevant and recent piece of evidence, at least.
In a draft of unknowns, I’d say it’s about 95 percent certain that if Kanter lasts to No. 8, he won’t last to No. 9.
- I saw a lot of Larry Bird at his very best, in the mid to late ’80s, the Silverdome era for the Pistons. And I came to admire him as much as any player of that era, the greatest in NBA history. That said, I don’t think the Nowitzki-Bird comparisons are ludicrous. Not at all. Bird was the ultimate gamer and an extremely opportunistic playmaker, but Nowitzki is 3 inches taller and every bit the phenomenal shot-maker Bird was.
I don’t necessarily buy that a player can’t be considered among the NBA’s all-time elite until they win a championship – the old black-and-white thing again – but I’ve met more than my share of NBA greats who believe that. Isiah Thomas emphatically told me once that Charles Barkley, for instance, didn’t deserve all-time great status because he never won a ring.
Well, Nowitzki has now crossed that off his list, too.
- Nothing new on the coaching search front, other than what you read in reports of dubious merit. I put zero stock in a report last week out of New York that Mark Jackson was the clear front-runner until Golden State took him off the market. That doesn’t track on any number of levels.